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Sex change conundrum

Update: February, 06/2013 - 00:00

by Khanh Van

A recent proposal by southern Binh Phuoc Province's authorities to revoke a decision to recognise a local teacher as a female after he was born a male and had a sex change operation has caused an outcry.

Pham Van Hiep, who was born as an intersex, had the sex change operation in Thailand four years ago.

"Intersex" is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn't seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.

Hiep got the permission from Chon Thanh District's People's Committee to redefine his sex from male to female, with his named changed to Pham Le Quynh Tram.

However, a month ago, local media reported the provincial Justice Department and People's Committee wanted to review the district's decision, stating it went against legal procedures.

The department said Hiep was born a male and there had been no legal proof that he was an intersex. It also said the clinic where Hiep had his medical tests was not licensed for the purpose by the Ministry of Health as ruled in Government Decree No 88, which governs the intersex situation.

The department failed to state that there was no clinic or hospital in the country licensed for the purpose.

What incensed the public, including me, was that such a review was planned after such a long time, considering that Tram is living happily with her changed sex after all the difficulties she has had to endure.

Tram said she suffered physical and mental anguish and discrimination in order to live as her true self.

If she had not changed her gender, she would have undergone even more pain.

"At puberty, my body changed as a woman. My breast grew. I was very frightened and did not tell anyone," she said.

Tram developed an inferiority complex from being bisexual and failed to make friends. She said she cried like a baby the day she received the decision to be legally recognised as female.

"That was my wish for a long time and I could not believe that it had finally come true. I cannot express how happy I am to live with my true self," she said.

If the decision is revoked, Tram would be recognised as Hiep, a male, again. It is difficult to imagine what it would be like to be in the shape of a woman but being legally identified as a man.

Tram said she felt very sad and disappointed at the proposal.

Luckily, she has received a lot of support from the public, who know that Tram is not the only case.

"Netizens" have set up an online society entitled "Advocates for teacher Pham Le Quynh Tram" to appeal for support for Tram and for opposition to Binh Phuoc's proposal.

On Facebook, many young people wrote letters calling for the online community to use the avatar with the six-colour flag, which reflects the diversity of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community to support Tram and others like her.

Although the decision to recognise female sex for Tram may be technically outside the law, it was not her fault.

Tram did not know the medical centre at which she underwent medical tests to redefine her gender from male to female was not authorised to carry them out. That shortcoming was the fault of the agency involved and those responsible for disseminating law information?

It should be noted that in the four years since decree 88 regulating gender change for intersex people took effect, Tram is the only case to apply for legal recognition of her gender redefinition.

This may be because there is no hospital or clinic in the country licensed to redefine the gender for people.

Many intersex people have undergone surgery to redefine their genders but don't not know how to get legally recognised, a source of great stress.

Luong The Huy, a researcher working for the Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment, said some intersex people who underwent operations could not buy airline tickets because their physical appearance did not fit their legal identity.

"They must travel by coach or train, wasting a lot of time," Huy said.

He said the authorities involved in Tram's case should not revoke the previous decision, otherwise it would discourage other intersex people.

Meanwhile, the Judicial Ministry's Department of Judicial Administration has responded to the public concern.

Department head Tran That said: "We propose to keep the current identity for Tram if we see the gender redefinition was a legitimate need and it helps her lead a better life."

He admitted that the current regulations remained inflexible and that people like Hiep had the right to change gender.

We hope That will keep his promise to fight for Tram's right and to push for necessary legal protection for this vulnerable group. — VNS

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