From Iceland — Iceland At The Intersection

Iceland At The Intersection

Published August 11, 2017

Iceland At The Intersection
Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Submitted/OIII Europe

There’s a lot more to Pride than being gay. Icelanders might be more accepting of trans, genderqueer and intersex people on a social level—everyone we spoke with said that this is so—but Iceland’s legislation still falls far behind other countries when it comes to even the most basic rights.

Being diagnosed your identity

Hans Miniar Jónsson is a trans man living in Akureyri. For him, like other trans people in Iceland, the process of transitioning was intrusive, invasive, and decidedly backwards when compared to other countries in the world.

Anyone wanting to transition must receive a diagnosis of Gender Identity Disorder, a term that is largely considered obsolete in psychiatric circles and is in the process of being removed from the Diagnostic Statistics Manual. The process itself can take 18 months or even longer, and often means playing up stereotypical gender roles for the approval of psychiatrists.

“You get to answer all kinds of inappropriate questions, like how do you have sex, what kind of underwear are you wearing, and such,” Hans explains. “One of the things you discover as you transition is that you have to word your answers ‘right,’ otherwise your psychiatrist might get the wrong idea and then you won’t get the treatment you’re seeking. A lot of trans people will consider their answers in advance. Trans women will put on a skirt and lipstick specifically for going to the psychiatrist. This pressure to conform to gender stereotypes in order to get treatment is, I think, considerably unhealthy.”

Hans also recognises the paradox this approach puts trans people in.

“If we work on [our struggles] together, instead of each person fighting the system in their own corner in a very limited way, we can change things so much quicker and better.”

“It’s a double-edged sword for trans people,” he says. “If a trans woman goes full feminine in her appearance, she gets told she’s just performing femininity and contributing to the oppression of women. But if she puts on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, she gets told she’s not really a woman. That’s a situation trans people have to deal with all the time.”

Not all of us are “one or the other”

Kitty Anderson, the chairperson of Intersex Iceland, shares Hans’ concerns over the question of bodily autonomy.

“A lot of intersex people are subjected to cosmetic medical treatment in infancy—surgical intervention, hormone intervention, overuse of steroid treatment or pre-natal treatments,” Kitty says. “It’s considered too difficult to have a body that doesn’t quite fit into the binary scheme when it comes to your sex.”

Hans agrees, adding, “If you talk about informed consent, you have to talk about intersex people. The way the situation is now, it’s currently legal to perform gender assignment surgery on infants. These surgeries are pretty much cosmetic. It’s taking a set of genitals that don’t quite align with what a girl or boy should be born with and force it into one direction or another, and then assign the child a gender to grow up with. It’s not only legal to do this with infants; it’s preferred. The parents are usually under a lot of pressure to sign off on this, even though it is almost always, without fail, completely cosmetic and unnecessary. They can say no, but they’re told by doctors, ‘There’s something wrong with your kid, and we have to fix it.'”

Kitty points out that there are holes in the law. There are laws against hate speech, but no laws about hate crimes. If you’re a customer in a restaurant, you can’t be denied service for your sexual orientation or gender identity; but if you’re an employee at this same restaurant, you can legally be fired on these grounds. Things are even worse for immigrants and asylum seekers—the Act on Foreigners doesn’t even mention sex or gender.

Where it all intersects

Alda Villiljós, a photographer and genderqueer activist, believes that one of the more important concepts that Iceland needs to become familiar with is that of intersectionality.

“People think of privilege as being a one-line ladder,” they explain. “When in reality, it’s a huge net of things. This kind of prevents a discussion about privilege, because people think that if they’re not at the top, then they can’t have privilege. So that’s a really important thing that we need to learn and start talking about. I also think it’s incredibly important for different groups of minorities to work together, and to talk more between ourselves, because a lot of our struggles are so similar. If we work on them together, instead of each person fighting the system in their own corner in a very limited way, we can change things so much quicker and better.”

Support The Reykjavík Grapevine!
Buy subscriptions, t-shirts and more from our shop right here!

Show Me More!