CAROLINE CRIADO PEREZ: What’s sex please, we’re British

Karen White, a transgender prisoner who sexually assaulted two inmates at a womens jail, having pre

Karen White, a transgender prisoner who sexually assaulted two inmates at a womens jail, having previously raped two other women. - Credit: Archant

So you're thinking about changing your sex. The good news is the government is thinking of making the process easier. The bad news is, it doesn't look like they know what they're doing.

Currently, if someone wants to change their birth certificate from male to female or vice versa, they must have lived for two years as their desired new gender (the government is all over the place when it comes to what they mean by sex and what they mean by gender), and they must have a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria.

They also have to 'declare that they intend to live in their acquired gender until death'. Their application is submitted to a panel who will then decide whether or not this person is eligible for a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) which will mean that they are now legally a member of the opposite sex. It's rather like becoming a citizen of a new country.

Most trans people don't go through this process. You don't need a GRC to change your name or pronouns for bills, with your bank, on your passport, on your driving license. You don't need a GRC to declare yourself a member of the opposite sex for the purposes of employment or data collection. And you don't need a GRC to receive medical treatment, such as hormones or surgery. So many trans people choose not to go through with the bureaucracy. According to government estimates as few as 1% of trans people living in Britain today have a GRC, which is why they intend to change it, to make it easier. The public consultation on the change is open until 11pm this Friday.

Many trans people feel very strongly that this change is urgently needed and are asking for the government to de-medicalise the process for legally changing sex. They want the process instead to rely on 'self-identification', the idea being that what sex you are is a matter of internal, personal identity, and a doctor has no place in determining someone's identity.

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They also want to remove the requirement that a person wishing to legally change sex should live in their 'acquired gender' for two years before applying for a GRC. It's important to note that living in your acquired gender doesn't mean having sex reassignment surgery – this is not necessary to legally change your sex. In fact, the majority of trans people in Britain don't have sex reassignment surgery.

But other people are not so sure. The tension arises over whether women's rights and single-sex provision – female refuges, female sport, female prisons – will be under threat if these changes go ahead. Already, potential problems have been highlighted by the case of Karen White, a transgender prisoner who sexually assaulted two inmates at a women's jail, having previously raped two other women. The government claims that such threats can be avoided, insisting that under the Equality Act 2010, there already is provision for single-sex provision 'where the action taken is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim'. So, for example, a women's refuge could decide not to house a trans woman 'if it can be shown' that other women already in the refuge would be negatively impacted. The government also states that when it comes to children, 'existing arrangements of separate sex facilities, like toilets, changing rooms, and communal accommodation on school trips will not change'.

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There's just one problem: the government has, to date, provided no evidence whatsoever that it knows the difference between sex and gender. The proposed changes are to what is called the Gender Recognition Act. But the Act does not provide for changing your gender. It provides for legally changing your sex. Your gender recognition certificate as a trans woman does not state that you are a woman. It states that you are female.

If this is the case how can you be denied access to sex-based services? Does sex mean one thing if you are trans and another thing if you aren't? What does changing your sex mean for crime data? For medical data? For employment data? Does changing your sex mean you actually change your sex or not?

On this surely crucial issue, the government seems unable or unwilling to provide answers. Instead, rather like they did with another rather important legislative change I remember being asked about recently, they are going to the public without first defining terms. This dishonest shirking and fudging is not good enough.

I am sick of the government expecting us to make stabs at blurred lines. Theresa May, Penny Mordaunt, go back to primary school, figure out what it is you're asking us, and only *then* ask us what we think.

Until then, why don't you get on with the business of figuring out how exactly you're going to bring this country back from the brink of self-immolation under the guise of 'taking back control'.

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