There has been a great deal of comment in the press about government proposals in England for self-declaration of gender by transgender people. Something that strikes me in all of this discussion is how little the people expressing hostile views know about the whole business of identity and what these suggestions are all about.
Currently a transgender person wishing to transition (start living in a gender different to that given at birth) will typically start to adopt the dress, behaviour and name appropriate to their new presentation. They may, or may not, approach doctors to seek help in the form of counselling or hormone treatment. All of this is something they can decide for themselves.
If help is sought from a Gender Identity Clinic then there will be a point where that person is asked to undergo a period of living full-time in the new gender. This will involve changing documents relating to name and adopting the lifestyle appropriate to that gender. Typically it is expected that they will do this for a period of at least two years. Hormone treatment does not usually commence till the person has already started this period of what is known as RLE (Real Life Experience). It is a test, are you sufficiently committed to live that way before physical treatments and changes occur.
RLE is a difficult time for a transgender person as they must risk ridicule and hate from people they meet as they try to live in role. But they will be expected to live that way fully.
The Equality Act (2010) gives rights to non-discrimination to anyone who is transitioning. And that covers those who begin a process of transition or make a statement that they intend to transition. This covers access to facilities appropriate to the gender they present as. In practical terms that covers places like public toilets and other gendered places such as changing rooms in shops. Now of course there is a caveat here in that the person’s presentation must be appropriate to the situation. But all of this is essentially self-declaration under current legislation.
What the government is looking at is something quite different. A transgender person can obtain things like passports and driving licences as part of the transition process I have described above. The one thing they cannot have is a reissued birth certificate. For that they must apply for Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC). To qualify for GRC there is another long process to go through which cannot start until you are in a position to prove to a court body that you have lived in role for more than two years. Detailed evidence must be provided including dates of all document changes. Furthermore there must be statements from two appropriately qualified doctors that you had gender dysphoria (or similar) and that transition was medically supported.
Due to the difficulty of the process many transgender people do not apply for GRC. It is this process that the government are looking to reform by allowing people to self-declare their gender. They will still have to meet qualifying criteria and will have to make an oath to a court that they are changing gender in what is intended to be a permanent way. It is a process that is already in place in other countries such as the Irish Republic and Argentina.