Why am I afraid to be transgender?

Gender diversity - trans *

Nik Schinzler

Nik Schinzler is a qualified pedagogue and alternative practitioner for psychotherapy. In the area of ​​gender and diversity, he leads educational leave and works council trainings for the DGB / VHS and works as a consultant for the educational initiative QUEERFORMAT in schools and child and youth welfare.

In Germany, societal dealings with gender identity still include seeing trans * outside the norm. The distinction between norm and deviation creates the basis for exclusionary behavior, pathologization and trans-hostility. Trans * children and young people form a particularly vulnerable group. Nik Schinzler from the QUEERFORMAT education initiative in Berlin reports.

Demo sign at a demonstration on the international day against homophobia and transphobia in Berlin, 2015. (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)

Like all adolescents, trans * children and adolescents are dependent on adults in many ways, and the family environment and school in particular have a decisive influence on whether their personal development is encouraged. In addition, their lives are often heavily influenced by the fear of reactions to their possible coming-out as a trans * [1] and by dealing with trans * -specific discrimination. A supportive environment is vital for them and can help them develop a healthy sense of self-worth and self-esteem.

Whether it is a question of which name is right for you, what clothes you feel comfortable in, how you tell your school class, which toilet and changing room you use, or whether the next step is to change your name or undergo hormone replacement therapy - they need support in order to go their own, individual path.

Family situation

A study from the USA shows how important family support is: In families in which children and adolescents are completely accepted with their LGBT * identity [2], 92% of adolescents believe that they will one day be happy as LGBT * adults. In comparison, only 35% of those who are not accepted in their families with their LGBT * identity believe this [3].

There is hardly any talk about trans *, which, according to a study by the German Youth Institute from 2015, means that many young people sound out their parents' attitudes towards lesbians and gays in advance in order to better assess the possible reactions to a transgender coming out. Whether and in what form trans * people are affected by discrimination depends heavily on whether being trans * is known or visible. For fear of rejection, trans * children and adolescents often hide their gender identity and the span between becoming trans * conscious and coming out usually spans several years [4]. In fact, 70% of the 14-27 year olds interviewed in the study report bad experiences within their immediate family. This includes not being taken seriously in terms of their identity (78% of them) or being deliberately ignored in their identity (61% of them) [5]. The psychosocial consequences are far-reaching: trans * young people particularly often suffer from loneliness, fears, school problems, insecurity, feelings of guilt, depression and self-harm [6]. Trans * per se - also according to the World Medical Association - is not a (mental) illness, but it can cause considerable suffering and stress [7]. How much is also shown by a French study, according to which 69% of the young people questioned had suicidal ideation and 34% had one or more suicide attempts related to their own trans * identity [8]. Trans * children who are supported by the environment and their parents, on the other hand, have just as little psychological problems as their peers in comparison groups [9].

Trans * - already a topic in daycare and elementary school?

More than a quarter of all young trans * people surveyed in the DJI study stated that they had always known that they were trans *. Almost half knew it by the age of 12 at the latest [10]. Trans * is therefore also an issue for daycare centers and primary schools - or rather it should be, in order to give all children equal rights regardless of their gender identity. The experience of the QUEERFORMAT education initiative shows that there are more and more daycare centers in Berlin that have trans * children in their facility and that seek advice on the subject.

In the context of my work as an education officer for QUEERFORMAT, educational specialists often address the fact that parents are unsure and fearful if the behavior of (their) children with regard to gender roles does not meet their own expectations. Some people still believe that trans * can be induced or prevented from outside, which is why they exert pressure to adhere to certain gender roles - other parents allow freedom for their children's individual personal development.

A child cannot be raised to be trans * or cis-sex [11]. However, it can be strengthened in its self-worth and for the coming challenges through an accepting, supportive attitude.

Materials for (daycare) educators

Educators are also faced with many questions. The handout “Murat plays princess, Alex has two mothers and Sophie is now called Ben - sexual and gender diversity as topics in early childhood inclusion education” was developed by QUEERFORMAT as training material for educational professionals at Berlin daycare centers. The handbook, which is aimed at educators, contains basic texts, provides answers to practical questions and shows ways in which gender identity can be treated as an aspect of diversity pedagogy in early childhood education [12].

The publication of this handout triggered controversial reactions. From a professional point of view, she was very much appreciated and welcomed, for example by the GEW Berlin and the State Parents Committee of the Berlin day-care centers. Critics called for a dissemination stop - and misinformation about the handbook for pedagogues up to the title as "Sex brochure for day care children" (B.Z. 02/16/18) also found its way to some mass media. Meanwhile, the Paritätische Wohlfahrtsverband Berlin is having 2,000 copies reprinted for its own daycare facilities [13].

Implement principles of inclusion

With age-appropriate educational materials, children can learn at an early age to appreciate people in their diversity. In this sense, gender is one of many aspects in which people can differ. Knowledge and competence to act on issues of gender identity and sexual orientation are indispensable, because "Every young person has the right to a sustainable school education regardless of their gender [... and] their sexual identity [...]." [14]. The Children's Commission of the German Bundestag also calls for the implementation of children's rights in Germany, among other things: "The variability of gender development must be recognized. The physicality and individual identity development must be accepted from the start." [15]

The principles of inclusion should also be anchored in the concept of the facility and be structurally implemented - e.g. by setting up unisex toilets. Teachers, educators and educational specialists in child and youth welfare play an important role in their role model function. The tendency for children and young people to come out as trans * is increasing - and educators * are required to position themselves, to address mechanisms of exclusion, to question norms and to adopt a solidary stance. In some cities, they also receive support from (school) education projects in which volunteers come to school classes and answer questions about LGBT * people. The Bundesverband Queere Bildung e.V. now has over 70 such local projects and educational initiatives organized. [16].

Solidarity, respect and support

It is particularly important for trans * children to address them by their self-chosen name and to use the personal pronoun of their choice. This is also recommended by the Berlin Senate Administration [17]. It is also permissible to enter the desired name, e.g. in the class register, on school cards or similar; this does not require a legally binding change of first name [18]. Even in absentia, children should be talked about in their chosen gender - e.g. about "Tim, who used to be called Tina" and not about "Tina, who would like to be called Tim." It is important to express an attitude of solidarity linguistically - however, caution is advised when it comes to inappropriate or intimate questions. Advice or offers should also be made with the necessary sensitivity, and only if the individual relationship allows it.

Whether and to whom a person comes out as a trans * should be up to them. The law regulates the "prohibition of disclosure" that after a legally binding change of first name without the consent of the person, the old first names are usually not allowed to be revealed or investigated [19]. School is a central area of ​​life for young people. Here, too, trans * young people check the statements and comments of their peers and teachers on topics of non-heteronormative lifestyles before coming out.

And here, too, their fears are not unfounded: Almost half of the young trans * respondents in the DJI study stated that they had been insulted, insulted or ridiculed in places of education and work. About 10% were physically assaulted or beaten. The respondents also stated that only about half of the teachers have openly shown that they do not tolerate "fagot", "gay", "tranny", "lesbian" or the like as swear words. Respondents said that around half of teachers laughed when jokes were made about LGBT * people. Likewise, a good half of the teachers of the young trans * respondents in the class community had made fun of a girl who did not behave "typically female" or a boy who did not behave "typically male" [20]. The exemplary situations described are very stressful for many young trans * people.

Cover of a brochure by the Berlin education initiative QUEERFORMAT. (& copy queer format)
The QUEERFORMAT team was able to make the following positive experiences with schools in Berlin:
  • Solidarity by children is no exception when gender diversity has been addressed and the environment has been sensitized accordingly. At a school, friends of a trans * child organized written parental consent for class trips that the trans * child would sleep in the other girls' room. At another, at the conference as a whole, students demanded gender-sensitive spelling.
  • Cooperation with the parents in the class is an important factor. In a Berlin grammar school, the class management and the mother of the 15-year-old trans * boy, who had not yet been outed, told a lecture on the subject of trans * that he wanted to live as a boy from now on. The parents reacted very positively and discussions were held about how they can help their children to react well when they come out.
  • All those involved benefit from supportive guidance - e.g. in the form of advice, technical input in school committees or at parents' evenings or by attending an educational project in the school class.
  • Visibility contributes to the acceptance of gender diversity - e.g. through posters, flyers from advice centers, LGBT * youth clubs, parents' brochures, etc.
  • There are many positive testimonials from schools positioning themselves. For example, the Kurt Schwitters Comprehensive School in Berlin was awarded the title of “fairest school” in Germany by the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency as part of the “Fair @ school” competition for its “Respect Club”. As a result, a person dared to live their trans * identity openly in school [21].

Necessity of counseling and leisure activities for young trans *

During my work as a project coordinator for the youth network Lambda e.V. and the Federal Association Trans * e.V [22]. I had many conversations with young trans * people. They are often faced with questions that require specific knowledge of their life situation to be answered. So far, this has only been the case with very few advisory services. There is also a specific need for exchange and encounters with other young trans * who are in similar situations in order to be able to develop a feeling of normality with their own gender identity and to experience a free space in which they are not discriminated against on the basis of their gender Have to fear being trans * [23]. Since online media are an important source of information for young people, I believe that a clear, youth-friendly website with reliable, up-to-date information for young trans * people is urgently needed.

Fortunately, more and more - mostly (earlier) lesbian / gay - institutions and advice centers for trans * are opening up. In my opinion, trans * youth-specific skills and knowledge should be expanded - e.g. on the current legal situation and the possibilities of medical transition. Exemplary existing offers:

The chat advice "IN & OUT" of the youth network Lambda e.V. offers low-threshold advice. Trans * youth groups can be found in a few cities, including Hamburg, Berlin, Munich, Mühlheim, Kölln, Chemnitz and Ulm. Leisure trips like those offered by "frienTS" by Diversity München e.V. and weekend workshops like those offered by the project "trans * - ja und ?!" are rare nationwide. occur.