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05 April 2011

Have passport, will travel

Liesl, partner of a transgender person, shares their experiences and frustrations with ID, passports and opening of accounts.

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Easier said than done, one might say. For some people the above statement “have passport, will travel” means just that.

Until very recently, transgender people struggled with the whole process to get their ID documents altered to the desired gender in order to make life more “user-friendly”.

ID documents play a much larger role in one’s life than one can imagine. Until confronted with gender issues, one does not realise how almost everything that needs to be done depends on it.

In the past year I witnessed this more times than I can remember.

Let me explain: Not long after I met my partner (who at that stage knew he was not defining himself as female, and rather wanted to be referred to as ‘male’, ‘sir’, ‘Mr’ or just by his name), we decided to move into a house together.

So off he went and bought the place. I was invited to accompany him on the day of signing all papers, and everything went fine. I was even referred to as ‘Ms’, until he had to produce his ID document which states that he is female. The confused conveyance attorney cleared her throat politely, and asked if she could ask something… Knowing what was to follow, we replied yes. Then the obvious explanation followed. Every trans person has to go through this process of being read as one gender, and having documentation that contradicts this.

Informed decision
Every trans person chooses to go through this transition (change their bodies and identities) at their own pace, and the “order of appearance” varies, meaning some opt for using hormones to change their appearance long before any other stage is even decided on.

For a transgender man (someone who was born female but who identifies himself as a man) a hysterectomy and chest/top surgery (bilateral mastectomies and chest reconstruction) are usually also high on the priority list. All of these things have the effect that a person might look like their desired gender for a substantial period of time before their ID documents are altered.

Hence the following problem: details at the bank are not changed yet, because the ID book has not been changed yet, because he still wants to delay the “coming out at work” process.

The banking details not being changed, yet also brings its own set of complications. One of the larger stumbling blocks is a credit card.

An unpleasant ending to a great evening
Before my partner started his transition, waiters at restaurants addressed him randomly as ‘sir’ or ‘madam’, or said something like: “Table for two, ladies?”

Later on, as the hormones started doing their thing, this fortunately happened less frequently. At this point he always gets called ‘sir’ – that is, until the end of the evening, when it’s time to pay the bill by credit card. It’s like a nasty annoying reminder to spoil the end of the evening. The alternative is to always pay in cash.

At least there is a way to work around that one!

Joining a gym
Even to become a member of a local gym, you must declare whether you are ‘male’ or ‘female’. And similarly at any other place where membership forms need to be filled out, there is always that little (for some people it become a larger than life) box where you need to tick ‘male’ or ‘female’.

A while ago, my partner put his name on a waiting list for a bakkie. We discussed it, and decided to opt for the low-line edition rather than the sport version. That said and done, I asked him later whether he went back to tell the sales person about the change. His answer was: “When I initially put my name on the list, I already said I forgot my ID book and driver's license at home, surely I can’t use the same excuse again?”

Travelling
Recently we booked a trip for an overseas holiday – which brought its own additions to the whole story. We pondered on the thought of applying for an international driver’s license – needless to say what happened: The driver’s license stated a big ‘F’ which he wasn’t able to change officially until his ID had changed.

When only my passport arrived, we started to enquire about his, only to find out that due to a misunderstanding they put it on hold, as they “were not sure whether he applied for a new ID as well” – that was two weeks before we needed it to fly!

Due to a fortunate mistake on their side, he was issued with a male temporary passport!

All of these things (and more) are some of the many “joys” we have been dealing with regarding the whole ID document episode in our journey.

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