Text of my letter to Baroness Stowell

The vast majority of prejudice directed at trans people comes not through deliberate, knowing acts of malice, but from ignorance and misinformation. People who are not trans view the world as though this condition is natural, and make decisions about trans people based on that assumption. When it comes to legal prejudice against trans people, these assumptions and a lack of understanding of trans people’s needs can lead to situations in which trans people are disempowered, unable to access the basic legal, medical or social rights that cis (non-trans) people take for granted.

The right to be treated as your actual gender is one so fundamental and taken for granted that cis people rarely realise that it even is a right – only those who are denied it understand how utterly humiliating and dehumanising it can be. Trans people are forced to “prove” their gender ever day, sometimes in small social ways, but often in important interactions with the law of the medical establishment. As a cis person, ask yourself how you would prove your gender to a judge, medical professional or bank clerk in a way that was not invasive and humiliating and you can begin to see the difficulties that trans people face.

Part of this prejudice is the idea, since gender is something so fundamental to our society and the way we treat people, that society has a right to know about and control trans people in a way that we would never countenance with cis people. We would never demand that a spouse had the power of veto over essential or even elective surgery, yet this is the reality facing many trans people. People who would rightly balk at the idea of a husband banning his wife from having a hysterectomy or parents refusing access to birth control for their children have no qualms about approving such a veto when it comes to gender confirmation surgery. The clause in the Marriage Bill that requires a spouse’s consent before a Gender Confirmation Certificate can be granted is effectively just such a veto, since the GRC is still, sadly, a prerequisite for much essential treatment and legal recognition.

Ultimately, this question comes down to a prejudice that trans people face every day – society believes that it has a right to know about and control their bodies and their identity. The spousal veto clause in the Marriage Bill codifies that sense of entitlement in law, and confirms that rans people do not have the right to their own bodies or identities. A spouse’s gender identity has no bearing on the rights, person or legal status of their partner, and demanding their consent circumscribes the essential human rights of the trans person concerned. It is a backward, unnecessary and unworthy stain on a Bill that should be seen as a step forward, but in this regard confirms all the prejudices that trans people have faced for decades. It serves no protective purpose, but it stigmatises and dehumanises.


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July 2013
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