Norwegians now can change genders legally with a mouse click
HAUGESUND, Norway – Ten-year-old Anna Thulin-Myge's passport shows what looks like an ordinary Norwegian girl wearing her long, blond hair fastened with a clip. It lists her first name as Anna, but under sex it says "M."
"That means male," Anna says, running her finger across the document. "In some weeks I'm going to have a new passport, and then it's going to say 'F.'"
Norway, a wealthy, progressive nation of 5 million people, recently became the fifth country in the world to allow adults to legally change genders without a doctor's agreement or intervention. Argentina, Ireland and Denmark have similar laws. But only Malta and Norway have extended the liberalized rules to children.
Provided they have parental consent, Norwegian children as young as 6 can now self-identify as male or female, effectively overruling the gender assigned to them at birth. Anna is one of nine minors in the country to have taken advantage since the new rules were adopted in June.
With no requirement for surgery or counseling, the process is as easy as filing a tax return. So far, Norway has not refused a single application. Soon, Anna will receive the official letter confirming the government recognizes her as the girl she always knew herself to be.
"When I was little I liked to dress up in dresses," she says. "And play with dolls, and so I actually think that I was a girl the whole time."
Anna's mother, Siri Oline Myge, agrees. Her daughter endured several years of confusion and rejection when she was forced to be a boy named Adrian at school, and the legal recognition means Anna can look forward to a future without suspicion and constant misunderstandings, she says.
"Anna had two separate identities," Oline Myge says. "It took a long time for her to get her confidence back."
Though Norwegian lawmakers concede that some of the questions surrounding transgender children remain unsettled, the law generated little controversy when it was introduced. Parliament members from left to right approved the legislation in June on a 79-13 vote.
"I have met several young people who have told me that this new law is making their lives easier. Several have come out of a dark place," said Health Minister Bent Hoie, a Conservative Party member who piloted the legislation through the Storting.
Lawmakers considered adding a mandatory reflection period for both adults and children before they could legally transition, but concluded that would be "patronizing," Hoie said.
Instead, after completing an online form that generates a mailed response from tax authorities, applicants must only return a letter confirming their intention to change genders.
Once their applications are approved, they receive a new national identification number that unlocks the ability to update all forms of identification, from passports and driver's licenses to birth certificates and credit cards. The tax ID numbers in Norway are gender-specific.
Until July, Norway was one of 32 European countries that required people to undergo long periods of counseling, hormone replacement and ultimately sex reassignment surgery before their gender changes would be legally recognized.
The provision effectively prevented children from transitioning legally and put off many adults who either couldn't afford or didn't want the surgery. In the United States, requirements vary by state, but transgender residents generally must provide proof of "clinically appropriate treatment."
Although Malta allows parents or guardians to seek gender changes on behalf of children in court, Norway is the only country where minors go through the same administrative process as adults.
Some supporters, including Transgender Europe Senior Policy Officer Richard Kohler, think Norway should go even further and remove the remaining restrictions on official gender changes for children under 6.
"It shows that there is an underlying belief that trans is bad and problematic," Kohler said of the age limit. "It gives the signal that we don't believe children, and that we need to protect them from gender from an early age."
Anna lives with her mother, stepfather and three siblings by a fjord in Haugesund, a small west coast town. The family dog sniffs around their wooden house; a dinner of home-caught moose simmers in the kitchen.
When she was 5, concerned relatives and neighbors said Anna's mother was indulging a dangerous fantasy and accused her of projecting a desire for a daughter onto her son. Norway's child protection services were called. Social workers monitored the family until doctors persuaded the child welfare agency that Anna's female identity was genuine.
"I saw that Anna was different from before she was 3," Oline Myge says. "She wanted to wear clips in her hair and got really unhappy when I cut it."
After legally changing her name in July 2013, Anna started wearing dresses to school and encountered some bullying. She enrolled at a new school this year where classmates have never known her as Adrian. She says she is much happier there.
The Norwegian Association for Gender and Sexual Diversity, which helped draft the law, successfully lobbied to have the age threshold lowered from 7 to 6 so children could start school with their records already updated - heading off the sort of public transition Anna had.
Most of the 250 Norwegians who have applied for a gender change since the law took effect are adults. Christine Jentoft, a 28-year-old who requested a new tax identification number over the summer, welcomes the ability to self-identify, saying it's not the government's place to decide her gender.
"The only people who know about my genitals are my doctor, my girlfriend and me," said Jentoft, who is the biological father of a 5-year-old girl and identifies as a lesbian.
Jentoft started living as a woman six years ago. But she has been reluctant to leave Norway without a passport that matched her gender identity. Now, she can get the marker on her passport and all of her other government-issued records revised.
"I don't have to suffer a lot of questions anymore like I've done in the past, like people wanting to know, 'Why does it say male here? Why do you have a male personal number?'" she said.
While some church groups have bristled at the new rules, groups that advocate for transgender Norwegians also have voiced concerns.
Harry Benjamin Resource Center President Mikael Scott Bjerkeli, whose Oslo organization works to make treatment accessible for transgender people to transition medically, thinks the law was rushed through. He worries it could set back progress, if it ends up being abused.
Bjerkeli cited the example of a Danish man who legally changed genders under policies similar to Norway's, then disrobed in a women's changing room last year to make a political point.
"We have worked so many years to build up an understanding of what this condition is, and who this group is," Bjerkeli says. "Something like this, where someone takes off their clothes, could make people think this is all a joke again."
He thinks some counseling should be required before people can change genders legally.
Anna says she has thought long and hard enough. In the next few years, she intends to begin taking hormones that will delay puberty until she is old enough for gender reassignment surgery.
"I actually don't miss Adrian," she says. "Because I really want to be Anna all the time, and now I am Anna, a girl, and I don't want to go back to being the boy."