Transexual Briton Christine Goodwin has won the right to be recognised as a woman in the European Court of Human Rights.
July 11, 2002 5:13 AM   Subscribe

Transexual Briton Christine Goodwin has won the right to be recognised as a woman in the European Court of Human Rights. The UK is one of only four EU countries not to recognise a sex change as legally valid. Is this something that needs to change in the interests of human rights?
posted by stuporJIX (11 comments total)

It would be far better, I would have thought, to remove all legally recognised differences between men and women and treat everyone as individuals.
posted by vbfg at 5:33 AM on July 11, 2002

vbfg: while I agree with you 100% in principle, as long as we have a need for gender-segregated prisons and the like, there have to be legally-recognised differences between men and women. But I do think that a transsexual is, for all relevant intents and purposes, their new sex, and should be treated as such.
posted by biscotti at 6:34 AM on July 11, 2002

That's a nice sentiment vbfg, though will probably never ever become a reality. Legally, this is good, she should be treated as a woman, that is her sex.
posted by bittennails at 6:36 AM on July 11, 2002

I also agree with you generally vbfg but I can think of one good example of where the sexes should be separated: hospital. My gran was put in a mixed ward recently and found it very humiliating. Anyway yes, if you've gone through surgery I think you should be rewarded by being legally recognised as female.
posted by Summer at 6:45 AM on July 11, 2002

I think a better approach might be to have a cultural drive to eliminate the body taboo. Who cares who can see you when your clothes are off? How is it humiliating? It's the way you were born, for heaven's sake.
posted by Irontom at 6:48 AM on July 11, 2002

I don't think a person should be able to just 'declare' a change of gender, without actually making the attempt to live as and pass for the gender they desire to be. So Johnny the Perv can't call himself female just so he's allowed to shower in the women's locker room.

But, subject to making a genuine effort to live as the target gender, noting that surgery and hormone treatments would far exceed the effort requirement I envision, I think an individual should be able to have their gender changed on official records. Simple process: apply to have the passport/birth certificate changed by the Public Records Office, by filling out the form and submitting a letter from a treating psychiatrist. A genuine transgender will be seeing a psychiatrist, for entirely obvious reasons. All records held by other entities must then be changed on request to align with the passport.

Medical records are a bit of a thorny problem, because a person in this position really should notify their doctor of their physical condition. Full disclosure is a patient's duty, and I'm all for that being enforceable up to the point of prosecution. But the transgendered person should have the right to be addressed and treated as his/her chosen gender. This comes under the patient's right to privacy, which is, in most jurisdictions, already enforceable.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 7:17 AM on July 11, 2002

Our government always seems to try to do a passable impression of king canoute, with predictable consequences. More power to this person who seems to be for intents and purposes to now be 'female'.
posted by johnnyboy at 7:30 AM on July 11, 2002

This judgement comes of the back several judgements by the ECHR where they found that there was no right to change ones sex (Rees v. UK, Cossey v. UK, X,Y,Z v UK & Sheffield V. UK, all available here along with actual judgement, I v UK).
This really is the problem with the ECHR - it isn't bound by its own past decisions. Whilst it could be seen as a good thing, it in fact causes loads of problems, as it keeps making the law in member states uncertain - which makes it difficult to enforce and difficult for citizens to abide by.

What the UK government has to do now is bring in laws to clearly define what rights transgendered/sexual people are entitled to and what they have to do/ prove to be able to claim them.
posted by prentiz at 8:25 AM on July 11, 2002

aeschenkarnos: Simple process: apply to have the passport/birth certificate changed by the Public Records Office...

Unfortunately, this process seems to be yet another obstacle.
posted by Danelope at 9:24 AM on July 11, 2002

Hmmm...I'm not so sure that having the government agree with your own viewpoint of biological reality qualifies as a civil right. Let me clarify...

I do think she should have the right to marry who she wants - but I think anyone should have the right to marry who they want, regardless of gender.

The UK pension law that was described, where women can draw a pension 5 years earlier than men, is discriminatory against men in general, not just transexuals. It should be changed.

In the interest of politeness, I'm perfectly willing to refer to her by the pronoun of her choice - but that's manners, not public policy.

In the overwhelming majority of circumstances, one's gender should make no legal difference whatsoever, therefore governmental recognition should be irrelevant. In many cases where there is a legal difference, the legal difference is inherently discriminatory (as in the UK pension law), and should be abolished. In those cases where there is some valid reason for differential treatment (such as gender-segregated prisons), I think there should be some very careful thought on the consequences for classifying the person either way. In the prison scenario, I can think of problems arising whichever way the person gets classified.

The problem I see here is that the word gender is reflecting two concepts. One is a cultural role, which I don't think government should be too involved in regulating anyway. The other is a biologic fact. At the current state of medical science, we do not have the technology to actually change someone's gender. Perhaps in 200 years. Not now. (If I was living in the future where we had that technology, I'd probably switch back and forth a few times, just for curiosity.)

As far as the cultural identity, I'm happy to let people declare themselves what they want. If you're a 5'6" white male from Idaho and you want to declare that you're a 7'0" black female elf from ancient Atlantis, then more power to you. If you want other people to declare that they believe this to be literally true - you may be in for disappointment. (Especially if you try to claim a scholarship earmarked for black, female basketball players.) I don't think you can demand that as an innate civil right.

A disclaimer on my viewpoint - aside from the rather arbitrary cultural roles, I don't believe that gender exists except as a set of physical characteristics. Most of the writing I've read from transexuals indicates that they think of themselves as being innately the other gender, regardless of their physical bodies. This would indicate that gender exists somehow as a pure metaphysical essence, outside of physical reality. To me, this is indistinguishable from religion. I think everyone has the right to their religion, but not to have those religious precepts accepted as truth by the outside world.

Just my 2 cents worth.
posted by tdismukes at 12:25 PM on July 11, 2002

Summer, that sounds like a bad experience for your gran. You're right, a completely unisex society would be against people's dignity. Partly what I was trying to say though is that treating people differently according to their gender in law is against what I understand human dignity to be. If you remove the laws that mean, say, men and women have different retirement ages, or a tax break that works differently for a married man than a married woman (struggling for examples here, I can't actually think of any), then it doesn't actually matter at that point from a legal view what the sex is.

If that person feels so strongly that they're of a different sex to that which they were born, and the person has been accepted for the operation by living as the new sex for a period, which for a friend of mine who became a man was a significant length of time, then the only reason to not recognise them in law is to piss them off. Laws that just piss people off and contribute absolutely nothing else aren't very good laws. By living life as one sex, believing one's self to be that sex, and undergoing major surgery to become as biologically close to that sex as possible, you've pretty much earned the right to be treated as that sex by your peers, society and law.
posted by vbfg at 2:48 PM on July 11, 2002

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