Hazel McHaffie

rights and interests

Mother … ? Father … ? In-between?

Cue: Big sigh. I have a need to vent; excuse me if I do so on my blog this week.

Sometimes I feel a sense of despair when yet another claim is made for equality; it feels as if individuals and groups want it all. The activists’ mantra seems to be, ‘If you can have/do/be X, Y or Z, I must be able to too.’ And when it comes to gender issues, the boundaries are now so fluid that the demarcations are becoming well nigh impossible to pin down. On the matter of transgender rights, we’ve already had controversy over access to public toilets and changing rooms, housing in prison and on hospital wards, school uniforms, sport, Girl Guides … and we’ve all seen how, as societal expectation and scientific capability allow for increasing flexibility, rights and interests become mired in doubt and challenge.

Boiled down to the perspective of a single person, my sympathy does go out to anyone so unhappy with their biological identity that they will risk public opprobrium and undergo hugely disturbing physical and psychological procedures to ‘right nature’s wrong’. I’ve met a number of transgender women and I’ve absolutely no reason to suspect their motives for wishing to accompany me into the toilets bearing the figure of a person in a skirt in Debenhams/John Lewis/the railway station.

But when it comes to gender issues impinging on families, my allegiance swings to the innocent children caught in the crossfire. As a rule of thumb, instinct tells me that their rights should trump those of the warring adults, so I confess, I breathed a sigh of relief on Thursday when a High Court ruling decreed that in the case of a transgender father the baby’s rights should prevail.

For those who missed the story …
The transgender man in question, Freddy McConnell (a journalist with The Guardian by trade), was born female, but suffered from gender dysphoria, so elected to transition to become a man. However, he decided to retain his uterus so he could still give birth like a woman. Hmmmmmmm. A classic case of wanting cake and eating it, methinks. And yes, he went ahead and duly had a baby. But ahah! Was he now mum or was he dad? Well, apparently, the biological exclusively-female necessities having been taken care of, he wanted to be a man; he wanted to register as the father on his child’s birth certificate. Perhaps unsurprisingly the authorities objected; after all it is unprecedented. So he took them to court – as you do – for refusing to let him exercise his rights to be identified as male. The lawyers for The General Register Office, however, argued that, since he gave birth to the child (a boy), he must be registered as the mother; the child had a right to know the identity of the person who carried him. Back comes Freddy McConnell like a plucky wee terrier with an appeal higher up the legal ladder.

Result? In the High Court on Thursday, the President of the Family Division, sided with the earlier ruling, basing his decision on the common law definition of a mother. He too, said the child had the right to know the true identity of the person who had borne him, and that person was his mother. But he also pointed out that, there is a far-reaching issue underpinning this case. Now that it’s perfectly possible – medically and legally – for a person legally defined as a man to give birth, there is a pressing need for Parliament to address this whole question. Well, at least it would be a change from the current shenanigans relating to the B word, wouldn’t it?!

Now, I’m no legal eagle, but isn’t it also relevant that the birth certificate belongs to the child, not to the parent? It’s a legal document that sets out who a person is; it must record the truth. And in addition, to me it feels wrong for a baby to be an unwitting pawn in a political campaign, to be singled out for future problems, to be branded as ‘different’ from birth, before he has any chance to formulate his own views on the subject.

One possible solution springs instantly to mind … could there maybe be a special certificate for such cases, merely asking for the name of the ‘Parent’? I’d need to think more about the ramifications of such a move before promoting it outside the confines of my personal blog … and before all the heterosexual non-transgender equal-rights activists jump on that bandwagon and want ‘Parent ‘on their certificates too! Because of course, singling anyone out for special attention and different treatment immediately raises issues and hackles elsewhere.

But, hey, if a couple (Hobbit Humphrey and Jake England-Johns, to be precise, who are both circus performers living on a houseboat near Bath) can legally bring up a child as gender neutral, keeping the infant’s sex a secret even from family, to avoid the unconscious bias around the girl/boy divide until Anoush is old enough to choose how ‘they’ (parental choice of pronoun for their offspring) will be defined, then perhaps anything’s possible!

I was myself brought up with a strict moral code that encourages putting others’ comfort, welfare and interests ahead of my own. And I’m old enough now to feel a degree of nostalgia for a society that was centred on that philosophy rather than ‘I want and I will have!’. I’m with the Dowager Duchess on this one: Has the world gone completely mad?

, , , , , , , , ,

Comments