Support changes to the Gender Recognition Act

Issue section: 
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In response to Sally Campbell’s article on the Gender Recognition Act Kristina Harrison makes some interesting points (Feedback, October SR) but I think some of her arguments are flawed.

She acknowledges that the current application process for a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) is “long-winded, overly medicalised and reinforces gender stereotypes” and that the system needs “reform and adequate resourcing”. But she also suggests that the current system has been useful in protecting “people who have certainly been gender-conflicted but also confused, perhaps with primary presentations of schizophrenia or primarily fetishistic feelings”.

Unfortunately this argument opens the door to those promoting the discredited view that transgender people are mentally ill.

I think she also conflates the distinction between applying for a GRC and seeking gender affirmation treatments (hormones, gender affirmation surgery, cosmetic surgery). A GRC is not a passport to gender affirmation surgery, hormones and so on. The two issues are functionally separate. It is currently not necessary for a trans person to have had surgery to obtain a GRC so being able to obtain one more straightforwardly through self-identification won’t affect this situation one way or the other. Access to surgery, hormones and so on in the NHS depends not on having a GRC but on a diagnosis of gender dysphoria (and then the long waiting lists!). Some can afford to buy it privately, again irrespective of whether they have a GRC.

There are some other problematic aspects of Kristina’s letter. She says, “Gender reform must seek women’s consent, not their deference.” But surely socialists must start from the lived reality of transphobic oppression, not whether non-trans people are prepared to endorse our demands for equal rights and appropriate support? Socialists support trans people’s demands to be able to lead our lives free from prejudice, discrimination and violence and in the gender, or non-gender, that conforms to our sense of gender identity.

But Kristina seems to suggest that “women” (which women?) should be able to veto those demands. (This also begs the question of whether trans women are women, which they are.) We wouldn’t accept such vetoes over the rights and demands of any other oppressed group, so why trans people?

Kristina rightly continues that as socialists we must “go beyond gender roles” and that we need to work with “feminists, LGBTQ and progressive straight men” in opposing gender-role ideology and the systemic forces which underpin it. Certainly revolutionary socialists would argue that, while we must fight for reforms in the here and now, transgender liberation can only be realised through the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism and the creation of socialism.

Kristina’s suggestion of seeking legal changes “to reinforce the right to free expression of gender” might well play an important part in that process but we cannot duck the question of what we say right now about the actual existing proposals for Gender Recognition Act amendments, such as introducing self-identification.

According to Kristina “self-identification” is “the Tories’ cheap and easy option”. (Self-identification already exists without any apparent problems, by the way, in Ireland, Malta, Denmark and India; and India, Pakistan, Nepal and New Zealand also allow third genders on passports and other documents.)

I think Kristina’s view here is deeply mistaken. The proposed changes, including self-identification, were advocated by trans people themselves, not the Tories. And if we take the analogy of same-sex marriage, socialists and progressives didn’t oppose this on the basis that Cameron and most Tories were in favour, so why apply this argument to trans issues?

It is disappointing that some radical feminists and socialists, and even a few trans people like Kristina, oppose these proposals. Sally’s article was very clear on the class issues at the heart of these debates. There is insufficient space in a letter to address other objections that have been aired in the media and on social media on this issue. I recently responded to a number of them more fully in a blog article at wordpress.com/posts/laurascorner.blog.

Let’s continue to have discussions with opponents but socialists should unconditionally support self-identification and the other proposed amendments to improve trans people’s lives.