Biology is important but that does not mean trans people’s identities have to be undermined, writes Vic Valentine.
Many people in Scotland have probably never met a trans person. Or at least you may not know you have – we are a diverse community with plenty of people who fade into the background as well as those who stand out in a crowd.
As public conversations around trans equality get louder, lots of people looking in have no sense of what this all means for a family member, a neighbour, or a friend. It can all feel very hypothetical. But the problem for trans people is that our lives are very much real, and the outcome of these conversations have a big impact.
Take the Census for example. Next time around, the Census will ask, as it always has, if you are male or female. Trans men and trans women, as they always have, want to answer this question with how they live their lives and identify. But a number of campaigning organisations and MSPs have called for this to change. Instead, they say that trans people should be forced to answer with the sex that’s on our birth certificates. From the outside, this might not seem like such a big deal. But actually, it really matters.
Most trans people still have birth certificates with the sex they were recorded at birth. So this change would mean that trans people would be required by law to declare ourselves as something that we know we aren’t. To be forced to tick a box that would show a total disregard for the too frequent sacrifices and struggles many of us have faced in order to be happy and comfortable living our lives as who we truly are. Making this change would send a clear message. It would tell us that people don’t see our lives and identities as real. That they don’t believe we are who we say we are.
And the Census is just the start. There are growing calls to require people to declare their sex recorded at birth in all circumstances – such as when applying for jobs, accessing services and completing government questionnaires. Often, these calls are justified by saying that biology is important, and we must record it.
The importance of biology
We absolutely agree that biology is important. But we don’t think that forcing trans people to be counted in a way that undermines our identity and dignity is necessary to recognise this.
For most people who aren’t trans (which is almost everyone), you can make a good guess about what their body is like based on whether they tick male or female. Because of this, it’s possible to use information about the numbers of men and women for broad planning around healthcare and other service provision.
But for trans people it’s more complicated. Many (although not all) of us access gender reassignment treatments that mean our bodies are far from typical for the sex we were recorded at birth. Requiring us to identify our sex recorded at birth doesn’t give you the same kind of physical information that it does for the overwhelming majority who are not trans. But it does say to us that the way we live our lives doesn’t matter, only the bodies we were born with.
The conversations going on around the Census, and the establishment of a Scottish Government working group on sex, gender, and data, are real opportunities to think through these issues carefully. We want people to be able to take part in these conversations, to ask questions, and hopefully to understand where we’re coming from, and why we think we deserve to be counted as who we really are.
Vic Valentine is policy officer at the Scottish Trans Alliance