Tobias Raun
Denmark – A Transgender Paradise?
Denmark – A Transgender Paradise?Denmark – A Transgender Paradise?Denmark – A Transgender Paradise?
Denmark – A Transgender Paradise?

When I talk to people from the United States or Great Britain they tend to think that Denmark is “the promised land” for trans people. They imagine that trans people get all the medical and legal support they need – for free. This perception might derive from an overall opinion of Denmark as a liberal and tolerant country: it was the first country to legalise pornographic texts and images in 1967 and 1969 respectively as well as to introduce civil partnership laws for homosexuals in 1989. The image of Denmark as a pioneer in relation to trans issues probably also owes to the role the country has had in the history of sex reassignment surgeries. It was a Danish citizen who was known as one of the first recipients of the sex reassignment surgeries performed by German doctors in the late 1920s and early 1930s, namely the Danish artist Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe. She was a patient of Dr Magnus Hirschfeld at the Institute of Sexual Science in Berlin between 1930-32.[1] Several years later, the first surgery to become widely known was performed in Denmark. It was in 1952 when Christine Jørgensen became a media sensation, appearing on the front page of New York Daily News under the headline “Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Beauty”. The headline referred to how Jørgensen had become the recipient of the first “sex change” and that it was performed in Denmark.[2] Something was new in Jørgensen’s case, namely the added prescription of hormone therapy. But just because Denmark is the provenance of remarkable trans-related histories in the past, it has proven to be far from as progressive and tolerant in the present as often proclaimed.

[1] The upcoming film The

exgi becomes blonde beauty


This article takes as its point of departure a recent Danish documentary about trans people, namely Nobody Passes Perfectly by Saskia Bisp. The film deals especially with trans men – a topic that is untouched and unexplored in a Danish context. But before I will turn to the film, a reflection of the political aspects of the situation for trans people in Denmark today seems necessary.


Human Rights and transgenderism in Denmark

The focus on lack of trans people’s rights in Denmark was manifested this summer when the Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, visited Copenhagen for The World Outgames 2009 Human Rights Conference. The Commissioner presented twelve human rights recommendations in relation to trans people that every member state of the Council of Europe should accommodate:[3]

1. Implement international human rights standards without discrimination, and prohibit explicitly discrimination on the ground of gender identity in national non-discrimination legislation. The Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law in relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity should be used to provide guidance for national implementation in this field.

2. Enact hate crime legislation which affords specific protection for transgender persons against transphobic crimes and incidents.

3. Develop expeditious and transparent procedures for changing the name and sex of a transgender person on birth certificates, identity cards, passports, educational certificates and other similar documents.

4. Abolish sterilisation and other compulsory medical treatment as a necessary legal requirement to recognise a person’s gender identity in laws regulating the process for name and sex change.

5. Make gender reassignment procedures, such as hormone treatment, surgery and psychological support, accessible for transgender persons, and ensure that they are reimbursed by public health insurance schemes.

6. Remove any restrictions on the right of transgender persons to remain in an existing marriage following a recognised change of gender.

7. Prepare and implement policies to combat discrimination and exclusion faced by transgender persons on the labour market, in education and health care.

8. Involve and consult transgender persons and their organisations when developing and implementing policy and legal measures which concern them.

9. Address the human rights of transgender persons and discrimination based on gender identity through human rights education and training programs, as well as awareness-raising campaigns.

10. Provide training to health service professionals, including psychologists, psychiatrists and general practitioners, with regard to the needs and rights of transgender persons and the requirement to respect their dignity.

11. Include the human rights concerns of transgender persons in the scope of activities of equality bodies and national human rights structures.

12. Develop research projects to collect and analyze data on the human rights situation of transgender persons including the discrimination and intolerance they encounter with due regard to the right to privacy of the persons concerned.

[3] The following recommendations and

It was concluded that Denmark barely meets three of these recommendations.[4] Denmark, amongst others things, still upholds “forced” sterilisation as a necessary legal requirement for state recognition of a person’s gender identity, even though the transgendered person, through other kinds of sex reassigning surgeries and/or hormones, incarnates the gender they identify with. Furthermore, Denmark still requires “forced” divorce before the transgendered person’s “new” gender can be recognised. This is partly due to the fact that Denmark does not have equal laws as far as marriage and civil partnership are concerned. Finally, the Danish State has consigned the responsibility of performing the psychological evaluation of transgendered people, offering medical treatments, as well as making recommendations about who qualify for a name change and for a legal change in gender status to The Sexological Clinic (Sexologisk Klinik). It is also primarily the responsibility of The Sexological Clinic to develop and collect research data on trans-related issues, but no academic research has been carried out or published. The Danish State does, however, consult the transgendered pressure group Trans-Denmark (Trans-Danmark) when developing and implementing policy and legal measures regarding trans people, but their recommendations are often overheard.

[4] For further elaborations see

Denmark does provide trans people with hormone treatment, surgery and psychological support reimbursed by public health insurance schemes. But people might be denied treatment if they do not fit into the standardised diagnostic schema. Only a small percentage of the trans people who seek help at Sexologisk Klinik are eventually provided with the medical and surgical support they have applied for. Compared to the other Scandinavian countries, Denmark allows very few people to change their gender. A statistical comparison shows that from 1996 to 2005 permission for a sex change was granted to 91% of the applicants in Sweden while it was only granted to 37% in Denmark.[5] Many choose to seek support elsewhere and fund the transition themselves[6] because they have difficulties conforming to the pathologising discourse surrounding the diagnosis “transsexuality”. Accepting this diagnosis includes accepting having a mental illness: “Gender Identity Disorder”. It also includes succumbing oneself to a system of labels. As the queer theorist Judith Butler has formulated it, one has to “submit to labels and names, to incursions, to invasions; one has to be gauged against measures of normalcy; and one has to pass the test. […] The price of using the diagnosis to get what one wants is that one cannot use the language to say what one really thinks is true. One pays for one’s freedom”.[7]

The lack of research on trans people points to a general lack of visibility for trans people in Denmark. It is only a few months ago (November 21, 2009) that the professional organisation for LGBT people in Denmark included the T in their name (LGBT Danmark), thereby making it visible that trans people were welcomed in their politics.

[5] Betina Hvejsel, “En kritisk

Tobias Raun: Denmark – A Transgender Paradise? Narrations and negotiations of trans masculinity in Nobody Passes Perfectly. Trikster #4, 2010.

tobias raun

TOBIAS RAUN (b. 1974) is a PhD Fellow at the Department of Culture and Identity, Roskilde University.