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I'm in quite a unique position to write this piece; as both a transgender woman and a budding journalist, I'm seeing two sides to a heated debate—and I'm seeing the reasonable points of both sides.
Long before our friends over in Ireland introduced their first ever legal gender recognition process (self identification for the first attempt was a brave move), campaigners in Britain have been hotly debating for the Gender Recognition Act to be replaced, the main argument being that it is out of date and is undignified for transgender people. It medicalises something that shouldn't be medicalised, our right to self expression and our right to know who we are without needing a doctor's approval. The side for self ID raises valid points, and I've long sided with them. I know that I would jump at the opportunity myself to be able to fill out a simple form and have my gender recognised without having to go through the humiliating gender recognition process—and have to pay for the privilege.
Over in Ireland, applying to change your gender is now said to be easier than it is to apply for a new passport. That's a huge step forward for the transgender community, and one which should be welcomed with open arms. But you also have to listen to the other side of the debate, because they have valid points too.
What happens to spaces reserved purely for women? Restrooms, women-only house shares, female-only jobs, changing rooms, shelters reserved for female survivors of domestic abuse? Of course, transgender women should always be seen as just that—women! But there are legitimate fears of people changing their gender without going through any form of diagnosis of gender dysphoria or going through any form of treatment, and then being able to access these female-only spaces without any question as to their intention to be in there. Don't get me wrong, the chances of a man forsaking his male privilege purely to snoop in on female-only safe spaces is pretty slim, but you have to understand that fears are there and these need to be addressed.
Gender is a debate that must be had by society in order to reach an outcome that works for everyone involved. And, currently, we're not having that debate properly. Activists for self ID are slinging the "transphobic" word around as though it's going out of fashion, and those against self ID are using the boring "women don't have dicks" phrase way too often.
We absolutely need to have a sensible, and open, discussion about this so that we can have effective, and world leading, policy in this area. We need policy that protects the interests of everyone, but the way things are at the moment we're going to either be left with outdated policy or we're going to rush in new policy that leaves one side out of the debate because to be called "transphobic" is a nightmare for the party PR team.
In order to establish whether or not the gender recognition process needs to be changed, we first need to identify the issues.
The process, as it stands, degrades transgender people by requiring them to go through a lengthy and costly process of proving their identity to a panel of people they've never met and likely never will meet. You have to have been living in your gender identity for at least two years, and you need to have a letter from a doctor or gender clinic either confirming your transition or declaring that you have been through the medical transition completely. You have to show years' worth of photos to strangers to prove you've been living in your gender role. You have to show all of your name change documents to prove you've taken on the new identity. You have to essentially make yourself completely vulnerable to scrutiny purely to be recognised as who you truly know you are. It's a flawed system that many transgender people don't even go through at all because they don't want to face the scrutiny of it.
However, the current system does have some positives to it. To say you must have lived in your gender identity for a certain length of time is a reasonable request to make. It wouldn't be fair to anyone to allow people to come out as transgender one day and the next day they are legally recognised as a different gender. I've seen many people detransition and change their minds in order to know that this would not be a sensible idea.
But, at the same time, self identification is a must if we are to be a progressive country and move forward.
Perhaps a compromise could be reached whereby transgender people are allowed to self identify, but they have to have lived as themselves for a certain length of time (let's say the current two years). Rather than proving to a panel of strangers that they have done so, perhaps we could remove the humiliating process by requiring a friend or family member to sign on the dotted line of the form declaring that they support the applicant as living in their new gender role for two years.
This process would be similar to that of applying for a passport or driving licence, whereby you must have someone support your application and sign to say that the photo is definitely you. Rather than having to persuade a group of people you are who you say you are, it would make more sense to allow people to find someone who knows them to legally declare their knowing that person has been transitioned for two years.
I believe this would be a fair compromise. It would prevent people from making an off-the-cuff decision to legally change their gender without thinking it through, going through the process of transitioning and showing that they're not going to change their mind later down the track. But it would also remove the humiliation from the current process and allow people to self identify.