The government is consulting on changes which would allow people the right to change their legal gender through self-declaration, an important if limited step forward for trans, non-binary and intersex people.
The consultation is on the 2004 Gender Recognition Act (GRA), and proposed changes to this Act. It is open until 10 October.
The GRA allows successful applicants to get new birth certificates in the gender they have transitioned to. These are used for some pension provisions, marriages, and a few other things, while gender on passports and elsewhere is changed independently.
The current process is difficult, invasive and degrading. It costs £140 and requires medical reports, a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, evidence of having socially transitioned for two years, and submission of evidence to a panel. Since 2004 less than 2.5% of the UK’s trans population of 200,000-500,000 have successfully acquired a Gender Recognition Certificate, while a large majority would like one.
Trans people experience widespread and severe discrimination, harassment and social exclusion. 40% of UK trans and non-binary people reported experiencing hate crimes in the previous year and 14% do not feel safe where they live. In the USA at least, transphobic violence is increasing.
Many trans and non-binary people experience difficulties in being socially recognised in their desired gender, and often struggle to access much needed medical and other support. Due largely to these factors 84% of young trans people in the UK have self-harmed and 45% have attempted suicide.
Preliminary proposals suggest that to change legal gender individuals will need to make a statutory declaration of their intention to “live in the preferred gender” until death, with most other obstacles removed.
Statutory declarations are made in front of a solicitor or similar, and false declarations carry heavy penalties. No changes have been proposed to the Equalities Act, which allows exclusion of individual trans people in rare situation, such as occasionally from women only refuges.
Some issues being consulted on have not been proposed as imminent amendments, such as non-binary inclusion or changes to privacy protections. Several countries have moved toward comparable self-declaration, such as Denmark, Argentina and Ireland. Doing so has benefited trans people and in none of them have the “concerns” voiced by people who oppose gender self-declaration materialised.
Self-declaration helps trans people by removing some difficulties in social recognition of their identities, helping to counteract their marginalisation. The GRA should be amended to require only self-declaration of people’s gender identities.
It should also permit non-binary legal gender identities, have a process available for people under 18, and remove the requirement that married people must either get their spouse’s approval or annul their marriage. Gender neutrality could help trans people, from bank cards to toilets. This is a different issue from self-declaration.
The government’s consultation and proposals are limited by the superficial nature of their desire to help trans, non-binary and intersex people. Some Conservatives may genuinely want to help trans people, but the proposed changes tackle only one important issue. The Conservative’s wider politics prevent them from confronting many others.
Capitalism feeds trans oppression as part of an oppressive gender order. For class-societies to reproduce themselves they need to maintain and replace workers, and creating new generations involves biological reproduction. Individuals’ abilities to perform other types of labour decreases in late pregnancy, while their needs don’t. Only some people have the biological capacity to get pregnant. Maintaining and replacing workers takes both time and money which could otherwise be used to create profit for the ruling class.
Division of labour organised by gender and through families helps keep costs low. Gender differentiation makes use of differences in reproductive biology on a society wide level, dividing individuals into “men” and “women” based on assumed ability to get pregnant. Men perform more labour that directly makes profit for the ruling class, while women perform more labour that replaces and maintains the exploited class.
Men therefore directly acquire more money or goods, and women less. This has generally been regulated through men oppressing women, supported by institutional oppression of women. Where women demand more, this indirectly demands some of the ruling class’s profit.
In capitalism the ruling class’s drive for profit encourages it to directly organise workers under its own control.
This strengthens divisions between domestic labour and wage labour: organised through different institutions, in different places, functioning at different times, and experienced in different ways. This generates powerful ideologies of “seperate spheres”: family and work, private and public, women and men.
This idea of two opposing and incompatible genders marginalises and oppresses non-binary, intersex and many other people.
To maintain the gender order, genders are treated as innate and reducible to biology. This marginalises and oppresses trans people. People who transgress the gender order are demonised and oppressed for doing so, which reinforces it.
On the other hand, capitalism has opened up the possibilities for limited steps towards equality, which can and must be fought for to be realised.
The consultation [www.gov.uk/government/consultations/reform-of-the-gender-recognition-act-2004] is open to all, and is worth completing as it may inform important changes immediately, and will likely influence the success of future campaigns. There are broader issues we must also campaign on.
We must campaign for better provision of holistic gender identity services and trans healthcare, which are currently seriously underfunded and inaccessible.
Doing so must be part of taking the NHS back into public ownership, with adequate funding and under democratic control. Unions, the Labour Party and the labour movement must organise to tackle transphobia, sexism and harassment at work and in wider society. Refuges for trans and non-trans victims of domestic violence are insufficient and profoundly underfunded. A much shorter working week and broader public services would help undercut the basis of the gender binary.
Ultimately, we must transform the labour movement to overthrow capitalism. Fighting for all of these issues and more would help trans, non-binary and intersex people, and also women and the working-class.
A minority on the left argue that self-declaration, a limited step to help a small number of oppressed people, is a threat to women’s rights. They completely miss the bigger picture.