by Erika Baker, Convener of the Christians for LGBTI+ Equality Facebook Group
I have been genuinely shocked by the vitriolic responses to the Government’s consultation on the proposed reform of the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) from feminists and from many Christians.
None of the arguments appear to be remotely rational, nor do they have anything to do with the proposed changes.
Radical feminists seem to have developed a concept of what it means to be female that absolutely depends on gender being fixed. Anything that challenges that view challenges their identity.
Concerned Christians base their objections on Genesis, a story that explains that God created male and female, and that can seemingly only be true if the categories are rigid and binary, and if male and female only refers to external physical characteristics.
Even many gay Christians appear to have used the acronym LGBT for decades as a synonym for “gay” and there is an astonishing level of LGB ignorance of trans people and aggression towards them.
As when sexuality is debated, it seems there is virtually no compassion for people who, through no choice of their own, find themselves outside what society considers to be the norm. Instead of looking at the reality trans people are living in, people look at their own fears and blame trans people for finding wholeness through transitioning.
Whenever our gender and sexuality are debated, science and psychology are ignored and trans people’s actual well-being is disregarded. To many people in society, trans people become “mere issues”, and personal belief and irrational fears become the sole arbiters of truth.
The argument that trans people are a threat to society, and to women in particular, tends always to focus on just trans women. Very little is being said about trans men and non-binary people meaning that all the shrill fear and public condemnation is reserved for trans women.
While those fears are definitely real, they are neither legitimate nor well-founded. Many are based on complete ignorance of the current legal situation.
One argument goes like this: ‘What if trans people are suddenly allowed to self-identify and use any toilet they like? What about safe women-only spaces in women’s refuges? Trans women in women prisons?’ The fact that not all trans women have had gender confirming surgery and that some may never want to have surgery seems to add another layer of terror of women with penises allowed to access women-only spaces and abuse “real” women. Or, another argument goes, ‘once trans women are allowed to access women-only spaces, it makes it easier for men to dress up as women to enter those spaces and assault women.’
The moral panic is palpable.
In reality, the proposed changes to the GRA have hardly any effect on trans people’s access to single‑sex facilities and services. The Equality Act of 2010 already legislates for trans people to use facilities and services that are best aligned with their gender identity. This does not depend on having a gender recognition certificate, nor on having had any kind of surgery or medical intervention. Trans people can already change their names, and gender identifier on passports and other documents, with the exception of non-binary people, as there is as yet no non-binary category on official documents. One exception are prisons, where it is harder to be placed in the right estate, although in practice, most cases are assessed on an individual basis.
All that the proposed changes within the Act are aimed at is changing birth certificates without requiring a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria, and evidence of having lived in the acquired gender for at least two years in the form of bank statements, passports, payslips, utility bills etc. The fact that this evidence must be available before a Gender Recognition Certificate is issued should make it obvious to the “panicking worrieds” that people are already changing their identity and peacefully living trans lives.
People who fear that self-identifying will suddenly open the doors to hostile men in women-only spaces need to realise that trans women have been using female toilets and changing rooms for many years. In order to convince doctors that they should qualify for a Gender Reassignment Certificate, trans people must prove that they have been living in their acquired gender for at least 2 years.
The fact that those who now worry about the changes have felt safe in the past, and that there have been no reports of women being attacked in public toilets by men pretending to be trans women, should help to set minds at rest.
The idea that women’s refuges will no longer be safe is particularly strange. Are we to assume that a man who wanted to attack defenceless women would go to the trouble of obtaining a new birth certificate, when he could far more easily enter a women-only space as a cleaner, electrician, plumber or delivery man?
If we are genuinely concerned about violence, we ought to look at the violence against trans people.
The recent Stonewall trans report makes sobering reading. Rather than being predators, 41% of trans people and 31% of non-binary people have experienced a hate crime or incident because of their gender identity in the last 12 months. More than 28% of trans people have faced domestic abuse from a partner. 25% experienced homelessness at some point in their lives. 12% of trans employees have been physically attacked by colleagues or customers in the last year. 36% of trans university students in higher education have experienced negative comments or behaviour from staff in the last year. A recent systematic review and meta-analysis of nearly 2.5 million adolescents, found that sexual minority youths have greater risk of life-threatening behaviours compared with their heterosexual and cis peers. Transgender youths are the most affected followed by bisexual and homosexual teens.
THIS is where our fears should be focusing – on the safety of trans people in our society.
Trans people are not the problem –WE are the problem.
Trans people do not threaten us – it is OUR responses that threaten their physical and mental well-being.
Instead of giving in to our fears and trying to rationalise them, would it not be better to resolve to find out more and to educate ourselves?
We owe it to our trans siblings to do what we can to create a society in which they are fully included, fully respected, fully safe.
This post has been written with the input of the Revd Dr Tina Beardsley, who is a member of the Coordinating Group for Living in Love and Faith and author of This Is My Body: Hearing the Theology of Transgender Christians