JP / BRUZZ
Expat Jessica could get her gender on her ID card changed, but to change her first name she has to go to Romania!
Jessica, who lives in the Brussels borough of Etterbeek, has had her gender changed on her identity card, but to modify her first name, she has to go to Romania. She is a transgender woman of Romanian origin. The chances her native country will cooperate are nihil she says: "I have been living in Belgium for 10 years, yet they send me to a transphobic country for the name change".
Jessica had no trouble getting her gender changed on her identity card. But when she also wanted her first name changed, it caused problems. Jessica can’t understand why. "Romania is a homo- and transphobic country." It’s why Jessica left for Belgium about 10 years ago. She moved to Etterbeek in 2021 and married a Belgian a year later.
In October 2022, her application for a legal gender change was approved. Her Belgian identity card now bears an "F" for “femme”. So far, no problems. But now it turns out that a gender change doesn’t automatically allow a name change. Only certain groups of foreigners residing in Belgium – recognised refugees and stateless persons – can have their names changed by the municipality. The others must return to their home country to do so.
Laurens Guinee, a lawyer at law firm Intolaw, noticed the inconsistency in the law a decade ago. He also noted that a distinction is made between foreigners registered in Belgian population registers and foreigners who are not.
"I am a woman, I introduce myself as a woman, but if you look at my identity card, you will see my birth name, Andrei," says Jessica. "Sometimes I see people looking surprised when they see my identity card, then I quickly say that a typo crept into my first name. If you can change your gender and signature, why not the name on your ID card? It’s absurd."
"The name on my ID card causes huge problems," says Jessica. "I have trouble finding work because my name has not been changed. When I talk to a potential employer on the phone, everything is fine. But as soon as I show my identity card with a male first name, it’s a nyet," Jessica tells Brussels media outlet BRUZZ.
"No one else dares to talk"
How many people are in the same situation is difficult to estimate. A recent report by the Institute for Gender Equality shows that almost 600 people had changed their gender identity by 2022.
According to Genre Pluriel, an organisation that defends the interests of transgenders, about five per cent of the Brussels and Belgian population is transgender or intersex. The proportion of non-Belgians in the Brussels population is 36.9 per cent. In other words: chances are very high that Jessica is not the only one.
"There are people who just give up," Jessica says. "And even if there are five thousand people like me, only one per cent will bear witness. Suppose my parents didn’t know, I wouldn’t dare say it either."
What are Jessica’s options? Going to Romania for the name change is a non-starter. Her second option is to wait until she is officially Belgian. Jessica already met the criteria to become Belgian but can no longer provide proof of work and study as Andrei’s national registry number disappeared when Jessica got her new national registry number.
Becoming Belgian via marriage is still possible. That could provide a solution. Jessica has now been married for over a year. In July 2025, she can start the nationality application, which will probably take a year. By 2026, she could have a name that matches her signature, photo and the "F" of "femme".