Tomorrow the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and their supporters will take to the streets for the Sixth Taiwan Pride Parade. Last year’s LGBT parade was reportedly the largest in Asia, attracting more than 15,000 people, which demonstrates a growing awareness of the marginalization of these groups.
However, although Taiwan’s homosexual community has made great strides, the transgender, and specifically transsexual, community still has a long way to go in gaining acceptance.
Last October, the Ministry of the Interior issued an executive order that female-to-male (FTM) transsexuals cannot change their national ID cards until they have fully transitioned from one gender to another, in other words, completed genital reconstruction.
The revision was a huge step backwards because the old rule stated that transsexuals were only required to go through the first two stages: removal of the inner reproductive organs and breasts. The decision would be hilarious — there are “ordinary” men without penises — if it didn’t have such far-reaching implications for transsexuals.
Responding to complaints by activists, Household Registration Department official Lin Yu-hsi (林佑熹) told a press conference on Wednesday that the order was the result of an inquiry from a household registration office in Taitung County.
“We contacted the Department of Health [DOH], and we replied [to the inquiry] according to the DOH’s response,” he said.
This is passing the buck on to another ministry — and one generally accepting of the transsexual community. What the order really seems to revolve around is the issue of compulsory military service, which is relevant when a person changes his ID from female to male. Before the executive order was sent out, a doctor’s certificate was enough for a transsexual to change an ID without having to perform military service.
The revision adds unnecessary stress to a group that is already greatly marginalized. For starters, the transition time includes a procedure taking around two years and costing NT$400,000; completing sex reassignment surgery can take more than three years and cost upwards of NT$800,000 — a staggering amount of money for many in the transsexual community.
This makes, for example, finding a job extremely difficult, because as soon as an employer notices the discrepancy between a person’s appearance and the gender listed on an ID card, the likelihood of getting a job is greatly reduced.
It also does nothing to reduce tremendous family pressures to be “normal” — not to mention that many parents blame themselves for not raising their children properly.
This raises another issue. Outside the psychiatric sector, there is only one support group in Taiwan, the Taipei-based TG Butterfly Garden (台灣TG蝶園), for the transgender community. Although it has been around for eight years, it has yet to acquire non-governmental organization status because doing so requires that members reveal their identity, something many are reluctant to do because of prejudice and invasive regulations. Consequently, the transgender community and their families in central and southern Taiwan have had little choice but to rely on the telephone or Internet as a means of support.
Although this weekend celebrates Taiwan’s gender and sexual diversity, the interior ministry continues to marginalize the transsexual community through a ridiculous rule. Hopefully, the ministry will keep its word, reverse its policy and remove the cloud hanging over this weekend’s parade.