The Ukrainian government is refusing to allow transgender women to leave the country along with the millions of women and children refugees who have been streaming into Poland and other European nations. Instead, Ukrainian border guards are turning them back and forcing them to return home to join the fight.
Their reasoning might sour some trans activists in the West: Ukraine’s martial law requires all biological males between the ages of 18 and 60 to remain in the country and fight. And it makes no exceptions for trans women.
Even trans women who have been widely accepted by their communities as woman still carry passports identifying them as males, which is what border guards see when they try to cross the border. In most cases, trans women who have tried to flee have been turned back, according to the Italian newspaper La Corriere della Sera, Italy’s largest-circulation newspaper.
The paper quoted a trans woman who shared her experience at the hands of the guards: “They are men…they must turn back and fight.”
The story has been picked up by a handful of European newspapers, including the UK-based Guardian. Trans women who spoke with the two newspapers described “humiliating” searches by border guards, and other perceived depredations, before being denied further passage.
As strange hands searched her body and pulled back her hair to check if it was a wig, Judis looked at the faces of the Ukrainian border guards and felt fear and despair.
“Ukrainian border guards undress you and touch you everywhere,” Judis says. “You can see on their faces they’re wondering ‘what are you?’ like you’re some kind of animal or something.”
Judis is a transgender woman whose birth certificate defines her as female.
Legally, there is no reason why she should not be allowed to pass with the thousands of women who are crossing Ukrainian borders to safety every day.
Yet, on 12 March at about 4am, after a long and humiliating search, border guards determined she was a man and prevented her passage into Poland.