Illustration: Anya Leonova / Mediazona
Against the background of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the “partial” mobilization, and new repressive laws against Russia’s queer community, last year saw a significant increase in the number of new passports issued following a gender transition. After finding this statistic in reports from Russia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, Mediazona spoke with human rights activists and members of Russia’s trans community to learn about the recent rise in gender-affirming care. Across the board, there was a sense of urgency to get one’s papers in order: one trans person was spurred on by the risk of being drafted, another by the need to tidy up documents before emigrating, and someone else worries that gender-affirming care will be banned in Russia altogether.
“I intentionally presented as feminine as possible so that cops wouldn’t think to stop me,” Anita tells us. “But I still vividly imagined myself going to that office, saying that I was changing my passport because of a gender transition, and then the cops would be called to mobilize me before I had time to change anything.”
Anita says she hadn’t planned to change her passport in 2022, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine caused her to speed things up: “I even had a list of things to do with my transition, like I thought that I would start hormone therapy first, wait for some changes in my appearance, and then proudly receive my female passport.”
The young woman says that this summer she graduated from university and passed a medical commission in order to change documents and study abroad with a new passport. Anita has already enrolled in a foreign university but was unable to emigrate due to the cost, and remains in Russia for the time being.
After deferring her admission, Anita at first decided not to rush with changing her documents. But on September 21, Russia’s “partial” mobilization was announced. “Now I had to change my passport not just to accurately represent my gender, but also to survive. I saw what was happening in Ukraine, and I didn’t want to die or kill others,” she emphasizes.
Anita became one of many who, after the outbreak of war, decided to speed up in changing their documents. After reviewing the statistics of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Mediazona found that in 2022 the agency issued almost twice as many new passports following a transition.
In 2022, the number of Russians who received a new passport after receiving gender-affirming care increased dramatically. Data comes from Russia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, which publishes monthly statistics on passport issuance. It separately takes into account each of the possible reasons for the registration of the document, including “sex change” (trans organizations in Russia recommend calling this legal procedure “change of gender marker”).
Mediazona looked back at statistics for the last four years (the Ministry of Internal Affairs published earlier data only in fragments).
In 2020, 428 passports were issued in connection with a change of gender marker, 554 in 2021, and 936 in 2022.
A noticeable increase began in March, that is, immediately after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and continued throughout the year. While in February Russians received only 36 new passports due to a change of gender marker, then in March there were already 61, and by December about a hundred new documents were issued monthly. December even set a record after 119 new passports were issued that month.
The leading areas of the statistics were large metropolitan areas: Moscow with the surrounding Moscow region and St. Petersburg with the surrounding Leningrad region. Next are regions with million-plus population centers: Novosibirsk, Sverdlovsk, and Krasnodar regions. There are only six regions in Russia where no passports have been issued over the past four years due to a change in gender marker: the Nenets Autonomous area, Chukotka, and the Altai Republic, as well as three Caucasian republics: Ingushetia, Karachay-Cherkessia and Chechnya.
Mediazona spoke with human rights activists to better understand this growth, and came across several main factors: war and mobilization, a desire to emigrate, and increased repression.
“Of course, all trans women (with a male gender marker assigned at birth) who planned to make a legal transition tried to change documents faster when the mobilization began,” says Yan Dvorkin, who leads the Russian trans-activism group “T Center”.
As was the case with Anita. She started the process of changing documents at the end of September and received a new passport in early December. Anita notes that she was forced to change her passport before the start of hormone therapy, which has left her uneasy. “They tell me that I have a good pass, but so far I’ve had to try very hard to look more feminine, which wouldn’t be such a problem [if I was] on hormones,” she says. “I am afraid that someday I will relax and some cop on the street considers me as a guy, asks for a passport, and I do not know if I can explain to him that this is my passport, and not my twin sister’s.”
Things didn’t go quite as smoothly for Lesya. She intended to change her passport, as she was beginning a new academic program, but then the mobilization shocked all her plans. “My fear of problems with my studies suddenly turned out to be less important than the fear of dying or being held in prison. And why? Because I definitely wouldn’t follow criminal orders,” she emphasizes.
After taking a medical examination in July she applied for a legal change in September. At the same time, just before the start of the mobilization she received a summons from the military enlistment office, an invitation to a medical examination even before the draft was announced. Lesya arrived at the appointment and reported that she was waiting for new documents after a change in gender marker. Then she was issued a summons for the end of November, so that she could arrive with her correct documents and withdraw from military registration.
“However, when I came [in November], they suddenly told me that there was no reason to remove me from the register,” Lesya recalls. “I went to talk to the people in charge, up to the military commissar, but he told me that I had to prove that I was a transgender woman by providing documents on hormone therapy and surgical operations and passing a medical examination. He explained this by saying ‘we won’t take your word for it,’ even though my documents, including the [new] passport, seems more than just ‘my word’. I shouldn’t have to provide any such documents, and even more so have to go through the commission together with men. When I tried to prove something, they just raised their voice at me and repeated the mantra: ‘We won’t take your word’.”
Lesya consulted with lawyers, who offered to sue the military enlistment office or leave everything as it is so that she wouldn’t be removed from the register. “It’s difficult and long to sue, and in this situation, I don’t want to attract a lot of attention to myself. So, we decided to leave it as it is,” she says. The military hasn’t bothered her since.
After the announcement of the September mobilization, many trans men have tried to veer away from the authorities. “In fear of being called up for mobilization, trans men (people with a female gender marker assigned at birth) are often deciding to wait to change their documents until the end of the mobilization, so as not to have to report to the military office,” notes Yan Dvorkin, of “T Center”.
The LGBT-rights group “Exit” (Выход) recorded at least two cases where trans men decided to postpone their change of documents in order to not be called up for service. This information was shared with Mediazona by the coordinator of Russia’s “Trans*mission” project, who wished to remain anonymous.
Ekaterina Dikovskaya, the head of the legal aid program “Sphere”, adds that their project helped several trans men raise court challenges after being deemed “Unfit for service” at military enlistment offices due to being trans (they challenged this decision as discriminatory).
“But as soon as the hostilities began in February, and especially after the mobilization began in September, they all abruptly abandoned the claims, because with being ‘Unfit for service’ they could be sure that they wouldn’t be called up to fight,” she notes.
After the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, the Russian authorities intensified the persecution of LGBTQ+ people. On November 24, the State Duma passed a bill banning “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations and gender reassignment” among Russians of all ages (previously, legislators sought to protect only children from “propaganda”).
“Because of the war and mobilization, it’s definitely not the best time to change your documents for trans men. That’s why I took my time, and thought I’d do it after the war ends. But time dragged on, the war didn’t end, and the state began to talk more and more about laws prohibiting different things,” says Viktor.
Marian had similar motives: “In July and August, new anti-LGBT bills began to be discussed, and how detailed they were was a little annoying and caused concern about how long the commission would exist at all. In addition, lots of my friends from psychological and psychiatric circles had just finished preparing to emigrate in July, which is why there were thoughts that the specialists who were a part of the commission might emigrate soon.”
Melissa, who changed her documents in the fall, is sure that gender transitions will be completely banned soon. “I was not ready for the [official] ‘transition’: not passing, no financial cushion, no voice, nothing. I knew that hell was waiting for me,” she says. “But I still went to change the documents. Because being not myself was already beyond my strength.”
All of those who spoke with Mediazona noted that they were pushed to change their passports, with emigration being a big consideration. For Mila, this was an important factor: “Even before all the horror, I planned to change the documents in 2022-2023. But a fear that in the future this process may be complicated or become completely impossible pushed me to take action earlier than planned. And, of course, the prospect of emigration also played a role: I thought it was better to leave with up-to-date documents.”
“People tried to complete the transition faster, including changing documents in order to emigrate with their correct gender marker, since there may not be an opportunity to change a Russian passport from abroad,” Yan Dvorkin confirms.
The head of the LGBT Resource Center, Arseny Pastukhov, adds that “the procedure for changing documents in Russia is one of the best,” so it is easier to change the gender marker before leaving the country.
Overall, 2022 had many simultaneous events that could push tran people to change their documents more promptly. “It is difficult to clearly distinguish which factors influenced [us] more. Rather, in general, every blow—the beginning of the war, the increasing transphobic agenda of the state, mobilization, the release of the law ‘on the prohibition of LGBT propaganda’ among adults—all these factors that increase anxiety, confirm that it is unsafe to live in Russia,” concludes Dvorkin.
In 2022, “T Center” received significantly more requests for consultations, says Dvorkin: “Since the beginning of the war, the number of requests per month has doubled—from 130 requests per month to 245, and with the beginning of mobilization, we grew to conduct 400 consultations per month.”
People are worried about increased repression and uncertainty, he says: “For the most part, people wanted to know what would happen after the adoption of the law, whether a medical and legal transition would be possible in the future, whether the state would force them to change their documents back in a case where the gender marker change had already been made, whether they would be persecuted at work after coming out. There have also been lots of questions about emigration and how gender transition occurs in other countries.”
Editor: Yegor Skovoroda
Translation: Jack McClelland
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