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Self-Identification is Not a Matter of Belief

When States refuse to accept and respect individuals’ right to be identified as themselves (which is to say, their right to identity), gross human rights violations occur.

  • Written by
  • Mauro Cabral Grinspan
  • Published
  • 19 May 2021
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Something happened yesterday at the IDAHOT Forum 2021. More precisely, at the “High-Level Ministerial Panel on LGBTI+ Rights Across Europe”. When asked about the process of the Gender Equality Act, the UK representative, Kemi Badenoch, responded: “we don’t believe in self-identification”.

Coming from the UK Ministry for Women and Equalities, such a response was not surprising, even when proffered just one day after the UK government praised itself for planning its first global LGBT conference. As many trans and gender diverse advocates and our allies around the world know by heart, too many LGBT-friendly States simply refuse to notice the contradiction between proclaimed friendliness and institutionalized transphobia. Sadly, the UK is not an exception.

Minister Badenoch’s response seems to be crystal clear and, to a certain extent, it is. Her response affirms a negation: she affirmed the governmental lack of belief. However, that response calls for another question: if it does not believe in self-identification, what does the UK government actually believe in?

Of course, It could be logically possible to allege that, maybe, there is no governmental belief at all – but evidence (e.g., Liz Truss’s statements) proves that possibility to be wrong. Therefore, we can safely assume that the UK government has its own beliefs on this matter. It believes in the opposite of self-identification.

History has shown, time and again, the very content of such a belief. When States refuse to accept and respect individuals’ right to be identified as themselves (which is to say, their right to identity), gross human rights violations occur. The opposite of self-determination has taken the form of the imposition of psycho-medical and legal authority. Instead of providing the necessary institutional support to allow all persons to be themselves without suffering any kind of stigma, discrimination and violence, such an imposition creates and reinforces an oppressive hierarchical system. The opposite of self-identification means, for example, psychological and psychiatric “assessments” and medical “examinations” (how deep into a person’s mind and body should an expert go to “assess” their identity?). It also means the imposition of requirements such as unwanted bodily modifications and sterilization (how much of a person’s flesh is needed to “prove” their identity?). It also means the imposition of other requirements, such as divorce or renouncement of the right to get married (how much of family life should a person give up for getting their identity legally recognized?).

All the requirements listed above have been identified as human rights violations by international, regional and national systems. Some countries – such as Sweden and the Netherlands – are apologizing to the victims of such impositions and offering them rehabilitation and reparations. Furthermore, even the World Health Organization has scientifically established that a personal identity that differs from the expectations associated with the sex assigned at birth is not a disorder of any kind.

This lack of belief in people’s self-determination with regard to their personal identity before the law is being justified through a different kind of belief. According to that belief, gender identity laws based on self-determination will have the effect of an attack perpetrated by Thanos: half of the world – women – will just be eliminated. It is quite a paradox: many people suffer human rights violations just because they request to be legally and socially treated as they are, and that request is attacked as “irrational”; however, those human rights violations are justified by certain States on the ground of an Avengers’ inspired fantasy, and that justification is defended as a rational belief.

The global conference being planned by the UK government is titled Safe To Be Me, which is a great name. However, as often happens, many people do not believe it to be real, or to correspond with the UK’s true identity. Making it real and inviting LGBT people from around the world to go there and to feel and be safe to be themselves requires a first step: critically examining those beliefs that make the world an unsafe place. Minister Badenoch’s testimony of disbelief seems to go in the opposite direction.

I am optimistic, though: beliefs do change. I don’t have arguments to support that optimism, but facts. An entire country of facts. Just ten days ago, Argentina celebrated 9 years since passing its Gender Identity Law. Believe it or not, it is fully based on self-determination and neither (cis) women nor (cis) women’s rights have been eliminated because of it. Actually, by the end of 2020 and in spite of the fierce opposition of Argentinian conservative movements and institutions (and even of the Argentinian Pope!), abortion was legalized in the country. Not only that: the Argentinian abortion law talks about (cis) women and other people with the capacity to get pregnant. That is the truth: there is no opposition between (cis) women’s rights and trans people’s rights. There has never been one, there is not one, and there won’t be one, Never. Anywhere. Anything seems to be possible in fiction, but it is time to believe in reality. And reality is that we are fantastically stronger together, and together we are creating a better world for all.

Mauro Cabral Grinspan speaking into a microphone wearing a black leather jacket, black-rimmed glasses and with short cropped black hair and beard
  • About the author

Mauro Cabral Grinspanhe/him

Activist, Co-Founder of GATE Guest author

Mauro Cabral Grinspan is an Argentinian activist currently living in Belgium. Over the past 25 years, he has focused his work as an advocate, researcher, writer, and trainer on bodily diversity issues, including those faced by intersex, trans, and fat people.