7 Things You Need To Know About Transgender Rights (And Changing Your Legal Gender)

Photograph by Alison McDonnell.

10 December 2014

1. Who is a transgender person

A transgender person’s sense of gender differs from the sex they were given at birth. They experience and express their gender identity in a variety of ways. Some transgender people see themselves as fully male or female, while others see their gender identity as a continuum between the two. Some wish to change their bodies through gender reassignment treatment which may include hormone treatment, chest surgery or genital surgery. Others may want to have only some treatment or no treatment at all.

2. What is a person’s ‘legal gender’

In most countries, individuals have a legal gender that corresponds to the sex they were given at birth. This legal gender appears on official documents (including birth certificates, identity cards and passports) and determines how people are perceived throughout their lives. People have to show these documents when they do everyday things, like enrolling in school, applying for a job, or opening a bank account.

3. How do people currently change their legal gender

If you want to change your legal gender, many countries require you to have a psychiatric diagnosis, lengthy hormone treatment and medical surgery which will leave you sterile. In some cases, you are not allowed to be married, and you may also have to be a certain age (over 18).

4. How does this violate people’s human rights

Transgender people have to choose to drop some human rights in order to have others respected. To change their legal gender, people have to give up their right to privacy, divorce their partner, and lose control over their bodies and their ability to reproduce. Transgender people also have to use documents showing the wrong gender, which can lead to discrimination in everyday life, for example when they apply for jobs or go to the pharmacy.

5. What do the courts say

In 1992, the European Court of Human Rights said that preventing transgender people from changing the gender on their official documents was a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. However, transgender people in Europe continue to struggle to have their gender legally recognized.

6. Where do European countries stand on changing your legal gender

Most countries, such as Finland, France, Norway, Belgium and Germany have procedures that require compulsory psychiatric diagnosis and medical surgery. In general, the process to change your legal gender can take years.

7. What should the process for changing your legal gender look like

Governments must allow people to change their legal gender so that it reflects their sense of gender identity. It should be a timely, accessible and transparent procedure, and all information about the change should be kept confidential. Governments should also stop forcing transgender people to have a psychiatric assessment and medical treatment before they can change their legal gender.

Read more

The state decides who I am’: the lack of legal gender recognition for transgender people in Europe, Amnesty International report (Feb 2014).

Take action

Help us fix the law in Norway so transgender people can change their legal gender without having compulsory medical treatment. Write to the Norwegian government today.

Blog post by Ben Beaumont.