Many of my transgender patients want to go through the process of having their names and gender markers changed on their IDs. I provide them with the letter they need, but the process involves much more than that. I asked one of my patients, Max, to share his journey with you, which he very kindly and eloquently did! I hope you find this helpful.
Dr Elna Rudolph
Clinical Head of My Sexual Health
Max’s Story: My 2 year application process
Last week I confirmed that my new ID book is in the final stages of processing; my name has been updated, and the gender marker change is receiving final approval. If all goes well, I should be able to collect it in 10 working days. Given that this can be quite a challenge and has taken me over 2 years, I am feeling particularly grateful that my experience has gone smoothly. In fact, when that little green book is in my hands, I plan to post feedback to the Department of Home Affairs through as many mediums as possible, commending them on this instance of service delivery. Sometimes they do get it right and it impacts lives! I hope that soon it can become the standard experience for all.
In the months since I applied in June 2014, I have received many requests for information regarding the process of updating one’s ID book. So I thought it would be helpful to write a post detailing all that I know. I will fight this fight until I help others to complete their process.
In terms of section 27(A) read with the provisions of the Alteration of Sex Description and Sex Status Act (No. 49 of 2003).
Applications can be made by:
Persons who have undergone a sex change operation or medical treatment resulting in their gender reassignment. In such cases two medical reports are required:
- one by the medical practitioner who applied the procedure or medical treatment or by a medical practitioner who has experience in such procedures or treatments, and
- a report by a second medical practitioner who has independently examined the application to established his/her gender.
Your Rights As A Transgender South African
Our constitution is actually very progressive, particularly around the rights of transgender individuals. In 2003 the law was changed to allow transgender individuals to change their name and gender WITHOUT having any kind of surgery. In Section 1 of Act 49, it states:
“Any person whose sexual characteristics have been altered by surgical or medical treatment resulting in gender reassignment may apply to the Director General of the National Department of Home Affairs …”
The key term to take note of here is “gender reassignment” which is defined in the legislation as:
“… gender reassignment means a process which is undertaken for the purpose of reassigning a person’s sex by changing physiological or other sexual characteristics, and includes any part of such a process …”
This statement is really very helpful because it means that 1.) gender reassignment is recognised as a process that happens over time, 2.) is not limited to alterations made to genitals, and 3.) that there is no specific juncture within such a personal and individually varied process that must be reached before a person “qualifies” to change their ID book. This is truly revolutionary and very empowering; in a country where a vast majority do not have the resources to consider surgical options, being able to align their ID documents is a vital step towards their true expression being recognised.
** It is important to note that gender reassignment, as it is currently defined, is still dependent on some form of medical intervention. “Sexual characteristics” refers to either primary (genitals) or secondary (hormone-related identifiers) characteristics and are required to reflect, to some degree, one’s identified gender expression.
In Short: you must have undergone surgery and/or be on HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy or rather Gender Affirming Hormone Treatment as we prefer to call it) such that primary and/or secondary sexual characteristics align or are aligning with your identified gender in order to amend the gender marker in your ID book.
Where Is Gender Marked In A South African ID Book?
Gender is indicated within your unique ID number. The first six digits reflect your date of birth. The next four digits are where gender is indicated. A value less than 5000 correlates to female, while greater than 5000 correlates to male.
When you apply to have your gender amended, you will receive a new ID number. The four digit gender marker should then correctly reflect your identified gender.
What Do You Need To Apply?
- Form BI 526 (application for an amendment)
- On this form you indicate which of the particulars are erroneous (in this case, gender) and you are applying to have amended.
- Form BI 9 (application for identity book/card)
- Form BI 24 (notice of birth)
- This form must be filled in twice
- The first form is filled in with your assigned gender
- The second form is filled in with your identified gender
- VERY IMPORTANT: on the first letter (assigned gender) write “OLD” in big, bold letters on the top of the form. On the second letter (identified gender) write “NEW” in big, bold letters on top of the form.
- In Summary: both forms are filled in with identical information EXCEPT your gender, with your old information on the form you have indicated as “OLD”, and the information which your ID book should be amended to on the form you have indicated as “NEW”.
- 2 letters from medical professionals who have assisted with gender reassignment (or affirmation, as we like to call it):
- Both letters need to state that gender reassignment has taken place. Please refer to the next section for more details and samples.
- The first letter should be supplied by your main doctor, typically your surgeon or doctor prescribing your hormones .
- The second letter simply needs to confirm the first letter, and can be supplied by a psychologist, GP, or other medical professional assisting you.
- A copy of your birth certificate
- Your existing ID book and a copy thereof
- Full-colour photos for ID (at least 2)
- R 210 [R 70 – gender amendment; R 140 – reissue of ID book]
- I paid less than this, but the fees are subject to change. Better to be prepared and take a little extra.
When I applied for my change I did not need the copy of my birth certificate, but I also had to get slightly different forms. Sometimes the DHA will not be as organised as we might like, so I recommend taking as much with you as possible, and be prepared to adapt.
As stipulated above 2 letters are required to support your application to change the gender in your ID book. Once again Gender Dynamix has been most helpful and supplied me with an overview – which you can send to your doctors – of exactly what the letters should say.
Through helping individuals in the country with this process GDX has found that the implementation of Act 49 is not always carried out correctly. Unfortunately, clerks often do not pass on applications to the relevant legal department and instead make judgements according to their own opinions. GDX has found that letters that are phrased briefly and to the point are fast-tracked. It is not required to provide details regarding the individual’s process. So long as your medical professionals state that gender reassignment has taken place, then the requirements have been met. The overview also states that GDX has ensured that such brevity is completely legal, which may come up as a concern for your doctors.
How Long Does It Take?
This is one aspect where the law and the implementation of the law do not line up. Due to the safety concerns for someone whose presentation and legal identifications may not match, the importance for efficient turn-over times on re-issuing ID books has been recongised. Ideally it should take no longer than 8 weeks to receive your new ID book. But at DHA you will be informed that the waiting period is 6 – 8 months. We can only hope that this will improve as processes are streamlined. Even though mine took 2 years with a fight.
Final Notes From Me
I submitted my application through the Department of Home Affairs Krugerdorp in Gauteng. I recommend them because my overall experience was very positive. I was incredibly nervous and prepared at any moment to have to deal with discriminatory behaviour, but everyone that I asked regarding forms and procedures was very helpful, polite and able to provide the answers I needed. The individual that processed my application was particularly wonderful. Due to the fact that amending your gender entails a long waiting period, I wanted to change my name at the same time. I was told that every amendment needed to be done separately, but when I appealed to the lady processing my documents, she allowed me to submit both changes at once.
My advice: be over-prepared.
We all know that at any DHA everyone is impatient. So the faster you can be processed, the happier everyone will be, including the person processing your application. Be polite, and if you need to argue, logic and flattery (in my experience) are the way to go. If you want to change your name and gender at once, for example, I suggest pointing out that doing both in one saves them time, effort and paperwork.
** make sure that when you pay for the services that the cashier notes that you are paying for multiple amendments. My application was briefly delayed when I had to return to the DHA to pay for the name change, which the cashier had not noted the first time round.
Be aware of the reality. It is quite possible that you will encounter difficulties, whether discriminatory or administrative. Try not to part with original documents and provide copies instead. Keep your copies of the application forms, and take note of the reference numbers on them. Breathe deeply, know that it is your right to have an ID book that reflects your identity correctly, and there are organisations to help you if you do have issues.
Finally, if you can, have someone to support you and go with you to DHA. My partner came with me, and was a very steadying presence during the process. Especially if you are nervous, having a significant other, family member or friend with you can be very reassuring.
Track The Progress
I highly recommend calling the DHA Hotline at 080 060 1190 on a regular basis (every 2 weeks) to checkup on the status of your application. Make sure to ask for a reference number after each call. Don’t panic if for several months the status is some variation of “being processed”. GDX does offer to assist with tracking applications. If you email them your details, the date that you applied and the reference numbers of calls you have made, they will follow up with the DHA. I did not need to call in the backup, but if you do experience any problems I recommend contacting them.
There is also a mobile app you can download that queries the DHA database. It was very exciting to see the status go from Step 1 of 4 to Step 2 of 4, but beyond that it has been too vague to be helpful. Phoning in was far more satisfactory.
So there you go. I hope this proves helpful and worth the read to anyone seeking to amend their ID book. I’m sure the process will change in time.
As hard as it is to be patient and wait just remember it will be worth it at the end.
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Max is a patient of Dr Elna Rudolph. For enquiries, please contact My Sexual Health.