The new Gender Recognition Act in England and Wales won’t improve the lives of most trans people (but you should still fill out the consultation anyway)

[Content warning: for talk about statistics on transgender people’s health and well-being]

A recent report on hate crimes in England and Wales shows a 32.1% increase in anti-transgender hate crime in the past year. Even if we were to consider this an accurate indicator of what life has been life for trans people in the UK – which it barely is, considering how many incidents go unreported, and how many way more engrained, structural issues we face – one would have to admit the situation is not looking good. The ways in which the media are continuously reporting on our lives have been nothing short of a moral panic, and one of the main things fuelling all of this has been the consultation on the reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004. Which, to me, poses a question: in the end, will it all have been worth it?

I know, I know. The current legislation is out of date and does not follow the international best practice. Acquiring a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) is currently an intrusive, long and costly process, through which our genders are further medicalised. Indeed, while according to the government’s estimations, there are around 200,000–500,000 trans people living in the UK, since the current Gender Recognition Act (GRA) came into force, only around 5,000 have been issued a GRC. I would argue, however, that one of the reasons behind this is even simpler: having a GRC has little to no bearing on most aspects of our everyday lives, and would rarely come at the top of a priority list.

Transgender people in the UK have lower life satisfaction than our cisgender counterparts, and most of us have avoided being open with our gender expression for fear of negative reaction from others. While many of us struggle with poor mental health, accessing any support for this is extremely difficult, and the same applies to specific transgender healthcare: the average wait for the first gender identity clinic appointment is 18 months, and once there, we are met with gate-keeping and more waiting. All of this on top of facing bullying and discrimination at work and higher rates of unemployment, as well as intimate partner violence and higher risk of being made homeless. The reformed GRA will not change any of this.

While it will mean that the process of changing our ‘legal gender’ is easier, this only concerns birth certificates. Changing our names, titles and gender markers on almost all records, including those held by the HMRC and the NHS, as well as our passports and driving licenses, can already be done without having a GRC. ‘Legal gender’ only really seems to matter when it comes to marriage and pension provision – except, of course, equal marriage already exists in England and Wales, and after a recent ruling by the Supreme Court, mixed couples will soon be allowed to enter civil partnerships, too. As the age of state pension entitlement is also becoming equal for anyone born after 6th of December 1953, ‘legal gender’ will only have an effect on someone’s receipt of a Widow’s Pension or a Widowed Mother’s Allowance. Even the main case I would have previously made for the importance of the GRA reform – ensuring that trans women never have to spend any time in male prisons – is undermined by the fact that even having a GRC would not guarantee this.

You might notice that the topic of single-gender facilities has not come up in this list. Despite what TERFs – trans exclusionary reactionary (or ‘radical’) ‘feminists’ – would have you believe, you already share bathrooms with trans people. Not only so, but this is also in no way affected by the existing GRA or its upcoming reform. Protections from discrimination are already enshrined in the Equality Act 2010, which, unfortunately, does also state that trans people can be denied access to single-gender facilities if ‘the action taken is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’. What other reasons, beyond prejudice, could apply here, is unclear, with the clause similar to the cop out of ‘reasonability’ of adjustments when it comes to the same legislation’s discussion of disability.

Despite this, it has been the TERFs whose opinions have been the loudest since the start of this conversation. While claiming ‘silencing’, they are the ones receiving funding from American anti-abortion, anti-LGBT far right groups, and using it for massive billboards or newspaper ads. Trans women, in the meantime, are constantly demonised, made to debate their right to exist, and receive death threats on their social media accounts. Having to deal with this has been the biggest cost of this consultation – yet I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that its biggest ‘victory’ will be the Conservatives being able to pat themselves on the back for being extremely progressive, and continuing to proclaim their LGBT-friendliness, all while continuing to make cuts to vital NHS and other services, and despite the material conditions for trans people not being made any better by the reform.

In light of all this, it’s easy to wonder why I would still encourage everyone to fill out the consultation before the deadline at 11pm on the 19th October. Especially as an ally to trans people, this should definitely not be the only thing to do – supporting the trans people in your life emotionally and materially, elevating our voices, and challenging transphobia are all paramount. Filling out the consultation does only take 10 minutes or so out of your day, and while the GRA reform itself might not be of particular importance, the implications of what this consultation could mean go well beyond its scope: among other things, I would not want to know what this, or any future government, might feel emboldened to do if the majority of responses come from hate-filled transphobes.

[Dylan Beck – @dylthepickls]

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