Will they allow me to be trans? – Changing my legal name and gender marker in Germany
THIS ARTICLE INCLUDES DESCRIPTIONS OF SYSTEMIC TRANSPHOBIA AND CIS-NORMATIVITY.
Hi, I´m Lee, I am non-binary and I can prove it.
Since the 28th of April 2021, my name and gender are officially recognized by the German law. For me, legal recognition of my gender identity and my name was about respect for my journey and about feeling the euphoria my new name gave me instead of the dysphoria my old name used to give me when I still had to use it for official documents.
In this article, I want to explain the ways and the wrongness of the current legal situation for transgender people in Germany and illustrate my personal experience with it. Moreover, I want to make clear why it is wrong that cis people get to decide whether a trans person can change their documents or not.
In Germany, there is a law called “Transsexuellengesetz” (short: TSG), which translates to “law for transsexuals”. It is in place since 1981, but was reformed several times during the last 40 years. This law specifies the procedure a trans person in Germany has to go through in order to change their legal first name and their legal gender marker to that of “the other sex” (yes, the TSG is based on the binary idea of gender).
The trans person has to file an application at their district court, who will rule about the case. The court will then assign two independent consultants (in my case two psychotherapists) to “assess” whether the trans person is “really trans”, whether it´s already been like that for at least 3 years and whether it´s unlikely to change in the future.
Since 2018, there is another law, which introduced the “third gender” called “diverse”, into the German legal system. It is specifically made for intersex people: they have the right to declare their intersexuality to an administration, if possible, with the support of medical proof and can then change their legal name and gender marker. – (Please hold on to something now:) People with so-called FELT INTERSEXUALIY have to go through the process of the TSG – which I wasn´t aware of at the very beginning of my journey.
I knew both about the TSG and the law for intersex people, but both didn´t seem to apply for me. At first, I fell down the rabbit hole of our Kafkaesque bureaucracy, made what felt like a thousand phone calls to a variety of administrations, collected documents and went to a one-hour-session with a psychotherapist. With all of that, I was lucky to have the guidance and support of a very nice man from our local administration, who would have long phone calls with me, explain everything, critique the system and support my case without questioning me.
But eventually, it was all for nothing. My application went around in several departments of both my city of residence and my city of birth, no one was responsible for my issue, so I was finally advised to approach the court and go with the TSG.
After a few months of resignation and frustration, I reached out to the court and had a surprisingly unproblematic phone call with them. Again, I had to send a bunch of documents, but this time it was easier, since I already had most of them from my previous attempt.
Only a few weeks later I got a letter from the court telling me that two independent consultants had been assigned to issue assessments about my case. I met with both of them within a month.
The two sessions were both incredibly problematic and incredibly easy going at the same time, the resulting assessments were just incredible. Two times I was perforated with questions from a cis person four times my age. – But let me dive deeper into that later.
In the same month my parents and I got an invitation to court, where I would have to speak to a judge, who would ask me a few more questions and finally ruled that I could legally be who I was – Lee, diverse. That day we drank champagne in the middle of the day and out of the nowhere I cried of happiness and relief.
So, in the end, I got what I wanted. I am now legally non-binary and can legally use the name I chose for myself. The gratitude I felt for holding my fresh ID with the correct name was incredible.
Still, the process I went through is unjust.
One bothering aspect of it are the words used. I don´t have to explain to anybody what is wrong with the term “felt intersexuality”. A specific other term used, too, was “compulsion”, referring to the wish of a trans person to live according to the standards associated with their gender identity. – Yes, for many of us, changing your appearance according to your identity is a heartfelt need, but the term “compulsion” implies a kind of psychological disorder rather than a characteristic.
To be fair, both psychotherapists as well as the judge did refer to me with proper language and the final decree also calls me non-binary and not intersex. I was lucky to encounter people on my way who were open-minded for gender identities beyond the binary.
But justice cannot be based on luck and generosity. Justice should be based on law and I shouldn´t have to hope for getting a nice judge who will use her power to fit me into a legal system I don´t fit into – I should be included in the legal system from the get-go and I should have the RIGHT and not the CHANCE to change my name and gender marker in accordance with my identity. The latter part is just as unjust for binary trans people as it is for non-binary: both are at the mercy of cis people to agree with their perception of their identity.
The gatekeeping, with cis-straight people in power, bothers me so much. Why do two cis strangers, who talk with me for one hour, get to decide whether my identity is valid? Why do I have to dress up for them to match their imagination of what a non-binary person should look like? Why does a fifty-years old man who is not my gynecologist get to ask me about my menstruation?
These points are only the tip of the iceberg. The assessments include detailed descriptions about my outer appearance, my tone of voice, my behavior during the conversation, my parents, my childhood, whether I liked to wear dressed and skirts, what gender my friends have, my sexuality, my sex life, whether I am comfortable to be naked in front of the people I sleep with, whether I am in a relationship, whether I want children, whether I want to physically transition, whether I suffer from sleeping disorder or some kind of mental illness, whether I am psychotic or schizophrene or abusing substances. Yes. It seems like some straight-cis people with way too much power for their little understanding have decided that all of these criteria take an influence on their judgement of a person´s gender identity.
On a side note, there´s also some false information in the assessments, mainly concerning my family and friends I´ve talked about, but also, I am apparently bisexual, even though I´ve never identified with that label and never mentioned it during the conversation – not that I´m offended by it, I just see it another example for how people rather like to decide what you are instead of listening to you explaining it and just believing you.
Because that´s how it works. You discuss your own identity with yourself, you go through a process, you come to a conclusion (or not), you share it with other people (or not). The place of all people who are not you is in whichever chair you put them, may that be the listening-chair, the giving-feedback-chair or the get-lost-because-it´s-none-of-your-business-chair. But unfortunately, many parts of the system are based on the transphobic belief that being trans is some sort of condition to be judged upon by the “normal” people, to be analyzed, to be up for debate, to be allowed or not.
I am personally lucky to say that I did not get traumatized or mentally disturbed by this process. But this is because I have the privilege to live in a safe environment, accompanied by supportive friends and parents, who helped me to develop lots of self-love and self-confidence. I don´t want to imagine what these questions would do to a person with, for example, transphobic parents or mental health issues.
But luckily, I can end this text on a hopeful note. Last September, Germany elected a new, more progressive and left government, who promised to replace the TSG with a law for self-determination, meaning that in around a year, trans people in Germany will be able to determine themselves, without any psychological evaluation, whether they want to change their name and gender marker. The making of this law is accompanied by Germany´s first two transgender members of parliament.
I hope this text was interesting and informative to read and helps to understand, why self-determination for trans people is so important. The gatekeeping by cis people to the access to our rights has to end – let´s fight for this in every country, together!
Explanation of some terms:
Kafkaesque = refers to the famous German author Franz Kafka. In his stories, getting lost in inexplicable and unexplained situations and processes, often under the ruling of some sort of authority, is a reoccurring theme.
compulsion = an irresistible urge to behave in a certain way.
intersex = an umbrella term for diverse physical variations, such as hormones, chromosomes or genitalia, that make a person not fit into the standard binary division of sex into male and female
gatekeeping = someone setting a standard/limit that other people have to comply with in order to get access to or to be considered as something; Looking at it as a metaphor makes it easier to understand: Someone is guarding a gate/door and decides who gets to enter and who doesn´t.
the letters and official documents I collected during the process of changing my name and gender marker as well as my personal experience