Transgender and Transsexuality in the United Kingdom

Transpeople now have a higher profile in the United Kingdom than ever before. There are popular transvestite entertainers (Eddie Izzard), prominent drag entertainers (Lily Savage), celebrated soap opera "transsexuals" ("Hayley" of Coronation Street), extensive media coverage of most aspects of trans, and a plethora of informal networks and support groups, formal organizations, and commercial ventures to cater for the needs of transsexuals, cross-dressers and transgendered people.

Sex reassignment surgery was pioneered in the 1940s by U.K. surgeon Sir Harold Gillies who operated on transman Michael Dillon (1944) and transwoman Roberta Cowell (1953). The first U.K. "gender identity clinic" was pioneered by psychiatrist John Randell at the Charing Cross Hospital in London in the 1960s, and has remained the most consistent source of medical intervention in the United Kingdom. Sex reassignment procedures are available through the National Health Service, but long waiting lists increasingly result in the use of private health care.

A number of U.K. transsexuals, namely April Ashley, Jan Morris, and Caroline Cossey, have become prominent internationally. Most notable of those who pioneered self-help groups for transpeople have been Alice (Beaumont Society, 1967 to date), Judy Cousins (Self Help Association for Transsexuals, 1979-1989), and Stephen Whittle (FTM Network, 1991 to date). From these beginnings emerged today's gender identity clinics and networks of support and activist groups. Currently, the major trans support groups are the Beaumont Society (http://www.beaumontsociety.org.uk/), the Gender Trust (http://www.gendertrust.org.uk/), the Gendys Network (http://www.gender.org.uk/gendys/index.htm), and the FTM Network (http://www.ftm.org.uk/). This last organization reflects the greater visibility, more recently, of transmen within the transgender community.

Since 1970, the legal status of transsexuals has been determined by the judgment in the case of

Corbett v. Corbett, [1970] 2 All ER 33. That judgment decided that transwoman April Ashley was still to be considered a man for the purposes of marriage, although it has been used to decide sex status in many other areas. The situation now looks set to change following two rulings by the European Court of Human Rights (July 2002, Christine Goodwin v. UK Government, Application No. 28957/95 [1995] ECHR; I v. UK Government, Application No. 25608/94 [1994] ECHR) which have held that the U.K. government's failure to alter the birth certificates of transsexual people or to allow them to marry in their new gender is a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. Press for Change (PFC) (http://www.pfc.org.uk) has been the major U.K. pressure group lobbying for transgender rights since 1992, and the past decade has witnessed a gradual improvement towards equal rights and opportunities in areas such as employment, marriage, and parenting.

Most recently, radical transgender activists who have been a small but consistent undercurrent in U.K. transactivism since the 1960s have come to some prominence in the confluence of transgender politics and radical transgender writings in sociology, cultural studies, and queer theory. These developments have been documented by U.K. transgender theorists Ekins and King (1996) and More and Whittle (1999).

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