Advancing transgender rights: What is reasonable for us as a society to do?

Transgender rights do not exist in isolation. A balance of rights must be struck for the good of the whole population. We must ask ourselves “What is reasonable for us to do as a society?”

In what circumstances should someone be allowed to change the sex on their birth certificate?

At birth we all get entered onto the birth register. Important information including our full name, place of birth and biological sex gets entered onto that register. We all get a birth certificate issued as proof of what is entered on that register. In most cases, it gets put away safely in a drawer, along with things like passports. They are official documents that most of us don’t use very often but nevertheless are very important, especially when we have to use them as proof of who we are. The sex entered into the register and written on our birth certificate is our legally recognised sex. There are two legal sexes: male and female. We are all (men and women) protected from being discriminated against on the basis of our sex by the protected characteristic of sex in the Equality Act 2010.

The Gender Recognition Act 2004 is a legal mechanism to allow someone to change the sex on their birth certificate. So instead of it reflecting the entry on the birth register it states the opposite sex instead. For very obvious reasons there are very strict conditions that must be met before this official document can be changed, including a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria. When the conditions are met, a Gender Recognition Certificate is issued, which can then be used to send away for a new birth certificate. When the GRA 2004 was enacted it was to help a very small number of post-op transsexuals, estimated at the time to be approx 5000. This legal mismatch between the sex recorded on the birth register and the sex recorded on a birth certificate was justified largely because it would have little impact on wider society. It would apply to just 0.01% of the population. Its impact would be negligible.

However, things have dramatically changed since 2004. The trans population is thought to be as high as 1% of the population; half a million people. Transgender organisations, like Stonewall and others, claim that being transgender isn’t about having gender dysphoria, and therefore the process doesn’t need to be medicalised and doctors should not be acting as gatekeepers.  Instead they are asking for a self-declaration process, allowing anyone to change the sex on their birth certificate to match their gender identity. They want it to be possible for anyone to be able to choose for themselves what their legal sex class is. They want it to be possible to change your birth certificate on demand.

But surely having gender dysphoria has to be essential to any argument as to why society should allow someone to alter their birth certificate? If someone has such extreme gender dysphoria that they need the therapeutic relief of  body modification surgery to approximate the  body of the opposite sex, maybe then, in this small number of cases the legal fiction of changing the birth records might be justified.  But in what other circumstance would anyone else need to do that, given that we are socially free to “identify as feminine” or “identify as masculine” as we please. Transgender people already have all their protections against discrimination written in Equality law, exactly the same as any other oppressed group in society, and rightly so. But is it right that society should also now allow anyone to choose their legal sex?

Does society need to retain a way of differentiating between males and females?

The answer is of course yes, because however many games you play with language, whatever linguistic somersaults you turn, there will ALWAYS be one class of people at risk of getting pregnant by the other. There will always be one class of people stronger, more prone to violence and criminality than the other. There will always be one class of people more likely to rape and sexually assault both their own class and the other class. This type of discrimination is sex-based and recognised in UK law with its own protected characteristic of sex. The law acknowledges that sometimes there is a need for spaces and activities to be separated by sex for reasons of safety, privacy and fairness. This means excluding people sometimes, but sometimes that is the fairest thing to do overall, and in that case it is deemed lawful under Equality Law.

The protected characteristic of sexual orientation is also sex-based. Everyone’s sexual orientation is determined by who we are sexually attracted to: members of the opposite sex (heterosexual), members of the same sex (homosexual) or members of both sexes (bisexual). Gay and lesbian people have only recently gained the right to same-sex marriage under UK law. All these equality laws are based on someone’s legal sex category as recorded in the birth register, and in the vast majority of cases written on our birth certificates, and corresponding to our biological sex.

So, yes: society does need to retain a way of differentiating between the two sexes. Many important laws and groups in society depend on an accurate and biological definition of sex.

What is it reasonable for a society to do and what is not?

The rights, benefits and protections given to individuals or groups by a society should be fair and consistent. Taking everyone into account and weighing up the fairest thing to do all round is how equality law works. Our expectations of being given special rights from society is sometimes reasonable. Sometimes however it is not. This applies to everyone in society.

In summary:


Reasonable Unreasonable
Protect trans people from being treated unfairly just because they are trans For trans people to expect society to redefine the concept of women, man, girl or boy to fit their gender ideology
Protect trans people from hate speech For trans people to expect society to redefine the concept of homosexual, bisexual, lesbian or gay to fit their gender ideology
Protect trans people from physical and sexual attacks For trans people to expect society to allow males into the spaces females use to protect themselves from physical and sexual attacks
Ensure trans people don’t face unreasonable barriers to employment For male trans people to take places on schemes designed to get more women into a particular professions and roles
Increase education and promote awareness of trans people in society To suppress, censor, intimidate and otherwise silence anyone who holds a different view
Protect trans people’s right to do,  say, believe, wear whatever they wish, as long as it doesn’t break the law or harm others For trans people to insist that all of society shares their beliefs, and to therefore impinge upon other people’s right to make their own choices
Enable trans people to have access to counselling, and as adults to take hormones and have surgery to modify their body if they wish. For trans people to expect the privileges and treatments currently afforded to people who are gender dysphoric without a diagnosis of gender dysphoria.


One thought on “Advancing transgender rights: What is reasonable for us as a society to do?

  • 2018.07.10 at 17:33

    This is gonna be an extremely open, stark-truth comment (I’ve tried to be polite – not sure if it’s enough):
    Call me conservative or whatever, but I feel that “trans” and “gender dysphoria” (originally called Gender Identity Disorder) must be treated solely as psychological issues, and all help must be provided to them as to any individuals with a psychiatric challenge (coping mechanisms, relaxation, mind diversion, hobbies, whatever). The govt or legal authorities shouldn’t enter the picture at all – I mean, I can’t say OK to change one’s birth cert EVEN in case of gender dysphoria – it is not just lying on the certificate, but also, things WON’T stop with birth certs (“Hey my birth cert says female, call me ‘she'”, and later “You yourself called me ‘she’, why can’t I get into the shower with you?”, and so on). And these ridiculous body changing surgeries, in my opinion, are no good – I don’t really think there is not better way to deal with this disorder than undergoing full body surgery AND getting the full society & world to dance to one’s tune. And this “I underwent so many surgeries just to be a wo/man” is a foot-in-the-door – the starting point of the fall.

    I know if you express this opinion in your country in your current situation you’ll be burnt at the stake. Even what you are doing now – raising awareness, while all the time minding not to hurt the snowflake sentiments of some crazy folks (they aren’t really crazy – just feigning it to frighten you.. but they are powerful and scary enough) – is a really brave thing in your situation, and I highly appreciate & respect you for that!


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