Non-binary Icelanders are frustrated with the National Registry for delays preventing them from legally changing their gender, despite a new law that allows people to mark a gender neutral option on their official documents.
These frustrations come just months after trans and non-binary Icelanders celebrated new legislation that affirmed many of their rights, including the ability to legally change their gender and name without having to go through a doctor.
While trans Icelanders are now able to change their gender marker on official documents to either female or male using an online application, Þjóðskrá Íslands (the National Registry), says it will take some time before non-binary Icelanders are able to do the same. The Registry blames a lack of funding for the delay.
GayIceland speaks with three non-binary Icelanders about what this delay means to them.
“This is now a part of Icelandic law so it should get some sort of priority.”
‘I was really hopeful’
Kristrun Ari Helga says they are “really happy” when the Icelandic government passed the new legislation earlier this year. Kristrun Ari Helga is a non-binary freelance artist who says they are frustrated by the old process for legally changing one’s gender.
“The hospital right now is a long long wait and having someone else decide who you are and being on their mercy is quite uncomfortable,” they say.
Now that the legislation has been passed, Kristrun Ari Helga is waiting to apply to change their name and gender marker. They saythey can’t understand why Þjóðskrá Íslands is being so slow, adding that a lack of funding “feels like an excuse.”
“I understand that it takes some effort and time and money, but this is a really important thing,” agrees Valgerður Hirst Baldurs. “This is a huge part of the bill. This is now a part of Icelandic law so it should get some sort of priority.”
Valgerður Hirst Baldurs is a student at the University of Iceland, where they are the chairperson of Q — the Queer Student Association. They have been an activist in the queer and trans communities for a few years now, and they say they were closely following the new bill as it wound its way through the Icelandic parliament.
“I was really hopeful and I was really excited. I think I cried when it was the first discussion,” they say. “And then I also got frustrated because Þjóðskrá says they need 18 months to get the system up and working with the ‘x’ option for gender. I found it really really frustrating because this bill didn’t just pop up two weeks before it was put through — they would have had years to plan for this.”
‘A terrible thought’
Regn Sól Evu shares that frustration. They are a student studying fine arts at the Icelandic University of the Arts, where they make a lot of political art about gender.
One of Regn’s main concerns with the delay has to do with their inability to change their name on official documents. Without legally changing their gender, they are unable to apply to Mannanafnanefnd (the Icelandic Naming Committee) to change their name.
“When I applied to university, legally I had to apply with my legal documented name. It was super hard for me,” Regn Sól Evu says. “I had already put so much effort into making sure people knew my actual name instead of my legal name. It just felt backwards to have to tell a whole institution a very outdated name. It’s a name of a person that doesn’t really exist.”
If Registers Iceland (Þjóðskrá) does not update its process to allow non-binary people to use a gender neutral gender marker, Regn Sól Evu is worried they may have to graduate with their dead name. “That is a terrible thought,” they say.
“I would like to see Mannanafnanefnd shut down to be honest,” Regn Sól Evu says. “I don’t think they should police how people want to name themselves if they’re adults.”
‘Toll on mental health’
When asked why it’s so important for non-binary people to have their name and gener marker legally changed, Regn Sól Evu says it comes down to being recognized.
“I think it’s so affirming,” they say. “I had to go through a lot of introspective research on myself and I came to a conclusion that every trans person probably does in their life, and the conclusion was that my assigned gender didn’t fit and it was just wrong. I think it’s as important as having female or male written down on your passport. It’s something to describe you. And it’s not as arbitrary as I think people think it is. I think it’s something that would help me feel more validated in my identity and also help other people understand how to interact with me.”
“It affects us in the way that we don’t always have to be explaining ourselves. That gets tiring and that takes a toll on our mental health to be explaining, and to basically have to out ourselves every single time.”
Not having their name or gender recognized can also take a serious toll on trans and non-binary people’s mental health, says Valgerður Hirst Baldurs.
“It’s really important that you always have these basic things, like legal documents. They can have such a big impact on you and how you perceive yourself and how others perceive yourself,” Valgerður Hirst Baldurs says. “It affects us in the way that we don’t always have to be explaining ourselves. That gets tiring and that takes a toll on our mental health to be explaining, and to basically have to out ourselves every single time.”
Kristrun Ari Helga agrees. “This is about acknowledging someone’s identity — who they are,” they say. “We don’t want to be on the wrong side of history. They keep saying they’re so progressive, but they keep delaying this.”
Although they are not aware of any protest planned to oppose the lengthy delays, Kristrun Ari Helga says they would be open to taking to the streets to urge Þjóðskrá to speed up the process.
“I think we have to let our voices be heard and just be loud,” they say. “We’ve been waiting so long for this. It’s about time we get to put a tiny little ‘x’ on our documents. We’re not hurting anyone.”