Withholding the letter: trans people seeking asylum and the perceived legal jurisdiction of gender

Virtually in all cases, the gender of trans people who are asylum seekers is based on the information detailed in their country of origin documentation and not on their stated or expressed gender. Even as this lack of recognition forms part of the basis of their claim of persecution. Trans claimants are therefore placed in a great position of precarity. Refugee-receiving states have provided several reasons for not recognizing the gender identity of the claimant. These include a fear of ‘accidental naturalization’ (South Africa) or by delimiting the matter as ‘beyond their jurisdiction’ (Hungary). For trans refugees, this incongruence not only affects access to shelters, employment and financial aid but can, if stopped by police, lead to accusations of fraud. In this paper I consider what the inability of the global refugee regime to legally recognize the gender of trans applicants tells us about the perceived legal jurisdiction of gender and the meaning of refugee protection.