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On the right to privacy

When I was asked to write this piece I initially refused. I refused because now, five years since my first Gender Identity Clinic (GIC) appointment, I feel like I don’t have much to say. Strangers don’t know I’m trans and some friends don’t either.

But that wasn’t always true.

The most challenging part of my transition was the period after my social transition, when I changed my name and how I dressed, but well before I was seen by a doctor. Here, to someone walking down the street, I was not a woman, not even a man, but a ‘trans’ woman. And this, I have since realised, is a worse thing to be seen as than either. In this time, I had men, and it was always men, call me slurs in front of my six-year-old brother. I had a man shout sexual comments at me in a crowded pub on New Year’s Eve. On one of the first occasions I wore a dress to an event, a man decided to follow me back to college in the middle of the night. None of these occurrences are unique to me, or trans women. But it’s been my experience that as my transition has continued, and hormones have had their glacial effect, the frequency and severity of these have decreased significantly.

My wait to see a GIC was fifteen months. Hormones started having a transformative effect after another eighteen at least. I count myself lucky this was as short as it was. But the waiting list at the same clinic is now forty-six months, nearly four years, and is not nearly the worst in the country. To subject trans people to the danger and fear that I experienced for longer than the length of an entire degree is barbaric. I will go even further and argue that it amounts to a violation of their right to privacy, something not achievable for most without treatment.

It’s a little known fact that the 2004 Gender Recognition Act (GRA), the legislation that introduced the ability to change the sex on your birth certificate in the UK, was a response to a human rights case that the UK government lost. The court found that a law allowing this change was needed to protect a trans person’s rights under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the “right to respect for private and family life”. In essence, the court found that a trans person has a human right to keep the fact that they are trans private, and that their identity is a sphere in which the state should not tread.

This is a right that I have, and if I decided to, I could keep my trans status secret from everyone for the rest of my life. But in those early years, this right to privacy was on paper only. I had no ability to keep the fact I was trans hidden, it was evident to anyone who saw me.

Despite the imperfect and bureaucratic nature of the GRA, I am glad that I was able to put my twenty-four-page application together because of the privacy it affords. It’s no coincidence that many of the legislative attacks on trans people are attacks on our right to privacy. Attempts at GRA repeal, bathroom bills, and identity card proposals all hope to make us out ourselves to strangers. This is done often from a position of suspicion of trans people, who are seen by some as an inherent threat. Other times it is done to push a particular, often transmedicalist, view of trans identities, drawing a line between those “transitioning properly” and others. Both accounts fail to recognise the humanity of those they will affect, and threaten to worsen the welfare of all of the trans people who just want to go about our lives without undue impediment. To remove our right to privacy is to degrade the control we have over our own lives. These attacks are often framed as a defence of the status quo, but the reality is that trans people have been using the spaces they do today for your entire life. We have been legally protected doing so since 1999, and those protections were last strengthened in 2010.

The thing I alway say to younger trans people is ‘it gets better’. A major benefit of medical transition is that it gives back some control as to how you are seen. Visibility can be a positive thing, but only on our terms. But some gender clinics, at their current rate of seeing new patients, will take more than a decade to clear their waiting list. This amounts to preventing trans people from exercising their human right to privacy. It’s clear now that the GIC model has failed. Treatment should be prescribed to adults by GPs, without the years-long waits that currently exist.

Because awareness sounds great in the abstract, but what trans people need now is privacy.

Because we still do not have equal rights in marriage, in family, in healthcare.

Because what we need is not visibility, it’s liberation.

Image Credit: Ted Eytan / CC BY-SA 4.0

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