The reality for trans people in Hungary

Imagine a world in which your government is running a smear campaign against people like you. That same government wants your personal ID documents to specify that you are a member of that disadvantaged minority.
Would you dare to use your ID and expose yourself to risk when picking up a package at the post office? Going to the doctor? Applying for a job?

This will now to be the reality for trans people in Hungary. Would you feel safe in that world?


By embracing my real self, I got control and power over my life

Having to pretend you are someone else is a cognitive effort. It’s always been something that held me back. Now all that energy that previously went into keeping up a facade can go to more useful things. 

Before coming out I always felt that something just wasn’t right. Like there was an alien in the mirror, some person I didn’t even know. Back in those days meeting new people was hard, spending time with multiple people at the same time drained me. Since coming out I feel like I can finally be who I was supposed to be, I like who I see in the mirror, I love spending time with others and meeting new people. It also helped me in taking control of my career again. In the last few years before transition, I had ever more frequent depressive periods when I wasn’t capable of working anymore. Now I can just live a life that feels natural to me, I don’t need to pretend I’m someone I’ve never been. People who knew me before and now tell me that all they see is that I’m in general much livelier and happier.  ​

Daily challenges I am facing in my life – my legal documents do not reflect my gender identity

To begin with, not only am I outed every time that I have to use my ID, but my document also has my dead name on it, a name I didn’t even use before transition, because I never identified with it. Every single time I have to get anything official done, I have to use that name. Every time there is a risk that I will get negative comments and get discriminated against. Or if the person dealing with the official request is nice, they might still act surprised and unintentionally ‘out me’ in front of an entire room full of people. The fact that I do not have the proper gender and name on my ID brings with it constant fear, so I actively try to avoid situations when I need to present an ID.

Since Hungary has gender specific given names, and you can only choose from the list that belongs to your legal gender, I can’t even change my name. That means that a name I do not identify with or use in my daily life goes on all legal documents, from tax reports to contracts. Some companies also require employees to use their legal name on entry cards, name tags and in their company email address. I could not work at a company like that. 

I’m one of the few lucky ones whose friends and colleagues are supportive of trans people, and who lives in a fairly liberal neighbourhood. I do not have many bad experiences. However, I did have to leave the company where I was working when I started my transition because some of my colleagues complained about aspects of my transition. 

For my less fortunate trans friends the situation is way more grim. Many communities – especially smaller villages – are actively shutting-out their trans members. Families disown their trans children, siblings and parents. Trans people frequently get isolated and only find friendships among others like them. 

I think a government’s job is to help and protect those they serve. Not just their own voters, but everyone. That means no government or authority should take away the basic human rights of people. Constraining others just because they have the power to do so is harmful. Democracy should not be the tyranny of the majority over a minority. There are valid reasons to have laws that stop people from hurting others: if a government needs to adopt restrictions on the rights of people, there should always be a good reason to do so, and those restrictions should be as limited as possible. As a net contributor to the Hungarian state I expect to be respected, treated fairly, have my freedom protected and not curbed in pointless ways. In the case of trans people, it is in the best interests of both the individual and society at large, that trans people are able to express their gender identity freely without fear of humiliation and discrimination. 

The new Bill banning legal gender recognition is a terrible blow

Human tragedies start when your sense of safety is violated, when your means to earn money is taken away from you; when you are unable to find a place to live; when you don’t dare to go out for a drink on a Saturday night or pursue your hobbies for fear of getting attacked; and when you give up on your dreams to become an engineer, a doctor or any other high skilled worker who needs a university degree. This bill along with the smear campaign against LGBTI people that has been going on for a while has the potential to ruin lives and careers for years to come. And with the Hungarian government turning towards more and more extreme measures against minorities I’m not convinced that there isn’t something even worse to come. 

The government does not have the right to decide who we are or question our life choices. Transitioning often saves trans people’s lives. So there is no excuse for the government intervening in a way that strips us of our basic human rights of dignity, self-determination and the right to personal and family life. A message from transphobic groups that I find especially damaging is that trans people should be cured not by letting them transition, but by curing them of what they see as a ‘mental illness’. This is obviously not true as it’s clear that it isn’t  possible to change one’s gender identity. So-called reparative and conversion therapies are successful only at one thing: making the person feel self-loathing, making them even more depressed, and in some cases driving them towards suicidal thoughts or committing suicide. 

My message to trans people and activists in Hungary: Don’t give up! But we need international support and solidarity to counter this ban

To trans people: This is not over! Did we lose a major battle? Yes, we did. However, this cannot last forever. No oppression lasts forever. We lost the battle, but we will win the war. So, don’t give up. If you feel like giving up, please ask for help, call a support line or a friend. Just please, please, do not hurt yourself, because you are not alone, and we are fighting for you, and we will keep fighting until every human on the face of this planet – no matter if they are trans, homosexual or member of an ethnic or religious minority – will have their basic human rights guaranteed. 

To activists: You are heroes. Every single one of you, even if you only spend a single hour of your life on human rights activism, you are a hero in my eyes, because you gave up a piece of your precious life for others. So please support Amnesty’s action to stop this ban on legal gender recognition from displaying its nefarious effects.

To allies: We need you more than ever. Minorities always need support from people outside their groups, but it is especially true for such a small and fragile community as trans people. There is a lot you can do to help us:

  • Educate yourself on trans issues, because even our allies have limited understanding of our issues. Even if you think you have a basic understanding, seek out trans activists who are willing to share their knowledge with you so your help can have the best possible effect.
  • Raise awareness and educate others. Most people have no idea who trans people are, or even worse – have a view on trans people that is not based on facts, but on lies perpetrated by transphobic groups. There are only so many people we – trans activists – can talk to, we can’t reach a sizable portion of the population without your help. Most trans people are afraid to publicly come out, and that means only a handful of us can even engage in debates. So engage in debates for us, and teach others what you have learned from us. 
  • If you have trans friends, ask them how they’re doing. Listen to them without judgement or advice. Just be the person that listens, understands, and hugs them when they most need it. If you don’t have trans friends, seek out trans groups online and offline, and offer your support.