Same Sex Marriage Bill – Transgender Implications

The government has published its long-awaited proposals for same sex marriage. This is a technical blog post, looking at what the implcations for trans people are:

I have a non-binary identity

The government’s equal marriage consultation set the tone by starting off talking about “marriage regardless of gender”. This was hopeful in that it suggested that trans issues were being given equal consideration to the comparatively more straightforward issue of same sex marriage in a cisnormative situation.

Note however that this bill is called the “Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill”. This seems like a retrograde step. We’re back to talking about “same sex” and “opposite sex” rather than “regardless of gender”. Indeed, it goes on, when talkming about how “marriage” is to be interpreted in existing legislation:

A reference to marriage is to be read as including a reference to marriage of a same sex couple

Same goes for cohabiting people who aren’t married – extension is to be granted to same sex couples.

Furthermore:

(a) “husband” includes a man who is married to another man;
(b) “wife” includes a woman who is married to another woman

This is pretty thin for non-binary people. If you’re neither a man nor a woman, or your marriage can’t be described as either “opposite sex” or “same sex”, then you’re not included in any of this. Where the consultation simply avoided this “opposite sex/same sex/man/woman” distinction entirely with “marriage regardless of gender”, what we now have in the bill is “marriage for the genders of male and female”.

If that’s not you and you want to get married, you’ll likely have to lie about who you are.

I want a civil partnership

Nothing has changed – you and your partner have to be the “same sex”, even if that’s a completely nonsensical way to describe your relationship. If the concept of “same sex” doesn’t mean anything in your relationship, you’ll likely have to lie if you want one of these.

I’m in a civil partnership and I’m transitioning

If you are in one of these and want a Gender Recognition Certificate, you have a few options:

  • Convert your civil partnership to a marriage before having anything to do with the Gender Recognition Panel.

  • Get an Interim Gender Recognition Certificate and annul your civil partnership. This is the same as at present and there are no proposals to end this barbaric practice.
  • Have your civil partner transition to the same binary gender as you (if one or both of you aren’t binary, lie) and apply for a GRC at the same time. The highly competent and efficient civil servants who administer all this stuff will make sure this works smoothly (warning: sarcasm may apply).
  • Don’t get a gender recognition certificate. This is what lots of people in this situation (both in civil partnerships and marriages) already do, because they regard their relationship as more important than legal recognition as their proper gender. I wish I hadn’t found out I was one of these people until too late.

If you want to transition into an “opposite sex relationship” in the eyes of the state and retain your civil partnership, you can’t. If you have lots of money you may want to consider speaking to a human rights lawyer at this point.

I’m already married and I want to stay married and I want a Gender Recognition Certificate

Congratulations. You fall into the category of “trans people for whom this is actually useful”. You can have one. Your existing relationship will continue to be recognised. It’s not clear if you can get your name fixed on a reissued marriage certificate the way you can on your birth certificate; the bill doesn’t say.

I was married, I had my marriage annulled, I’m now in a civil partnership, can I have my marriage back?

I’m in this situation. The answer is no, you can’t. It stinks, doesn’t it? The government screwed us over and it’s not really interested in sorting that out. It’s not that the bill prohibits restoration of our relationships per-se; it just completely ignores the issue. It’s almost as if they’re really embarrassed about what they did to us and hope that by not mentioning it, it’ll just go away.

Oh, right…

I’m married, my relationship has turned acrimonious. We have a house/kids/shared stamp collection [delete as applicable], it’s all really toxic, does this affect my rights under this bill?

I have some bad news for you. You might want to sit down.

The stuff about marriage being no impediment to getting a Gender Recognition Certificate any more … that’s not entirely true.

When you apply for a GRC, if you’re married, you need your spouse to consent in writing to you getting a GRC.

That’s right – this person who probably has a restraining order against you, and is threatening to never let you see your children again, and has told all your mutual friends that you’re dead, or have been kidnapped by penguins, or anything to escape the shame of being married to one of them, this person has a veto over your legal gender.

It’s only a temporary veto. If they don’t sign the form and you apply for a GRC, you get an Interim Gender Recognition Certificate. You then have to go through the annulment process as before. Your partner can stall this for a bit by not responding to court letters and hiring solicitors and stuff. Basically, you have to go through the pain of an acrimonious divorce before you can have a Gender Recognition Certificate, even if you’ve been separated for years, probably on account of the stress your poor ex partner will have to go through if they realise that you have a piece of paper in your desk drawer which makes them officially gay.

A note on consummation

It’s not clear what this means for trans people who don’t have the expected genital configuration. If the government don’t tighten this up, expect another hilarious court case along the lines of Corbett v Corbett real soon now.

Conclusion

If the government were to publish a bill that provided for marriage for same sex couples, and then noticed that they got the bare minimal bit of Gender Recognition Act reform thrown in for free, but didn’t decide to actually go out of their way to do a single damned thing for trans people, it would would look exactly like this one.

Shame really – it showed so much promise. We’ve been thrown under the bus again, but it’s what we’re used to, right?

I’d better stop, as I seem to be getting a bit cross.

What the Hell is Wrong With You People?

Last week thousands of transgender people, sick and tired of suffering systemic and chronic abuse at the hands of an institutionally transphobic medical profession, decided we were going to tell the world about it.

Or at least the bit of it that reads Twitter.

It was relatively successful. Lots of people looked at the stories of routine and pointless abuse, abuse for its own sake, and were shocked.

So what did our intrepid press do? Did they decide to run daring exposés of this systemic abuse? Bring justice to a minority denied it for decades? Campaign to stop further abuse from happening?

No, they didn’t do any of these things. Noticing that it looked like a bit of a laugh, and the the doctors were getting away with it, they apparently decided to join in themselves.

So far we have the Guardian, Observer, Telegraph and today the Independent joining in (apparently we should be able to take a joke as our “shoulders are broad enough”). Interesting to note that this is mostly the broadsheets too. I await the contributions of the Times and Financial Times with interest. What will it be? A hilarious witty take on how trans women have deep voices, and are ugly, and how we have hairy arms, and smell and are stupid?

A development I’ve also seen this morning is the Dawkins Brigade joining in. Not just the ones who think rape is funny, but some of the ones who are horrified at the ones who think rape is funny, because while rape is definitely Not Funny, apparently trans people are. They can agree on that: laugh at the trans people, they’re funny. Ha ha!

Apparently this is about “freedom of speech”. When a newspaper editor publishes something randomly abusing trans people and then thinks better of it, and withdraws the article, this is an attack on Freedom of Speech and it is Censorship, and because trans people had the nerve to complain about being abused in the national press, it is Our Fault and we are The Censors, and Julie Bindel was right all along about a trans cabal.

The irony of telling a minority to shut up in a forum where we’re mostly being ignored anyway so that the majority can call us bedwetters in a national newspaper without worrying if their editor is going to pull the piece is apparently lost on “freedom of speech” campaigners.

I think, reflecting on this, I have one point to make: Freedom of speech is many things, but what it is not is the right to a column in the national press, free from editorial constraint, where you get to abuse “the little people”, and have a baying mob telling those same “little people” to keep quiet while our betters tell us how rank we are. In caricaturing it thus, you cheapen it.

Meanwhile, trans people are increasingly wondering what the hell is happening us and curling up into balls and feeling like begging for the abuse to stop. I know I am.

Please stop it. Please just stop. Stop.

Please?

Sarah’s Arts and Media Review

A curious thing happened on Twitter, and in the papers over the course of the last week.

As far as I can tell, a small clique of journalists, apparently united by their love for lobster and champagne (yum!), and dislike for trans people (boo!), got upset over the discovery that Twitter isn’t like writing for a newspaper, where you can say something outrageous and any protest is filtered by a letters editor. Instead, if you say something outrageous, people tend to talk back.

One of them responded very badly to this discovery. A few people, most of whom probably weren’t trans, had engaged with her over an article she’d written. Initially this was apparently quite polite – certainly more polite than a lot of the stuff I get people tweeting at me.

In a display of “how not to do social media if you want a quiet life, free from throwing crockery at the wall”, she then tweeted a bunch of stuff about “getting your dick cut off” and suchlike.

This didn’t go down very well, and lots of people told her what they thought about this. Some of them were probably not polite, most of them were probably not trans. This led to what those audience members savvy in the ways of the Internet might term a “flounce” or a “rage quit”; she deleted her account and subsequently claimed to have been “hounded off Twitter”.

This was followed by one of her friends trotting out some line about how trans people are “bullies” and a “cabal”, and another of her friends publishing a letter detailing her resignation from humanity in the Observer (or was it the Guardian? It seems to depend whether you were reading it in dead-tree format, or online). The letter included snippets about how trans people are all bed wetters in bad wigs, how they use strange Latin words which she didn’t like the sound of, had twenty PhDs each, are “shemales”, and how we wouldn’t like her when she’s angry.

To be honest, she doesn’t sound terribly likeable when she’s not, especially when it seems she’s previously written stuff about how it would be a good thing to shoot sex workers. Some of my friends are sex workers, and they’re nice people, and I’m not keen on the idea of them being shot, so not liking her is probably not much of a loss.

This whole episode can be seen in different ways. On the one hand, it can be seen as a failed attempt for newspapers trying to embrace social media in the face of a business model brought into decline by the existence of the Internet.

It probably works better as some sort of grotesque piece of theatre, in which trans people are portrayed as a shadowy cult, manipulating world governments through the art of wig-wearing and lobster munching luvvie journos, are pining for the return of the 1990s glory days in a world they no-longer understand; a world which includes trans people and iPhones, and trans people using iPhones.

You should probably skip it and go and see Les Mis instead.

It’s Time for the Media to Change the Record on Trans Healthcare

Transgender healthcare is in the news again. It’s been widely known amongst trans people for some time, but on the 6th of January, Guardian journalist David Batty reported that the General Medical Council is investigating private trans healthcare specialist, Dr Richard Curtis. In his article, Batty paints a picture of misdiagnosis, patient regret, and inappropriate prescribing.

Those of us who follow this stuff might be forgiven for experiencing a sense of deja-vu. Dr Curtis took over the private practice of Russell Reid from 2005. In 2007, Dr Reid faced a General Medical council fitness to practice hearing which was reported on by no other than Guardian journalist, David Batty. In his reports, Batty spoke of misdiagnosis, patient regret, and inappropriate prescribing.

It’s entirely proper for the GMC to investigate allegations of misconduct, and for the press to report on it, but it’s difficult for trans people not to notice how terribly one-sided it all seems to be. The doctors who seem to end up in front of the GMC seem to be those ones who are generally well regarded by trans people, and who have a reputation for helping us when nobody else will. Press reports concentrate on regrets about procedures which have satisfaction levels beyond the dreams of most other fields of medicine, where much larger regret rates are regarded as par for the course. They rigidly stick to a narrative about a dangerous procedure which gullible people are tricked into by reckless doctors and end up bitterly regretting.

The reality experienced by trans people ourselves is not recognisable from the press reports. In reality large numbers of us are used to being ignored, abused and ridiculed by doctors when we seek treatment. We are denied referrals, denied funding, denied prescriptions and humiliated by a medical establishment which many experience as institutionally transphobic.

Batty’s recent article prompted me to take to Twitter to highlight the hypocrisy of the media in how they report trans healthcare. I wrote:

I had a misdiagnosis which led to surgery I regret, and which has caused long term problems.

Here press press press! I, a trans person, had surgery due to misdiagnosis and I regret it. Come and get it, you know you want to.

The scarring will never fade. My mutilated appendage will never be fully functional again. It’s all true. Nice and juicy! Come and get it!

I was offered surgery after only two appointments with the specialist.

Less than five minutes later, and despite my painfully obvious trolling, the phone rang. It was a newspaper noticing that I’d spoken about surgical regret and could I elaborate? They lost interest when I said it was all true, but I was talking about surgery I had on my right hand in 2011. I apologised for wasting their time.

The misdiagnosis which led to me having surgery on my hand when I shouldn’t have done, and which made the existing problem worse, won’t ever be the subject of a GMC fitness to practice hearing, nor would I want it to be. There’s nobody at fault for what happened; it’s just one of those things which falls within the limitations of modern medicine. I may ultimately lose one or more fingers because of it, but these things happen and I am simply unlucky.

But I could not have wished for a more perfect example of the double standards at work here. Prompted by this, a few trans people started sharing stories of how they had been mistreated by their doctors with me. The next morning, I made a Twitter hashtag, #TransDocFail, to share stories about mistreatment and prejudice at the hands of the medical community. I expected a few dozen. Later that day I stopped counting at 2,000 and several days later, it’s still receiving new reports. Lots of the descriptions are harrowing: people being called “abominations” by their doctors, people bleeding to death being refused treatment by A&E departments, vast numbers of GPs telling people to pull themselves together, or “sacking” them as patients, sexual assault by unnecessary and repeated genital examinations, and so on.

The reports went on and on. Trans people watched it with sadness and resignation. Non trans people stared, open mouthed, barely comprehending how the healthcare system can treat people like this with barely a whisper in the national media. If this was happening in any other area of medicine it would be a national scandal, comparable in magnitude to the Saville affair, staying in the headlines for months and prompting widespread investigations.

I’m thrilled because I managed to speak about it for 5 minutes on local radio.

The media needs to end its transphobic obsession with transition regretters, because this wilful tunnel vision is blinding it to routine and systemic abuse of transgender people when we try to access health services. The LGBT movement wouldn’t tolerate it if the bulk of LGB coverage in the press was about loud and proud ex-gays. We shouldn’t tolerate this either.