On account of UN Human Rights Day, I decided to write this open letter.
To whom it may concern,
I have heart disease. I identify as a trans man. I come from Cyprus.
Yeah, I know, what do you care? To be honest, it’s not really anybody’s business whether I’m cis, trans, or non-gender identified. You don’t need to know my name – I like my anonymity as much as the next person. However, since we’re celebrating the joys of human rights (or lack thereof which we are witnessing around the globe, including the European Union that prides itself on establishing the fundamental human rights through its Charter), I figured I might as well chip in with my proverbial two cents.
There are many places in the world where people’s lives are being made miserable by other humans, often for no reason except power. Just look at the top headlines. Being a selfish prick, I would like to draw your attention to a particular issue that has been gnawing away at me for a while.
My home country recently voted through legislation to support civil partnerships for gay couples. For some, this is a massive leap forwards and means they get to express themselves in the way they would like. To be honest, I suppose it was about time. However, while this is an important milestone in LGBT rights, Cyprus seems to lack the sheer willpower to support and update legislation on other issues, such as the issue of name change. We’ve been in the EU for over a decade (since 2004), and while this may seem a minor issue in relation to other perfectly logical, economically-driven programmes (like sticking ‘green’ wind turbines in a country that could probably benefit more from solar panels), it’s a pest – and that’s putting it mildly. Inhumane might be a better term. If you are trans and want to change your official ID documents in Cyprus, the state obliges you to go through all the relevant surgery, as well as psychological counselling. Admittedly, support from a psychologist is useful whether or not gender reassignment surgery is what a trans person is looking for… Of course, that’s if the psychologist is not horribly conservative and doesn’t view being transgender as a mental disorder – which is what I encountered in Greece (but that’s another story).
The problem is this: with the name change happening at the “other end”* of transition, by the time all the procedures of this ridiculous tick-boxing exercise are in place – the hormones, the surgery, the psychology counselling – the trans person themselves is probably destitute as they are unable to work, unable to travel (try getting through airport security with an ID that states a different name and gender to the one you generally pass as), and generally not recognised as a citizen in any way. In some cases, it’s even been suggested that the ID is fraudulent, as it doesn’t bear any similarity to the person carrying it.
And then, it’s important to consider that not all trans people want – or are able to have – surgery. After all, the very definition of trans is fluid and varies from person to person; it’s seen as an umbrella term – much like queer. Some trans people don’t even identify with the binary gender spectrum but nonetheless want to pursue a name change; what do you do about them?
In my case, I’m unable to pursue this kind of thing (at least, to my knowledge). Mastectomy, hysterectomy, and phalloplasty – not to mention the incessant rejigging of medication – would put incredible strain on a body that has undergone a heart transplant. So what am I meant to do? (Sure, that’s selfish, but like I said… I’m a selfish bugger)
The 2010 Directorate-General’s report on Transgender Persons’ Rights in the EU Member States even declares that my country (and quite a few others) is in clear breach of the established fundamental rights charter; particularly for having what they describe as “no legal certainty” in the matter of gender reassignment on paper. But it’s not like anyone can arrest a government, or charge them with discrimination until a case actually comes up. Local LGBT activists Accept seem to be making slow progress in lobbying arena, but perhaps they have too much on their plate (trans issues are not the only ones the legislation is sincerely behind in). It is important to note, though, that they are making progress. Change is happening. But for some people – less fortunate than myself – it’s crawling by. Perhaps, it’s just incredibly easy to avoid dealing with this for anyone and everyone who isn’t directly affected.
And that’s just the legal side of things. Unfortunately, the legislation is only the tip of the iceberg. In terms of society and prejudices, I can’t really make any claims as I’ve not lived in Cyprus since I came out as transgender (yes, I was very lucky that way). Some people I encountered while in hospital there, were quite understanding; others were quite confused yet still tended to be positive. And then others just ignored it. Of course, the last group were entirely supported by this because of the outdated legislation; on paper, I’m still female, using my old name.
2016 is upon us.
Time to make a change.
*Some might argue transition is a life-long process, and I must say, I agree, but to make things easier for lawyers and doctors, there is a finite end-point…apparently.