States Of Trans Recognition

© Alison McDonnell
Image Source: © Alison McDonnell

 As Amnesty International launches a report about trans recognition and human rights abuses in Europe, Ben Power talks about being a trans man in Ireland without being able to change his birth certificate.


Transgender people in Ireland experience significant marginalisation and stigmatisation. Our community faces some of the highest levels of discrimination in employment, education and healthcare, which relegates many of us to the fringes of society.

The lack of legal recognition is a major issue here. When there are discrepancies in our legal documents, we are outed against our will and left vulnerable to discrimination, harassment and even violence. We are denied the basic right to respect for our private and family lives and this urgently needs to be addressed.

I was registered as female at birth and so naturally, all of my documentation from that moment on was gendered as such. When I began my transition in 2007 I therefore had to begin the arduous process of changing what documentation I could to reflect my true identity. This involved an exhausting process of contacting every entity that held my information and explaining to a (generally extremely confused) person on the end of the telephone why my name was changing from a very obviously female one to my new, very obviously male one.

This led to some interesting conversations and some even more interesting results. My electricity bills started to arrive addressed to Mr. and Mrs. both my names, as apparently the ESB thought that the possibility I had married myself was more likely than the existence of transgender people. I grinned and bore the inconvenience as best I could, telling myself that eventually it would all be done and I wouldn’t have to think about it again. That’s where I made my first mistake.

It is true that trans people can change some of their identification documents, on the production of reams of medical and other evidence.

When applying for my passport I had to supply all the usual documentation and my deed poll showing my legal change of name, plus letters from my GP and a psychiatrist, two years’ worth of medical history from my gender specialist in London, and a tax certificate, as the household bills one normally supplies were not proof enough that I was actually using my new name. This entitled me to receive a two-year passport, which I was then able to use to change my driver’s license and most of my other documentation.

Amnesty Trans ReportIt was when I tried to change the details attached to my PPS number that I ran into my first problem. While they grudgingly changed the name attached to my information, they stated that they were unable to change the gender marker on my number, as that is drawn from my birth cert which still indicates that I am female. The result of this is that any time anyone enters my PPS number into a computer the details that come up on their screen say Benjamin Dylan James Power – Female. At best, this leads to the belief that there is an error in the system. At worst, it leads to awkward questions often in public places such as welfare or tax offices, requiring me to repeatedly explain my trans identity in circumstances where it is just not relevant or necessary.

This form of outing happens to trans people on a regular basis as a result of mismatched documents. When we are outed we are often denied employment, appropriate healthcare, education and are even subjected to harassment and physical violence.  On December 2, 2013, Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI) published a new report called, Speaking from Margins: Trans Mental Health and Wellbeing in Ireland. With 164 participants, this survey was the largest of its kind in Ireland, and some of the results were truly disturbing:

21% of respondents reported having experienced physical violence.
44% reported experiencing physical intimidation and threats.
15% reported sexual assault.
7% reported being raped all as a direct result of being trans.

During 2013, TENI also ran a campaign called Stop Transphobia and Discrimination (STAD) to raise awareness about transphobic violence in Ireland and enable the trans community to report hate crimes and incidents in a safe environment, and without fear of ridicule or discrimination.

The reporting period began on March 1, 2013 and closed on October 31. During this time, there were 15 incidents that can be categorised as hate crimes; one incident of extreme physical violence; six assaults; three incidents of damage against property; and five incidents of threats and physical violence. There were also 17 reported incidents categorised as ‘other incidents with a bias motivation’.

This shows very clearly the danger that can be posed to personal safety when a person’s trans status is disclosed. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, articles 3, 6 and 12: everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person, everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law, and no one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with their privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon their honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

These are the rights that trans people are denied in Ireland by virtue of the inability to make a simple administrative change to our foundational identity document. Six years ago our government was found to be in breach of the European convention on human rights on this issue in refusing to grant Dr Lydia Foy the right to amend her birth certificate. Today she, and we, are still waiting for that right.

I hope that The State Decides Who I Am, the report on lack of legal gender recognition for transgender people in Europe, published by Amnesty today (Feb 4, 2014), will help to speed along the introduction of progressive, fully inclusive and human rights-based legislation, and I look forward to the day when I no longer have to stand up and explain myself and my identity to do something as simple as apply for a job or a college course.


Trans IrelandBen Power is the Company Secretary for Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI). He was a co-facilitator of the Cork Trans Group from April 2010 until his move to Dublin in March 2013. He has been a regular volunteer on TENI projects since joining their board in October 2011. Ben has recently stepped down from the TENI board in order to join the staff and is involved in their monthly radio show Trans Tuesdays. This is an edited version of his speech from the launch of The State Decides Who I Am’: Lack of Legal Gender Recognition for Transgender People in Europe, which took place today, Feb 4, 2014.


Image Courtesy of ©Alison McDonnell



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