Legal precedent brings hope to families of transgender children

New case in Valencia showcases the shortcomings of legislation that puts limits on Civil Registry changes

Cristina Vázquez
Ana Navarro with her daughter María, born Mario, in Valencia.
Ana Navarro with her daughter María, born Mario, in Valencia.MÓNICA TORRES

At age six, María does not want to be an astronaut, an inventor or a superhero like his siblings. Instead, he wants to be a girl.

His mother, Ana Navarro, remembers when she realized that her little boy Mario was in fact María.

If we escape the labels, we’re left with the person. Now I see that María is happy

Ana Navarro

“If I look back and think about the moment that it became manifest that he was a girl, I would say that since the very beginning,” she says. “I remember her at age two playing roles that are socially associated with women. When she began to speak, every day she would repeat that when she grew up she would be a girl and that her name would be María.”

Ana continues with her child’s story.

“At night I would go online to find information, because I’d been educated to believe that boys are boys because they have a penis and girls and girls because they have a vulva,” she recalls. “He did not look happy, he was not the radiant child that he should have been at that age. He was very shy, and I could see something was amiss...”

Navarro, a 38-year-old psychologist and mother of five, eventually found an article by a contributor from the Daniela Foundation. She got in touch with the association, which helped her to understand what was going on with her child, and to take the first steps.

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“One day, at dinner time, we said that we knew a girl with a penis, and there was a dialogue with my older daughters while the little one listened. I told all five of them that we were going to redecorate their rooms, and asked them to draw a self-portrait so we could print it out and hang it from the wall. And María drew herself the way she is: a girl with a dress, long hair and a girl’s name. I remember when he handed me the notebook I said ‘Oh, Mario, you look very nice with long hair,’ and he looked up and said very earnestly, ‘I’m going to be a girl, I really am.’ He was five years old.”

María’s family began communicating this reality to the people around them. “On a Friday he left school as Mario, and the following Monday he showed up as María, wearing his uniform pinafore dress. There was no problem,” says Navarro, underscoring that the school, Vírgen de Cortes de Valencia, made it easy for them.

“It’s the environment that lets a person express themselves freely. People tend to confuse identity with genitalia,” she adds.

The legal battle

To wage the legal battle, María’s family will use the recent precedents set by two judges who authorized an official name and gender change at the Valencia Civil Registry for two minors without the need to accredit a two-year medical treatment, as stipulated by law.

The lawyer who managed both cases, Ana Cañizares of Vivar&Asociados, says that “it is a precedent for other civil registries in Spain, which for the most part have never dealt with a request for a child gender change and do not know how to deal with it.”

“We think there is a lack of knowledge, and even fear, among Civil Registry judges,” she adds.

Nine regions with special units

There are nine regions in Spain with public departments to handle gender identity and transgender issues: Asturias, Basque Country, Navarre, Aragon, Catalonia, the Valencia region, Madrid, Andalusia and the Canary Islands.

The most recent figures, dating back to late 2014 and contributed by these regions, show that 4,459 transgender individuals used these services, of whom 10% were minors.

By extrapolating these figures, in Spain there could be one biological male who feels like a woman for every 9,665 to 21,031 males, explains Hurtado. Inversely, there is one biological female who feels like a man for every 15,456 to 48,096 females.

In March, the Supreme Court questioned the existing veto on name changes for transgender children, and raised a question of unconstitutionality regarding the need for individuals to be of legal age before applying for such changes.

The fact that transgender minors bear ID listing a gender that does not match the way they feel “ was causing many demeaning and painful situations in such everyday activities as using the bathroom or the dressing room in school, going to camp and so on,” says the lawyer Juan Antonio Vivar, adding that some of the minors he has represented had used white-out to blot out their own names and pictures on their ID cards.

“The unknown is scary to us, but it’s easy,” says María’s mother. “If we escape the labels, we’re left with the person. Now I see that María is happy.”

And now that María already feels like a girl, when she’s asked what she wants to be when she grows up, she replies that she’s going to be a riding school instructor. She loves horses.

English version by Susana Urra.

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