Transgender Inquiry: The Verdict

Credits: Policy Exchange via Creative Commons

Credits: Policy Exchange via Creative Commons

CN: discussion of systemic transphobia, non-binary and intersex erasure, transphobic violence, medical & legal gatekeeping, spousal abuse mention

The Women and Equalities Committee published their first report today summarising the Transgender Equality inquiry carried out by the committee this year. Evidence from over 250 written submissions and five oral evidence sessions was collected and considered, and the report proposes a number of actions to be undertaken by governmental and other bodies for the advancement of equality for trans people in the UK.

The report sets a six-month time limit for the creation of a new cross-governmental strategy to tackle the inequalities faced by trans and non-binary people. Disappointingly, the rest of the conclusions set out by the report rarely mention non-binary people in any specific context, except to state that “the Government must look into the need to create a legal category for those people with a gender identity outside that which is binary and the full implications of this.” Although the report did state that “it was not possible within the scope of our inquiry to undertake an in-depth consideration of the position of all non-binary and non-gendered people”, its lack of specific and concrete commitment to addressing the issue of non-binary legal recognition is frustrating, especially considering the relatively large number of non-binary people who gave evidence during the inquiry. Furthermore, the report’s description of non-binary identities as “located at a (fixed or variable) point along a continuum between male and female; or “non-gendered”, i.e. involving identification as neither male nor female” demonstrates a continued lack of full understanding as to the infinite variety of non-binary identities in existence.

However, the report does support the creation of an “X” category for recording gender on UK passports, stating, “if Australia is able to implement such a policy there is no reason why the UK cannot do the same.” The committee further suggests that “in the longer term, consideration should be given to the removal of gender from passports.” This would be a positive step for non-binary and intersex people on balance, although the lack of commitment to legal gender recognition in other contexts alongside it raises some concerns.

Further positive conclusions include recognising the need to update the Gender Recognition Act 2004, to place self-definition as a priority over the current system, where applications for Gender Recognition Certificates are considered by a committee of doctors and lawyers, a process described by the report as “medicalised” and “quasi-judicial”. The report also recommends that 16- and 17-year-old trans people be legally allowed to apply for gender recognition, highlighting that people of this age are already able to make such decisions as getting married, joining the army, and consenting to medical treatment under UK law. It further concludes that the wording of the Equality Act 2010 should be amended from the outdated and unclear “gender reassignment” to “gender identity”, “mak[ing] it significantly clearer that protection is afforded to anyone who might experience discrimination because of their gender identity”, which will hopefully clear up the obscurity around the issue of whether the Act provides for non-binary people as well as for trans men and women.

The report is weaker, however, on the issue of the ‘spousal veto’ – the right held by the spouses of trans people to deny their partners gender recognition within their marriage. The report does not support any legal change in this area, and its statements that the use of this law for the abuse of trans people by their spouses, “where this occurs, […] is, of course, deplorable and inexcusable” and that “the Government must ensure that it is informed about the extent of this and ways of addressing the problem” sound very much like empty words.

Whilst the report does recognise the failures of the NHS to properly provide support and services, including services relating to medical transition, to trans people, its conclusions are a mixed bag. Although it calls for a review of these failures within the next six months, and asserts that “the requirement to undergo “Real Life Experience” […] must not entail conforming to externally imposed and arbitrary (binary) preconceptions about gender identity and presentation”, it does not support a removal of the Real Life Experience requirement, stating that “we are unconvinced by the argument that the NHS should simply grant on demand whatever treatment patients request.” Again, this conclusion appears worryingly sketchy. The concept of Real Life Experience – i.e. a mandatory period of time spent ‘living in’ a gender before the approval of any form of medical transition, without which it is often difficult or impossible for trans people to be read as their actual gender (presuming that gender is even conceptually recognised in everyday society), exposing them to even higher levels of harassment and violence than they would otherwise face – is predicated on “binary preconceptions”, such as the adoption of a ‘female’ or ‘male’ name (without which, many trans people are refused medical transition services altogether). It is entirely unclear how, in the committee’s view, the process will function, and what requirements it will entail; evidently, however, it will continue to disadvantage non-binary people and trans people who statistically face higher levels of violence, e.g. AMAB trans people, disabled trans people, and trans people of colour.

Em Travis, GR. co-editor

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