Has the Coast Really Cleared?: Being Transgender in Copenhagen





Being transgender in Copenhagen is not quite as glorious as I expected.

Over the past few days as I have settled into my daily class routine, I’ve begun to sincerely wonder: What do I want out of my study abroad experience? What do I want to do for graduate school, and a future career? With my psychology major and sexuality studies minor, the possibilities are limitless – overwhelmingly so, at times.

Although I initially wanted to have a counseling career in the United States, I’m toying with the idea of taking my career abroad. This was struck while out-and-about with my class during the first of two field studies; a “Walking Sex Tour” of Copenhagen. Classmates and I were lead by a historian tour guide and shown the “queerest” parts of the city.

Some sights included gay bars on nearly every street corner, the first Copenhagen gay bathhouse, a Cruising spot (where gay men would often have sex in the local park), and S/M sex toy shops. There is even a statue located in Orstedsparken (where the Cruising spot is located) that is a memorial for the first-known lesbian teachers who was suspected to have romantic and sexual relations with her female students. It wasn’t until then that I noticed how open Danes seemed in their sexuality, which both fascinated and excited me; Copenhagen is living up to my queer expectations!

S/M shop and BDSM community bar.
Statue of Natalie Zahle and female students – the only statue in memorial of a lesbian woman in Danish history.








As excited as I began the journey, I was equally as shocked to learn that the history for transgender folks is surprisingly negative. Copenhagen has a historical lack in accessible healthcare and laws protecting transgender Danes. There is also a large presence of “gatekeeping” by the Danish government towards transgender folks that want to transition medically.

For instance, you may be familiar with the movie The Danish Girl; the story of Lili Elbe, a Danish transgender woman who was one of the first trans people in the world to have gender affirmation surgery in the year 1930. The thing is – Lili didn’t have her four (4) gender affirmation surgeries in Denmark; she had them Amsterdam. We learned that Denmark was – and currently still is – scarce in surgeons who perform gender affirmation surgeries. If there is a surgeon who certified to perform gender affirmation surgeries, they are not covered by public healthcare. Not only that, but transgender Danes also have difficulties getting hormone replacement therapy, and trans-inclusive psychotherapy.

Hearing this honestly broke my heart. I hadn’t expected a country that comes off as so progressive and inclusive on the surface to fall short for it’s transgender citizens. My disappointment and sorrow for my transgender brothers and sisters has made me decide that something needs to be done in CopenhagenMy passion for helping others like myself has long been focused on bringing the liberal sexual attitudes and education to the United States; however, this week has quickly turned that goal on it’s heels.

Expect the Unexpected

Overall, this first week in Copenhagen has brought me great insight on how important it is to keep an open mind. My expectations that Copenhagen, Denmark is like a “Queer Disneyland” was swiftly crushed. And for that, I am grateful.

Why, you ask? Well, I’ve come to see that the very expectations that I held about queer and transgender culture in Copenhagen were holding me back. I set myself up for disappointment because, frankly, no culture or minority representation is perfect in reality. I have been challenged to take Copenhagen off from the pedestal that I placed it upon, and this has allowed me to realize that even progressive cultures have flaws, and so do I. Most importantly, these flaws are okay – it is what makes Danish culture, and myself, human.

Now that these flaws have been shown, I can see myself become less tethered by expectations and stereotypes of different cultures. I’ve learned that I have a lot more learning to do, and I am not going to let that discourage me. Rather, I want to let my mistakes and misconceptions fuel my passion for helping others, especially those with queer identities.

In the end, who knows where this path will take me: back home to Minnesota, to the city of Copenhagen, or somewhere in-between. All I know now is that I aim to be open to all possibilities, not out of spite, but out of respect and peace. It’s okay if I do not know what I want out of my study abroad experience right now, and it’s okay if I do not know where I want to go to graduate school right now. Those things will come when the time is right. And, until then, I am extremely excited for what awaits me on the next adventure.