he airport is Hong Kong. Eliana Rubashkyn is a Colombian pharmacist in the second year of her MBA at Taipei University. She had just discovered she was intersex, that is she has both male and female chromosomes.
Raised as a boy, Eliana had always felt she was a woman. In Taiwan she started a course of hormone modulation to magnify her female qualities and suppress her male ones. The treatment had a miraculous effect. Her body shape changed, breasts grew, voice got higher, and even the structure of her face altered. But the speed of the change caused more problems than she could possibly have imagined.
Taiwanese university authorities asked Eliana to update the ID photo on her passport because she looked so different. As Colombia has no diplomatic relations with Taiwan, she had to travel 90 minutes to Hong Kong to visit the Colombian consulate there. She packed two shirts and two pairs of pants, expecting to be there just one night.
When they checked her passport at Hong Kong, the beard wasn’t the only problem; her transformation to a woman was so radical even the biometrics – the distance between features on her face – did not compute. Eliana was treated like a criminal. Actually she was treated worse than a criminal, as criminals have certain rights. She was stripped naked for nine hours, physically and sexually assaulted. Only the intervention of Amnesty International and local activists got her released from detention. But that was far from the end of it.
Hong Kong immigration kept her passport. She couldn’t go back to Taipei where she lived, or any other country for that matter. The only place she was permitted to go was Colombia, under a deportation order. That was not a good option for Eliana. In her home town, Bogota, right-wing militias roam the streets practising something called “social cleansing” against minorities, including the transgendered community. Eliana had twice been attacked while out cross-dressing; once they nearly killed her.