Self ID, otherwise known as Gender Recognition Act reform is once again a trending topic. This following Scotland’s progress on reform which looks to demedicalise the process.

For the last 7 or so years a debate has been raging on regarding self ID in the UK. Supporters claim demedicalising the process will make their lives easier while critics claim doing so puts cisgender women at risk. But with so much rhetoric, anger and straight up disinformation it can be hard to understand what’s going on, let alone who is right.

I’ve talked to death and back about the Gender Recognition Act reform and what it will mean to demedicalise the process; but never for Trans Writes. Consider this that piece and check out our Patreon if you’d like to support our work of elevating trans voices.

What is the GRA?

The Gender Recognition Act 2004 is a piece of legislation that allows you to change the marker on your birth certificate. Prior to the legalisation of gay marriage; it also allowed straight transgender people to get married while continuing to block gay trans people from the same.

Note: the GRA only functions with regards to birth certificates and is not a requirement for changing the sex marker on your passport or driving licence. You might not think your driving license has a sex marker in the UK, but it does – it’s hidden.

Why do we need it?

The short answer is because the UK has legal recognition of sex.

The slightly longer answer is that trans people found our documentation was outing us and leading to harassment and discrimination. A trans woman took the UK to the European Court of Human Rights who ruled that a lack of gender recognition in the UK was a breach of transgender people’s human rights.

The case is Goodwin v United Kingdom and is one of many cases brought by transgender people against the UK on this issue. In this case the ECtHR ruled that it was a breach of our article 8 and article 12 human rights. Article 8 refers to the right to privacy and article 12 refers to the right to get married and start a family.

Straight transgender people could not get married whereas straight cisgender people could – meaning they were being discriminated against. Yes I know the preservation of straight-marraige only is a bit yikes, don’t @ me about it, @ 2004 British politics.

The article 12 part is a bit redundant at this point with gay marriage being allowed since 2014. However the article 8 point still stands; transgender people have a right to privacy. If the government are going to recognise legal sex then they must provide a method for transgender people to change ours.

What is the problem with it?

Prior to recent Gender Recognition Act reform it was costly, invasive, humiliating, had an abitrary wait period and your documentation could be rejected for seemingly no real reason. The gender recognition panel never meet you, they merely look at upwards of 2 years worth of documents and decide based on that.

However those recent reforms by former head of the Government Equalities Office and now Prime Minister Liz Truss changed some of this for those of us in England and Wales. The fee is now nominal, the process is now available online and the arbitrary wait time has been reduced. Though it still retains the gender recognition panel and the requirement for medical diagnosis.

Another problem is that the GRA operates within the framework for legal recognition of sex that already exists. In short; the only options are male or female which is not inclusive or supportive of people who are neither.

What is the proposed Gender Recognition Act reform?

They vary.

In my view Gender Recognition Act reform doesn’t fix the problem, which stems from the legal recognition of sex as a binary. Therefore my proposal to reform this is to scrap both the GRA and the legal enforcement of the sex binary altogether.

Though predominately the reforms that people are seeking with regards to the GRA are to include nonbinary identities, remove the fee, make the process easier to access and to demedicalise it.

What do you mean by “demedicalise it”?

Currently access to the GRA requires that you received a diagnosis of gender dysphoria which is signed off by more than one doctor. When people talk about demedicalising the GRA process or “self ID” this is (supposedly) what they mean. They mean removing the requirement to have a doctor sign off on your transition before you can change your birth certificate.

Why is demedicalisation or self ID sought after?

The medicalised process is an arbitrary extra step which is incredibly infantilising. The process of obtaining a diagnosis and these doctor’s notes isn’t easy on its own yet still ultimately boils down to telling someone you desire transition and then being listened to. Why the gender recognition panel must hear it from a doctor rather than the horse’s mouth is beyond me.

But even so; obtaining a diagnosis of gender dysphoria is currently straight up impossible for many transgender people in the UK. Perhaps this requirement sounded more reasonable when we measured gender identity clinic wait times in weeks, but nowadays we are inching ever closer to measuring them in decades – with current wait lists expected to take 20+ years to clear at current rate.

Unless the UK can magic up access to diagnosis within a reasonable time frame then its clear that the UK must drop the requirement for medical diagnosis from the GRA.

What are the criticisms of demedicalisation/self ID?

In short the criticisms of demedicalisation/self ID are that it “will allow any man” to access women’s spaces, such as prisons, sports, bathrooms, maternity centers, crisis centers and so on.

Critics claim that allowing transgender people to change our birth certificates with a legally binding self declaration would impact the safety of vulnerable cisgender women.

What’s your response to the criticisms?

It’s hard to respond to the criticisms at all as they do not appear to have any connection to reality. A birth certificate is not and has never been used to access spaces such as prisons, sports, bathrooms, maternity centers, crisis centers and so on.

In the words of Baroness Berridge in the House of Lords on this issue “the majority of these spaces already operate on a self ID basis”. Gender Recognition Act reform to allow transgender people to more easily change our birth certificate would have absolutely no impact on anyone who isn’t someone trying to change their birth certificate.

Even in the darkest imaginations of critics; an abusive cisgender man who changed his birth certificate would have no more access to vulnerable cisgender women than he does already. Their criticisms simply do not align with reality.

Closing thoughts:

Critics who oppose “self ID” or demedicalisation with regards to Gender Recognition Act reform appear to be trying to make the GRA a dividing line. They endlessly reinforce this idea that the GRA grants access to spaces because in reality they want it to be as simple as not signing off on our birth certificate to keep transgender people out of spaces. But it just isnt.

The GRA has no impact on spaces and nor should it ever. Transgender people’s protection from discrimination, such as in spaces, sports and prisons stems from the Equality Act 2010. An act which already appears to recognise that transgender people exist at different points on the ‘reassignment’ spectrum. With the actual legislation reading as follows:

A person has the protected characteristic of gender reassignment if the person is proposing to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning the person’s sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex.

Discrimination shouldn’t be more legal to do to someone just because they haven’t changed a legal marker on a certificate no one ever sees. It’s not less awful to harass a trans woman out of a bathroom if her birth certificate doesn’t say female. It’s still awful and I’m glad our legislation reflects that.

Opposition to Gender Recognition Act reform starts with the lie; the GRA impacts spaces. Then it protests against the consequences of believing in that lie; self ID will let any man enter women’s spaces unchallenged. It’s a hateful little ouroboros that has had anti-trans campaigners spinning in circles for almost a decade now, repeating and reinforcing it amongst themselves despite any and all evidence proving it not to be true.

The saying; “a lie can spread half away around the world while the truth is still putting on its trousers” comes to mind. Though its probably fair to say this lie in particular would more likely have entangled itself in its own coat if not for the mainstream media giving it prominence it did not earn and certainly does not deserve.Which is honestly the bigger problem.

The media have had every opportunity to research and accurately report on Gender Recognition Act reform and what it would do. They have refused to do so for the entire duration of this hate campaign, instead opting to let those with a vested interest in lying about it shout at trans people in TV interviews or across column inches. All because simply informing the public would’ve brought in significantly less revenue.