The UK’s proposed Gender Recognition Bill privileges individual feelings above objective reality

In the not too distant future, changing your gender might be no more complicated than changing your gas and electricity supplier. It could, in fact, be a great deal more straightforward.

If passed, the government’s Gender Recognition Bill, to be published this autumn, will allow people to change their gender legally without, as is currently required, a doctor’s diagnosis of gender dysphoria or proof of having lived for two years as their desired gender. From the age of just 16, people can have their chosen gender officially and publicly recognized, including on their birth certificate. All that will be required is for people to make a statutory declaration that they intend to live in the acquired gender until death — or, presumably, until they change their mind.

Scrapping the rule that people must have lived as the gender they wish to become for two years prior to making official changes begs the question — how long is needed for people to be sure of such a drastic change? Should you change your gender because you still feel macho a week on from winning a race? Or you feel in touch with your feminine side after an afternoon spent cake baking and playing dress-up with your niece?

Ruth Hunt, Chief Executive of Stonewall, welcomed the proposals and argued a process for changing gender was needed that was not, ‘medicalized, intrusive or demeaning.’ Education Secretary Justine Greening said, ‘This government is committed to building an inclusive society that works for everyone, no matter what their gender or sexuality,’ and declared the proposed Bill to be ‘a step forward.’ Both agree that changing gender should be ‘streamlined’ and ‘demedicalized’.

But changing gender is a big step and not one to be taken lightly. The process should be complicated — not in order to deliberately degrade people — but crucially because changing gender makes a demand on other people, on society, to fall in line and recognize that you are who you say you are.

New legislation will allow people to have their birth certificates altered — but birth certificates are an historical record and an official document that records facts about your moment of birth. Significantly, they record sex and not a socially constructed concept of gender, as well as the location and date of your birth. A further consultation is proposed to consider whether non-binary identifying people can define themselves as X in their birth certificates and, in Scotland, on passports.

Changing personal details about sex on official documents denies scientific fact, objectivity and historical record. It allows people’s feelings, at any given moment in time, to take precedence. Under new legislation people will be able to change their sex without undergoing any medical procedures. In other words, they can be biologically and anatomically male — six foot four of strapping, bearded masculinity — but identify as a woman and have this recognized as their official gender. Everyone else in society must deny the reality before their eyes and confirm the individual’s self-declared view of themselves.

There’s panic that this might unleash a tide of perverts as men identify as female in order to gain access to women’s changing rooms and toilets. I’m not convinced. Far more concerning is the potential for censoriousness that runs rampant whenever we are asked to privilege feelings above objective reality and avoid causing offence. The relativism inherent in the view that gender is fluid places personal inclination as the arbiter of truth.

Only a small proportion of the population might change their gender but we are all asked to become complicit in redefining reality as a matter of feelings. The imperative that people should be true to themselves overrides any measure of objectivity.

Announcement of the Gender Recognition Bill has been timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalization of homosexuality in 1967. It’s intended to be seen as a logical next step in LGBTQ+ rights from a government keen to regain some of the radical gloss it garnered from legalizing same sex marriage. However, this legislation is not radical but deeply conservative.

Decriminalizing homosexuality was liberating, it expanded the legally accepted range of human sexuality. Proposals to allow people to change gender, on the other hand, have the opposite effect. Rather than expanding definitions of what it means to be human, the emphasis on changing gender restricts and confines us. It demands we bring our identity — and ultimately our biology — in line with stereotypes and social convention. Rather than celebrating the ballet dancing boy or football mad girl, we instead tell the football lover if she feels more like a boy then she probably is a boy and get boy ballet dancers to declare themselves female.

Personally, I don’t feel 43. I find it highly offensive me that my birth certificate and my passport both announce to the world that I really am this old. I’ve decided I identify as 29. I now demand my birth certificate is changed to reflect the way I feel.

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