Transgender terminology in German

I was asked to answer a few questions about transgender terminology in German, so I thought I might as well post it on my blog as well:

1) Do you remember the first time you had heard of a transgender person? About when was this? How were they described? What terms were used? Would you consider this a negative or positive?

I am not sure when was the first time I heard of a transgender person. I remember watching a documentary about a couple of a cis man and a trans woman, where the cis partner said that he sees her as a woman and that I couldn’t really believe him.

The documentary had a positive view of the trans person as far as I can tell and remember, but I had a (pre-formed) negative view.

2) What are typical terms you have heard in your community to describe “transgender” recently? (German/English)

The English word „transgender“ is considered an umbrella term. In German this has at least four distinct meanings:

  1. Umbrella term (used by people who mostly follow English language discourses about trans)
  2. A person who is only concerned about social transition, not physical transition (used mostly by people with old-school respectability politics to distance themselves)
  3. A person who only lives part time as „the opposite“ gender of the ones they were assigned, usually only socially (old-school, used mostly for AMABs, the switching is usually between the socially recognized binary genders)
  4. A person who lives „beyond gender“ (used mostly for afab enbies, but not that much anymore)

In general this word is not used much anymore, mostly because it has such a blurred meaning.

Other words that are used are

  • „transsexuell“ (transsexual) this word is used some times in the medical community, also in its form „Transsexualismus“ (transsexualism). Also it is used by people with old-school respectability politics to make it clear that they have a physical problem and not a mental one, and that their primary concern is physical transition and not social transition.
    This word is rejected by other parts of the trans community because it has the word part „sexuell“ in it, which in German usually refers to sexuality, not sex. So it evokes ideas of „transsexuality is the extreme form of homosexuality“ or transsexual people transition for sexual gratification, along with images that trans people are usually sex workers (with the corollary that they are usually trans feminine).
  • „transident“ (trans-identified) this was developed to avoid the confusion with sexuality of the word „transsexuell“, clarifying that it is about (gender) identity, not sexuality. For reasons unknown to me, it has been largely adopted by the medical community (if they want to appear progressive) and by factions of the trans community.  I don’t consider it very helpful, because there are many identities, not just gender, and the word does not clarify which identity it is referring to. Other parts of the trans reject it because it refers to identity, which is often (especially in feminist circles) considered as referring to only gender roles.
  • „trans*“ this was tried to establish as an umbrella term, but more or less failed. People who describe themselves as transsexual see it as referring only to identity and not body. For some reason it is mostly used to describe afab enbies.
  • „trans“, following the English language discourse why the asterisk is not good.
  • „transgeschlechtlich“, which would be a literal translation of either transgender or transsexual since Geschlecht in German means both sex as well as gender. So it can be used to avoid the distinction between sex and gender and make clear that it can be used for both. Many people who call themselves transsexual see this term as meaning „beyond gender/sex“, something like non-binary, and thus feel their own binary genders not respected when this term is used for them. See also Helena’s comment under this article for this term.

3) Are there any additional popular terms that you have heard people use besides transgender? Please list the most popular ones you know of. (For ex: non-binary, genderqueer, agender, etc.)

  • „Menschen mit geschlechtlicher Fehlzuweisungserfahrung“ (people with gender misassignment experience), basically to avoid using any words that contain trans, in a hope to avoid the connected stigma.
  • „Frauen mit vermännlichten Körpermerkmalen“ (women with masculinized physical attributes), used by people with old-school respectability politics , to stress that their true gender is the one they see themselves as. I have not seen a comparable word for transmasculine people, this type of politics is strongly transfeminine dominated.
  • „weder*noch*“ (neither*nor*), basically agender
  • „nicht-binär“ (non-binary), basically a translation of non-binary.
  • „genderfluid“, same as in English, mostly used for people whose gender presentation (and sometimes identification) varies.
  • „Transfrau“ / „Transmann“ (trans woman / trans man). The distinction between „trans woman“ / „trans man“ and „transwoman“ / „transman“ is lost in German and some people reject the terms for similar reasons the terms „transwoman“ / „transmen“ are rejected in the English language trans community.
  • „Transmensch“, „Transperson“ (trans person)
  • „tt(i)“ (short for transgender, transsexual (intersex)): an attempt to form an umbrella term while at the same time to accomodate the need for the transsexual community to be named separately. Mostly used in souther Germany.
  • NIBD (neurointersexual body disorder?) and its predecessors BdBds (?, body dysphoria, body discreprancy disorder?) and HBS (Harry Benjamin Syndrome), different ways to describe that trans is a physical and not a mental issue.

4) Do you find that terms for transgender identities are changing/evolving in your community? (German, specifically) How have they evolved, if you have seen this?

There seems to be a split in the community, which probably goes with the surrounding society the trans people live in. People who live in more conservative areas largely form binary, body oriented gender identities, often also connected with rather conforming gender presentations. People who live in more progressive areas or in progressive (for example leftist and/or queerfeminist) subcultures often have more fluid gender identities, choose only few physical transition steps and are more critical of gender roles.

The second group seems to become larger, however that might also be my personal bias driven by the communities I predominantly move in.

There has been a move from trans* to trans, and the term tt(i) has been newly introduced. The term transident is used less now. Also among the „transsexuell“ faction, neurosicence has become more important and thus terms that try to center that, like NIBD.

5) What do you find most confusing about the language used in the transgender community? Is there anything you wish either English/German had to compensate for something lost or not translated right?

There are a lot of terms floating around, and for basically any term you find a group of people who will be offended by it. These different terms reflect the different strategies trans people use to improve their situation, especially concerning social stigma.

The German language discussion about these issues seems to be five to ten years behind the English language discussion and misses some important terms and concepts, for example „respectability politics“. There is a continuous movement back and forth of trying to create an umbrella term that then will be used mostly by only a subgroup and then will be rejected by others because of its connection to that subgroup.

Those factions that are following a lot of English language discussions and/or are academics use terms that are often not really accessible to others, even if they are translated. English language terms have the tendency to sound high-brow when converted to German and/or get very different meanings when used within academia, for example most of the queer theory terms.

For some terms, the English name is used because a German one is missing, like „deadnaming“ and „misgendering“.

6) How do non-binary individuals navigate the gendered language of German? If you are not non-binary, what have you observed?

German has quite a few gender markers besides pronouns, for example most professions include a gender marker in their names. Within feminism different strategies have been developed to work around that, for example the Gender Gap. They are often used to not assign binary genders to non-binary people in language.

7) How have you seen people use pronouns (or lack, thereof). If you identify as such (non-binary, etc.) what pronouns do you use? How easy/hard is it to navigate pronoun systems in German?

There are no more or less recognized non-gendered pronouns in German. Some non-binaries ask to not use pronouns at all, and instead use their names. Often they choose very short names to make that easier. Others ask to use whatever pronouns or to switch. Theoretically there are some non-gendered pronouns available, but they are so little known that hardly anybody uses them.

8) Is there language used by the mainstream media (newspapers, tv, online, etc), or majority of people to describe transgender identities, that makes you upset? (German media specifically) If so, do you see any trans representatives working with/against the media to fix this at all?

Quite a few of such „fails“ happen often, like „Geschlechtsumwandlung“ (sex change) or „als Mann geboren“ (born a man). Also there is a lot of deadnaming or misgendering. Different organizations work against that and even publish media guides. Transinterqueer in Berlin does a lot in that regard. However, few media look up such guides before publishing things.

9) Do you see a generational difference with the words used to describe transgender people in your community, or navigating pronouns? If so, could you mention what those differences seem most often to be?

Younger people are usually more open to non-binary gender identities and thus also sometimes use ways to get around pronouns. Older people more often use essentialist descriptions and terms for their gender experience.

10) Do you see an ethnic difference of words or terms used to describe transgender people, or pronouns used? This may be information you have gathered on people you have met with/are friends with, or personal observations. For example, the observation of Native Americans currently using “two-spirit”.

I  don’t of know any specific words that ethnic minorities use in Germany.

What I do observe, however is, that people living in conservative areas use different language and different descriptions of their genders than people living in progressive areas or moving in the queer feminist subculture, as described in my answer to question four.

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2 Antworten zu Transgender terminology in German

  1. Helena schreibt:

    There’s also the rarely used term „transgeschlechtlich“, a literal translation of „transgender“. In German, „gender“ and „sex“ are not distinguished (you can translate „gender identity“ as „Geschlechtsidentität“ and „assigned gender“ as „Zuweisungsgeschlecht“, though), and „Geschlecht“ covers both, so this term obviates the problem of the misleading „-sexual“ in „transsexual“, and the distinction between „transsexual“ and „transgender“. Moreover, unlike „transgender“ and „trans“, „transgeschlechtlich“ can easily be used as an attributive adjective and is also easier to pronounce for German speakers who know little English.

    There are various lexical and terminological gaps in German, but one of the most acutely felt may be „assigned female/male at birth“. One interesting coinage I’ve recently seen is „androtypisch“/“gynotypisch“, although it may not be fully synonymous (can early transitioners like Kim Petras be described as „androtypisch“?).

  2. tina201301 schreibt:

    I have added „transgeschlechtlich“, thanks for the reminder. It’s actually the word I use the most, so it’s kind of funny that I forgot it.
    As for assigned female/male at birth, I usually use „weiblich/männlich zugewiesen“ or, if I want to be more precise „ursprünglich weiblich/männlich zugewiesen“.
    Androtypisch/gynotypisch sound weird to me, it feels more like some kind of comment about passing, maybe specific to primary and/or secondary sex markers.

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