Traveling can be one of the most favourite things that people do. Traveling can give you the opportunity to know diverse societies and cultures, therefore help you to be more open-minded. Generally, there are also obstacles that one may find in traveling, such as: limited funds, clashing availability of dates and time to take the trip, language barriers in place of destination, and also stuff like dietary preferences, etc. One can resolute these obstacles with adequate savings, time management, language tools/guide services, and strategic planning in itinerary and good mapping on places to eat. But, there is one traveling obstacle that cant be fixed with just good budget management and internet-surfing. This obstacle is frequently faced by many trans people in their travels, especially if going abroad. It is an obstacle to have acknowledgement of their gender identity in their passport.
The gender marker in our passport is a little section in the passport that shows one’s birth-assigned sex. As an Indonesian, our passport showed L/M for men, and P/F for women. And because there is not yet a legal gender recognition for trans people as a gender identity, therefore no trans can be documented as their preferred gender. Unless, they have undergone a gender-affirmative surgery, then they can be assigned as per their genital-surgery change, otherwise no. And as a transgender woman who hasn’t had a gender-affirmative surgery, I’m not able to change my gender marker to my desired gender identity. And so this has become my major obstacle in traveling overseas.
So what is a legal gender recognition? It is a policy where a country can allow its citizens to change their gender marker according to their desired and identified gender. While many countries already have such legislation, most countries still require people to undergo sex reassignment surgery, thus forcing people to sterilize themselves just to change their gender column in their ID documents. Argentina, for example, is a country where it allows its citizens to change their gender without forced sterilization and without being diagnosed as mentally ill.
Back to the traveling. As you all know, traveling requires people to have a legal document to bring along in any foreign countries, such as: passport and visa. To make a passport in Indonesia, we need to go to the immigration department and submit an application along with our key documents (ID card, birth certificate and family card). These documents shows the alignment of one’s sex identity, not gender. We need to understand the difference between sex and gender identity. In a simplified definition, sex refers to your genital and biological features. While gender is an abstract concept that is felt within every individual about one’s sense of being male or female, or both or neither and almost has no connection with your genitalia. Because, gender is actually a social construction created by society and culture on what gender roles prescribed towards male or female.
Many might have their sex and gender identity aligned, for instance: born with female genitals, and is comfortable and chooses to opt a female gender as their identity. But, there are others that did not felt as parallel as that. Others, like myself, who was born with male genitals, and chose to have comfort as a female as my gender identity, which makes me a trans woman.
So with the state’s absence of legal gender recognition for trans people, I face countless shaming of ignorant and unaware officials every single time at immigration. I, for one, have already align my gender identity with the way I express my self in attire, hair, and makeup. Its always annoying when an official asks questions like, “errrr, ma’am your sex is written as male, isn’t this wrong?” and then, I would explain to the official that I’m a trans woman, and the official would go bonkers and be like, “How on earth you become like this?” or some would be super fake and condescending and be like, “you have such radiant skin, which doctor do you go to?”. When not in the mood, in responding the latter, I would be like, “can you just do your job and help me finish my passport? Thank you”.
Another thing in traveling abroad as a trans, regards Visa. Applying a visa is quite a challenge for trans people as well. When I was living in Thailand, I had a smooth experience applying my visa there. The embassy staff were friendly, perhaps due to larger and more visible numbers of trans people in Thailand. While in Indonesia….hmm… it also depends on which country you are applying the visa for. For example, once, I applied for a Chinese tourist visa at the China Visa Service, in Jakarta. I experienced double the trouble! perhaps china is similar like Indonesia on their stance towards trans, that is, have not yet recognized us as the another type of gender, the transgenders. And so, the officer in charge was so shock, he can’t even handle my documents adequately and referred me to his manager, whom also referred me back to the embassy staff in charge. So, during the process, they informed me that I should come back the next day to be interviewed by an embassy staff to explain my “conditions”. My “conditions”? And what kind of “conditions” do they think I have? I was offended, humiliated, and angry. I left the China Visa Service office feeling outraged and told the visa guy that ‘I have never had any problem as hurtful as this in any other country before, just so you know!”. So, the next day, I came and explained to them about my ‘condition’, the condition that relates to reasons that I have made in choosing my desired gender identity. And, after hearing my emphasis, they eventually gave me the visa.
Traveling should be an exciting period of time to look forward to in your calendar. But, as a trans woman in Indonesia, its always a state of distress and concern first, and then eventually fun. Looking forward for a comprehensive gender sensitive Indonesia!