The State of Europe.

Frank Hannah

Press for Change, Gendys Conference, 1998

After the disappointing judgment of the European Court of Human Rights on 30th. July, the Vice President pointed out that there are now only four countries in the European Union that do not legally recognise the change that has taken place. This leads one to believe that in all but these four countries everything is relatively simple and straight forward. Well, forget it! That is certainly not so.

Let's start with obtaining treatment in the first place. In the United Kingdom, for a great many people, once we have convinced our GP to send us to an appropriate consultant, we then must convince that consultant that we are sincere and an appropriate candidate for treatment. Again after one year's Real Life Test, the waiting for surgery may take up to another two years, at least for the lucky ones - taking in total between three to five years.

In Sweden, a country which we would consider progressive and liberal, it can take many people anything from five to fifteen years. Our choice of consultant is, at least theoretically open to us in consultation, or should it be in collusion, with our GP. In Sweden, after successfully applying to the Legal Council (a very bureaucratic government body), and that success is by no means guaranteed), a psychiatrist will be appointed to you. Everything from then on depends upon the opinion of that psychiatrist.

At this time we are having considerable difficulties in the area of funding. The NHS, like so many places, is starved of cash. As so many new technical advances become available in the world of medicine, it becomes more and more expensive, and I know that we are not the only group of patients to suffer the adverse effects of this diminishing cash availability. However, thankfully, our native resourcefulness is managing to push many of us through the system. This is not the case in many European countries. Again, taking Sweden as an example, only about to hundred men and women have received SRS in the 26 years since 1972.

Hormones are for us a matter of consultation with our GP and our consultant. Either one can and does prescribe them for us and it is a relatively simple matter of picking up a prescription, going to the pharmacy and picking them up. Not so in Sweden. Only the psychiatrist appointed to you can prescribe them. So a black market in hormones thrives, and no-one dares to have their hormone levels checked, except for the lucky ones who drew the long straws in the psychiatric raffle. Some countries do not have even a national health service at all, or never fund SRS in any case. Counselling is one void that both countries have in common

Happily some of our ladies successfully complete SRS with the support of their families. These families remain intact and supportive and manage to assimilate the new circumstances very successfully. This is a case where no specific law is a positive asset. In many countries, the legislation that has been enacted states that no-one may have SRS while they are married. If they are married then they must get divorced before they can proceed.

Change of name is one area where the UK stands supreme. Oh! What wouldn't our European colleagues give for such a system? For just a few pounds we can make a choice of three different methods to change our name quite legally. There are no restrictions on the choice of name or method. In fact you can call yourself anything that you want to. It doesn't even have to be a name at all, in the accepted sense.

"I, Mr Rabbit Hutch, marry you, Miss Cow Shed." Sounds ridiculous doesn't it? But it is perfectly legal, so long as I'm a man and you're a woman. Having once changed our names there is, as far as I am aware, no restriction should you wish to change it again or even change it back. In Sweden, Spain and France, among others, a legal change of name is fraught with difficulty. Not only must it be pursued through the courts or some bureaucratic government department, but the choice of name that you may take is extremely limited. Something which I did a little while ago was to help one of our colleagues in Spain compile a list of names, both English and French, that are the same for both males and females, like Kim, Lee and Dale. In some countries, Sweden is again one of them, there is a law which says no one may take a name which is detrimental to them. This law is often interpreted by judges to mean that it would be detrimental for a male to have a female name. Let's hope you have a winning ticket in the judge lottery too. And if you don't, an appeal is a very expensive business.

Employment is hard to find now in many countries and for transsexual folk is often doubly difficult, if not absolutely impossible. For many people the only way to earn any money at all, is to join the sex trade. This is especially so in countries that do not have an NHS to supply their SRS either completely or partially. These sex workers not only find themselves under immense social pressure but face the ever-present danger to falling victim to sexually transmitted diseases, mistreatment at the hands of their customers, and harassment and mistreatment by the police.

Police harassment in this country generally is no longer a big problem. Police guidelines have been, or are being, enacted in several police forces throughout the country. For some of our continental colleagues it is a very real problem. In Italy, Greece and Turkey it seems to be an everyday occurrence.

I suppose you are wondering just what it is I'm trying to say. Well it is this. In those countries where legislation allows a complete change of documentation, such legislation has, in some cases, been very badly thought-out and hastily provided. It is often heavily bureaucratic and very difficult to obtain. In this country, on the whole, it is not so bad in many ways. Except of course for that one burning problem of the beastly historical document, the birth certificate.

If only this one document could be changed to reflect our true gender then nearly all our problems would disappear overnight; at least with sensible and sensitive legislation. Then this country really would be a good place to live in, but can we persuade the Government to do it? I believe we can, and we will do so. If you read the Judgement of the Court in the Rachel Horsham and Christina Sheffield case, particularly the views of the dissenting judges, you will see the dissenting opinion of Judge Van Dijk. On page 24, paragraph 4, he says "Only at a very late stage in the present procedure had the British (Labour) Government indicated their willingness to seek a solution within the framework of a friendly settlement, thus making it clear that, in their opinion also, the problems on which the previous government had relied during all those years were not insoluble ones." So here we have the Government admitting, at least in the view of this judge, that the problem can be solved, something that we have always known and said.

"So what?" you ask. What's the point of all this? What can we do about it all? So we're better off than others in some ways. But we still don't have the rights that they have. No matter what their frustrations are, they are still better off. At least in the end they are accepted as the gender they truly are. Well there is something you can do. You can write to your MP, your MEP, government departments, and the Council of Europe. After all it's their Court and their judges that have made this judgement. And it was the Council of Europe who made recommendation 1117. Tell them how unjust you think it is. Tell them how it makes you feel. But remember, they don't automatically understand. In just the same way that you don't automatically understand how it feels to be blind or deaf or to have only one leg. It's not just a practical matter. It is how it makes you feel emotionally, having this constant reminder that, when all those bigots say that you're not a real woman or man, you know in the back of your mind that you have this stupid document that confirms emotionally what they say. Go and see your MP or MEP, if you haven't already done so. Most of them are very approachable and sympathetic. Although I must admit that my former MP was something like a female version of Attila the Hun. Even so she didn't bite - although I did keep my fingers out of reach. Anyway when the election came she got her marching orders and was replaced by a very good ally who writes to ministers and generally does whatever he can do on our behalf.

On page 14 paragraph 60 of its judgement, the C.H.R. says "Having reached those conclusions, the Court cannot but note that, despite its statements in the Rees and Cossey cases on the importance of keeping the need for appropriate legal measures in this area under review, having regard in particular to scientific and social development (see respectively pp. 18-19 para 47 and p. 41 para. 42) it would appear that the respondent has not taken any steps to do so.

The fact that a transsexual is able to record his or her new sexual identity on a driving licence or passport, or to change a first name are not innovative facilities. They obtained even at the time of the Rees case. Even if there have been no significant scientific developments since the date of the Cossey judgement which make it possible to reach a firm conclusion on the etiology of transsexualism, it is nevertheless the case that there is an increased social acceptance of transsexuality, and an increased recognition of the problems which post-operative transsexuals encounter. Even if it finds no breach of article 8 in this case, the Court reiterates that "this area needs to be kept under review by Contracting States."

That sounds to me like a distinct rap over the knuckles, so come on, strike while the iron is hot. Please give it a try. You might have a pleasant surprise, and the worst thing they can do is write back and say they don't agree with you.

TOP Citation: Hannah, F., (1998), The State of Europe, GENDYS '98, The Fifth International Gender Dysphoria Conference, Manchester England.
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