On July 11, 2002, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) set the scene for a significant shift in the way the United Kingdom legally defines sex and the status of transsexual and transgender people (trans people) within British society. The ECHR, in Christine Goodwin v. The United Kingdom, found that British laws defining sex according to a set of biological criteria applied at birth prevented trans people from enjoying the full spectrum of rights guaranteed by the European Convention of Human Rights. Barring individuals from changing their sex for legal purposes on official documents, such as birth certificates and insurance forms, these laws, according to the court, created discordance between the lived experience of trans individuals — who they present themselves to be—and their legal status — who the law says they are. The ECHR recognized the potential and real harm of this disjunction “between social reality and law”: left in an “anomalous position,” trans people were subject to discrimination and misrecognition without the protection of law.
Critical Acts of Recognition: Reading Law Rhetorically,
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