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Answering the claims about the Gender Recognition Act reforms

Updated: Jul 10, 2020

With there being loud on-going ‘debate’ around the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act it is probably about time the claims being bandied about these changes were set out and answered clearly and succinctly… So here goes….

The changes are about letting people ‘self-identify’ their gender

No, they aren’t. Transgender people have always self-identified and always will self-identify… They always instigate everything related to dealing with being gender incongruent, including applying for a gender recognition certificate, the means by which they can change their legal gender under the Gender Recognition Act. The reforms are simply a case of removing a lot of the costly, weighty and anachronistic bureaucracy associated with the application process that has meant the law has not served the needs of those it is intended for well.

Ok but this is about removing current checks which will mean anyone can change their gender.

It's about removing some, but not all, requirements from the process and especially the requirement for the medical evidence of gender dysphoria and completion of treatment and the costly secret review panel. There will still, almost certainly, be a need to swear an affidavit (a legal declaration) that states the gender change will be permanent, with penalties if breached. There will still be a legal requirement to get new gender changed on all held records – a process that can take months of effort. Other requirements may include some form of evidence to support the change request, for example a letter from a GP. In short the requirements will ensure that only those who are genuine will want to go through the process. This is as important to transgender people as anyone, as it must not be possible for this legislation to be abused and used against them.

But this is allowing people to choose their sex which one can’t do.

Absolutely... you can’t choose your sex and neither can you choose your gender. Sex and Gender are completely different things, though both are biologically hardwired. Neither are binary (i.e. two distinct divisions) but bimodal and nature is constantly producing variance in both, as it must, such that sometimes the gender assigned at birth based on a sex characteristic assessment proves to be incorrect. All the Gender Recognition Act provides is a means of correcting the legal record of this. It is not about allowing people to choose either sex or gender.

But there’s nothing to stop you registering as something stupid, like a horse.

Our country only supports two legal genders, male or female. The Gender Recognition Act allows change between these two only and this will not change. So, while you may believe you are a horse, Klingon or whatever you will never be able to register yourself as these, especially as these are species not genders. There is though, a strong argument for having three gender divisions to allow non binary individuals to get legal recognition, as per many other countries, and It is hoped this is supported in time.

But removing the restrictions will trample over the rights of women and girls and put them at risk.

This statement is not supported by analysis or evidence. Many progressive countries like Ireland, Canada, Iceland, Portugal, Malta, Norway, Denmark and Belgium have gender change processes akin to those being proposed and they have experienced none of the issues that are claimed will occur. Analysis by all sorts of groups, including the government have concluded there will be no conflict with or effect on other rights from these changes.

But the changes will allow men to claim to be women to gain access to women’s safe spaces to prey on them. That’s trampling over women’s rights and putting them at risk

No, they won’t. Single sex women’s spaces are regulated by a completely different set of legislation, and in particular the Equalities Act 2010. The Gender Recognition Act provides no rights relating to safe single sex spaces and this will remain the case. Everyone has the right to be protected against those who would seek to discriminate and harm them based on some characteristic – race, religion, sex, sexuality, gender… and legislation about this has clear rules as to what is and what is not allowed that is entirely divorced from the Gender Recognition Act.

Ok but trans rights will still allow men to claim to be women to gain access to women’s safe spaces to prey on them.

The Equalities Act 2010 does indeed allow someone assigned male at birth to claim the protected characteristic of gender reassignment to legitimise access to women’s single sex spaces. And to claim this they need do nothing – tell anyone, undergo any treatment, dress up, or whatever. They certainly don’t need to go through the process of legally changing their gender and acquiring a gender recognition certificate, no matter how easy or difficult this is, just to claim this, which is why the Gender Recognition Act is irrelevant to women’s safe spaces and rights. Why would one go through all that faff when one doesn’t need to?

So this means trans rights do put women at risk.

Well the odd thing is the current Equalities Act has been in place for 10 years and yet there hasn’t been a single recorded case of men trying to claim gender reassignment rights to access women’s spaces for inappropriate purposes. There is no point when the risk of being stopped and apprehended is so high compared to other spaces. So no – the gender rights in the Equalities Act have not been proven to put women at risk despite assertions to the contrary.

But at some point, a man will use these rights to gain access to a safe space to prey on or assault a woman.

No amount of legislation will stop anyone who is really intent on preying on or assaulting another in a safe space from trying. However, laws that are completely separate from the Gender Recognition Act, allow for those who are a suspected threat or who are displaying inappropriate behaviour to be barred from these safe spaces and no amount of claiming protected rights can trump these.

But Trans women are all sexual predators and should therefore be barred from women’s safe spaces by default.

There is no evidence to support this claim: There are no recorded incidents of trans women assaulting others in women’s safe spaces, despite having used women’s facilities for ever. Trans women’s brains are similar in structure and operation to non-trans women’s brains and neither are wired for aggressive male sexual behaviour. Additionally, trans women’s hormone treatment halts fertility and libido while the majority of trans women are attracted to and have normal relationships with men. There are however many examples of trans women being assaulted by other women in women’s safe spaces including, recently, murder. Its not trans women who pose a threat to non-trans women but the other way round with trans women experiencing above average abuse, physical and sexual violence and so on.

But prison statistics show that they are sexual predators who want to attack women.

The statistics show just the opposite. The number of known transgender people in British prisons in England and Wales is 125 out of a total prison population of 84,000. That’s equivalent to 0.15% which is below the estimated incidence of transgender people in the general population. And the number of incidents of assaults by transgender women prisoners is almost half those committed on them. However the numbers are small compared to assaults by prisoners on each other overall while there is no reflection on other medical conditions that may actually be at the root of any such behaviour.

In short trans women are less of a danger to others than others are to them and suggesting otherwise is like pointing at Myra Hindley or Rosemary West and saying they prove all women are dangerous and should have their rights curtailed.

But trans women are not women, whatever they think. They’re genetically men and shouldn’t be allowed in women’s single sex spaces.

What most of us are taught about the biology of sex, on which statements like

this are based, is very very basic and grossly oversimplified. Sex biology is astonishingly complex and produces an unbelievable range of characteristics in individuals, which are constantly evolving and which sit, at best, on a bimodal sex spectrum (single spectrum, two peaks). Defining a man or woman on the basis of genetics is pretty much impossible which means there is no such thing as a real woman or man! Besides it’s the brain, not your genitalia, that determines you who you are as a person, and it is your gender identity produced by the hard wiring in your brain that is actually important. Transgender individuals exist and have always existed. We understand how this arises and that they are biologically valid.

But this invalidates sex and women’s lived in experiences.

Our segregation of some spaces is purely to allow for privacy and safety for a socially recognised group of similar individuals to undertake an activity. The ability to worship, change clothing or pee in safety and privacy is the purpose and that is what is important not the method of segregation which is always socially defined. That said no one is trying to invalidate sex, gender or anyone’s individual unique experiences; understanding of these does, though, need to be based on the realities of nature, not some ideological and inaccurate understanding, especially one based around binaries.

But the majority of women don’t feel comfortable sharing single sex facilities with trans women, especially trans women with penises. They shouldn’t be forced to do this.

This is not borne out by evidence, with research showing that over 70% of non-trans women having no issue here. This is supported by the fact that comparatively few non-trans people objected to the recent consultation on the proposed reforms. Trans women have used single sex women’s facilities for ever and nearly all women will have shared such facilities with a trans woman without ever knowing or there being an issue. The limited difference and overlap between the sexes physically makes it difficult to identify trans women while its not possible to tell who is and isn’t post op (i.e. with a penis) as one looks the same on the outside before and after. The fact that, to date, there have been no issues with trans women using single sex women’s facilities also reflects the awareness that trans women have of the possibility of others taking issue and verbally and physically abusing them and the great care they take, therefore, to avoid this.

But why can't we tighten the legislation to, say, only allow trans people who have fully transitioned to access women’s facilities?

For over 40 years the medical process has required that, before they could receive surgery or legally change gender, transitioning trans women have to live in role for a minimum of two years, using single sex facilities. Moreover all trans folks spend time socially in the other gender, prior to deciding whether or not to transition. The Equality Act was drafted so as to protect those in this situation (which is why gender reassignment is the protected characteristic) in the knowledge that possible attempts to misuse this was covered by other legislation. In other words any approach other than the current one would conflict with this and would therefore be both impractical and inappropriate.

Ok but why not just give trans folks separate or gender-neutral facilities

Because this would be both impractical and discriminatory. If we move to that type of forced segregation then what? Segregation and separate facilities based on skin colour, like the US, South Africa and other countries used to have? Or segregation based on religion, like the Jews in Nazi Germany? Forcing society wide discrimination based on the ideology held by a few is never acceptable, though one should not stop those who wish to self-segregate on ideological grounds from doing so. In other words if there are women who wish to be transphobic and not share facilities with trans women they should be ones offered alternatives, not the other way round.

Then how about ID cards?

This would be the modern-day equivalent of the Nazis requiring Jews to wear Star of David’s on their clothes and we know where that led. That said we already have ID cards - our passports and driving licenses and similar. Our birth certificate is our identity document for our legal gender which is why this is changed when we change our legal gender. We don’t need further ID cards and trying to police women’s only safe spaces using them would prove impractical and pointless.

But the proposals will allow people who aren’t trans but think they are or those who just like to dress up occasionally to change their gender.

Changing gender markers in ID documents and with every organisation one deals with is such an arduous task that only those that are going to be moving to live full time in another gender will ever contemplate it. And moving to live full time as another gender is a massively challenging and difficult process that can only be sustained by those who have a genuine need to do so. Given this and that the process of changing legal gender is just one tiny and largely inconsequential part of the official change process, only serious and genuine trans folks will ever go through this, just as with passports and the such.

They proposals will, though, remove the assurance that holders of a Gender Recognition Certificate are 'genuine and safe'.

Some trans folks view the Gender Recognition Certificate, with all its required documentation, evidence and examination, as a sort of transition completion and ‘genuine transgender’ award, and they understandably don’t want all they have been though to get their certificate invalidated by having certificates ‘handed out like confetti’. While there is a case to be made for some sort of treatment and transitioning completion certificate, this is not, of course, what the Gender Recognition Certificate is. It is simply the current means of confirming the change of legal gender and getting a new birth certificate, the ID document for this.

But this will encourage kids to change gender

The Gender Recognition Act does not apply to children and experience shows trans kids have no particular awareness of or interest in legislation, having more pressing matters to deal with. However anything that helps reduce the bullying and discrimination they almost universally experience and, ultimately, makes it easier for them to be accepted and live their lives true to themselves rather than the lives others believe they should live has got to be positive

So why does the law need changing?

Since the Gender Recognition Act was introduced in 2004 many of the rights associated with it have been superseded by better more complete legislation; marriage, equality and discrimination and data protection legislation for example. So the act now offers very few rights, and none of particular significance, especially as traditional gender differentiated rights, such as retirement age, continue to be equalised. Primary Identity documents, such as passport and driving license, can all be changed to a new gender right at the start of transition, through the standard application process, supported by a letter from an appropriate authority – a GP for example. However the identity document for your legal gender, your Birth Certificate, requires costly medical reports confirming gender dysphoria and completion of treatment, proof of having lived as the new gender for a minimum of two years, sworn affidavit and a pile of other stuff all of which gets put in front of a secret panel who decide whether you pass or not. Given its such a hassle and can only be obtained at the end of transition, by which time and isn’t really needed and yet may still not be granted, only around six thousand of the tens of thousands of trans folks have changed their legal gender in the past fourteen years. So the law just needs bringing into line with other legislation and being made suitably practical so trans men and women will use it as intended.

RIght all the documents required to change gender in Birth Certificate (bottom)

Left the two documents (top) required to change gender in everything else (Passport, driving license, etc. bottom)

So what’s the fuss all about?

Well it beats us. The proposed changes will affect no other legislation and will only affect trans people, both men and women.

The fuss is being made by small group of individuals who want to deny trans people’s existence and rights as they don’t fit with their ideologies. They have therefore been spreading misinformation to demonise and incite fear of trans people which the media have picked up on and pushed out, unchecked, to the wider public. Had they been using black, gay, Muslim or Jew instead of transgender they’d have been called out: It’s time they were over their transphobia and the truth heard about trans people and these proposed changes.

And as for all these predatory men concerns …. Well lets make it clear. Trans women would be the first in the queue to challenge anyone threatening or abusing their rights as women and parents, let alone as trans women, because they, more than anyone, need theirs and their families safety protected.


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