Being Transgender or Intersex in Europe

Author (Person)
Series Title
Series Details June 2017
Publication Date June 2017
Content Type , ,

Gender has been widely recognised by scholars as a social construct in multiple fields such as gender studies, sociology and psychology, as early as the mid-20th century, although examples reach much farther back into history. This is to say that individuals are not born man or woman, but become so with time, when they learn to conform to what their society considers to be "manly" and "womanly". Newborns are assigned a sex at birth based on their genitals, and the sex is assumed to be representative of the gender (boy/girl, becoming man/woman). However, if the biological sex differs from the gender someone identifies as, they are transgender. As of 2017, it is considered a medical disorder, under the name gender dysphoria or gender identity disorder (GID), which is a controversial issue (think about the past medicalisation of homosexuality, which justified forced treatment over acceptation). This is but one of the issues transgender people have to face.

Intersex people, on the other hand, are born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that does not fit the norm of male or female characteristics. Intersex is a category that encompasses countless variations of anatomy, it is a default category more than a coherent one. According to United Nations resources, up to 1.7% of babies are born intersex. These variations from the physical norm can be internal and are not always discovered, which can cause distress to the individual and they grow up. Think about a child raised as a boy, who, upon reaching puberty, would start growing breasts.Think about how confusing this would be, for the child themselves, as well as for their family! This is but an example, and when the variation is apparent, in plenty of countries, what is perceived as a “condition” is “treated” by surgery and treatments, which has been repeatedly shown to cause physical and psychological harm. The United Nations deem such treatments to be a violation of the infant’s rights, and calls on all nations to protect them until they are old enough to decide by themselves whether or not they want to undergo surgery.

Remember that being intersex has nothing to do with sexual or gender identity. It is about the physical characteristics that make someone male or female. Apart from being perceived as a medical condition, transgender and intersex people have in common the fact that legislation does not take into account their gender identity, only their biological characteristics. They are also more vulnerable to discrimination in every aspect of their lives, to depression and other psychological issues. According to the Trevor Project, an LGBT suicide prevention organisation, 2 in 5 transgender adults have attempted suicide at least once in their lives.

As of April 2017, Germany and Malta were the only European countries to have taken any sort measure to recognise (one) non-binary gender. Germany allows parents of intersex babies to register them as neither male nor female. It is not an official recognition of a third gender, and is only meant to be a temporary situation until the intersex child can decide for themselves to identify as male or female. The measure sparked controversy, being seen either as a breakthrough in the recognition of intersex children, or as not being enough, and risking increased genital operations and pressure to fit in.

Malta passed the Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics Act in 2015, making it unlawful to perform surgery and/or sex assignment treatment on an intersex minor, until they are old enough to “provide informed consent”. This measure is in accordance with the UN’s belief that such treatments are a violation of intersex children’s human rights, and that they should be protected.

In the EU, Hungary, Cyprus and the Liechtenstein do not currently offer gender recognition for transgender people, and 13 EU countries still require sterilisation to recognise the gender change. According to Human Rights Watch, Lithuania outlaws discussion and open support of LGBT rights in a legislation similar to Section 28 in the UK, passed in 1988 and repealed in 2003 (2000 in Scotland).

Related Links
Website: United Nations Free & Equal: Intersex Awareness
Human Rights Watch: LGBT Rights
Website: U.S.: National Centre for Transgender Equality
Website: Scotland: Scottish Trans
Website: Intersex Society of North America
Website: No More Fear Foundation
Website: ILGA-Europe
Website: International Intersex Organisation Europe
Website: Transgender Europe
Website: Transgender Europe: TVT Project
Council of Europe: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Website: Global Action for Trans Equality
Website: The European Parliament’s Intergroup on LGBT Rights
Website: UK: NHS: Transgender Health
Website: The Trevor Project: LGBTQ + Religion
Website: Intersex Day: Intersex-led and Allied Organisations in the World
European Commission: DG Justice: Trans and intersex people Discrimination on the grounds of sex, gender identity and gender expression
Website: Transgender Europe: Legal Gender Recognition in Europe Toolkit
Council of Europe: A short guide to legal gender recognition
Website: International Intersex Organisation Europe: Standing up for the rights of intersex people – How can you help?
Website: Goodreads: Popular Intersex Books
Website: Goodreads: Popular Transgender Books

Countries / Regions