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The pervasive binary Vs Queer Youth

Michael Phillips

I was invited to write this blog piece as a request for a piece on Transgenderism through the Sexuality’s SIG and couldn’t help but see tension and conflict within this request. This tension and conflict is something that I have come across and had expressed to me time and time again over the last couple of years as I have been privileged as a gay cis man to be able to research and interview Transgender and Non-binary young people as both my undergraduate and Masters projects, and hopefully soon for PhD. (For terminology please see; Terminology (GIRES a, 2016))

What is this tension and conflict that I speak of? It is namely that of Western, and British societies pervasive of binary gendered dominance within society. As I’m sure many of you will know, we understand gender within our society as two genders, Male and Female, and that within this binary there is a disparity of power privileging men, or I should say Cis, white, western Men, over Women and other minorities. However, when discussing gender, what appears to be emerging is, arguably, that below traditional Cis gender disparity are at least two further levels of gender disparity. To take an intersectional approach would sadly be too much for one blog piece. These two further levels in descending order are those of Transgender individuals and Non-Binary Gendered individuals.

This was most recently reinforced for me when I sat in on a discussion looking at the future of transgender rights at a South West Pride event. This was an interesting discussion as it was composed of an almost even split between older transgender people and younger non-binary people. One of the most emblematic issues brought up was that of legal recognition of an individual’s gender. This is a complex area that I will not be able to give a full explanation to here (please see links in the references) but I will attempt to give a brief overview. The most significant piece of legislation in regards to this is the gender recognition act 2004 which set in process the first truly legal method of gender recognition and the gender Recognition Certificate (GRC). However this is still problematic as to gain this you must;

  1. Be at least 18 years old;
  2. have lived fully for the last two years in their acquired gender and intend to live permanently in their acquired gender for the rest of their life;
  3. either have, or have had, gender dysphoria and can provide two medical reports (from GP and their Gender Specialist) confirming the diagnosis and detailing any transition-related medical treatment (such as psychological counselling, hormones and/or surgical procedures) that they have received. (Equality network, 2016; GIRES, 2016; Press for Change, n.d.;, n.d.)

Now I’m sure you can spot some clear issues with this brief overview; for example, the level of complexity and bureaucracy involved, which is only the surface compared to the full legislation and in practice even worse again. Making this a stressful, drawn out and expensive process (as largely self-funded) to undertake. I also hope that you have deduced another issue which is emblematic of the larger social invisibility of non-binary gendered individuals, and that is the purely binary nature of this legislation. This consequently means that as a Non-Binary Gendered person, unless you are willing to misgender yourself as either Male or Female and then go through the aforementioned long and expensive GRC process then there is no legal status for you and you gender. As Lodge (2015) discusses, there has been a rise in the UK of acceptance of Mx as a gender neutral Honorific by some government departments, companies and organizations but still provides no legal status.

It is of course not only legal status that affects Non-binary gendered people but also everyday recognition and policy. Especially for young people who are potentially more socially susceptible, as Nodin Et al (2015) found with 48% Trans* young people making at least one suicide attempt compared to 26% for Cis young people. The challenge for these Young people is that in almost every aspect of their life, both social and institutional, there is virtually no perceivable recognition, understanding or safe facilities for them and any support available for them is largely based on policies designed around Binary transition.   Things are slowly starting to move with some institutions creating gender neutral toilets and other facilities, but there is a long way to go for acceptance.  I hope this short piece has opened some more interest in this area and, if so, please have an exploration of the links in the references.



Equality Network (2016). Gender Recognition (online). Available from: . Accessed [18/05/2016]

GIRES (2016 a) Terminology (online). Available from: . Accessed [18/05/2016]

GIRES (2016 b). Gender Recognition Act 2004 (online). Available from: . Accessed on [18/05/2016], (n.d.) Gender Recognition Act 2004. (online). Available from: . Accessed [18/05/2016]

Press for Change (n.d.). Guidance on how to Apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate (online). Available from; . Accessed [18/05/2016]