Note: In the course of this article we will only write about homo-, bi-, inter*- and trans* hostility, as we want to make visible that it is not an anxiety disorder, as the word “phobia” suggests, but rejection, insecurity, hostility or even disgust.
We celebrate gender diversity!
On 17 May 1990, homosexuality was officially removed from the list of mental illnesses by the World Health Organisation (WHO). 17 years later, the European Union proclaimed the International Day against Homophobia, Bisexuality, Intersex, and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT), but the holiday has been celebrated since around 2004. The day primarily serves to draw media and political attention to violence and discrimination against people with different sexualities and gender identities or expressions. 130 countries celebrate it, including 37 countries where same-sex acts are illegal. In Nigeria, for example, participating in or organizing same-sex marriages is punishable by 10 years in prison in some states. Similarly, demonstrating gay rights and public displays of affection between persons of the same sex is criminalized.
Until 1994, non-heterosexual love and sexual practices were illegal in Germany and punishable by imprisonment. (Allegedly) homosexual men* were criminalized on the basis of §175 of the Criminal Code, which was already passed in the German Empire and massively tightened during National Socialism in the 1930s. Queer people were persecuted under National Socialism, deported to concentration camps, and murdered. It was not until 1969 that Paragraph 175 was relaxed for certain age groups, especially in the GDR. This makes Germany one of the last Western European countries to introduce more LGBTQIA+-friendly legislation.
That is why 17.05. is so important! We have to remember history and develop future perspectives that are free of violence and discrimination. Speaking out and drawing attention to grievances is an important step toward justice. But in order to specifically reduce prejudice and hate, we should first understand how LGBTQIA+ hostility arises in the first place and what hetero- and cisnormativity mean.
How does LGBTQIA+ hostility arise?
Sexism and LGBTQIA+ hostility are closely related. Those who devalue and discriminate against women* are also very likely to do so towards lesbians, gay men and people who identify with a different gender identity or none at all. Similarly, hostility towards LGBTQIA+ people is often intertwined with a stereotypical and binary gender image that results in a devaluation of femininity*.
Sexism in this context is understood as the devaluation of women*/femininity* on the one hand and a system that defines the characteristics, bodies and sexualities of women* and men* very narrowly and as mutually exclusive on the other. The male* cis-hetero perspective with an endo-gendered body (bodies that can be clearly medically assigned male*/female* after birth) serves as the norm in our patriarchal society.
This devaluation of femininity* can be proven with many everyday examples. For example, women* can wear trousers. But when men* want to wear skirts, they are usually devalued by verbal statements or looks/gestures. They are assumed to be homosexual or treated as trans* women.
While gender stereotypes are being broken down in the LGBTQIA+ community, the overall societal devaluation of feminine-coded behaviors and attributes remains, especially for men*. Feminine* gays and masculine* lesbians are more often threatened and the latter are not taken seriously in their sexuality. Inter* and trans* people are denied being a “real man” or a “real woman”, which results from a biological idea of gender. However, gender consists of more than just biological characteristics. Non-binary and inter* people were not able to be listed by designation in the birth register until 22 December 2018. Many people do not feel fully represented in the Divers category. Another barrier has arisen because of binarity. People who cannot be categorized as male* or female* are structurally made invisible. Sexism is, therefore, one of several reasons that can lead to homo-, bi-, inter-, and trans* hostility.
A study by the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency shows that people who know more about homosexuality have a more positive attitude towards homosexual persons and are more likely to show supportive behavior and vice versa. Likewise, these people assume that homosexual people are affected by discrimination. Personal contact and knowledge are therefore essential prerequisites that are important for growing acceptance.
Above, there were repeated mentions of hetero-cis men*, and now the former will be further elaborated on to gain a better understanding of the social mechanisms of society.
“The concept of heteronormativity criticizes the socially postulated two-gender order and the power or violence it exerts over other gender identities. The term also includes a critique of the privileging of heterosexuality as an unquestioned norm.”
Sauer 2018, Heteronormativity
Heteronormativity presents opposite-sex desire as the “natural” order and rejects any other form of sexuality. In principle, people are assumed to be heterosexual until they come out as non-heterosexual. This coming out is often associated with fear of social sanctions and rejection because the expectations are not met. With heteronormativity, traditional gender roles are cemented. This means that there are clear ideas of what a woman* and a man* are and are allowed to be. For the queer community, a heteronormative society is highly problematic because marginalization and discrimination are associated with it.
When people’s assigned sex at birth matches their gender identity, that person can be described as cis. For example, a person describes themselves as male* and their birth register has the attribution “male”. Body characteristics and gender consciousness match, so cis is the opposite of trans*. The term is critically questioned in that it is strongly oriented toward the binary gender construction.
In cisnormativity, cisgender is considered the norm, trans* and inter* persons are thus considered deviations. This representation as ‘abnormal’ leads to discrimination and exclusion. The cisnormative views are based on the misconception that there are only two genders. That gender can only be determined by genitalia and that gender consciousness always corresponds to one’s own genitalia, which is assigned to male* or female* after birth. According to these assumptions, all people are cis.
However, cisnormativity disregards the fact that only the person themselves can provide information about their own gender. The structural oppression by institutions as well as on a social, legal, and cultural level towards trans*, non-binary, and inter* gendered people is described by cissexism. Homo-, bi-, inter* and trans* hostility, on the other hand, is based more on hostility and oppression on an individual, i.e. personal level by groups and individuals.
Now you might be wondering how you can help create visibility and tolerance. The first step is to reach out to people and engage with each other.
How should I address non-binary people?
As it is a very private and individual topic, there is no clear-cut answer on how to approach non-binary people. What we can give you, however, are two directions that we have found based on our research:
First, if you are unsure about which pronouns are best to use, you can simply ask how the other person would like to be addressed. The important thing is that you accept the answer. Many people are open about their pronouns and are happy to share them with you. It is also best to introduce yourself first and state your pronouns. For example: Hello, my name is Sarah and I use her/his pronouns. Or: My name is Jan and I like to be addressed as he or he.
This way you can show directly that the topic is important to you and that you are not passing on the responsibility for explanations to the other person.
Secondly, it is important that you are aware that gender is a private topic. Not every person wants to talk about it. If you are just getting to know the person you are talking to, you should be sensitive. This is essential in any kind of interpersonal communication. If a person does not want to talk about their pronouns, you can simply use their name.
Skillfully gender (de)constructing
Gender-equitable language tries to avoid the generic masculine (doctor, driver, or student). Women* and people who do not fit into the binary gender system are always “included”. However, this manifests itself in various disadvantages. In non-gendered professions, the probability is higher that the choice of the profession will be gender-specific. More women feel addressed as car mechanics than as auto mechanics. The correct term is actually de-gendering since the language is not supposed to be gender-specific. Colloquially, however, we speak of “gendering” nowadays.
There are many ways in German not to include gender in language. At geschicktgendern.de there are many ideas on how you can express yourself in a neutral way. It’s okay to be insecure, we’re all human and we all make mistakes, but we also learn. If you misgender, i.e. assign a person to the wrong gender or use the wrong pronoun, just apologize briefly or correct your statement. If a mistake is brought to your attention, the same applies.
If you want to write a gender-sensitive email, there are many ways to do it. The classic “Hello [name]” or “Good day, [name]” is popular, so you avoid drawing direct conclusions about people’s gender.
What you should avoid is deliberately not using addresses, pronouns, or names. Calling the community a “trend” or “special snowflakes” is also a no-go. The term is used to derogatorily describe “oversensitive” people who advocate for things like Trigger Warnings or Safe Spaces.
Finally, most people are not yet used to using new pronouns or neutral language. We should all start the learning process together and be considerate of each other. Nobody is perfect. But as long as we keep an open mind and are respectful of each other, we can grow together and give everyone the chance to live as equals. If you have any comments or questions, feel free to write them in the comments.
Küpper, Beate; Klocke, Ulrich; Hoffmann, Lena-Carlotta (2017): Einstellungen gegenüber lesbischen, schwulen und bisexuellen Menschen in Deutschland. Ergebnisse einer bevölkerungsrepräsentativen Umfrage. Hg. v. Antidiskriminierungsstelle des Bundes. Baden-Baden: Nomos.
Sauer, Arn (2018): LSBTIQ-Lexikon. Grundständig überarbeitete Lizenzausgabe des Glossars des Netzwerkes Trans*Inter*Sektionalität. Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, Bonn.