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In a recent post on Lexie Cannes’ blog, Lexie draws attention to a disturbing case in Sweden involving a cis man who attacked and sexually assaulted a non-op or pre-op trans woman, possibly under the assumption that she was cis (however, I think we should be careful when dealing with that assumption… it’s always possible that the man knew she was trans all along and just created a different story after the fact).
According to Lexie’s English reconstruction from the original Swedish, what happened is that “The attacker brutally beat the victim and ripped off her pants in an attempt to rape her. A witness rushed to the scene and intervened. The police came and arrested the attacker.” Nevertheless, in court the judge “acquitted the rapist because the transwoman had no vagina [and hence] the planned rape would have been impossible to carry out.” The man was apparently convicted of a lessor charge (battery or similar).
I think most any trans woman would be horrified by this result, which seems to suggest that rape doesn’t count when it is committed (or at least intended) against a trans woman (then again I think most people who are simply compassionate would be horrified by this outcome). For one thing, the idea that the woman doesn’t have a vagina means that it is not possible for the man to rape her is completely absurd. It projects a very simplistic picture of what sex even is onto what may well be a much more complex situation (believe it or not, penis-in-vagina is not the end-all, be-all of sexual intercourse).
However, I think in the larger picture of things this is about more than protecting trans women from sexual assault. In fact, I think this case sets an absurdly high standard for what is required to obtain a sexual assault (or intended rape or sexual assault) conviction almost regardless of who the victim is.
Last January, a campaign was set in motion to repeal a law in Sweden requiring trans people to undergo sterilization procedures in order for the Swedish government to recognize their gender identity change on government-issued ID. While a petition to this effect received over 77,000 signatures, it appeared that a small rightwing party in Sweden’s government would block the repeal.
However, just recently it has been announced that this party has changed its position and will now allow the repeal to move forward
Unfortunately, there is still plenty of work to do, as it is clear that many governments around the world have similar laws. For example, it has been pointed out that, other than Sweden, the following European countries still require sterilization for gender change recognition: Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Malta, Moldova, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia Switzerland, Turkey and the Ukraine.
In my own experience, I’m glad to say that Texas (where I recently obtained a court order for name change and gender marker change from ‘M’ to ‘F’) has no such legal requirement (although it seems the rules are a bit vague and perhaps interpreted differently in different circumstances). I recall that I once had a thought about storing sperm myself before starting transition, although in the end it turned out to be too expensive. However, when I mentioned this idea to my doctor (who had otherwise been generally helpful) she gave me a strange expression and simply said she’d never heard of anyone doing that before.
Finally, here is the video featuring a Swedish trans man that was used to promote the campaign in Sweden (and worldwide). The campaign was spearheaded by AllOut.
Update: While a majority in parliament apparently support the change in Sweden’s law that would do away with coercive sterilization of trans people, a small rightwing party has blocked the repeal.
**********************************************************************For about a seven-month period during 2009 I lived in Copenhagen, Denmark, which is where I began living full-time as a woman. While I loved Denmark in many ways, it struck me when I learned how conservative the laws actually are regarding trans individuals who need to update their documentation, post-transition. After all, Denmark is associated with two of the first persons who were widely known to have obtained sex reassignment surgeries: Lili Elbe (Danish citizen who obtained the surgery in Germany in the early 30′s) and Christine Jorgensen (American citizen who obtained the surgery in Denmark in 1952). Hence it surprised me when I found out that just getting a simple name change requires a letter from a physician if the birth name is associated with male while the chosen name is considered female, or vice-versa.
However, knowing that the Scandinavian countries have some similar laws, I wasn’t surprised this morning when I came across a petition regarding trans rights in Sweden. While I think the overall laws are somewhat more liberal than Denmark, it turns out that it is not possible to get a gender marker change in Sweden without a physician’s letter attesting to some type of medical sterilization. While of course bottom surgery (or possibly other procedures, such as hysterectomy in the case of trans men) is a big step in the transition process for some trans people, requiring this in order to have a simple gender marker change is ridiculous.
After all, many trans persons (including myself) may choose never to undergo such procedures. And I can’t help but think of a trans man friend of mine who recently gave birth to a beautiful child. Personally, I couldn’t be more proud of him and I think the fact that he birthed a child makes him more of a man, not less
Hence, please sign the petition to change this particular law in Sweden.
As for my old friend Denmark, it turns out that there was a similar petition at one time, however it appears that it was not successful