Wednesday, 6 February 2013

The plan to 'scrap' the use of Mr and Mrs...

In October 2012, many column inches were devoted to claims that Brighton and Hove City Council was planning to 'scrap' the terms Mr and Mrs.

The Mirror went with:

The Mail:

The Telegraph:

The Sun's print version carried a photo of Mr and Mrs host Phillip Schofield with a speech bubble saying: 'Welcome to Non Gender and Non Gender', under the headline 'Ban Mr & Mrs!'. Online, the headline was:

There were many other websites that repeated the same claims.

But the story wasn't correct - the Council had not made any recommendations or published any plans at this time. The Council's Trans Equality Scrutiny Panel, who were looking into a range of issues, suggested there was a problem with a set-list of honorifics on online forms - that if you don't select one of the set options, and some trans people do not feel that the titles Mr or Mrs are suitable for them, it could prevent completion of the form. So people could still call themselves Mr or Mrs, but they would have the freedom to choose a title with which they felt most comfortable. 

Jane Fae wrote in the Guardian:

They don't identify as male or female, prefer "Mx" (pronounced "Mix") as title of choice, and feel positively excluded by forms that demand they pick from a limited list of gender-specific titles. It's a small exclusion, but why should they have to put up with such when a remedy is so easily implemented?

The Trans Equality Scrutiny Panel's final report was published in January. Unsurprisingly, it does not recommend scrapping Mr and Mrs, as it explains on page 65:

Given recent press coverage of the subject of honorifics, the Panel would like to make clear that they never had any intention of recommending that the use of honorifics should be removed. The recommendation of this report is aimed at giving more choice to those who do not want to identify as Mr/Ms/Mrs/Dr. It is worth noting that this may not just apply to trans people: others may not choose to use a honorific if given the option.

Recommendation 35: The Panel welcome the addition of the honorific Mx by council benefits staff as giving an alternative option. The Panel recommend that all on-line forms are examined to look at the possibility of additional options, leaving blank or entering the title the individual feels is appropriate to them.

Three weeks on, and neither the Sun, Mirror, Mail nor Telegraph appear to have informed their readers of what has actually been recommended by the Panel. A search of all four websites using terms 'brighton mx' and 'brighton trans' reveals no new articles on this subject since October.  

As the Panel said following the original articles:

We acknowledge and regret that the tone and content of much of the on-line debate over the last week has caused distress and may have damaged the trust we have sought to build up. We condemn the offensive and discriminatory tone of much of that comment, and reiterate that all members of the panel remain committed to transgender equality. We also recognise the need for balanced, fair and accurate media reporting and will be working proactively to encourage this regarding the scrutiny going forward.

(hat-tip to Jane Fae)


  1. OK, honorific fields annoy the hell out of me. It is not just transgender people who don't fit into Mr/Mrs/Miss/Dr.

    MP's, life peers, clergy, some academics, royalty, and military folks can all claim different titles. A free text field (preceding the free text fields for name) seems to be an obvious solution. Is there a sensible reason this isn't done?

  2. @Anonymous Yes. It can't be done because the tabloids hate DIFFERENCE! You have no right to be an individual in their restricted, hateful little world.

  3. Free text fields in data collection forms are generally to be avoided for any field where you may want to collect statistical data, because people vary or misspell what they write, making it much harder to collect figures accurately. If you have a set of discrete options, that removes that problem.

    For honorific fields, there is no reason not to have a far wider list of options than the four you listed, and the catch all would be to have a longer list of options, and then an "other" option which allows the free text entry if selected.

  4. A check on the original council papers show the committee did suggest removing all honorifics. It was only outrage that made them backtrack. It's all there in black and white.

    1. Nice try - but no...and behind the story is a pretty shameful history of national papers just playing follow my leader and doing no checking whatsoever.

      Unless you have access to something else, then i guess you are referencing the initial report to the Scrutiny Panel - which is not so much committee as crowd-sourcing and market research opinion-gathering. This has two functions: to identify perceived issues; and to extract suggested solutions to them.

      Clearly, the way in which gender-variant peeps are treated in official forms is an issue and, since i also consult on it to large commercial organisations, one that i can assure you is under review in many of the UK's largest financial institutions.

      There are many possible solutions, of which doing away with all honorifics is just one.

      Exactly the same process is applied to all comment, all issues raised by the scrutiny process, which has been successfully applied to a very wide range of issues facing Brighton WITHOUT this sort of outcry.

      And that's the joy of the democratic process: people are consulted. Feedback is generated. Some of it goes nowhere, some of it goes further.

      In this case, initial feedback was whittled down to a formal report last month (exactly as promised) without that irksome proposal in there.

      In strict terms? Yes: abolishing Mr and Mrs "was proposed" much the same way that an anarchist candidate to parliament might propose abolishing parliament. However, at the point at which the story broke in October, the Council was still digesting the panel there were no council plans or proposals on the table.

      Those did not come into existence until january when - hey, presto! - no abolition.

      You can argue as much as you like about what MIGHT have happened: but the fact is that at the point in October when the national press were widely reporting COUNCIL plans and proposals, the process had not yet moved to that stage.

      Furthermore, a key point behind all this is the extent to which the tabloids checked the story: i spoke to the Brighton press office and as far as i can tell, from feedback, was one of the very few journalists of any pedigree to do so.

      Second is the point in the tabloidwatch analysis of this: that while the papers splashed the "loony left council" story to high heaven, they seem strangely reluctant to conclude the story with the news that, guess what, it was all a storm in a teacup.


  5. Are we sure that this isn't all a plan by the EU. It sounds like the sort of thing they would do (in Daily Mail-land anyway).

  6. The royal ballet has a magnificent list of honorifics. Simply choose "other" in the list and then have a butchers at the awesome list that appears next to it.

  7. The Council's "Trans Equality Scrutiny Panel". Clearly, local Councils are still wasting too much of taxpayers' money. Why the hell is this ridiculous body needed?

    1. Because these ridiculous stories come up still, and people still treat trans people badly, or substantially differently, because they believe some such ridiculous crap about them?


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