Judge damns home affairs for being so tardy about changing ID and passport
It cost R340 000 of her savings to get gender-reassignment surgery in Thailand, but two years later a woman from Johannesburg still has a “male” passport and ID.
The 48-year-old Ann (her pseudonym) told City Press’ sister publication Rapport on Friday that she now feels fulfilled as a woman and is physically totally transformed, “but to say that I’m happy, would be a strong word”.
That’s because she is still humiliated on a daily basis by having to explain to people, such as couriers, bank officials and authorities, why she does not look like the man on her ID, which was issued in 1988.
In 2015 Ann applied to home affairs to have her gender changed and to have a new passport issued, but the department refused to issue a passport while the gender-change application was still pending.
Her attorney, Elmarie Erasmus, of Clarks Attorneys in Sandton, brought an urgent application in 2017 against home affairs, because Ann needed a new passport for her operation in Thailand.
Erasmus said such operations were unaffordable in South Africa and that there was a long waiting list of patients.
Ann could not pass up the opportunity of undergoing a scheduled operation in Thailand by one of a few experts in this field in the world.
At the time the doctor had conducted about 2 000 such operations.
Ann approached the Pretoria High Court. Judge Stephens Thobane ordered the home affairs department to change Ann’s gender on the birth register, to change her ID and urgently issue a passport.
Home affairs had argued that Ann would be recognised as a man until the gender-reassignment process had been completed.
They did not want to issue a new passport for a woman in Ann’s name.
Instead, they renewed her “male” passport for her flight on August 21 2017.
An accompanying letter explained to customs officials why Ann’s appearance did not match that of the person on her male passport.
“I used my entire life savings for this operation. Thereafter I had to stay in Thailand for a few weeks to recover,” said Ann.
In 2017 the home affairs department applied for leave to appeal the previous judgment.
In May this year, Thobane gave his reasons for the previous order, criticising the department of home affairs’ lax attitude towards Ann.
Thobane said home affairs could not reach into the privacy of people’s homes with its legislative tentacles.
“The department has to realise that the public has rights and that it has to protect people’s freedom of choice,” he said.
Erasmus said they would now write to home affairs to determine whether the department still planned to proceed with the appeal.
“Ann’s life is still on hold, because she still does not have the correct documents.”
Ann, who works in the technology and marketing sector, said she knew she was “different” when she was a little boy in primary school.
“I identified with the girls more and we were best friends.”
In her family it was a given that she would go to a boys’ school as a teenager, where she matriculated.
She hid her inner struggle.
“I was a good chameleon and I could act. I was wacky.”
After school she attained more freedom to live the way she wanted, because “long hair and make-up was not unusual among the Goths”.
“I picked up a lot of hobbies to try to distract myself. I paint, draw, write, cook, garden, play in a band and I’m a tattoo artist.”
“In my twenties and thirties I did well commercially and that was also a good distraction. But you can live with a secret like that for only so long.”
As an adult male Ann was married to a woman for 12 years.
“I married her partly because I loved her so much and partly as a distraction from the struggle over my being. A marriage was also what society expected.”
“She knew I was different, but she didn’t realise the full extent of the implications. Today we still speak now and then.”
As a woman she is now in a romantic relationship again but doesn’t want to say anything more about it.
With her attorneys’ letter, she’s since been able to fly to Hong Kong and Vietnam on her mismatched passport.
But when a courier would not allow her to sign for her bank card, she was despondent. When traffic officers ask her for her driver’s licence, she has to convince them to let her go.
“I could always talk myself out of it. I was loud enough.”
In May Thobane ruled that the department’s delay in deciding about Ann’s sex change is reviewable administrative action.
There are scores of judgments about state officials who neglected to perform their lawful functions, or who are tardy in doing so.
The department simply failed to make a decision, the judge ruled.
He said there was no legal impediment to changing Ann’s status to that of a woman.