Wednesday, 2 August 2006

The Great Passport Fiasco : August 2nd Edition

It didn't start well.

I phoned my case officer, who'd just returned from Sick leave (and sounded like it).
He was totally courteous, but it didn't take mental telepathy to figure out that he just really, really, really wished he'd never been put in this position, with the Nightmare Client From Hell.

His tones were clipped, monotone, even curt. But under the circumstances, it would have taken someone Superhuman to be bright and cheerful. First day back, still feeling like Used Food, and who should call but the NCFH. I'd be peeved at the Universe too, wishing this unpleasant nuisance would just evaporate and stop making my life miserable. Nothing personal. And I must emphasise, his demeanour was always courteous and throughly professional. Just letting a bit of Humanity show through.

So I went in to the APO.. and this time, I got very quick service, no more long waits, looks like a lot of people had come back from sick leave (a nasty virus is just burning itself out here - I had the same thing awhile ago).

I also got another apology about yesterday's unfortunate events, from one of the counter staff. It really was just one of those things that sometimes happen, primary, secondary and tertiary backups momentarily called away to an impromptu meeting. Basically only a minor example of Murphy's Law, but the counter staff still felt the need to apologise. Such things happen everywhere, but they try to be a bit more professional than that.

She obviously felt as bad about it as I did, and that, oddly enough, made me feel better, which made her feel better, so all was well. Humans are funny creatures.

I was given a choice of who I wanted to see - the Office Manager, or my Case Officer. That was nice of them too, so I left it up to them. The Case Officer it was, the first time we'd ever met face-to-face.

I wasn't what he expected.

That was a middle-aged "Man", just starting transition, and worse, from the APO's viewpoint, trying to Rort the System and being thoroughly obnoxious. Only been on Hormones since about October, there'd be few visible changes.

Instead, there was a plain but utterly unremarkable woman, one who'd had a Bad Hair Day, just so incredibly vanilla and ordinary. Then she addressed him in a normal Contralto voice, the one he'd heard over the phone. Yes, this was Her. Him. Her. Oh HECK!

Again, it doesn't take a mind-reader. One of the many things I like about being myself at last is that Body Language is so obvious now.

So I showed the documentation. The very nice letter from my PhD supervisor that laid it on with a trowel, how overseas travel was neccessary to complete my PhD, that I'd be working on a project that could save lives, etc etc. Too bad I couldn't embed a MIDI of violins playing "Hearts and Flowers" into a paper document, it would have been appropriate.

Then a printout of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme webpage, showing code 1269T and what it meant.

Then the piece de resistance : the letter, with a nice friendly Australian Government - Medicare Australia letterhead. The one addressed to me, and confirming both my sex as F, and that I was being given treatment for 1269T, "Moderate to Severe Androgenisation of a non-pregnant woman".

I mentioned casually (HA!) a few things. That as far as I was concerned, I'd let DFAT and the Department of Health fight it out amongst themselves. I also mentioned that I'd retained my Security Clearance, the Defence Department were happy that they knew my Identity, it might be 2 against 1.

I also mentioned in passing, that on the subject of Clearances, I'd worked on the Australian Diplomatic Communications Network for DFAT, perhaps they could check their own records there.

I pointed to myself, and asked if there was any country in the world whose immigration officers would credit that I could have a valid passport for a 48 year old Male. Even when coming back to Australia, might it not cause just a few teeny problems? Especially when they cross-checked vs the Medicare Data?

The Case Officer rather apologetically pointed out that according to the Manual of Australian Passport Issue (MAPI) they couldn't change gender unless I'd had sex reassignment surgery (SRS).

I replied that according to this official Australian Government document, the only SRS I could have was... Female to Male.

His face fell.

He was convinced. So was the counter officer. She said
"So because you're an Australian citizen, you can't get a visa for your UK passport, and without an Australian passport, you can't re-enter the country. And if you weren't a Citizen, you could.
"That's right", I said, "I can't re-enter because I'm an Australian Citizen".
"When you say it like that.. that's really Crazy."

"Yes, it is, isn't it."

Well, the case officer is going to forward the additional documents up the chain of command, plus some sort of report I should imagine, pointing out the enormous potential for Egg On Face, Inter-Departmental Warfare, and if he has any nous, that the client concerned showed some determination and dogged persistence. She wasn't going to let this go. She couldn't - she had to go overseas soon for medical treatment. Her back was to the wall.

But from the worried look on his face, I don't think he expects any rational or sensible answer. Just a repeat : "No, Never, Under No Circumstances".

He did mention the possibility of a "Document of Identity", a kind of travel document that isn't a passport, but would allow re-entry. And it doesn't have the gender marked on. On it's own, nearly useless, most countries wouldn't accept it. But in conjunction with a UK passport to get me into other countries, a reasonable compromise.

It would solve the short-term problems, and if this is all they offer me, I'll take it alright. But I'll also start the appeals process going, and maybe we can get the Manual of Australian Passport Issue updated to the 21st century. You see, I have had legal advice (free) through the Postgraduate Students Association's tame Lawyer, and I know just exactly which law it's covered under - the ADMINISTRATIVE DECISIONS (JUDICIAL REVIEW) ACT 1977 - SECT 5 Subsections 1.e and the following from subsection 2:
(2) The reference in paragraph (1)(e) to an improper exercise of a power shall be construed as including a reference to:

(a) taking an irrelevant consideration into account in the exercise of a power;
What my Gender Was, as opposed to Is Now
(b) failing to take a relevant consideration into account in the exercise of a power;
The Medicare Australia letter showing that I'm female, and (what the heck, why not?) my UK passport likewise.
(c) an exercise of a power for a purpose other than a purpose for which the power is conferred;
The Australian Passports Act 2005 allows the obtaining of information for determining Identity and Citizenship. That's all. So the letter requiring the most personal and private gynacological medical data is beyond their authority.
(f) an exercise of a discretionary power in accordance with a rule or policy without regard to the merits of the particular case;
A lay-down Open Misere, I think, on this one. The Defence has always been "we must follow the MAPI, regardless". Well, not according to the Law they don't.
(g) an exercise of a power that is so unreasonable that no reasonable person could have so exercised the power;
I have yet to find anyone who believes the actions of the APO are reasonable. Not even people within the APO now.

Nothing is certain when it comes to Court. And I'd have to extract a decision in writing first, that might be tricky. But I'm happy that I have, not only a just case, but a winnable one, should it come to that.

And if they don't give me a full, 10-year passport, one marked "F", then we shall put it to the test.

Originally, the Manual of Australian Passport Issue's sections on Transsexuals were quite humane. They were the most humane they could be at the time they were drawn up, over 10 years ago, under the law as it stood. But now they have passed their "use by" date, and in conjunction with the laws since then, and (dare I say it), some less than sympathetic "Policy" decisions, have been used to oppress and humiliate Transsexuals and the Intersexed.

As one of the other PhD students remarked to me, "You're hoping they don't give it to you, aren't you?"

Well... not really. As long as I can get into the country without a problem. I'm no activist, and certainly no martyr to the cause.

OK, part of me is spoiling for a fight here. Because it's one I think I can win, and one where my rare medical condition may actually be useful in enabling reform.

But a bigger part of me just wants to be treated as a 2nd class citizen, and not a 3rd. 1st is too much to hope for in my lifetime, but eventually that, too. Me, I just want my passport, the one that the Australian Passports Act 2005 says is my legal right as an Australian Citizen.

It looks like I might be on 2XX Community radio on Wednesday, talking about this and other issues. You see, I'm a Wargamer from way back, and not the only one whose gender changed in the last decade. I had coffee with a woman I'd gamed against in years past, and she runs the regular 2XX "Q-Radio" programme. When I protested that I wasn't an Activist, she said "Yes you are. You're forced to be by the position you're in". And I had no good reply to that.

Changing perceived gender, I can handle. Had anyone told me 16 months ago that I would, I'd have said they were crazy of course. Impossible. But me, an Activist in The Cause? That is several light years beyond Impossible.

Oi Ve.

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