July 5, 2015

Conservative Minister Defends Transgender Right to Self-determination

A conservative minister of health becomes a strong supporter of transgender rights, changing the main principle of transgender health care in the process. Only the trans persons themselves can decide on their gender identity, he says.
Norwegian Minister of Health, Bent Høie,
and transgender lesbian activist Christine Marie
Jentoft agree that the transgender people are the
ones who should decide on their legal identity.
(Photo: Reidar Engesbak, Blikk)


The Norwegian Minister of Health and Care Services, Bent Høie, recently made an important argument about why there should be no trial period for people who want to transition.

He wrote:
"When I started working on these issues, I believed that a period of reflection was necessary -- before you take such an important decision. But, a meeting with Skeiv Ungdom [the Norwegian organization "Queer Youth"] made it clear to me that such a requirement is unreasonable for those concerned.

These people have had a lot of time for thinking. Some of them have felt a misalignment between body and gender since they were small kids, while others have spent a lot of time questioning and doubting their way to the same answer.

To demand a period of reflection means that they will once again feel that they are not believed or taken seriously. You tell them that they have not spent enough time to think this through on their own."
Høie is talking about a change of legal gender status here, which does not necessarily entail hormones and surgery, but in principle this is a radical shift in how transgender people are treated in this country.

Abolishing the gatekeeper function
Trans man Luca Dalen Espseth has argued strongly
against the current practice of health personnel asking
transgender people about sexual desires and
behaviors. (Aftenposten)
(Photo: Nathalie Wiik Lystad)


Høie's argument is a very powerful one. The current logic is that transgender people seeking a legal change of gender have to be protected against themselves by non-elected representatives of the medical establishment, the so-called gatekeepers.

By decoupling legal acceptance from medical transitioning, Høie gives the power back to the individual, following the principle that those who are going through this are more likely to know what's best for them.

Today castration is required

Currently Norwegian law requires that a person must undergo medical treatment that includes castration to achieve legal gender recognition. Moreover, the power to grant such medical treatment has been given to the National Treatment Unit for Transsexualism at the Oslo University Hospital, a unit that has repeatedly been accused for demanding that their transgender patients live up to traditional gender stereotypes to be accepted for treatment. 


According to my sources, admitting to crossdreaming, will -- for instance -- make it very hard for transgender persons transitioning to get such legal recognition. The human rights organization Amnesty International has argued convincingly that this practice represents a violation of the human rights of transgender people.
MTF trans woman John Jeanette Solstad Remø was
Amnesty International's front figure in their
campaign against the current gatekeeper regime.
(Photo: Amnesty)

The Norwegian government has now proposed a law revision that will allow people to change legal gender without any medical intervention whatsoever.

According to this proposal, children as young as seven will be allowed to change their legal gender with parental support. Anyone aged 16 or above can apply themselves. Surgery will still only be performed on those over 18.

It is still unclear how this change in law will affect the access to health service and surgery. The proposal is based on the report Right to Right Gender -- Health for All Genders, presented in April 2015 (English summary here). 

The expert group behind the report recommend that a personal declaration to the national registry authorities should be adequate for changing legal gender. They also recommended a reform in transgender health care, in essence removing the monopoly the Oslo University Hospital has at the moment.

The change will in any case help transgender men and women who are denied help by the public health service, and who go elsewhere for the hormonal treatment and surgery they need.

Regretters and "real life" tests
Minister Bent Høie wants to give
transgender people the right to
choose their legal gender.
(Photo: Bjørn Stuedal)


In crossdreamer circles there has recently been a debate on "regretters", i. e. on transgender people who do transition and later regret it. The existence of such regretters is often taken as proof of the need for a waiting period or testing period. 

Indeed, WPATH,  The World Professional Association for Transgender Health, still require a so-called Real-Life Test.  The individual should be living full-time in their preferred gender role continuously for the duration of this "real life experience" before getting hormone replacement therapy or genital reassignment surgery. WPATH no longer defines how long this test period is supposed to be or what it entails in detail.

In practice the real life test has often been used to ensure conformity to stereotypical gender roles and behavior, and to ensure that the transgender person "passes". The Norwegian gatekeepers have been known to use their powers to stop people who cannot be easily assimilated from transitioning.

As I see it, Høie's argument cuts through this way of thinking. The great majority of transgender people wanting to be seen and recognized as their target sex have already spent a lot of time thinking this through. Forcing them to adhere to the arbitrary ideas of what it means to be a man or a woman presented by medical professionals, will not be of much help to them in this respect. 

I think it is important to stress this: This new way of thinking (which is also found in countries like Denmark and Malta) is based on the idea that transgender people are independent adults who should be give the freedom to choose their own destiny, and implicitly also make their own mistakes.

Indeed, people may make the wrong choices. Given the complexity of sex and gender, psychological factors and the cultural context, that is bound to happen, but not more often that what happens under the current regime. (Recent research shows regret rates of 1 to 4 percent. These are very low numbers.)

Conservative or radical?

The Norwegian Conservatives had one of the largest
cohorts in this year's Oslo Pride. The banner
reads: "The Conservative Party Loves Diversity"
(Photo: Hans Kristian Thorbjørnsen)
My American readers may be surprised to hear that the government proposal is presented by a Conservative minister in a Conservative government. After all, the people who have argued for such reforms are more likely to be liberals or progressives.

Norwegian Conservatives are different from the American right wing, however. It seems to me that taking the right to define your own identity away from the state is very much in line with this minister's ideology. 

While American Conservatives are desperately trying to use the judicial system to stop the diversity of sexual variance and gender identity, the Norwegian Conservatives believe the individual's right to self determination should also encompass the right to determine your own identity.

This is also why this proposal will become law. There is no way the liberal and social-democratic opposition will be seen as less LGBT-friendly than the right wing government.

Maybe this is an example that can be used to get more American Conservatives to stop harassing gender variant people. It should be noted, though, that Høie is a gay man married to a man.





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