This is a guest editorial by “L”. It was brought to Dangerous Minds by Elizabeth Veldon, who writes this short introduction:
“There has been a lot of news coverage recently of homophobia in both Russia and Sweden, including the forced sterilization of gender variant people in Sweden. This piece is written by a friend of mine, a woman with a transsexual history, who has experience of life in both countries.
She is currently fighting extradition to Russia where she faces open discrimination and probably death. Myself and 36 other underground artists contributed to a release for her. If you want to hear the music I urge you to read her own words first.
This is her story, her voice.”
My name is L., and I am a woman with a transsexual past (male-to-female, MTF). I have had gender dysphoria since my early childhood, so I always had a lot of problems with socialization.
I have never seen my father because he left my family before my birth. I grew up with my mother and grandmother, who were extremely transphobic and authoritative and did not pay attention to my mental difficulties. I had to hide my real self from everyone from when I was 11 years old. It wasn’t until I was 21, in 2007, that I decided to stop hiding, and took my first attempt to bring my appearance in accordance with my self-perception.
This gave me other troubles, and I’ll only give one example: in October 2007, I was stopped on the street by a police officer, who took my IDs and took me to a police station. So-called “state authority representatives” made me strip nude and began to beat me and to urinate on me, laughing and shouting “fags must die!” When they put my head into the toilet bowl and cried out, “Drink Russian water you queer,” I lost consciousness. Eventually I woke up in an unfamiliar yard, my clothes torn and dirtied with urine and faeces. After this, I attempted to commit suicide. Thanks to my friends with the same problems, they helped me to find strength to withstand. But, I was hiding my real identity again for almost a year, and this was a real torture. I couldn’t stand it.
I learned that Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS) in the Russian Federation would require a conformance letter from the Moscow Scientific Research Institute of Psychiatry, and in order to obtain one, a psychiatric examination was necessary. My friend in the transgender community told me about terrible violations of human rights in such clinics (unsanitary conditions, mobbing, rape, tortures, etc). Nevertheless, I could not live ‘as-is’ anymore, so I began Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) at my own risk. When my mother and grandmother discovered what I was doing, they threw out my female dress and hormones, but I continued with HRT secretly.
In September 2009, I met Anton, the man who totally understands me. Our relationship grew rapidly, but when my mother and grandmother found out they turned my life into hell. So, I left them for him, and we started living together.
Unfortunately, the problems connected with my transgender identity followed me through all my life in Russia. My boss – who was the head of the IT department of the local Federal Tax Inspection Office – told me (quote), “You have the choice – resign or face big problems. Fags are not welcome here.” I was forced to resign.
Since that time I have not had a job. Only thanks to my future husband do we have some means for living. He sold everything he had, including his apartment. Here are his words: “You are all for me. I cannot give you to Russian surgeons, they are butchers, and I went through surgeries in bloody Russian clinics. Let’s find a good doctor; our health is the most precious thing we have.”
In May 2010, Dr. Chettawut T. executed my SRS in Bangkok, Thailand, and issued the Medical Certificate confirming SRS. Then, we had to return to Russia. I was obliged to bring my appearance into conformance with my passport gender to avoid problems with border guards and customs officers, in spite of having great physical and mental discomfort. My mother and grandmother actually refused to provide for us a place to live, so my partner rented an apartment for us. All the time we lived in the Moscow region (if all this could be called “life”) I only came out of the apartment with him – never alone – in order to avoid violence from Russian police officers, and the so-called “patriotic fighters for national purity” who are spreading like a plague through all of Russia, under hidden or even open support of authorities. Just remember the scandals about crackdowns of LGBT actions in Moscow and St. Petersburg—and persecution of activists, in 2011, only—the atrocity parade of Russian obscurantism and lawlessness is endless.
My friend K. (a MtF transsexual) told me what happened with her and her female life partner O. in Northern Russia:
‘We were under constant persecution; beaten and insulted many times. Drunken neighbors and their mates were screaming to us ‘FAGS AND DYKES MUST DIE! GET OUT QUEERS!’, burning our postbox, smashing our windows with stones and empty bottles, and pissing onto our door. Applying to police for protection in Russia is useless at the best and dangerous at worst. Racketeering and sadism are the favorite and only occupations of these so-called state authority representatives. Imagine: if even ordinary Russian citizens are afraid of police more than of criminals, what could happen with us at a very first police station we could come to, or much worse, be taken to. Finally it happened just nearly so…’
In June 2010, just when I was able to walk myself after surgery, I applied to Russian authorities to change my documents. And the only answer I got was: “WE DO NOT DEAL WITH THIS.” Or they just ignored all my applications without any reply, basically DON’T SEE, DON’T HEAR, DON’T TALK; all of them – civil registry service, court, ministry of foreign affairs. Would you like me to quote all the insults from everybody I directly applied to?
Meanwhile, my ID documents (national passport and travel passport) do not conform to my appearance anymore because of SRS and HRT, which are irreversible. So, I cannot have a job, or study, or marry my life partner, or even rent a place of living. I have no any life absolutely. Moreover, I can be arrested at any moment because of the contradiction between my IDs and my look that could be qualified as felony, e.g. forgery (i.e. living under an assumed name with somebody else’s documents).
In conclusion, I quote the words of Igor Kochetkov, PhD, Chairman of Russian LGBT Network Human Rights Protection Organization: “Being subjected constantly to discrimination… experiencing violence against them, and finding no support from the part of law enforcement bodies, some transsexual persons resort to the only possible way out: suicide.”
We lived in despair and found no assistance in our native country. We lived in fear, deprived of our rights. We had no other way out except to emigrate and seek protection in a more civilized place. All over the world we hear and read diligent exclamations that we live in the 21st century, and the times of human suppression and the violation of human rights have passed, and the primary right of each person is the right to live.
But is it really so?
In December 2010, we applied for protection in Sweden. Unfortunately, the misadventures were still on, now with discriminatory practices by the Swedish Migration Board. So, Migration Board (Migrationsverket) officially replied that we have no ground to get a residence in Sweden.
Moreover: I was constantly referred as ‘he’ (‘han’ in Swedish)! That is despite looking purely feminine, and providing the documents confirming my female sex identity: medical certificates from Dr.Chettawut (Bangkok, Thailand) who performed her sex reassignment surgery, and Dr.Cecilia Dhejne (Karolinska University hospital, Stockholm, Sweden), the well-known Swedish medical practitioner in the field.
An outrageous injustice is that we were treated as homosexual couple. I was considered to be able to hide my “sexual orientation”. The woman was insulted twice: first being called a male, then given advice to live like a male. Actually, how can a FEMALE like a MALE?! And, what will you say about a woman whose IDs contain a MALE name, surname, and gender designation ‘M’? Or, imagine: a large bearded man comes to any authority and shows his ID with the clearly indicated female name like Martina, and female gender. Is this really “ett relativt fungerande liv” (fully-fledged life)?
The migration board did not only not pay the necessary attention to this case, but even discriminated against the applicants. Also, at the very first stage of our application for protection, Migrationsverket refused to change the name on my LMA-card (the local ID), depriving me of the opportunity to find a job even here in Sweden. This is exactly the same discriminatory practice as the one by Russian authorities as ascertained, for example, by Russian LGBT Network human rights protection organization.
Of course, we applied to the Immigration court. Our case hearing took place on February 21, 2012 – with the same result: refusal. The Court’s negative decision was based on ‘insufficient grounds’, a universal argument!
I would like to repeat here that the present situation is that I am a woman with male documents, which obviously cannot characterize me in a proper way, as a real person with inalienable human rights. That is what really took place in Russia—I appeared to be disabled in all civil rights—and the same can happen any moment in any country, including Sweden. But, the Swedish authorities remain ignorant and indifferent, in spite of the stipulations of The Aliens Act, Swedish Code of Statutes (SFS 2009:1542), Chapter 4, Section 2, p.1; quote: “there are substantial grounds for assuming that the alien, upon return to the country of origin, would run a risk of … being subjected to … inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment“. I believe that you agree that the described treatment is degrading and inhuman, and the fact of the one can be proved in the most unambiguous manner.
Please pay specific attention to the root of the problem, i.e. the fact that I am NOT transgender person, but a WOMAN with transgender past. This is quite different. The SEX IDENTITY and the gender identity are different things. Anybody can consider himself to be ‘herself’ or vice versa, that is known as (using specific medical terminology) ‘the gender identity disorder, or transsexualism (transsexuality)’. But now I am a woman, even from the medical point of view. That means that I have the female sex identity, by fact. The operation took place, the vitally important hormonal therapy proceeds, and the changes are irreversible. This makes all announcements of Migrationsverket absolutely null and void. Especially the speech of Migrationsverket’s representative in the Court, containing the word ‘homosexual’ again! But the Court turned a blind eye to obvious things: beginning from my story and documents, up to reports of human rights protection organizations.
Meanwhile, all the previously mentioned iniquity proceeded regardless of international human rights protection bodies having paid attention to the problem of violence and discrimination against transgender people in Russia. Thus, UN Human Rights Committee (97th session, October 12-30, 2009) and CEDAW Committee (46th session, July 12-30, 2010) expressed their concern about this problem. The European Parliament called for special protection of LGBT asylum seekers (April 6, 2011, Strasbourg). Moreover, a new EU Directive now specifies that “gender related aspects, including gender identity, shall be given due consideration” in EU protection policies.
Other EU members such as Germany are granting protection to the people with abovementioned problems, e.g. K., the woman with transgender past from Russia (April 30, 2008, Hannover).
But undue attention to the problems of LGBT persons, including the ones with transsexual pasts, puts these people in a ‘legal void’ and sooner or later leads to tragic consequences.
Thanks to “L” and Elizabeth Veldon.
You can download the compilation L Is For… for free from Black Circle Records.
The forced sterilzation of transgender persons and those with a transgendered past has now been abandoned by the Swedish authorities, but Russia still actively discriminates agains its LGBT community, as this video demonstrates: