Why the GRA discourse is missing the point

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I fell in love with the Canterbury Cathedral when I was 14, the first time I saw the Great Cloister, which is truly breathtaking. Rather than some museum-like tourist attraction, the cloisters are a living, breathing part of the cathedral. Past these there is a school, the oldest in the world, that feels completely lost in time.

I decided at that point that I wanted to go to that school, more than I’d ever wanted anything. And for that, I needed a scholarship. So for months, before even my GCSEs, I studied for the exam for an academic scholarship. And despite the challenges I’d faced, I attended the most beautiful school in the world, completely for free.

Unlike the other students, most of my uniforms were second-hand items that the original owners had grown out of. It was completely worth it.

When I was there, the cathedral became my regular church. I attended every Sunday. In the early hours, without the tourists, you can really appreciate the beauty of the place. It was in these services, that I started wondering to myself what it must be like to get married somewhere like this; a right I was sure was reserved for actual, literal princesses.

I soon discovered I was wrong; my Kings Scholarship inducted me into the Cathedral Foundation, and so I have the right to a wedding on Cathedral grounds.

So much of the discussion of trans rights comes down to a right to privacy.

Except I don’t, not really. Without a Gender Recognition Certificate, my wedding vows would call me ‘husband’ and the Church would see it that way too. They wouldn’t allow me to marry. This is a privilege, I thought I had earned through hard work, stripped of me because I’m trans.

The problem is worse too when you realise that any wedding I had, anywhere, would put me in the same position.

Someday I want to be married.

Someday I want someone to be my husband.

Someday I want to be their wife.

I don’t want to send humiliating personal medical details to bureaucrats to judge if I’m trans enough.

That is my only option now.

So much of the discussion of trans rights comes down to a right to privacy. For many people, this can be fairly abstract, bringing to mind the privacy warnings at the bottom of web pages. But for me, and many trans people, this is much more visceral. Due to the long NHS waitlists for trans related healthcare, I transitioned socially well before I started hormone therapy. I was, to anyone walking down the street, visibly trans; I had no privacy.

Instead of a debate about legislation, it’s a campaign of fear.

In this time I was routinely harassed in the street, yelled at in public places, and on one occasion someone attempted to follow me home. However, with hormone therapy and time, privacy returned. But this can always be taken away, and any legal change that threatens to take away the privacy of trans people threatens also to put me, and thousands of others, back to that time.

If you look in the papers today, at how Gender Recognition Act reform is being framed, you’d be forgiven for thinking it is something completely different. A torrent of changing rooms, bathrooms, prisons, shelters. But the GRA is largely bureaucratic, it has no effect on access to any of these. So it leaves us asking why are we having this debate? And why does the opposition argue so strongly?

I would argue that this debate has become a proxy for the right of trans people to exist in public at all. It’s why The Economist can run a headline asking if we should be medically sterilised. It’s why the Telegraph can run a headline declaring that we should carry ID cards.

The tabloid papers are more explicit here. The Sun for example has an article headlined “M&S sparks gender-neutral row after telling customers to use whichever changing room ‘they feel comfortable’ in”, taking issue with the very idea of trans people daring to try on clothes in a store.

Instead of a debate about legislation, it’s a campaign of fear. And while it continues, people, in many cases intelligent, rational people, will be convinced into believing that trans people pose some sort of existential threat.

To do this, they conflate the GRA and the Equality Act, talking about changing rooms and bathrooms as if these aren’t spaces trans people have used safely for decades, and nothing to do with the GRA. And they suggest that trans people, particularly trans women, are somehow dangerous.

Meanwhile, legislative attacks here and around the world try and attack the rights that trans people already have. The GRA does not provide additional rights to trans people, instead, it affords trans people with a Gender Recognition Certificate some of the same rights that others take for granted.

Me, as a trans person, and the media have very different agendas. I want to live my life with the same dignity and self-respect as anyone else. I want to enjoy the same rights and privileges that anyone else in my situation would have.

Be that the meaningful right to a wedding, timely access to healthcare, or meaningful access to public spaces. While not to be overly cynical, the media want clicks. So I’m left to defend these basic rights.

My view is that the media have essentially constructed this debate. Framed this as a clash between trans women and cis women, frequently minimising trans men. And presented the outcome as somehow existential. For legitimacy, this is tied by the loosest threads to the reform of the GRA.

After a years-long consultation, that seems to have done nothing but worsen the media coverage of trans people, I am just tired and worried about the future.

Of course, with any proposed legal change it is a part of a healthy democracy to have good-faith discussion on its impacts. But the discourse that is happening is not that. It is toxic and harmful. And it’s one in which trans voices are rarely included.

 

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