”You’re not supposed to live a long unhappy life”, states 56-year-old Malene. A year ago she underwent gender reassignment surgery in order to take the final step towards becoming a woman. “I needed a body to match my mind”.
Malene decided to seek out the experts and ended up having the surgery done in Thailand instead of Denmark. The Danish health system required hours of therapy in order for her to undergo a gender reassignment surgery; a long and complicated process that did not please Malene. “I didn’t want that at all. I felt it was unnecessary, because I have never felt sick,” says Malene.
Denmark has previously been noticed as a pioneer in the transgender field. In 1952 the Danish-American Christine Jørgensen travelled to Copenhagen to undergo gender reassignment surgery; an operation that very few countries could offer at the time. Since then, things have come to a bit of a standstill in Denmark, which concerns Malene.
“We need to be more progressive, so we can move forward,” emphasises Malene. She adds that this tendency has resulted in Denmark falling behind, while other countries take the lead. Therefore, most transgender Danes travel out of the country to get the help they need.
Although Denmark is not quite as progressive as Malene would like, she can still report on the capital as being a safe place to be a trans person. “My personal experience is that Copenhagen embraces all sorts of minorities. This is a place where I can be myself,” says Malene. “The diversity in the city has without a doubt become far more visible”.
Every now and then people question Malene’s need to showcase her sexuality or gender identity. However, it is important to Malene that one can express exactly who one is.
“We should all be accepted as the people we are. Regardless of our differences. I think it’s the diversity in people that strengthens the values of a society,” states Malene. “It’s important that people see someone like me at the bakery or the grocery store, so I eventually become a more common sight,” says Malene with a smile and adds that she feels safe in the streets of Copenhagen.
Malene likes to explore the city and its many cultural offers. One of her favourite places is Warehouse 9 in the Meatpacking District. Warehouse 9 organises a monthly event called T-Lounge, where trans people and friends can enjoy anything from art to film, debates, speeches and more. The place serves as a meeting point for trans people, and it also cultivates the creative environment in Copenhagen, which Malene thrives in.
Movies and documentaries also catch Malene’s interest. Every autumn she attends MIX Copenhagen, which is an LGBT film festival in Copenhagen. Malene particularly applauds the increasing amount of trans-related movies and documentaries. “Previously, trans people were depicted as freaks and poor creatures,” says Malene. “Today, trans people are portrayed in all sorts of human relations that are more natural. I like that, and I think it’s a step in the right direction”.
Malene also frequents the Copenhagen nightlife and often goes out in inner city. Her personal favourites are Masken, Jailhouse and Cosy in Studiestræde, and she also likes to pay a visit to Café Oscar by the City Hall Square as well as Vela in vibrant Vesterbro. “I particularly like the places where the clientele is diverse and not too young,” says Malene. Her experience is that the LGBT places in general are very trans-friendly.
Malene’s response is loud and clear when she is asked to suggest what Copenhagen can do better for the LGBT community. “More financial support to voluntary work!”, Malene exclaims. She mentions that LGBT Denmark is run entirely by volunteers, which sometimes makes it difficult to make ends meet. Unlike the Scandinavian neighbours Norway and Sweden, LGBT Denmark does not receive financial support for counselling, information and activities, which Malene thinks is a shame.
In addition to more financial support to voluntary work, Malene suggests that Denmark increases the focus on international cooperation in order to become more progressive. “We need to look at other countries, and we need to take a close look at ourselves, so we evolve and do not fall asleep”.
In 2014, the Danish parliament passed a landmark law allowing transgender people to obtain official documents reflecting their gender identity without needing to be diagnosed with a mental disorder or undergo surgeries resulting in irreversible sterilisation.