What back in 2019 simply seemed like the next step in the Dutch law has become a complicated discussion in both the public as well as in the political sphere. The proposed amendment for the transgender law, was merely intended to make it simpler for transgender people to change the letter of their gender from ‘m’ to ‘v’ (male to female) in their passport. Since the proposal, the political debate surrounding this law has faced quite the bumpy road. Media misinterpreted the proposal, claiming it endangered women and was about simplifying hormonal treatments for children. Last thursday, more than three years later, the amendment was declared controversial in the second chamber. However, the public debate has been ill-fated and misinformed. So, here’s everything you need to know. I’ve brought the science!
The stigma about transgender people
Undeniably, a lot of us have become familiar with public discourse surrounding trans lives in media. However, I have witnessed the play onto fear by conservative groups arguing against trans lives. The increased discourse we see often still carries stigma: a strong, yet unfair disapproval that most people in society have about something. Divorce is a clear example of a stigmatized concept. Around the 1950’s especially, divorce was known as an option but strongly disapproved as a solution for marital conflict. But many nowadays do not believe it harms the children anymore. Plenty of us Gen Z’ers rather joke about parents; ‘couldn’t they have done it sooner?’
From stigma to moral panic
Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding transgender people is very present today. The discourse has become a moral panic, a mass movement based on false and exaggerated perceptions that a cultural behaviour such as changing your gender is dangerous to society. In this case, transgender people (people who do not identify with their gender assigned at birth), or ‘gender ideology’, are framed to be deviant. Transgender people are nowadays seen as a dangerous new trend by some, however, this stigma has not always been around. In 1952, Daily News published an article about the sex reassignment surgery of an ex-military which had a positive tone. This transgender woman was more publicly praised than we may see in today’s media, and was even voted woman of the year in 1953.
Gut-feeling assumptions around the transgender law’s amendment
The in 2019 proposed amendment of the transgender law in the Netherlands simply aims for two things. Firstly, to make it possible for people to change their gender in their passport without a declaration from a doctor or psychologist. Secondly, it would make it possible for children under the age of 16, through a judge, to change their gender in their passport. Currently, transgender people above 16 need such a declaration, which is often a long and expensive process. In 2019, doctors have stated to find the declaration process to be unnecessary, overly expensive and contradicting the right of self-determination. Additionally, trans youth under 16 cannot change their gender in their passport at all. The moral panic surrounding the transgender law’s amendment is ‘gut feeling’- based. It argues that the amendment endangers women’s changing rooms and would simplify hormonal treatments on children. However, this discourse distracts from the actual law discussed; an administrative change.
Scientific evidence on sexual assault in the Netherlands
The amendment does not, at any point, mention hormonal treatments of children, so scrap that. The fear of sexual assault in women’s changing rooms by trans people is rooted in misinformation, and is scientifically refutable on several bases. Firstly, more perpetrators of sexual assault are in someone’s personal circle than unknown to that person. Rutgers’s (2017) study found 44% of women above 16 experienced sexual assault by ex-partners and only 22% by an unknown person. For women under 16, 14% were assaulted by an unknown person compared to 39% by a family member. Other studies also support the fact that 80 to 85% of sexual violence cases are perpetrated by people in someone’s personal circle. Evidently, most sexual assault does not happen in (semi-)public spaces like changing rooms, but rather behind closed doors. Notably, this discourse never mentions men’s changing rooms, although 1 in 4 gay and bisexual men experience sexual violence, and 6% of heterosexual men. These are merely the known cases. The organisation MenAsWell in the Netherlands addresses the stigma that leads to men not openly speaking out about their experience with sexual assault. This is for example due to the public belief that men are supposed to be able to protect themselves from becoming a victim of anything.
Trans people are 2 to 7 times more likely to be the victim than the perpetrator
Additionally, no passport is necessary for a changing room, so what I am wondering is: where is the relation? It has been proven unlikely that cis men (men who identify with their assigned gender at birth) change their gender in order to assault women in women-catered spaces. Less than 1 percent of sexual assault perpetrators were found to be women.
So, while the public is rightfully highlighting sexual violence, it is imposing their fear onto the wrong people
Importantly, there is empirical evidence that trans women are two to seven times more likely to be victims of sexual assault than the average population. So, while the public is rightfully highlighting sexual violence, it is imposing their fear onto the wrong people. Trans people are more likely to become victims of deviance than to become the perpetrator. Violence against the LGBTQIA+ community has even been reported internationally as the highest in 10 years’ time.
Media and politics have changed from neutral in 2019 to two major Dutch parties VVD and CDA becoming highly critical of the transgender law’s amendment in 2022. Back then even demissionary jurisdiction minister Dilan Yeşilgöz-Zegerius (VVD) stated in the law’s evaluation that she was a big supporter. What may explain the change in the general atmosphere surrounding this debate?
How the media influenced the conversation
There was no turning back from the debate having become heated in the public and politics
This may be traced back to early 2020. Trouw, known as a quality newspaper, published an opinion piece that the transgender law’s amendment endangered women. Simultaneously, this rhetoric was platformed on NPO Radio 1, which afterwards echoed in media and politics, even though it was already scientifically refutable at that time. Intimidation, flyer campaigns, and many more opinion pieces in Volkskrant and NRC followed as well, warning parents of the dangers the amendment would pose for women and children. Right before another set debate in 2022, a national advertisement campaign was launched by Gendertwijfel about how ‘the new transgender law hurts everyone’. It was ruled to contain misinformation by the Dutch advertising code commission. There was no turning back from the debate having become heated in the public and politics. The parliament’s decision ended up being delayed for over three years.
The current state of the law’s amendment
Last Thursday, the debate surrounding the law’s amendment was declared controversial. This declaration is always about the amendment, not the subject matter. It means that the current demissionary (or caretaker) parliament, will not debate this piece anymore. The continuation will be for the next government, voted on the 22nd of November 2023. As this has been a debate about human rights, I truly hope the next government will handle the debate with care and will not ignore the science. It matters for the quality of life of transgender people, who are currently disproportionally falling victim to violence and stigma.
That’s the true T.
Edited by Mila Macrander