By Arian Kajtezovic, Trans Aid, Croatia.
April 21, 2014: Four years ago, a 14-year-old boy and his mother began fighting for his right to live like any other teenager. He was as his peers in many ways, except that his important papers, such as his birth certificate, marked him as female. Thanks in part to hormone therapy, friends and strangers alike knew him as the boy he really was. But to the government, his school, and the medical system he was marked as a girl. Fortunately, he was luckier than most trans* youth in Croatia as his mother supported him and dedicated her life to fighting for her son’s right to live in accordance with his gender identity.
When the mother and son requested from authorities the change from “female” to “male” in all his documents, their requests were rejected. While Croatian law at the time mandated only that “appropriate medical documentation” was needed to change the gender marker, authorities freely interpreted “documentation” to mean proof of undergoing an irreversible, risky, invasive, sterilizing genital surgery.
The mother-son team lived through years of legal déjà vu, filing complaint after complaint, only to see them rejected. But, last week was a banner week for trans* rights: India’s Supreme Court recognized transgender people as a third gender and after over three grueling years in court, The Ministry of Public Administration declared that the boy's documents would finally reflect his true gender, making him the first person in Croatia to change their legal gender without surgery.
As one of few organizations in the Western Balkans committed to advancing trans* rights, Trans Aid in Croatia was formed amidst this struggle, in February 2012. We followed his case closely and welcome this historic decision. The decision also propels with our advocacy work to revise the overall requirements for official “change of sex or live in a different gender identity.” Though current regulations explicitly state that medical treatment such as hormone therapy and surgery cannot be mandated preconditions for legal gender recognition, the policy is not practiced by authorities.
For safety reasons, I can’t share the boy’s real name. Unfortunately, like other news about trans* rights, his case didn’t get sufficient media attention. Croatia, like many other places, has a very narrow view of sex and gender – based solely on genitals and/or chromosomes. Those who don’t conform are denied basic rights and face violence. In such a patriarchal, predominantly Catholic society, this rigid definition makes it dangerous to be trans*, inter and gender-variant.
In 2013, a girl who was kissing her girlfriend was beaten by a taxi driver, who claimed he thought she was a drunk man as an attempt to exonerate himself. In 2012, there were two cases of severe beatings of a gay couple and a lesbian couple beaten because they were perceived as being gay. Another incident occurred where a youth forcibly undressed another youth in an attempt to “determine” his sex and “prove” he’s not male. Witnesses in all incidents did not react.
Anyway we look at it, these and other examples are condemning evidence of the fact that if someone’s sex, gender, sexual orientation, or gender expression does not fit in the black and white world of “male” and “female,” people react with violence. The longer we stick to such rigid gender norms, the longer we will condone violent behavior – and expect it, particularly from men.
With the recent surge of right wing conservatism in Croatia and throughout Eastern and Western Europe, public education on equality as a collective issue is needed more than ever. We must broaden solidarity, strengthen our communities, and break down the barriers that gender norms create.
Trans Aid Croatia calls for a free, just and solidarity society in which the right to self-determination of sex and gender is a fundamental value. Trans Aid defines sex as a physical concept of oneself, and gender as a concept of oneself in a social context, thus recognizing the right to free expression of one’s sex/gender identity and valuing each identity equally.