Paper and video presentation given at the Eighth International Gender Dysphoria Conference, August 2004, Hulme Hall, Manchester University, England. Organised by Gendys Network.
At the beginning of a paper like this it is important that I congratulate all those who have been involved in fighting for the rights of sex and gender diverse people in generating the new proposed British Gender Recognition Bill (email@example.com 2004). This bill will give many humane equal rights to many people of transsexual identity to amend their birth certificates, marry, have appropriate pensions, and claim other legal and social rights during and after a sex and gender transition.
These rights have been denied to them since the disastrous decision in the Corbett vs Corbett case, where transwoman April Ashley was denied a legal settlement during her divorce. Judge Ormrod declared that she could not have been legally married because she had been registered as a boy on her birth certificate and that could not be changed; therefore she was not entitled to a divorce settlement (Fallowell, 1982).
Having stood alongside, fought and campaigned with many international as well as British campaigners, I know to what extent and effort they have gone to at their own expense to make this new British bill happen. I am also aware how, since the Corbett vs. Corbett case influenced so much of the rest of the world’s view on the legal status of people of transsexual identity, this new bill will also influence matters abroad as well as those for British citizens. Human rights are as much a global matter as well as the business of a country’s internal politics.
I also want to congratulate the many British people this bill will affect, along with their families and friends who have also had to bear the burden of those people being denied many basic human rights. As a woman of transsexual origin myself, I know my own long-term life partner has not only been a tower of strength to me but also a fountain of unending support. The changes that the bill will provide will add to the richness of both many people of transsexual identity and to their families and friends. In my role as a specialist in sex and gender and as a family therapist I have seen the position that people of transsexual origins have been placed in because of the unfair laws and injustice. This has often caused devastating effects on their families and social support networks, both short and long term.
The main thrust of this bill has undeniably been under the guidance and relentless campaigning of the British pressure group Press for Change (www.pfc.org.uk). This hardcore group of people has been the engine forcibly driving the propellant of the legal change. At each stage of the bill’s passage they have been there, backing up the process and easing it forward. There were many obstacles met along the passage of this bill including profound ignorance of many MPs and Members of the House of Lords about the basics of biology and sexology. Other obstacles were outright attacks on the equal rights for people of transsexual origin by religious extremists, not only from fundamentalists, but also in many cases from the established church.
Indeed the passage of a piece of law through the British parliament is a precarious journey, one fraught with many threats of derailment, and the majority of proposed bills simply make no progress. That this bill has got through at all, since it deals with the rights of a very small minority, is a testament to the determination and fortitude of those campaigners involved.
This bill, however, only deals with the rights of people who are within a slim margin of the sex and gender diverse scope of the human experience. It gives rights to those who identify as being transsexual and heterosexual, and as a piece of legislation leaves a massive scope for the future abuse of many people who do not fit into that slim margin.
The bill will not affect me and will not redress my lack of human rights despite all the years I campaigned. As a child I was brought up as a boy and at 15 I left home and have lived as a female for the past 35 years. Living as a female I was told by the British government that both my marriages to men were nil and void because I had a male birth certificate that could not be changed. Since I still had a male birth certificate I was allowed, after several months of battling with the British Births, Deaths and Marriages Department, to marry my long-term life partner Katrina Fox who is female. We are in a lesbian relationship and could not get equal rights to pensions, inheritance, tax concessions and so on afforded automatically to our heterosexual peers.
In order to protect such rights the only course open was for us was to get married with me as a male and Katrina as a female, even though I lived as, had a passport as and was taken in society as a female. Under the new bill I would have to divorce my female partner in order to qualify for my birth certificate to be amended to female. This would mean that we would both lose some of our pension rights, inheritance status and tax allowances. It would also mean that the government was attempting to interfere with our marriage in order to afford me the human rights that someone who had transitioned only a week ago could get automatically, but I could not.
This is not only homophobia but also an extended form of transphobia in that only certain kinds of people of transsexual origin will be accepted by society and the law. It is also against the ethos of international law in that no country should force any couple to get divorced against their will. Katrina is my family and I will not allow any government to take that away from us and attempt to substitute it with the kind of inferior equalities that most governments currently begrudgingly offer gay couples. The irony is that in England I am still legally male, living as a woman and married to a women but when I emigrated, the Australian government refused to recognise me as a male, saying that I was really female when I got married and the British marriage is not valid. They would not grant Katrina permanent residency as my wife, only as my interdependent same-sex partner.
There are many other couples also in our situation, in that they may have married since transition under the same circumstances or they may have married before transition of one partner occurred. It seems we will remain the great unwashed with the legal inequalities continuing to be perpetrated against us by the British government and society. This situation is plainly driven by the move to the right in politics over the past 10 years and many governments are striving to prevent any forms of gay marriage.
There are also other groups of people whom this bill will also not benefit. Some are people who identify as being transgendered, not transsexual, in that they do not necessarily strongly identify as being associated with one singular male or female identity. They may change their body by hormones and surgery to reflect characteristics of another sex, but they will still strongly identify with their sex of birth. (O’Keefe 1999). These people may wish to move through society as one sex or gender but may need to identify in other legal areas as another sex and gender. The burden of proof of sex or gender identity is unnecessarily incumbent upon those citizens, stopping them moving freely through life in a peaceful and law abiding way.
People who are androgynous (O’Keefe & Fox Eds, 2003) and may wish to identify as both sexes and genders, either on a permanent or part-time basis are also impeded from living their life in a free society by this bill. Not that the bill directly prevents them from doing that, but the bill is exclusively providing for people who are confessing to having a pathology named as gender dysphoria that is pegged as an illness, only to be cured by allopathic medicine, surgery and the condescendence of society.
The photographer Del La Grace Volcano (2003) living in England will not benefit by this bill as he was registered as female at birth but now identifies as intersex by design among other labels, and objects to being simply pigeon-holed as either male or female. While he appears at a glance in society to be male, he has retained many female characteristics to his body. Del told me he does not believe his identity is exclusively either male or female neither physically or psychologically, and his documentation should not force him to choose. The new bill will not help him.
There are also those who have no sex or gender identity and see themselves as neuter. Christie Élan-Cane (O’Keefe 1999) tells us how per (per=person) started life as being identified as female at birth on their birth certificate. Later Christie came to identify as neuter and does not like to be identified as either male or female or both. For Christie simply to have an X or Per on all per documents would be much more comforting and humane. At the moment Christie could not form a relationship for marriage without identifying as either male or female which for Christie would be unacceptable. The new bill will not help Christie.
Maxine (pseudonym) is both intersexed and transgendered. She was brought up as a boy but for many years crossed over to living as a female. She has come to a time in her life when she now wishes to live part of the time as a male and part of the time as a female. She does not want to have any kind of sex or gender identification on her document as this prohibits her ability to choose how she wishes to present when travelling. This bill will not help her.
Robert (pseudonym) is now in his late sixties. In his fifties he decided to have feminising hormone treatment and neovaginoplasty. Because of his family situation he has never lived full time as a female. He is still married to his wife and appears to his grandchildren as grandfather. Both he and his wife have an apartment in another city where they go and he lives as a female during their stay. For him, although he underwent hormone treatment and surgery, he felt that full transition was not appropriate. He wants documents that do not state any sex or gender so he can move freely as a male or female. This bill will not help him.
There are no reasons why sex or gender should be stated on any civil documents. Neither race nor religion is stated for means of identity and to have sex or gender mentioned on documents is unnecessary in an age where we are identified by barcodes and genetic fingerprints. In the British government attempting to bring in identity cards, issuing people with two identity cards one male and one female would not help some people who do not wish their sex or gender to be mentioned.
Many of these issues were raised during the drafting of this bill. SAGE (Sex And Gender Education Australia) an organisation that fights for the rights of sex and gender diverse people in Australia put in a submission to the British government pointing out these very flaws in the bill. Many of the members of SAGE are expatriates and British passport holders. We were asked not to rock the boat by the vice presidents of Press For Change. Dr Stephen Whittle PhD, lecturer in law at Manchester University, told us that this is probably the only chance we will have to get a bill placed for many years and if dissention in the ranks derailed the bill, then it was unlikely that such a bill would be tabled for many years.
Since this was a bill that attracted much protest from bigots and religious zealots, I think Stephen was probably right; but nevertheless it meant that the bill, in order to go through, only catered for transsexuals who are identify and who wish to pass in society as stereotypical men or women.
For many transsexual people this bill has been a miracle that will allow them to live their lives as they wish. For many of us this bill has been a disaster and we believe that in some ways it has put the sex and gender diversity movement back years. It is not a bill that allows an individual to choose their own sex and gender identity according to what they believe suits them. It is a bill that reinforces bipolar male/female stereotypical heterosexual views of human sex, gender and sexuality.
It is a bill that locks those who do not fit into the narrow unrealistic perspective out of society and marginalises them ever more to the edge of what is acceptable. We are now further down the ladder in society because now we do not qualify to be male, female or transsexual. The fact that we are positively identified as sex, gender and sexuality diverse is dismissed and our human rights are still withheld. For us the passing of the bill will be a sad day, when despite our many years of campaigning and educating, we are left out in the cold.
This bill has also been a disaster for sex and gender diverse people in that it bought into the medical model which determines that everyone who wishes to change their sex and gender status will need to be pathologiesed with the label ‘gender dysphoria’. From a biological, psychological, and sociological perspective, this concept is incorrect. Some people who change their sex and gender identity do suffer from a profound sense of sex and gender dysphoria; but many do not and instead transition out of informed choice, not out of illness. Sex and gender status needs to be determined by self-determination, not by a panel of people, medical, legal or otherwise who know virtually nothing about that person’s life. It is society policing people’s choices and abusing a person’s right to live their lives how they choose.
For many of us, the fight to claim our equal human rights looks set to carry on for many more years. I doubt that in my lifetime I will now see all the changes that could have been made to this bill. I hope that those who benefit from this bill will not abandon those of us who gave up so much by not rocking the boat so at least some of you could have the freedom you are about to receive. Minorities need to continually to protect their human rights that are always eroded through time by the masses.
The new gender bill will only protect those it benefits if they continue to keep a watchful eye on society’s behavior towards them. I hope that those people will also continue to help move the markers forward until society accepts that it should be the right of all individuals to choose their own sex and gender identity according to their needs, wants or desires.
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Christian Institute, Why Gay and Straight Relationships Should Not Be Equal in the Eyes of the Law. www.christian.org.uk/home.htm, 2000.
LaGrace Volcano, Del, Sublime Mutations. Janssen Verlag, Netherlands 2000.
McNab, Claire, UK Parliament Passes the Gender Recognition Bill. Press For change Web Page, www.pfc.org.uk, firstname.lastname@example.org, 8 June 2004.
O’Keefe, Tracie & Fox Katrina, (eds), Finding the Real Me: True Tales of Sex & Gender Diversity. Jossey-Bass, London & San Francisco, 2003.
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Dr Tracie O’Keefe DCH, BHSc, ND, Clinical Hypnotherapist, Psychotherapist. Counsellor, PACFA registered Mental Health Professional and Naturopath In Sydney. You can get help by booking an appointment with her at Australian Health & Education Centre.