Opinion: Denmark through the eyes of a transgender couple

Tanya and Robin are our new dynamic writing duo and in every issue of Homotropolis they will zoom in on current trans issues in Denmark.

Opinion: Denmark through the eyes of a transgender couple

2016 and the beginning of 2017 have been interesting times for transgender people in Denmark. Last summer the parliament agreed to remove transsexuality from the mental illness list, where we had resided beside kleptomaniacs and pyromaniacs since the category’s inception in 1980. Instead being a transgender person is now, in medical terms, seen as a natural variance in the human form. In other words, we have gone from being seen as “disordered” to simply being. All of this stems from a lot of work done by a group of Danish transgender activists with the help of Amnesty International.

In December of 2016 we even received a human rights award for this work, possibly the first such award given to such a large and diverse group. At least the ceremony was held in a room barely big enough to accommodate us all along with the few handfuls of friends and family that had joined to celebrate us. The press was notably absent from the event. A few folks shot pictures, and a few interviews were carried out, but if you looked at the media the following days, by and large, it was as if nothing had happened that afternoon at all.

This great feeling of anti-climax resounds when we look at our treatment in the healthcare system. Not much has changed for those of us seeking medical interventions such as hormone therapy or reassignment surgeries. Some of us still need help from the medical community in order to live normal, happy lives, and as such we are still given a medical diagnosis, mentioned alongside other people seeking medical help for “normal” conditions such as pregnancy. And even after the diagnosis change we are all still handled by the Copenhagen Psychiatry Department, specifically the Sexological Clinic at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, a place that, besides us, handles rapists and pedophiles. The treatment is also the same as it used to be: Endless interviews and questionnaires with questions like “Do you think of your parents when you masturbate?”, “How often do you masturbate, “Are there known homosexual people in your family? If so who?”, “Rate on a scale from 1 to 5 how you feel about your eyes”. Apparently all questions that these doctors see as necessary to figure out if a natural variation is worthy of their help. It makes me wonder what kind of questions these particular doctors would ask a pregnant person or anyone else listed besides us on the natural variance list, like childless couples seeking help to become pregnant.

The threatening monopoly
In a situation much like today, back in 2014, we got legal gender change and we could suddenly change our papers without the big stamp from Sexological Clinic, they made a move that many of us saw as retaliation for losing that power over our lives. They answered back by restricting access to healthcare for us. They created a new standards-of-care that states, in a round-about way, that the doctors at Sexological Clinic have all the power. That they can solely decide on the treatment for any and all transgender persons in Denmark and that it is illegal for other doctors to help us. They underlined this by very publicly threatening the handful of doctors, gynecologists, and endocrinologists who cared for transgender people. A part of this document however, was a call for review of its own efficacy scheduled for the end of 2016. It seems increasingly like their response to our removal from the psychiatric list of disorders has been to deny that review. We are still waiting, and Sexological Clinic is silent on the subject.

But why would they deny reviewing their own practices in this way? If the did an actual scientific review of their own process they would have to realize that they are actually the greatest threat to trans people’s health in Denmark. If the paper they released this spring is any indication they awarded one of their psychiatrists with a Ph.D. for a paper than can only be described as sub-par. The work basically stands against all notions of the scientific method, including but not limited to cherry-picked results, too small of a sample group to make any conclusions, speculations, a mismatch of correlation and causation, and last but not least a huge conflict of interest. The psychiatrist had chosen a small sample of transgender people all of whom had been treated by Sexological Clinic and used them as the sole basis of her findings, she even noted herself that she didn’t use a control group to verify her findings. Her conclusion was that transgender people kill ourselves with or without treatment. It was hailed as the first study on transgender people in Denmark in 30 years, but really was just Sexological Clinic trying to hide the fact that they are the greatest threat to transgender health in Denmark. It is an uphill battle for us in Denmark to get proper healthcare when the very people who are supposed to provide it also have a monopoly on studying us and can get away with making conclusions that are contrary to actual science done abroad. They seem to be under the impression that the less that is spoken about their activities the more likely they can continue. Hence denying reviewing their own practices can be seen as retaliation against us again for going around and above them to get legislation changed again. We get legal changes, and as a result they refuse to change their dangerous healthcare practices.

Media still misgendering
Unlike the meager press attendance at the human rights ceremony in December there has been a lot of press coverage about P. Linnet, the adoptive child of rock singer-songwriter Anne Linnet, who came out publicly as transgender in December. As usual when a known person comes out as transgender, the media have a tendency to sensationalize. It is no surprise that this happened when P. Linnet came out, either. The sad practice of misgendering, that is, labeling a transgender person the wrong gender, the gender we were assigned not the gender we are, and deadnaming, the equally sad practice of calling transgender people by our old name, thereby refusing to acknowledge our existence as ourselves, claiming to know better than the trans person in question who we are, is something that has gone on for a very long time. P Linnet got her share of it across the media. It is disheartening to see that we haven’t gotten any further with regards to reporting stories on transgender people, and heartbreaking that even LGBT media keeps this up.

It isn’t the first time we have criticized the media for this practice, and sadly it seems it won’t be the last. As bad as it is that even LGBT media, who all have access to transgender people, either directly via personal connections or at the very least through social media, still misgender and deadname us, the reactions to our criticism is in some cases even worse. In particular, one publication chose to respond to a number of people criticizing their misgendering of P. Linnet by their public insistence that they feel entitled to misgender and dead-name us. That they “don’t agree with transgender people” when we say we are what we say, as if we are somehow little more than an opinion to be bantered about, not real people at all.

Transphobia gets a nomination
Correctly gendering transgender people and showing basic human decency towards us when reporting isn’t an optional extra. Transgender is a descriptive adjective, like left-handed, red-haired, black, or Jewish, it specifies something about us. You wouldn’t question a left-handed woman on the legality of her womanhood or decide that you wouldn’t call her by her name, so don’t do that to a transgender woman either. Besides the common decency it is also very hurtful to us to be misgendered and dead-named. It reminds us that we are not accepted just as it enforces the denial by reminding others that acceptance is not a right we posses, but rather a choice you make.

Misgendering and blatant transphobia isn’t anything new to yearly LGBT “Axgil” Awards either, where traditional transphobic jokes fly over the stage each year. For an LGBT show that prides itself of being for all LGBT people, it has always felt strange that they’d continue this practice year after year. Here in 2017 however, they have outdone themselves by allowing a nomination in the category “People or organizations who have helped to create a better world for LGBT people in sports.” to a professional football player, Mads Timm, whose great achievement was writing a horribly transphobic and misogynistic article about his visit to a transgender sexworker. Even in the nomination text they manage to misgender the woman in question.

We are in a fight for our lives, for the right to participate in society on equal terms and for our rights to healthcare, the rights to our own bodies and to pursue our own happiness. We have gotten a few steps ahead in 2016, but the bulk of the fighting is still ahead of us. We wish to have the same access to healthcare as everyone else, to leave the clutches of Sexological Clinic and have the right to informed consent and the free choice of doctors that everyone else has. Part of this fight is to get all media outlets to stop misgendering us and start writing newsworthy stories about us instead of sensationalizing our transitions and mystifying our lives.

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