Equal marriage debate must treat us as humans

Helen Belcher is pleased with the government’s plans for English and Welsh marriage equality but furious with people treating her as an issue rather than a person

Equal marriage debate must treat us as humans
12 December 2012

Towards the middle of Spamalot’s Act 2, the Lady of the Lake appears. She’s been off-stage for quite a long time. She starts singing: ‘Whatever happened to my part?’ She angrily complains about how long she’s been waiting since her last song and how she feels deceived by the show’s producers and her agent – her part wasn’t what was promised. My daughter sang it (very well) in a little soiree last weekend, so it’s buzzing through my head at the moment. And I’ve come to realize this morning that it’s close to how I feel right now.

I’ve been told that I should be grateful for the progress that was the government’s announcement on equal marriage. It resolves the situation I and hundreds of others like me find ourselves in – assuming the law is passed. We won’t have to get divorced in order to get gender recognition. This is the grossly underreported yet (as I am often told) overwhelmingly convincing and unanswerable case for equal marriage. In itself, as far as it goes, it is good news.

I watched yesterday’s House of Commons debate around Maria Miller’s statement. I think it was that, together with a meeting about the Gender Recognition Act I attended on Monday, which has made me angry rather than relieved.

You see, while repeated Members of Parliament (MPs) – and they were predominantly Conservative ones – pontificated about religious rights and definitions of words, not one of them mentioned the situation I find myself in. Even though none of them will be directly affected by the legislation now being drafted, a number of MPs felt quite at liberty to continue to erase my rights, my marriage, my identity.

My local (Conservative) MP has indicated that, because more people have written to him opposing equal marriage, he will also oppose it. Majority opinion seems a funny way to determine human rights. (In fairness, he has just started a consultation on his own website – but the principle remains odd.)

Maria Miller exhorted people to respect those views. I’m sorry – I don’t any more. Because what those MPs are saying is that it is quite acceptable to force my wife and I to divorce, to destabilize our family, to cost us money and inflict emotional turmoil, not to mention the logistical headaches of trying to arrange divorce, gender recognition and civil partnership in as close proximity as possible, while hoping that nothing adverse happens between the beginning and end of that process. All of this in the name of ‘protecting marriage and the family’. The hypocrisy is blindingly obvious.

The sad thing is that the arguments against equal marriage (and it’s ‘equal marriage’, not ‘gay marriage’, for a reason) are predominantly religious. Religion is something you acquire, even if it’s pushed upon you in childhood. In contrast, the evidence is that you seem to be born with your sexuality and gender identity.

In my experience, most trans and gay people try to acquire ‘normality’, causing huge personal distress along the way. Because of my Christian background, I know quite a few trans and gay people who have a Christian faith. There are many Christian groups (not to mention those of other faiths) who want to be able to conduct same-sex marriages. Their voices are just drowned out by those who say it’s simply wrong for no other reason than they believe their god prohibits homosexuality, or that marriage is for the express reason of raising children.

The law is compromised to try to minimize opposition, much of which won’t be appeased anyway, rather than doing what is right.

My wife and I were legally married over 18 years ago in an Anglican church as believers. We have children. Both of them are now in their mid-teens. Both seem to be well-adjusted young people. I didn’t choose to be trans – I fought it, suppressed it, denied it for many years. Yet I’ve not heard a peep from any opponent of equal marriage about what my wife and I are supposed to have done wrong. By allowing us to stay married we are, apparently, re-defining marriage or somehow demeaning the marriages of others. The reality flies in the face of their belief.

Over the past few months I have challenged my MP and also the incoming Archbishop of Canterbury that, if they were going to oppose the government’s proposals, what would they do to sort out this awful situation that too many trans people find themselves in. I’ve laid the same challenge before other opponents too. Their answer: not a peep; nada; nothing. It’s easier to pretend I don’t exist.

Then I think about the UK’s gender recognition process itself. At least the UK has one, and it’s relatively liberal compared to some processes in other countries. I have to assemble carefully worded evidence to send to a panel of medics, none of which I will have met, in order for them to determine whether I meet the criteria to be classed as female. If I do, and it’s not a dead-cert because I might not provide exactly the right kind of evidence, my name goes on a central register, they send out a piece of paper, and arrange for a new birth certificate to be dispatched. I have to pay for my doctor and also the panel.

Why should I have to convince anyone that I’m female, let alone go on a centralized register of trans people? (We usually assume governments will be forever benign – so such lists are risk-free.) The receipt of a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) will incur certain privacy rights. Well, I think by writing here, appearing in front of the Leveson Inquiry, and sitting on a Parliamentary Forum, it’s pretty obvious that I’m trans. Receiving a GRC means I become ‘legally female’ – except in certain limited situations.

I’m wondering why I should bother. I can completely understand why others will want to go through the process – as it essentially validates their identity and makes sure all the paperwork is in order – but I’m no longer convinced that it’s for me. The process seems de-humanizing; the benefits I would accrue don’t seem worth the cost.

Our society loves to categorize things, place people into boxes and give them labels. Trans and intersex people exist in the fuzzy edges of those boxes, especially the gender one, and we’re then made to feel uncomfortable because we don’t fit in – we make life difficult for systems people and legislators. But we are humans too. We have feelings. We can be hurt. The catalyst for me finally rejecting Christianity was that I was repeatedly treated as a problem, an issue – not as a person. I heard the same attitudes in the House of Commons yesterday. It stinks.

While I’m pleased that the government is going ahead with its proposals, and disappointed that they don’t go far enough (because what about those trans people who are in civil partnerships, for example), I’m absolutely furious with those who seem to deny that I and hundreds like me exist, and therefore don’t deserve equal rights.

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