Male in the Philippines, but Female in Germany: The curious case of Jenny T. Ramsey

February 5, 2010

You may remember Sass Rogando Sasot’s moving speech at the UN, “Reclaiming the lucidity of our hearts”, which I linked to here in December last year. She’s now forwarded the following email with approval to repost, which I do.

It’s a more extreme (but not uncommon) illustration of what Sass calls one of the 21st century dilemmas faced by many transsexual people the world over; that of the chasm that too often exists between our real lives and our legal documentation, and the impact this discrepancy can, and does, have on us.

As an aside, it’s worth noting that the situation was only addressed here in Britain six years ago with the passing into law of the Gender Recognition Act – and even then, the process of obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate is not the simple process that some people seem to think it is. Before 2004, in the eyes of the law, transsexual people in Britain simply did not exist. The character Mr. Bumble in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist may well have had a point when he said “the law is a [sic] ass — a idiot”; unfortunately it’s an ass with a powerful kick.

“You cannot renew your passport as you can’t have dual identity,” said a staff of the Philippine Embassy in Berlin to Jenny T. Ramsey. Jenny didn’t do anything illegal. She’s not pretending to be somebody else, deceptively living two lives. She just epitomizes two of the inconveniences of being a human of transsexual experience: 1) Having a legal sex that doesn’t match one’s actual, lived, and to be a bit scientific about it, neurological sex; and 2) Having a legal name that doesn’t match one’s actual, everyday name. But Jenny’s case is in an entirely different level. And I reckon that, given that there are just very few countries in the world that legally affirms the gender identity of transsexual people, this is one of the 21st century dilemmas of transsexual people: Jenny currently has two legal sexes and two legal names from two different countries.

Jenny is one of the four original founders of the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines. Sometime in 2003, Jenny went to Germany to study; she lived in Erfurt with her German partner. In 2006, Jenny decided to undergo sex reassignment surgery in Thailand. During this time, transsexual people (at least, post-op transsexual women) have successfully petitioned local courts in the Philippines to legally change their sex and name. One of them even got married in a civil wedding in the Philippines. But unfortunately, in October 2007, the Supreme Court of the Philippines rendered a decision that this can no longer be done unless Philippines Congress passes a law that would allow such changes. This was known as the Mely Silverio Decision.

Because of the Silverio Decision, Jenny decided to file a petition to change her name and sex from male to female in a German court. She was represented by a top-notch lawyer in Germany. On 23 July 2008, Amskerich Ehrfurt granted Jenny’s petition. It was a groundbreaking case in Germany as Jenny was, as far as we know, the first non-German citizen to be able to change her legal sex and name in Germany. Sometime last year, another Filipino was able to change his legal sex and name in Germany, this time from female to male.

After more than five years of being together, on 2 April 2009, Jenny and her German boyfriend married. Afterwards, Jenny was granted a temporary residence permit with her female name on it. Then Jenny inquired with Ausländer Behorde (German immigration) about what would happen when she travels abroad: Would she use her Philippine passport, hence would travel as “male”? The immigration officers discussed this among themselves and provided this solution: They issued Jenny a Reiseausweis für Ausländer (Travel document for foreigners) bearing her female sex and name. According to www.duesseldorf.de, this passport is a temporary passport and is only issued in very exceptional cases.

On 28 January 2010, Jenny went to the Philippine Embassy in Berlin to renew her Philippine passport. To make sure that Jenny is not illegally staying in Germany, they asked her to show her visa. Jenny showed her temporary residence permit and Reiseausweis für Ausländer. The discrepancy between Jenny’s identity in her Philippine-issued documents and German-issued ones led to the confiscation of Jenny’s passport (though they told her that they are just getting it for “safekeeping”). They said they will raise this issue with the Department of Foreign Affairs of Manila (DFA) and wait for a decision. Given that it’s national election season in the Philippines, this will mean Jenny has to wait.

When in Rome, do what the Romans do – but which Rome?

But wait for what? What could be the possible decision of DFA? I can think of two possible scenarios: 1) DFA honors the change of legal sex and name of Jenny and issue her a Philippine passport bearing a female sex and name. Or 2) DFA doesn’t recognize the decision of the German court and issue Jenny a Philippine passport bearing a male sex and name. Because of the Silverio Decision, Scenario 2 is more probable to happen than Scenario 1. If Scenario 2 happened, I would like to ask the DFA a glaring WHY?

In July 2009, 67 Filipinos were arrested in Saudi Arabia for crossdressing. In reaction to this, Silvestro Bello, a cabinet secretary and top aide of the Philippine president, pulled the when-Rome-do-what-the-Romans-do card and was quoted saying, “When [Filipinos] enter their host country, they should know the culture of their host country.” Crossdressing is a crime in Saudi Arabia. The 67 Filipinos were sentenced to imprisonment and flogging but were pardoned and released.

Now, why am I bringing this up? Pardon my legal ignorance but it seems to me that the Philippines is more bent on honoring and respecting a ridiculous, dehumanizing law, such as the anti-crossdressing law of Arab countries than honoring and respecting a life-affirming legal procedure such as the legal change of sex and name that was granted to Jenny by a German Court.

Yes: It’s such a shame that it’s not Jenny’s mother country that has showed care, compassion, and consideration to her humanity. Well, this just proves that no matter how familiar a place is to you, sometimes it just don’t feel like home. Jenny now considers Germany as her home now as this is the country where she can live her real life, socially and legally. And to the Philippine Embassy in Berlin: It’s not Jenny’s fault that she currently has a dual identity: It’s the fault of the Philippine government as it refuses to recognize and affirm transsexual people’s reality.

During our phone conversation, Jenny and I were musing about what is her legal status now, given that her Philippine passport was confiscated (okay – was kept for “safekeeping”). She’s not yet a German citizen. The Philippine embassy won’t yet issue her a new passport as they don’t want her to have a dual identity. Is she currently a stateless person? A refugee? A possible asylum seeker? We don’t know. All we know is Jenny is willing to renounce her Philippine citizenship anytime.

After all, who needs a citizenship that doesn’t legally affirm your reality?

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Curtsey to the TGEU listserv for the heads-up

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Cross-posted at Questioning Transphobia

6 Responses to “Male in the Philippines, but Female in Germany: The curious case of Jenny T. Ramsey”

  1. Lucy Says:

    I have thought about this issue. As my plans have me living permanently in the UK in a little over a year or so, I am (hopefully) likely to end up with a GRC such that the UK will recognise me as female while my birth country does not. At some point I will likely have a UK passport and a US passport that agree on everything but my Gender [sic]. Not sure what’s going to happen because of that but it’ll make travelling between the two countries even more interesting.

  2. Helen G Says:

    Ouch. So what hoops do you need to jump through to have a US passport that does show your correct gender?

    Fwiw, I was able to get my UK passport changed by providing a letter from the gender doc certifying that I was, indeed, female. In fact, most things outside of that I was able to change once the Deed Poll (legal name change) was in place, and none of these things required a GRC. The main thing the GRC did enable was my new birth certificate; it seems (and I may be wrong) that that is the key document in the procedure.

    The GRC also gives me such things as entitlement to appropriate state benefits and (nominal) legal protection from workplace discrimination, but everything else (passport, Deed Poll, notification to Inland Revenue/National Insurance/Council Tax/employers/drivers license/bank account/TV licensing. etc) was changed without the need for a GRC.

    Just as well, really, given the restriction on applying for a GRC (have to wait for two years after surgery)…

  3. Lucy Says:

    I need to have a birth certificate that shows that I am female. Now, for the state I was born in (which is, thankfully, not Tennessee as they never change birth certificates for trans people), I have to supply a letter from a surgeon confirming GRS/SRS/wev-you-wanna-call-it. So, no surgery, no change. Now, surgery is in my plans, but who knows when or if that will occur. Unfortunately, the birth certificate is also the basis for a driver’s licence and pretty much everything else of a state-based nature in the US (Thus, for example, the infamous “No Match” thing from Social Security if they have not changed your sex in their database.). What’s this about having to wait two years after surgery?

  4. Helen G Says:

    The two-year thing – I was a little off-course with that, but not much. It’s not two years post-surgery but:

    This application process requires you to demonstrate that:
    – You have, or have had, gender dysphoria;
    – You have lived fully for the last two years in your acquired gender, and
    – You intend to live permanently in your acquired gender (new gender).

    (Via GRP website)

    IIrc, it’s generally accepted that you need to be able to show when the clock started ticking. There are a number of documents which are acceptable for that – in my case, I used my Deed Poll. My mistake was that, in the early days, I hadn’t realised the significance of having that marker – so I didn’t bother with changing my documentation (didn’t need to) until I was six months into my transition – and it just happened that the Deed Poll was the earliest proof I could find, which had a corresponding knock-on effect.

    But there is still the need to be able to prove either that you’ve undergone surgery, or have a damned good (ie medically proven) reason not to have had it. That’s the one small but critical point which continually seems to elude a certain radfem, who endlessly blasts on about “anyone can get a GRC”. Not so – have a look at page 14 of the Guidance on completing an application form for a gender recognition certificate (Direct link to PDF) – under the section Report B says:

    This report must include specific details of treatment ie whether you have undergone, are undergoing or are planning to undergo surgery for the purpose of modifying sexual characteristics.

    If you have not undergone surgery the report must explain why not.

    Talk about the small print. But there it is, and it does need to be addressed in any application.


  5. [...] Male in the Philippines, but Female in Germany: The curious case of Jenny T. Ramsey [...]


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