Why Do We Need a New Gender Recognition Act?

LGBTQI FactsRFSL

In 1972 Sweden was the first country in the world to give trans people the right to change their legal gender and have genital surgery. Nearly 50 years later, the gender recognition act needs to be replaced in its entirety.

What the act concerns

The act that RFSL wants to change is called the gender recognition act. The act regulates two things:

– trans people’s access to genital surgery, and

– changing legal gender.

When you change your legal gender you get a new letter in your passport and a slightly altered personal identity number. You don’t have to undergo surgery in order to change your legal gender.

Not everybody seeking gender-affirming care wants to change their legal gender and/or have genital surgery. Other gender-affirming care, such as hormone treatment, top surgery or hair removal isn’t legally regulated and is offered to those who are diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

How the law is used today

The Legal Council at the Swedish Board of Health and Welfare makes decisions about the changing of legal gender and you need their permission to undergo genital surgery. The Legal Council is tied to the Swedish Board of Health and Welfare but is a free-standing body with its own decisive say independent from the Swedish Board of Health and Welfare’s other operations.

There’s currently an age limit of 18 years for changing your legal gender and/or having genital surgery.

If you want to change your legal gender and/or have genital surgery you need to have been in contact with a specialized assessment team for at least two years before an application can be sent to the Legal Council. A doctor’s certificate is attached to the application. The time-limit varies but is usually at least six months. There’s currently an age limit of 18 years to change legal gender or have genital surgery, but the Legal Council also has restrictions for approving genital surgery in people under 23 years old.

What does RFSL think the act should look like?

The issue of a new gender recognition act has been investigated on and off for 14 years. The act has also been partially revised through different judicial processes. Before, you had to be unmarried and sterilized to change your legal gender. The current act is still inefficient and unmodern, and RFSL wants the act to be split into two acts:

– one about legal gender, and

– another about genital surgery.

You should be able to change your legal gender as easily as you can change your first name.

We don’t want the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare’s Legal Council to treat matters of genital surgery or legal gender. Decisions regarding genital surgery should be made in consultation with a physician just like all other aspects of gender-affirming care. Changing your legal gender should be as easy as changing your first name; through a form from the Swedish Tax Agency.

Why does RFSL want two separate acts?

The current act doesn’t reflect today’s view on gender identity, which is based on an individual’s perception of gender rather than the body. It also doesn’t respond to trans people’s right to autonomy and integrity.

There should be no demands of a medical investigation, diagnosis or treatment to change legal gender. Not all trans people want, can or need to undergo gender-affirming treatment, but may still want to change their legal gender. The current requirement of having to have been in contact with a specialized assessment team for two years means that the waiting times for gender-affirming care can be several years. By splitting the act in two, important resources are freed up.

By splitting the act in two, important resources are freed up.

There are different diagnoses of gender dysphoria. Today, only people with the diagnosis of transsexualism can get a new legal gender and access genital surgery. Non-binary people suffering from gender dysphoria are seldom diagnosed with transsexualism. Some non-binary people want to change their legal gender to better suit their gender identity, but today’s legislation and praxis don’t give them this opportunity.  

RFSL also wants to lower the age-limit for changing legal gender. People under the age of 18 should be able to live according to their gender identity through a social transition where they change their first mane and gender expression. As a minor, you are able to legally change your first name; an important right that we have been championing. There is currently no age-limit for changing one’s name. But the legal gender stated on an ID-card forces people to come out or subjects them to questioning when they travel, register for a library card, during age controls at the movie theatre or in other situations where their identity needs to be verified. This is an inconvenience that limits people in their everyday lives.

RFSL also wants to lower the age-limit for changing legal gender.

Decisions about genital surgery should be made by a physician in consultation with the patient. Gender affirming care should be provided to reduce gender dysphoria. All other treatments are given after extensive contact with an assessment team lead by a physician. Genital surgery should not be an exception from this rule.

Concerns about a new act

One concern that has been raised is that people would be able to change their legal gender for fun and take advantage of it in different ways. One example would be a cis man changing his legal gender to be able to access female locker rooms and abuse women. However, this has not happened in countries that have adopted easier processes for changing legal gender (Norway, Denmark, Ireland, Argentina, etc.). Changing your legal gender is still an extensive process where you have to spend time sorting out practical matters with your bank, employer, healthcare and many other instances. That a person sexually abuses someone in a locker room is never acceptable, and is something that of course needs to be counteracted, but we don’t believe that new legislation will enable a perpetrator. In the unlikely event that the act would be used for such a purpose, we need to review how perpetrators should be stopped. RFSL does not believe in limiting trans people’s standard of living because of concerns about the abuse that cis men could subject women to.

Another concern is that genital surgery would be performed arbitrarily. Surgeries such as this will never be performed without serious deliberation or without a long-standing contact with a specialized assessment team. The Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare’s publication God vård vid könsdysfori offers guidance in how this care should be given.

What happens now?

Further investigations have been made since a bill was presented and retracted in 2018. The government has promised to present a new suggestion for an amendment in parliament, but this has not yet happened.

A new act would improve the living standard for many trans people in Sweden.

RFSL will continue its active advocacy work. The new legislation would improve the living conditions for many trans people in Sweden, and it’s time to finally take action. The government has to make good on its promise to instate a new and modern gender recognition act.