Joint Committee On Human Rights Written Evidence

26.Submission from Melanie and Sue Cherriman

  1.  We wish to make a submission concerning the above bill and the impact it will have on our lives, and the lives of other transsexual people, if it is enacted as currently drafted.

  2.  First of all we wish to endorse the submissions made to the committee by The Gender Trust and by Press For Change (PFC).

  3.  In addition, may we draw the committee's attention to a much more comprehensive analysis of the bill on the Gender Trust's website at which we also endorse.

  4.  We welcome the fact that this bill has at last been proposed and we wish to place on record our thanks for those who have worked so hard to get it to this stage of completion.


  5.1  Mel is a transsexual woman, who transitioned from male to female in January 2001. In common with many others, she first felt some awareness of her condition as a young child aged five, however a strict catholic upbringing combined with the social mores of the time (she was born in 1961) impressed upon her, even at such an early age, that to "choose" to be anything other than "normal" was totally unacceptable, indeed, impossible. She had a conventional upbringing as a male and this socialisation added many more layers of disapproval which she could only deal with by going into total denial and immersing in diversionary behaviour by throwing herself into sport, studying and work. She was taught to believe that she could choose to be a normal, heterosexual male, that the transsexual feelings would go away as she got older and that there would be huge sanctions if she were to choose otherwise. With the benefit of today's knowledge and her own personal experience, this belief might be considered ill-judged, even naive, but at that time there was a total lack of any accurate information about transsexuality (by today's standards at least) and it was clear that there was no one she could turn to for help, so she had to deal with the condition in total isolation.

  5.2  Sue is a gender female, with a conventional upbringing.

  5.3  We met and, over time, fell in love, getting married in May 1987. Mel did not declare her transsexuality to Sue because she felt that there was no need. She is intelligent and capable, and had been taught to believe that it was a question of choosing the "right" thing to do, and getting married was one of the right things.

  5.4  We had a normal marriage, although we didn't have any children.

  5.5  Through the years, Mel continued to suffer in silence, immersing in numerous activities and presenting a normal face to the world however, by January 2000, this became impossible and she could no longer keep the genie in the box.

  5.6  We have spent the last three and a half years coming to terms with Mel's condition and dealing with it.

  5.7  Mel has now transitioned successfully and had all the necessary surgery.

  5.8  Because of our great love for each other and determination to do our best to stay together, we embarked on a course of couples therapy and resolved all of the problems we faced along the way. We are still together and have every intention and belief that, all other things being equal, we will continue to be so.


  6.1  Historically the treatment trans peoples received when dealing with medicine and the law (and, for that matter the rest of society, including the church and the press) has been censorious and disapproving because of great ignorance of the condition and the more judgmental social mores of past times.

  6.2  Medicine viewed the condition as a sort of deviant lifestyle choice and access to appropriate treatment was often denied by the NHS and, in many cases still is, or unreasonable hurdles are put in place to prevent access.

  6.3  The law was no better. The infamous "Corbett" case made a ruling based on what little was "known" at that time and, despite much evidence to the contrary (the committee are no doubt aware of the document "the current medical viewpoint", for example) case law continued to invalidate the condition.

  6.4  Socially, being transsexual attracted much social stigma, discrimination and even violence. Even today, the term "transsexual" is still used pejoratively by much of the media and reporting can be sensationalist and prurient.

  6.5  It is also worth commenting on the role of the church. Historically, many prominent religious people claimed that Judaeo Christian belief stresses how wrong such "lifestyle choices" are—they portray anything other than a fixed bipolar male/female view of the world as invalid. Many, if not most trans people were raised in families who practised, or were influenced by such religious dogma and much law and institutional policy also has its roots in it.

  6.6  Much more is known now, particularly as modem knowledge is disseminated into society and social mores are less judgmental of difference. For example, many people have said to us that they understand much more than they did 10 years ago and can accept us now, when they would have been unable to just 10 years ago. However the old ways still drive much of "the system's" approach, and the view of religion despite the evidence and opinions of some of the most eminent clinicians in the field.

  6.7  These realities have necessitated how trans people dealt with the condition. There are some notable exceptions but, for most, there was a long period (often many decades) of denial, followed by a difficult journey towards their solution and, ultimately, assimilation back into society in their new gender role. Because of the difficulties outlined above, many of which remain, many trans people still live in great fear of their status being discovered.

  6.8  We would like to reiterate some of the realities—these are practical and real world examples of some of the issues which the legislation needs to take into account. Some are very recent.

  6.8.1  Many, if not most, trans people build a whole life based around projecting an image of themselves to others that does not accord with their internal self knowledge. They make decisions based on the perception that they can beat the condition for their entire lives and, for example, get married in the expectation that they will remain in male role.

  6.8.2  After transition There have been so many examples of the possible negative consequences when others become aware of one's trans status that many learn to go to great lengths to protect their privacy and secret.

  6.8.3  More recently, a few trans people are starting to emerge who are very open about their trans status (Mel is one of these) however we believe that the overwhelming majority are unlikely to be sufficiently "out" to make representations to the committee.

  6.8.4  It is not unusual for trans people to find it hard to get decent employment and the cost of privately obtaining the vital elements of treatment which are not funded by the NHS is a huge drain on finance and, as a result, many carry very large burdens of debt.


  7.1  We understood that there had been a great deal of consultation before the bill was drafted and yet important parts of the draft have clearly not taken account of that consultation. The issues we mentioned above must be considered if the bill is to have any validity for trans people.

  7.2  We are disappointed that, despite the consultation, the bill doesn't address our own specific situation and is lacking in a number of other areas—perhaps its our lack of experience of the parliamentary process but we expected the bill to address the issues raised by PFC and the Gender Trust, however there seems to be a lot more work needed to make it fair and workable.

  7.3  We are confused as to the intention or logic underlying much of the draft bill. The explanatory notes provided give no insight into the reasoning behind many of the key provisions, which appear to us to enshrine in law a different set of problems for trans people, when there is no need to do so and which will actually make things more difficult for many.


8.1  Marriage

  8.1.1  We don't know how many marriages actually survive the transition of one of the partners, but it is rare. Mel knows a few couples who stayed together.

  8.1.2  For any marriage to survive, it takes a huge investment of emotion, energy and money, and a great deal of love. This bill, if passed as proposed, would ignore the realities of people like us in the cruellest possible way. We would be put in the invidious position of having to choose between a female birth certificate for Mel, and our marriage. We cannot believe that someone has actually suggested that we should have to trade one set of rights for another.

  8.1.3  Frankly, we do not know what the impact of the legislation will be on our marriage and this is a particularly distressing and stressful turn of events.

  8.1.4  While there is a vague allusion to same sex marriages, this legislation is not in place and we do not yet know what rights would be given away if we took this route. It is totally illogical to require a marriage to be annulled in order to qualify for a different type of marriage. In addition, there would be a financial cost for the process to put ourselves into the same position, legally as we are now!

  8.1.5  Its unclear why the draft bill has made it a requirement to get divorced/annulled. If it is because of fear of public reaction, our own experience has been that other (non trans) people have been totally accepting of our situation. Those with whom we have discussed the issue have been amazed and horrified that we would be forced into the position of having to divorce in order to change Mel's birth certificate—they recognise a great love between two people that has endured through one of the most traumatic experiences that could possibly happen to any relationship.

  8.1.6  We are also very concerned regarding the position of other documentation and legal paperwork, such as passports, driving licence, sex stated on insurance and so on.

  8.1.7  The current situation is that all primary documentation except the birth certificate can be amended when the trans person begins to live in role. We are concerned that, unless there is specific provision in the bill, this concession could be rescinded and any change of documentation could be made conditional on obtaining a gender recognition certificate. This will exacerbate the "trap" we would find ourselves in and put even more pressure on us to get divorced. This is totally unfair and does not take account of the reality that Mel only ever did "the right thing" as enforced by the social mores and legislation of the time.

  8.1.8  Should people in our position "choose" to stay married, there is a very real risk that others (including the law) will perceive that people like Mel have "chosen" to be male, when in fact, all we have done is chosen to stay together. Such perceptions will inevitably influence the way that others treat us and we are likely to be forced into a position where our treatment by the institutions is similar to how it was decades ago.

  8.1.9  Because of the realities outlined in section 5, there will still be many trans people who are in denial who get married in their birth certificate gender role and at least some of these marriages will survive so this difficulty will perpetuate for a long time to come.

  8.1.10  When the couple finally have to deal with one spouse being trans, the legislation as proposed will add a further layer of stress and complexity to what is already a very difficult situation.

  8.1.11  The gender recognition panel are effectively going to define a set of criteria by which one is judged to be male or female. In the case of this draft bill, remaining in a pre existing marriage will automatically define one as being of birth certificate gender even if all other criteria are met—it seems to us that this is a false criterion.


  8.2.1  How many other minorities in this country have been told that they must register on a central database in order to receive basic human rights? For example, no one would seriously propose that it should be a requirement for Jews to register in order to practise their religious freedom.

  8.2.2  As drafted, this bill is totally insensitive to the history of oppression of trans people and the very existence of a national register of trans people, while no doubt proposed for rational administrative reasons, would be anathema to many. Again, even non trans people have been amazed and horrified that this should be proposed. They can see that the potential for misuse of such a register is huge, especially when considering that this is such a vulnerable group and they are very aware that human history has shown not every future administration could be relied on not to misuse the information. Couldn't happen here?

  8.2.3  The very existence of the register introduces a huge risk to the security of any trans people who are on it. The security contained in the bill is totally inadequate (and there is an open ended list of exemptions) and is only a sticking plaster to cover up the fundamental flaw in the process. Even if security were 100 per cent watertight (impossible!) it could never sufficiently ameliorate the risk introduced by the register itself.

  8.2.4  We personally know at least some trans people who feel so vulnerable that they are likely to feel unable to take the risk of registration—such people will be in a catch 22 situation—they are already so vulnerable that suicide is a very real and viable option but, we believe, introducing such a conflict may increase the risk of suicide for them. The committee must bear in mind that these people probably do not belong to any lobbying trans organisation and are unlikely to feel able to write to the committee.


  8.3.1  We are particularly concerned that the panel will be in a position to add "hurdles" to any application. While we recognise that this is probably to allow them some flexibility, the history of trans people has so many examples of ignorant (or, even, expert) people setting unnecessary conditions for access to treatment or any other aspect of transition that this provision appears insensitive.

  8.3.2  The minimum requirements set out in the bill are already quite onerous. Many trans people will not have all the documentation required and most GPs feel out of their depth when dealing with TS people, so many will feel unable to give a medical report. There is absolutely no provision in the bill to enable people to obtain any documentation they don't already have and, for example, getting access to NHS gender specialists is very difficult (many Gender Clinics are oversubscribed and several have closed their lists) and they may not even agree to see trans people who are post operative anyway.

  8.3.3  The bill clearly states that operative status is not to be taken into account, and then goes on to impose a requirement to state the details of all medical treatment. This is inconsistent and introduces a very real risk that the panel will, in practice, consider operative status to be very relevant. Add this to the open ended ability to introduce additional hurdles, and trans people who have been unable to have surgery could find themselves unable, in practice to obtain a recognition certificate.

  9.  Mel was a young child when the infamous "Corbett v Corbett" case ruled that transsexual women were really men and, as a result of this, Mel lived the first half of her life with her own sense of what she is invalidated by English law. This proposed legislation is intended to put right some of the wrongs that were done to her, and to people like her, over 30 years ago however, if the bill is passed as proposed, she will be condemned to live the second half of her life invalidated by a different law, that fails to recognise the realities she faced many years ago. We are sure that the group is aware of the heavy responsibility that lies on its shoulders, please do not condemn us in law again.

  10.  If in any doubt about which choices to make please, please, take the humane choice. Consider what impact the bill you are drafting will have on decent human beings like us who, throughout our lives, have done our best to deal with an unbelievably difficult condition in a hostile world. Please, please make the choices that recognise our reality and not the choices that condemn us to yet more decades of living in legal limbo—except this time with primary legislation reinforcing a status as non persons.

  11.  We realise that the committee may wish to interview individual trans people and their spouses to hear their stories and to explore some of the issues in more detail. If it will help, we would be happy to meet you.

8 September 2003

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