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From the streets of New York City to the townships of South Africa, the LGBT rights movement and its opposition are engaged in an unprecedented international battle. GlobalPost presents an ongoing series of reports from key locations at this pivotal time in history, telling highly personal, often overlooked stories from the fight.
Many countries typically seen as progressive on LGBT rights continue to mandate the practice.
STOCKHOLM, Sweden — Aleksa Lundberg remembers being 4 years old and standing by the kindergarten’s wading pool. The teachers began separating the children into groups for an autumnal walk through the nearby woods, ushering boys to one side, girls to another. Lundberg remembers being unsure which side to choose.
“I knew that I was expected to join the boys, but equally I knew that I wanted to join the girls,” Lundberg says.
As Lundberg moved to join the girls’ side, a teacher with a tight, graying perm framing a face contorted in anger grabbed Lundberg by the wrist and “half led, half pulled” her to the group of boys, telling her firmly that this was where Lundberg belonged.
“It was my first experience of an ‘authority’ telling me what I could do, what I should be, and it led to what is my first memory of an anxiety attack,” says Lundberg, now a popular 29-year-old actress who completed the transition from male to female when she was 18. “The silhouettes of the boys standing around me transformed into jail bars in front of my eyes.”
More than two decades later, Lundberg is a dramatic voice in a larger struggle against authority — the Swedish legal requirement that people who want to officially change their sex with the government must be sterilized first. The law also forbids the freezing of sperm or eggs before corrective surgery, which effectively means transgender Swedes are barred from having biological children.
“I believed I had to give up every vestige of being male to complete the process.”~Aleksa Lundberg
“Forcible sterilization” has been quietly practiced for decades in countries typically cast as progressive on LGBT rights: France, the Netherlands, Australia and a number of U.S. states still require it. Italy and Germany have just recently overturned similar legislation.
Although Swedish leaders have been talking for months about repealing the sterilization law that Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt called a “dark chapter in Swedish history,” it remains on the books. The conservative Christian Democrats have doggedly opposed the repeal, arguing that sex reassignment surgery is a threat to traditional social roles. Transgender advocates like Lundberg say they are fed up with being the last of the LGBTs to win their rights.
“It infuriates me that a group of people think they have a right to tell another group of people what they can and cannot do,” Lundberg says.
When she began the intensive process of changing her sex from male to female over a decade ago, Lundberg didn't give much thought to the fact that she would have to be sterilized. She was 17. But before the Swedish government would certify Lundberg as a woman, she was required to undergo a full surgical removal of her male sex organs.
Human rights groups say Lundberg has been robbed of a fundamental human ability: procreation.
“I believed I had to give up every vestige of being male to complete the process. I cried and shouted for joy when that final piece of paper dropped in the mailbox telling me that I was now legally a woman,” she says.
With her fair complexion and light hair growth, Lundberg has suffered none of the stubble some other male-to-female patients endure when taking the hormone estrogen which reduces facial hair growth. A bob of glossy blonde hair crowns her tall, slim figure.
Only in recent years did she come to see the infertility requirement as a violation of her rights.
“We are not even allowed to freeze sperm. I am today fully incapable of having my own children,” says Lundberg, who has not ruled out adoption if she meets the right man to start a family with.
“I was hoping as an actress to not have to talk about this topic,” she says. “It became a political issue for me when I have been expected to hide the darker notes of my voice to give the appearance of being 'a normal woman,' when it became clear that it wasn't granted that every individual be allowed to be herself,” says Lundberg. “That's when I decided I couldn't remain silent.”
After years of hiding the fact that she had been born male, Lundberg first opened up about it four years ago. She has since launched a one-woman show called “Infestus,” which chronicles her experiences as a young boy, her sex change in her late teens and life as