Evren Filgate gives their perspective on the reform of the Gender Recognition Act and the struggle that trans people face in their daily lives.
We heard news a few weeks ago that the Gender Recognition Act is being reformed. Hooray! Surely that is a good thing. We have Made It; it is just like 2013, when David Cameron Ended Homophobia with the (equal) Marriage Act.
I, however, harbour doubts. But then again, I’m a reluctant transsexual.
The use of that word is deliberate. ‘Transsexual’ and ‘homosexual’ have the air of a pinch-lipped woman sneering them from underneath a bleached and starched ward matron’s cap. It is a symbol of how far trans acceptance has come that the vocab à la mode has changed, and now the terms ‘transgender’, ‘trans’ or ‘trans*’ are more widely used. The new GRA will likely echo that, with its move toward self-determination rather than medicalisation (i.e. people will be able to self-report and not be subjected to psychological testing to determine whether they are fit to be legally recognised as trans or not).
I have nothing against the new terminology, and I wouldn’t change who I am or the people I have met because of my being trans for the world. My reluctance isn’t personal. It’s to do with society, and the government. I approach debate on the subject of gender the same way I approach all politics: grumpily and with distrust.
Transitioning and access to medical care
I won’t waste time with the 20/20 hindsights repeated in Gender Identity Clinic therapy sessions across the nation. Nevertheless, yes, I have memories dating back from when I was a small child ‘wishing I was a boy’.
Despite having been aware of my general gender and sexuality bugbears since I was a child, I only started the medical process of transitioning this year, as an adult. The feeling of wanting to transition has been pretty much constant through my life, bar certain periods of repression or distraction, but various factors, including previous legislation and waiting times, traumatised the people around me who were transitioning, and so I was put off again and again. It is not too easy to transition, as some people would have us believe. In fact, it can be expensive, time-consuming, traumatic and dangerous. Medical neglect has left a friend with a disfigured chest, and another has only been on testosterone a few months longer than me, despite having been in the medical system since around 2011. The answer to these dangers is not to make transition harder, but safer, cheaper and simpler.
Over the several years I’ve been um-ing and ah-ing around transition, I have definitely noticed that things have gotten easier for trans people in their daily lives, assuming the entitlement they deserve when it comes to basic human decency and respect for their gender. But this has little to do with legislation. I am standing on the shoulders of giants, and almost literally every step I take I am able to do so because of others: admins of a long-forgotten internet forum where patient moderators dealt with questions about deed poll legality every week, for example, or a friend of mine who gave me my first hormonal injection.
In terms of medical care, I have had to pry what I want and need from the state pretty much by force. I am armed with the inside knowledge of my trans siblings from years past. The fact that there is so much information on how to do access treatment isn’t an accident. When it comes to accessing medical care, trans people are well aware that sometimes mere weeks is too long to wait, and that is one of the reasons that we have the Trans Day of Remembrance.
Recent headlines will attest to this. For instance, recently transgender woman Vikki Thompson killed herself in a men’s prison because she lacked a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC), despite living as a woman since she was 10 years old. A GRC is expensive and difficult to obtain, so it’s no wonder that some people don’t want to go through the process of applying for one. Deborah Coles of the charity Inquest said: “A vulnerable, young transgender woman was sent to a men’s prison despite the risks of abuse and mistreatment. There was no consideration of the gender she had openly identified with for half her life.” This has always been an issue and will continue to be so even after the GRA is reformed.
Transitioning and the state policing gender
The fact that the Tories want to reform the Act is very interesting, considering their recent marriage to the DUP. I won’t jump to the conclusion that it merely masks Trump-style transphobia of the sort we expect from the Conservatives; it could just be more pinkwashing in line with marriage equality, something it is easier to not actively oppose – allowing the river of progress to carry flotsam and jetsam downstream in order to call the trash heap progressive. Nevertheless, even the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act brought in by David Cameron’s Tories in 2013 carried a hidden sting — the Spousal Veto, which allows your spouse to override your bodily autonomy if you are trans.
Either way, everyone but the most privileged of trans folk — the Caitlyn Jenners of the world, the privately funded overnight physical transitioners — will probably, like me, continue to see and experience the state’s intervention and overseeing of our gender identities and expressions as unwelcome and intrusive. I find it hard to believe that a Prime Minister who believes in ‘girl/boy jobs’ has our best interests at heart.
After all, the state polices our gender wherever we go, and this reform of the GRA won’t change that. As a trans person, getting a cold treated is a chore; forget finding work, signing a lease, buying age-restricted products or even getting a train. These are things I have done the past week or so. They all require endless forms of proof of identity, including gender markers. My gender marker is still currently F, even though my doctor has kindly written ‘proof’ of my trans-ness. I appreciate this, but the concept is ridiculous, and having someone cooperating with me puts me in the tiniest percentile of British trans people. I chose to go to a private doctor, which I used the last of my savings for, because it is the only reason I’m not 4 years away from starting Hormone Replacement Therapy treatments. In order for me to change my gender marker, I cannot currently afford a new driver’s license and passport.
I also don’t have a job. For a job you need proof of identity and the right to work in the UK, which requires identification. And to avoid discrimination (both overt and covert, since workers’ rights don’t seem to apply to zero-hours and precarious workers) your documents need to match up, or you risk outing yourself as trans. And so the cycle goes on.
An £140 charge for a Gender Recognition Certificate is ridiculous. It’s not biometric or leather-bound or requiring the intense administration that a passport does, so there’s no reason for the fee to be so high. But focusing on that does a disservice to all of the other hidden costs which contribute to trans unemployment, homelessness and death in a myriad of ways.
Trans people need your solidarity
To be trans is to immediately shoulder massive material disadvantage and economic misfortune. Critics on the left fail to realise that trans people need solidarity for the simple reason that our relation to society makes our material situations precarious and often intolerable. There are wider implications for gender and sexuality, sure. But prioritising debating those now ignores the issues that are painted on the coffins of dead trans siblings.
Trans people need comrades to pay for our transport home (Travis Alabanza writes far more eloquently than I do on the subject), support us when we face workplace discrimination and street harassment, and to just bloody listen to us when we tell you that we have access needs. I would rather roll with leftists who have my back as comrades on the street, in a fight or even in the toilet than those who have perfect trans-friendly vocabulary. I am willing to cut people slack, and help people learn.