UK Government: Transphobic or Homophobic?

One of the questions that has been exercising my mind over the past few weeks is where the virulent hatred of trans people being exhibited by various branches of the UK government comes from. Because unless you understand the problem, you are not going to be able to find a solution.

At first sight this seems to be a clear case of transphobia. The singling out of trans people for special discrimination in the Equality Act, the Same-Sex Marriage Bill and the recent court decision about “obtaining sex by deception” all seem to point to a deep-seated dislike of trans people similar to that expressed by some radical feminists.

However, when you look deeper, things are not so simple. Transphobia generally comes about because people are unable to accept trans people in their preferred gender (whatever that might be). For people like Julie Bindel, trans women are all “really men”. (For most trans-hating feminists, trans men either don’t exist or are also “really men”, but I’m not sure what line Bindel takes on that these days.) If you are a radical lesbian separatist, clearly you don’t want to associate with anyone that you believe to be a man, so you don’t accept trans women into your community if you believe them to be men. That last step is logical, even if the rest of it is very confused.

This can’t be the case with government or the courts, neither of which are run by radical lesbian separatists. Their reasons for disliking trans people may stem from the same failure of acceptance, but it cannot be based on a desire to distance themselves from men. Some other prejudice must be at work.

In the case of the courts, the issue is pretty clearly one of sexuality. That is, if a man has sex with a trans woman, but believes her to be “really” a man, then he must be having gay sex. Even if he finds the girl really hot, his mates are going to tease him for being “gay”. We know this is the case. It comes up time and time again in murder cases.

The court decision, therefore, is not one about obtaining sex by “deception”, it is about obtaining gay sex by “deception”. The accusation is that, by having sex with a man, a trans woman tricks him into a homosexual encounter, which he is entitled to find repugnant.

What about marriage? As you may remember, a key discriminatory aspect of the Gender Recognition Act was that, in order to obtain legal recognition in their new gender, trans people could not be married. If they were married, it was not sufficient to divorce, the marriage had to be annulled. Annulment means not just that the marriage is dissolved, but that it never existed in the first place.

The reason the government gave for this at the time was that if this was not done it would create a legal same-sex marriage, and that would cause the sky to fall and the world to end.

Less than a decade later, Parliament is discussing a same-sex marriage bill. Note that it is not a “marriage equality” bill, and indeed both government ministers and the BBC insist on referring to it as “gay marriage”, despite the expressed desire of most campaigners for “marriage equality”. That difference in nomenclature is telling.

To start with, same-sex marriages are not seen as equal to opposite-sex marriages, because the Church of England has been banned from conducting them. In addition, the legislation is deeply discriminatory towards trans people. Particular ire has been aroused by a provision knows as the “spousal veto”.

Because same-sex marriages will soon be legal, it would obviously be unfair to force a couple to divorce when one of them transitions. However, there is a provision in the Bill regarding Gender Recognition Certificates. It is perfectly OK for a married trans person to transition socially, take medication, and even undergo surgery. However, if that trans person wants legal recognition of their gender, they must obtain their spouse’s permission.

Now you may think that if a spouse doesn’t want you to obtain legal recognition in your new gender then they would probably want a divorce anyway. However, things don’t always go smoothly. If a spouse is unhappy about a transition, one of the things they may do is refuse to recognise it. You see this with parents as well. People continue to insist that their son or daughter is still a son or daughter, not a daughter, son or otherly-gendered person. (Remember what Wanda’s parents did to her in Neil Gaiman’s A Game of You?). In a relationship that has broken down badly, it is quite possible that the trans person’s spouse will refuse a divorce, and refuse permission for gender recognition. Sorting this out could take years.

In an effort to offer an olive branch, trans activists worked with some sympathetic peers to craft an amendment that would limit the effect of the spousal veto to just one year. Surely if, after that time, agreement could not be reached, the trans person should be allowed to get on with his or her life (legal gender recognition is only allowed within the binary in the UK)? This was put forward in the recent debate on the marriage bill in the House of Lords. The government adamantly refused to accept it. They insisted that it was necessary for the spousal veto to last indefinitely if that was what the spouse wanted.

What is going on here? Why annulment rather than divorce? Why the indefinite spousal veto? The only explanation that makes sense to me involves the nature of legal gender recognition. You see, when you get your Gender Recognition Certificate, the effect is back-dated. As I have said before, I now have a birth certificate stating that I was born female, and have always been female. That makes me happy, but it has implications.

The problem is that if gender recognition is back-dated, and the trans person has been married, then that marriage automatically becomes same-sex rather than opposite-sex. And, as far as the government and their civil service advisors are concerned, this would be a disaster for the other partner in the marriage. You thought you had an opposite-sex marriage, and suddenly you found that you had a same-sex one. OMG! The sky will fall and the world will end.

This makes the marriage situation exactly analogous to the “sex by deception” one. In both cases the extreme levels of discrimination being levelled at trans people are not a result of abhorrence of gender changes per se, but as a result of a deep-seated horror of being “tricked” into a same-sex relationship.

I can’t see the LG activist community getting overly concerned about this. They are all busily celebrating the likely passage of the marriage bill and don’t want anything to rain on their parade. Besides, many of them are just as bad as Bindel when it comes to attitudes towards trans people. But they should be concerned. The UK is not getting equal marriage (not even in Scotland, where the same nonsense about spousal vetoes is being introduced to their bill); it is getting different marriage, and it is getting it from a government that is still consumed with horror at the thought of same-sex relationships. As far as the government is concerned, being gay is now OK between consenting adults, but if one partner does not consent in any way then the sky will still fall and the world will still end. This is not victory, it is just a step along the way.

3 thoughts on “UK Government: Transphobic or Homophobic?

  1. It’s not clear to me that McNally is a case about a trans person, tbh. Not that I agree with the judges’ decision.

    1. It isn’t clear how McNally identifies, mainly because a lot of spin is going on, but it is absolutely clear that the judgement affects trans people.

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