Transgender worker ‘wanted to cut off penis’

2010-07-23 13:43

Christine Ehlers, a transgender woman claiming she was unfairly dismissed from her company, tried to cut off her own penis when she was five, the Johannesburg Labour Court heard today.

Ehlers, previously known as Chris, testified she had a “very difficult” childhood and was depressed most of the time.

She said: “I knew there was something wrong with me and I couldn’t associate with other people because of my gender. I tried cutting off my own penis when I was five-years-old. At the age of five, I didn’t know what the problem was, but I knew there was something wrong.”

Ehlers was dismissed from steel company Bohler Uddeholm in Isando, Johannesburg, last year, where she worked as a sales representative.

She claims the company unfairly discriminated against her by dismissing her.

Her psychiatrist and sexologist Dr Bernard Levinson, who diagnosed her with being a transsexual “trapped in the wrong body”, testified earlier that the 43-year-old Ehlers suffered from a “biological syndrome” and was in fact a woman in a male body.

Levinson said: “That is such a strange situation. The fact that she has a penis, that’s so bizarre. That doesn’t make her a male. What makes her a male is her whole personality.

“A persona inside that’s masculine. She doesn’t have that. She has a feminine persona. She is a woman. She is a woman with a disadvantage of having male genitalia that has to be removed, and a vagina has to be created.”

In his 30 years as a sexologist, he had diagnosed and treated over 100 people who suffered from this condition, of which he said one in 2 500 people suffered.

He said: “We know that it is a biological thing. They are being born this way. It is not a whim or a ploy, or something that will pass, a phase in their lives.”

He told the court a transsexual person had to be under his observation for two years, functioning completely as a woman, before he could give a surgeon permission to go ahead with the final operation.

He said: “I would like them to dress and function as a woman to know whether they would be able to really manage this. Is this a reality or are we going to play some kind of a sad game?”

He said he was surprised to learn that Ehlers “was masquerading as a male to satisfy her work world, although her boss clearly knew she would inevitably dress as a woman”.

Levinson said Ehlers was a classical transgender patient, who always believed she was a woman.

“Her nursery teacher would tell the class ‘all the boys stand against this wall, and all the girls against the other wall’, and she would ask: ‘what about me? Where should I stand?’,” he said.

He said Ehlers was discriminated against and rejected throughout her life and felt angry and depressed.

She was happy that she was at last going to have the final operation to realise her “life-long dream” of becoming a woman, but fell into a deep depression when she was denied this because of her dismissal from the company.

Ehlers was dismissed after rejecting an offer to take up a freelance sales position.

The post was offered to her in an attempt to separate her from other staff at the company, to resolve bitter squabbles in the sales department.

Ehlers had laid a grievance against a sales clerk, Natasha Alves (22) after Alves had sent her an sms reading: “I will never have respect for a low-class woman wannaB”, after Ehlers apparently parked her in.

She later laid a grievance against Alves’ mother and superior at the company, Fatima Lage, after an argument they had.

She accused Lage of calling her “immoral”.

She was dismissed after the second grievance. 

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