#LGBTILife: The reality of one woman’s journey for a name change in South Africa

The Minister of Home Affairs, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, recently met with various Trans Activist Coalition groups in order to improve service delivery and policy development. The meeting followed several complaints about the experience of the Home Affairs system from Trans people. We spoke to Avalon Keys, a 25-year-old language and Life Orientation educator from the Eastern Cape about her year long battle to change her name.

What were your initial thoughts after hearing about this meeting? 

I have been held back by second-class treatment from the Department of Home Affairs (DHA). The DHA keeps having meetings with advocacy groups like Gender Dynamix and Iranti with no improvement. After one meeting I completed a questionnaire. It said if it takes longer than eight weeks they will try to fast-track it. But people have been waiting for two years. I applied in October last year, and the excuse of the pandemic slowing things down does not add up.

Tell us about your experience following up on the application? 

I couldn’t use public transport when lockdown started. I paid R200 when using Uber to  go collect my identity document. The DHA said this service would still run. I was told to come back after lockdown by dismissive staff. Two doctors’ letters are needed for the gender marker change. We are not experiments. Here I am talking to you. I am a real, living and breathing person. 

I contacted the manager of the DHA branch in Port Elizabeth multiple times to no response. My application still hasn’t been processed. A friend suggested contacting a politician but nothing came of it.

What has been your experience with Home Affairs officials? 

One man at the Port Elizabeth branch of the DHA was kind, he said he helps Trans people regularly. One woman seemed standoffish. Luckily, no one was openly transphobic toward me. 

There is no clarity on the procedure as it is uncommon. I haven’t done the gender marker change application yet. I was told I cannot do it simultaneously with my name change. It is so counter-productive. I had my documents,  you need two letters from two medical professionals who have treated you during your medical transition. The Wynberg branch in Cape Town is apparently quite progressive and my friend had her paperwork sorted swiftly.  There is no consistency with Home Affairs branches and procedural affairs. 

Biases prevent people from actually doing their jobs – Like Life Orientation  teachers who don’t teach comprehensively. You shouldn’t be in a job that goes against your so-called morals and values.

This is more about being dissatisfied with a service right?

I am angry. Trans people  may even start a class-action lawsuit against the DHA. It is an indictment on the Constitutional provisions. People’s biases inhibit our quality of life. I don’t get jobs with a decent salary to contribute to the economy.  People see a woman, and then my documents don’t match. I can’t sign up to job portals because they use the ID number to correlate the gender ticked on the website. There is a shortage of teachers in South Africa but I can’t even get a new ID.  I deserve and demand to be affirmed legally. I feel like going overseas after I get my name change. 

Read more: Being transgender in SA: “People have identified me as different…”

What would you change if you were in a government job to help Trans folks? 

Training for staff immediately. Constitutional processes exist. The Trans Activist Coalition brought up the wording of the Amendments to the Alteration of Sex Description and Sex Status Act 49 of 2003. The wording  states you have to undergo a medical transition. That is ambiguous because then people expect that you had “the surgery”. Hormones are a medical transition, but try telling that to the ill-informed DHA. You can’t get gainful employment, and surgery when the waiting list is 25 years long. How can people get jobs and surgery when their names and gender markers don’t align? They need to have the surgery according to some people when that is not what the law states. There is inconsistency with the application and interpretation. Having to have the surgery defeats the idea that gender is self-determined. 

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