If the purpose of the UK government website, ‘Apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate’ is to put people off by its complexity, it will have succeeded.

It starts with an ‘Overview’ where one is informed:

Apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate if you want your affirmed gender (sometimes called an ‘acquired gender’) to be legally recognised in the UK.

Then, among other advantages, you can ‘update your birth or adoption certificate’ and ‘have your affirmed gender on your death certificate when you die.’ (The last three words are redundant.)

Next, we come to ‘Who can apply’. You must meet all the following requirements:

  • you have to be aged 18 or over
  • you’ve been diagnosed with gender dysphoria
  • you’ve been living in your affirmed gender for at least two years
  • you intend to live in this gender for the rest of your life

Fair enough, except for the last one. How can you predict what you’re going to do in the rest of your life? As for what gender dysphoria means, there’s a link to the NHS which I discuss here.

But what if you don’t have a gender dysphoria diagnosis? Well, you ‘might still be able to apply,’ but only if, among other requirements, ‘you have been living in your affirmed gender for at least six years…and you have evidence that you have had gender affirmation surgery.’

In this case, you need to ‘contact your Gender Recognition Panel admin team to find out how to apply.’ Note it’s not just the Gender Recognition Panel you will need to contact, nor even their admin, but their admin team!

Just to be clear:

You can still apply through this route even if you do have a gender dysphoria diagnosis, so long as you meet all the requirements. However, you do not need to have had any gender affirmation surgery.

All options covered, it seems, and it’s no wonder they need an admin team to sort it out.

Further on, we come to ‘What documents you need’. The first thing is to make a statutory declaration for a Gender Recognitions Certificate application. This must be witnessed by someone authorised to administer oaths and a list of nine such persons is given. The declaration differs according to whether you’re single, married, in a civil partnership, or if you’re the spouse or civil partner of an applicant. In all cases there are detailed instructions to enter your full name, the date of your transition, tick a box, delete ‘I do’ or ‘do not’ as appropriate, etc.

In addition to the statutory declaration you will need an original or certified copy of your full birth or adoption certificate – evidently a partial certificate won’t do.

What’s next? ‘If you’re on the main route’ then ‘you need both of the following’, and these are: medical reports from the UK; and evidence that you’ve lived in your affirmed gender for two years.’

It’s when we come to the medical reports that it gets really amusing. These must be written either by two different medical doctors registered in the UK, or by a medical doctor and a clinical psychologist, both registered in the UK, and furthermore, note that neither of the reports can be written by a nurse practitioner!

Now we get down to the nitty gritty: ‘At least one of the two reports needs to include details of any gender affirmation treatment you’ve had or plan to have, including any surgical treatments, any non-surgical treatments such as hormone therapy, or if you’ve not had any treatment and do not plan to have any, why that’s the case.’ (If gender affirmation treatment includes surgical and non-surgical treatment, what other treatment is there?)

And further, just so no details are omitted:

The first report needs to confirm your gender dysphoria diagnosis and the clinical history this was based on, including who made the diagnosis, when the diagnosis was made, and what evidence was used to make the diagnosis. This first report needs to be written by a registered doctor or clinical psychologist who practises in the field of gender dysphoria. You can find one of these by asking your GP for a referral or contacting someone on the list of specialists in the field of gender dysphoria.

At least there’s one piece of good news: ‘There’s no required content for this second report, and it can include the same information from the first report.’ And fortunately, for the benefit of doctors and clinical psychologists, they include a template on which the required information can be entered. Among other information, they ask:

Please provide details of the gender related diagnosis for which your patient is being or has been treated


You should list the drugs prescribed and the specific surgical procedures that your patient has undergone for the purpose of modifying sexual characteristics. If your patient has as not undergone surgery for this purpose, one of their reports will need to explain why not

Let’s take step back and look at what we’re dealing with. In my quotations from the UK government website there’s much mention of the diagnosis of gender dysphoria, drugs, surgical procedures, medical doctors, clinical psychologists, and patients. It appears, therefore, that we’re dealing with an illness or abnormality of some kind for which treatment, if desired, is drugs and surgical operations.

But here we have a difficulty: the illness or abnormality is only in the mind of the patient, but the treatment, particularly the surgery, is irreversible bodily alterations. It’s intended to modify sexual characteristics but it’s impossible to change someone’s sex. Therefore, the result, if all goes well, is that the patient will acquire to a certain extent the outward appearance of the opposite sex.

Furthermore, it seems the purpose of a Gender Recognition Certificate is to avoid discriminating against a woman, for example, who thinks she’s really a man, by allowing her to have her ‘gender’ stated as male on official documents. Is this such a big deal?

People are born as male or female and, irrespective of any hormone and surgical treatment, will remain male or female for their whole lives. This is the reality. But if a man, for example, manages to ‘pass’ as a woman, and some transgender people may look convincingly like the opposite sex, this could be confusing and inconvenient when travelling. A passport is an identity document and recognition that the holder possesses a certain nationality. A customs officer will check the holder’s photo against his or her appearance, but if someone who looks like a woman has her sex stated as male, this may be problematic.

Perhaps we should follow the American proposal whereby later this year people will have the option on official documents of ticking a box marked ‘X’ for ‘other’ instead of ticking the male or female box. This at least would have the advantage of being truthful: you may be able to change your gender, whatever that means, but you can’t change your sex.

At present the British government in trying to be fair to everybody is making a muddle of biology, the English language, and common sense.

Text © Gabriel Symonds