Sweden markets itself as the most tolerant nation of Europe, but with the new rise in the gender-debate, are they quite as advanced as they think they are?
A person whose gender varies from the traditional ‘norm’; or who feels their gender identity is neither female nor male, both female and male, or a different gender identity altogether. Intergender individuals often use the pronouns zie, zir, zir, zirs, zirself.
On the 6th of May, Serny Carpvik and Louise Tidestad, two 18 year olds, opened the first known transgender locker-room in Europe. Speaking openly and frankly, the pair exude confidence.
Carpvik, a intergender student, attends Södra Latin Gymnasium, a secondary school in Stockholm. It was there that zie and zir friend set about establishing the safe-space.
The first move was to address their gym teacher. Luckily enough there was a spare locker-room that had been locked off. “He showed me this room that was in between the male and female room,” zie explains.
The next step was to hold a meeting with the school’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) society, to establish how to go about formalising the space. The group agreed, “It was a good idea to open it up and market with a gender-neutral symbol.”
With the support of zir gym teacher and the LGBTQ society, zie approached the school board. “They listened really [well] to us, every idea we [came] up with; at least they listened to us, and it’s not like they just [threw] us away.”
Nevertheless, It was a difficult few months setting up the room. Carpvik remembers, “It was a lot of work to explain [to] them why it was important, and how we should do it the practical way.”
Tidestad stresses this, exclaiming that the practicalities were the worst. Issues of how to establish the locker-room, misunderstandings with the caretakers and school board were big problems.
For Carpvik, the new locker-room is essential, “We want to show that [transgender people] are equal, and that they deserve their own changing room. They don’t have to be a bullied guy or a bullied girl – almost a guy, or almost a girl. They can feel safe and comfortable in this third gender, and that’s what we want to show. That it’s ok.”
As Carpvik says this, zir friend’s face changes, “Do you know that in Sweden 65% of transgender people between 16 and 29 have thought about committing suicide? That’s way too much. It should be zero.”
The locker-room isn’t the first challenge these students have faced. Realizing from their early school days that they were both bisexual, they went looking for the school’s LGBTQ group. Finding only a small clique of friends, they set about creating their own society.
Tidestad explains, “We started first grade, and then we heard about some LGBTQ organization, and we both didn’t know quite what that meant. We were both a bisexual girl and a bisexual boy. And we were a little curious, so we went there to check out what it was for. Then we realized it wasn’t really for us, because they were five friends, a really close section, and they weren’t very welcoming [towards] us. We just felt uncomfortable.”
When this group graduated and left, Carpvik and Tidestad set out creating an LGBTQ organization, “to make a difference,” adds Louise. With the Swedish translation ‘LGBTQ Corner,’ the group attracts a large audience. “We have a lot of friends in our music section that we know are LGBTQ people, so we knew we weren’t alone. We knew we had support.”
Tidestad sings her praises of the LGBTQ Corner, “We have grown to be ourselves in this organization. It’s helped me a lot.”
Carpvik cheekily adds, “Many people have found their lovers within the organization. Lots of couples.”
“We visit museums, we’re in the Pride parade. We have a Eurovision Song Contest night tonight. We try to educate the other students, this person from RFSL (Sweden’s largest LGBTQ organization) came in and talked about identities and stuff like that.” They say enthusiastically.
It’s all very impressive for two secondary school pupils.
Their confidence and conviction is astounding. Charged by the interview, it was time to approach the politicians about the issue.
Walking into the Swedish Parliament is an interesting experience. It’s very minimalistic, cheap and efficient. No fancy wood paneling or plush carpets, just plain-cordoned offices, like a secretary’s office in a public hospital. But then again, maybe this is only a unique portion of a lavish palace.
Jonathan Lindgren and David Winerdahl, the two representatives for the Christian Democrat Party, couldn’t be more different. One tall, lanky and eager, Lindgren, the Press Secretary of Kristdemokraterna; and one shorter, stockier and shier, Winerdahl, the Secretary to MP Annika Eclund, Spokesperson of LGBTQ issues of the party. She’s one of three members in Government since 2006.
When quizzed about their views on the transgender locker-room, they replied, “It’s a very physical answer to a moral problem. Values in school, more on that level, how do you treat each other? This is a physical method of preventing bullying, and situations that aren’t comfortable.”
When asked about the safety issue, Winerdahl said, “In case there is a need, it should be something you can work out with the schools, where you can be excluded. I think it’s up to the person. If they want to change with others or if they want to be alone, or something. They should approach the school.”
For children it isn’t as easy as that. Kids don’t always feel comfortable approaching their parents or friends about their issues. The issues then often become bigger and bigger in their little heads until they’re a real problem.
Asked if they would consider rolling out the transgender locker-room in all new schools, Lindgren and Winerdahl gave a definitive “no.”
“Not on a national level, not in all schools, no. Anybody that wants to have it should be free to ask their school. We would assume the local schools to work out the issue for themselves,” says Lindgren.
Meanwhile, the Swedish Youth Board study 2012 says that 27% of trans youth continue to attempt to take their lives.
While Winerdahl’s computer pings with a new Facebook update, the interview closes on another unresolved issue.
In Carpvik’s words, “That’s why we need to fight, to make the politicians and the people understand. We hope that this gender-neutral locker-room shows that there are people out there fighting for transgender people. They’re not alone.”