The consultation for the reforms to The Gender Recognition Act in the UK has been extended to noon on Monday 22 October so if you want a say, you need to fill out this survey today or tomorrow morning.
The choice is whether 1) transgender people should have to have two years of tests and evaluations and have to ‘prove’ through gender expression norms that they are who they say they are or 2) whether trans people themselves are the best judge of their own gender identity – and whether that identity might be, in fact, neither male nor female.
There’s been a lot of fear expressed and change often feels scary. But the question is – what are we scared of? We’ve all been raised to respect the binary but gender has become far more fluid in recent decades. This change is a part of a trend we’ve all benefited from. British women and men aren’t obliged to take distinct roles and wear distinct clothes anymore. There is a greater understanding and celebration of a spectrum of sexual orientation and gender expression in our country. Freedom of gender identity is the next important step in the evolution of a compassionate society that recognises human beings can’t be marshalled into norms without some of us experiencing severe psychological distress.
Some people say that we need more debate but as Hannah Gadsby points out in her Netflix special Nanette, it was the public debates on television in Tasmania about whether homosexuality should be decriminalised that gave voice to poisonous ideas about the dangers of allowing gay people into spaces with straight people. It was hearing this debated as a young lesbian which soaked her in shame and is the cause of much lasting damage to her and queer people of her generation.
Some people have said that the trans activists seem angrier than the lobbies who do not want revisions to The Gender Recognition Act. That isn’t always the case actually (sometimes far from it!) but where it is, it’s important to remember that those fighting for change often seem angrier than those fighting for the status quo. The suffragettes seemed angrier than the men running the House of Commons. The Black Panthers seemed angrier than the white men in Washington. They were angrier because the system was excluding, oppressing and criminalising them. We don’t look back and think those activists were wrong to raise their voices in dissent and demand respect and equality.
Some fear that this new policy will allow cis men (men whose gender identity matches their assigned gender at birth) to legally change their gender to gain access to women’s spaces. It’s almost three years since Ireland has brought in this new policy (along with other countries) and there are no reported incidents of this. Even if one man did break the law for malevolent reasons that’s no excuse to resist a new policy that has in Ireland ‘brought about a significant reduction in mental distress’ in trans people (as The Guardian reported in January this year).*
Recently an imprisoned trans woman raped some women in a tragic act of violence. This is a reason for this woman to be removed and, if possible, rehabilitated. She had previous convictions that were a clear sign to the authorities that she should not have been left unsupervised with other prisoners. This is a reason to bring this individual to justice and create process to stop people being hurt. It is not a reason to banish vulnerable trans women from safe spaces when we all know anecdotally they are more likely to face everything from rudeness to harassment to extreme violence. Think of reactions you may have seen to gender non-conforming people in the street. Have you seen people mutter or jeer? There is much evidence to demonstrate trans people are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.**
You will hear about this individual case a great deal on social media but it is just as wrong to extrapolate that one violent trans woman means trans women are dangerous as it is to extrapolate, as people did in the 1980s during the Section 28 debates, about lesbians or gay men – or as people do now about refugees.
Do you extrapolate that one refugee is a doctor so all refugees can heal? That one gay man is a devoted charity worker so all gay men are humanitarian? No. So we cannot make policy based on individuals singular behaviours. That’s the definition of bigotry. If we did, white cis men wouldn’t be allowed anywhere because of the actions of some in their group.
The proposed changes to The Gender Recognition Act will simply allow trans people to identify as their rightful gender (male, female or non-binary) without two years of dehumanising hoops to jump through. It will save them being put through mental exhaustion and humiliation in an already intolerant, unsafe world. Some trans people can’t afford the current process financially or mentally so it prohibits them from living their personal truth and leaves them in deep anguish which is dangerous to their health and even their lives.
Generation Z doesn’t see gender as a binary state but a spectrum that is not determined by what is imposed at birth. Fifty-six percent of the upcoming generation know someone who uses gender-neutral pronouns and only 44 percent always wear clothes designed for their gender.***
What seems like a scary change to some now, will be standard in a generation. There were those who fought for racial segregation. There were those who said women encroaching on The House of Commons would be detrimental to men who wouldn’t be able to speak their minds anymore. Let’s not have future generations look back on us with the same feelings we have when we hear about those horrendous arguments.
Not everyone expressing concerns about the proposed changes has had time and space to think all these issues through. If you’re an ally to the trans community you have privilege, so don’t shout ‘terf’ or ‘transphobe’ at the first opportunity. Ask questions. Use reasoning. Many people have been won over and become allies and activists themselves. Much of what we take for granted now won’t be canon in five years. Our ideas about gender are evolving. Don’t be arrogant. You had to learn this stuff too. Don’t open with terms like ‘cis fragility’. Most people are not in that rarefied academic world and won’t know what that means. It’s alienating and doesn’t work. Help people get it. We need allies, not people put off by unnecessary aggression. If people are wasting your time trolling, then mute or block and move on.
If you’re trans and want kind allies so you don’t have to argue the case for your own humanity, tag us in and ask us for help and feel free to withdraw and save your energy and mental health.
This change is happening. Every generation gets further away from the binary. This is our contribution. Be on the right side of history. If we won’t form two orderly groups, how will they know who to oppress? Always beware of those who organise two binary teams and put one team in charge of the other.
The reforms to The Gender Recognition Act will make a kinder fairer world for those who need it. And we all benefit from a life where we can truly be who we are. Let’s be part of that. Fill out the survey today with Stonewall’s help.