The state decides who I am

Existrans 2012, demonstration © private

By Siobhan Murphy, Campaign Assistant on the Fight Discrimination in Europe Campaign

The simple task of booking a flight is difficult for a transgender person whose gender identity is not legally recognised on official documents. Even the most straightforward journey becomes stressful if you have to worry about whether you will be stopped from travelling because the gender on your ID does not reflect your appearance.

But travel difficulties are just one of many problems transgender people face because they are denied legal gender recognition.   Access to education, employment, public services, healthcare, social welfare, dealings with institutions and even participation in sports can be problematic and frustrating.

Victoria, a transgender woman living in Dublin, Ireland told Amnesty International: “Legal gender recognition is important because, once and for all, I wouldn’t have to battle with people [for anything] I have a right [to], like social welfare. I want to be recognised as who I bloody well am. It’s ridiculous that the state doesn’t recognise me as who I am.”  

Juudas Kannisto from Finland Imagine the anxiety you would feel if you had to go about everyday life explaining and justifying your gender identity:

“I find it offensive to have [gender] markers on my documents and in registers that are not true. This puts me in a situation whereby I must constantly be prepared to answer questions,’ says Juudas, a transgender man from Finland. For him, this is the daily reality.

Children too, many of whom are denied legal gender recognition, often face discrimination and harassment.  Their schooling is detrimentally affected because they cannot be enrolled according to their gender identity.  These children are often eclipsed from discussions concerning transgender rights, despite the fact that they have a right to legal gender recognition and a right to be heard under international human rights law.

Kelly, a mother of a transgender child, told Amnesty International: “If the legislation is in place…it means that you are not setting [transgender people] up for a hard life, for discrimination, misunderstanding or prejudice.”

Legal gender recognition is vital for tackling such discrimination and allows transgender people to live dignified lives:

“Legal gender recognition…validates you within the rest of the population. If you are seen to be legally recognised then you have more legitimacy within the wider community, within the non-transgender community, and that’s important,” says Louise, a transgender woman living in Dublin, Ireland.

Such issues are largely hidden from general society. Non-transgender people simply do not have to think of these problems and therefore may not understand the debilitating consequences stemming from a lack of legal gender recognition.

Yet even where legal gender recognition exists in Europe, it is not an easy process. Transgender people are often forced to divorce, change their marital status, have unnecessary invasive medical treatments and undergo forced sterilisation.

Forcing people to divorce to fulfil all the requirements for legal gender recognition is a ludicrous affront to their rights to privacy and respect for family life.

Forced sterilisation is a direct attack on the right to parenthood of transgender people, and poses a hideous choice: between their right to bodily integrity and health and their right to be recognised before the law.  Luca, a transgender man from Norway, told Amnesty International: “I can in theory obtain recognition of my gender but only if I am sterilised. This is out of question for me….. I feel like I am deprived of my rights [legal gender recognition] just because I choose to exercise some other rights [refuse medical treatments].”

If that wasn’t enough, in many European countries transgender people must be scrutinised by a psychologist and declared to have a psychiatric condition before they are granted legal gender recognition. This requirement reinforces misperceptions of transgender people, and pathologises their gender identity.

Transgender people are left with two “options”. Either they go through degrading, harmful and unnecessary steps to be recognised as who they are, or remain stuck with important official documents that contradict their appearance and identity.

Governments must ensure that transgender people have access to legal gender recognition and their human rights are respected in these processes. For more details about our recommendations and research findings see our report, “The state decides who I am”, out today.