On the heels of a historic referendum to legalize same sex marriage, Ireland is considering a bill with even more impact on the lives of transgender people, not just in Ireland, but around the world. TheJournal.ie reports that on Wednesday, the Irish cabinet agreed upon language in a Gender Recognition Bill up for parliamentary vote that allows transgender people to identify their own gender for official documents, such as driver’s licenses and passports.
Written that way, it sounds almost silly. Of course people should identify their own gender. Who else would possibly be qualified?
In many places in today’s America, unfortunately, the answer would be a doctor or health professional. Getting my driver’s license changed required a note from my doctor and another from my therapist. I then had to wait weeks for a review board to approve my request, as if a review board reading two letters could determine if I might have been mistaken about my gender.
It was worse at the Social Security Administration. I brought all the letters they requested on their website. They kept me there for forty minutes, asked whether I’d completed my treatment (but refused to tell me what that means), and pored over their own procedures, figuring out what I needed. They finally sent me home still listed as male. Yes, I had the letter required by their site, but another set of requirements on a different web page called for it to contain the doctor’s medical license number and the city in which it was obtained. My doctor agreed to write a new letter, but I couldn’t get his office actually to send it. For more than a year I was forced to endure an inaccurate gender in my Social Security file (and consequently my employer’s files, and consequently my medical care provider’s).
I’m one of the lucky ones. The writing fees my doctor and therapist charge are within my means, and I have access to competent and accommodating medical professionals. For many others, the money charged by a therapist or doctor to write a letter eats up their food budget for weeks. The only doctors available to them may not be sympathetic to gender change. It also delegitimizes the choices of those transitioning without medical care. That should be their right, yet such people cannot update their gender where it is an absolute rule that a doctor’s treatment is required.
However, my objection to demanding a doctor’s permission to update documents goes beyond expense and availability. It is far more fundamental.
No person should ever be allowed to tell another what his/her/their gender is.
When speaking of the need for the new change, Lynn Boylan, an Irish politician puts it this way, according to a quote published in TheJournal.ie:
“The Government’s [original]Gender Equality Bill is an insult to Transgender people and should be amended to respect their dignity… A persons gender identity is a matter for each individual. Transgender people know their own identity. They don’t need medical evaluation to prove their identity to anyone.Our community has put up with this humiliation too long. No human being should have to beg, persuade, or pay a doctor for permission to be himself/herself/themselves.”
The assumptions involved in the requirements to do just that are chilling:
- That we aren’t competent to identify our gender on our own,
- that we aren’t to be trusted to report our gender accurately, and
- that we don’t truly belong to that gender until we have done something to our bodies.
All of these are patronizing and heavy handed. They exist because we’ve allowed them to perpetuate. Human beings must not be forced to undergo medical treatment simply to be themselves, and no human being should be required to get someone else’s approval to be the gender they are. Worse, most of the doctors making these decisions are cisgender as are the politicians and bureaucrats setting these policies. They have no idea what it’s like to petition someone for the right to be recognized as their gender. They receive that recognition with no effort due to cisgender privilege.
If this bill passes, Ireland can be held up as a model for how gender changes should happen. The claim will be discredited that havoc would ensue if a doctor’s permission is no longer required.
It would make life easier for thousands of Irish transgender people. But it would also further transgender rights across the globe if it could be used as an example of a viable system that allows us dignity and sovereignty over our own lives.