The following paragraphs sketch out three areas of interest from Strand Three’s research.
Legal gender reform and the status quo
The survey responses indicated a lack of support for changing the legal gender system that currently exists. Just under 56% (n=1,729) ‘strongly disagreed’ or ‘disagreed’ with the statement that ‘The British system for assigning male/female at birth should be reformed’, primarily on the basis that the current system works for the majority.
Almost two thirds of respondents (63%) also strongly disagreed or disagreed with the proposal to remove identification as female/male from birth certificates – 44.9% (n=1,393) strongly disagreed, and a further 18.1% (n =562) disagreed.
Non-binary participants were more likely to support (85.5%, n=165, in favour) reforming legal gender. Over half (57%, n=110) were in favour of abolishing legal gender although this was seen as ‘an impossible dream’ (see Newman and Peel, in press [link will be provided when available]).
One of the main reasons for this lack of interest in reforming certification of sex was that the survey ran in partial overlap with the government’s consultation on reforming the Gender Recognition Act 2004. Legal gender was high in public consciousness at the time of the survey, increasing but also shaping responses, and therefore many respondents invested in the status quo took part.
Defining sex / gender
Our survey used terms which were considered problematic by different groups of respondents. We received a large number of ‘gender critical feminist’ views which meant that there was a dismissal of ‘gender’ as a legitimate category, in favour of a binary distinction between ‘sexes’ – presented as fixed and outside the scope of individual or social interpretation.
At the same time, over half of our respondents (53.8%, n=1,668) strongly agreed or agreed that gender identity is on a spectrum, and 46.7% (n=1,448) strongly agreed or agreed that genders outside of male and female should be recognised as equally valid (e.g., non-binary, agender, genderqueer).
We found the concept of ‘cisgenderism’ useful in analysing the gender critical views expressed in the survey data. Cisgenderism rejects individual understandings of genders whilst promoting a view of the body as binarily sexed. Read more about our use of cisgenderism.
Decertification and self-identification
More people were against self-identification of sex/gender than were supportive.
Nearly half of FLaG survey respondents (45.4%, n=1,409) disagreed that legal sex/gender should be decided by individuals themselves instead of being assigned at birth. Many of our respondents also emphasised the importance of biological sex.
When interviewees were directly asked about the impact of legal gender status, they often suggested that the time was not right for decertification.
We used legal consciousness studies to reflect on how participants understood legal gender in everyday life. We identified three understandings: ‘before legal gender’, ‘with legal gender’ and ‘against legal gender’. ‘Before’ was an anti-decertification account in which decertifying legal gender was viewed risky or potentially dangerous for natal females. ‘With legal gender’ was neither for or against decertification but created space where decertification could occur with limited impact on society or people. ‘Against legal gender’ was in favour of decertification. Read more about our use of legal consciousness.