Trans man speaks about impact of Czechia’s forced sterilisation law on daily life

Czechia is one of the last countries in Europe to still require transgender people to undergo medical sterilisation in order to legally change their gender – meaning that officially changing your sex is not possible without undergoing surgery to remove your reproductive organs. The Justice Ministry announced over a year ago that they were preparing legislation to scrap this requirement, but with little political will to change the law, it has so far not made it to parliament, despite years of criticism from international human rights organisations. Recently around two dozen Czech NGOs and prominent people signed an open letter to Prime Minister Petr Fiala calling for the government to take action.

To help make sense of this often-misunderstood topic, I spoke to Jáchym, a trans man (meaning he was born female) about his experiences of going through the Czech system for gender reassignment. I know Jáchym personally, and indeed had known him as a man for several years without knowing that he was trans. He spoke very candidly and openly about his personal process, starting with when and how he came to the realisation that he wanted to live life as a man.

"I would say that there have always been signs, even during my early childhood. I was very boyish from the beginning of my life. I played football, I did judo, and I think I felt uncomfortable being officially a girl because I was so boyish. But I didn't deal with it in any way back then.

Illustrative photo: Daydreamerboy,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 3.0

"And then, later in life, I went through female puberty, which wasn't a nice experience but I guess I didn't have the words to put it in back then. In my early 20s, I first thought I was a gay girl because I didn't seem to work well in relationships with men, although I tried.

“And I thought that was it! I had my first coming out [laughs]. But then I started dating girls and I realised it also wasn't working and I wondered why, and then finally I came to the conclusion that I might be transgender."

Have you had a medical sex change?

"I still have hormonal replacement therapy and I’ve had top surgery, but that's it. So this is the medical part I went through - I don't feel like I need the other parts."

Was that enough to have your gender legally changed on your documents?

"No. After I started my process of medical transition, I realised there is this obstacle that I either need to get a hysterectomy to get my male gender in my ID, or I will stay female, so I am still officially female. My ID card has a gender-neutral name, which is not Jáchym [the name by which everyone knows him], so I have a different name in my ID, and also my gender marker is still an F."

And does that ever cause problems?

"Well, just situations where I have to basically come out every time I do something official, so I have to explain myself and then put up with questions like 'Why do you look like this when you are female?' But I think it's getting better because people are more educated now and have more knowledge about trans issues. Most of the time I get some weird looks or something but it's nothing that bad."

So downstairs [when you checked in at reception for the interview], did they bat an eyelid?

"They didn't even notice I think, because the F is pretty small. She might have said the name on my ID card, which is Eliot. But then I have to explain to people who don't know me why my name is different from the one I'm introducing myself as."

Why did you choose to have Eliot on your ID card but Jáchym as the name you go by in everyday life?

Illustrative photo: Tumisu,  Pixabay,  Pixabay License

"Jáchym is officially only a male name, so you can't have that [without having a hysterectomy] - you have to have a gender-neutral name. Czechia has a list of gender-neutral names, which is very short [laughs]. But we have no law which says these are the only names you can use, nothing else.

“You can also choose a name which is gender-neutral somewhere else in the world, so if somewhere in the world someone female has that name, you can have it. So I just chose a name that I liked that was gender-neutral from this book by some American authors."

But by that time you were already going by Jáchym in your everyday life?

"Jáchym was my chosen name from the beginning, but when I started dealing with this I realised that I can't have it on my ID, so I just went for something else that I liked."

How long after coming to the realisation that you were trans did it take you to decide to start taking hormones and get top surgery?

"From the first moment when I actually admitted to myself that that's what was going on, I think it took me maybe two years to accept it, because I still was like, 'no, maybe that's not me' and I was fighting against it a little bit. Because it's hard, right? I had already had one coming out and I thought it was done, so then I thought 'I can't do this again, how do I do this one?' So then it took me two years.

"And before talking to any doctors, I started my social transition - using male pronouns while talking and stuff like that."

And in Czech when you used past tense, would you already use male endings?


How were the doctors when you started consulting with them?

Illustrative photo: Czech Television

"There are some doctors who are good, but I don't have many good opinions about the Czech system. Back then, when I was transitioning, I chose the lesser evil. There was a doctor that I knew is definitely respectful of trans people - if you fit into the box of a binary trans person, then it's fine. So I knew I had to say all of the things they expected me to say, also to the psychologist and the other doctors I had to go see before starting hormone therapy.

“So I prepared myself for that, but I think I wouldn't have been able to go through it if I hadn't had a therapist outside of that and if I hadn't gone to trans support groups. I think that really saved me and my psychological wellbeing."

Did you ever consider getting a hysterectomy?

"I even considered getting a phalloplasty but then I did my research, and in Czechia, the results are not good whatsoever, and not only in Czechia - I would say they are mostly not good even outside the country, although they might be a little better. But after my top surgery, I realised that I can't do it. It's such a complicated operation, and the outcome is not good - it's never a fully functional penis.

"So when I realised that I don't want a phalloplasty and I can accept my genitals the way they are, I was like 'why would I get a hysterectomy? My ovaries are fine!' [laughs].

"I don't want to get it just to have my gender marker as an M on my ID. So I chose to fight against this law and try to change it instead of going through the surgery."

And would you ever consider having children as a female - using your ovaries and uterus?

"I am open to it but I am not necessarily planning it. I don't think it would be my first choice. If it happened somehow that I got pregnant accidentally then I would think about keeping it - I don't mind the idea of being pregnant if it happened this way. But if I decide I want children and I am the one deciding how to have them, then I think I would adopt."

So you didn't want to go through this long and complicated surgery to change your gender on your ID card. But if it was easier to do, would you do it? Would it make your life easier?

"Oh, that would be great. Because now whenever I am applying for a job, I always have to explain why I'm Eliot on my ID card. I tried to go by Eliot in one of the jobs I had, but then I realised that it's not me. I like the name and it's fine from time to time, but if I want to get closer to people, I just want to be Jáchym, because - I don't know about your connection with your own name, but I really feel like I am Jáchym. It's so important!"

I actually like my name, but my parents could have named me something I didn't like. I imagine especially if you've chosen your name yourself, it must really feel like you.

"Yeah, even when I was 12, I always knew that Jáchym is my name. That's a cliché thing to say, but it's true!"

You seem to me like an incredibly patient person, but it must be so tiring to have to go through this explanation every time you need to do anything official. Do you ever get annoyed or frustrated?

Illustrative photo: Czech Radio

"Yes, sometimes I get frustrated, but I am more hurt by the system. Not that it would make me angry - although I think if I were to get angry, it would be better. Now I just feel like I don't have the same rights as other people, and it would be so easy to make the change. It works in other countries in the European Union.

“But now the issue became political so now it's a controversial topic and it's even harder to change it. But I would say it's for me it's mostly that it really does hurt sometimes."

From what you've told me, it seems you're quite close to your family - you have a good relationship with your grandma from what I can tell.

"Yeah, but my grandma still calls me by my dead name [laughs]. Sometimes she tries, but she is old, right?  And I don't mind, because she is very respectful, she just cannot remember my new name [laughs].

"She was actually the first one to ask 'Do you want to be a boy?' when I started changing and cutting my hair but I hadn't come out yet. So she is very perceptive. And I think even though she uses female pronouns to refer to me sometimes and she calls me by my dead name, she is very respectful and nice."

Does she try to use male pronouns?

"She tries but I think she still has the idea of me as a girl, and now when she sees me after a really long time, or in photos, she is like 'Who is this man?' [laughs].

"I had this funny experience with her once when we went shopping and she lost me. She was calling me by my dead name, and nobody knew who she was talking to. And then I was like 'Yeah, grandma, I'm here!' and I think people thought that she was an old crazy lady [laughs]."

It's obviously much harder for people who knew you before your transition. I met you as a man so for me, you are a man, no question, I don't know you any other way. But of course for people who knew you for 20 plus years as a woman, it's hard to change. What about your parents, your sister, the rest of your family?

"They were fine. I think I did a good job of explaining it to them. My mum and my sister are both very open, and my dad as well to some extent, but he just doesn't think about this stuff, so it took him some time to get used to my pronouns and my new name.

“But I really worked to explain it well to them in a way they could understand and I was open to their questions, so I was trying to make it easier for them. And they were quite accepting, more or less."

So in general, you have a good support network?

"I don't think I had any bad reactions. Some of my old friends were like 'Why would you do this to yourself?' and I think they still think that way. But they also realised that if they won't talk to me as Jáchym, they can't talk to me ever, so they chose to still be friends with me, even though they might not understand. So yes, I guess I do have a good support system."