Let teens choose their own gender, say MPs

The first ever government report on trans equality recommends a total overhaul of Britain’s approach to the issue. Should teenagers be allowed to choose their own gender when they turn 16?

When Melanie was two years old, she made a sudden declaration while walking through a supermarket. ‘I don’t want to be a girl any more,’ the toddler told her mother. ‘I’m going to be a boy.’ And so it was. Tom is now five years old, loves to dress as Batman, and gets furious if referred to as a ‘she’.

Not all children who have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria — the belief that you were born with the ‘wrong’ biological sex — grow into transgender adults. But for now, Tom is one of 650,000 people in the UK who are ‘gender incongruent’, according to a government inquiry published yesterday.

The report paints a sobering picture of trans rights in the UK. It notes that almost half of young trans people have attempted suicide, and says the community faces ‘high levels of transphobia’ daily. Even while it was being written, the high-profile deaths of two trans women in male prisons made its importance all too clear.

But the justice system is not the only area that needs reform, the report said. There are also ‘serious problems’ in the NHS. Many doctors are unfamiliar with how to treat trans patients, who are forced to ‘prove’ their gender identity before receiving treatment.

‘Nobody else in society has to do that,’ points out Tara Stone, chair of a trans support organisation. ‘It leaves people with a feeling of shame, like there’s something wrong with them.’

Even once a person is diagnosed and referred for treatment, it can take years for their chosen gender to be legally recognised. The process is complex, and it can be very stressful. That is why the report recommends that the system is changed: anyone over the age of 16 should be allowed to apply to change their gender, it says. And the process should focus on their wishes, not an ‘intensive analysis by doctors and lawyers’.

Boys and girls

Gender is a serious issue; legally switching is not a decision to be taken lightly, critics say. There is so much we still don’t know about gender dysphoria — especially in young people. The medical process is not designed to persecute them, but to ensure that they are absolutely certain before making permanent changes to their bodies. Some doctors may need to handle the situation more sensitively, but the procedures are there for a reason.

Trans people do not choose to go through the process on a whim, activists reply. Most have felt a connection to their ‘true’ gender throughout their lives, and sadly they often experience a lot of confusion and discrimination in the process. Gender is a personal feeling, but legal recognition can mean the world to those who have spent their whole lives waiting for it. The least we can do is make that final step a little easier.

You Decide

  1. ‘Gender expression’ refers to the clothes you wear, and how you act. Where do you think you fit on the scale in the graphic above?
  2. Should it be easier for teenagers to change their official gender when they turn 16?


  1. The language of gender can be confusing. Create a poster which explains some of the key terms, using the links under Become An Expert to help you.
  2. Including more transgender characters in books, films and TV is one way of helping trans equality. Write a short story about a trans character.

Some People Say...

“We should abandon official gender labels altogether.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I’m confused about what this all means.
It can feel confusing; most people’s gender identity does match their biological sex, and it can be hard to imagine anything else. It’s okay not to understand fully — but that makes it even more important to listen to transgender people when they explain what they want, and how they would like to be treated. The more you know, they more you might be able to help them.
Do they want me to help them?
You don’t have to solve all of their problems at once; as this report shows, many of the difficult things about being trans are to do with how legal and medical institutions work. But everyone wants to be treated with respect by the people around them! Trans people have been misunderstood for a long time. So just try to treat them as you would anyone else.

Word Watch

Biological sex
The medical identity — male, female or intersex — which is determined by physical factors such as genitals, hormones and genes.
A broad term for people who feel that their personal identity does not match their biological sex. This could include ‘non-binary’ or ‘genderqueer’ people who consider themselves neither men nor women.
48% of trans people under 26. This figure comes from a survey by the charity Pace published in 2014.
Joanne Latham and Vicki Thompson were both found dead in their cells. The incidents happened at two separate male prisons in November and December last year.
Gender identity
The gender that a person feels themselves to be inside, regardless of biological sex.
There are various ways for a person to transition to their desired sex, including hormone therapy and surgery.
Legally recognised
To receive a Gender Recognition Certificate, you must be over 18 and diagnosed with gender dysphoria. You must have lived as your chosen gender for two years, and you must intend to continue doing so for the rest of your life.


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