“I should be seen as the person I am on the inside”: John Jeanette’s story

11 December 2014

John Jeanette is a transgender woman in Norway who wants to change her legal gender from ‘male’ to ‘female’. But the government says she can’t – unless she has compulsory medical treatment, including surgery which will leave her sterile.

I met John Jeanette last year in Oslo. A gentle person, yet with a firm personality, she has had to hide and suppress her gender identity for many years. She’s now comfortable being a woman, but her right to a private life is violated on a daily basis.

John Jeanette’s identity documents indicate that she is male, while her appearance is female. When she tries to do simple, everyday things, such as borrowing a book at the library or getting a prescription from the pharmacy, she is asked intrusive questions about her gender and her life. She’s often embarrassed or anxious. It’s a constant reminder that the state does not recognize her for who she is.

Tiresome and offensive

“It is actually quite hopeless, and even though I am prepared for it and used to it, it is still quite tiresome and offensive,” she says. “I remember this one time when I was about to check out from a hotel I had been staying at, and the receptionist discovered what I was.

“He saw a man dressed up in women’s clothes. He started to laugh right in my face. I paid for my stay, hurried outside, and got into the car. I could see the whole crew were all looking at me through the window when I drove off. This made me terribly sad, and I was depressed for a long time after that episode.”

Moved and outraged

When I think about what John Jeannette experiences in her daily life, and the struggle she has been through just to be herself, I feel deeply moved, and also outraged. Like everyone else, I went through the experience of understanding who I really am. I could not imagine my everyday life without the freedom of expressing myself, and being recognized for who I am.

For John Jeanette, being recognized as a woman would mean she would be seen as the person she is. Having accepted herself as a woman, she finds it hard to move on when she is constantly referred to as a man by public bodies and in everyday life.

In Norway, transgender people can’t change their legal gender unless they have compulsory medical treatment, including a psychiatric diagnosis and surgery which leaves them sterile. People who don’t comply with this process, like John Jeanette, find themselves in limbo.

Waiting for action

John Jeannette, like many other transgender people, is now waiting for the Norwegian government to act. It needs to put in place a fair, transparent and accessible procedure for legal gender recognition, based on the person’s own sense of gender identity. The Ministry of Health and Care has said it will make new recommendations on this issue in January 2015. But it’s unclear what the changes will be, as well as the timeframe for putting them in place.

The Norwegian government now has an opportunity to fulfill its human rights obligations and respect John Jeanette’s right to a private life. Nobody should have to face such indignities just for being who they are.

Take action

Please urge the Norwegian government to fix the law so John Jeanette can change her legal gender without compulsory medical treatment.

By Veronica Scognamiglio, Campaign Coordinator of Amnesty’s Fight Discrimination in Europe campaign.