Fighting Forced Sterilization in Sweden

I generally troll the Transgender news regularly looking for stories to use in my quest to enlighten people about why transpeople need to be treated better than vermin.  This week I was deleted to discover a feature article by Ann Tornkvist at GlobalPost, entitled Transgender Actress mourns her “forcible sterilization”.

We like to think that Scandanavia countries like Sweden are bastions of good treatment for people like us.  I read the article and stand corrected.  Some things are apparently pretty much the same all over.

The article features the story of Swedish actress Aleksa Lundberg.  Now 29 Lundberg completed transition when she was 18.

Aleksa Lundberg remembers being four years old and standing by the kindergarten’s wading pool. The teachers began separating the children into groups for an autumnal walk through the nearby woods, ushering boys to one side, girls to another. Lundberg remembers being unsure which side to choose.

“I knew that I was expected to join the boys, but equally I knew that I wanted to join the girls,” Lundberg says.

As Lundberg moved to join the girls’ side, a teacher with a tight, graying perm framing a face contorted in anger grabbed Lundberg by the wrist and “half led, half pulled” her to the group of boys, telling her firmly that this was where Lundberg belonged.

“It was my first experience of an ‘authority’ telling me what I could do, what I should be, and it led to what is my first memory of an anxiety attack,” says Lundberg, now a popular 29-year-old actress who completed the transition from male to female when she was 18. “The silhouettes of the boys standing around me transformed into jail bars in front of my eyes.”

This remembrance strikes so close to my own experience that I had to keep reading.

Aleksa has chosen to become vocal on an issue which, at this time in her life, cannot be addressed in a fashion to change her life, but which she hopes to influence in order to improve the lives of others.

Sweden has a legal requirement that in order to change legal sex, one must first be sterilized.  

One has to be a Swedish citizen and 18 years old, unmarried, sterilized and having lived for two years as the opposite gender.

Wikipedia, on changing legal gender in Sweden

The law additionally forbids freezing eggs or sperm before surgery.  This effectively denies young transpeople the right to procreation.  In effect, it is “compulsory sterilization”.  Although Australia has just recently overturned such a requirement and the Netherlands has said that it will consider doing the same and Germany and Italy recently eliminated their requiremnts, many countries and most of the states in the US still have similar requirements…though I must admit not encountering anything during my transition telling me that saving sperm or eggs for later use was against the law for transpeople.

Caliing the law a dark chapter in Swedish history, Prime Minister Fredrick Reinfelt and other leaders have been discussing the repeal of the sterilization law for months.  Seven of the country’s main political parties support the repeal of the 1972 law.  But the conservative Christian Democrats, who control the Social Welfare Department in the present make-up of the coalition government.  Why do they do so?  They argue that sex reassignment surgery is a threat to the social order and that they are just “looking out for children’s  interests”.

There are limits to how much we should experiment with how life is created.  Every day I meet people who are seeking their identity and their background, asking where they come from.  Men don’t give birth to babies.  A daddy can’t at the same time be a mummy.  Just because you can, does that mean that you should?

–Anita Eclund, Christian Democrats spokesperson

About 50 sex reassignment surgeries are registered each year in Sweden.  Treatment is a part of state-funded healthcare.

It is a violation of human rights to force a person to have surgery that they do not need or want in order to have your gender legally recognized.

–Ulrika Westerlund, president of the Swedish Foundation for LGBT Rights

Swedish doctors and academmics pursued a eugenics program from the 1930s until 1976, so many in the country are a bit touchy on the subject.

Supporters of the law don’t want the sterilization referred to as ‘forcible,’ but they didn’t want to call it that in the past either.  But for transgendereds, the state has always stood behind this demand with the threat of [withholding medical] treatment. It is shameful that we have forcible sterilization in the year 2011.

–Par Wiktorsson, current president of the Stockholm Pride Festival

Swedish parliament reopens very soon.  Efforts to change the law may be affected by recent scandals involving Social Democrat leader HÃ¥kan Juholt.  We’ll have to wait and see.

It was news to me that the Christian Democrats may be excluded from the decision making process.  As I understand it, the young members want to modernize, so it’s the old farts putting up resistance.


Lycka till, Aleksa!



    • Robyn on November 4, 2011 at 23:03

    …so I might be here to respond to comments, but I also might not.

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