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Yuri Frank

Yuriy Frank (2015)
HD video, sound, color, 16:9
11:30 minutes

My name is Yuri Frank. I am the coordinator of transgender programs at the NGO Insight. I work with the trans community and with the public authorities on issues of discrimination, the procedures for sex change and the change of documents Ukraine.

The situation of transgender people in Ukraine is quite complicated for several reasons. First, there is a high level of homophobia and transphobia in our society. People are quite xenophobic. Transgender people face discrimination when they deal with the public authorities and they face violence, rudeness, and lack of understanding from their relatives and friends.

The second reason is the fact that the condition of transgenderism or transexualism, as it is indicated in the medical records, is still considered to be a mental illness. This is documented at the international level in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) approved by the World Health Organization (WHO). This causes stigma, because in our society people with any psychiatric conditions are considered dysfunctional and are treated with distrust.

The third issue is the state-approved procedure, which allows trans people to gain access to medical treatment and to change their name and gender identity in their documents. According to the current process, if a transgender person wants to have surgery and change their documents they must take a series of steps that often last for years. The first stage is going to a psychiatrist, getting registered as a patient and being sent for examination at a psychiatric hospital for one month. Supposedly, this is done to establish the diagnosis of “transexualism.” In my opinion this is a political diagnosis. It is exactly the same kind of diagnosis that "homosexuality" used to be when it was also considered a mental illness.

The psychiatrists are often older people formed during the Soviet years and have very stereotypical ideas concerning gender roles. Transgender people often have to lie. They have to come up with a highly stereotypical story in order to appear as masculine as possible if they are transgender men and as feminine as possible if they are transgender women.

According to the law after these 30 to 45 days, if everything goes well, the doctors decide whether or not to give a diagnosis. After getting a decision the person has to go to Kiev from wherever they live and pass a special commission. This multidisciplinary commission consists of 12 people that include psychiatrists, endocrinologists, psychologists and surgeons. If they are satisfied with everything, they issue a certificate approving hormone treatment and surgery. But there is a misconception that all transgender people want to undergo operations and to make their bodies look as much as possible as the bodies of the opposite sex. But in fact, the situation is different. There are people who are comfortable if they just take hormones for example.

I come from a provincial town where it seemed as if you had no choices in life. Everything seemed to have already been decided for you: If you were a girl, you would get married and have children. I was married for 7 years. My husband was not a bad person. I cannot say he was violent to me, but for me our marriage was an escape from my mother. To some extent it was also an escape from the past, because in my youth I experienced many unpleasant moments. I survived rape and an abusive partnership with a man who beat me.

I knew little about feminism or social causes behind those stereotypes. I learned about that much later. But even when I learned these things, I still felt uncomfortable in my body because society considered me a woman and treated me respectively. I started using masculine nouns and identifying myself that way online. I also wrote fan fiction and signed it with a man’s name. At one point it simply became clear to me that I was not living or controlling my life. By that time, my husband and I were already living together only as friends and we could separate. I wanted to start my own life.

In my opinion, the current conflict in Eastern Ukraine is caused by Russia's aggression and by Russia’s manipulation of the pro-Russian sentiment common to that region. These events have made the situation even more difficult for trans people. A man who could not leave the area because he is trans contacted us. He had been taking hormones for a long time and it was hard to imagine that he had once been a woman. He had a passport with a woman's name, which he could not change because of the procedure, so he could not leave. We only managed to help him after an intervention of the UN mission. After almost three months. We got in touch with them and they transported him to the border where he met our volunteers.

Recently, right wing and nationalist groups have become more active and they a very bad attitude towards LGBT people. They actually demonstrate physical violence towards LGBT people and this could be observed during the pride march this year. This can also be seen in our daily life: Just two days ago, I received a call from a trans woman asking me how to write a statement to the police because she had been kicked in the Maidan Square by people wearing swastika tattoos. To our new police’s credit, they treated her politely, drove her home and took her statement. She is hoping that her case will be investigated. We often encounter the problem that hate crimes are not investigated. We a very have poor legislation and such cases are seen as hooliganism.

To the people who live in this city and in this country: I wish them to be kinder and not to follow the first stereotypical idea that comes into their heads. Not everything that seems obvious is really so obvious. Those people we are used to labeling are in reality just like you. They have their own problems and circumstances. Anyone could find themselves in a position where they represent a minority or an oppressed group. I would like as few people as possible to ever find themselves in situations of oppression and discrimination. But I would like more people to understand what that feels like and to try to take a stand against it with the knowledge that this could also happen to them.