21 January 2012

Sterilization In Sweden

One day, one decade, one century, you're ahead of the curve.  Then the curve catches up with you.  If you're not careful, it becomes a tidal wave.

I know; I mixed metaphors a bit.  But you get the idea.  

When I was young, Sweden was seen as a progressive country in, among other areas, human rights, particularly for LGBT people.  It was one of those countries (along with Denmark) to which men went for their "sex change" operations.  (At that time, one rarely--if ever heard of FTMs.)  And Sweden was one of the first countries to include language in its laws specifically to protect gay men and lesbians.

Fast-forward to today, when the country's law regarding gender-reassignment surgery are being assailed as "barbaric" by human rights activists.

The law, enacted in 1972, says that any Swedish resident who wants to undergo gender reassignment surgery must be over 18 and unmarried--and be sterilized before the surgery.  

I used to think that no one under the age of 25 or so should undergo the surgery until I met the teenager who underwent the same surgery, on the same day, as I did.  Some might say she is unusual, but from what she and her mother told me, it was clear from an early age that she simply could not grow up to be a man.  

As for marital status:  Many people--like Joyce, my roommate at San Rafael Hospital in Trinidad--are married when they have the surgery.  Some manage to remain so.  If a marriage stays together through and after the transition and surgery, it's hard to beat for support!

But sterilization is what really has human rights activists upset.  At the time the law was enacted, that stipulation may have made sense, given what the medical establishment knew--and much of the public believed--about transgender people.  

Most of the Swedish Parliament, and public, wants to change the law.  However, there is a conservative party (sound familiar?)  that's blocking the change.  That party is said to be small; I hope its influence will be even smaller in proportion to its size.  And I hope Sweden returns to its longtime role as the small country with a big role in the state of human rights.