Transgender Day of Awareness Guest Blog: Living in Hungary as a Trans Person

By Vivien R.

Being a trans person is never easy, but some places are better than others. I live in Hungary, a country that’s been in the news a lot recently thanks to the “illiberal” dreams of our prime minister. Trans issues in Hungary are mixed. Despite the negative news, living as a trans person is relatively safe, though occasional harassment does happen. It rarely turns into severe violence, however.

At least as far as we know. Despite new laws that violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity may be grounds for hate crime charges, there has yet to be a documented case under those charges. Last year the Trans Murder Monitoring Project reported on a trans woman found dead in small lake in Hungary. The police investigation has still not announced a public result, which means the incident hasn’t been categorized as a hate crime. Not even the family has received news from the investigation. Imagine their heartbreak.

While such cases are devastating, the most common nightmare trans people live through in Hungary is bureaucracy.

If a trans Hungarian citizen wants to change their gender legally, they first need to have a psychological evaluation and complete a mound of paperwork. Then the Ministry of Internal Affairs will evaluate and deny or approve the request. Sounds great, right? Wrong!

There are many flaws in this process. Citizenship is the first requirement. Asylum seekers and immigrants who wish to change their gender identity must first gain official citizenship—a process that can take years. Since same sex marriage is not allowed in Hungary, a married trans person first needs a divorce—otherwise the request will be denied. The person must also be legally an adult—18 years old—otherwise, again: denied.

For trans children and teenagers who realize their identities and wish to change their name and gender markers, this makes for an impenetrable barrier. These barriers can ruin the start of a college education or limit job opportunities. Consider that at the same time, in Hungary a 16-year old can marry with parental and state approval. What’s more, the new national school curriculum erases all teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity—a clear recipe for ignorance.

Let’s say someone is lucky enough to be over 18 and wants to be oneself, like me. To change your gender legally, there is no required medical or surgical procedure—just the paperwork. This is a victory for those who don’t want or need a procedure to be themselves.

But what about those people whose bodies aren’t proper matches for their souls? It’s a bumpy road, both in terms of hormonal treatments and surgical procedures. Healthcare professionals are often woefully uninformed about trans issues and need training on both the medical and social aspects of treating trans people. The same goes for nurses and school doctors who work in elementary and high schools, who sadly know even less about trans issues.

But here’s the surprising thing: this whole process of legal gender recognition isn’t codified. The current practices arose out of a constitutional court ruling. Even the medical practices aren’t codified. So a person’s ability to change their gender is entirely in the doctor’s hands. It is far from ideal, but at least it’s quasi-functional. After all, there are countries where it’s not possible at all.

A codified legal framework for legal gender recognition and transition that allows gender changes at 16 would be a huge step forward.

Education and employment are other areas where trans Hungarians run into challenges. Current laws state that youth are obligated to stay in school until age 16. But there is nothing in place to protect them from bullying, which is rampant. If education professionals could be trained about sexual orientation and gender identities and educate students from childhood, they could slowly change attitudes. But sadly that’s currently out of question.

The employment situation in Hungary could be referred to politely as challenging. For gender nonconforming people it’s even more difficult. Those who go through the process of legal gender recognition voluntarily state that they have a mental disorder. This immediately terminates their chances to work in some fields, such as law enforcement. It’s like declaring, “YES! I’m mentally ill, and I’m proud of it.”

Luckily, we have legal protection against discrimination, but there are still ways to improve. For instance, if someone underwent legal gender recognition, there are laws that specify the ways of changing school certificates up to high school, but universities have the freedom to decide how they change degrees.

Trans people’s lives aren’t just about surgeries, hormones, or what’s inside our pants. Like all people, we love our significant others, do groceries, go to work, try to find work, mourn the loss of our loved ones. So, please treat us appropriately and join us for the Transgender Day of Remembrance in honoring those who lost their lives because they just wanted to be themselves.

Vivien is an activist working with the Transvanilla Transgender Association in Hungary.

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Published on November 20, 2014

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