January 29, 2017
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO — A boy sits at the far end of a table, surrounded by four adults with a microphone. The camera recording the event shows only the back of the 9-year-old’s head as he answers questions during a nine-hour trial that came after he requested a formal name and gender change on his birth certificate.
“I felt rejected by people,” says J.C., who is now 11.
His mother, R.R., tells the panel that J.C. has behaved as she would expect a boy, not a girl, to behave from a young age. He preferred cars over dolls, she says, and wanted superhero pajamas. He didn’t want to wear bows.
“At first, I thought my daughter was a lesbian,” says R.R., who asked that her and her son’s initials be used to avoid discrimination.
But R.R. consulted with three different sexologists, and all three told her that her child is transgender. She began to research the topic and discovered Transfamilias, a nonprofit organization that offers assistance to transgender people. With Transfamilias, she says, she found moral and legal support for a trial.
In 2008, reforms to the Civil Code of Mexico City granted people the ability to seek, in court, a correction to the name and gender recorded on their birth certificates. By Aug. 31, 1,566 changes were registered, but not everyone was required to go through the same process.
Initially, two psychologists, physicians or sexual reassignment experts, including one who was in charge of approving the sexual reassignment process, needed to testify on behalf of the person requesting the change.
But trials are expensive, so in March 2015 the process of obtaining a name and gender change was switched from a court proceeding to an administrative one, says Alehlí Ordóñez Rodríguez, who provided legal support to organizations that encouraged the switch.
Backers of the change didn’t suggest a minimum age for the new process, so legislators set it at 18, the legal age of adulthood in Mexico. Minors are still required to go through a trial, including questioning by a judge and others. In total, seven children have been approved for a formal gender change through the trial process. Government officials say that, during the trial process, some minors have been denied their requests for a gender change, but they could not confirm the exact number.
Although legal proceedings can be lengthy and tedious, sexologist and psychotherapist David Barrios Martínez says, the process for a child who wants to change his or her gender identity can only be a positive experience.
“Having a document of identity, such as the birth certificate, has a beneficial effect for the child’s future,” he says.
Barrios, who provided medical testimony at J.C.’s trial, says the court proceeding has additional safeguards to ensure the child’s well-being, which include having the child testify in the presence of a psychologist and in a private room with a judge.
Miriam Ángel, president of Transfamilias, wants minors to be granted the right to request gender and name changes through the administrative process in Mexico City’s new constitution, which is set to be finalized this year. Ángel has lobbied people involved in writing the constitution to request that the change be included.
The change “involves a lot of steps, [such as] talking with institutions about any possible objections that might arise with this modification and arguing why the process is better than the trial,” Ordóñez says.
In December 2014, Ángel found two attorneys to work pro bono on J.C.’s case. R.R. says other attorneys would have charged her about 100,000 pesos ($4,818).
In May 2015, a judge granted J.C. a new birth certificate, and on it he’s listed as a male with a new name that he and his parents chose. He says it doesn’t bother him that he was questioned so intensely about his gender change request.
“I’m happier because now I’m treated as I really am,” J.C. says.
Lourdes Medrano, GPJ, translated this article from Spanish.