Gender Recognition Blues
Some stories you won’t be reading in the UK press this week about Gender Recognition Reform
There were many issues with Theresa May’s never fully fledged proposals for reforming the Gender Recognition Act. Perhaps the greatest was a supine and dishonest press, that did not understand the concept, but nonetheless hated it, and has since consistently misled the public at every turn.
As parliament prepares to recess, two cheers for the Gender Recognition Act, a remarkable piece of zombie legislation,which even now refuses to die. Too controversial to put down: too many ignorant opinion-havers poking at politicians to allow it to proceed.
Just two certainties remain. That government will spend the summer seeking some sort of fudge that will please all, but end up upsetting everyone. And the UK media will continue to rehash, mislead and, yes, lie, in order to represent a simple administrative measure as the end of the world as we know it.
Last week’s untold story
Let’s start with a story we did not hear about last week. 15 July marks the fifth anniversary of the passing of Ireland’s Gender Recognition Act (GRA). The legislation did not go into force until a month or so later: but that is the date when Ireland’s trans community celebrates it. As such, with Westminster all agog as to what wise words would emerge from the mouth of Inequalities Minister, Liz Truss, you might think the UK press would have something to say about it.
After all, Ireland is neither that different from the UK, nor very distant: is not some exotic faraway location like Malta or Argentina (both of which have quite progressive laws on gender recognition). You might expect some curiosity as to how that country’s “experiment” with trans rights panned out.
Who are you kidding? Despite a flurry of interest from UK journos last week, seeking to rehash one more time the tired old sensationalist catalogue of all the bad things that MIGHT happen with “self-id”, there was nothing, nada, tumbleweed! How do I know? Well, I assist Trans Media Watch in daily press monitoring for trans-related stories. And while there might in some small corner of this forlorn field be a piece or two on the topic, I’ve yet to find it.
Whyever not? Because surely a comparison of the Irish experience to UK hyperbole on this topic would be worth a punt? Dream on, Jane: dream on!
What we did see were a lot of journalists sniffing round trans folk. Their nostrils flared to the sweet scent of communal grief and they wanted REACTION. Unusually, for the first time, two journalists asked me for instances of how the GRA process did not work. Well done chaps! It only took three years to get there. But of course, being obsessed with the trees of sensation (is that really a thing? Ed), you just “wooden” spot the basics!
This week’s mistold story
And we got a poll which suggests that alongside the UK press, YouGov must also be added to a long list of organisations whose approach to anything trans-related either lacks competence or is motivated by malice. (I did ask their press office to comment: but at time of writing, nothing, nada, etc. BUT: see below the end of this story, since i did eventually catch up with the guy who “does PR for them” and got as close to an official statement as i suspect i will ever get).
First up, that YouGov poll. One of the big out-takes from it, reported gleefully in the Times, amongst others, was the finding that a mere 28% of the UK population supported measures to make obtaining a gender recognition certificate “easier”. Ta da! Vast majority (well, 47%) oppose reform! Sorted. Except, really? Is asking the great British public their views on complex legislative questions a good idea? (I’m not even going to mention #B̶r̶e̶x̶i̶t̶)
Because what do the public know about gender dysphoria? Or being trans? What do they know about the actual process for obtaining a gender recognition certificate? Not much, I’d warrant. That ignorance was likely only deepened by YouGov’s decision to lead respondents with the false claim that “Currently transgender people who wish to change their legal gender on official documents (e.g. Birth Certificate, passport) have to apply for a gender recognition certificate (grc)”.
No. That’s the point. The ONLY thing the grc changes is birth certificate: but telling the public that it is at least three things, and likely more — that “e.g.” is doing a lot of work there — diverts the question onto the very agenda the hyperbolists have been pushing for the past three years. Change the process and…you’ll be up to your ears in fake trans folk!
It’s dishonest, too, to boil “doing gender recognition better” into one soundbite of “making it easier”, which the public have been conditioned over the last three years to believe is all about waking up one morning and declaring yourself man, woman or giraffe (Piers Morgan’s suggestion!). Because there is an awful lot wrong with the process that our brave journalists have quite failed to snuffle out, despite three years and literally hundreds of articles in which to do so.
Gender clique: want whole story!
Problems began with the convening of the first Gender Recognition Panel, under Judge Michael Harris in 2005. According to those involved in framing the original law, the process was intended to be light touch: some basic proofs; a couple of statutory declarations and hey presto! Bob’s your aunt!
It did not need masses of medical proof because, while the GRA sort of took medical intervention (hormones and surgery) as the most likely pathway to gender change, it included no requirement for it. That is no oversight. Making individual human rights dependent on a demand that someone undergo significant medical treatment is a priori a breach of Human Rights.
Sadly, his Judgeship set off on a rather different path (which some sources claim, he, or his successor, Judge Jeremy Bennett, later regretted). Perhaps the fact that the panel was much the same panel as sits in judgement of Disability Benefits cases informed the mindset. At any rate, the process swiftly bureaucratised, with demands for medical proof that were both multiple and in depth.
The approach has been offset to some extent by helpful civil servants, who filter applications and intervene to recommend extra proofs that applicants might wish to find before applying. Still, the panel approach is frequently stupid, often brutal, and unlikely to change much with the replacement of Judge Bennett by his 2-i-c Laura Grey late last year.
Costs escalated, as clinicians realised that a simple report would not suffice. So much for the idea of simply trusting the word of a senior NHS professional! Worse, they needed not just to affirm that treatment had been carried out, but to do so in terms that ticked the right language boxes.
In the past week I have spoken to several trans folk who have told how their application was first rejected because it did not include the right words. “Gender re-assignment surgery” would not do. The report MUST use terms like “vaginoplasty” or “phalloplasty”, or it would be bounced.
In one instance, evidence that a trans woman was carrying out post-op dilation was rejected because…why? If anyone knows of another process, apart gender re-assignment, after which you need to dilate your “neo-vagina”, do tell! The hardest thing is not knowing whether this is merely ignorance on the part of the panel, which includes no trans person, or bloody-minded pedantry.
What, too, of the requirement for BOTH a diagnosis of dysphoria and details of surgical intervention? Logic says if you don’t need medical intervention, you don’t need the latter (despite some 60% of those so well-informed YouGov Pollees demanding otherwise). In fact, according to several of those familiar with the system, it would appear significantly easier to apply for a grc if you have not had surgery!
Panel Speak: Demand dysphory
Alternatively, if you have had gender affirmation surgery why do you need evidence of dysphoria? Again, early years, there was a fast track route to clear up a backlog of applications: prove you’d had previous medical intervention and…no need for additional evidence. That’s logical.
Yet the winding up of that fast track leaves trans people such as myself in a difficult place. If I apply for a grc — and I likely shall — I may be required to turn up with a recent (sic) diagnosis of dysphoria. But I’m not. Dysphoric, that is. My dysphoria mostly went away the minute I woke up post-op, approximately a decade ago.
How CAN I provide “recent” evidence without either commissioning completely spurious (and costly) reports or perjuring myself? What is the gender panel worried about: that individual bits might grow back? Spontaneous re-attachment?
And woe betide any trans person who was treated by a clinician, perfectly properly, who yet worked only briefly in the gender service, and was never fully accredited there. Yes, you guessed: any evidence they provide counts for nothing, and it’s back to square one again.
You must, too, be consistent in your desires. Changing your mind as circumstances change is taken as proof of lack of commitment. Like the young trans woman who at the start of treatment said she might want breast augmentation and two years later did not. Aha! The panel pounced: indecision.
No, hormones! She grew her own. Boobs, that is: and like most trans women, most cis women, too, post-puberty, had no need for extra surgery.
Were that the worst excess of the gender panel, it would be bad enough: but also crossing my desk last week was the case of a young person for whom the panel appeared to be REQUIRING surgery if she wanted her grc. Let’s stop and think about that a moment: amidst all the panic about enforced transness, the only body endorsing such a thing is an official government Tribunal!
Worst of all, is the case of a trans person moved to Australia. They were told that since we don’t recognise Australian clinicians, she would need to start the process (of evidence-gathering) again, using UK experts. That’s a long distance process that would cost her around £1,000. Worse, though: they needed to be sure of what was now “down under” (and no: we’re not talking Australia!).
So would she mind skyping a UK GP and popping her bits out on the table in front of a camera?
That’s sounds almost funny, so long as it is not happening to you. I spoke with her again last night and she told me she was in despair: 6 years post-op and stuck in limbo, because the panel’s advice now is: “wait until the law changes”. That’s the law they were going to change in 2017: and the government still has not decided what it will do next.
You could not make it up! These are just some of the stories that trans people know and are disgusted by. These are the stories we have back of mind when we talk of making the process easier.
And if you are a UK journalist who has written about this issue and is reading such stuff for the first time here, well: shame on you!
ETA: I eventually caught up with YouGov. At least someone in their Press Office picked up the phone and explained: no…they had not had my emails. Oh: hang on. Here they were in the junk folder.
I think it fair to say the conversation did not go entirely well. After being told off for my patronising tone, we eventually got to the nub of the matter, which was the falsehood included in YouGov’s poll. “But is that really an issue?”, their press person asked. “Would it have changed the result much?”
Well, who knows? But one side-effect of printing factual error in a poll like this is it gets reprinted in dozens of newspapers, thereby perpetuating misinformation about trans stuff.
Would YouGov provide an official statement/response? Probably not.
People may read what they will into that: but on the surface it would appear that they have joined the wider media in not being too bothered about accuracy in the information their polls contain, which must raise questions about the wider accuracy of their results.
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