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Monday, June 13, 2005
Donita Ganzon and Jiffy Javellana, a married couple living in Los Angeles, went to the local Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) office in July of 2004 for the requisite interview before Javellana will be issued his green card. They expected no problem; their case was slam-dunk because they were truly living as husband and wife after their Las Vegas wedding in 2001, a few months after Javellana arrived in the U.S. on a fiance' visa.

Still, Ganzon prepared herself for some tough questioning by the CIS (the new name of the Immigration and Naturalization Services, which is now under the Department of Homeland Security) agent. "I expected to be asked about our age difference so I had a ready answer." Ganzon was 58 years old, her husband was 33 years her junior.

To her surprise and relief, the CIS interviewee never brought the topic."It was a pleasant interwiew," Ganzon recalled. There was a lot of banter and light moments and, after almost four hours, they were eager to get out of there. As they were leaving, Ganzon made a final remark to the CIS agent: "You know, the beauty of our relationship is that despite the fact that I had a sex change, my husband loves me." She did not anticipate that such a simple statement would turn their world upside down.

Tired and Trusting.
The CIS agent started typing something and made Ganzon sign a form. It was an official declaration that she was a Transsexual, she was told. Tired and trusting that it was just a formality, Ganzon signed without reading the text through. Her signature spelled Javellana's doom. Three weeks later, the CIS denied him green card and revoked his work permit.

Seeking redress, the shocked couple hired the famous L.A. immigration law firm, Kornberg,Abramovitz, Feldun to look into the case. It turned out that the document Ganzon was made to sign was actually a withdrawal of her petition. It was a wrong move by the CIS, the lawyers said. The withdrawl was null because Ganzon's petition was already accepted when Javellana was allowed entry on a fiance' visa.

At issue was the CIS contention that, under the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, a legal union can only be between a man and a woman. Transsexuals like Ganzon, despite having all her legal documents declare her a woman after her sex reasignment surgery in 1981, are still considered males. The case is therefore about a same sex marriage, which the agency does not recognize.

In November last year, the law firm sued the CIS on behalf of Ganzon and Javellana. The case, despite being one of about 10 similar disputes currently pending with the CIS, caught the media's attention because it was the first that would test the legality of a CIS memo issued on April 16,2004, stating that a marriage or intended marriage between two individuals where one or both are transsexuals is not considered valid for immigration purposes.

Interestingly, the CIS memo also said that in case where the gender of the individual is not pertinent to an immigration petition or application, CIS will make its decision based on the merits of the applciation or petition, without regard for the transsexuality of the applicant.

Conservative Environment.
The memo according to observers, is reflective of the today's very conservative political environment. Before the current Bush administration, marriages involving transsexuals did not raise a flag; there was no procedure to question or invalidate an alien's getting a green card on this issue.

In fact, the CIS memo itslef recognize that almost 50 percent of the states in U.S. issues new birth certificates to persons who have undergone sex-reassignment surgery after they submit the proper medical documentation. In California, Ganzon is considered a female, therefore, her lawyer argues, the Defense of Marriage Act does not apply because this is not a same sex marriage.

In early 2005, the CIS relented a bit by retracting the denial of the petition and reissuing Javellana's work permit, pending a restudy of the case. No date was given for a deicsion, however, so Debra Davise-Soshoux, the firms lawyer handling the case, amended the lawsuit to demand a prompt decision. "Any decision to reconsider without a schedule is not a reconsideration," she states.

Ganzon agrees. The ase has reated so much tension in their lvies, she says. When Javellana has to stop working after his permit was withdrawn, it was a bad time for both of them. "Napahiya siya (He felt humiliated)," she reveals. While her transsexuality was always a non issue between them, the publicity depressed him. "He's embarrassed because people might thing he's gay. He's not gay, he's straight. He fell in love with me because I am a woman".

The Way She Was.
Ganzon, whose birth name is Celedonio graduated from nursing school in Manila in 1967. Articulate and self assured., he was always elected president of his class. The recognition made him feel obligated to hide his gayness. He had girlfriends, he never acted gay. After graduation, he found a job as a public health nurse with Operation Wolrd Freddom, one of the humanitarian groups working in Vietnam during the war. He stayed in Vietnam for three years, after whcih he returned to Manila and worked as a nurse at the Makati Medical Centre's psychiatric unit.

In 1974, following a period of drift and self destructive bahaviour, he appliced for a nursing position in a Chicago hospital and was accepted. He was then already openly gay but, despite a frantic social life with other gays, he always felt an emptiness within that drove him to depression. It did'nt help that he had his share of heartbreaks from relationships that didn't work out.

Two years later, in one praying session at a time of intense loneliness, he heard a voice withoin that said,: "Go be a woman". Sex reassignment surgery was not yet common then; he said, in fact, he knew very little about it and never even considered it. But the epiphany led him to inquire about the procedure. It was the turning point in his life.

For five years, Ganzon went through the usual preparation for a sex change. He dressed like a woman and took hormones. He changed his name from Don to Donita. He submitted to intense therapy to make sure it was what he really wanted. He never for a moment questioned or doubted his desicions, he says, "I was in euphoria. Everything on my body just rounded out."

Surgical Procedure.
In 1981, Donita went to Colorado for a surgical procedure called Vaginoplasty, which changes a man into a woman. Followng a painful recovery, she returned to the same house, the same job, and the same social circle. Small boned andptite by nature, and with elegant taste in clothes, it was easy for her to transition to her new life. "I was glowing from the inside", she tells a reporter. "Men were drooling over me".

Six years later, Donita became a U.S. citizen as a woman. Her nursing license and her driver's license had also been changed to incidate her new gender. Eventually, she left Chicago to move to L.A. to nurture her showbiz ambitions. She however never abandoned her day job as a nurse but chose to be "on call" whenever a facility neede her.

When she met Javellana in 2000 on a visit home to Paranaque, they immediately connected. It did'nt take long for them to fall in love. When she was sure that they would make a good partnership, she filed petion papers to allow him to join her in the U.S. IN September 2001, a week before 9/11, Javellana flew to L.A. to a new wife and a new life.

Little did they know that the America that embraces him when he arrived would not be the same America that would try to invalidate the world that he and Donita have shaped for each other.

(abstracted from Filipinas Magazine by :GN)
posted by infraternam meam @ 1:17 AM  
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Name: infraternam meam
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About Me: I am now at the prime of my life and have been married for the past 25 years. Sickly at times, but wants to see the elixir vita, so that I will be able to see my grandchildren from my two boys.
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