Rachel Dobbins was there
On Tuesday, July 2nd, I had the pleasure of attending the press release for the Legal Recognition of Gender Bill 2013. It was organised to present a bill that has been put forward to the Seanad by Senator Katherine Zappone. The news was received with a sense of apprehensive excitement by most people in the transgender community. They had been here before. Dr Lydia Foy had been their champion for change. Her fight brought with it the hope that each new High Court challenge would drag Ireland kicking and screaming into the 21st century, her resilient voice demanding that transgender people be giving their full and unconditional human rights. All Foy’s 20-year effort got the transgender community was the Gender Recognition Advisory Groups, an inter-departmental committee set up in 2010 to write up a report to advise the minister on how to proceed.
The GRAG report seemed to have trouble understanding the words “inalienable rights” and proposed that transgender people could have their gender recognised only if they were single and diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder. These provisions would have had significant negative impacts on the lives of married transgender people with families or people that simply did not want to be pathologised with a mental disorder. That’s why Senator Zappone’s bill, co-sponsored by Senators Jillian Van Turnhout and Fiach MacConghail is so important; it’s the legislature that transgender people need.
When you’re gay, coming out is a big thing and it’s a constant. You’ll find yourself having to come out to taxi drivers and hair-dressers, always feeling slightly apprehensive. There’ll always be hate, there’ll always be disgust but on the whole Irish people will tell you “well I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it”- as if the approval of Joe from Down the Road was all you ever needed to truly embrace your homoerotic desires.
Sense of self
I like to believe that it’s called coming out of the closet because when you do take that brave step of revealing that veiled part of yourself to those you care about, things do change: your eyes shift and the light adjusts and for the first time it feels as though your vision is clear and the ground is solid beneath your feet. Regardless of how other people treat you, there’s a sense of self that cannot be taken away. But coming out as trans is nothing like coming out as gay, many trans people have to do both. It’s an upsetting fact that coming out as transgender marks the beginning of a long and often difficult journey.
In Ireland, you must be diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder in order to qualify for hormone treatment or surgery on the public health system. That means having some psychiatrist you’ve never met before pick apart your physicality, your sexuality and your mental state with vulturous questions; assessing your life before granting you permission to be who you are.
But with or without hormone treatment or surgery there are many transgender people out there who are ‘passing’ (for want of a better word). They are living their gender, living their reality and the Irish government is failing them. The longer we allow gender identity and expression to be perceived as something that can be decided solely on genitalia, the longer transgender people are in danger. Trans people in Ireland are being forced to live in the shadows, so scared of the life ahead of them that they sometimes chose to end their life, rather than live it.
Listening to the speeches at Zappone’s press release I was struck by the realisation of how vulnerable the trans community are, how to constant risk of being outed makes life more difficult. Even the littlest of things are more problematic; buying alcohol, signing up for a bill phone, going to a night club, using a public restroom. Many transgender people are excluded from certain sports and activities with the gender that they identify as because of registered gender. Transgender people are having their lives curbed, having limitations placed on them due to fear of being outed or being the victim of a hate crime.
That’s what Zappone’s bill aims to stop. Her bill proposes the creation of a Gender Recognition Register. A birth certificate drawn from the Gender Recognition Register is indistinguishable from any other birth certificate, and will indicate the new legal sex and name. Zappone’s bill wishes to make an easy and accessible route to gender recognition without the need for GID diagnoses as it adopts a self-declaration model. It sets the age for application at eighteen (sixteen with a consenting guardian). It also does not require married peoples to divorce before changing their recognised gender, something that really shouldn’t have been up for discussion in the first place.
There are some issues with the new legislation, such as the lack of a Gender X option for intersexed people. However Dr Tanya Ní Mhuirthile, Zappone’s legal adviser who helped draft the bill, said having a Gender X has caused difficulties for Australian intersexed people when it came to travel. They did say that this was an issue that they would look at addressing.
While the overall theme of the conference was one of hope, John Duffy who works for BeLonG To and specifically with IndividualiTy spoke about the frustration that the people in the youth group had experienced after GRAG had failed to adequately propose any real legislation. The members of IndividualiTy are between 14 and 23 yet even at such young ages they are painfully aware of how this legislation could change their lives and yet too marred by previous disappointments to truly believe in it.
This is a legislation that can only enhance the lives of the citizens of Ireland and it is being championed by passionate, hard-working and intelligent people both in the Seanad and on the ground. So let’s use our voices to make sure it makes the difficult transition from legislation to law.