French trans woman continues fight to be recognised as female

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Bad news for French trans woman Delphine Ravisé-Giard, as an appeal court yesterday refused, once again, to recognise her as female. This follows a year of legal to-ing and fro-ing, as initial willingness by the French state – in the form of the French Air Force – to recognise her female identity was revoked by a court in Nancy last August.

The grounds? That her transition was not “irreversible” and, more offensively, that her breasts did not measure up.

Behind the scenes, Ms Ravisé-Giard would appear to be the victim of a tussle between more progressive elements of the French legal establishment, which have read the writing on the wall, in the form of EU pronouncements on human rights – and a backwards tendency that is now digging its heels in and relying on technicalities to prevent trans men and women from asserting their gender.

Historically, before the French state would recognise transgender people, the individual involved needed to demonstrate “sterilisation” brought about by surgical intervention.

In March of this year, however, the Ministry of Justice attempted to bring France into line with the position of the European Commission on Human Rights for the recognition and treatment of transgendered individuals by asserting that surgery was not a prerequisite for recognition of a trans man or woman’s gender.

In an official statement, the justice minister indicated that “gender re-assignment surgery should not be required as a matter of course” when the petitioner is able to prove that they are undergoing other treatments designed to bring about the appearance of a change of gender.

Nonetheless, more conservative elements seized on a hint within this statement that the justice minister was looking for non-reversible change – and that requirement was used yesterday as a get-out for the French Appeal Court, which didn’t say no – but didn’t exactly say yes either.

What the court did say was that Ms Ravisé-Giard, who has now been living as a woman and undergoing treatment for several years, now has two months to prove that her “change of sex” is “irreversible”.

At first sight, Ms Ravisé-Giard is no further forward than a year ago. Hormone treatment is still not considered sufficient for her to receive legal recognition but she no longer needs to undergo an operation. Rather, she must furnish the court with a medical certificate showing that her change of sex is irreversible.

This, according to Ms Ravisé-Giard’s lawyer, Laurent Cyferman, is a step forward.

It brings the French courts just a millimetre or two closer to the position set down in July 2009, by Thomas Hammarberg, the Commissioner for Human Rights in the Council of Europe, who set out his opinion that “individuals seeking recognition of their gender identity should not be forced to undergo either sterilisation or any other medical intervention”.

Nonetheless, it could be another six months before Ms Ravisé-Giard is back in court – and there is no guarantee even then of a favourable outcome.