Hi Warren! In 2012 you held a powerful speech at a protest against forced sterilization of transgender people on Mynttorget, Stockholm. What events had led up to that speech?
– At the time there was widespread debate over whether or not transgender people should be allowed to change their legal gender marker without surgical sterilization. There were many debate articles and other newspaper articles and radio and TV pieces etc. on the topic and many of these were spreading misinformation. It seemed like everybody had an opinion despite not understanding what the sterilization law actually entailed for the people directly affected. It was incredibly frustrating to hear people’s opinions that were not based on the reality of the situation, especially because these people were in no way affected by this law. The sterilization law was horrible in and of itself, but the public debate surrounding it felt humiliating, inappropriate and invasive. That is the feeling I wanted to communicate. I was thinking about that on the train to the demonstration. I hated that there had to be a demonstration at all. I wanted to say that the debate that was going on in parliament was taking a very private matter and making it public in a way that was dehumanizing. Listening to the debate as a transsexual person myself, hearing politicians discuss what I should or should not be able to do with my reproductive organs, that felt like being naked and on display.
The now banned sterilization law also prohibited transgender people to freeze eggs or sperm to use for assisted reproduction. Why do you think the Swedish state found it so important to regulate transgender people’s fertility?
– There were two kinds of arguments in favor of the sterilization law. The first was based on a complete misunderstanding of the law. Even politicians who were voting on it, didn’t understand what it meant in practice. For example, many public opinions that were aired failed to understand that the surgical sterilization requirement was not a genital surgery requirement. This argument was about the importance of the legal gender marker matching the genitalia. However, the law didn’t have anything to do with genitalia. That is to say a person could have a vagina and change their legal gender to male without getting a penis as long as they had their fallopian tubes severed or ovaries removed first and signed an affadavit swearing they had no eggs frozen anywhere. The second argument was based on concern for children. People, politicians and “expert” doctors included, vocally expressed that having a transgender parent would be so damaging to a child that it was right to forbid it.
Thanks to protests such as the one you participated in, forced sterilization of transgender people was abolished in 2013. Why was the ban of forced sterilization of transgender people so important?
– Unfortunately, we never raised enough political capital to overturn the law in parliament. It was overturned in court. Trans people are entitled to full participation in society according to their gender identity. That’s not possible without legal recognition of your gender identity. Everyone else has the right to reproduce if they want to and their body is capable of it. Why should trans people not have the same right? The only reasons to deny trans people that right are based in hateful myths — that we would make horrible parents and our children would be damaged. Dissolving hateful myths about minorities should be important to everyone.
What other changes need to be made in order to further strengthen trans rights in Sweden?
– I like to look back on the history of legal gender and ask “Why do we have this?” The answer is, to a large extent, the lawful oppression of women. Gender needed to be codified in law so that men would be citizens and women would not be. Not a pretty history. Later on legal gender served the purpose of preventing certain people from having sex with each other or marrying each other. Today, it mainly exists as a relic and a data collection tool for monitoring gender equality metrics. Some argue that it also still serves the function of protecting women by insisting on a public consensus on the membership criteria for the group “women.” However, as trans people have been permitted to change legal gender without changing their genitalia since at least the 1970’s, that argument does not have much of a leg to stand on. In my opinion, “data collection” is not nearly a good enough reason for the ongoing pain, frustration, discrimination and humiliation that the existence of legal gender continues to inflict on a wide range of transgender and intersex people. If we can combat racism without the existence of legal race categories, then we can certainly work to eradicate sexism without legal gender. Gender as expression, as culture, as personal identity, as group identity, those I believe are good things. I do not wish to erase gender from society. But I think gender as a legal category should be abolished.