Denmark’s New Trans Law Attracts Kudos and Criticism

Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
Sept. 2 2014 5:27 PM

Should Denmark’s Trans Law Be a Model for the Rest of the World?

89444693-lesbian-couple-walks-past-the-copenhagen-cathedral-on
In Copenhagen, even the cathedrals support LGBTQ folks.

Photo by Casper Christoffersen/AFP/Getty Images

Even in countries that are nominally supportive of transgender people, sterilization—whether by surgery or hormones—is often the price a trans individual must pay in order to receive legal recognition of his or her transition. It’s a paradigm that the World Health Organization has called "counter to respect for bodily integrity, self-determination and human dignity," and it’s one that doesn’t acknowledge the fact that for many trans people, transition is not necessarily tied to invasive physical changes.

Earlier this week, Denmark moved beyond this inhumane legal logic when its new gender recognition law came into effect. Under the new policy, trans people in the country are now only required to fill out some paperwork in order to receive a new social security number and accompanying personal documentation for their gender. Medical intervention, including surgery, psychological diagnosis, and official statements, are no longer necessary prerequisites—in Denmark, gender identification is now based solely on self-determination.

Advertisement

The legislation is the first of its kind in Europe, and can certainly be considered progressive for the continent, given the functionally mandatory sterilization polices of many of Denmark’s neighbors. (Sweden, the first country to have a gender recognition law, dropped its forced sterilization provision last year. However, 20 European countries have not, and some do not have legal recognition for transgender people at all.)

Though Denmark’s new model is clearly a positive step forward, some members of the trans community have found fault with the law’s details. Specifically, the minimum age requirement is 18, and there is a six-month waiting period after which time applicants must confirm their request for new documents. Lawmakers have said that these requirements were included to prevent people from “making hasty decisions they would later regret”—a logic that advocacy organization Transgender Europe objected to on the grounds that the mandatory waiting period and age requirement might prove detrimental to those who need their documents changed quickly for reasons ranging from relocation to new employment. The group added a more symbolic concern: “TGEU is concerned that the waiting period may also perpetuate misconceptions of trans people as being ‘confused’ about their gender, instead of encouraging them to change their documents quickly so they can participate fully and freely in all aspects of society.”

To be sure, regret over gender reassignment is a possibility. But the pain endured as a result of societal prejudice and bureaucratic insensitivity isn’t a possibility—it’s a reality. In addressing the latter issue by removing unnecessary medical gatekeepers, Denmark’s law is a fine first step toward legislation that favors self-determination in trans policy, both in that country and the wider world. 

Emily Tamkin is an editorial intern at Slate and a M.Phil. candidate in Russian and East European studies at Oxford. Follow her on Twitter.  

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

U.S. Begins Airstrikes Against ISIS in Syria

The U.S. Is So, So Far Behind Europe on Clean Energy

It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

How in the World Did Turkey Just Get 46 Hostages Back From ISIS?

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 22 2014 6:30 PM What Does It Mean to Be an American? Ted Cruz and Scott Brown think it’s about ideology. It’s really about culture.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 22 2014 5:38 PM Apple Won't Shut Down Beats Music After All (But Will Probably Rename It)
  Life
Outward
Sept. 22 2014 4:45 PM Why Can’t the Census Count Gay Couples Accurately?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 7:43 PM Emma Watson Threatened With Nude Photo Leak for Speaking Out About Women's Equality
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 22 2014 9:17 PM Trent Reznor’s Gone Girl Soundtrack Sounds Like an Eerie, Innovative Success
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 6:27 PM Should We All Be Learning How to Type in Virtual Reality?
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 22 2014 4:34 PM Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.