Educate yourself

A big part of any battle for equal rights, respect, and better lives, is advocacy and education. In order to reach the general public and make the issues of minorities and downtrodden social groups known, it is imperative to make reliable information readily available. The responsibility for the education of the individual does not lie entirely on the shoulders of the social group in question however. We are, each and every one of us, responsible for our own behaviour, and therefore we are also responsible for finding the information we use to shape that behaviour.

If it is important to you to gain understanding of the issues faced by (for instance) trans people in order to treat them with respect and avoid doing or saying something which makes them uncomfortable, don’t just assume that they are always willing to point out what you’ve done wrong, or to sit down and answer lots of questions. Many of us have had, and continue to have, so many conversations with well meaning (and less well meaning) curious people. It gets tiring. Sometimes we just want to hang out and talk about something else. I am more than just a trans person. I am also a human being with interests and feelings and worries. I am a Geographer, I like to bake, I love books and horror movies and fun TV shows. I’m interested in international development and global health. I sometimes spend hours playing stupid Facebook games and I really adore kittens. My trans status isn’t the most important thing about me. By demanding that we always take the time to answer all your questions, you risk making us feel like we are some kind of freaks or oddities, and that we are only interesting to you because we challenge your ideas of sex and gender.

There is also another side to this issue. Being transgender is a deeply personal experience, we go through difficult and often painful physical changes, including big surgeries. Some of us have surgeries on our breasts and genitals. We don’t want to talk about that with everyone. My genitals are no one’s business but mine. But people often seem to feel that we owe them some kind of explanation for the choices we make, that we need to tell them the current situation with our genitals. Why? Does the presence/absence of a penis tell you all you need to know about who I really am? Isn’t it enough for me to tell you that I’m a man? You really don’t need proof.

It is important that you take the time to educate yourself for a number of reasons:

  1. I might not want to have this conversation with you. I am not your only source of information.
  2. Every trans person’s experience is different. Whatever I tell you is not going to cover everything you need to know about every other trans person. Doing your own research online will give you a much wider picture.
  3. When you get your information from your own research you will find out in a much less awkward way which words to avoid using, what you shouldn’t ask about, and what to avoid doing. It will be much more awkward for everyone involved if I have to tell you in person that you’re making me uncomfortable.

Don’t get me wrong though. If you’ve done your research and you’re just curious to know me better and understand what I am going through personally, that’s ok. You can ask. But I reserve the right to say no. I am generally more than happy to talk about what I’m going through, up to a certain limit. There are certain things I am not going to want to talk about, particularly if I don’t know you very well.

The points that I have made here are not only pertinent to trans people. They also apply to other LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, immigrants, people of races other than your own, people of different cultures, and many more. A functional, compassionate society is based on reliable information, and we are all a part of that.

To make this all easier for you, here are a few links to places where you can read about trans people:

Not Your Mom’s Trans 101

A list of commonly used terms:

Trans etiquette for non-trans people

Another etiquette article

Ten things not to say to a trans person


Separation of church and school

There is a big debate driving everyone a little crazy in Iceland right now. The Reykjavik Human Rights Committee published a report where they stated that there is a need to draw a line between the work of religious institutions and the school system. They suggested for instance that representatives from the church should be banned from going to the schools and that confirmation classes should not be held during school hours. They also recommend that instead of the schools calling in priests to help children with emotional problems/trauma they should call in trained professionals such as psychiatrists.

I think most people in Iceland agree with this. Of course the church should not be allowed to send priests to the schools to preach to children against the parents’ wishes! This has been going on for a long time and a lot of people are not happy with it. I remember having to fight my teachers every year about sending me to church on Christmas (I am not religious). Children of parents who are not Christian often feel left out when all the others are sent to confirmation classes. Representatives of religions other than the National Church are also vastly underrepresented.

It’s obvious to me that this is a good thing.

Of course many argue against it. The leading arguments seem to be: “What’s the harm? It’s not like it’s hurting anyone!” And “it never caused me any harm!” And “next thing we know they’ll be banning Christmas decorations and Little Christmas*!” Also “what happened to teaching children good Christian values? We are a Christian nation!”

I am going to tackle these arguments one at a time.

1. What is the harm?

Most (if not all) of the people who use this argument are Christian Icelanders. Many of them mention that they are not very religious themselves and seem to think that this justifies their argument. Kids who are Christian or don’t care aren’t likely to even notice the Church being there at all, therefore they don’t feel that they’ve been harmed in any way. What about muslim children? Hindu? Buddhist? Jehova’s Witnesses? These children do notice, they feel ostracized. Their parents feel that their power over what their children are being told has been taken out of their hands.

Sure, they aren’t going to be physically harmed, but it can cause them emotional strain. Besides, it’s not about whether people are harmed. It’s about their right to choose. It’s about parents’ rights over their own children. Whether some Icelandic, white, Christian dude felt he’d been harmed by it or not has nothing to do with it.

Like someone on Facebook said: “My friend’s mom smoked and drank while she was pregnant with my friend. This friend of mine is now a well educated, healthy woman. Therefore smoking and drinking during pregnancy isn’t harmful.” It’s a shitty argument!

2. Banning Christmas! Oh nooooo!

It is clearly stated in the report that they have no intention of banning Little Christmas and forbidding children from expressing their own religious beliefs. Christmas isn’t about religion to most kids in Iceland. I don’t think so anyway. I’m not religious and I celebrate Christmas (or yule more like). It’s a fun family tradition where they get lots of presents. It’s completely different from priests coming into the schools trying to recruit kids against the will of their parents. Even if they did ban Christmas celebrations in the school out of respect for non-Christian children, would that be the end of the world? No.

3. Good Christian values

I’m so tired of Christian people claiming that the Bible/God is the only source of “good values” and morality. The schools are supposed to teach children to have compassion and respect for each other, and the difference between right and wrong. They don’t need the church to do so. All these “Christian values” are actually for the most part human values and many of them are universal. Removing the Church from the school isn’t going to turn all the children into amoral monsters. If the parents want to instill “Christian values” in their children they can do so at home.

4. We are a Christian nation

Yeah, about that. We may be culturally Christian…but I don’t think most Icelanders are particularly religious. Even if this statement were to stand, it still wouldn’t be a valid argument against this move. The opinion of the majority is not always right and should never be used as an argument against human rights. Even though non-Christians are the minority they still have a right to be able to send their children to school and trust that they won’t have to suffer attempts from the Christian church to convert them.



*Small Christmas celebrations in the schools shortly before Christmas vacations begin.