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    In Sweden, Forced Sterilization is Still a Thing

    Written by

    Kelly Bourdet

    Since 1972, transgendered individuals in Sweden who wish to legally change their sex must first be sterilized. Yes, you read that correctly. Sweden, progressive homeland of Ingmar Bergman and government subsidized everything, has arguably the most aggressively anti-trans policies of any developed nation.

    The Swedish government has always been fiercely protective of its own culture and genetically “Swedish” population. There was an aggressive sterilization program in place from the 1940s to the 1970s, mostly aimed at immigrant populations and other genetic “undesirables.” The eugenics legislation justifying Sweden’s sterilization policies was formally abolished in 1976, but only after as many as 31,000 people had been sterilized. However, a 1972 law requiring all persons seeking to legally change their gender to first be sterilized remains on the books. This legislation further stipulates that any transgender person must also prove that they have not stored any of their gametes (eggs or sperms) in sperm banks for future use. The Swedish government effectively robs trans individuals of their right to produce biological offspring in any way.

    “It is a violation of human rights to force a person to have surgery that they do not need or want in order to have your gender legally recognized,” said the Swedish actress Aleksa Lundberg, who was sterilized when she transitioned from male at the age of 17. She’s pictured up top, and is now performing a one-woman show, “Infestus,” about her experiences as a young boy, her sex change in her late teens, and life as a grown woman, which has played all over Sweden to acclaim.

    Forced sterilization laws have usually fallen into three distinct categories: Eugenic, therapeutic (based on the premise that sterilization would somehow improve a person’s “vitality”), and punitive (sterilization of criminals). There’s certainly the possibility that transexualism is partially genetically determined, but there’s no definitive data to support that theory, and Sweden’s policies don’t seem to be entirely concerned with halting the propagation of transgendered people, but rather with stalwartly ensuring that gender roles remain as traditional as possible. (Sweden isn’t the only place where forced sterilization happens: cases have emerged in Namibia, Congo, South Africa, and Chile, involving HIV patients; in China, reports Amnesty International, enforcement of the one-child policy sometimes involves forcible sterilization and abortion.)

    While support for transgender reproductive rights has begun to grow within Sweden’s ruling government coalition, the Christian Democrats, a small but vocal conservative Swedish political party, are mostly responsible for upholding the law. They technically maintain ministerial control over the Social Welfare Department, which governs this type of legislation. Annika Eclund, a spokeswoman for the Christian Democrats, frames the legislation as advocating for children’s interests: “There are limits to how much we should experiment with how life is created,” she told the Global Post. “Every day I meet people who are seeking their identity and their background, asking where they come from,” she says. “Men don’t give birth to babies. A daddy can’t at the same time be a mummy. Just because you can, does that mean that you should?”

    It seems unlikely that it’s the Swedish religious minority who ought to be deciding what anyone “should” do with their reproductive organs. The Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights recently asked the National Board of Health and Welfare ensure that transgendered people would not be denied breast implants in the future.)

    Trans advocates are hopeful that a motion to overturn the law will be presented directly to Parliament, circumventing the Democrats’ influence. You can sign a petition to Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt in support of overturning the law here..

    Photo: Aleksa Lundberg from City.se