Being Transgender in the Czech Republic
By Pét’a Bielicki
Trans people have always been among us, whether we notice them or not. Over the years, they have been referred to by different names and treated in different ways by cis-gender (person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex) people.
If we look at Jewish history and the Talmud, several categories of non-cis people are identified. The Talmud was written by men who also saw females as an anomaly. So, in short, they determined that there were two genders – men and not-men. Not-men were divided into several categories. Female, Androgynos: a person who has aspects of both male and female genitalia. Tumtum: a person whose genitals are obscured, making their gender uncertain. Aylonit: a female who fails to show signs of female maturity by the age of 20. Saris: the general term for a male who does not show signs of maturity by the age of 20 (there is some debate about whether he needs to fail to show any signs, or only some of them, to be considered a saris). The category of saris can be further broken down into two others: a saris khama is a male who is sterile because he was born that way, and a saris adam is a male who is sterile because he was castrated.
In Indian culture, a third gender called Hijra has been recognised. Hijra are trans people who do not consider themselves men or women, and they have been mentioned in ancient texts dating back 4,000 years. The name comes from the Urdu language and roughly translates as “eunuchs.”
But what about the Czech Republic and Czech sexology? In the early 20th century, Czech sexology was flourishing. At a 1932 congress in Brno, new sexual reform goals were announced, which were very progressive at that time. They included the political, economic and sexual equality of women; the elimination of church and state interference in marriages and divorces; contraception in terms of family planning; health care focussed on offspring; the protection of single mothers and their children; the proper and fair assessment of sexual relationships, especially for homosexuals; the reform of punishments for sexual acts in terms of sexual freedom; a different attitude to paraphilia as a pathological phenomenon; the prevention of prostitution and sexually transmitted diseases; and systemic sexual education.
Nowadays, Czech sexology is stagnant. Trans people have to go through the same procedures via the same system that has been in place since the 1960s. They must undergo a Real Life Test − a period of time in which transgender individuals live full-time in their preferred gender role − for at least two years, Hormone Replacement Therapy for at least one year, and two examinations by a psychologist and committees. Trans people have to change their name to a neutral version if they want the committee’s approval to undergo genital surgery.
Tereza Španihelová was born into a male body, but felt she was a woman from early childhood. She spent four years undergoing gender transformation before the ministerial committee rejected her request for a gender change. The reason was that she had not changed her name to one that was considered neutral, an experience which Tereza described as “humiliating” in an interview with aktualne.cz.
Following approval by the ministerial committee, trans people may undergo the surgery. But the legal gender change and the final name change is still conditional on so-called sterilisation. In fact, sterilisation is the ligation of the fallopian tubes or of the sperm duct. Trans people actually have to undergo surgical castration, with female-to-male people having to undergo a hysterectomy and male-to-female people having their testicles removed. In an article for novinky.cz, the famous Czech sexologist Jaroslav Zvěřina describes sterilisation as sensible. He said, “Some of the activist groups of ‘trans people,’ i.e. the individuals with these problems, are convinced it is not right to condition the legal change of sex on the elimination of the gonads or at least sterilisation. I don ́t consider it a reasonable opinion. Male or female affiliation is a fundamental characteristic of every person. And it ́s not possible that every individual should decide on that. Men don’t give birth to children and women shouldn’t be their fathers.”
In the same article, “Are Czech sexologists scared of transsexuals?,” Zvěřina is reported to have said: “What would a woman do in her everyday life if she visits her gynecologist and shows her penis? And what would a man do if the urologist couldn’t find his penis, testes, or prostate?”
Petr Weiss, a professor of psychology specialising in sexology, said something similar in an article by idnes.cz. “Official sex change must always be preceded by genital surgery,” explained Weiss.
Earlier this year, an idnes.cz article about the Supreme Court of the Czech Republic’s opposition to gender transition without surgery went viral on Czech social media. The court referred to Czech tradition, which considers only two genders (male and female). It did not follow the proclamation of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. One of the judges, Karel Šimka, said in the article, “In the Czech Republic, such a gender concept is established and considered normal, desirable, and ‘natural,’ and is seen as constituting one of the cornerstones of social order that cannot be withdrawn by way of a judicial decision, even in cases permitted by the European Court of Human Rights or the German Federal Constitutional Court.”
The Czech trans community has opposing views on the subject. Some agree with the sexologists who support the sterilisation requirement, while some are firmly against this.
One representative of the Czech transgender community who is strongly against it is Viktor Heumann. Viktor is a translator, a co-worker of MFF Mezipatra and cultural projects in the LGBTQ+ community, and the founder of the non-profit organisation Trans*parent. The organisation focuses on uniting trans people, creating a safe space for them, and defending their rights. Trans*parent also organises group sessions where trans people can discuss their problems. The sessions are closed to cis people, but the partners of trans people can participate if the group approves. There are now also sessions arranged for English-speaking trans people, as well as activities for trans youth.
What does Viktor say about sterilisation and transgender identities? “Transsexual is a kind of artificially created category that is merely a consequence of medical labelling. It is a label for an individual of the opposite sex who wants to get rid of his or her original sexual features. Many trans people want it (to undergo sterilisation) but I also know many who are more like me. Transgender is an umbrella term for many identities. We feel like we are a different gender than we were born, but it does not mean that we need to undergo the surgery.”
The fact is, “transgender” is a term for many kinds of gender identities including agender, genderqueer, polygender, bigender, pangender, genderfluid, and many others. Not all trans people feel gender dysphoria (anxiety about their bodies) and want to transition. They just want to live their lives in peace and without prejudices and labels.