‘If this parliament will not respect the rights of women, then you have no decency. And if you will not be decent then I will be indecent.” So said Elaine Miller, a Scottish comedian, from the public gallery of the Scottish parliament last week, before lifting her skirt and revealing her unmentionables.
Miller’s stunt was intended to call attention to the Scottish parliament’s contemptibility, as lawmakers voted 86 to 39 to pass a bill making it easier and faster for people to change their legally recorded sex. The stunt also exposed, quite literally, what this debate is about. Like the rest of us, when Miller entered the world, her sex was observable and objective to those around her. She might conceal, disguise, or disfigure her sex — but she cannot change it.
Nevertheless, since 2004, Britain’s Gender Recognition Act has supplanted this biological fact with a legal fiction allowing adults with persistent gender dysphoria to change their recorded sex. The Scottish government’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill takes the original law even further. The new law would lower the minimum age to change one’s recorded sex from 18 to 16 and lower the required time of “living in [one’s] acquired gender” from two years to three months (or six months for those aged 16 and 17). The reform would also remove the need to provide a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria. In Scotland a 16-year-old could decide to legally change his or her sex but would have to wait to turn 18 to legally get a tattoo or buy alcohol.
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, said she will “never apologize for trying to spread equality, not reduce it, in our country.” Her commitment to the cause may come at a high political price. As well as scenes of protest, her transgender policy has caused a rebellion within her party and growing displeasure from even the most hardened Scottish nationalists. Polling by YouGov shows that roughly two-thirds of Scots are opposed to the reforms.