NORWAY (BP) — Norwegians as young as 6 can now legally change their gender using an online form — without a doctor’s approval, counseling, or surgery.
The law, adopted with a 79-13 vote by the Norwegian parliament in June, makes Norway the fifth country in the world to pass a similar law, and the second behind Malta to include children. While the process in Malta requires a parent to seek court approval for the gender change, children in Norway apply for the change using the same process and paperwork as adults.
While transgender activists celebrated the new law, experts warn treating gender dysphoria so lightly could multiply harm for children who most likely will shed feelings of confusion as they become adults.
Under the law, a person who wants to identify as a gender that does not correspond to his or her biological sex must submit an online form and return a mailed letter confirming the decision. Once approved, the individual receives a new national identification number allowing him or her to update passport, driver’s license, birth certificate, credit cards, and other forms of identification. More than 250 Norwegians, including nine minors, have applied so far, and the government has accepted every application.
“I have met several young people who have told me that this new law is making their lives easier. Several have come out of a dark place,” said Health Minister Bent Hoie. Lawmakers considered requiring a certain amount of time between the application and the legal change to allow for reflection but dismissed the idea as “patronizing,” Hoie said.
Prior law in Norway required a person have counseling, hormone replacement therapy, and sex reassignment surgery before legally changing gender.
The Norwegian Association for Gender and Sexual Diversity successfully lobbied to lower the law’s age limit from 7 to 6, arguing children should be able to start school with their new gender and not have to change mid-schooling. Others disagreed with any age limit, pushing instead for no restrictions on how young a child can be.
Some transgender advocates took the other side, arguing the law was rushed through and opens the door to abuse if people don’t take it seriously.
“We have worked so many years to build up an understanding of what this condition is, and who this group is,” said Mikael Scott Bjerkeli, president of the Harry Benjamin Resource Center, an organization helping transgender people receive treatment to transition medically. Bjerkeli cites an instance last year when a Danish man legally changed genders and then disrobed in a female changing room to make a political point. Bjerkeli believes Norway should at least require counseling for persons wanting to change gender.
But experts urge caution. A 2016 report on sexuality and gender in the journal The New Atlantis concluded drastic interventions for those identifying as transgender are “especially troubling” for children. The report, authored by Dr. Lawrence S. Mayer and Dr. Paul R. McHugh, both from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, noted “the majority of children who identify as the gender opposite their biological sex will not continue to do so as adults.”
“We have reservations about how well scientists understand what it even means for a child to have a developed sense of his or her gender,” write Mayer and McHugh, noting “there is a lack of reliable studies on the long-term effects of these interventions. We strongly urge caution in this regard.”