Long Waits for Gender Confirmation Surgery in Iceland

No gender confirmation surgeries have been performed in Iceland since 2020, Fréttablaðið reports. Trans people in the country who request surgery face a long wait. Bríet Blær Jóhannsdóttir, a 27-year-old trans woman who has been on the waitlist for 65 weeks, argues that gender confirmation surgery should be formally classified as urgent.

Bríet requested to be placed on the waiting list for gender confirmation surgery in November 2020. “I [was] told that no surgeries had been performed that year, 2020. But they were working on performing four surgeries in December, I get this information in November.” In January 2022, Bríet learned that no further gender confirmation surgeries had been performed in Iceland since December 2020, meaning her wait would be extended even further. The news was hard to bear.

“In my opinion, trans people are very vulnerable, this is a very vulnerable group in society, based on what we have had to endure throughout our lives and how difficult this process is,” Bríet says. “Then to get this slap in the face, that after a year of waiting there is still a two-year wait – the only thing that comes to mind is a gut punch.”

Waiting periods stretch process to three years

Bríet says that the whole gender transitioning process in Iceland is very long and full of obstacles in Iceland, and has been so since before the pandemic. “It starts with six months of doctor’s appointments to confirm that the individual is physically, mentally, and socially in a good enough place to start the process in the first place,” she stated. “That’s followed by a pointless six-month waiting period before you can start on hormones. Then a year after that you go on a waiting list for surgery, a wait that takes a year. So it takes three whole years, before COVID.”

“Can I live for two more years?”

Bríet says that gender confirmation surgery is not formally defined as urgent in Iceland, but says that classification is wrong. “From the point of view of mental health, it’s something that has to happen. I can only speak for myself when it comes to this, but when I got the news [about the additional two-year wait], I just thought: Can I live for two more years? It’s really difficult, to have to wait like this.”

Not receiving the surgery affects her relationships, what activities she participates in, and travel abroad, Bríet says, in addition to increasing the chances of experiencing harassment and assault. “There are so many things that are difficult for trans people to live with today. But surgery is something that is possible to act on, now. It’s not possible to change how people view trans people all at once, but it’s possible to help with [surgery].”

New Bill Would Expand Definitions of Mother and Father

Reykjavík baby

A new bill introduced by the Minister of Justice would redefine the legal definitions of ‘mother’ and ‘father’ and allow nonbinary individuals to register themselves simply as ‘parents’ if they prefer not to designate themselves a gendered parental role, RÚV reports.

The bill notes that unlike some countries around the world that compel trans people to be sterilized in order to achieve legal recognition of their gender, Iceland has no such requirement. As such, a trans man in Iceland may become pregnant and give birth to a child and a trans woman may beget a child. Per the proposed changes to the bill, parents who have legally changed their gender in the national registry will be recognized as ‘mother’ or ‘father’ in accordance with their legal gender. This would allow a child to have, for instance, two legal fathers or two legal mothers.

See Also: Iceland’s Gender Autonomy Act is a Step Forward for Trans and Intersex Rights 

Last June, Iceland passed the Gender Autonomy Act, which allows, among other things, for individuals to change their official gender according to their lived experience and register as neither male nor female (denoted with an “x” on documents). The new bill would therefore make it possible for a person to simply designate themselves as a child’s ‘parent’ in the national registry, rather than having to choose between being listed as the child’s mother or father.

Should the bill be passed, further changes would need to be made in accordance with the new definitions of the concept of ‘mother.’ Special rights currently afforded to mothers related to pregnancy and childbirth would also need to extend to those identifying as fathers or parents.

The bill would also update the current ‘pater est’ laws, which states that the man who a mother is either married to or cohabitating with is automatically considered a child’s father. Under the new provisions, this would be redefined as the ‘parens est’ principal: a child born to two cohabitating or married individuals would automatically be considered their child, and they the child’s parents. This would not apply, however, in the case of artificial insemination.

In the event that the parens est rule does not apply, the parental status of the cohabitating partner or spouse of a person who gave birth to a child would be determined according to paternal recognition provisions, which would be similar to the current provisions on paternity recognition. (See the current laws on maternity and paternity in Iceland, including paternity recognition, in English here.)

J.K. Rowling Visits Sorcery Museum During Ill-Timed Visit to Iceland

J.K. Rowling spent recent days sailing around Iceland on her luxury yacht, Calypso, along with her husband, Neil Murray, and the couple’s daughter, Fréttablaðið reports. Rowling arrived in Reykjavík via private plane in late July and, since boarding her yacht, has made a number of stops at destinations such as Höfn, Nörðfjörður, Seyðisfjörður, Dalvík, Húsavík, and Akureyri.

The Harry Potter author even stopped in Hólmavík in the Westfjords this weekend to pay a visit to the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft.

However, in light of her frequently transphobic public statements on social media, Rowling’s visit to the country seems particularly ill-timed, coinciding as it does with Iceland’s Pride Month, a confluence which drew the ire of many on social media.

“Hey @jk_rowling if you stop by Reykjavík on your tour of Iceland be sure to hop on the best bus,” tweeted one Icelander with a picture of the Transvagninn, the Strætó bus celebrating trans people in Iceland.

See Also: Reykjavík Pride Events May Be Cancelled, ‘But Pride Never Will Be!’

“Rowling is in Iceland on the main day of Pride. This shouldn’t be allowed,” wrote another.

“Is there someone in Hólmavík who can make a ‘terfs not welcome’ sign and display it?”  tweeted Pirate Party deputy MP Oktavía Hrund.

‘You have nothing to fear from people like me’

Prior to Rowling’s arrival in Iceland, trans activist, writer, and Trans Ísland chair Ugla Stefanía Kristjönudóttir Jónsdóttir, wrote an open letter to the author, which was published on gayiceland.is. The letter opened with a statement of solidarity with Rowling, a domestic abuse survivor.

What I also really wanted to address, which is something that I strongly detect in your words and stance,” they wrote, “is that you have nothing to fear from people like me.

“I am aware of all the amazing philanthropic work that you do,” Ugla Stefanía continued, “and all the wonderful projects you support with your charitable trust. In your essay that you released on your website, you said you were worried that ‘new trans activism’ would negatively impact your work.

I want to assure you that this is not the case, and I am sorry if you have been lead to believe otherwise. Transgender people certainly don’t have that power, nor do they wish to wield it.

The fight for an equal society regardless of your gender identity does in no way seek to erode such important work, but merely wishes for those who it impacts to be included in the conversation where appropriate.”

“Many of the arguments that I see put out there in the public domain are robbed of the human experience we all share” they conclude their letter. “If we were able to see that, even for a moment, I strongly believe we would find that all our fears, worries and concerns all stem from the same problem that we can fight together, to create a world where everyone is respected and loved exactly for who they are, regardless of gender, identity, physical characteristics or history.

None of us are the sum of our parts, but we are all the sum of our actions. Let’s make sure that those contribute to a positive, equal and more open society.”



Set to Rights

Trans Ísland

The year is 1996. After spending several years in Sweden, Anna Kristjánsdóttir moves back to Iceland. She struggles to find a job, and when she finally does, harsh bullying leads her to quit. Anna is a public figure, though not everyone looks at her in a positive light. But it’s not living abroad that has made her an outsider: Anna is trans.

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Name Changes In a Week or Less Once Law Goes Into Effect

Iceland trans intersex rights bill

Once the new Gender Autonomy Act goes into effect, individuals will have only a three to five day wait for their requested name changes to be processed, RÚV reports. Although the law has yet to be published, preparations are already underway at Registers Iceland in the hope that the name change process will be as smooth and fast as possible for all applicants.

Alþingi passed the Gender Autonomy Act last week. Per this new law, Icelandic names will no longer be gendered. This means that anyone will be able to take any name in the registry, irrespective of gender, and marks a major change in Icelandic naming conventions. Per the previous provisions of the country’s naming laws, “Girls shall be given female names and boys shall be given male names.” Moreover, individuals will have the right to change their official gender according to their lived experience and register as neither male nor female (denoted with an “x” on documents).

Registers Iceland is preparing itself so as to be ready to process name changes as soon as the law goes into effect says Margrét Hauksdóttir, the organisation’s general director. “…[W]e’ll be ready with electronic forms where people can apply for changes, both to their surnames and given names.”

Per the new law, individuals who register their gender as ‘X’ will be able to take gender neutral surnames in lieu of patro- and matronymics that designate the bearer as being someone’s son or daughter. The status quo is for children to be given a name that specifies them as being either male or female using the suffixes -son or -dóttir. But now, there is a gender-neutral option in the name ending -bur, which doesn’t carry any gendered connotation. (People registered as female will still be required to take the patro- or matronymic -dóttir and people registered as male will still have to use -son.)

Margrét says that Registers Iceland is anticipating a high number of name change applications to be submitted once the law takes effect, as there are a number of people who have been specifically waiting for the law to allow them to do so. Processing time for name changes should be within three to five business days, she says.

“Not much more than that,” she remarked. “If it is, in fact, a name that exists in the name registry and if it doesn’t require any special consideration, it will go through quickly.”

Iceland’s Gender Autonomy Act is a Step Forward for Trans and Intersex Rights

Iceland trans intersex rights bill

Trans people in Iceland will now be able to change their official gender according to their lived experience, and register as neither male not female (denoted with an “x” on documents). The Icelandic Parliament passed a Gender Autonomy Act yesterday that is a big step forward when it comes to trans and intersex people’s rights in the country.

The bill confirms the right of the individual to change their gender in the official registry in accordance with their own experience and without having to meet conditions for diagnosis or medical treatment. The Act also ensures that children under the age of 18 can change their registered gender and name in the National Registry with the consent of their parents. If parents’ consent is not available, the decision is put before an expert committee.

“The bill aims to respect and strengthen the self-determination of each individual as their own understanding of gender identity is the basis for decision-making regarding their public [gender] registration, as others are not better suited for this,” reads a government press release. “The Act is also intended to safeguard the individual’s right to bodily autonomy and a working group will be appointed to ensure the legal status of children born with atypical sex characteristics.”

Iceland moves forward

“In order to truly improve people’s rights, political courage and political will are needed,” stated Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir about the legislation. “With the passing of these laws Iceland puts itself in the forefront internationally.”

The Gender Autonomy Act is in line with the Government Declaration of the Progressive Party, the Independence Party and the Left Green Movement, which states that the Government intends to bring Iceland to the forefront of LGBTQ+ issues with ambitious gender autonomy legislation, in accordance with the recent recommendations of the Council of Europe on intersex people’s human rights. Under these laws, individuals should be able to determine their own gender, their gender identity will be recognised, individuals will enjoy bodily integrity and equality before the law regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, sex characteristics, and gender expression.

Rights Groups Express Concerns

In a statement about the passing of the legislation, rights groups Samtökin ’78, Trans Iceland and Intersex Iceland released a statement celebrated the Act “with all our hearts, as it comprises extremely important advances for trans and intersex people in Iceland.” The groups’ statement, however, outlines some concerns regarding revisions that were made to the bill through its readings.

A proposed complete ban on medically unnecessary interventions on intersex children was scrapped by the government, which will instead appoint a task force to examine the issue further. The statement expressed dissatisfaction that intersex children “are not immediately protected against the human rights violations that unnecessary and irreversible interventions to their bodies entail.” The statement also criticised that the original age requirement for changing one’s registered gender without the consent of parents or an expert committee was raised from 15 to 18.

Icelandic writer and trans rights activist Ugla Stefanía Kristjönudóttir Jónsdóttir, who helped draft the bill, echoes these concerns. “While it’s definitely worth noting this important step, the goal we set out with to begin with is not yet reached and it will not be reached until intersex people are given bodily ingregrity [sic],” she wrote in a Facebook post.“The fight is therefore far from over. This is an important reminder that the fight for equality and equity is nowhere near finished and we must continue to ensure that everyone from within our community are respected, protected and valued.”