#GRA or #GRAConsultation may be something you have seen on Twitter either once or twice or all the time over the last few months. If not, you may have seen comments and questions being discussed in the press, on the news or on social media about ‘self identification’ of gender. Unfortunately, you may also have seen comments such as ‘they are changing the law so men can become women for the purpose of abusing women and children in toilets’. Apologies for this blunt and explicit remark, but this is being said. However, if anything, this highlights why we need to be changing the law to better support and be inclusive of trans and non binary people because they are experiencing so much hate and discrimination. And there is no excuse for this.
WHAT IS THE #GRA? WHAT IS THE #GRACONSULTATION?
The Gender Recognition Act 2004 (GRA) is the piece of legislation in England and Wales which means that transgender people who identify within the binary of male or female and who are 18 years old and above, are able to legally change the gender on their birth certificate and be seen in law as their true gender identity. This is done by applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC). This in effect, replaces your birth certificate. But to successfully get a GRC you have to apply and pay £140 to do so. Additionally, there are numerous hoops you have to go through including having a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, evidencing that you have ‘lived in your acquired gender for two years’ and producing a medical report.
For many the GRA is an incredibly valuable piece of legislation of course, and you may be wondering why we want to change it, or why the Government is consulting on it – hence #GRAConsultation. Simply put, although I don’t think we should ever be without a law that enables people to legally change their gender, the GRA is outdated and needs to change. Importantly it is fantastic that the Government is recognising this too. As a nation we should be striving for trans and non binary inclusion and legislation can be a great starting point for positive social change.
For all of the comments on social media saying ‘fill out the #GRAConsultation it only takes ten minutes’ I cannot possibly tell you all of my thoughts and feelings because it took me a great deal longer to respond. As is always the case, I had too much to say and with 25 pages of questions there was a great deal that could and needed to be said.
This is the first of several blogs that I will publish, highlighting the most important points I raised in my response to the GRA consultation. I hope you enjoy it and do come back to read the next which I will publish in the coming days.
WHAT MY EXPERIENCE TELLS ME
Thinking about the 70+ trans and non binary young people I have worked with, I feel that many would be divided about whether or not the requirement for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria should remain. For example, I went with one young person who was 18 years old to his first private gender identity clinic appointment. A clinician diagnosed him with gender dysphoria and it was so uplifting for him; feeling immediately validated and like for once someone believed him. However, there were others I supported who did not want a diagnosis, perhaps because they didn’t want another label or because they wanted transition without medical intervention (it is through NHS and private gender identity clinics that you are diagnosed with gender dysphoria).
WHAT DOES GENDER DYSPHORIA MEAN?
I also believe that this entirely depends on what is meant by gender dysphoria. At present it refers to the discomfort and distress a person feels, caused by the fact there is a mismatch between their gender identity and their sex – essentially the term does tend to have a medical/biological focus, looking at a person’s unhappiness with their body.
However, from my experience, many people do feel dysphoric because of their bodies (although not always), but also and predominantly because of discrimination – what I would term social gender dysphoria. For example, a person who is repeatedly called their birth name or referred to using the wrong pronoun feels discomfort and distress making them feel more gender dysphoric. Essentially, how someone reads an individual in terms of their gender and consequently how someone treats them can produce feelings of gender dysphoria, just as much as their bodies can. I found this especially true of non binary people, who did not always want to change their bodies.
Being trans or non binary and the process of gender reassignment is known or importantly, assumed to be a medical process by the general population. If we take away the requirement for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria I think there would be a level of concern from some members of the general public. For example, they might ask questions such as ‘how do we know if someone is really trans then?’ or ‘if we take away the process everyone will choose to be trans won’t they?’ Given recent media representations of the GRA and trans and non binary people more broadly, it isn’t surprising people may feel this way. However, I do not believe this is something anyone needs to be concerned or worried about. I am not a betting person, and generally I like to play it safe, but I would bet all my personal and worldly belongings on the fact there will not be a sudden influx of GRC applications from millions of cisgender people across England and Wales if we make the GRA process simpler and easier. Honestly, this ideology just isn’t true.
NON-ONE SHOULD HAVE TO BE DIAGNOSED TO CHANGE THEIR GENDER LEGALLY
I do not think anyone should be diagnosed with gender dysphoria to change their gender legally. Abolishing this requirement will make the process of applying for a GRC more inclusive of all trans and non binary people, especially for those who do not want to have medical intervention.
BROADENING THE MEANING OF GENDER DYSPHORIA
If a diagnosis of gender dysphoria is kept as a requirement to change your gender legally, then the definition needs to be changed to incorporate all the ways in which people transition, express their gender and experience gender dysphoria i.e. inclusive of social gender dysphoria as discussed previously. For example, a trans man is not just someone who socially transitions, changes their name, binds their chest, changes their pronouns, played with ‘boys’ toys’ when they were young, likes football, drinks beer and hangs out with ‘the lads’. Again, apologies for the bluntness of this example. However, I believe this is just one example that is used by a great deal of gender specialists, psychologists, and GRC panel experts to prove whether someone has gender dysphoria or not and therefore whether they ‘really are trans’. Although, there are many trans people who do identify within the binary of male or female and who do express their gender in a way that fulfils gender stereotypes and if that makes them happy then this is of course, absolutely fine.
The current process of diagnosing someone with gender dysphoria often links back to binary gender expectations and stereotypes and this needs to change. The young people I have worked with felt they had to lie about how they felt to fit in with this binary gender expectation and stereotype, so gender specialists would believe them. This is awful and every trans and non binary person should be able to be their true selves free of the social norms of gender, if this is what makes them happiest.
There is so much more to the GRA consultation and I will be publishing my next blog ‘#GRAConsultation – Your word just isn’t enough – the impact of requiring people to ‘live in their acquired gender’ in the coming days. I’d love to know your thoughts so please leave a comment below.