Transphobic conference CANCELLED

The Royal College of Psychiatrists have cancelled “Transgender: Time to Change“. This isn’t just a victory for the trans movement: it’s also a victory for angry blogging, community organising and the threat of peaceful protest.

Pink News have a really positive piece on the cancellation.

RCPsych claim that the cancellation was down to low ticket sales. However, it’s pretty telling that the event was cancelled right after Charing Cross Gender Identity Clinic put out this statement:

The team at the WLMHT Gender Identity Clinic (GIC) at Charing Cross Hospital notes the apparent shift of emphasis in the Royal College of Psychiatrists Gay & Lesbian Special Interest Group conference, ‘Transgender: Time To Change’ on May 20th and feels compelled to withdraw on this basis.

When we were originally asked to take part, GIC clinicians understood that our role was to outline the work we do within our own service and explain the very considerable evidence base which underpins it. We are very happy to do this and our more than 55 years of experience as the country’s leading NHS provider gives us a rich and robust data set from which to draw observations.

It now appears that the conference comes at trans issues from a very specific agenda, namely, to explore the validity or otherwise of gender diagnoses as medical and psychiatric phenomena. So long as this is the case, we feel we can’t support it.

Although we were somewhat wary of engaging in what is essentially a clinical discussion with a predominantly non-trans panel, which, moreover, features a non-clinician whose personal opinion is already well known, we agreed to do so in order that discussion might focus on evidence rather than anecdote.

The Royal College should be aware that there is a great deal of disquiet around this event within the trans community and interested parties should note that the discussion as it now stands will be one-sided at best..”

On the subject of “numbers”, it’s also worth pointing out that registration was meant to be open until 9th May. That suggests that the number of people signing up for the event was really low: an encouraging turn of events! Commentators elsewhere have suggested that many psychs will have been put off by the outdated views held by many of the speakers. I only hope this is the case.

This is well worth celebrating, but the good news shouldn’t be the end of the matter. There’s a few really important lessons we can learn from the whole affair, and some things we need to think about regarding future action.

Trans people are still treated awfully by the medical establishment in general, and the psychiatric establishment in particular. We need to explore how to bring about change: through research and its dissemination, through lobbying, and through protests. The simple threat of a colourful, vibrant protest on the PCPsych doorstep clearly had a massive impact, as did the actions of those who talked to psychs and to Charing Cross.

The gender clinics and gatekeepers of this country have a troubled relationship with the trans community, but it benefits us to work with them. Currently, they’re not particularly accountable: Charing Cross has a patient feedback group, but how many trans people even know of this group? How many know how to contribute to its feedback? How many know the vast majority of groups invited to attend the meetings are London-based? This situation needs to change, but the clinic’s actions on this occasion suggest that it can.

Julie Bindel will probably kick up a fuss. Personally, I feel we should let her get on with it. Any opportunity for us to promote our arguments against the approach taken by the cancelled conference is a good one.

Finally, I’ve been informed that activists are planning to go ahead with the community “teach-in” that was originally planned to coincide with the transphobic conference. After all, there are speakers and facilitators booked, so why not? People are talking about focusing on the continuing problems within trans health in general and psychiatry in particular, and exploring where we might go from here. The venue and timetable are still being arranged, so I’ll post again once there’s news on that front.

Government considers scrapping the Equality Act

I really, really wish that title was hyperbole. But it ain’t. It’s here, in plain and simple language, as part of the government’s consultation on “red tape“.

Equality regulations are designed to help ensure fairness in the workplace and in wider society. They include regulations and laws on discrimination and harassment.

You can find the Equality Act 2010 here

Tell us what you think should happen to this Act and why, being specific where possible:

  • Should they be scrapped altogether?
  • Can they be merged with existing regulations?
  • Can we simplify them – or reduce the bureaucracy associated with them?
  • Have you got any ideas to make these regulations better?
  • Do you think they should be left as they are?

It’s worth bearing in mind that the Tories weren’t particularly keen on the Equality Act during its passage, and now in power they’re doing their best to water down provisions such as the Public Sector Duties (which require public bodies such as schools and councils to ensure that they’re actively working towards equality bearing minority needs and issues in mind when making decisions). Many businesses and managers will be keen to see the Equality Act gone (or at least weakened), and are likely to say as much in this consultation.

Now, I hardly think the Equality Act is perfect. However, we’re definitely better with it than without: it has replaced numerous items of previous legislation and therefore contains a vast number of important protections on the grounds of disability, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, “gender reassignment” (that’s us!…sort of), sexual orientation, age and pregnancy.

On a trans-specific front, the Equality Act makes it illegal to discriminate against (most) trans people in education, the workplace and in goods and services (that’s stuff you buy and do, like going to a shop, staying in a hotel, or asking the police for help).

These gains, for trans people and everyone else, have been hard won. They could do with improvement (and why not suggest that “gender reassignment” is extended to “gender identity”, for instance?) but that hardly seems to be what this consultation is about.

Still, we can do our bit. Join with those who have left shocked comments on the page, take part in the consultation and tell the government how you feel about, y’know, having rights. Pass the link on to others, and help make sure that our voices are overwhelming. We need to tell the government that people come before profit!

Mission Statement

In the light of certain accusations that have been levelled at trans activists in the wake of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ upcoming conference (“Transgender: Time To Change“), I feel it’s important to clarify my position on trans activism. This post relates directly to the aforementioned conference, but also more generally to the kind of activism I promote on this blog.

I believe that trans activism is for everyone. Trans activism is about promoting gender liberation for all. I feel that Leslie Feinberg sums this up particularly well in hir introduction to “Trans Liberation: beyond pink or blue”:

The sight of pink-blue gender-coded infant outfits may grate on your nerves. Or you may be a woman or a man who feels at home in these categories. Trans liberation defends you both.

Each person should have the right to choose between pink or blue tinted gender categories, as well as the other hues of the palette. At this moment in time, that right is denied to us. But together, we could make it a reality.

Trans activism therefore incorporates and complements transsexual activism, but is noteably distinct. The goals of trans activism also complement those of feminism: we fight not for gender equality, but for gender liberation.

We fight to free individuals from the constraints of necessary gender categories and gender roles with the proviso that an individual be free to define their own gendered experience. If someone wants to wear dresses, or trousers, or make-up, or grow a moustache, or armpit hair, then cool. Be free, and liberated. Express yourself.

As a trans activist, I believe that individuals have a right to transition. A transition may be social or physical. It may involve new clothes, hormones, surgery…one of these things, or none of these things. It has to be contextual and right for the individual, and move at a speed that is right for them. Transsexed people often have deep-seated reasons for feeling extremely uncomfortable with their sex characteristics, and a transition can alleviate this. A a trans woman, I have benefitted a great deal from my transition. I am fortunate enough to live a more fulfilling life.

I do not feel that my experiences in any way put me at odds with feminism. I oppose outdates stereotypes of the woman as passive and ornamental. I support my sisters’ fight for equal rights and gender liberation: for equal pay, for body sovereignty, and against sexist, patriarchial institutions. I do not dress in a particularly feminine fashion: this is what works for me. I know some trans women who are very butch, and others who are high femme. As a trans activist, I believe in their right to express themselves.

However, I feel it is important for trans activism to also recognise the right not to transition. Transition is not right for all gender variant people. The important thing is that we are all free to express ourselves, regardless. No-one deserves to be pushed onto a particular gender path by overzealous medical institutions, feminists or trans communities with a point to prove.

I oppose the ethos of “Transgender: Time To Change” because I feel that the attitude of individuals such as Az Hakeem and Julie Bindel fly in the face of trans liberation. Transition should be available to all who need it, when they need it, be this in the form of medical intervention or appropriate counselling (not pathologising “talking therapies”: the same kind of interventions that have enabled the “ex-gay” movement). It is also disappointing when such organisations fail to listen to those expressing disappointment at their actions.

I also feel that gender variant individuals – particularly children – should be free to celebrate and explore their gender variance without being treated as mentally ill “fantasists” (Hakeem’s word). Currently, gender variant individuals are either told that to buckle up and be a Real Girl or Real Boy, or otherwise pushed towards transition. This is not real choice, nor is it gender liberation.

In a gender liberated world, we would all get to decide what it means for us to be female, male, androgyne, genderqueer, polygender, genderfluid etc, without the patriarchy telling us how to control and moderate our gendered behaviour. In a gender liberated world, there would be free access to transition, but no-one would be forced into transition as the only medically sanctioned option for gender dissent.

This, to me, is what trans activism is about. The Royal College of Psychiatrists and the few radical feminists who (bewilderingly) support them are denying gender liberation and upholding outdated oppositional binaries without understanding the freedom, fluidity and thoughtfulness of the contemporary queer movement. Trans activism stands in opposition to this, and dares to imagine a world of gender freedom.

Protest planned for transphobic conference

The internet is an incredible tool. Within hours of my previous post (about the Royal College of Psychiatrist’ transphobic conference on 20 May) going viral, trans activists began to organise a protest. I am so impressed and proud of our community.

Initial plans are vague at present but it seems like there will be a picket outside the venue from 9:30am, as attendees arrive for the event, and a “teach-in” providing an open, alternative forum for the academic discussion of trans issues. For those who use Facebook, there is an event page. For those who don’t (or would prefer not to join the page), I’ll post details here as I get them.

Trans Community Conference 2011 announced

Gendered Intelligence have just announced initial details of this year’s Trans Community Conference. I was fortunate enough to attend the conference in 2008 and it was a really great experience with some very valuable contributions. The focus of this year’s conference looks particularly timely in the light of Trans Media Watch’s recently launched Memorandum of Understanding. I thoroughly recommend it to all!

Trans Community Conference 2011

Trans in the Media:
broadcast, journalism, screen & social media
convened by Gendered Intelligence, in association with Trans Media Watch

Friday, 22nd July 2011
9am – 5.30pm
Central School of Speech and Drama,
Eton Avenue, London, NW3
plus:

A SPECIAL EVENING FUNDRAISER EVENT
6.30-8.30pm
Gendered Intelligence Film Night
Programmed by members of the GI Youth Group

Registration will be available from 4th April.

More information will be available shortly on: www.genderedintelligence.co.uk
or you can e mail: admin@genderedintelligence.co.uk

There’s a Facebook event page here.

The Lib Dems: A Cautionary Tale

“This is supposed to be the discrimination bill to end all discrimination bills, and yet it will contain quite blatant prejudice. Only protecting people who are considering or have undergone gender reassignment surgery will leave huge swathes of the transgender population vulnerable to what, in effect, will be legalised discrimination. I will do my best to make sure the final legislation offers real protection for people who define their gender differently.”

– Lynne Featherstone (Lib Dem) criticises the Equality Bill in 2008

I feel that I’ve learned a lot from the Liberal Democrats.

In many ways, I’ve always been a natural Liberal Democrat voter. Labour were running the country during my teenage years, and I grew increasingly disgusted with them during their time in power. The UK became increasingly authoritarian as the government made clear that civil rights were not a priority. We became involved in a number of utterly pointless, wasteful wars. Granted, the situation for LGBT people improved immeasurably, but this was down more to shifting social attitudes and a number of important victories in the European courts than anything else.

I understood the way that Labour regarded people like me. I was a socialist but accepted social democracy as a necessary reality, I was a trans person with an increasing number of equal rights. I imagine that, to them, I was a natural Labour voter. I wasn’t, and I’m still not. I won’t forget the ID card proposals, the introduction of tuition fees,  the wars and the arrogance. I won’t forget the way in which Labour representatives claimed time and time again that they’d done all these things for trans rights when pretty much every piece of trans-positive legislation they passed happened because the European courts told them to do it.

In opposition, we had the Conservative party (booo! hiss, etc.) and the Liberal Democrats. Oh, and the Greens, but they never stood the chance of getting anywhere, and I certainly wasn’t interested in the far-fight fringe parties.

The Liberal Democrats appealed to me. I lived in a constituency with a Lib Dem MP who’d done a lot of good, hard work for the area. The Liberal Democrats believed in greater social freedoms and less legal restrictions. The Liberal Democrats opposed war, and spending on weapons. The Liberal Democrats (supposedly) believed in social justice, and stood up for the poor. On that front they were a little too…y’know, liberal, but they seemed to have their hearts in the right place, and it had to be better than the situation under the hypocritical Labour party, right?

The Liberal Democrats not only spoke about LGBT rights, but seemed to know what they were talking about. Labour talked about civil partnership, and the Lib Dems talked about equal marriage. They actually got the issues, and they understood that bi people exist, and they understood that trans people exist, and – shockingly – they even understood that the trans spectrum encompasses more than just recreational cross-dressers and “primary” transsexuals.

I was a natural Liberal Democrat voter. I voted for them in two general elections and one local election. I voted Green once in a European election, but I was feeling terribly radical that day.

I now, of course, realise that my trust was utterly misplaced. The Lib Dem betrayal has been almost absolute.

I mean, they – like Labour before them – are still talking the talk. The Government Equality Office is pushing some kind of trans action plan that probably will actually make a difference in some areas, and hence genuinely help people (you can contribute to it here, if you manage to get your head around the bizarre contribution process). But, on the whole, the Lib Dems are obeying their senior coalition partners in a way that’s going to cause a lot of people a whole lot of harm.

The tuition fees sell-out was arguably the most high-profile instance of Lib Dem duplicity, but you just need to look at, well, everything that’s wrong with the current government attitude to see where the party is letting down the minority groups that they claim to speak for.

The cuts are hitting the poor, the young, the elderly and the disabled hardest. A disproportionate amount of trans people tend to be poor and disabled (funny how massive amounts of discrimination can do that, huh?)  Support services are failing left, right and centre as funding dries up. Trans charities such as Gender Matters, which struggled to find funding at the best of times, are going under. The restructuring of the NHS is already hurting trans people in areas that are withdrawing funding for treatment: I suspect this will only get worse if the proposed new system is implemented.

There’s no point in having all these wonderful new proposed laws in place to help trans people if there are no real support structures in place any more because the government has destroyed them all. The Liberal Democrats are totally complicit in this disaster, and it’s only going to get worse.

This is why I have absolutely no sympathy for the Lib Dems’ plight in the wake of yesterday’s dramatic Barnsley by-election result. The party’s candidate came sixth in the polls, behind UKIP, the BNP and an independent as well as the Labour and Conservative candidates. Quite frankly, it serves them right. I genuinely hope that this the beginning of a process in which the party will destroy itself, or at least totally undergo a thorough re-invention process. I’m not sure what will have to happen before I can trust them again though.

I used to think that the old adage, “never trust a politician”, was an unhelpful cliché. I now feel that to make any kind of meaningful change, we need to take power into our own hands. We can’t rely on some well-spoken, well-meaning, well-groomed young thing with a brightly coloured rosette to do the work for us.

We must unite behind the student movement

You may have noticed that UK students are pretty damn angry right now.  Protests over rising tuition fees and massive cuts to education budgets for both further and higher education have taken place across the country during the past few weeks.  Thousands of school children, college students, university students, teachers and lecturers are taking to the streets.

The student protests demonstrate the vast power held by ordinary people.  It shows that we have the power to set a media agenda, to shut down the streets of a major city, to pressure our elected representatives, to outwit brutal police set on violence, and to cancel a conference before it even takes place.  The education cuts are just the tip of the iceberg, but the student protests show that we can fight back against ideologically-driven attacks upon our public services.

As trans people, we are very much at risk from the cuts.  We cannot possibly organise on a scale comparable to the student movement: we are too few, too scattered, too divided.  But what we can do is unite with the student movement and other anti-cut alliances.  We can call upon our elected representatives on a local level and our trade unions to take action.  We can petition, we can write letters, we can attend meetings and protests.

Mostly importantly, we can be a part of the student movement.  I’m involved as a student myself, but I’d contribute even if I wasn’t currently studying.  The movement welcomes all support from those who wish to protest in solidarity; in return, it offers the possibility of defeating the government itself.  This is an unlikely outcome, but one which is becoming increasingly possible as the Liberal Democrats buckle under pressure.

If you want to safeguard treatment for transsexed people on the NHS, defend police attempts to actually enagage minority groups rather than treat us like dirt and beat us up, support public sector measures to ensure equality and express solidarity with other minority groups who will be disproportionately impacted by the cuts, support the student movement.  A victory for the students is a victory for us all.

The human cost of wars within feminism

Australian blogger A. E. Brain has caused a stir by digging up a clause within the new UK Equality Act that effectively gives organisations which offer gendered services the opportunity to legally discriminate against trans people. The offending clause reads as follows:

Equality Act 2010 (c. 15)
Schedule 3 — Services and public functions: exceptions
Part 7 — Separate and single services

Gender reassignment
28
(1) A person does not contravene section 29, so far as relating to gender reassignment discrimination, only because of anything done in relation to a matter within sub-paragraph (2) if the conduct in question is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

(2) The matters are—
(a) the provision of separate services for persons of each sex;
(b) the provision of separate services differently for persons of each sex;
(c) the provision of a service only to persons of one sex.

Equality Act 2010 (c. 15)
Schedule 9 — Work: exceptions
Part 1 — Occupational requirements
(3) The references in sub-paragraph (1) to a requirement to have a protected
characteristic are to be read—
(a) in the case of gender reassignment, as references to a requirement not to be a transsexual person (and section 7(3) is accordingly to be ignored);

A helpful example is given in in the Act’s notes:

Gender reassignment: paragraph 28

749. This paragraph replaces a similar provision in the Sex Discrimination Act 1975.
Example
A group counselling session is provided for female victims of sexual assault. The organisers do not allow transsexual people to attend as they judge that the clients who attend the group session are unlikely to do so if a male-to-female transsexual person was also there. This would be lawful.

Schedule 9: Work: exceptions
Part 1: Occupational requirements

A counsellor working with victims of rape might have to be a woman and not a transsexual person, even if she has a gender recognition certificate, in order to avoid causing them further distress.

I was aware some time ago that this clause might exist since I campaigned heavily on issues relating to the Equality Bill prior to it’s passage. Due to other demands on my time however I didn’t managed to keep track of this clause. I’m extremely disappointed but not surprised to see that its still present in the final text of the Act.

As the analysis from Questioning Transphobia makes clear, this is actually a backward step: it effectively overrides the Gender Recognition Act (GRA), which previously allowed trans people who had a Gender Recognition Certificate to “count” as appropriately female or male for all legal purposes. Now we have a situation whereby an organisation with the right excuses (e.g. a rape crisis centre) can potentially get away with keeping out trans people (and kicking out anyone they discover to be trans).

Without another change in the law through legislative means (and I don’t imagine this is going to happen any time soon), any trans person who wishes to challenge this situation legally will probably have to bring a challenge through the European courts, which will be incredibly messy. It’ll cost huge amounts of time and money (for the individual concerned, any organisations supporting them, and the rape crisis centre itself) and it’ll be politically disasterous for pretty much everyone. It’ll probably be an even more fucked-up re-run of what happened in Canada a few years back.

This is particularly sad because much of the Equality Bill represents a step forwards. For example, trans childen have gained extra protections to deal with discrimination in schools, many individuals with non-binary identities are now legally protected from discrimination in the workplace and the provision of goods and services if they can demonstrate that they’re living in a “new” gender role (with no medical intervention necessary, huzzah!) and there’s now a positive duty for various bodies to work towards trans inclusion. Why, then, is there this gigantic screw-up?

It’s not the fault of any of the trans rights organisations (e.g. Press For Change, GIRES) who were campaigning on the Equality Bill. They were furious at the time, and I figure they still are now. They, along with other groups and individuals campaigning on the Bill, lobbied the Government Equality Office (GEO) to no avail, and also lobbied the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to lobby the GEO, but the EHRC didn’t have a lot of luck either.

It’s not the fault of the NHS or private medical organisations, who might conceivably take advantage of this loophole to deny trans women access to particular “women’s” services. They didn’t push for this clause, and apparently no other groups did either…apart from a number of rape crisis centres.

This is the most sickening aspect of the whole affair: I’m aware from my involvement in the Equality Bill campaign that  rape crisis centres, which exist to help some of the most vulnerable and damaged individuals in society, pushed for the inclusion of this clause: a clause which doesn’t merely allow them to deny access to trans people, but also sets a disturbing legal precedent by rolling back the GRA and offers the opportunity for others to legally deny services to trans people.

Now it’s important that I clarify at this point that not all rape crisis centres are transphobic. I know that some in particular work extremely hard towards ensuring they offer a trans-friendly environment. I also honestly have no idea which centres in particular were pushing for this clause, and it would be dangerous (and hence deeply inappropriate) to guess. I cannot stress how incredibly important and vital the services offered by rape crisis centres are.

The argument offered by certain women’s rights activists will be that trans women may threaten or disturb some survivors because they look like men. This argument is a variation on the idea of universal womanhood, and as black feminists demonstrated long ago, it simply doesn’t hold up. There will be those black or asian survivors who feel threatened by white people because they have been victims of racist violence, and others who feel threatened by some other women because they were sexually assaulted or raped by another woman. As far as I’m aware, no woman is rejected from rape crisis centres in the UK because of her sexuality or the colour of her skin, and for good reason. Kicking out trans people is transphobic, plain and simple. This situation has come about because of the vile dogma of a certain brand of radical feminism, and quite frankly I’m horrified.

Because of the doctrine that trans women aren’t real women, that trans women don’t suffer sexual violence (in the face of huge amounts of evidence to the contrary), a certain school of feminism has been responsible for pushing back our rights. As a trans woman, I’m pretty upset. As a feminist, I’m furious.

The idealogical “trans wars” within feminism deal with real lives and result in real hurt, real pain. With various services given legal recourse to deny services to all trans people, those women who have argued for this change in the law on supposedly feminist grounds will have blood on their hands. Shame on them.

New process for changing name and gender in NHS Coventry

The below document was issued last month following consultation with local trans activists. It should make life a lot easier for people who are changing their name and/or gender with a G.P. or dentist within the Coventry Primary Care Trust. If you’re in the Coventry area and are having problems with changing your name and/or gender, this policy should give you the leverage to sort it out. If you live in another area where the P.C.T. is giving you grief, it might be worth trying to cite this as an example of best practice.

    Process for changing name and gender in Primary Care

The purpose of this document is to clarify and bring together already existing legislation and guidance for primary care providers to change the name and gender of trans people who request it.

Considerable legislation(1) already provides explicit protection and rights for trans people in the areas of employment, goods, facilities and services (including health) and for their legal recognition as ordinary men and women in their acquired gender.

“Gender transition is not embarked upon lightly. There is substantial evidence that many trans people encounter extreme violence and discrimination if their background becomes known within their community(2).”

When trans men and women are planning to live permanently in their preferred gender role, they need to ensure that all of their documentation reflects their new name and gender. This includes their passport, driving licence, credit cards and, of course, their medical documentation.

In the UK, anyone can call themselves by any name and any gender that they want to as long as they are not doing it in order to commit fraud. They do not need to use deed poll to change their name nor do trans people have to have a gender recognition certificate to change their gender on documents(3).

There is a simple process for this, which is accepted by many government departments including the Department of Health (4).

1. The patient tells their GP, or directly informs the PCT, that they are transitioning and that in future they would like to be known by their new name and gender(5). They can write a “statutory declaration”, they may have a deed poll document, or they may simply make the request. This request should be in writing, signed by the patient.

2. The GP writes to the Registration Office at the PCT. The GP may write a letter of support confirming the gender role change and that this change is intended to be permanent, but this is not a requirement.

3. The Registration Office then writes to the Personal Demographics’ Service National Back Office. The National Back Office will create a new identity with a new NHS number and requests the records held by the patient’s GP. These records are then transferred to the new identity and forwarded to the GP.

4. On receipt, the GP surgery changes any remaining patient information including the gender marker, pronouns and names. Trans patients have a legal right to change their name and gender on their NHS records and would be able to bring a civil claim against any GP or practice which refused to accede to their request.

Please contact me if you have any queries on the number below.

Helen Bunter
Head of Equality and Human Rights
NHS Coventry
Tel: 024 76246092

(1) The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 (amended 2008), Sex Discrimination (Gender Reassignment) Regulations 1999, The Equality Act 2006, Gender Recognition Act 2004

(2) http://www.dh.gov.uk/prod_consum_dh/groups/dh_digitalassets/@dh/@en/documents/digitalasset/dh_089939.pdf

(3) http://www.dh.gov.uk/prod_consum_dh/groups/dh_digitalassets/@dh/@en/documents/digitalasset/dh_085013.pdf

(4) Press for Change, 2008: “Name Changing on Personal Documents: A Guide for Organisations

(5) http://www.connectingforhealth.nhs.uk/systemsandservices/demographics/pds/ig/access/gender_reassignment/?searchterm=gender%20reassignment

What’s in a name? (the importance of free deed polls)

This post is part one of my response to misha the Duck of Doom, who commented on this post.

In the United Kingdom we’re pretty lucky: we’re able to change our names for free, as long as it’s not being done to commit fraud. I believe this is not merely a privilege that we’re fortunate enough to have though; it’s an important right.

This applies to anyone who wants to change their name, but is particularly important for many trans people because of the sheer importance a name can have. A name denotes identity, is usually tied to a particular gender role and accompanying gender expectations, and tends to carry a fair amount of personal history with it. No wonder then that a name change can be a key moment for those who transition. A free name change means that everyone has equal access to this right, regardless of age and financial status.

There are several means of changing your name under UK law, but the most simple is to simply announce to the world that you’ve changed your name. You don’t actually need to do anything other than this. It might help, however, to sign a piece of paper as evidence of your doing so. Maybe you could also get someone else to witness it, perhaps a solicitor. This tends to help with getting organisations such as banks, educational institutions and the Inland Revenue to recognise your name change: hence the existence of deed polls and statutory declarations.

Solicitors – and various websites – can charge a pretty penny for preparing your statutory declaration or deed poll. The amount they might ask you for varies, although as a general rule I note that the more fancy-looking the document is, the more it costs. What baffles me is that these individuals and organisations are getting away with this when you can easily make your own document for free. There are some organisations trying to make money from this through advertising, whilst other pages make them available simply out of a desire to help others. My own (free) deed poll was emailed to me by a particularly helpful individual working for the university I was applying for a few years back. I’ve used it to change my details with pretty much every organisation which will ever need to use my name, including the NHS, a Student Union and the Job Centre.

Of course, not everyone who charges for evidence of a name change charges a lot. misha the Duck of Doom suggests:

“Go to a solicitor who swears oaths.
They have the uk courts authority to swear in
a Stat Dec name change.
When doing this, they are recognised as an agent of the court.

It costs £5 IIRC
plus £2 per stamped copy. You need about 15 copies for tax, council, education certificates, utility companies
so they change your name & sex.”

This looks relatively reasonable and not too pricey. I have three major problems with this option though:

1) “Affordable” can be two very different things to different people. The above suggestion actually costs £35 (£5, plus £2 multiplied by 15 is £35). That’s a fair amount of money if you’re a teenager, a student, on minimum wage, unemployed or permanently on incapacity benefit. Of course, many solicitors would provide you with a number of copies for no additional charge, and I’d suggest you could save a lot of that money by creating photocopies and using a stamped, self-addressed envelope when you do need to provide the original, but you’re still spending money. £5 can go a long way towards other things when you’re a teenager, and has to go a long way if you’re on benefits or minimum wage. I can make several days worth of meals on £5. Sure, even the poorest can fork out for this, but would prefer spend money on better things if it’s possible to do so.

2) Trans people are more likely than the general population to have anxiety issues or problems interacting with other people. Transition has given nerves of steel to many of us (and huge amounts of confidence when things are going well), but this doesn’t apply to all. Dealing with this kind of thing via a solicitor or courts could waste a lot of spoons. In this instance, self-created evidence of a name change is clearly preferable.

3) There’s an issue of principle! Regardless of money and spoons, why should we have to spend money on evidence of a name change when, legally speaking, we don’t have to?

This is why it particularly gets my back up when a Gender Clinic decides that it’s above free deed polls, and demands that they’re witnessed by a solicitor. It’s also bizarre that they accepted a free deed poll from a trans woman and then decided to later reject the very same document. I’m glad that Charing Cross no longer seem to be doing this – and in fact have apparently written a new policy to ensure that it doesn’t happen again – but it’s quite telling that they don’t seem to have made this new policy public at all.