While the signing of the Gender Recognition Act 2015 by Minister Joan Burton this September was a major achievement, Laura Somers argues that there is more work still to be done to ensure that intersex and non-binary people will also be afforded rights.
Trans rights in Ireland have come on leaps and bounds in the past few years, but it must not be forgotten that there are still some genders that the state is refusing to recognise.
On September 4th 2015 Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton announced she had signed the commencement order for the Gender Recognition Act 2015 which would allow transgender people to be formally recognised for all purposes by the state.
“From 8th September, it will be open to any transgender person to apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate from my Department, and subsequently to obtain a new birth certificate which reflects their preferred gender,” announced Burton.
This came after much persistence, determination and hard work of thousands of trans rights activists.
It was a remarkable achievement for these activists for transgender people to finally be fully recognised by the state for who they truly are.
However, non-binary and gender fluid people have still not been afforded the same rights as men, women and now transsexuals.
Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI) is an Irish network that seeks to improve conditions and advance the rights of trans people and their family.
TENI Chief Executive Broden Giambrone recently said, “There is still more work to be done to ensure that young, intersex and non-binary people will also be afforded rights. TENI commits to vigorously advocating for those who need to be included in this Act.
"However, today we have taken a massive leap forward. This is a turning point for trans rights in Ireland and I hope this leads to further positive changes for our community.”
Non-binary and gender fluid
These two gender identities weren’t as focused on by the media until certain celebrities, such as Miley Cyrus and Ruby Rose and closer to home, RTE news anchor Jonathan Rachel Clynch came out as non-binary/gender-fluid.
This has resulted in the different identities being discussed across all media platforms. Kay Cairns, a human rights journalist, who works with TENI explained what it means to be non-binary and gender-fluid.
“Non-binary is an umbrella term that involves quite a lot of different identities. Some people may identify between male and female or they might not consider themselves either male or female it tends to be something that’s fixed.”
Kay identifies herself as non-binary and would consider herself more toward the male end of the spectrum and she believes she will always be more towards the male end of the spectrum.
“If someone identifies as gender fluid it means their identity may fluctuate, so sometimes they may feel more male, female or a-gender, it varies,” she explains.
Kay discusses how she came to put a name on her gender. “I always knew there was something different about me, but it wasn’t until I was in college that I came across the term transgender and I learnt that gender can be more than what you are assigned at birth.”
Kay said: “I got into a relationship with a trans-guy and he was transitioning while I was with him, so we went to support groups and I got to talk to trans people about their experiences.”
When someone is coming to terms with their own gender identity like Kay it can be an extremely sensitive time.
Anne-Marie O’Toole, a psychotherapist with Insight Matters explained how it is important to allow the person to self-identify.
“It’s not up to us to label them ‘gender-queer’ or ‘non-binary’,” Anne-Marie explains. “It’s up to the individual to decide how they want to be referred to – some don’t want to identify as anything.”
There has been an increase in research both at home and abroad into this area of research. The University of Maryland found that gender is very flexible during pre-natal development.
Researchers in the study succeeded in transforming the brain of a female rat to the a brain with male characteristics, proving that gender may not be as rigid as we once thought.
One of the researchers, Bridget Nugent, explained: “It was thought that once established, sexual differentiation could not be undone. Our work shows that sex differences in brain and behaviour are epigenetically regulated, meaning that sex differences are not hardwired in our DNA but programmed during development.”
Increased research and awareness like this in Ireland will undoubtedly help raise awareness and put pressure on the government to recognise non-binary and gender fluid as genders in their own right.
If you or anyone you are struggling with their gender identity visit teni.ie to find your local support group or call LGBT helpline on 1890929539.