To Be Transgender in Sweden

Publikováno 17. 2. 2019 (11:36) v kategorii English Texts • Autor Knut Holm • Přečtete za 19 minut

[Česky]: Pro českou verzi tohoto textu klikněte prosím zde.

Note About English on This Blog

This is for now the only English text on my blog. I've decided to translate this one because it is an important text about my life which lot of my no-Czech-speaking friends are interested to read. I know already that lot of people read my blog with Google Translator and would like to have a complete English version. However, I like having quality texts here and it consumes lot of time already to write something which I really like to publish. For example, I was working several hours (almost whole Saturday) on the original Czech text of this article which was published a week ago.

I've started this blog as a space for my Czech friends and relatives where I can share experience from living in Sweden. I could have never ever imagine how many people from Sweden would like to read it as well. I am very happy for having so many non Czech speaking readers and thank you very much for your interest. I feel sorry for being unable to create the same experience for you as for Czech readers and would like to ask you for patience and for keeping using Google Translator for some more time. I don't want to stop producing Czech texts since lot of my readers can't speak good enough English and I don't have enough time to translate everything, but I will try to add more English versions of my articles, especially when I feel that Google Translator hasn't done well enough or when I simply think it is worth it.

I would like to thank a lot to my wife Tereza Holm who helped me to translate this text (or to be honest, who did it completely for me :-).

Introduction

I haven't written anything for a long time. Not that I wouldn't have any topics, far from it – there were too many topics to write about. Once again life showed me that when you feel fine and ride a wave of success, it's unnecessary to let you bask in your own perfection and it's the best time to look for skeletons in closet instead. So why not to choose the dustiest one, right. It was murky Swedish autumn 2018 and I, who had never suffered with autumn depression in my life, suddenly had a big one. At the end of this was beginning of my new life though. And this is what I would like to tell you about. What it is like to be transgender in Sweden. And why I am so glad not to have to deal with all this in the Czech Republic.

How I Found Out

We may live in 21st century, but education about this topic is still insufficient. Like most of other transgender people, I had known it long before I even had a name for it. It doesn't work that you wake up one day and decide to be a guy. It's simply inside you and you have felt since childhood that something went terribly wrong. You suffer and you don't know why. Society behaves towards you completely differently than you feel it should, the exact same society that breaks you in the end and puts their own label – which doesn't suit you anyway, but you learn to pretend it does more or less successfully.

The first turn came in my teens, when I found out that I like girls. It was about fifteen years ago, and it was completely different time – you could find only one website in Czech talking about this issue openly, and in Czech society, homosexuality was widely discussed topic, as government was deciding about passing law about registered partnership. I was madly in love back then and I didn't especially think about what people around me wanted to call it. Refusal from that girl was a hard blow by itself, but for me it was double the hard. She explained it with: "I am sorry, but I'm not a lesbian." It hurt me a lot, as I knew that I am not a lesbian either. It hurt me so much, that I tried to search on the internet again, this time successfully. But information I found back then scared me so much that I told myself not to dig around anymore and that I don't want to ever know the truth about myself. I knew that once I open the Pandora's box, there would be no turning back. So, in autumn 2008 I told myself that I'd rather stay an ugly woman than to be an uncomplete man and next 10 years I didn't deal with it and pretended to myself and people around me that I am simply the lesbian they all considered me to be and wanted me to be.

It's irony of fate that the exact society that kept telling me from childhood that I am a woman helped me to realize that I am, in fact, a man. My family was fortunately never strict when it comes to traditional male and female roles, but still, it's all around you – you need labels since young age. These toys are for boys, Easter is celebrated differently by girls, you need to dress so and so, you should be interested in make-up and fashion trends, technical school is for boys, women stay at home with small children and when you go to toilet or changing room, you need to choose correct door. I hated it. From childhood I have felt extremely strong dysphoria from my role in society. But you become numb gradually and these everyday sufferings hurt kind of less.
Now imagine that you, used to this system, find yourself in society where everything is completely different. Where you see happy men pushing prams with babies every day in park an in underground sit beautiful and naturally looking women without tons of make-up on their faces. Where you don't have to choose the correct door when you go to toilet because there is only one. Where nobody cares if you are straight or not because you have exactly the same rights. Where no-one judges or labels you, but simply takes you for who you are. Imagine being able to breathe freely, finally after 28 years, but you don't realize the difference because it became a routine for you.
Have you imagined it? Ok, so cut. You sit on a flight to the Czech Republic. You know that you will be there just few days, you're going to meet your friends, talk nostalgically about good old times and it will be really nice. But still, your stomach hurts, you feel anxiety inside and you start to feel stressed. You don't want to go there, but you cannot name the feeling and you don't know why. Then someone starts speaking Czech to you and you immediately wish to sit on flight going back and speak only Swedish and English again, so you don't have to use genders in every sentence. At pub you try not to go to toilet as long as you manage, because you don't want to choose door again. Your life reality has changed, and you know that you don't want to play again this old game, which has been causing you terrible discomfort whole your life.

It would be so, so easy had I realized all this right away. But I was just walking in circles for such a long time and I couldn't find name for my feelings. I couldn't explain to anyone, not even to myself, why I don't want to travel to the Czech Republic so much. Why I suffer during every flight there and while I feel so relaxed during every return flight. And then came the second turn. Everyone in our company got an email about an event which our company organizes to support Movember. Every man who shaves his face completely at the beginning of November and will grow a moustache during the month can participate. Every man – you understand. But not me. That day at the office I was a complete mess and I was desperately jealous of every man I met. I was so horribly jealous of them, they can have beard – the beard I have desperately wanted to have all my life. But I have breasts instead – the breasts I hate so desperately from my teens and which keep spoiling my every attempt to at least look like a guy.
Everything burned inside me. I realized that day that I hate my body and that what was happening inside me wasn't normal. That I must do something about it. Not even than did I realize what was going on and I didn't connect this to my 10 years old feelings right away, but it was enough for me to take out my phone and completely naively type I want to have beard to Google. After seeing the results, I finally realized it. Then came probably the most difficult month in my life, when I finally connected everything together and at the end, I knew that I would need to break the old promise I had given to myself – and that I want to open the Pandora's box, even though it was the point of no return. I admitted to myself that I am transgender, and I want a transition.

Out with the Truth

I knew that I needed to tell anyone, otherwise I would go crazy. The first person there was my wife, who should probably get to know anyway, so I started to test the waters. My effort to be inconspicuous sometimes led to rather comical situations and the problem was that my wife didn't find it out anyway, although I wished for it so desperately. From all the people I needed to tell, she was of course the most important and I was terrified of her reaction. At that time, we had been together for 7 years and I couldn't imagine losing her. A month ago, when I had been thinking if to go for it or not, this was basically the only thing which hold me back and worried me a lot. At the end I finally decided that I need to do it and cruel as it might be, I will have to deal with her reaction, whatever it would be.
To decide is a great thing, but to find courage to spill it out finally turned out to be a lot bigger issue than I had expected. It was my very close friend who finally ended my suffering – he was the first one who I ended telling it to, ironically while I was visiting at the Czech Republic. This conversation gave me courage to tell it to my wife the same evening, at least cowardly via WhatsApp.

I am extremely grateful to my wife, because she dealt with it and didn't leave me. What's more, she started to support me, and I found in her very important and strong ally. Together we started looking for information how to handle this issue in Sweden and she gave me help for further coming-outs. I knew that it could be unpleasant, and reactions of people may differ, but when you are transgender, you don't have much choice compared to homosexuals – if you want to start living in your preferred opposite role, you have no choice but to tell people around you. The more comings-out I have managed, the less I worried about how the others will take it and I started to feel like it's not my fault and they have to deal with it. Determination and positive approach to the whole issue finally helped me to successfully overcome this whole period and nowadays everyone knows it about me. Believe it or not, I didn't get even one negative reaction and everyone around me accepted it, although it was quite a shock for many of them.

I guess that in the end I needed to tell approximately same number of Czechs and Swedes. Among Czechs was of course mainly family and long-time friends, among Swedes colleagues at work, friends, neighbors and members of clubs where I spend my free time.
It was interesting to see hot different were reactions of Czechs and Swedes to my coming-outs. When I told to some of the Czechs what is transgender, they did not know this word or issue at all, and I needed to explain. In general, I could sum their reaction as "oh, okay, I don't mind". A lot of people was curious and were asking various details. I also remember, that when we talked face to face for the first time (I outed myself to Czechs almost exclusively via internet, as I didn't feel like waiting to be there and talk to them), it was kind of awkward, which I believe was mainly because of language and need to start using the right gender. I appreciate and treasure group of people who reacted extremely positively, supported me right from the beginning and talked to me at times when I needed it the most.
However, all Swedes without exception knew what it is, knew terminology and reacted very positively and with support like “it's great that you've found yourself and you can be finally yourself". There were no curious questions, but lot of people offered me that I can come and talk to them whenever I would feel like it. Most people didn't hesitate and immediately started to use my new name and treat me like a man, which I appreciate a lot, as it helped me much and calmed me down.

What About Swedish Law

Even before nearly all coming-outs, when I knew only some bits about hormones and surgeries (let alone about laws), I and my wife found on the internet ANOVA center, which is a ward in Karolinska Universitetssjukhuset (translated as University Hospital Karolinska), which specializes on andrology, sexology and trans medicine. There we found first information about our next steps and what to roughly expect. Almost all similar wards in Sweden require referral from psychologist to be put on a waiting list, but ANOVA accepts egenremiss as well (kind of affidavit stating your own judgement of your own identity and self-identification). The whole form is in Swedish, but it can be filled in in English. I appreciated a lot that I could state my preferred name and preferred pronouns. I completed this form and sent it around middle of November, and I've been on waiting list since then. Expected waiting time is from 6 to 12 months, so I should get there this year.

Waiting time can be filled by coming-outs, name change, social transition, getting more information and visiting supporting groups.
I have already written about coming-outs. Name change in Sweden can be done online – you log in to Skatteverket (tax office, which handles also register of inhabitants) and send electronic form verified via your personal token (BankID). You can choose every common Swedish name, nobody cares if it's male or female – in Swedish there is no such thing and all names are gender neutral. You pay 250 kr and within a month your name is changed. Then you can have all your IDs changed – ID card, driving card, bank cards. The great thing is that your name is actualized automatically in all systems and for example in the bank you don't need to do anything, they will send you a new card on their own. The same for all insurance agencies or for example IKEA bonus club. You also get notice by post that you need to change your driving license, so you send it back with your current photo, pay little fee and within a week you have new driving license. I knew all this already as I changed my surname (available in Czech only) about half a year ago. I just told it at work separately, because I needed my name to be changed in internal systems as well. I was so happy that they changed it even before I had it changed officially at Skatteverket. Well, and then you just enjoy the little things, like that while shopping, you scan QR code on your old driving license, but on display of scanner you already see the message Hej Knut! :-)
Name change makes social transition a lot easier, so I simply started to introduce as Knut Holm everywhere, which reduced my dysphoria significantly. I ordered my very first binder from Transbutiken (they have a new shop at Stockholm as well now and I am really looking forward to trying it), which sells among others also binders from gc2b and Underworks, I bought few man shirts, eyebrow pencil and even passing is going well, which I am so happy about :-) I also became a member of Transammans, which is a Swedish association for trans people and their close ones and I go regularly with my wife to their fika meetings – it's fine to have a chat with someone who's in the same situation. I was very positively surprised by how many parents, who go to meetings with their children, was there. By the way, this name is from Swedish word tilsammans, which means together :-)

But back to ANOVA. Once it's your turn, your case gets to team of specialists, consisting of general practitioner, psychologist and social worker. First you get to general practitioner, where you talk generally about your identity – when did you first start to realize it, how did you find out, if you are sure or still have some doubts. They also deal with general problems like depression, problems with alcohol etc., which can result from your situation and which could complicate the process. Then you have several meetings with psychologist, who concentrates mainly on your sexuality and which problems may be caused by your gender identity in this regard, and also with a social worker, who talks to you about reactions of people around you to future changes, if you know someone problematic, they will advise you about coming-out etc. During all this there is one obligatory meeting with your close people where you can invite whoever you want, but always at least one person. Great thing is that in Sweden, you can always bring a close person to every doctor's appointment and they can be there whole time (not only as a moral support, but you don't have to tell all the details to your wife, despite already having forgotten half of the things in meantime).
After approximately three months this team of specialists prepares a medical opinion, which all of them must approve of. They can diagnose you any form of gender dysphoria, which is satisfactory diagnosis for legal gender change and for beginning of all steps of treatment, except the bottom surgery – for this you need specifically diagnosis of transgender.

With medical opinion in hand everything goes smoothly – you will send it, together with a motivational letter, to Skatteverket, which legally changes your gender and gives you new personnummer (Swedish ID number). In ANOVA (or anywhere else, but in ANOVA it is your turn) you visit an endocrinologist and you can start your hormonal treatment. If you need to visit gynecology, the best way is to choose a specialized one in Stockholm, specifically for trans people. Surgeries may be also done in ANOVA, but you can choose any ward in whole Sweden – actually, if you go through this process in Sweden, everything is covered by your public medical insurance. A lot of trans people prefers to choose highly specialized wards abroad, which deal with nothing but trans surgeries. We found this out by reading Swedish trans blogs and also from my union's magazine, which we got to our mail one day and it was all about being transgender at workplace. We found also an aggregator of top-surgeries doctors – Top Surgery, which helps you to choose the right surgeon and technique. Swedish trans-men usually recommend Dr. Garramoneho, who seems to be a top capacity in his field. Surgery then costs about 75 000 kr, which is not so high amount and it is definitely worth making a trip to Florida :-) Results of his work are available at Instagram. Regarding bottom surgery, I have not though about it yet and if I will, then probable sometimes in a far future.

Regarding Swedish legislation, I must say that I very satisfied. There is no law about self-determination, as in neighboring Norway, but this law has been promised by last government and as it was nearly the same as the current one, it is expected to be passed here as well quite soon. Quite opposite, in neighboring Finland there are still laws requiring sterilization for legal gender change, a process which has been deemed as inhuman by European Court for Human Rights in 2017, and all EU-countries should cease to do this soon. Unfortunately, the same nonsense law is still in the Czech Republic.
By the way, in Sweden obligatory sterilizations of trans people were stopped on June 30th, 2013. Last year Sweden started to compensate everyone who has been forced to sterilization by amount of 225 000 kr.

What About Czech Law

I don't live in Czech Republic anymore and I don't plan to. However, since I don't have Swedish citizenship yet, I must use my Czech passport whenever travelling – which is the last Czech ID I have, but unfortunately quite important one. As soon as I found out what I need to do during my transition in Sweden, I tried to search which steps I need to undertake to have my new name in Czech passport as well.

Fortunately, I have solved question of surname (available in Czech only) long before I have even realized I am transgender, so I have it in Czech passport a in worst case I would need to change only a name, in best case also change gender and Czech national identification number, which is also stated in passport.
The first legal obstacle I have found is that although according to Swedish law there is no problem in having a different name than in other country (or even different legal gender, right), in the Czech Republic it is a huge problem of course. According to law number 200/1990, section 42c, paragraph 1, point c breaks a law everyone who, quoting: "On purpose in official communication does not use name, or names or surname stated in their birth certificate of marriage certificate issued by General registry office In Czech republic, or other official office:" For this, according to paragraph 2, you may get a fine up to 5000 CZK. It's really comical that if I am for example driving a car in the Czech Republic and I am pulled over by police and show them my valid driving license, theoretically I can get this fine.
Alright, it is not such a huge amount not to do it, but I probably won't anyway, as the theoretical delay caused by explaining it to Czech police officers can be pretty long, I guess. If I wanted to solve this disharmony of names in passport and driving license, I would need to persuade Czech general registry office that Knut is a neutral name in some language a can be used even by legally determined women, which would probably mean to have an official linguistic opinion made. This way is not impossible, and I am still wondering if it is worth it.

The real problem remains – I will still have the wrong legal gender in my passport. This is a problem which may theoretically cause me problems when travelling, and I travel quite a lot. Although you can always show your identity by biometric data in your passport, at airport it can cause quite a delay which may be crucial for catching or missing your flight. I have tried to look for information what is needed for having this change done by Czech office workers. My naïve thought that I will just have my medical opinion officially translated and bring it to embassy disappeared very quickly. In the Czech Republic the bureaucracy is much more difficult and not only it would need more than one visit to the Czech Republic, at the end of all this is a very controversial review committee, made from so called professionals, who have about 10 minutes to evaluate (as best as possible) if you really deserve this change of the letter in passport. The very existence of such committee unfortunately confirms the fact that communism hasn't completely disappeared from the Czech Republic yet and state still needs to establish absolutely unfunctional and useless committees like this, which gives some individuals possibility to play Gods. I would also like to remark that this committee is led by also very controversial sexologist Dr. Hana Fifkova, who is hated by half of Czech trans community and adored by the other half. This sexologist is said to have connections with a number of other doctors, who she sends her patients to as a good deal and so earns her money immorally by taking advantage of hard life situation of people – which is apparently also a reason why Czech Sexological Society so much refuses the law for self-determination of trans people. But unfortunately, this is still not all. Even if I was willing to go through all this circus, which I am not, I still wouldn't have the new letter in my passport, until I undertook also a completely useless and dangerous surgery, which I mentioned earlier – sterilization.

I have gotten used that Czech legislation is sometimes completely absurd, and to fact that I live in a legislative trap. But I will never get used that although these and many other laws have made me leave my country, they will still follow me even abroad and make my life difficult. This new situation only deepened my bitterness to the Czech Republic, and I am decided that if this legislation doesn't change dramatically until I get Swedish citizenship, I will give up on the Czech citizenship. I don't want to hold a passport which refuses my identity and every day reminds me that I am a citizen of country which I don't feel to be a part of. The fact is that although I am not a Swedish citizen yet, this country has treated me much better and nicer than my birth country ever would.

At the end I would like to add that in the Czech Republic there are several associations and activists who I respect for trying to fight against stupidity and prejudice and to change not only the laws but also thinking of people. I would like to thank Trans*parent, who recently started awesome campaign #JsmeTrans and who I support very much. If you are also angry about situation in the Czech Republic, you can send them few Czech crowns, they will appreciate any amount and I know that the money will be used for good thing. I contribute regularly.

Few More Words

I have written all this mainly because I know that I have some friends who don't know, but they would like to. I have also written it for people coming to my blog and thinking that situation in fighting for trans right in the Czech Republic is great – because it isn't. It's important not to put up with getting only scraps when you can get a while cow, and we need to fight.

I also needed to get it out, I don't know how long I will let my article here, because after some time I probably won't want to be reminded about all this. But now it has done the trick and helped. So, thank you very much for reading it :-)