WORLD: On Thursday it was five years ago that the German Bundestag decided on marriage for everyone. They shed tears of joy then. How do you look back on this day, Mr. Beck?
Volker Beck: I still like to think back to that day. Which Member of Parliament is seen off with a shower of confetti because on his last day in plenary he pushes through what he fought for decades earlier? I’m not at all sure that we would all have marriage today if we hadn’t decided on it then. Perhaps the Union would have backed down again in the face of the AfD.
It was good to go into battle with everything we had and still enforce it on the last day of the legislature. This act made it clear, above all on the symbolic level, that gays, lesbians and straight people are citizens with equal rights and equal dignity.
WORLD: Five years later, it’s about dignity and rights again, this time for trans people. Justice Minister Marco Buschmann (FDP) and Family Minister Lisa Paus (Greens) want to present the cornerstones of a law on Thursday that will make it possible to change your gender entry simply by self-disclosure at the registry office. Why do we need such a law?
Beck: This law is long overdue. The previous transsexual law is just a shambles. This has been screaming at the sky for decades. Almost all paragraphs were repealed by the Federal Constitutional Court because they unnecessarily harass transsexual people. Until now, you have had to go through a complicated procedure with all sorts of expert opinions before you can change your gender entry and name. It doesn’t need any of that.
A democratic and pluralistic state should assume that its citizens can competently provide information about themselves. This is ultimately a question of the human image. If the rights of third parties are not affected, the decision in case of doubt must always be in favor of self-determination.
WORLD: The debate about it is already raging. Many people resent the idea that gender should be a matter of free choice. Do you understand?
Beck: No, because basically it’s all about respect for others. There is too little reflection on the fact that gender as a social category is also something that is socially negotiated. It’s not about changing anything in the majority of people. But there are people for whom the gender they were assigned at birth does not fit. Why should I force them to do something that doesn’t suit them? What entitles me to mess around in her life?
WORLD: But it’s not just about people who want to adapt physically to their perceived gender, but also about those who see themselves as non-binary. Should they also be allowed to change their gender entry at will?
Beck: Why would you require someone to have an operation so that you take their identity seriously? The state should stay away from physical interventions, both medicinal and surgical. It’s a matter for the medical profession and the people who want these treatments for themselves.
I even go one step further: Why should the state care about the gender of its citizens at all? Actually, gender is only needed for two things: to enforce conscription among men and to promote women. If we had gender equality, we would no longer need to officially certify gender.
WORLD: Keyword women’s rights: Feminists in particular complain that women’s shelters are lost when men declare themselves to be women through a speech act. They are therefore branded as transphobic. Right?
Beck: A few feminists. I have the feeling that something is being invented here so that you can paint ghosts on the wall. The women’s shelter coordination, which organizes around two-thirds of the women’s shelters in Germany, has clearly stated that they are not aware of cases in which people with a transgender or intersex history have misused the shelters.
Otherwise, the normal laws still apply: Anyone who sexually harasses someone is liable to prosecution. We are dealing here with emotional reflexes and projections from people who may not be entirely sure of their identity either. Nothing is taken away from anyone because something is given to a small minority.
WORLD: Many also object to the fact that young people from the age of 14 should have the opportunity to have their gender entry changed. Do young people of this age already have the sufficient maturity to take such a far-reaching step?
Beck: Definitely for the gender entry. First of all, this is not accompanied by medical measures. If a young person should change his mind later, not much is broken – except for a piece of paper. The damage is less than if someone constantly experiences social exclusion because their name doesn’t match their inner experience and outward appearance.
WORLD: But experience teaches that if you say A, you usually also say B and also want physical alignment. Or not?
Beck: That’s a question that doctors have to clarify with the people. And there the rules for adults and minors are different for good reasons. The legislature has to stay out of it. Medical issues are unlikely to be addressed at all in the Self-Determination Act.
WORLD: Critics point out that the desire for a gender change may simply be a matter of discomfort with one’s own body and the role expectations of one’s own gender – especially for girls. Is there something to it?
Beck: That’s why it’s also good if there are advice centers where such aspects can be clarified. They should be accepting but not affirmative. Not everyone who enters a counseling center really has to be trans*. Ideally, the parents of young people are also on board. Only in cases where such a child is not accepted by its parents as it is does it need help from the youth welfare office.
WORLD: Diversity is increasingly reflected in curricula. Does it harm children and young people when they are confronted with all varieties of gender identity at school? Are they, to use the battlefield term, “sexualized early”?
Beck: Diversity is not about educating about sex acts. This certainly has no place in kindergarten or in the first years of school. But explaining which people live on my street and why some live like this and others like that can be communicated in a very age-appropriate way.
Of course, age must always be taken into account when explaining such things. You shouldn’t be overbearing about it. But children should also always feel that they are getting answers to questions that come their way.
WORLD: Will transgenderness be just as normal and accepted in a few years as homosexuality is today? Is the emancipation process the same?
Beck: Once these laws are all passed, the debate will calm down again, just as it did when marriage was opened up. The dreaded drama will not materialize, and then things will calm down.
For the last ten to 15 years you can see that trans people are increasingly having normal and successful careers. In the past, coming out as a trans* was almost identical to breaking off a normal professional life and living on the fringes of bourgeois society. Thank God that is no longer the case.
“Kick-off Politics” is WELT’s daily news podcast. The most important topic analyzed by WELT editors and the dates of the day. Subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, among others, or directly via RSS feed.