A need to be recognised for who we truly are

Photo of participants at West Lothian Pride 2017. Some are carrying trans pride flags and placards stating 'Trans Rights Now!'
Participants at West Lothian Pride 2017.

Vic Valentine, Scottish Trans Alliance Policy Officer, writes: 

Being seen as who you are is important. Whether we want people to see how much we care about them, to understand where we’re coming from, or to recognise that we’ve changed – we have all probably experienced times where people don’t see us how we want to be seen. For many transgender people, this lack of recognition can extend beyond just how we are seen by others, and into the law. Although for most Scots, the gender recorded on their birth certificate will always reflect how they see themselves, for trans people this is not the case. It can cause real pain and distress for trans people to know that even though we may live our lives openly and happily, being seen as who we truly are by friends, family and colleagues, our birth certificate still declares our gender is something else. This is why it’s so important that the Scottish Government is currently consulting on how to reform the Gender Recognition Act 2004, the law that allows transgender people to change the gender on their birth certificate.

At the moment, trans people are required to provide two years’ worth of evidence that they have been living in their gender and intrusive medical and psychiatric reports to a tribunal, which decides whether they can update their birth certificate. Instead, the Scottish Government is proposing moving to a less convoluted statutory declaration system where trans people make a legal oath confirming the gender identity in which they are living and their honest intent to remain doing so until death. Deliberately making a false declaration would be a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment. This change would recognise that trans people know our own identities, and bring Scotland in line with countries such as Ireland, Denmark, Malta and Norway.

The consultation also asks whether to extend this new system of self-declaration to non-binary people. A non-binary person is anyone who feels that their gender cannot be neatly described using the words “man” or “woman”. Instead, we feel outside, between or beyond these categories, and want to have identity documents that reflect our sense of self, rather than being limited to two options that do not reflect who we are. Right now, non-binary people are unable to get documents that reflect our deeply felt identities, so we welcome the fact that the Government has included the possibility of recognising all transgender people, not just transgender men and women, in this improved process.

A system of self-declaration will bring the process for changing birth certificates in line with those already used by trans men and women to change their name and gender on other identity documents, such as driving licences and passports. Trans people already can and do use services and facilities that reflect our identity and how we live our lives, and not necessarily the legal gender recorded on our birth certificate. For example, transgender women, who still have male on their birth certificates, have for many decades been using women’s toilets and cubicled changing rooms. When they have genuine need, trans women can access women-only services such as rape crisis centres (everyone, whether trans or not, gets carefully risk-assessed before being accepted into such services). As such, how trans people navigate our day-to-day lives, the decisions we make about where we go, and what services we use, will remain largely the same after the change to the law.

So why bother then, if we can already do so many of these things? Well, that’s simple: to be recognised, in all parts of our lives, as who we truly are.