Spain’s far-left Podemos party has introduced a bill that would allow people to legally change their gender without providing a diagnosis of gender dysphoria from a psychiatrist. Equality Minister Irene Montero is sponsoring a bill that would eliminate the current requirements of reports from three doctors and a court’s approval to legally change one’s gender identity. There has been resistance to the bill from within Spain’s left-wing coalition, with Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo arguing that the bill would threaten women’s rights. She believes that allowing men to so easily identify as women would undermine hiring practices which favour women and would be a threat to women’s sports. Confluencia Femenista, a coalition of women’s rights organisations, has also expressed opposition, arguing that it would put women at risk in female-only spaces such as bathrooms and prisons. Opponents’ fears are well founded. In women’s prisons in the UK, despite accounting for only 1% of the prison population, transgender women were responsible for 5% of sexual assaults against prisoners. This is not to suggest that transgender women are generally violent, but rather that the ease with which a person can legally change their gender under a self-determination law exposes the law to exploitation by nefarious actors.
In Ireland, where such a self-determination law exists, the recent case of one Barbie Kardashian is illustrative of this risk. Born Alejandro Gentile, Barbie Kardashian, who has a history of violence against women, was recently jailed for threatening to kill a man and a woman. Kardashian has regularly expressed fantasies of raping and killing women. Despite having undergone no hormone treatments or gender reassignment surgeries, Kardashian has been placed in a women’s prison because she legally changed her gender to female. In 2017, a child and adolescent psychotherapist at the Tavistock and Portman Trust in the UK suggested that whilst on paper Kardashian presented as ticking all the correct boxes for gender dysphoria, there was a lack of emotional affect in the way Kardashian described her gender difficulties, as though she were reciting from something she had learned. It appears that rather than actually suffering from gender dysphoria, Kardashian is exploiting such a determination for her own ends. The presence of such an individual in a women’s prison undoubtedly puts the safety of female prisoners at risk.
While gender self-determination laws are supposed to make the lives of transgender people easier, they could have the opposite effect. Cases such as Barbie Kardashian’s will naturally draw ire from the public and precipitate transphobic sentiments. While Kardashian is clearly exploiting the law for her own ill purposes and is not representative of genuine transgender people, such nuances may not be obvious to everyone. Rather, these cases could stigmatize transgender people as dangerous and deviant, undermining the efforts of trans activists to advance trans rights and the wider acceptance of transgender people in society. Spain’s politicians should take note of these cases and ask themselves whether what appears to be a compassionate and trans-forward policy may in fact harm transgender people in the long run.