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Explainer: Gender Identity issues

This week, a controversial advert was pulled from many Irish television stations after complaints it was “deeply transphobic”. Here, we take a closure look at the issue of gender identity.

THIS WEEK, a television advert by bookmaker Paddy Power that was labelled as “deeply transphobic” by an Irish transgender support group was suspended from UK television and most Irish TV stations.

The Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI) had said that the advert made transgender people feel “mocked and ridiculed” and called for its withdrawal. Although the British television advertising clearance body Clearcast had initially approved the ad, which Paddy Power defended as “a bit of mild mannered fun”, it has since apologised for any offence caused by its broadcasting.

In the advert, a narrator announced that Paddy Power aimed to make the 2012 Ladies’ Day “even more exciting by sending in some beautiful transgendered ladies”. Viewers were then shown images of different women and invited to “spot the stallions from the mares”.

TENI Board member Louise Hannon welcomed the suspension of the advert, saying that the message contained in it caused “enormous damage” to the transgender community:

“It increases mockery and encourages people, especially young guys, to hurl abuse. It may even lead to physical violence,” she said. “It also discourages young transgender people from looking at their issues, which can lead to depression and even suicide”.

Hannon said she was “deeply disappointed” that TV3 was continuing to broadcast the ad.

She explained that it was “a lack of awareness” about transgender issues in society that led to the production of such material – and to a lack of understanding about why it is so offensive.

Explaining trangender issues

Dr James Kelly, a clinical psychologist in Dublin’s Diamond Therapy Clinic who diagnoses people with Gender Identity Disorder (GID), says that many misconceptions still exist about the condition.

“Gender Identity Disorder a diagnosable, psychomedical condition that is recognised across cultures and across time,” said Kelly. “It is medically recognised by both the World Health Organisation and the American Psychological Association. It is not a lifestyle choice.”

Kelly said that people are more familiar with the condition in recent years because of exposure through media and television – for example the transsexual storyline in Coronation Street or Portuguese woman Nadia Almada winning Big Brother in 2004 – however, misinformation about GID still persists.

One of the most pervasive misconceptions about the condition it that carries has a sexual element – as those unfamiliar with the issue can confuse sex, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation, Kelly explained. “For example, cross-dressing is a behaviour that drag queens, transvestites and transsexuals all do – so there’s no way of knowing if the person who is cross-dressing is GID or not” he said. However, he added, people engage in that behaviour for different reasons.

Kelly contrasted the behaviour a transvestite, who might cross-dress as part of a sexual fetish, to the behaviour of a person suffering from Gender Identity Disorder: “With GID people it’s something they are born with, not conditioned into. It would never be something they would choose, or be caused by parenting or have a sexual element,” he said.

“Instead, when they do get into their cross gender role, it’s like a whole new life,” he said, “It’s complete and utter relief because they can finally be themselves.”

“These people take very difficult steps – sometimes at great personal sacrifice. Theirs is a very serious condition: it’s not done for entertainment or shock value,” Kelly explained.

Similarly, Hannon said that many transgender people are “practically invisible” as they go about their daily lives in a normal manner: “I know people who are professors, solicitors – all sorts of people. They just get on with their lives… but they’re not the ones who get the media attention.”

The Transgender Equality Network (TENI) offers the following definitions of sex, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation:

  • Sex is the designation as male or female decided at birth, based on their anatomy (genitalia and/or reproductive organs) or biology (chromosomes and/or hormones)
  • Gender Identity a person’s deeply-felt identification as male, female, or some other gender, which may or may not correspond to the person’s physical characteristics or the sex they were assigned at birth
  • Gender Expression the external manifestation of a person’s gender identity, eg behaviours and external characteristics that are generally perceived by society to be masculine, feminine or androgynous (mannerisms, grooming, physical characteristics, social interactions and speech patterns)
  • Sexual Orientation a person’s physical, emotional or romantic attraction to another person; sexual orientation is distinct from sex, gender identity and gender expression – meaning that transgender people may identify as lesbian, gay, heterosexual, bisexual, pansexual, queer or asexual

Similarly, the European Transgender Council says that people who fall under the “trans” category include those who have a gender identity which is different to the gender assigned at birth and those people who wish to portray their gender identity in a different way to the gender assigned at birth.

It includes people who “feel they have to, or prefer or choose to, whether by clothing, accessories, cosmetics or body modification, present themselves differently to the expectations of the gender role assigned to them at birth. This includes, among many others: transsexual and transgender people, transvestites, cross dressers, no gender and genderqueer people,” according to the ETC.

Legal issues

While GID is now accepted as a condition, legal barriers still exist for trans people who attempt to have their gender formally recognised in certain countries.

In the Republic of Ireland, it is not legal for a person to alter the sex presented on their birth certificate – although the Gender Recognition Act 2004 has made this possible for those living in Northern Ireland.

This has not gone unchallenged: In 2007, Dr Lydia Foy, a dentist from Co Kildare, secured a landmark ruling when she went to the High Court to demand the establishment of a legal route to have her female gender recognised. The judge subsequently ruled that Ireland was in breach of the European Convention of Human Rights by failing to provide such a process.

However, no legislation has yet been put in place in Ireland for the recognition of transgender persons.

Steps towards recognition

In May 2010, the Fianna Fáil government established the interdepartmental Gender Recognition Advisory Group (GRAG) to advise the Minister for Social Protection on the legislation required to provide for the legal recognition of trans people. The government said that the legislation would have to cover several areas, including:

  • The establishment of a process for legal recognition
  • The establishment of a gender recognition register
  • The granting of entitlement to marry in the legally recognised reassigned gender

CRAG’s report was published in June 2011. It contained some proposals that proved contentious in some sections of the transgender community, including the recommendation that that trans people in existing marriages would need to divorce before the gender could be legally recognised.

It also recommended that those applying for legal recognition of their gender needed to undergo a psychiatric assessment and be given a diagnosis of a mental disorder before their gender could be legally established – a suggestion which some trans people reject.

Writing in TheJournal.ieHannon rejected the proposal, articulating the objections of many transgender people by insisting it was forcing her to choose “between (her) proper birth certificate/legal recognition and accepting that (she was) suffering from a mental condition.”

It should be noted that differing opinions exist when it come to defining the condition: Gender Identity Disorder Ireland says it is “distressed” by claims that Gender Identity Disorder or Gender Dysphoria is a mental illness, a mental disorder, a sexual lifestyle or psychosexual disorder. GIDI also says that it is “entirely wrong to include the condition under the various ‘trans’ umbrella terms.”

“This association with “trans” is wholly inappropriate harmful, and for some, is causing a great deal of confusion and distress,” the group says.

Out of step with other countries

The lack of legislation for Irish citizens wishing to alter the sex on their birth certificate is out of step with some other European countries and has led to the existence of some legal anomalies. Last week, for example, a transgender woman in Ireland received official recognition of her acquired gender when she entered into a civil partnership with her partner.

Because the Civil Partnership Act requires that civil partners to be of the same gender, the official recognition of the woman’s partnership by the Civil Registration Service also – by extension – recognised the woman’s acquired gender.

Notably, the woman at the centre of the case (referred to as “Maria”) is not an Irish citizen. If she had been she would not have been allowed to enter a civil marriage.

Instead, an EU law on free movement for workers allows Maria, an EU member state citizen, to live and work in Ireland. Under that law, the Irish authorities must accept her gender as recognised by her home country, where she is fully recognised as female and has a birth certificate and identity documents all showing her gender as female.


When dealing with their gender identity issues, some people have an easier time than others, says Kelly – who works with patients aged between 10 and 76 years of age.

“It can sometimes depend on how feminine or masculine they already look. And, then, some people will do things to mask their cross-gender preference – engaging in ‘ultra macho’ activities for example – in order to deny or suppress this need,” Kelly said.

Kelly said that he and his patients engage in “very goal-orientated” sessions – which can include speech and language services, presentation advice and therapy. Not all patients will decide to have gender reassignment surgery, he says.

“It’s important to understand that not everybody transitions – not everybody can. We try to use a construct-therapy to look at the barriers – be they social or occupational for example – and we analyse those together to find out what’s important and doable. Not everyone has surgery or is on hormones.”

If a person does decide to transition, they would do so with the support of a counsellor. While gender reassignment surgery is not available in Ireland, patients can be prescribed hormones.

A long journey

Hannon explains that the psychological and, sometimes, physical journey that a trans person goes through can be a “long process”, and stresses the need for people to be given support when they are young. As people in the transgender community are part of a misunderstood and marginalised group, they face a very real danger of harassment and discrimination, which can force them to the fringes of society, Hannon says.

People can lose their jobs because of problems they are having – or they may have been bullied in school and have left without a good education. People need support at a young age in order to become productive members of society.

If they do not receive the proper support, Hannon says, many end up living in poverty – and it’s these people who suffer “the deepest pain” caused by careless stereotyping.

Controversial Paddy Power Ladies’ Day ad pulled>

Call for ‘transphobic’ Paddy Power advert to be withdrawn>

Column: ‘I know I’m a woman, and my gender should be recognised’>

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