OPINION BY UGLA STEFANÍA 2020 is here. Roughly seven months ago one of the most monumental law about trans and intersex rights was passed in the Icelandic parliament. While the people behind the law were adamant on the law ensuring the rights of transgender and intersex people alike, the parliament made changes to the law, effectively putting the right to bodily autonomy for intersex people on hold.
That part of the law was placed into a specific committee that was to delve into the issue further and present their findings and recommendations as a result. This committee has begun its work. Meanwhile, intersex infants and young children are still being subjected to unncessary medical interventions. The rights of intersex people are in a perpetual limbo and continue to be broken to this day.
This move received harsh criticism and protest from queer organisations in Iceland and human rights organisations alike, as the right to bodily autonomy was one of the fundamental parts of the legislation itself.
To us, we have already discussed everything that needs to be discussed. Violations of people’s bodily integrity cannot continue.
The reason why we feel so adamant about this is because the vast majority of these medical interventions are completely unnecessary. In most cases they are purely cosmetic (such as removing a clitoris that was ‘too large’) and to normalise people’s genitals or remove gonads that produce the ‘wrong’ hormones. Only a handful of cases are actually life-threatening, where interventions obviously have to be made. But those are exceptions which are addressed in the proposed protection.
These interventions aren’t just one or two surgeries and people are sent on their way. Far from it.
As people’s bodies continue to develop, there are many implications that follow. People who get subjected to such interventions as infants have to undergo countless and repeated surgeries throughout their lifetime. These interventions can also include removal of gonads that produce hormones, meaning that people have to take synthetic hormones their entire life. The interventions also often compromise sensitivity, sexual pleasure and people’s relationship with their bodies.
“Intersex people have suffered human rights violations across the world and Iceland for decades. The harm that has been caused to intersex people because of oppressive gender expectations and normative ideas about the categorisation of sex is irrepable.”
One of the arguments for these interventions are that children will be bullied and ridiculed for not fitting in, especially when it comes down to sport or other physical activities. What these arguments fail to recognise is that kids who constantly have to have surgeries or seek medical treatment are already singled out. Other kids notice when their friends have to spend months at a time at hospitals due to complications. These interventions do not solve any problems, but only cause others.
The way to eradicate bullying is not to change those who are bullied. Bullying is eradicating by addressing it, educating kids and deal with the underlying problems that are causing them to bully others. Creating an environment where everyone is accepted for who they are, as they are, is the only way to create a safe environment for everybody.
When the perceived benefits of medical interventions on infants are compared to harm caused to people, it should be clear to everyone that the harm is far more than the alleged benefits. There are no comprehensive arguments to perform these interventions other than perceived social benefits, which are questionable at best. People should be allowed to make decisions about their own bodies. They are the ones who use them and live in them.
While there might be some intersex people who say they benefitted from interventions when they were young, this is not the case for the vast majority of people. Waiting with these interventions until people are able to make their own choices whether they want them or not is completely safe. If we truly want to minimize harm, we need to give people the right to decide for themselves.
Intersex people have suffered human rights violations across the world and Iceland for decades. The harm that has been caused to intersex people because of oppressive gender expectations and normative ideas about the categorisation of sex is irrepable. But we can reduce further harm. We can ensure no more medical interventions are made on people’s bodies without their full and informed consent.
I truly hope that the committee currently in parliament will come to the same conclusion. I hope that they recognise the human rights violations and harm that has been caused and truly understand and hear intersex people and their stories. For too long has their destiny has been controlled by the medical establishment and oppressive social norms that inform these decisions.
Intersex people deserve more. Their rights to bodily integrity must be ensured, if Iceland wants to become a place where we respect and protect all LGBTQIA people. It’s time Iceland put it’s money where it’s mouth is.
The time for talk is over. It’s time for meaningful action.