Nadia Sanders, GPJ Mexico

Mexico City Paves the Way for Transgender People to Legally Establish Change

Mario Sánchez, 62, a transgender man who lives in Mexico City, hopes people see him as a fighter – “as a brave, dedicated person, with my own identity,” he says.  

The legislative body of Mexico City, the only place in Mexico where transgender people can register their new gender identities on their birth certificates, has just approved a legal reform that will make the gender registration process cheaper and easier.

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO — Victoria Volkóva has big black eyes, long, shiny, straight hair and a slender white face. At 22, she offers tutorials on professional makeup techniques on her YouTube channel, a practice that has earned her nationwide fame.

Although born with the body of a boy, Volkóva has known she is essentially a girl since age 5.

“I don’t think of myself as a trans,” Volkóva says. “I consider myself a woman because I am a girl.”

Volkóva plans to change the gender listed on her birth certificate now that the district’s legislative body has approved a reform that makes that process much faster and cheaper.

Right now, the legal and professional costs – psychological diagnosis and medical tests – of gender reassignment can run from 80,000 to 100,000 pesos ($6,000 to $8,000), and the judicial process can take six months to a year.

Thanks to the new reform, Volkóva soon will be able to register her gender change by paying just 58 pesos ($4). She will receive her new birth certificate within five days after submitting the application.

On Nov. 13, the Legislative Assembly of the federal district approved a bill that eliminates the requirement that gender reassignment applicants present their case at a court hearing. The legislation replaces the judicial proceeding with an administrative process, making gender reassignment faster and cheaper.

Transgender people in Mexico City will be able to benefit from the legislation 90 days after the Mexico City government promulgates it in the “Gaceta Oficial,” or Official Gazette.

The federal district is the only place in Mexico where a transgender person can change the gender on his or her birth certificate.

From 2008, when the district authorized the process, to Nov. 26, 2014, 199 people made that change. Of those, 125 changed their gender identities from male to female and 74 changed them from female to male, according to the General Directorate of the Civil Registry, Mexico City’s recording office.

There are an estimated 15 million transgender people in the world, according to a 2011 study by researchers from the University of Hong Kong and the University of Michigan.

Mexico has no official statistics on the transgender population, according to Mexico City’s Council to Prevent and Eliminate Discrimination, a government organization.

Not all transsexuals are especially concerned about legal recognition.

Alexis, 30, likes to wear discreet, elegant clothes. She walks smoothly on heels. Her hair is straight, long and dark brown, and she can raise one of her heavy but finely lined eyebrows while talking in a serene voice.

Alexis, who requested that her surname be withheld out of fear of being stigmatized, is a transgender woman. She restarted hormone treatments a year ago at the Condesa Clinic, a Ministry of Health hospital in Mexico City. The clinic is the only one in Mexico offering the treatment for free.

She chose the clinic because the treatment, which is available at drugstores for 1,000 pesos a month ($70), is free and reliable there.

She had started the treatment when she was 18, she says. However, she soon found it difficult to land a job because she was a transgender woman.

“There were places in which they would say to me, ‘Yes, but as a boy. Like this, no,’” she says.

Because of such discrimination, she stopped the treatment after five years, cut her long hair and lived as a gay man.

But a year ago, she changed her mind and decided to do what she had wanted to do since she was a child.

“I recently decided to restart the treatment because I do not care anymore what other people think,” Alexis says, gracefully moving her hands and fingers as she speaks.

She doesn’t much care about her identity documents.

She takes her driver’s license from her wallet and shows the photo it features – that of a young man with short, curly hair and thick eyebrows. She says she has no problems when showing her ID in Mexico City.

The Condesa Clinic has provided free hormonal treatment to about 500 transgender people since it first offered services in 2009, says Hamid Vega, the clinic’s coordinator of mental health programs.

Those who request the treatment at the clinic are required to undergo endocrinology tests and an interview to determine if they fulfill the diagnostic criteria for transsexualism established by the WHO and the APA. Applicants must have identified as the other gender for some time and must not suffer from mental illness.

The average age of patients getting the treatment is 35, Vega says. However, it is becoming more common for people in their early 20s to request the treatment.

Most transgender people begin to assert their gender nonconformity by age 15, says psychiatrist Rafael Salín-Pascual, coordinator of the Clinic of Sexual Diversity at the National Autonomous University of Mexico citing international studies.

In that regard, Ophelia Pastrana, a 32-year-old transgender woman, is unusual. She became aware of her gender essence at age 28.

Pastrana says she was told that she cannot register her new identity on a Mexican birth certificate because she was born in Colombia. The naturalized Mexican citizen claims the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is discriminating against her because she was born  in another country.

She plans to ask the Supreme Court to grant her the same right enjoyed by Mexican-born citizens.

The Legislative Assembly’s vote for reform was not unanimous. Orlando Anaya of the conservative National Action Party was one of six deputies who voted neutral.

While the party values equal rights, the reform is a lie to those it purports to benefit, he says. Other legal issues, such as other kinds of civil trials, will come up that are not covered by the reform, he says.

“Like the legal disorder, instead of presenting a benefit, it has an outcome that will surely represent a problem, not only for the [transgender] community, but for the entire sector of society,” Anaya says.

The issue is of little concern to Alexis. She is doing what she likes the most. She has her own hair salon, Brazil Connection Peluquería, in a Mexico City neighborhood known for gourmet restaurants.

“I feel calm,” she says. “It is important for me because I am developing personally, professionally. In the future, I see myself dedicating myself to the same. I hope my business grows more, and that is the starting point.”



GPJ translated interviews from Spanish.