Creating a more gender-inclusive society

Dr Simona Giordano shares how she is using research to explore the experiences of transgender youths and ways we can broaden society’s perceptions of gender.

Without identifying what 'gender' means and what it means to experience it, many ethical questions around the provision of care can't be answered.

Dr Simona Giordano / Reader in Bioethics at the School of Law, The University of Manchester

What is gender?

I began my research on transgender youth in 2005 and since then I have published widely on themes of gender, adolescence and hormonal treatment.

My work is focused on the ethical issues surrounding the care and treatment of gender-diverse children and adolescents, with a view to answering the most pressing issues that are shaping the current debate.

Questions include whether children should be allowed to decide how to dress and to present themselves in the domestic environment and to the outside world, or whether it is ethical to delay pubertal development by giving young adolescents puberty blockers.

In order to answer these questions, my job is to try to understand the concepts and then offer informed and reasoned answers based on my findings.

The central concept to understand is what the term ‘gender’ means. Without identifying what it means and what experiencing gender means, many ethical questions around the provision of care can't be answered.

Gender as a political issue

The Gender Recognition Act 2004 acknowledges people’s right to amend their birth certificates and live in their innate or experienced gender, without need for medical intervention. In this way the law acknowledges that gender identity is not necessarily related to any bodily feature or sexual feature.

There is, however, currently a debate on how to amend the Act as it states a requirement for a medical diagnosis in order to have gender identity recognised at law.

This exposes gender diverse people to a social perception that they are affected by a medical or mental condition, when there is a movement across the world towards de-pathologisation. The Act doesn't give due recognition to non-binary identities, and should also enable adolescents to determine their gender without unduly burdensome administrative processes.

Broadening perceptions of gender

I believe that the move towards an inclusive society encompasses action at various levels and the state has the responsibility to direct changes. Laws must be reviewed and amended, while caregivers need to be equipped with the tools to understand gender and sex diversity.

Schools need to be safe places for every child; neutral uniforms and appropriate infrastructure and facilities (eg gender-neutral toilets and changing rooms) need to be available from nursery through to secondary education.

Children’s literature should be reviewed to avoid the strong clichés that are often found within the narrative. Appropriate and age-sensitive sex education needs to encompass clear and accurate scientific information around human diversity. It is our responsibility as adults to get simple and true messages across.

Clinical care needs to be more easily accessible; less influenced by fear of litigation, more people-centred and with improved integration of services for children and adults.

The future of gender research

In terms of my own research, I am keen to collaborate with other academics on issues that go beyond my expertise, particularly on legal rights concerning identity, marriage, employment, maternity and paternity.

I intend to write a book that considers the experiences of individuals from early childhood to adulthood, expanding my current focus from the treatment of adolescents alone.

Meet the researcher:

  • Dr Simona Giordano, Reader in Bioethics at the School of Law and Co-leader of the Centre for Social Ethics and Policy research.