Paris Lees: Why do we have to have a legal gender?

The campaigner gives her view on why trans rights are moving further into the mainstream

January 22, 2015
High-profile transgender personalities such as Paris Lees have helped draw attention to gender identity and rights campaigns.
High-profile transgender personalities such as Paris Lees have helped draw attention to gender identity and rights campaigns.
In Prospect’s January 2015 issue I identified transgender rights as one of the big debates for the coming year. With the battle for equal marriage won, the spotlight is increasingly falling on trans issues. The journalist and activist Paris Lees responded to my piece with the below comments.

Gender can only really be a personal choice—everyone has a gender identity, whether that means you see yourself as a "career woman" or a "man's man". How we think of ourselves isn't usually that relevant when it comes to the state, but for trans people it can mean there is a conflict. So much time is wasted on changing documentation when people transition genders, but why do we even have to have a legal gender? Why even have someone's gender on their passport? Why can't we just be people first and foremost. Sometimes it's hard to see outside the system, but the people who aren't treated well by that system are often the ones to point out it flaws. Feminists were the first to question: why do we have Mrs and Miss when a man is just plain old Mr? Now trans activists are asking, why do we have to have a gendered title at all? It's an interesting debate that will only grow as more and more people challenge what it means to be a man or a woman.

There are many reasons why transgender rights are moving into the spotlight, but the internet has to be one of the biggest. It's hard to explain just how isolated trans people were before we all got online. The stories I hear from older trans people terrify me. But now we can see there are people like us all over the world, that we're not just the village freak doomed to a life of solitude. The other thing, of course, is that it's the natural progression from the black civil rights movement, the sexual revolution and the push for gay equality. As a society we increasingly understand, now, that everyone deserves the same human rights, and now is just that special moment for trans people.

I think the key areas for trans campaigners in 2015 will be addressing healthcare issues, and ensuring that trans kids are looked after properly. With appropriate treatment, early in life, trans people have been shown in study after study to go on and live happy, healthy and productive lives. So why is it such an uphill battle for people to access the care they need to function? In addition, we have to make sure that vulnerable people are not being forced into so-called "conversion therapies", that is, the idea that you can talk someone out of being trans. It's true that not everyone who presents at a gender identity clinic will go on and transition, but for those people who are truly trans, you can no more pray that away than you can "pray away the gay".