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Gender Change in ID took 20 years!

“My life has not been an easy one. Throwing away my female ID will let me close all the old books and start afresh. I am fifty two years old. I have waited for my male ID book for 20 years.”
Charl is the bookkeeper and resident writer at Gender DynamiX. After going through the gender program at Groote Schuur in the early nineties he attempted to apply for a change of his gender at the Department of Home Affairs. He was met with disbelief, denial and ultimately humiliation at the counter of the Home Affairs office in Cape Town. The clerk at the front desk told him that it was impossible to change one’s gender, laughed at him loudly and sent him away. When Charl insisted that it was possible he responded by telling him that in his opinion Charl had not had enough surgeries to qualify. He sent him away.
Another clerk called him back and told him that he could change his name and that his chosen name would at least reflect his gender. This woman was kind and sympathetic and assisted him to get the new ID book with his male name in it within months.
His problems were not over yet. He then tried to apply for a bank account with his new ID and was set for another event of public humiliation at FNB bank. Even though ID books do not explicitly state words of gender, the four digits after the birth date are gendered in the sense that males are numbered above 5000 and females below. The assistant at the bank typed in his ID number and the screen revealed Charl’s past. Somehow it even stated what his old names had been before. The bank refused him a bank account on the grounds that “this application is just too complicated”
 “My primary interest in changing my gender on my documents was not just administrational. I wanted to marry my girl. She was a heterosexual woman. It did not sit well with us that we were seen as two women together. I felt that if I could change my ID we could get married and it would be for ever.  We broke up. She said I am not a lesbian. I said neither am I.”
And so he had to live his life for another 12 years. In 2004 Charl heard that activists had fought for the right for transgender people to have their documents changed without having undergone genital surgery.  He stepped into the Cape Town Home Affairs office again.
“The same kind lady was still at the counter after so many years. She advised me that I need letters from my doctors with extensive medical information on. She said the psychologist letter has to say I have lived my newly assigned gender for 2 years. She said these letters have to be from the doctors who treated me”
“So now I had go looking for the psychiatrist who had treated me 12 years ago and I had no idea where he was. I found the plastic surgeon. He had moved to England and was not very helpful. He told me he does not know where any of the other people are who treated me and that his old files were somewhere in boxes.”
Charl tried to make his application with letters from doctors treating him at that point but Home Affairs officials kept sending him away asking for different letters.
“Off course today I realise that they were giving me the wrong information. The law does not require that people who change their gender have to have a psychologist’s letter, neither does the law require of one to live one’s new gender for any amount of time in order to qualify”

This misinformation sent Charl into limbo again for another six years. He lived in a house with other men and had to reroute his mail via his family in case any of it revealed his past and put him in danger. He was constantly dependant on other people to protect his identity, facilitate his bank accounts and he always had to disclose his past to potential employers. His quality of life was severely affected by it.
In 2008 Charl met the staff at Gender DynamiX who encouraged him to again apply for his ID. They informed him that SA law required two medical reports for gender change. The first report should ideally be from a doctor who treated the applicant stating that he or she has, had medical treated that resulted in Gender Reassignment. This means one does not have to have surgery to qualify. A medical report stating that hormone treatment has resulted in gender reassignment for the applicant is all that is needed. A second letter from any medical professional merely has to verify the first report.
 “ I finally applied again in early 2009. By this time I was confident about my information. I had been reading on the Gender DynamiX website about how the act worked and what made me qualify. I had met Simone Heradine the activist who had lobbied parliament for the amendment of the law. Robert Hamblin advocacy manager at Gender DynamiX said he would help me with my application. Before I was not so confident because I did not know anybody who could verify that the information I had was true.”
“And I was ready with so many letters this time! I had five letters in my hand! This time they would not send me back. I had a new doctor who had faith in me and wanted to help. She got letters from another doctor to corroborate with her own. I got one from Ronald Addinal the facilitator at my support group too”
But the limbo was far from over.
“ Eight months later I got an email from Home Affairs. I was excited. I thought the email was going to say, come fetch your ID, but it was not yet destined. They told me to return to the Home Affairs office and to reapply because they had lost my papers!”
“ After another six months of waiting I decided it was time to put pressure on the department” says Robert Hamblin from GDX. “I work with these applications all the time. Most often inexperienced officials can not make out whether a gender change is a rectification (departmental mistake) or an amendment (applicant’s request). This causes the file to travel back and forth between buildings and often it gets lost”
“The hero in story in the end was an angel at the Director General’s office. She steered the application to right place and fast tracked Charl’s application.” Says Hamblin
“I was having a sandwich when the SMS came in, saying my ID was ready. I just dropped it and rushed to town to fetch it” says Charl
 “Things would have been so different if I had this little book in my hand 20 years ago. I might have been married to that girl for who I still have feelings. But this is a new beginning for me. I am a week old. Yesterday my mother said to me. This is who you now are.”


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