Transgenderism: why we shouldn’t rush in
Pushing people into irreversible procedures is dangerous.
I am all in favour of a fair, humane and understanding approach to transgender rights. Why wouldn’t I be? Now in my 70s, I transitioned – in Howth, Co Dublin – in the 1980s, and I completed my surgical transition in 1990. During my transition, I was under the care and guidance of one of the most experienced psychiatrists in the field of gender dysphoria in Britain, and a Dublin-based team that included a gender-specialising psychiatrist, a social worker and a counsellor.
Years later, I was granted a Gender Recognition Certificate and new birth certificate by the UK Gender Recognition Panel – something I was able to do because, although Ireland has been my home since the age of one, I was born in London to British parents, and have a UK birth certificate. Had that not been the case, my situation would have been infinitely more difficult, since at the time there was no legislation whatsoever concerning transsexualism in Ireland. Indeed, the Irish Gender Recognition Act didn’t come into law until 2015.
That Act changed matters utterly for ‘trans’ people in Ireland, and is matched only by Malta and Colombia, so far as I know, in the liberalness of its measures. It permits ‘self-declaration’ of gender to people over 18. Simply by completing a form, they can obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate. Parents can also apply on behalf of 16- to 18-year-olds, providing they have certification from a medical practitioner and a report from an independent endocrinologist or psychiatrist. Now, an amendment to the Act proposes to remove such requirements from 16- to 18-year-olds, and it’s likely to pass without opposition in 2018.
In contrast to the UK procedures I followed, the Irish legislation permits a purely subjective gender selection led by the person in question, with no input from counsellors, psychologists, psychiatrists or endocrinologists. There is also no requirement for the applicant to demonstrate that they have in fact changed their gender role publicly within society; whereas the UK requires proof that the applicant has lived in their preferred gender for at least two years. What’s more, whereas UK law rightly requires those who are married to obtain the consent of their spouse before having their gender identity legally changed, so that the spouse doesn’t end up in a same-sex marriage against their will, there is no such requirement under Irish law.
My understanding is that legislators in the UK propose to change the current law on gender recognition to approximate the new system in Ireland, and have announced a review of the Gender Recognition Act. But there are grave dangers in following Ireland’s subjective approach. My fear is that a subjective approach can only lead to more people seeking irreversible treatment too quickly.
I have come across many people who, for one reason or another, had been absolutely convinced for a time that they were indeed ‘trans’, but who later came to realise that they were mistaken. Many things can bring about a self-belief in people that they are or should be of a different gender, or no gender at all. But the decision to seek out particular kinds of treatment should not be rushed into.
In my dealings with other fellow-travellers, I always urge caution and delay, to the greatest extent possible. Many people were afterwards grateful for having heeded that advice. A significant number of transsexuals (I still prefer that term in cases of full sex reassignment) who undergo irreversible procedures later regret their decision to do so. And this is especially so for younger people, for whom gender confusion is so widespread as to be almost commonplace. Such situations are frequently tragic, leading to family break-ups, loss of career, even suicide. I guarantee that most such cases remain unknown to the legislators.
Based on the above, I believe firmly that procedures that do not include a psychological or psychiatric assessment prevent society from protecting those who are vulnerable. We are emphatically not always the best judge of what ails us, in all spheres of life, and most particularly in spheres involving irreversible procedures of one kind or another. A purely subjective approach risks untold damage and hardship.
It is vital that people understand that any form of intervention is just that: an intervention. If you bring your child to the Tavistock Clinic in London, you can never unbring them. If a decision is made to delay the onset of puberty, that delay can never be undelayed, and it is bound to have profound consequences for a young psyche. I am not in any way advocating a laissez-faire attitude to children’s welfare. But over-early intervention even of the mildest kind, made with the best of intentions, may have negative consequences. Many children exhibit extreme gender discomfort for an extended period, and in time simply get over it.
What’s more, the widespread debate about gender rights as seen in the UK has led to a political correctness that is not only ridiculous (apparently it’s now wrong for a midwife to say ‘congratulations on your new handsome baby boy’), it’s dangerous. It risks a veritable epidemic, whereby parents and carers of children exhibiting the slightest indication of gender discomfort might treat it too seriously and seek intervention too soon. Extreme gender-identity issues should not be ignored. But a widespread hysteria in society about gender identity doesn’t produce a background against which sensible and sensitive decisions can be taken.
Had I not changed sex and gender back in the Eighties, by now I would almost certainly either be dead or a basket case. There is a strong case for tolerance. But the legislation introduced in Ireland, and being considered in the UK, is not the answer. In my view, the current process in Britain in respect of trans legal rights is pretty good, and in practice it works humanely and efficiently, even though it may well need some updating in light of the fuller realisation nowadays of the broad spectrum that is ‘trans’. It is my sincere hope that it will not be changed radically without deep and serious consideration by wise and well-informed people.
Heather Greer is a writer based in Ireland.