Comment: Case of trans woman in male prison exposes flaws in gender recognition process

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Naith Payton explains why the case of Tara Hudson – a trans woman sent to a male prison as she does not have legal recognition – shows wider flaws in UK gender law.

This week, Tara Hudson was sentenced to 12 weeks in a male prison, because she does not have a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC).

Despite having transitioned at least six years ago, and quite obviously living and presenting as female in all aspects of life, it is the GRC which is being held up as some sort of magical gold standard for Tara’s transition.

A GRC is intended to be that which makes a trans person “legally” their gender. Yet many trans people do not apply for one due to the arduous and invasive process.

Applications can be turned down for trivial reasons such as not having enough official paperwork – such as utility bills and payslips – and for as serious reasons as having recently had children.

Many young trans people feel a GRC is unnecessary as it only really affects things like marriage, pensions and – as in this case – prisons. Few people expect to be sent to prison, and so going through the long and demeaning gender recognition process would seem pointless.

In Tara’s case that has backfired. What might have seemed like a ridiculous bit of bureaucracy has ended up placing a trans woman in real danger.

It is not even realistic for Tara to apply for a GRC right now. The panel who judge applications meets only a few times a year – and Tara’s 12 week sentence would likely be over by the time they even receive her application.

It’s not even hard to envisage an improved system: Ireland recently introduced a simple ‘self declaration’ system of gender recognition – which strips out the weight of bureaucracy and replaces it with a two-page form. People fill out longer forms to sign up to a gym.

But the very concept of “legal gender” is damaging. Tara is a woman, and yet because she is a “legally” male, she is being given a punishment that far outweighs her crime.

And she is only legally male because she has not filled in the right bit of paperwork.