Ugla: Resowing history

If the Icelandic trans rights movement of the past few years has a mastermind, it just might be Ugla Stefanía. The 25 year-old Icelandic-born activist has helped shift the mainstream’s idea of the gender binary and has been fearless in discussing their personal experiences with people from all over the world, including a sold out audience at TED Reykjavik back in June.

Now an accomplished writer for the Huffington Post, Ugla’s articles have generated a wide variety of opinions: mostly positive but some hateful, which exposed them to the brutal realities of cyber bullying and hate crimes. Having relocated to Brighton in the UK, Ugla is spreading their wings, sewing new projects into their colourful quilt of activism. They are a fighter of many causes and for us at GayIceland, it was a conversation that was long overdue.

As Ugla answers my Skype, I can’t help but ask the question, “How ARE you?” Between travelling non-stop, preparing speeches for various events and dealing with the internet monster of hate, you’d wonder how they’ve been coping with this newfound exposure, having become a Huffington Post regular. “I’m good. If you’re talking about the criticism I’ve received, as sad as it is, I’m used to it because I’ve been an activist for a long time and have some very strong opinions about certain things. I’m used to people disagreeing with my point of view but it’s never been on such a massive scale. Especially the article that I posted on Huff Post back in the summer called “Non-Binary and Relationships: What Do I Call You?” (an article discussing the correct pronouns to use for a significant other in a non binary relationship). I was surprised at how much hate I received from strangers on the internet. It had over 700 pages of comments, mostly negative. But I’m okay, it’s not something that affects me that much, especially since those comments are no longer part of a discussion, it’s just hate. When people want to have a legitimate conversation or talk about their opinions, that’s a different thing. I can’t control their online behaviour, so I can’t take it personal.”

It’d be difficult to place “trans rights” under one umbrella, as each individual’s experience will vary from the other. For Ugla, it’s about educating their readers on the everyday trials of their own life as a non-binary queer feminist. They grew up on a farm close to Akureyri and Blönduós, in North Iceland. “Growing up on a farm was a great experience. I feel quite fortunate to have grown up the way I did. That being said, I didn’t know a single thing about trans issues growing up and I never talked about it or explored it until I moved to Akureyri at 16.” And at that moment, Ugla’s life changed forever. “Education was the starting point of my activism. I never planned to become an activist, as I simply wanted to go through my transition and do my own thing but over time, it fell into my lap. In the beginning, I joined a queer group in Akureyri and since I was the only openly trans person, they asked me to do lectures. Finally, upon moving to Reykjavik in 2011, I joined the Queer Student Association of Iceland and that’s when the ball started rolling.”

While it’s never easy to come out and be vulnerable, Ugla broke the ice (punny, I know). Their transparency as an activist gave other Icelanders the ability to ask them questions openly, which sometimes steered into intrusive territory. “It depends a lot on where I am and what role I’m playing. Usually if I’m asked personal questions, I’m in the role of an educator so I don’t mind taking them on, as long as I mention that it might not be an appropriate question to ask in every situation. For example, I would say: ‘Instead of asking me about my genitals, maybe we can talk about discrimination’ or something that actually matters. Sometimes I’ll be at a party and someone will ask about my genitals, in which I ask ‘Are you going to pay me? Because this is what I do professionally. If you don’t pay me, you won’t get the answer.” They laugh playfully, emitting a vibe of confidence in their ability to stare ignorance in the eyes.

“I’m used to people disagreeing with my point of view but it’s never been on such a massive scale … I was surprised at how much hate I received from strangers on the internet. It had over 700 pages of comments, mostly negative. But I’m okay, it’s not something that affects me that much.”

From a fragile heart to one made of steel, its fascinating to learn about Ugla’s past, the early days of their transition. “What surprised me the most was that I subconsciously predicted how people would react to my transition, which was often different from what I had imagined. For example, I had no idea how to tell my 10 year-old brother that I was trans. I kept thinking: “He’s 10, how could he possibly understand?” I started by telling him about the term “trans” and explained what it meant. A few days later, I got really nervous to tell him but while we were playing a video game, I paused the game and went for it. I asked him if he remembered the conversation we had about the word “transgender”. He nodded his head and finally, I told him that I was trans and that I would be changing my name and doing some things differently. He gave me a reassuring, yet almost annoyed look, and asked “Ok, cool. But can we keep playing the video game?” He didn’t think it was a big deal at all and that surprised me.”

What is considered “no biggie” for a sibling, however, can be very different for a parent. “For my parents it was a much bigger deal because when you raise someone for 18 years, it’s hard to break the news that there’s been a huge misunderstanding. It wasn’t easy for them. Looking back, I really wasn’t ready for what was about to come because you can never be prepared for something like this. I remember being at school a few weeks after I came out, thinking that everyone was judging me and knew about my situation, when likely nobody was paying attention. I never knew how difficult it would be, even just walking down a school hallway. From that point onwards, I became thrusted into the roles of an educator, someone who’s supposed to say something smart and to this day, it still surprises me how fast it all happened. If you had told me years ago that I’d become an activist and educator, I wouldn’t have believed you. This was not the life I had planned.” I guess in Ugla’s case, when life gave them lemons, they made orange juice and everyone continues to wonder how they did it. “It’s been so rewarding. Although it’s been hard, I’m really glad I did it as I have gotten to know so many people from all over the world and feel that I am part of a strong community.”

In 2010, Ugla became the youngest person in Iceland to undergo gender reassignment surgery. At the time, there were no laws surrounding healthcare coverage for the trans community. It fell under the responsibility of one psychiatrist in Iceland to take care of trans people and to deal with the healthcare that they would receive. “The healthcare system in Iceland is usually inclined to put you in a box. You’re forced to play a certain role, to prove to the doctors that you’re either a “girl” or a “boy”. That didn’t really fit my experience because I felt it was a bit more difficult than that. Today, I experience myself as non-binary but at the time, I was worried that it would halt my progress in the health care system. So instead, I decided I would play their game and tell them exactly what they wanted to hear: that I played with dolls, that I was always feminine, that I did girly things. Since I fit into their conventional idea of a girl, it allowed me to go through the healthcare system without hindrance and receive care, as long as I played by their rules. Looking back, it was easy to play up the stereotype but it was ultimately so ridiculous. I had to complete a series of personality tests, IQ tests… was I possibly too stupid to go through with it? What does my IQ have to do with my gender identity?! An IQ test in general is such a bad measurement for anything, especially gender. To make matters worse, all my tests used male pronouns which made me question if anyone fully understood what trans even meant.”

And as if being yourself couldn’t be hard enough in mainstream society, Ugla tells me that trans people are often asked to prove their gender identity to health care professionals, which can quickly become a damaging cycle of oppression and confusion. “I never had moments where I wanted to quit but often wondered why they had to put me through this, why I had to prove to them that I was in fact a woman. I was scared that if I told them how I really felt about certain things, that I would be denied the healthcare that I needed. All doubt aside, I knew I’d go through with it one way or another. When they wanted me to play the part of a “perfect woman”, that’s exactly what I did.”

The trans rights movement in Iceland has grown tremendously over the past five years. There’s been a new wave of support for a number of youth under the age of 10 who have begun transitioning, which Ugla sees as a positive thing for their visibility in the future. “I think it’s a very positive thing that kids can come out much earlier and voice their experiences. When I was young, if I would have had access to the knowledge and education on trans issues that kids have now, I would have come out way earlier. What we’re seeing now isn’t an increase of young trans people, but a more resourceful society that allows kids to have more advanced opportunities. When you’re about 5 and 6, you start to wonder about your gender and who you are. When you hit 10 or 11, it’s just something you feel, something you know and I think it’s wrong for anyone to dispute or tell someone who they don’t know who they are. As well, I think it’s important for young teens to have access to hormone blockers because going through a puberty that doesn’t match how you identify or feel can be an extremely traumatizing thing.”

I stop and reflect on my own highschool days, remembering the sometimes cruel words that would get thrown my way for being an openly gay teen. While it’s a painful thought for most, however, Ugla seems unfazed by the treatment they received in their school hallways. “You fall into a pit of self-hate and self-doubt, along with everything else that comes with being a teenager… it was a difficult time. That being said, I never let that get to me, I just did my own thing.” And despite the traditional ideologies that still exist in our society, it’s people like Ugla who push the envelope for acceptance.

“I think it’s a very positive thing that kids can come out much earlier and voice their experiences. When I was young, if I would have had access to the knowledge and education on trans issues that kids have now, I would have come out way earlier.”

In the past few decades, there has been a strong tendency to genderize colours and objects, especially when it comes to children. Blue is for boys, pink is for girls. For Ugla, this is all too familiar. “I think society is obsessed with defining things in general. We always need to categorize things, to make them seem easier. We want things to be simplified, which becomes dangerous when talking about sex and gender, as they are both very complicated and messy. For most people it’s easier to think that there are only two options of gender, but it’s the people who break the rules that somehow have to deal with the consequences. I don’t understand why everyone is still so obsessed with it. I keep hearing people saying that sex is scientific, but we don’t have that much research on the complexities of gender and sex. I think people should be able to fully label themselves how they want. Their labels don’t affect me. If somebody wants to define themselves as a pansexual aromantic, for example, it still has nothing to do with me. It’s not a matter of opinion, as we shouldn’t form opinions about other people’s identities. It’s about respecting the various identities that exist all over the world.”

Since the summer, Ugla is now spending their time between Reykjavik and Brighton in the UK, where they live with their partner Fox Fisher, a talented artist, filmmaker and activist. Ugla is working on numerous projects that have kept them on their toes. Among these projects, there’s an Icelandic film being produced that is based on Ugla’s life. ““It’s not directly about me, but a story based on my experiences.” It would require a lot of trust to allow a film crew to base a movie off your life. “I’m very excited about it because I fully trust them to do it well. After all, they’re my friends and we keep in good contact.”

With Fox, Ugla has travelled to Malta and numerous places around the UK for the past months to talk about trans rights and to spread their message of equality and love. They’ve even gone as far as to Russia. “Fox was invited by trans rights activists to host a workshop at a festival called Queerfest in St. Petersburg, Russia and I had the opportunity to tag along and see the country for the first time,” says Ugla, who didn’t know what to expect. “There is a lot of talk about Russia in the media, where you often see videos or news of horrible things happening. I was intrigued to know if this was a reality for the people at the organizations there.”

But overall, Ugla felt safe. “Our hosts were very nice and always made sure we were fine. We didn’t need any bodyguards or anything at all, which wouldn’t have been a realistic requirement while being there. Outside the queer community, people in Russia have no idea who we were.”

Coming from small town Iceland, it’s hard to imagine the contrast between both countries. “Compared to Iceland, trans people in Russia are completely invisible both when it comes down to legal and social recognition. They have no rights to health care or no rights against discrimination. The few trans people who actually appear in the media are ridiculed, mis-gendered and stigmatized. They have a completely different situation where they are dependant on one another and rely on each other’s stories to receive support. Being out in Russia as trans is certainly completely different to being trans in Iceland in almost every way.

Through this experience, it put things into perspective. I have been very active in the LGBTQI community in Europe and I come from a safe country for queer people. Being in a country where people don’t have that same freedom has given me a better understanding of my own privilege. It also gave me a lot of hope, because despite everything, the queer community in Russia was still thriving. They are just like us, trying to find a place in the world. They are fighting for their rights and they are amazing at what they do.”

Ugla has accomplished a lot in recent years. Coming from a small rural town in Iceland, who would have thought that they would become such a prominent figure in a fight against human injustice. And perhaps it is Ugla’s warm nature, their ability to address issues in a non-abrasive manner and their passion towards helping others live their truth. And, like Ugla, many activists are working towards a brighter future of universal acceptance. While some might feel that society has fallen behind, we can’t overlook the progress that has allowed the voice of the trans community to be heard. Ugla is optimistic about the years ahead. “In the next two years, I’d love to see more recognition for non-binary people both socially and legally.”

Photos: Móa Gustum.

Our sponsors

Á. Óskarsson
Á. Óskarsson

Á. Óskarsson offers a variety of products and services to sports centers, swimming pools, schools, kindergartens, and the general public. The company specializes in sport-related products, activity-focused games, and a wide range of solutions for sports facilities.

Á. Óskarsson has been involved in numerous big projects related to building sports facilities and has made it their benchmark to offer good quality products and equipment since the company was founded.

See links to social media in the upper left-hand corner


Á. Óskarsson selur fjölbreytt vöruúrval fyrir íþróttahús, sundlaugar, skóla og leikskóla og einnig ýmsar vörur til einkaafnota. Fyrirtækið selur vörur til íþróttaiðkunnar og leikja ásamt því að bjóða upp á ýmsar lausnir fyrir íþróttamannvirki.

Á. Óskarsson hefur komið að fjölda stórra verkefna við byggingu íþróttamannvirkja og hefur frá stofnun kappkostað að bjóða vandaðar og endingargóðar vörur.

Tenglar á samfélagsmiðla eru í efra horninu vinstra megin.



    Blush was founded in 2011 when it started selling high quality sex products. The goal from the beginning was to change the market and take the discussion about sex products to a higher level. Today Blush provides professional services in a pleasant environment that fulfills different needs, both for individuals and couples. Blush respects diversity and wants to set a good example in all of its messaging to target audiences. Sexual health and equality in sex is important and Blush wants to focus on those issues through education and open discussion. Blush works in a socially responsible manner for society, their customers and the environment.

    Check out Blush’s website:

    Omnom Chocolate
    - award-winning chocolate maker

      Omnom Chocolate is an Icelandic craft chocolate company based in Reykjavík. We produce handcrafted chocolate from organic cacao beans sourced ethically and sustainably. We’ve developed direct relationships to create premium chocolate with fine flavor cacao beans.

      Our creative flavors are carefully crafted by meticulous chocolate makers. The cacao beans are roasted, winnowed, ground, and refined into melty-smooth chocolate.

      Omnom’s process is one of constant exploration, invention, and experimentation. If it doesn’t please us, if something isn’t absolutely delicious, there’s no reason to be doing it. So, we always start with our taste buds and follow our instincts. Our team searches for the finest ingredients in the world and new ways to improve chocolate. This obsession with knowing where our ingredients come from has led us around the corner to dairy farms in the Icelandic countryside and all the way to rainforest cacao farms of Nicaragua.

      In only a few short years, we’ve grown from our 50 sq. m. petrol station space and become an award-winning chocolate maker. Now, with our headquarters in 101 Reykjavík, our chocolate is sent out around Iceland and all over the world.

      At the end of the day, our goal is to make chocolate.




        Nasdaq (Nasdaq: NDAQ) is a global technology company serving the capital markets and other industries. Our diverse offering of data, analytics, software and services enables clients to optimize and execute their business vision with confidence.

        With over 4,300 employees in 39 offices around the world, at Nasdaq we all contribute to the success of the company and its culture, and each one of us has the ability to make a difference. When it comes to our core mission and values, we embrace the role of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (DIB) as a fundamental driver of our corporate growth, workplace culture and market development. We strive to create a culture that embraces the power of different perspectives—a culture where people’s unique backgrounds and different experiences helps us fuel innovation and support our clients around the world.

        Our unique position at the center of the capital markets allows us to see firsthand how these values have redefined corporate culture and success, deepening and accelerating our own commitment to champion inclusive growth and prosperity, as we strive to create more equitable opportunities to help people of all backgrounds reach their full potential. Most notably, we published our diversity statistics for the first time in 2020. These metrics serve as a quantitative assessment of where we are today and help determine what strategies we need to adopt to enhance diversity in the workplace. We recognize that we have much work to do, but we are steadfast in our commitment to creating a diverse and inclusive culture—one that reflects the communities in which we live, allows all employees to be their true, authentic selves and fosters individual growth and achievement.

        As we move forward together, we will continue advancing diverse ideas and perspectives that help fulfill the promise of a more inclusive and prosperous world. We aim to set the pace for rethinking capital markets and economies anywhere and everywhere. To learn more about the company, technology solutions and career opportunities, visit us on LinkedIn, on Twitter @Nasdaq, or at

        Blue Lagoon
        - One of the 25 Wonders of the World

        Named by National Geographic as one of the 25 Wonders of the World, the Blue Lagoon is a shimmering expanse of warmth, relaxation, and rejuvenation. Its unique geothermal seawater
        comes from 2.000 meters within the earth where seawater and freshwater converge in a tectonic realm of porous lava and searing heat. Propelled by extreme pressure, the water ascends to the earth’s surface, emerging enriched with silica, algae, and minerals—the elements that endow Blue Lagoon geothermal seawater with its radiant, healing properties.

        From its humble beginnings in the shadows of a geothermal power plant, Blue Lagoon has evolved into a world of wonder, now encompassing two hotels, three restaurants, three
        geothermal lagoons, a subterranean spa, a renowned line of skin care, a thriving research center, and a wealth of spa and refreshment facilities.

        Achieving harmony with the volcanic landscape, the lagoon and its surrounding architecture embody the unification of the man-made and the natural, and adhere to the highest principles of sustainability.

        The Blue Lagoon. A wonder of the world. A world of wonder.

        - leading financial institution

        Landsbankinn is a leading Icelandic financial institution. It offers a full range of financial services and is the market leader in the Icelandic financial service sector with the largest branch network.

        The present bank was established on 7 October 2008 but the history of its predecessor dates back to 1886. The bank is owned by the National Treasury of Iceland, which holds 98.2% of its share capital, and other shareholders who own 1.8%.

        Landsbankinn’s strategy is to provide comprehensive financial services that meet customer’s needs. It emphasizes providing exemplary service to customers, developing e-banking for their convenience, increasing the efficiency of support functions, modernizing its technology and ensuring effective utilization of its balance sheet.

        The bank’s vision is to be exemplary and its role is to be a trusted financial partner.

        Special emphasis is placed on promoting a performance-oriented culture in the bank. To follow up on the implementation of this strategy, the bank has defined key goals which are measured regularly to determine progress. These goals include, for example, customer satisfaction and loyalty, profitability, cost efficiency and the correlation between risk appetite and employee satisfaction.

        Landsbankinn wishes to lead the development of a sustainable society in Iceland by integrating economic, social and environmental concerns in its operations. The Bank aims to ensure that both its owners and society at large benefit from its activities.

        It intends to achieve this aim by building solid infrastructure and a strong team of 1.100 employees, by listening to its customers and by respecting and encouraging its employees to actively participate in their community. Landsbankinn was a founding member of Festa, a Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility, and is a member of the UN Global Compact.

        Landsbankinn has been a proud sponsor of the Reykjavik Pride since it was first celebrated in Iceland.

        - get inspired

        Dohop allows people to find the cheapest flights available with just one click. Founded in Reykjavik in 2004, it is the only Icelandic company of its kind and quickly became the go-to tool for finding cheap flights among the locals. Dohop finds the best deals among hundreds of different airlines and online travel agencies, to make sure that the user is getting the cheapest price. Dohop also offers hotel and car rental search engines, so users can make all of their travel bookings from a single website.

        Dohop‘s specialty is finding so-called “self-connect” flight options, which can save travelers money by booking a ticket through two or more different airlines. The ability to look for these self-connect option is what sets Dohop apart from its competition, as it can save people hundreds of dollars on certain routes.

        More recently, Dohop has developed a unique product called Dohop Go!, which allows users to check for the cheapest available flights from their home airport. This tool is perfect for those who are looking for travel inspiration but are not willing to overpay for their flight ticket. Dohop Go! is now available in the Dohop Flights App, both for Android and iOS, along with its traditional flight, hotel, and car search engines. “

        VSÓ Ráðgjöf


          VSÓ Ráðgjöf er alhliða ráðgjafar- og verkfræðifyrirtæki sem leggur áherslu á trausta og faglega þjónustu sem tryggir viðskiptavinum hagkvæmustu lausnir hverju sinni, skilar raunverulegum árangri og stuðlar að samkeppnisforskoti.  Á skrifstofum VSÓ í Reykjavík og í Noregi starfar yfir 80 manna samhentur hópur verkfræðinga og annarra tæknimenntaðra starfsmanna.

          - for all your Apple needs

          From starting out as a proper startup with only a good idea and the need to change things, to becoming an established company with 6 employees. Starting from scratch and expanding organically has allowed us to love our expansion and take our customers on the ride with us.

          Macland is located at Laugavegur 23 (101, Downtown Reykjavik)
          For all your Apple needs. We are here.

          Ísey skyr
          - once tasted never forgotten

          Our Story
          Once upon a time, 1,100 years ago in fact, Nordic settlers began arriving in Iceland. They brought with them the skills and knowledge for producing skyr. As time passed, the know-how and recipe for this nutritious food slowly faded out elsewhere in the Nordic region. Luckily, the Icelandic skyr-making tradition continued.

          For centuries, Icelandic skyr formed a cornerstone of the national diet, helping to keep people strong in living conditions that were often harsh. On family farms countrywide, it was the women who nurtured this dairy and passing on both the recipe and the original Icelandic skyr cultures from mother to daughter.

          Ísey skyr builds on this remarkable legacy. It was some of those very same women, the recipients of their mothers’ expertise, who, around 90 years ago, taught Icelandic dairy scientists the art of skyr-making. The production process is more high-tech these days, and the quality standards more rigorous. However, the basic recipe and the use of original cultures to ferment the skimmed milk remain the same. Protein rich, fat-free, creamy and delicious – Ísey skyr is as relevant to consumers now as it was all those centuries ago.
          This is our secret and you are in on it

          You can read more about Ísey skyr on our website.

          Contact Us

          Thank You. We will contact you as soon as possible.