Colombia is a militaristic country. All men over the age of 18 must do compulsory military service to access the military notebook, a document that has become a passport to everyday life. Most men wear it daily and must show it if required. But, in addition, it is a document required in most companies when hiring a job. Whoever does not have it is exposed to a huge labor barrier.
That is precisely what trans men live in Colombia and one of the complaints made by several of them in the book Trans men and military notebook in Colombia, published by Dejusticia and Fundación Ayllu Familias Transmasculinas. Of 117 trans men who participated in an investigation in Bogotá, about 95% do not have a work contract and almost 80% have suffered discrimination in accessing a job, according to OutRight International.
“The military notebook is a document that in the practical world functions as a gender mark, as a badge that one is a man before the State and society,” they say in the book that proposes legal solutions. The Colombian Army is made up of about 270,000 soldiers and each year 81,000 men enter compulsory military service. There are two ways to obtain the passbook in the country: by doing military service, which is the general rule; and through a “classification” in which men are subjected to physical examinations to test whether or not they are fit for the military. In the latter, which is popularly known as “paying the book,” those exempted pay a military compensation fee, a measure that is almost always used by those who can pay it.
When finding a job and showing that they do not have it, trans men are faced with revealing their gender identity to employers, as happened to Brian Tique when he aspired to a position as a warehouse assistant. “I passed all the tests and the interview. When they asked me for the military notebook, I told them that it was in process because I am a trans man. They told me they would call me and they never did, ”he explains.
The result – say Dejusticia’s lawyers – is that they are not hired or are forced to give up in the middle of the process and accept precarious jobs. The same thing happens when accessing education. According to the investigation, they also tend to lose opportunities to obtain scholarships or postgraduate degrees due to the lack of a military document.
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Trans men feel at a dead end: they are not exonerated from doing military service and they cannot do it peacefully for fear of violence and discrimination in the military. This is how Simón, a trans man who participated in the book, sees it: “I am a trans man who does not have his military notebook resolved because I am not willing to pathologize myself in front of the authorities out of fear, but I am also afraid of traveling. I hope the judges change our lives. “
“Not having a notebook has become an obstacle for four rights: work; to privacy because upon request for the document they are exposed to reveal that they are trans people; to education and security ”, explains to EL PAÍS Jhonnatan Espinosa, director of the Ayllu Families Transmasculinas and one of the authors of the book. He says that he began his transition to masculinity from a very young age and was accompanied by his family. Since 2013, he has led the foundation that works with the families of trans men and provides them with legal and emotional support.
The problem, says Espinosa, begins in the so-called police raids, when the authorities look for young people who have not defined their military situation and in some cases put them on trucks. For trans men it is even more difficult: in the face of raids they are exposed to “forcibly reveal their gender identity in order to gain access to certain spaces and justify not carrying a military card.”
That is how Lukas Morales has lived it, who tells his testimony in the book. “When I handed him the document, the policeman told me: ‘come on, but this is wrong because it says that you are a woman and you are a man’. I explained that I had not been able to do the procedure to change my papers. There they began to say that it was just a story, that I had the roles rigged ”.
Something similar to what Mike Durán lives, the first person in the South American country who has just got his identity recognized as a transsexual in the civil registry. “They always look at the document, they look at me and laugh. It is very difficult for them to understand that I am not the woman who says the ID, ”she recently told EL PAÍS. Now, your document has a T, which in your case stands for transsexual.
Most Colombian men over 18 years of age remember the military medical exam: when the men from the schools are gathered in front of a nurse and an Army official who evaluates their testicles. For trans men, that moment means disclosing their gender identity to their fellow students.
They ask to be exonerated
Law 1861 of 2017 in Colombia exempts from military service men victims of the conflict, people with disabilities, indigenous people, among others. And, since 2017, also to those “men who after their registration have stopped having the male sex component in the civil registry”, that is to say, trans women.
But trans men (people assigned to the female sex at birth and who made a transition to the male sex) were left out of that list. In 2017, a bill was discussed in Congress in which they were exempted. However, they were withdrawn “at the last minute” after the interventions of several conservative congressmen.
For this reason, eight organizations joined together and filed a lawsuit before the Constitutional Court for a review of this article, which they consider unconstitutional. They argue that they should be on the list because it is a constitutionally protected minority, historically systematically discriminated against “and in special circumstances of defenselessness and vulnerability.”
“The exoneration is only one of the ways, the closest and least complex for the State. It only implies a reform to the Law and to include them among those other exonerated men (indigenous people, victims, or parents head of the family) ”, says Espinosa. If the requirement of military service for trans men is maintained, the Army must adapt facilities and create protocols that work to include them. “But if the Army has not advanced with accommodations for women less for trans men.” That is why they are hoping for the response of the constitutional court.
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