Do You Exist?

May 30, 2012


I’ve got papers, therefore I must exist.

I walked into the Post Office. Documents firmly in my hand.  Ready for my passport interview.

The middle-aged lady behind the counter glanced at me from the lofty heights above her bifocals. Stamping her position of authority before the painstaking examination of papers would begin.

The child in my stroller was 9 months old. She needed a passport too. Her application was completed first. All boxes ticked.

Half way through checking my application, the interviewer shuffled my papers about. There was a big problem. My birth certificate. It was written in Indonesian.

I was used to this. My country of birth has been a bureaucratic bother when filling out paperwork most of my life. I was born in Indonesia to Australian parents which makes me an Australian citizen. I pointed out my citizenship form that accompanied my birth certificate. It was in English.

She went away, behind a closed door. She needed to consult with her supervisor. I was the wild card that skewed her day.

She came back. There was a further problem. The citizenship form didn’t indicate my gender. It declared every other possible detail about me, but not my gender. She needed a document to state that I was born a female. In English.

I drew her attention to the old passport on the counter – the one I had let lapse – and reminded her that I was a female in that document.  Would that be enough proof of my femalehood?

Apparently not.

I pointed out that my name on the Indonesian birth certificate was the same as the citizenship form, and that in my lifetime I had not met one boy named “Deborah Jane”.

She went away again. Meanwhile my 9 month girl was going nuts in the stroller. I picked her up before she could grab all the strategically placed eye-level toys.

The interviewer came back. Nope, it needed to be stated in English. She told me that I needed to get an Indonesian interpreter – at my expense – to prove what it said.

What the?!  There was no way in hell I was going to pay for an interpreter. All to prove that I was a female? My baby started screaming in my arms. At this point I was quite prepared to go behind the counter, pull up my skirt, and show the interviewer firsthand that I indeed had lady bits.

I took a few deep breaths and composed myself for a stealth attack of logic. I thought it was worth a shot.

I launched it:

Here was my daughter. She had been proven to exist, yes?
And the documentation to prove this fact was her birth certificate, yes?
Well, guess what? I – yes the person standing in front of her – I was on that birth certificate, under ‘MOTHER’.  Which indicates that I gave birth to her. And in order to give birth one must have female anatomy, yes?

Who could argue with this?

She couldn’t.

I walked out of there with a passport and a crazy new sense of validation.

I had papers – and a vagina – therefore I must exist.

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