The government has finally proposed a gender recognition bill, but unfortunately, as Sam Blanckensee discusses, it doesn’t go as far as it should
I never really cared much about gender recognition. I felt that, yes I’m transgender, but what effect would a new birth certificate have on me? It wouldn’t change how people saw me. It wouldn’t effect whether or not my peers accepted me. I had already changed my passport so what could be so significant about a piece of paper that nobody ever saw?
Currently in Ireland there is no piece of legislation that mentions transgender people. So in the eyes of the law the person I identify as doesn’t exist. If I was to run for election, as a trans* guy I would meet the requirements of female gender quotas. If I was in front of a court I would be addressed as female.
The current proposed legislation will change this. It will give me a valid legal identity and give me privacy that most people take for granted. Having to out yourself each time you fill out official paperwork because not all your documentation matches up is against the European Convention of Human Rights. The most important thing for me is that the legislation will acknowledge that I exist.
Nevertheless, the current proposed legislation will not provide for everyone who needs it. There are three key groups that it doesn’t account for: those who are in existing marriages or civil partnerships, children under the age of 16 (with restrictions between the ages of 16 and 18) and those who do not fit the binary view of gender. It also expects applicants to get a recommendation from a physician who must be a specialist in either endocrinology or psychiatry. Needless to say the trans* community is not happy that this is the means by which the government is finally recognising it.
With the referendum on Equal Marriage set to take place in early May the government are trying to campaign strongly for marriage equality. However, in the case of trans* people the government is scared of allowing marriage equality by a trans* back door. Ireland already has same gender marriages in the form of trans*and intersex people and those with trans* histories. The government is saying that the aspect of the law that fights against these marriages will be changed after the introduction of marriage equality. However, if marriage equality does not pass, married trans* people will have to choose between their marriages and their identities.
A number of people hold the view that children can’t know how they identify. Those people have obviously never met a trans* child! My friends who are under the age of 18 are absolutely amazing. They are surer about their gender than most aspects of their life. Some of these kids are proud of being trans*, they are open among their peers and at school. Others are “stealth”: their closest friends and a couple of teachers may know that they’re trans* but most people in their lives would have no idea. Some of these kids are on hormones or hormone blockers and very few if any will be able to access surgery until after they turn 18.
Why should their age affect their rights? If the new legislation goes through as it is, young people between 16 and 18 will need five opinions to prove their identities: both their parents, a judge, their main specialist and an independent specialist. No child would transition if they didn’t identify that way. Believe me being trans* isn’t easy and coming out to peers can be daunting.
In my opinion there is no need for an age limit on recognition, it should all be based on self-declaration and the best interest of the child. No need for doctors but parental consent alone. Judges should only need to get involved on the basis of parents withdrawing consent. This would allow children to be treated how they identify and give them protection. After all, the birth certificate may be an important document but it is still just a document and can be changed back in the unlikely case that the child realises that they aren’t trans*.
Non-binary trans* people are an invisible but sizeable group in the Irish trans* community. These people who, like myself, do not identify as a man or a woman will not be recognised at all in the new gender recognition legislation. The bill specifies that there are only two genders and therefore if we by some miracle get a third option on birth certificates or even on passports there will need to be further changes to legislation. Unfortunately, it will be some time, I think, before there is enough visibility of non-binary people to actually make significant legislative triumphs.
I do not believe I need a doctor to tell me how I identity. The fact that that I need a doctor in order to access hormone treatment or surgery is frustrating but understandable. However, when it is written into legislation that I can’t change my documentation unless I have a doctor’s approval it goes beyond frustration and becomes a major issue. I live my life as a guy, I’m open about being trans* and I don’t identify as a man however that is how people see me most of the time. I regularly talk to politicians and they don’t see me as anything but how I present myself. Yet my word will not be enough to get a birth certificate that matches my identity. I will need to see either an endocrinologist (of which there are about three in the country who treat trans* people) or a psychiatrist (of which again there are only a couple in the country who treat trans* people) to prove that I am trans*. They say it’s not a diagnosis, but if you need to have something, that is seen as medical, signed off by a doctor then isn’t that what it is?
This isn’t the worst bill of its kind in the world but this is nowhere near good enough to protect one of Ireland’s most vulnerable groups. Some members of the Irish Trans* Student Alliance have been coordinating motions on Gender Recognition that are being brought to student union councils across the country, UCDSU is one of those unions. I will be bringing a motion to union council myself to mandate the union to campaign on Gender Recognition and lobby TDs and Senators in these crucial next few weeks.