Respecting trans* people and showing solidarity

Some people feel uncomfortable when they come face to face with trans* people or persons who they cannot clearly identify as man or woman. They want to know how they can stand in solidarity with trans*people and act supportive as a team member in an association, an uncle or a neighbour.

A good rule of thumb to go by is that in most cases trans* people want to be treated just like others. Nobody wants to be stared at or poked fun at. Very few people are comfortable being asked by strangers about their sexual organs or sexual practice. It is always inappropriate to question the statements a person has made about him/herself. This applies to the statement “I am a woman” as much as to the statement “I am Cellist”, for example.

Talking and referring to a person

In order to treat trans* people in a respectful manner, you should use their chosen name and pronoun – also in their absence.

If you are not sure how to address a trans* person, wait for them to give you an indirect clue. Maybe that trans* person just referred to him/herself as an early bird, using the female pronoun. In that case it would be appropriate to call this person, “Ms Yilmaz” instead of “Mr Yilmaz”, for example. Or you could ask the person directly: “By the way my pronoun is “he”; which one may I use for you?”

If you happen to use the wrong pronoun, calmly correct yourself and continue as if you referred to Mr Meier as Mr Müller. Don't just ignore the slip of tongue because it’s easier. If you notice others using the wrong name or pronoun when addressing a trans* person, politely remind them of the correct form.

Some people do not use a pronoun for themselves or they use a pronoun other than “she” or “he”. It might appear a bit complicated at first. But consider this: native German speakers no longer find it difficult to use the right pronouns like “he, his” and “she, hers” for one single reason - they have practised and heard it countless times. So other pronouns are also just a matter of practise. If a person feels respected by using the appropriate pronoun, and if you know that you too would appreciate it; you will certainly find this small effort worth its while.

Right to informational self-determination

Trans* people have the right to privacy just like everybody else. This applies in particular to their bodies and sexuality. Questions about their “old” names or pictures “from before” are perceived by most trans* people as uncomfortable. Whoever wishes to share such memories with you, will probably do so unsolicited.

In addition, trans* people know best in which situations and in what environment they can disclose their transsexuality without facing any disadvantages. Therefore, never out another person as trans* unless that person has told you to do so and/or that person has given you his/her consent to do so on a particular occasion and among a certain group of people.

Trans*solidarity every day

Respect for trans* people is more than a question of protocol. If you really value solidarity, you will find many situations in your daily life to show it. The following questions will give you some ideas:

  • How can we design forms that can be correctly filled out by people of all genders and that lend them respect?

  • Am I aware of comments and behaviours of people around me that are disrespectful or harmful to trans*people? Are men in “women’s clothes” a favourite laughing stock? What can I say or do in order to counter that a bit?

  • How can we set up the toilets in our offices, schools, or bars in a way that people with untypical gender expressions can use them without fear or hostility?

You can probably think of other situations where you can help ensure that everybody develops freely irrespective of their gender, gender identity or gender expression. Because every day offers opportunities to act in solidarity.