Chiel, Jamie, and Marvin with his boxing trainer Izi. From: Inside Out / Portraits of Cross-gender Children by Sarah Wong. Inside Out is a collaborative project in the Netherlands involving photographer Sarah Wong and Volkskrant journalist Ellen de Visser who documented the lives of transgender children, over a period of seven years.

© 2010 Sarah Wong

”The state should stay out of my underwear. Why should I let my healthy body be operated upon, only because the law requires me to do so?”

This was one of the responses to Human Rights Watch when we researched human rights violations of transgender people in the Netherlands. To obtain a new ID, Dutch transgender people had to become irreversibly infertile. A woman needed to have her womb removed, a man his testis. These procedures will belong to the past as of July 1st, when a new law will come into force. From then on transgender people will not be obliged to undergo sex reassignment surgery.

Their daily life will become much easier. With the preferred gender marker on their identity papers they will no longer run the risk of painful confrontations. The conductor on a full train will not be able to say: “You look like a woman, but on your ID it says you are a man.” Or a person in a waiting room full of patients won’t have to endure a comment by a doctor’s assistant such as, “O, here it says you are a woman, but that must be a mistake then.”

Yet the new Dutch law is not ideal, because a transgender person can only get a gender marker in identity papers changed by presenting  a statement by a medical expert declaring that the transgender person has the permanent conviction to belong to the other gender. The legally required endorsement by a medical expert interferes with the right to personal autonomy. In this respect the Dutch law should have taken the recently adopted Danish law as an example.

In Denmark the law allows transgender people to decide for themselves  to live according to their preferred gender. The Danish law respects their right to self-determination. They can obtain their new passport or identity papers without third party consent.

In Europe the rights of transgender people are slowly but steadily moving in the right direction. Last week the Irish government sent a legal proposal to accommodate transgender people and do away with sex reassignment surgery to the Irish Parliament. In Europe the national laws use various criteria and age limits. In the Netherlands the minimum age to apply for a change of gender marker is 16. In Denmark it is 18, and in Ireland 16,  but with severe restrictions for 16 and 17- year- olds.

The European countries should have taken the Argentinean law as an example. That law is widely seen as the most progressive gender recognition law in the world. In Argentina a transgender person can obtain their new gender marker in their documents without surgical or hormonal intervention, nor any third party involvement. The law also permits people under 18 to change their gender under the same procedures as adults if they meet certain requirements.

The new Dutch law will be reviewed after three years. The government should drop the requirement for a medical expert statement and should introduce the possibility that children under 16 will be able to request a change of their gender designation.