The Government is right to reject gender self-identification

(Photo: Unsplash/Rui Magalhães)

The Christian Institute, which has a long track-record of opposing plans to allow people to self-identify their gender, has welcomed today's written statement by Liz Truss that there will be no fundamental change to the Gender Recognition Act:

Liz Truss' announcement today that there is to be no fundamental change to the Gender Recognition Act will be widely welcomed. It will do much to help protect people with gender dysphoria from being rushed into life-changing decisions which they may later regret – an increasingly common phenomenon.

It will also be a relief to some of the families of people with gender dysphoria as they seek to sensitively support them. Crucially, keeping the current law will help protect women-only spaces from men who do not have gender dysphoria but who are sexual predators who will do anything to gain access to women-only spaces, including pretending to be trans.

The Christian Institute opposes the existing Gender Recognition Act (GRA) in principle. Its fundamental premise is that a man can become a woman and that a woman can become a man. But this is a biological impossibility. The Act creates a legal fiction.

However, the GRA does at least treat changing legal sex with some degree of seriousness. Requirements such as medical evidence and a period living as the opposite sex are very limited safeguards given that the person is making a fundamental change of legal status – one with profound social, moral, physical and psychological consequences.

These limited safeguards do at least allow for third party assessment of an individual's claim of gender dysphoria in order to sift out obviously fraudulent or frivolous cases. They also give the individual time for reflection and those caring for them the opportunity to help them to resolve the conflicts which have led them to consider changing sex.

The system of self-declaration favoured by some activists would have abolished these precautions. This would have made the legal system open to abuse by those changing sex for frivolous or, even worse, deceitful reasons. It would have also greatly increased the risk of enshrining in law a decision made by an individual which they later regret, such as someone who is subject to a temporary fixation which they later resolve.

The claim that one's actual sex is something other than biological sex is a radical and highly contentious statement. It should not just be accepted uncritically and given legal force on demand. This would have enormous practical consequences in both the short and long term for the individual, those close to them, and those they come into contact with.

Transgender regret is a large and growing phenomenon. There is a fast-growing body of 'detransitioning' ex-transsexual people who say they were not offered a nuanced medical and psychiatric perspective [for more on this, see here, here and here].

Many feel they were put on a conveyor belt to changing sex with little or no attempt to help them weigh up what was really best for them. Their voices are not often heard in mainstream media. In many of these cases, what was considered to be 'gender identity disorder' is later understood to be due to conditions such as borderline personality disorder, autism, childhood trauma, and a wide range of other causes [see here]. These are often exacerbated by social pressures, anxiety and depression. Such cases have arisen under the current system requiring medical evidence. If no medical assessment is made, there are likely to be more cases.

According to a study: '...participants with ASD [autism spectrum disorder] were 7.59 times more likely to express gender variance; participants with ADHD [Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder] were 6.64 times more likely to express gender variance' [Strang J F, Kenworthy L, Dominska A et al, 'Increased gender variance in autism spectrum disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder', Archives of Sexual Behaviour, 43(8), November 2014, pages 1525-33].

There is already too much of a rush towards 'transitioning' without questions being asked of gender-confused people.

Simon Calvert is The Christian Institute's Deputy Director for Public Affairs.