Theresa May’s trans allyship was more impressive than Keir Starmer’s

What Labour are planning is hardly ground-breaking (Picture: NIKLAS HALLE’N/AFP via Getty Images)

The Labour Party has reiterated its pledge to ‘modernise, simplify and reform the intrusive and outdated gender recognition law’.

On paper, this sounds like a triumph, right?

I confess I felt a small note of hope when I first saw this proposal. After a long dark winter of constant political pressure on my community, the promise of a move – however small – away from medicalisation felt like the beginning of something positive.

But scratch the surface and what Labour are planning to replace the process for a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) with is hardly ground-breaking.

Instead of making trans people like me jump through hoops to recognise our legal gender that currently exist – like providing proof (like utility bills or library cards) that we’ve lived in our ‘acquired gender’ for two years, presenting this evidence to a panel of doctors and lawyers, and even getting permission from spouses – they instead plan to introduce a two-year ‘cooling off’ period after application, according to The Times.

Unfortunately, the little good that could be done here is all but swept away by a lack of serious commitment to trans people. Not to mention another long waiting period for a group of people who have already been waiting so long.

I find myself wondering: If I want a GRC, do I apply now and subject myself to a humiliating process? Or do I risk being forced to wait two years? 

In 2018, Theresa May proposed a reform of the Gender Recognition Act (Picture: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

When I first transitioned in 2012, I asked my GP if he could refer me to a gender specialist. Instead, he told me to wait a year to see if my feelings changed.

When I returned a year later, I was referred to a mental health unit where I was interrogated about my sex life in a bare room with ‘secure unit’ signs on the walls. It was a humiliating ordeal – and it discouraged me from seeking medical help for almost a decade.

Since then I’ve become calmer, healthier, more comfortable. After a wait of almost five years I was able to medically transition. I bought a flat, got married – things turned out OK.

But unfortunately my experience is not unique. Trans people are still being told that they are sick; that there is something wrong with them.

Removing the medical requirements (or, in Labour’s case, some of them) helps us move away from the perception of trans identity as a mental illness, and towards acceptance. 

But this latest announcement still feels like a huge step back from where we should’ve been.

In 2018, Theresa May proposed a reform of the Gender Recognition Act to simplify the process and – in her words – ‘see a process that is more streamlined and de-medicalised because being trans should never be treated as an illness’.

The announcement was part of an LGBTQ+ action plan brought by a Conservative Party likely still riding the wave of good faith from their legalisation of equal marriage some five years earlier, and was welcomed by campaigners.

Times, of course, have changed.

Despite two consultations (2018 in England and 2020 in Scotland) showing public and cross-party support, the UK-wide reforms were first watered down and then abandoned entirely as the Government seemingly changed direction on LGBTQ+ rights.

What do you make of these plans? Have your say in the comments belowComment Now

May was not wrong: the current process is gruelling, invasive, and often expensive despite previous cost reductions.

It is inadvertently designed to punish those who are already struggling, whether they are stuck on a years-long waiting list to see a gender specialist or do not have access to two years of documentation – as is so often the case with survivors of domestic abuse, or those who have been made homeless.

Labour’s latest proposed reforms remove the documentary requirements and reportedly reduce the medical requirements to a single gender specialist.

But there will also be lots of critics of the policy among the trans community – and not without good reason.

For starters, it doesn’t go far enough. The removal of some but not all of the medical requirements feels a little like a strong policy that was watered down to please everyone.

I might humbly suggest that when it comes to the rights and dignity of an entire group of people, pleasing everyone should not take precedence.

Secondly, the introduction of a two-year wait after the application is likely to deter people just as much as the documentary requirements of the current policy, and to cause new problems.

Trans people who want to get married as their correct gender, for example, will need to start planning for a GRC over two years ahead of time. Not great unless you prefer a very long engagement.

These proposals will do little to advance the dignity and respect of anyone (Picture: NIKLAS HALLE’N/AFP via Getty Images)

It also makes the odd implication that – after thinking long and hard about who they are, having hard conversations with family and friends, possibly undergoing a lengthy and stressful healthcare process, and now making the decision to legally alter their gender – a person might be so uncertain that they need another two years to ‘cool off’.

It’s hard to see how that makes any improvement to our dignity.

Two years is too long. It belittles trans people, treating us as though we don’t know ourselves, or worse, as though if we have easier access to legal gender recognition we might somehow misuse it.

It’s hard to imagine the consequences being severe if someone could easily alter their birth certificate, or declare their intent to marry at short notice. Heaven forbid.

I’ve never applied for a GRC before because I haven’t had a use for it. I would like to have my legal gender match the rest of my documentation, but the process has always felt too much trouble to be worth it.

Now, though, looking at the prospect of a two-year wait if I ever do want one, I wonder whether I should start the process before any changes occur.

At the end of the day, it’s good to see any kind of plan on LGBTQ+ rights after six years of waning support and backsliding.

But these proposals, I fear, will do little to advance the dignity and respect of anyone.

Perhaps a cooling-off period is in order, in case they change their minds.

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