“The great thing about having changed my ID is that I no longer have to explain to other people whether the person on my ID is me.”
This is how Huang Wei-chen (黃瑋晨) sums up changing the gender on his national identification card from female to male. It is reflected in the last word of the new name he has chosen for himself, chen (晨), which means “dawn,” and signifies the start of his new life.
Huang was able to apply for the change after obtaining the required documents: two psychiatrists’ diagnoses and proof of undergoing gender confirmation surgery, the latter of which has been debated in Taiwan for more than a decade.
Photo: Taipei Times
Discussion of the issue in Taiwan has intensified after a landmark court ruling in September last year allowed a transgender woman, who goes by the name “Siao E” (小E), to change the gender on her ID card without proof of surgery, the first such case in the country.
Despite undergoing surgery himself, Huang said that he supports removing the surgery requirement, which is also advocated by LGBTQ rights groups.
“Other people should not determine what you have to do to qualify as your gender identity,” he said.
Huang’s dislike of wearing traditionally feminine clothing started when he was young, the 34-year-old said in an interview with the Central News Agency, recounting feeling intense discomfort over having to wear a dress to preschool and crying over being forced to do so.
He said he began cutting his hair short as a teenager, which angered his mother, and when he moved away from home to university, he began wearing a chest binder because it made him feel more comfortable.
At the time, he did not have the vocabulary to describe his situation.
“I just liked wearing male clothing. I wished I had been born a boy, but I didn’t know what to do about it. I hated my body,” he said.
Getting chest reconstruction surgery after graduation brought him one step closer to achieving the body he had always wanted. Afterward, while researching how he could change the gender on his ID card, he came across the term “transgender,” and realized that the description fit.
In all, it took Huang a little more than a year to obtain the necessary documents to change his ID, which he said is uncommonly fast.
As stipulated in a directive issued by the Ministry of the Interior in 2008, transgender people need two psychiatric evaluations to change the gender on their ID card.
They also have to present proof of having undergone gender confirmation surgery: removing their breasts, uterus and ovaries for transgender men, and removing their penis and testicles for transgender women.
Typically, transgender people have to find two psychiatrists who issue a gender incongruence diagnosis and recommend gender reassignment surgery before doctors consider performing the surgery, Huang said.
The process can be complicated by many factors, Huang said.
Transgender people who live in places with fewer medical resources have to find doctors whose skills they can trust and who understand their situation to get suitable treatment, which Huang said was a challenge for him.
There are also instances when a psychiatrist is only willing to recommend surgery after a transgender person starts hormone therapy and “adjusts well” to living life as the gender they identify with, sometimes for several years.
However, if the patient reports incidents such as facing discrimination or bullying at work, a psychiatrist might see this as the patient being unable to adjust, even though it is society that is unable to adjust, Huang said.
During the period between starting hormone therapy and being able to change his ID, Huang, who works in the tech industry, said he encountered many problems going about his daily life, because his appearance and his voice had already begun changing.
“I had to go to the bank to pay off my car loan, and I couldn’t do it, because they didn’t believe I was the person on [my ID card]. Numerous employees, even a supervisor, came to try to confirm my identity and made me sign a pile of documents to prove that I wasn’t a mule or laundering money,” he said.
He also faced issues when traveling for work, as hotel employees would insist that he was not the person listed on the reservation.
Huang said he might not have rushed to undergo surgery if it were not a requirement to obtaining an ID change, and he firmly believes it is unnecessary for a transgender person to undergo surgery to qualify as the gender they identify with.
“I am extremely lucky to have the money, the time and friends and family who supported and took care of me when I went through the surgeries. Many people don’t have that,” he said.
Instead of forcing transgender people to complete certain things to correct the gender on their ID, “we should be telling them that if there are parts of you that you aren’t happy with, you can change them, but you aren’t obligated to. You can decide how you want to look,” he said.
Hsu Chih-yun (徐志雲), a psychiatrist and chairperson of the Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association, said there are many reasons transgender people might not wish to undergo gender confirmation surgery, or are unable to do so immediately.
They might have a health condition that makes surgery inadvisable, or they want to have children, which would be complicated by surgery, Hsu said.
Cost is another factor. Gender confirmation surgery is not covered by the National Health Insurance and can range from NT$30,000 to NT$45,000 for transgender women, and NT$150,000 to NT$800,000 for transgender men, Hsu wrote in course materials for government employees in 2020.
Hsu said that not all transgender people dislike their reproductive anatomy and the surgery requirement fails to consider those who do not identify as male or female.
Last year’s landmark ruling said that the Ministry of Health and Welfare already in 2013 concluded that the requirement should be removed, and referred the issue to the Ministry of the Interior.
However, the government has not taken much action on the issue since then, said Neil Pan (潘天慶), one of the attorneys who represented Siao E in court and an executive director at the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights.
An official change to the law might be on the horizon, as judges presiding over a lawsuit filed by Wu Yu-hsuan (吳宇萱), who was also denied a change to her ID card because she did not submit proof of surgery, decided to file for a constitutional interpretation on the issue in December last year.
Pan said he thinks it is likely that the Constitutional Court would strike down the surgery requirement, as it clearly contravenes human rights, but when the ruling would be finalized and how specific the judges would be in laying out new guidelines to change the gender on your ID are still up in the air.
He called on cisgender people, who are the majority in society, to support transgender people in their fight for equal rights, as the support of heterosexual people was crucial in the passing of Taiwan’s same-sex marriage law in 2019.
By learning more about transgender issues, people will realize that the fear surrounding transgender people is groundless, he said.
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