Laws and Misunderstandings

Laws and Misunderstandings


Anyone who likes nuances, is downcast by the discussions surrounding the revision of the transgender act. Because what exactly is it about? The alteration of the act from 2014 on two points: leaving out the statement from an expert and allowing children below the age of sixteen to change their gender registration. The heated, polarizing debate was awash with non-information, false arguments, and fallacies.

There are also real misunderstandings. For example, the expert’s statement is not a diagnosis of gender dysphoria. It concerns testing someone’s competency and whether changing the birth certificate is durable. This was devised to exclude requests from people with psychotic delusions or drunk people. But trans people themselves also think sometimes that the expert’s statement is an exam in being trans. 

What was that like before? When was the first time that people were able to legally change their gender status? Transitions in the ‘50s and ‘60s were so exceptional, that trans pioneers were busier with trying to survive than societal emancipation. This changed at the start of the ‘70s: lawyers from the Genderstichting used the ‘error act’, meant for general corrections to the birth certificate, to help their transgender clients sue. About 25 people succeeded using this juridical trick.

Until the High Council had enough of it. Rather than individual cases, in which one judge said yes and the other no, a real law needed to be implemented. It took over ten years of research and lobbying before the parliament accepted this law. The only one who voted against was the small Christian Right (6 seats). Trans people got the right to turn an M into an F or the other way around, with the condition that they were at least 18 years old, unmarried and ‘medically transitioned as much as possible’, including that they were not allowed to be fertile anymore. The fundamental legislative amendment of 2014 made an end to this. Besides, the requirement that you had to be unmarried had been scrapped after the legalisation of gay marriage in 2001. 

The trans act of 2014 disconnected the right to self-identification from the medical process. The government offered trans people, who were impacted by the old legislation, an apology and monetary compensation, because they demanded something they were not allowed to. That is all good and well, but what I like less as a historian, is that the historical story has increasingly started to turn into the frame, frequently mentioned by the media, that everyone impacted was sterilised against their will. This sounds like something scary and criminal. Even the usually well-informed Arjen Lubach presented it like this recently.

It is true that the law was unjust, but was everyone getting sterilised like an unwilling victim? That is also not what happened. What was a problem for one person, wasn’t necessarily an issue to another (note: sterilisation in trans women is per definition a result of vaginoplasty, an operation many trans women really desire). Such imaging is excessive and too simplistic, and I don’t think we need that kind of mythologising. Stick to the facts, those are bad enough as is.