Feminists should take action on changes to the Gender Recognition Act

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Feminists should take action on Changes to the Gender Recognition Act

At the end of the UK government’s consultation period on changes to the Gender Recognition Act, Husna Rizvi explained why the problems people have with the suggested changes are not very clear.

For a few hours we had a chance to make a real difference to the quality of life for British trans people. As feminists we had to take the chance.

On 22 October 2018 the government closed its consultation on changes to the Gender Recognition Act. The consultation asked English and Welsh people what they think the process should be for legally changing gender. Before, the process involved forcing trans people to live in their new gender for two years before the change of gender is granted legally. In that time, the trans person must give evidence to a doctor that they have a psychiatric problem called ‘gender dysphoria’. The LGBT-rights group,Stonewall, describes gender dysphoria’ as when someone is distressed because their sex at birth and their gender identity are not the same.

And trans people must sign to say that they are serious about wanting to live in their new gender identity permanently. And if the trans person is married, their wife or husband must agree.

Why there must be change

For feminists who want to question gender power, this process is very worrying. Stonewall calls it a medicalized process, difficult to get, and expensive. It’s good to remember that the Gender Recognition Act is about the law and not about medical advice or about changing gender. It is about legal recognition of gender identity. Making the process medical with psychiatric diagnosis and forcing trans people to live legally in their forced identities for another two years sees trans identity as a mental illness. It’s good to know that in Norway legal changes to gender avoid this completely and there is no waiting period.

When 41 per cent of trans people say that healthcare staff did not understand their health needs in the last year, it is important to make it clear what it means to be a trans person.

The problem comes from not understanding how gender identity works. It assumes that trans people are only changing gender at the time they make an application and not before. And so the state is supporting a forced practice.

For now, the Act is similar to the days when homosexuality was seen as a mental illness. This caused lasting psychological problems for queer people then. Gender is about social position, not particular genitalia, and trans people suffer a lot of gendered violence.

This year 2018, Stonewall reported that 53 per cent of trans people aged 18-24 experienced a hate crime and 25 per cent of trans people experience homelessness at some time in their lives.

Feminists concerned about power know that genitalia is not a cause of intimidation and harassment that women and trans women suffer. Genitalia do not make men follow women (especially trans women) home at night. It is power. When trans women try to live openly as women, the threat of violence is greater. 40 per cent of trans people change the way they dress to avoid discrimination.

Stopping the ‘panic’

The moral panic around the Gender Recognition Act is for two fears; that recognition will allow trans women access to women-only spaces, and that trans women are a threat to non-trans women. The law now says that trans women already have a right to access women-only spaces and services, so the moral panic is coming a little late. But the first reason for the panic comes from the second reason. There is an idea that trans women have been socialized as men, and so are a threat to non-trans women. This is wrong because trans women have not been socialized as non-trans men. Trans women have been forced to live as men from early on and suffered bullying and violence. Their experiences are very different from the experiences of non-trans men. As Lorna Finlayson and others say: “There is clearly a difference between the experience of a child who is treated as a boy and also feels like a boy, and a child who is treated as a boy but feels that they are really a girl."

Non-trans men are mostly expected to have positions of power in patriarchy. This not the same for young trans people. When it comes to getting a job,one in three UK employers say they are ‘less likely’ to hire a transgender person and 43 per cent were unsure if they would hire a transgender worker.

The government’s consultation advice says that ‘trans and non-binary people are members of our society and should be treated with respect’.

Until 11:00 pm on 19 October 2018, feminists in Britain had a chance to protest against gendered force. It would be a terrible thing not to support and take action for our trans friends.

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(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed)