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‘Transitioning is a huge thing to do’

Features | Published:

Proposals to simplify the legal process for changing gender by allowing self-identification have sparked concerns about the safety of single-sex facilities, but are such worries justified?

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In the third and last of his articles on Guernsey's proposed discrimination legislation, an anonymous writer reveals what it means to be transgender and how people like him could benefit from the protection of the law:

FOR anyone who did not read part one and two, I would like to explain that I am a transgender man, am gay, am registered as severe sight impaired, have mental and physical health issues and have autism.

Whilst everybody can potentially be discriminated against, I am aware that I certainly face some more likely scenarios/challenges.

There are many myths about transgender people, including presumptions about what transitioning actually involves. The truth is that it is a huge thing to do, and you risk judgement and rejection from friends, family and others.

The reality of being transgender and transitioning is that after a hard journey, you identify in a different way and you are going to make changes to reflect that – so it is already based on ‘self-identification’ and your own sensible informed decision-making. Most people have already ‘self-identified’ and are living in their acquired gender identity before they speak to their doctor or a specialist.

It is also incredibly public – when you change your name/title/pronouns, change the way you dress or have to use public toilets, this is not something which you can hide away. You have to endlessly explain to people what, why, what next and a lot of very personal details. This is understandable but it does mean that your gender identity is now ‘out there’. It does mean sitting down with businesses explaining all of this to a complete stranger.

It also goes further than that. I have been refused getting money out of my own bank account as it ‘obviously wasn’t my account’. Due to disabilities, I need assistance for travel and I have checked in on flights with a male name/passport/Mr and then that same person has asked a colleague to ‘help the lady to the plane’. This is distressing and frustrating but also very public (and for reference, people usually read me as male and often don’t realise I am transgender).

When I had legally changed my name, passport, social security and tax etc. to male, I had problems changing my bank account. Initially, the bank told me I had to have a Gender Recognition Certificate (for which you have to prove you have lived as the acquired gender for two years, although there is no requirement to have any surgery). I disputed this and they then accepted my documents but said I could not change to male and could use Mx (a gender neutral prefix) but not Mr on my bank card. I had to fight and argue about this to get it correct.

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In the UK, legislation prevents this happening, but the laws don’t apply to Guernsey and businesses don’t have to follow UK policy. It was eventually resolved but it was stressful and time consuming and there was legally nothing I could do about it.

The issue of same-sex spaces needs to be addressed. Single-sex spaces are there primarily for dignity and privacy. For something like changing rooms or toilets, it implies that women are ‘safe’ with women and men with men, but at risk of inappropriate acts if opposite sexes are together. This presumes that everybody is heterosexual and also that people are going to be inappropriate. Why is it different for a lesbian to be changing alongside other women in a changing room? Why is it all about perceived threat?

There is a lot of media hype about men using gender identity to pretend to be trans/women in order to enter female spaces to commit criminal acts, but this would be dealt with as such. If someone is intent on committing such an act, then the law of where they should or should not be is not going to deter them (as with other crimes). It also presumes that such acts are solely committed by men against women.

It neglects to acknowledge the vast majority of trans and non-trans people who are simply using the facilities in the way they were intended, and also that you can ‘tell’ if somebody is trans. If you apply the logic that you cannot use gender identity as the basis for where people get changed, that means a trans man (with physical traits associated with men) would be forced to use a women-only space, and this wouldn’t be ‘acceptable’ for him or for the rest of the women there.

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The reality is that people currently use the facilities which they most identify with or with which their body most fits and there aren’t any issues with this – discrimination legislation would not change how people use these spaces but would just protect everyone using them.

Alternatively, additional laws would need to specify which spaces trans people could or could not use. When I knew I was transgender but still living as female, I used female facilities. At the start of transition, I tended to use disabled or avoid when possible, as I didn’t feel comfortable in either. I have now only used male spaces for a considerable amount of time. It can still be daunting or intimidating, but I have never been challenged and it really would not be appropriate for me to go into a female area. However, it would be good to know that I have the backing of the law on this.

Within the discrimination law, I have concerns over gender identity and the fact it could be decided by a tribunal. I understand this is a way of ensuring that someone doesn’t ‘decide for the day’ or misuse the law, but again this goes back to it being a criminal matter. If a tribunal met to rule on what gender identity should be used, I would presume members of the tribunal would be specialists, but what criteria would they use? Some people socially transition, others medically transition, many do both but the timescales for accessing services are long (taking well over two years to even get a first appointment at a gender identity clinic). Is it going to be based on chromosomes? Hormones? Secondary sexual characteristics? Genitals? Clothing? Names/documents?

Some will be fairly clear – a non-trans person living in the gender as assigned at birth, and someone who has medically transitioned and legally changed gender through a gender recognition certificate. However, there is a lot of grey area in between and I have concerns over how that decision will be reached.

It is scary that someone would be deciding whether I had used the right spaces and what gender identity I was deemed to be.

Read part 1 here and part 2 here.

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