03:03, July 25 69 0 theguardian.com

2017-07-25 03:03:03
Theresa May wants to do something positive for trans people – it’s about time

The government is planning new rules to make it easier for trans people to self-identify their gender. It’s only 13 years since the Gender Recognition Act 2004, so it may seem remarkable that the trans community is requesting, and getting, a second bill so soon. But 13 years can be a remarkably long time in the setting of political agendas. The Gender Recognition Act has turned out to have problems that activists like me, who negotiated with Tony Blair’s government, did not foresee. One of our main concerns back then was opposing an attempt by some Labour ministers to demand sterilisation and destruction of genetic material as a condition of change of civil status; equal marriage seemed far in the future that even civil partnership seemed controversial.

Radical measures become less radical over time – states such as Argentina and Ireland have streamlined gender recognition to a process almost as simple as changing your name by statutory declaration. In practice, trans people have come to resent some of the procedures in the 2004 act, such as having to pay a panel and doctors to adjudicate who you are. The sheer idea that a panel might decide that they know the answer better than you do is, frankly, insulting.

At the same time, the gender recognition certificate has become a gold standard of identity documentation that it was never designed to be. Prisoners who don’t have one are housed inappropriately – these are precisely the sort of young disorganised trans people who are most vulnerable. Police LGBT liaison officers have often mistakenly got it into their heads that the gender recognition certificate is some sort of requirement that people need to carry around at all times, whereas the 2004 act specifically makes it illegal to demand it. There are also concerns that a central register of trans people – that the panel effectively created – might be abused in some future circumstances; current proposals in the US would at a stroke abolish all changed names and gender markers and make gender assigned at birth the only legal standard.

It is because of these considerations that, for some time, trans people have been asking for a simpler and less intrusive procedure. If it seems odd that Theresa May’s government is going to do something this humane and sensible: well, they have to do something, and this does create a thin line of blue water between them and the DUP. After all, unlike proper access to trans medical care, a simplified version of change of civil status costs the Treasury nothing.

As with almost everything to do with trans people, the opposition to these changes largely consists of weighing hypotheticals against actualities. We are asked to believe, for instance, that a male peeping tom might use the legal procedure to gain access to women’s changing rooms, whereas trans people – and anyone else someone thinks might be trans – can be randomly humiliated by anyone with a mind to do so.

Helen Lewis in the New Statesman has argued against changes to the law on the basis that the rights of trans people to go about their business are in competition with the right to privacy of cisgender people – in which she finds herself lined up with the most reactionary parts of the US Christian right, who see toilets as the battleground on which they can drive anyone seen as gender-nonconforming out of civil society. In the end, it’s all about goodwill and common sense, in the absence of which both complicated and simplified procedures of gender recognition are bound to become a mess.