Caitlyn Jenner at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party in Beverly Hills. Picture: Reuters
South Africa is one of the leading countries in the world with progressive laws, and one such legislation is called the Alteration of Sex Description and Sex Status Act (Act 49 of 2003).

This Act empowers transgender people to apply to the Department of Home Affairs to have their gender marker legally changed, to reflect their authentic felt gender.

Under the Act, three types of people may apply for change of the sex description in their birth record. These include people who have undergone gender affirmation surgery, people whose sexual characteristics have evolved naturally and intersex people.

The Act does not require surgery as a prerequisite for a transgender person to apply to have their sex description and sex status corrected.

To be legally recognised as such transgender people are required to produce to the Home Affairs Department two letters from health-care practitioners confirming that they have undergone transition to be able to apply for the alteration on their identity document.

According to Ronald Addinall-van Straaten, a UCT lecturer, clinical social worker and sexologist specialising in gender identity - who also volunteers at an LGBTI organisation, the Triangle Project - even though this law makes it possible for the transgender person to have their “dignity and worth respected and valued”, many transgender people report facing prejudice and discrimination from officials who process their applications.

“This of course is very distressing and humiliating for the transgender person. Furthermore, you hear of the process to get the alteration of sex description and sex status completed taking years to be completed with transgender persons being told their documents have been lost or just no explanation as to why the delays in the completion of the process,” he said.

The law states, however, that if the application is refused, it may be appealed to the Minister of Home Affairs, and if the appeal is refused the decision may be challenged in a court of law. Once an application is approved, the Department of Home Affairs issues a new birth certificate and identity document. The change in sex is valid for all purposes, but does not affect any rights or obligations the person had before it occurred.