By Charlotte Molloy
Last October, to much grumbling from the right-wing press and second wave feminists across the land, Theresa May announced that her government intended to change the 2004 Gender Recognition Act to make it easier for trans people, like myself, to be legally recognised and protected as the gender we identify as.
This is a really fantastic change of heart from a woman who, in 2004, hated the idea of people like me having basic human rights so much that she was absent from a total of four votes to introduce the first Gender Recognition Act to the UK. In my opinion, so much more can and should be done by this government to protect and support trans people.
Don’t get me wrong though, the proposed changes are amazing progress!
Under the 2004 Gender Recognition Act, just to be recognised legally by the government as the gender you already know you are, you have to prove you have lived in that gender for two years, get two doctors reports to prove support this, make a self-declaration, and then have all these documents perused by a panel of elderly male judges who could, after all that, reject the application.
To rub some salt in the wounds, the 2004 act also makes you pay £140 for the pleasure of that experience! Definitely time for a change, right?
Under the new act, which is based on the Gender Recognition Act that was introduced in the Republic of Ireland in 2015, trans people in the U.K. would only need to sign a statutory declaration.
This is basically a short form you sign in front of a solicitor that says “I pinky promise to stay a girl for the rest of my life and not switch back occasionally when I need a convenient spot of white male privilege.” And boom! They print F instead of M on your passport.
Seriously though, the proposed changes have the potential to make such a huge positive contribution to trans lives in the UK. At the more moderate end of the scale, being legally recognised as the gender you identify as fills people like me with a sense of self-confidence and of closure that we are who we say we are.
At the more extreme end of the scale, If such a law had existed sooner perhaps women like Vikki Thompson would not have been driven to suicide after extended abuse and sexual assault for not presenting as the gender they were assigned at birth.
However, speaking from personal experience, it’s not just a law that needs changing – its the whole of society. I may have legal recognition of my gender, but this hasn’t stopped people on the street looking at me like I have two heads.
It hasn’t stopped builders rattling off transphobic slurs as I walk by their construction sites. It didn’t stop a drunk girl pelting me with her purse and spitting at me to get out of the women’s bathroom the first time I tried to use it on a night out.
The people who do or say those things are nine times out of ten ordinary, decent people. Granted, teenage boys aren’t exactly a picture of humanity at its best, but deep down they are good people too and they don’t want to hurt anyone.
The problem is that due to a lack of awareness about trans people and our issues, and in turn a fear of the unknown, it becomes socially acceptable to these ordinary, decent people to invalidate my identity.
In their eyes, I’m some kind of weirdo that, depending on the newspaper they read or the part of Reddit they follow, is either mentally ill, a predator, hell bent on world domination, or some unfathomable combination of the three.
As long as there is this lack of knowledge, the hostility will persist. On top of proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act, this government seriously needs to take steps to inform people about trans issues and help us be accepted and treated as equals by mainstream society.
This could include a general public information campaign. If they could so effectively reduce the numbers of smokers and create such a major shift in public opinion about that within a generation, there is no reason they couldn’t do the same to improve the quality of life for trans people in this country.
Perhaps they could start by making sex ed more queer inclusive? But that’s an argument for another article…