Fighting for legal and social recognition outside the gendered societal structure
The government is due to launch a much publicised consultation on civil marriage later this week.
Unsurprisingly the media have reacted to the government intention to grant parity and equal recognition within the law to gay and straight partnerships. The religious backlash is under way and the heated debate has started already in what looks set to become a protracted battle for the heart and mind of the nation.
I have not seen the consultation draft but I understand that – should the proposal become law – the legal concept of civil marriage would become “gender-neutral” – which will make civil marriage equally accessible to both gay and straight couples. This is all well and good – for gendered couples.
But the concept of gender-neutrality in civil marriage does not help me – if there is still the requirement for both parties of a partnership to present personal identity documentation, and the accepted items of documentation all contain an inappropriate gendered reference at such time where there are no processes for non-gendered people to get these inappropriate classifications removed.
The proposed changes to the legislative system governing civil marriage – effectively extending the legal ‘right’ of civil marriage to all consenting adults – will make no difference whatsoever to anyone who cannot identify within the gendered societal structure. We will still be forced to deny our identity (and forced into a situation where we become unwilling colluders in our own social invisibility) if we want to access a ‘right’ that others (the privileged gendered majority) can take for granted.
Every so often one makes a discovery that changes everything – as though a mountainous barrier had been swept away and what was unmoveable or unthinkable becomes suddenly possible and the prospect of change becomes real. Furthermore the change could have occurred some time ago – except that one was completely unaware that anything had changed (the revelation – some years after I started my campaign – of finding out the New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs had been quietly issuing non gender-specific passports for some time springs to mind).
A more recent revelation came a bit like a bolt from heaven. I had always believed the law governing marriage in England and Wales required the presentation of an original birth certificate (or copy of an original obtained from the General Register Office). I was so absolutely convinced that I did not even bother to research whether this rule still applied (or that it had ever applied). And maybe it’s because my partner and I just don’t really move within ‘married’ circles but, on the occasions when I’ve raised the specific issue of documentation for registering a civil partnership/marriage, no one had ever disputed or questioned the assertion that a birth certificate was required until very recently when I was informed that a valid passport sufficed for civil marriage in Australia, and approximately at around the same time I discovered that a birth certificate was not required for civil marriage in New York City (a valid passport and other items were accepted).
It did not take long to get clarification from my local Register Office that a valid passport was all that was needed in the United Kingdom. My online research led me to websites that list other identity documentation that would also be accepted by the Registrar when a couple attend to register Notice of Intent.
I have previously advocated for a voluntary non gender-specific Statutory Declaration document that could be presented instead of (or in conjunction with) the birth certificate for all intents and purposes where a birth certificate is required but to supersede the birth certificate in that the inappropriate gendered classification on the birth certificate is rendered as nullified.
This is an important issue. There can never be equality when a gendered classification on the birth certificate is regarded as sacrosanct over and above the fundamental basic human right of legitimate identity for the non-gendered individual – or that a reference on a piece of paper is considered of greater significance in the eyes of the law than a non-gendered person’s entitlement to legal recognition within per core identity.
But insofar as civil marriage is concerned, where alternative forms of documentation are accepted, it does not need to be complicated while legal wrangles continue over the birth certificate. The remaining problem is of course that the accepted items also contain same inappropriate gendered references and therefore of no benefit to non-gendered people who are not prepared to compromise and deny a core identity in order to register a partnership.
Which now leads me on to – well, you can probably guess the direction this is going! : -----
‘X’ – (sex: “unspecified”) – A non gender-specific passport in the UK
As those who have read my previous entries on this website are aware, I’ve argued the case over the non gender-specific passport for some time.
The argument for non gender-specific passports is advanced considerably due to the existence of an internationally recognised agreement outlined in the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) specification for Machine Readable Travel Documents where the non gender-specific ‘X’ indicator is specified as one of three values indicated for the data element relating to the ‘sex’ and the specific reference is “unspecified”. The other values are ‘M’ (“male”) and ‘F’ (“female”).
Furthermore, as a legitimate option and in compliance with ICAO standards, ‘X’ should be universally accepted at international border controls. The deadline for countries to introduce machine readable passports was 1 April 2010 and I understand that just a few countries have yet to make their passport systems compliant but all have indicated an aim to become compliant by the end of this year. Therefore any problems experienced by travellers due to the non gender-specific indicator will be entirely due to bigotry and discrimination on the part of border agency personnel. It is the duty of the issuing country to challenge bigotry and discrimination and to uphold the rights of ALL its citizens who travel abroad – including those who are non-gendered.
When the government launched Advancing transgender equality: A plan for action on 8 December 2011, it was announced that the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) would undertake a review of the way gender identification is represented in passport application forms and passports. The review was due to begin in January of this year through to February 2013. I’ve repeatedly requested more information and understand there will be an announcement soon although nothing so far.
The passport now suffices as a common purpose identity document and fulfils many other functions in addition to its origination as a travel document. Therefore the removal of an inappropriate gendered reference from the passport will also remove many other bureaucratic barriers that serve to prevent non-gendered social proactivity within society where the ultimate effect is to deny to socially invisible non-gendered people any chance of proper participation within the gendered societal structure.
CALL TO ACT
Again, I urge EVERYONE WHO IS PERSONALLY AFFECTED BY THIS ISSUE and I also urge EVERYONE WHO SUPPORTS THOSE WHO ARE AFFECTED BY THIS ISSUE to WRITE to the IPS and DEMAND a CHANGE to a discriminatory policy that denies our identity and forces us to deny our own identity. A policy that excludes to non-gendered people the right of recognition that others take for granted.
Send your letters to:
Chief Executive and Registrar General for England and Wales
Identity and Passport Service
2 Marsham Street
4th Floor, SE Peel Building
London SW1P 4DF
And don’t forget to write to your MP and urge support for this issue.
A final word on civil marriage
Whereas the focus of the forthcoming consultation and subsequent legislation (at least where the media is concerned) is whether civil marriage should be legalised for gay couples in England and Wales, I will remind that the legislation needs to be drafted in a way that does not exclude and discriminate against non-gendered people.
A proposal for legal entitlement to enter into a civil marriage to be redefined as “gender-neutral” does not automatically imply that gendered roles are not part of the equation.
The legislative draft MUST use reference in “neutral” terms (eg. ‘person’, ‘people’ or ‘couple’) and the wording SHOULD NEVER make specific reference to gendered roles.
Any specific reference to gendered roles will automatically exclude non-gendered by definition unless people of non-gendered identity are specifically included in the draft wording (which, I have been given to understand, will not happen).
As quoted from my entry here from 18 December 2011,
“The present situation where a relationship between two consenting people can be formally recognised dependent upon production of a document that contains a gendered reference is clearly unfair and discriminatory towards non-gendered people. The government representatives appear to accept this point and are “looking into” the issue but are giving nothing away. If they really are committed to an ideal of equal access to CP/CM for all then I expect progress and will continue to pursue this item.”
This coalition government have committed to a series of bold initiatives where the core and underlying principle is fairness and equal treatment for all.
I am holding them to their word and will continue in my work until they deliver.
Primary Care Trust
I’ve been engaged in a protracted and very personal battle with my local PCT to get a gendered reference removed from my medical records and to have my title amended to Pr (pronounced ‘per’ and an abbreviation of person). My attempts to ensure my medical record is an accurate indicator of my identity has involved two government agencies and has proved to be emotionally and physically exhausting – very draining on my time and my energy.
Whereas the title was amended some time ago by my GP and the change was accepted by the practice system despite ‘Pr’ not being included among the list of preset titles on the national IT system, it was not at all straightforward – or easy – persuading the trust to remove the gendered reference.
The system has “indeterminate” as an unsatisfactory third option on a drop down menu underneath “male” and “female” but the national system automatically generates an override when a gendered role is not specified in the ‘sex’ category. This is apparently in order the patient should be allocated into a gender-streamlined screening programme – even when in my case I was receiving automatically generated screening appointments for body parts that were removed decades earlier.
The last time I visited my GP surgery it was noted the ‘sex’ category had been amended to “not known” which I find preferable to “indeterminate” but this default category is reserved for those patients who are not enrolled in the national screening programme. At some point I had been removed from the screening programme and this must have occurred quite recently. I had not been advised about my removal from the programme although, as I had indicated in my correspondence that the screening letters I received were not just pointless but offensive, it must have been assumed that taking me completely off the screening programme was the best solution.
I am relieved I will not receive further inappropriate requirements to attend gender-specific screening clinics but wonder how my removal from the screening programme might affect my access to any “gender-neutral” screening the government might deem necessary in the future, such as screening for certain types of cancer that present an equal risk to the entire population regardless of a person’s identity or gendered role.
While this might not affect me here and now in the present – I will need to ensure I am astutely responsible for my own healthcare at all times in the future – because without gender there might be no automatic provision for advance prevention.
Equal access to healthcare services? A victory of sorts but at what price?
And this is topical and ironic in equal measure – given that in the outline document for Advancing transgender equality: A plan for action, the government have committed a pledge to “Lead a dialogue between the transgender community, including non-gendered people, the medical profession and NHS commissioners, to share best practice and review how this group can shape health policy.”
The denial of existence is the worst act of discrimination by the gendered majority against the non-gendered
Copyright ©2012 Christie Elan-Cane
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