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To change your official gender in Poland you have to sue your parents :- Trauma for trans people

By Anna-Gmiterek-Zabłocka, Radio TOK FM

Marek Urbaniak, a lawyer, is a transgender man, a fact that his documents now recognise. But the path to make that happen was a long and bumpy one.

In Poland, the only way to change your legally recognised gender is to sue your parents. Even as an adult. And in Marek’s case, as in many others, his parents were opposed, making the process much harder.

The court case lasted almost three years. “It was a very stressful, but also humiliating and dehumanising experience,” he tells Notes from Poland.

He made his decision while undergoing testosterone therapy and shortly before having chest masculinisation surgery. He had had enough of what he encountered every day.

“I’d show my ID card and no one would believe that it was my document and not that of some woman,” Marek explains.

“Because it was obvious for them that there was a man standing in front of them, but the documents showed a woman’s details. I was constantly having to explain myself, but still often they didn’t listen when I said I was a trans person.”

Marek frequently felt discriminated against when officials or doctors had doubts over his identity. His experiences with his bank were the most upsetting.

“I was practically unable to use the bank’s helpline services. When I called, I was told that a female client was registered, and the bank call centre employee heard my masculine voice and thought it was attempted fraud. Visiting the branch in person didn’t help either.”

Poland’s gender recognition procedure is difficult in all cases, but even more so for trans people who – as in Marek’s case – don’t have supportive parents. They often refuse to allow their darling “Kasia” to become “Piotr”, and do what they can to prevent it.

“That makes things much more complicated,” says Marek. “A parent can submit various evidentiary motions, for example asking for additional witnesses to be heard or further medical documentation to be presented. And that prolongs the whole procedure.”.

A law on gender recognition is needed

The Polish courts which hear such lawsuits operate on an ad hoc basis as there are no clear laws showing how to treat the issue.

That confusion looked set to be resolved in 2015 under Poland’s previous government, when parliament passed a bill creating a separate court procedure for gender recognition. That would have put an end to the process of trans people having to sue their own parents to be officially recognised for who they are.

However, in October of that year, the newly elected conservative president Andrzej Duda vetoed the bill – the first time he had used that executive power. Soon after, the national-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party – which has led campaigns against what it calls “gender ideology” – came to power, ending any possibility of the legislation returning.

Another route to avoid humiliation

Some transgender people opt for a different, administrative route – officially changing their forename and/or surname but not their registered gender.

“In that situation, you need to submit an application to any registry office in Poland,” explains Knut, the lawyer. “Everything takes place based on the name changes act of 2008.”

One reason for doing this is when people use a different first name or surname from those in their documents. In the case of transgender people, the chosen name might be one that sounds identical for representatives of various genders – often foreign-sounding names such as Sasza, Max or Alex.

Under Poland’s current conservative government, there is no prospect of legal changes to make it easier for trans people to have their gender recognised. Indeed, Jarosław Kaczyński, the chairman of the ruling party, declared last year that called the idea that people can declare their own gender is “madness”.


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