Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Impossibility of Transgendered People

It's hard enough being gay or lesbian in Latin America. Its even harder to be a transgendered individual, especially when your country's laws make that impossible, as those of Honduras do.

Everyone age 18 and over must have a national identity card issued by the Registro Nacional de Personas (RNP). Not having an identity card is illegal. The Registro Nacional de Personas says on its website:
The identification of the person is a fundamental human right because from it derives the legal recognition of important rights like nationality, relationship, the rights of children to demand parents comply with obligations, and the recognition of the rights of citizenship.

Unfortunately for that "fundamental human right", the RNP will not issue identity cards to transgendered individuals in their new identity. If you were registered at birth with the RNP as male, and you show up for your identity card photo dressed female, they will refuse to take your picture or to issue you an identity card. If you've plucked your eyebrows, they won't issue one as a male, either.

Honduran law has no support for the changing of identities. It has no support for changing names.

It's not that it's illegal, it's just not possible.

You are who and what your registration at birth says you are. The law of the Registro Nacional de Personas spells out the kinds of changes it is able to register. There is no law for the registration of changes of identity or gender. Being transgendered is inconceivable, and hence not possible under the existing law, written in 2004.

In Honduras gender and chromosomal sex are irretrievably linked and frozen in law at the registration of one's birth. Names are also frozen.

Even what Honduran authorities call hermaphrodites (better described today as intersex) people, born with genitalia that differ from expectations of normative male or female, are registered with a fixed gender of male or female at birth. In Honduras, an intersexed person can elect to have plastic surgery to establish a gender identity; but that identity is chosen for them by a chromosomal and medical exam deciding which sex is more completely expressed in the individual. Their choice of identity, their sense of themselves, does not enter into the decision.

And the imposition of state authority on the most intimate aspect of a person's identity doesn't stop there. Postsurgical intersex persons may be issued a new birth certificate by the hospital. However, the RNP does not recognize these new birth certificates for the purpose of establishing identity.

Likewise, transgendered individuals in Honduras may have plastic surgery to change their gender, and be issued new birth certificates. Again , the RNP does not recognize these changes, and refuses to issue new identity cards, other than cards describing the person they were at birth.

As the RNP correctly notes, a person without an identity in Honduras card cannot vote. They cannot get a drivers license. They cannot register a gun, attend university, leave the country, or open a bank account. This has immense implications for the lives of transgendered people. Because they cannot get an identity card that aligns with their actual personhood, they are open to being detained and harassed by the police. They can't get jobs, because you must have an identity card to work and pay taxes. This can limit their choice to illegal jobs, or to sex work. They may have to hide their gender identity in order to live and work legally. Honduras gives them no other choices.

There are people in Honduras trying to change these facts. The Violeta Collective, interviewed today in La Tribuna, provides a public face for this movement. Meanwhile, Honduras remains a deadly place to be trans-, gay, or bi-sexual.

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