Guest blog post by Marianne Oakes
In the lead up to this year’s Transgender Day of Visibility (March 31st 2020) I have been thinking a lot about my own relationship with my trans identity. It has always been extremely important to me to own my “transness”, it is a signifier of everything I have been through to get to where I am today.
Yes I am a woman but, importantly, I am a trans woman, and when it comes to describing myself the two are inseparable.
Despite being a trans woman, like many other people in my position, I do not have a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC). There are various reasons for this, not least the unnecessary and dehumanising process that I would be required to go through to have my gender corrected on my birth certificate.
Principles are all well and good but recently, against the backdrop of the coronavirus, the subject of what my birth certificate says and how this might impact my future healthcare, has become more relevant than ever.
Should I be taken ill, and my health rapidly deteriorate, as a trans woman, I would be recognised as a woman on the hospital ward, something that the 2010 Equality Act ensures. However, if I died, I would be recorded as male on my death certificate.
You might think that in a life or death situation, being misgendered would be the least of my worries, but to underestimate the impact which this would have on me is to belittle every hurdle I have overcome to get to where I am today.
When the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) was first introduced in 2004, the objective was to create equality. Unfortunately, as anyone who has taken tentative steps along the path will know, despite its good intentions the process is perceived to be overly bureaucratic, expensive and intrusive. As such, rather than reduce themselves down to a set of answers on an application form to be reviewed by a panel of strangers, many trans people do not even begin to apply.
The resulting situation is one where trans men and women live out their lives, recognised in everything they do as their authentic gender, until it comes to the paperwork and then it’s a case of ‘certificate says no’. Inevitably this becomes most apparent during significant life moments such as marriage, birth and death.
To put this into context, I was speaking with the author, Mia Violet, recently on our podcast. She explained that she is due to be married but because she does not have a GRC she would not be able to marry as a woman. Her spouse would not be able to take her as her ‘lawful wedded wife.’ In every other aspect of her life she is recognised as a woman, but on one of the most important days of her life, this simple terminology is denied her.
Ironically, despite the process for changing gender marker being exclusively relevant to trans people, the rules were seemingly made by cisgender people. And yet, the notion of changing gender marker is not something that someone who is cis will ever have to contemplate – their birth certificate already correctly represents who they are.
This means that anyone coming across their details, long after their death, will know a few fundamental truths: their name, their gender, their age. For a trans person things are not always so simple. If my gender marker was changed to reflect my gender identity it would say female. Does that mean that in years to come someone coming across my details would perceive me as a woman? If so, what would that mean for my trans identity?
Of course for some people who were assigned the wrong gender at birth, being perceived as the correct gender is their objective, but for me, being acknowledged as trans is as important as being recognised as a woman.
When I was 18 I bought my first house. It was a haven, a space in which I could truly be myself. When the time came for my girlfriend (now my wife) to move in I made a promise to myself: I would not hide my true identity in a metaphorical suitcase under the bed. So I told her who I was. And she accepted me.
Human beings rarely fit perfectly into box A or box B. We are multilayered, we are parents, lovers, children, friends, enemies – me personally I am a trans woman – sweep my trans identity under the carpet and I cease to be.
So where does this leave me in a world where my options are: male or female? Well, it leaves me in limbo. I can only hope that in time, as understanding around gender increases, there may be a space in history for all of us, even if we don’t quite fit the mould.
What would be truly empowering would be for people to be able to define themselves in the way that feels authentic to them, whether male or female, trans or other. Personally, I would choose trans female, for me this says it all, it describes my gender but also the fight I have endured to be myself.
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this blog post, don’t hesitate to get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org