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?
Curtsey to the TGEU listserv for the heads-up
Cross-posted at Questioning Transphobia