It felt like society was trying to put me in a box.. because I was trying to get out of a box

I love this new video from TENI (the Transgender Equality Network Ireland). And not just ’cause I know almost all of the awesomers in it (although yes, it’s partially that). I love that everyone on the video’s story is so different. From the person who always knew, to the person who rejected people’s attempts to force him into another gendered box.

And while we’re here? Can I take a moment to fangirl TENI? They’re one of those organisations that, if you don’t look closely enough, you assume runs on a massive budget with shedloads of staff. And then you squint a bit and realise they’re a handful of people who somehow manage to do everything from support to research to campaigning for legislative change and creating unheard-of positive visibility and I have no idea how they pull it off.

At the moment in Ireland, trans people still don’t have the right to a birth cert that accurately reflects their gender. Gender recognition legislation has been glacially inching its way through our government for years- way back in 2007, Ireland was ruled by the European High Court to be in breach of its human rights obligations in refusing to recognise trans people. The case- brought by Dr Lydia Foy- had taken ten years to get to Europe in the first place, and seven years later, Ireland still hasn’t acted on it.

This birth cert issue might seem like a small thing, but it makes a huge difference in people’s lives. Check out TENI’s Broden Giambrone on this one:

We have to produce a birth certificate to obtain a PPS number [Personal Public Service number- basically a Social Security number], to access social welfare, and to marry. At Transgender Equality Network Ireland (Teni), we regularly hear about the negative impact of the State’s lack of recognition for trans people.
People are forcibly “outed” every time they are asked to produce a birth certificate. Young people miss out on their college places because the CAO [Central Applications Office] office has no capacity for dealing with trans people. Trans people have to explain ourselves – to validate our identity – over and over. But legal gender recognition goes beyond the practicalities of daily life; it is about the State recognising that we exist.


Broden goes on to talk about the myriad ways that the proposed legislation doing the glacial inching is woefully inadequate- things like an age limit on accessing recognition, and having to divorce your spouse before you can get a gender marker changed. Have I ever mentioned that in Ireland in order to get divorced you first have to have been separated for four years? That’s not just a law that could be amended for special cases like this, so you could have a UK-style divorce-and-then-civil-partnership. It’s in our Constitution.

Talk about being shoved in a box, eh?


It felt like society was trying to put me in a box.. because I was trying to get out of a box

11 thoughts on “It felt like society was trying to put me in a box.. because I was trying to get out of a box

  1. 1

    I hope this doesn’t sound bigoted, but how can a trans person avoid being outed in transactions involving birth identity? Whichever agency is involved is undoubtedly charged with ensuring that the person applying for whatever the benefit is, is in fact entitled by birth to receive the benefit. If the Birth Certificate says one gender, and the person claims another gender, there has to be a legal acknowledgement of transition to validate this claim, correct?

    Or is the idea that the person should be outed one time, and the BC should be modified at that time, to avoid future problems and embarrassment?

    1. 1.1

      I’m sorry for the lack of clarity!

      The idea is that there should be a means by which people can have their birth certs reissued with a gender marker that reflects their lived gender. Tons of countries have this- Ireland is an anomaly in Europe for having no way that people can get the certs reissued.

      Having the birth cert reissued with the correct gender means that, while the state has a record of both original and amended certs, there’s no need for outing in everyday life. A person can apply for a job or a college course or a passport or a driver’s licence or a loan (or many other things!) without having to go through the rigamarole of explaining why the genders don’t match.

  2. 2

    One major problem in Ireland is the Catholic Church’s dogma about transgender issues. From Catholic World Report:

    Yet the Church maintains that people may not change what Pope Benedict XVI has called “their very essence.” In a speech at the Vatican last December, Pope Benedict directly addressed transgender issues by cautioning Catholics about “destroying the very essence of the human creature through manipulating their God-given gender to suit their sexual choices.” Pope Benedict warned that “when freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God.”

    The Catholic hierarchy is transphobic as well as homophobic. In Irish politics, if the bishops say “shit” then all too many members of the Dáil squat and make grunting noises.

    1. 2.1

      I’m going to have to disagree. But only somewhat, and saying a lot of things like “eeeehhh” and “sort-of”. When it comes to Ireland and the RCC, things are almost always far more complicated than that, and this is definitely going to need a post or six of its own some time soon.

      But in short:

      Yes, the RCC continues to wield disproportionate influence in certain institutional areas of Irish life. Absolutely. However, that influence has diminished massively over the last two and a half decades.

      These days, I’d say that the RCC’s greatest areas of disproportionate influence are the institutions they still control- and I mean that in the bricks-and-mortar sense. They own most of our hospitals and schools. That is a huge issue. It’s not, however, one directly relevant to trans recognition.

      Yes, the hierarchy is both homophobic and transphobic. However, the Dáil isn’t entirely without teeth. Did you see the speech Enda Kenny (our Taoiseach- head of government, that is, for those of you without any Irish) gave after the Cloyne Report into child abuse? They closed the Vatican embassy down that year, and it hasn’t been reopened since. That’s not exactly squatting and making grunting noises.

      There’s also the fact that the Irish people, while largely identifying as Catholic, aren’t always what you’d call.. Catholic-Catholic. Catholicism is tightly bound up with Irishness for many people. It’s a cultural thing- part inertia, part national identity. People call themselves Catholics and then they cheerfully go about their business ignoring church dogma anywhere it suits them. Polls taken throughout the past year show 2/3 of the Irish people in support of marriage equality. In our last census, 82% of people described themselves as Catholic. That’s a hell of a lot of overlap, whatever way you look at it.

      There are a lot of reasons why gender recognition legislation is taken so goddamn long to happen here. Some of them are to do with catholicism, but it is in no way as simple as that.

      1. It’s bigotry. Whether or not it is informed by their Catholicism (and I don’t recall the church even mentioning trans people until recently), people have a tendency to be bigoted towards anyone who is unfamiliar.

        It is being slow because the government doesn’t see any reason to spare the time to hurry up the process. They are only going through it at all because of the ruling by the European High Court. They quite obviously think that it is a waste of their resources, because most trans people, for various reasons, are hidden; so it seems to them a tiny minority (i.e. ‘unimportant’) issue. Grrrrrr.

      2. It’s a strange one. to me, trans* feels like one of the not-that-many social justice issues where the younger generations in Ireland aren’t automatically taking a stand against the Church. As a rule, young people have reached the stage here where Catholicism is one of those age markers. Being religious is being conformist, to a degree that hasn’t been true (or mattered) before. It’s what old people do. And yet, if there’s enough of the ick factor, people use it the Vatican as an excuse for their own a) discomfort and b) discomfort at being discomfited by other people.
        As an example : I’m in a polyamorous relationship. When I met one my wife’s other serious partner for the first time, he was like ‘I can cope with poly. My previous partner was trans, and this can’t be that bad’. This may be an overstatement or what he meant, but it’s how it felt to me when he said it.
        I’m sure that the Church doesn’t feel very differently about poly compared to trans*, at least in its expressed views, but one of them was over a line for him, and one wasn’t.

  3. 3

    What a beautiful video! I brought tears to my eyes to think what these people, who look just like you and me, have to go through and endure so they can feel like themselves: like you and me!

  4. 5

    The main reasons I haven’t fully transitioned:

    1) Surgery. I have EDS. The life-saving surgeries I have had in the past have always been followed by life-threatening complications. So I am both desperate for, and terrified of, top surgery, to the point that I was actually disappointed that a ‘cancer scare’ a few years back resolved as benign lumps, because the decision would have been made for me.

    My mother, on the other hand, once said she was terrified of any of her lumps being found cancerous (we tend to be lumpy, in our family); not because “OMG!!! CANCER!!!!!!”, but because the thought of losing her breasts terrified her. At the time I thought that was nuts – but learned, through cis-female friends, that many women, not just my mam, really identify with their breasts as an expression of their femininity and not, as I do, as bloody great nuisances that ought to have disappeared, chimpanzee-style, when I finished breast-feeding my last child.

    2) Family who do not know my trans status. Especially the older generation. My parents aren’t exactly queer-friendly, and it would break the fragile relationship I have with them if they discovered the truth.

    Along with my husband (of course), and all my children, one of my sisters knows; and she is fully supportive and totally discreet, having had her own battles with our parents in the past (over race). They are 80 and 81 and I suspect they’ll outlive me. So it’ll be a death-bed (mine) announcement, or silence.

    3) My marriage. I’m not divorcing my husband of 34 years for anybody. As soon as full marriage equality is achieved in the UK (I was born and registered in London, so I’m British), I might have the chance to change my birth certificate without affecting my marriage.

    I don’t know why it is such a big deal to any government to avoid marriage equality ‘in by the back door’ by ‘allowing’ trans-people to remain married post-birth-cert-change. Just because my birth-certificate currently tells the world I’m female doesn’t make that true, and changing it to reflect the truth won’t change my marriage – or that of anyone else!

    Who are they afraid of?

    The few people, like us who have, quite legally but by ‘stealth’, been in a same-sex marriage for decades because of (a) wrong birth certificate(s)?

    The far larger number of people who would marry tomorrow if they were only given the chance; but, meantime, are living together (and have been doing so) just as if they are married, often for longer than we have?

    Or the tiny number of vocal bigots who think that allowing every couple or group who are in love to marry one another cheapens/threatens the term ‘marriage’, whereas allowing the bigots to divorce one another doesn’t?


    Meantime, the Irish divorce system is leading up to some horrendous legal challenges in the next few years, by straight couples. I know of at least half-a-dozen couples around here who have been together for years and years, and will probably be together for life, but aren’t married to one another because either, or both, are still legally married to someone else. They have never bothered to divorce their previous partners, because by the time they’ve been separated that many years and have settled down in new relationships, the attitude is “Feck it. Why should we pay money we can’t afford for a bit of paper anyway?”

    The reason that is a problem is because of inheritance. It’ll be a nightmare when people start dying, and a spouse they haven’t seen in decades shows up demanding a share of the legacy.

    The Cáin agus Custaim na hÉireann says:

    If you are a surviving spouse OR surviving civil partners (sic) taking an inheritance from your deceased spouse or civil partner, the inheritance is completely exempt and, no matter how valuable, will not be liable to Inheritance Tax.

    Live-in partners, however long they have been together, will have to pay tax. Imagine the glee of the tax-man, and the entire legal system, at the thought of getting their hands on all those Euro*!

    *(or whatever currency we’ll have by then. Yuan?)

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