10 May 2012

Argentina Gets It

Many, many years ago, I read Jacobo Timerman's wonderful (but disturbing) Prisoner Without A Name, Cell Without A NumberIn it, he recounts his arrests, torture and other trials and tribulations endured during the so-called "Dirty War" in  Argentina during the 1970's and 1980's. Although he was arrested, interrogated, tortured, incarcerated and, finally, deported, no formal charges were ever brought against him.  From what he says, he may have been lucky:  others were "disappeared" or simply murdered outright for such vague reasons as "financial ties" or other "connections" to "Israeli terrorists."

Now, three decades after Timerman's book was published and he was able to return to his home country, Argentina has taken a step no other country has ever taken in advancing human rights.

Last night, the Argentine Congress voted unanimously for a law that, in essence, allows people to change their gender because they want to.

No longer will anyone have to endure what Karla Oser had to in order to become one of only forty people to have gender reassignment surgery in the hospital at La Plata.  She had to present judges with testimony from two psychologists, a psychiatrist, a gynecologist, a urologist and an ear-nose-and-throat specialist.  Even after her surgery, she couldn't get her gender updated on her national identity card.

Now there are government doctors ready to perform the surgery, no questions asked.   

But it gets even better:  One doesn't have to go through the surgery, or even alter his or her body in any other way, in order to change his or her official gender identity.  

Passage of the new law--and the one that legalized gay marriage two years ago--didn't come without opposition.   After all, Roman Catholicism is still the official state religion, and the vast majority of Argentinians identify themselves as Catholics.  However, church attendance has been in steep decline, and the Church doesn't hold nearly as much sway over public life as it did during the time of which Timerman wrote.  In fact, the ties between Church officials and that government (which resulted, some believe, in Church officials aiding and abetting the "disappearances") are a major reason why the Church has less influence over people's lives than it did during the time of the "Dirty War."

As happy as I am over the Argentine government's decision, I'd like to know what prompted it.  Did they all come to the realization that a person's true gender is in his, her or hir mind and spirit?  If so, how?  Even if they didn't have such a realization, they have done the most enlightened thing any political body has ever done in terms of gender rights and equality.