Wednesday, 26 July 2006

The Passport War : Return Salvo #1

The first of many Return Salvoes. This one aimed at the Minister.
The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP

Passport Application submitted June 2005

Dear Mr Downer,

I have just been informed via phone that the Australian Passport Office has refused my application for an Australian Passport.

In a nutshell, the problem appears to be the gender on the application - female.

I have provided the APO with the following, all originals delivered by myself direct to the APO Office in the R.G.Casey building in Canberra:

Citizenship certificate in my former name
Name Change Document (showing a male gender as that was on my unchangeable UK Birth certificate) showing both former and current names
Medicare Card in the name of Zoe Brain
Drivers License in the name of Zoe Brain
Photo Student ID in the name of Zoe Brain
Last year's tax return in the name of Zoe Brain
Medical letter stating Zoe Brain is undergoing hormone therapy
Letter from the Federal Attorney-General about my marital status to Ms Zoe Brain
Letter from my former place of work confirming my odd medical condition, and the radical changes that happened before any therapy commenced.
Bank statements in the name of Zoe Brain
Credit card Statement in the name of Zoe Brain
Letter of Offer for my PhD in the name of Zoe Brain
Expired Australian Passport showing a male gender and former name
Current UK passport showing a female gender in the name of Zoe Brain

Plus of course the passport application via Australia Post, deemed to be in order at a passport interview, with signed photograph and referee's declaration.

I have been informed that this data was still not sufficient to establish my Identity to your (that is, your Department's) satisfaction. The application had been submitted to "Policy" and that was their determination.

I will soon be submitting a letter from my PhD supervisor at the Australian National University pointing out the necessity of Overseas Travel for me to complete my studies.

I am currently awaiting documentary proof by Medicare Australia that I am considered medically female, and that I have been authorised treatment for the condition "Moderate to Severe Androgenisation of a non-pregnant female". This will also be submitted.

My condition has arisen as the result of a medical syndrome, and is not the result of surgery. In the words of one of the medical team treating me, I am "endocrinally odd".

In view of the determination by Medicare Australia that I am female - or at least, more female than male - and in view of the recently issued UK passport stating my female gender, and bearing in mind Section 30 of the Australian Passports Act 2005, to wit:

Giving false or misleading information in relation to Australian travel document applications

(1) A person commits an offence if:
(a) the person gives information to another person; and
(b) the information:
(i) is false or misleading; or
(ii) omits any matter or thing without which the information is misleading; and
(c) the information is given in, or in connection with, an application for an Australian travel document.

Penalty: Imprisonment for 10 years or 1,000 penalty units, or both.

Then I am unable to apply stating a different gender. Moreover, my travel will involve journeys to the US. Given my somatically female appearance, to attempt to enter the US on an Australian Passport with anything other than a Female gender would invite very unpleasant consequences. If I attempted to enter on my UK passport, they would have to ask for proof of authorisation to return to Australia, and I'd have to show my Australian passport, with the same dire result.

Returning to Australia with a passport marked with anything other than a female gender, while the most superficial check of my Medicare card would show a female gender, may also invite problems.

In view of these facts, I request that you personally intervene, and state that you are satisfied as to my Identity and Citizenship in accordance with my passport application.

Barring that, please send me a letter to the effect that although you are satisfied at to my Identity and Citizenship, it is not feasible for me to obtain an Australian Passport through normal means due to unresolvable questions regarding my gender. This would allow me to apply for an Australian Declaratory Visa from the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs.

Mr Downer, I have to travel overseas in November for specialist medical treatment unavailable in this country. Treatment I require to avoid a very real risk of cancer. As it is, I will be unable to return here to my home, and to my 5 year old son.

If the data I have already alluded to is not enough to establish to your satisfaction my Identity and Citizenship, then it is no exaggeration, and no hyperbole, to say that I am condemned to exile. And it's all the data I can provide.

Yours Sincerely,
Zoe Ellen Brain

Still to come: appeals to the Commonwealth Ombudsman, my local member, members of the ACT legislative assembly, I've given up on the Human Rights Commission but might hit them anyway (again), a senator who's a friend of the lawyer I'm getting advice from through the Postgrad Students Association. If I can get the APO to give me something in writing, an appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

I've already registered as an Australian Citizen through the Australian Embassy in Thailand, so may get some consular help through back doors. I'll be sending them an e-mail too. Even if I get no joy from the APO, I'll try to pursuade the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs to give me an Australian Declaratory Visa anyway. An e-mail to QANTAS about how to get "permission to board".

More countermeasures as I think of them. Having free legal services through the Postgraduate Students Association is a huge advantage too, it opens up all sorts of possibilities.

I recently had cause to review the hard data on Transsexual suicide. All sorts of figures have been bruted about. It's almost an article of faith that 50% commit suicide, and the figures in the 70's were undoubtedly higher than that. It's not that bad today though.

From King County Health
Both suicide attempts and completed suicides are common in transgendered persons. Studies generally report a pre-transition suicide attempt rate of 20% or more, with MTFs relatively more likely to attempt suicide than FTMs. There is some evidence that transsexual people are less likely to attempt suicide once they have completed the transition to the other sex.

Another form of self-harm in transgendered persons is genital mutilation. This is most common among transsexuals, although cross-dressers have done this as well. A 1984 study of a cohort of transgendered individuals who applied for services at gender identity clinics reported genital mutilation by 9% of the biologic males and breast mutilation was attempted by 2% of the biologic females.

From Google Answers:
5% of female-to-male transsexuals and 21% of male to female transsexuals have made a suicide attempt.
-- Source: The Great Divide (How Females & Males Really Differ) by Daniel Evan Weiss, drawn from data originally appearing in Archives of Sexual Behavior, December 1988 issue.

From Wikipedia :
Dutch researcher Peggy Cohen-Kettenis estimates that 40% of untreated transsexual people are either institutionalized or die prematurely.

From HIV Services Planning Council, Spring 2006 :
The medical terminology for transsexualism is Gender Identity Dysphoria, (GID).
As a group, people with GID have depression, low self esteem, high rates of un-employment or under employment, and a 30 to 50 percent suicide rate, one of the worst of any population subgroup in California.

Finally, one of the few pieces of hard data : the Official report Researching Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Issues in Northern Ireland :
The study carried out by Youthnet (Carolan and Redmond, 2003), commissioned by the Department of Education, involved a questionnaire survey and focus groups for young people.
A significant minority (29%) of young people who took part in the research had attempted suicide, and half of those who identified as transgendered had self-harmed.

More hard data : Medical Therapy and Health Maintenance for Transgender Men: A Guide For Health Care Providers:
Untreated transsexual patients have suicide rates as high as 20% while treated transmen have suicide rates of less than 1%.89,90 Interestingly, while in the general population, cisgender females attempt suicide more than twice as frequently as cisgender males, studies of transsexual patients show a higher number of suicide attempts in transgender females rather than transmen.91 It appears that in this psychological variable, transsexual women more closely resemble cisgender women and transsexual men more closely resemble cisgender men.

89 Lundstrom B, et al. “Outcome of sex reassignment surgery.” Acta Psychiat. Scandinavia. 70:289-294. 1984.
90 Kuiper, M and Cohen-Kettenis, P. “Sex reassignment surgery: A study of 141 Dutch transsexuals.” Archives of Sexual Behavior. 17(5):439-457. 1988.
91. Lundstrom, B, et al. “Outcome of sex reassignment surgery.” Acta Psychiat. Scandinavia. 70:289-294. 1984.

Basically the figures for Transsexual suicide rates are as rubbery as they are for the prevelance of Transsexuality generally. But no matter which set of figures you believe, they're pretty darned high. It's a deadly condition.

The thing though is..... if you've survived Transsexuality into your 40's without getting yourself killed, no mere bureaucratic persecution is going to phase you overmuch. Transsexuality may give you more determination, or it it may just be Evolution in Action : the old Nietzche bit, "what does not kill us makes us stronger". At Uni, I've been told that it's amazing how calmly and cooly I'm going about remedying this little problem of mine. I have to tell them that this stuff is nothing compared to living with Transsexuality every day. And it's true. It gives you a sense of perspective.

OK, tears, upset, anger. That's still there. But not enough to deter me from thinking about practical steps to remedy the situation. It's not even a "don't get mad, get even", just a calm, rational attempt at remedying a silly and intolerable situation, knowing that the odds are good, but being prepared for failure anyway.

Maybe we're a bit too calm and rational for our own good. Historically, Intersexed and Transsexed people have tried not to stand out, because standing out is dangerous. Maybe we should make a fuss. But if we did, would anyone care? We're just too embarressing.

Or maybe this is just good therapy, while I'm actually doing something practical to help, I don't worry quite so much.

Whatever. My brain works far better on this hormonal mix anyway, and if there's a way through this mess, I'll find it. You know what really helps though? The support I've had on various lists, in comments on this blog, and even blog articles such as this.

Thanks, everyone.

1 comment:

Barrie said...

You have my heartfelt support, Zoe. Now I know why 'A' became 'Z'!
The Department can infuriate anyone, so it's no wonder you cause its
computers to freeze. Read on.
A few years ago I took my old passport in, with its many international stamps
proving that it had been accepted as valid by Australia's equals overseas,
as intended.
I was in my 50s, having been born here and having had earlier passports.
They told me they couldn't give me a new passport without me getting a copy
of my birth certificate. I said in exasperation "Are you telling me that
you won't accept as identity the document you issued me with which YOU expected
other countries to accept for years? And are you telling me that you
prefer a simple piece of paper without any photo, from a state government,
easily forged, rather than your OWN document which you can see bears my photo?
The answer was, YES !!

There you have it.
I'm sure sanity will prevail eventually.
Good luck [which I don't believe in, actually],
so may I say, God bless.
God has 'a lot to answer for', but I believe He does have all
the answers, as He's really 'trans-sexual' Himself.

I'd be glad to discuss all THAT with you!
Best wishes
Barrie Wright