Oct 22, 2012

Demonstrating against Finland's lunatic trans sterilization law

Like some other European countries, Finland has a law in place that requires transgender people to be sterilized as a prerequisite for changing their gender legally. I wrote about this at greater length in Finnish earlier, but suffice to say that there are no medical grounds for this requirement, or indeed any reasonable grounds whatsoever. Although the law seems like a relic of the mid-twentieth century, when Finland forcibly sterilized some ten thousand people, it was in fact passed by the Finnish parliament in 2002 and signed by our then-president Tarja Halonen, supposedly an advocate of LGBT rights.

Thankfully, not everyone is okay with this, and there have been some noises made to try to get this senseless, inhuman requirement removed from the law. The World Health Organization has stated that the right to reproduction is a fundamental human right, and the EU Commissioner for Human Rights has petitioned all member states to remove sterilization requirements from their laws on sex reassignment. Sure enough, after the last parliamentary elections, we were told that the law would be re-examined and the sterilization requirement removed.

Just last week, Henripekka Kallio wrote a story for Pohjolan Sanomat on the state of the project to revoke the sterilization requirement. The answer he got was stunning. (Finnish summary here) According to Päivi Sillanaukee, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, they have no plans to set a committee to change the law. According to her, the ministry is short of resources, and may not be able to look into this question during this Parliament. So until then, trans people will be required to be sterilized, because the ministry has better things to do.

To be fair to Ms. Sillanaukee, that's almost certainly just an excuse. A card-carrying member of the conservative National Coalition Party, she went on to question not only whether the law would be changed, but whether sex reassignment surgery would continue to be legal in Finland at all. She gave the following bizarre statement:

Sillanaukee muistuttaa, että työryhmä on tarkoitus koota pohtimaan lakiuudistusta, eikä tekemään sitä. Pakkosteriloinnin poistaminen translaista olisi teknisesti yksinkertaista, mutta kansliapäällikön mielestä sillä olisi kauaskantoiset vaikutukset.

– Meillä on lähdetty siitä, että on kaksi sukupuolta. Nyt on kyse siitä, että lainsäädäntöön haluttaisiin niin sanottu kolmas sukupuoli.

Sillanaukeen mukaan sukupuolijaon hämärtyminen johtaisi siihen, että osa sukupuolen korjaamiseen liittyvistä prosesseista menettäisi merkityksensä.

- Eihän silloin voida kysellä ihmiseltä, että etkö haluakaan olla mies ja haluatko olla nainen. Eikä meillä silloin olisi esimerkiksi oikeutta ottaa kohtua pois, jos henkilö haluaa vaihtaa sukupuolta, Sillanaukee tulkitsee.

My translation below. As the statement is frankly confusing, I've sacrificed English idiom to try to translate it as directly as possible.

"Sillanaukee points out that the committee will be assembled to examine changing the law, not to change it. Removing mandatory sterilization from the trans law would be technically simple, but the permanent secretary feels it would have far-reaching implications.

- Our premise is that there are two genders. What we are dealing with here is that people want to introduce a third gender into legislation.

According to Sillanaukee, this blurring of the gender divide would lead to some sexual reassignment procedures losing their meaning.

- We couldn't then ask a person if they don't want to be a man any more and do they want to be a woman. We also wouldn't have the right, for example, to remove someone's uterus if they want to undergo sex reassignment, Sillanaukee interprets."

In my opinion, this is crazy talk. Sillanaukee's logic seems to be that if people who undergo sex reassignment surgery are not forcibly sterilized, then a "third gender" will come into being and the state will no longer have the "right" to perform surgery. So instead of removing the sterilization requirement, Sillanaukee is not only delaying the process but actually questioning the very availability of SRS.

This is madness, but it's the usual kind of madness. Sillanaukee's warped reasoning makes it clear that anything threatening the sacred male/female gender binary is seen by our political class of professional politicians and civil servants as something to be ridiculed and fought; to the extent that a senior civil servant will engage in sardonic, MRA-esque wordplay and try to twist a question of people's right to their own bodies into a question of whether the state has "a right" to perform surgery that they themselves want. And she's in charge of the Ministry of Health.


Thankfully, this made quite a few people very angry, so there was a demonstration. We went.

I'd estimate that around a hundred people turned up. Here are some of the signs people brought:

"Sillanaukee, hands off my uterus"

"Organ rights", because the Finnish for organ ("elin") is just one letter away from animal ("eläin").

"Gender is in your head", and "the civilized don't forcibly sterilize".

A picture of Finland's minister for health, former MTV Europe VJ Maria Guzenina-Richardson, and the text "not enough balls to defend human rights". Yeah, I know. He means well.

"Gender identity is not a disease". The man with the refreshments stopped by to debate some of the demonstrators.

"Gender doesn't live in the organ". Loving the attitude. And finally:

My thanks to everyone who agreed to be photographed with their signs, and to everyone who came. Pictures are by me, licensed under the same license as the text.


I swear, if they don't get rid of this idiot law and quick, I'm coming to the next demonstration with a giant Die cis scum sign. It's a complete and utter national disgrace that we still have such an inhuman law on the books in what is supposed to be a civilized country. What makes me optimistic is how sincerely shocked many people have been when they've heard of this law. What makes me pessimistic is pretty much everything else. Within an hour of getting home and going online after this, I had people attacking the demonstration for being "against family values" or just plain mocking it. Because obviously the people having their reproductive rights taken away from them aren't really people.

Still, I hope our little demonstration did at least something to make people aware of this horrible legislation and the brutal cynicism with which it's defended. I'm appalled that I live in a country where people are sterilized against their will, and just plain depressed that there's nothing I can sensibly do about it except stand around with some folks holding signs and post photos on the Internet.

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