Final phase in fight to decide your own gender

Change now: LGBT rights group Stonewall support reforming the Gender Recognition Act.

Should you be able to choose your own gender? As public consultation on the Gender Recognition Act closes, some feminists claim that letting trans people “self-identify” could harm women’s rights.

Earlier this summer, the government asked the public for their views on whether it should become easier for transgender people to change their gender.

At 11pm tonight, after weeks of fierce debate, the public consultation period will end.

Under the Gender Recognition Act (GRA), transgender people in the UK must live as their desired sex for two years, and a doctor must diagnose them with gender dysphoria before they can legally change their gender.

They are also required to pay a £140 fee, and it can be a struggle to acquire the documents they need.

When it was introduced in 2004, the GRA was a groundbreaking victory for trans rights, but 14 years later many campaigners say it is outdated.

“No one should have to face such a dehumanising process just to be seen for who they truly are,” declared Rory Darling, a 19-year-old trans man. He described the process as “very gruelling and intrusive.”

“It approaches our lives in terms of mental illness,” said academic Alex Sharpe about the need for a medical diagnosis.

The government supports updating the act to recognise anyone who identifies as a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth.

Similar laws have already been passed in a number of countries including Argentina, Ireland and Pakistan.

But not everyone agrees. Some feminist groups, like Fair Place for Women, say the changes could pose a risk to women’s rights by allowing biological males to enter single-sex spaces, like changing rooms or women’s refuges.

The controversy intensified when convicted rapist Karen White, a trans woman, was found guilty of assaulting inmates after being placed in a women’s prison. Last week, she received a life sentence.

Earlier this month, a poll found that 67% of MPs are worried about the effect the planned changes could have on women-only spaces.

Should you be able to decide your own gender?

Gender dilemma

Of course, say some. The current system puts unnecessary barriers in the way of trans people living as their true selves, and harmfully equates the valid identity of being transgender with mental illness. What is more, those arguing that men will abuse the system and invade women’s spaces are just whipping up unfounded panic. It’s cruel to trap trans people in an oppressive system.

It’s not that simple, say others. Being female is a complex mix of biological, cultural and environmental factors which is impossible to fully deconstruct. But what is clear is that it takes more than just declaring womanhood to make a person female. Plus, even if cases are rare, the genuine risks to women’s safety in single-sex spaces can’t be dismissed.

You Decide

  1. Should everyone be allowed to determine their own gender?
  2. Is gender a spectrum?

Activities

  1. Consider the words “woman” and “man”. For each word write down 10 more terms that you associate with them. Compare your list of words with your classmates’ lists. Do you have many similar words? Why do you think you chose the terms you did? Are they qualities that are natural in men and women or are they stereotypes?
  2. Imagine a world in which gender has been abolished. How would it be different? Would you express your identity differently without gender stereotypes? Write a short story exploring the possibilities.

Some People Say...

“It is revolutionary for any trans person to choose to be seen and visible in a world that tells us we should not exist.”

Laverne Cox

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Earlier this year, the government announced plans for a public consultation on whether trans people should be able to legally change their gender without any medical checks or having to prove that they have lived as their preferred gender for two years. The consultation closes at 11pm tonight, after which point an independent body will assess the submissions and report back to Parliament with their findings in the spring. Ministers will then decide whether to change the law.
What do we not know?
What the results of the consultation will be. Some feminist groups have been very vocal in their opposition to the proposals, and accuse trans activists of harassing their members into silence. However, its supporters say the current system is unfair on trans individuals.

Word Watch

Public consultation
The government asked the public, as well as academic and campaign groups, to submit their thoughts on the planned changes. An independent body will look at the submissions and report to the government in the spring.
Transgender
Refers to someone whose personal sense of identity does not correspond with their sex at birth.
Gender dysphoria
When the sex a person is assigned at birth does not match how they feel as a person. For example, a person born as a man may feel their true identity is female.
Assigned at birth
Some campaigners believe that gender should not be based on the biological sex of children at birth. See Christin Scarlett Milloy’s piece in Become An Expert.
Biological males
A person who was assigned “male” at birth and has a male body. Biological gender is determined by the combination of X and Y chromosomes passed down by parents. Occasionally genetic variations in reproduction lead to intersex babies who do not fit the typical definition of either male or female bodies.
67%
According to a ComRes poll.