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Forced Sterilization in Sweden — An Outrage

| Feb 6, 2012
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Photo: Sweden’s Queen Christina (1626-1689)

Copyright 2012 by Dallas Denny

Forced Sterilization in Sweden: An Outrage

As I sat down to begin this column an e-mail came in from my friend, Dr. Sandra Cole. Had I seen this blogpost by Christin Molloy?

No, I hadn’t. I was shocked. Canada, after all, is generally considered to be a far more liberal and reasonable country than the U.S.

Christin’s post went up on January 30th and is already on the GLBT pages at Huffington Post.  I expect Canadian activists to raise hell, and hope they do!

But what I intend to write about is Sweden’s governmental requirement that anyone who changes their gender must be sterilized.

Sterilized! Surgically rendered infertile! What!?

The Scandinavian countries in general and Sweden in particular are generally considered the most liberal on the planet, second only to the adjacent Netherlands. Sweden, however, has a long history of forced sterilization; from the time the Sterilization Act of 1934 was passed until its repeal in 1975, more than 62,000 people were sterilized. Of those, some 30,000 were coerced or forced to submit to medical procedures. [1] Most were women.

In 1999 the government began paying compensation to those who had been forcibly sterilized.

Several months ago I learned Sweden was requiring  transsexual men and women to be sterilized in order to obtain medical treatment. I was, of course, horrified–but I wasn’t particularly surprised. That’s because, back in 2001, Jan Wickman gave me a copy of her book Transgender Politics, in which she discussed the slow acceptance of the healthy transgender model by transsexual and transgendered people in Finland. Finland, it seemed, had a government board that regulated sex reassignment much as did the gender clinics of the United States prior to 1979–and so did Sweden.

In the United States, from 1965 or so until 1979, gender clinics, operating under a mental illness model of transsexualism, strictly controlled access to medical treatments like hormonal therapy and genital surgery, requiring applicants to conform to gender stereotypes and more often than not rejecting them as unsuitable.

The clinics suddenly disappeared following a fraudulent follow-up 1979 study by Jon Meyer and Donna Reter, which alleged “no objective advantage” to surgical sex reassignment for male-to-female transsexuals. Orchestrated by psychiatrist Paul McHugh, who managed to get the story into almost every magazine and newspaper in the world, the U.S. clinics closed. But in Sweden, they stayed open.

The medical model holds that transsexual people are mentally ill and justified hormonal and surgical treatment only  on palliative grounds, to alleviate suffering because there is no “cure.” In the United States this has been and is being replaced by a healthy transgender model focused on diversity of gender expression–the individual rather than a team of physicians determines how he or she will live.

Apparently this new model hasn’t percolated through to the Swedish government. Consequently, although sex reassignment has been legal in Sweden since 1972, the government requires applicants to get divorced (if married) and to under sterilization procedures.

Requests for a change in the law have been stonewalled by the government. Thankfully, Sweden is now in the hot seat because of its unnecessary draconian requirements.

This report makes it clear Sweden is decades behind in transgender treatment. Transsexuals are viewed as mentally ill and manipulated and controlled, with access to medical treatment held out as a distant carrot (for instance, there’s a 12-month waiting period for initiation of hormonal therapy). The focus is on diagnosis rather than on treatment. And the stick? Unless transsexuals submit to this abuse, they aren’t allowed to change their gender on legal documents.

This is outrageous behavior from a country that once had a transgendered (and possibly transsexual) queen!

Sweden is destroying the lives of transsexual people. Please express your indignation by writing or phoning Sweden’s Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfield and other Swedish officials:


[1] Sweden, like the United States, Germany, and many other countries, was swept up in the eugenics movement of the early 20th century. See Gould, below, for a fascinating history of the movement’s influence on mental measurement.


Denny, Dallas. (1992). The politics of diagnosis and a diagnosis of politics: The university-affiliated gender clinics, and how they failed to meet the needs of transsexual people. Chrysalis Quarterly, 1(3), 17-27.

Gould, Stephen J. (1981). The mismeasure of man. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

Meyer, Jon, & Reter, Donna. (1979). Sex reassignment: Follow-up. Archives of General Psychiatry, 36(9), 1010-1015.

Ogas, Ogi. (1994, 9 March). Spare parts: new information reignites a controversy surrounding the Hopkins gender identicy clinic. City Paper (Baltimore), 18(10), cover, 10-15.

Wickman, Jan. (2001). Transgender politics: The construction and deconstruction of binary gender in the Finnisyh transgender community. Abo, Finland: Abo Akademi University Press.

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Category: Transgender Community News, Transgender Opinion

Dallas Denny

About the Author ()

Much of Dallas' work is available on her website. Dallas Denny is a writer, activist, and educator. She holds a M.A. and was licensed to practice psychology for many years. She retired her license after relocating to Georgia. Dallas founded and was for eight years Executive Director of the American Educational Gender Education Service. She started the Atlanta Gender Explorations support group in 1990. She was part of the group that started the Southern Comfort conference and did programming for the conference. She has long been involved with Fantasia Fair, where she was Director for six years. Dallas was editor of the journal "Chrysalis" from 1990-1998 and "Transgender Tapestry" from 2000-2006. She has three published three books and many book chapters and journal and magazine articles. Dallas holds a number of honors, including IFGE’s Trinity and Virginia Prince Lifetime Achievement Awards and Real Life Experience’s Transgender Pioneer Award.

Comments (2)

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  1. danam64 danam64 says:

    DJ is right in many aspects, and I have to agree with the current law to some degree. The one thing Swedes do like is positive press… With that said, it might have been possible to get this law changed if it had not been for a simple headline not long ago. Man is Pregnant! Naturally that 3 word headline went viral across the planet. As it turned out it was a T-Man and in my opinion set back the opinions in some. I’m not sure of other countries with the exception of the US, but I believe Sweden is one of the few countries that do provide complete treatment under it’s healthcare. I’ve recently started the 3rd phase, which is the “Day 1” of the 1 year wait, and it only took me 8 months to get there, so yes the process is slow (painfully slow!), but it also ensures the person receiving treatment is in for the long run or wait as it seems?? The sterilization is only for the legal document change, for example passport, official ID, etc… Which once done, even if you don’t complete the whole process and decide to live somewhere in between you can have the gender you originally sought/are… I might add, which they are about to vote on, is the only ones that qualify for treatment are citizens, so if your an ex-pat or passer-by you will not get enrolled in the 3rd phase.
    Just my 2 Kronor worth…

  2. says:

    Here we have a language translation misunderstanding. the Swedes are simply saying you can have a free reassignment surgery and after you have had it change your sexual identifcation. Remember Swedes were the first to perform this surgery. Sexual reassignment causes steriltization. It’s just a natural consequence of the surgery-it can’t be helped. Sweden has socialized medicine so the surgery is free.

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