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Diversity Day: "It is a human right to be able to refer to oneself in a positive way"

2021-05-17 What is the difference between the German terms "intersexuell" and "intergeschlechtlich"? What pronouns are there for people with a non-binary gender identity? Charlotte Wunn, first chairperson of the Bundesverband Intergeschlechtliche Menschen e.V., in an interview.

Since this year, the association is called "Intergeschlechtliche Menschen e.V." and no longer "Intersexuelle Menschen e.V." What is the difference between the two terms and how are they used correctly?
Both terms refer to the same thing: people whose physical sex characteristics do not fit into the medical norm of male and female. Intersexuell is the older term, which has increasingly appeared in books since the 70s. Intersexualität in German, however, moves the term very close to sexual orientation and thus to the question: Who do we desire sexually? But that is not what intersexuality is about. In the past, this has often led to misunderstandings. That is why the term Intergeschlechtlichkeit emerged from the human rights-based inter* movement.
So the politically correct term would be Intergeschlechtlichkeit?
Exactly. Another term from the human rights movement is "Mensch mit Variationen der Geschlechtsmerkmale" or, if you want to put it in more medical terms, "Variante der Geschlechtsentwicklung" would be possible. These terms have a rather low potential to be taken as offensive or hurtful.
Let's stay with language: In English, the pronouns "they/them" exist as an option for people who do not identify with either the feminine or masculine pronouns. In German, there are repeated attempts to establish an equivalent. Which pronouns do intersex people use and where is there a need for change in the German language?
Intersex is not only a question of gender identity, but also of physicality. That is why there are many intersex people who feel comfortable with the attributions male and female and also use the corresponding pronouns. The people who identify as non-binary often choose a pronoun themselves, such as "xier". I also know intersex people who use the pronoun "it" for themselves or always want to be addressed by their name instead of a pronoun. There is no universal solution. However, I find the argument that a neo-pronoun must first become established before it enters the Duden-dictionary difficult. There would have to be a selection that is publicly available so that people can choose which pronoun they want to use. It is a human right to be able to refer to oneself in a positive way.
With what concerns do people turn to Intergeschlechtliche Menschen e.V.?
Intergeschlechtliche Menschen e.V. is the supporting association of several self-help groups, each of which is also aimed at different groups of people. There are exchange opportunities for parents of intersex children who are wondering, for example, how they can communicate the topic of intersex to their child and how they can empower them. Or practical questions like: How do I tell my neighbours and friends that my child is intersex? But also adult intersex people come to us with questions. Often it is the desire to come into contact with other people who are like oneself. A conversation starts very differently if you don't have to explain first, but have a common basis. We also offer the possibility of peer counselling, where intersex people seeking advice or relatives of an intersex child are advised by intersex people and relatives of intersex children. The association itself also receives many enquiries from journalists or from cities and municipalities that would like information on civil status law or gender-appropriate toilets. We also campaign for good medical care close to home. People often have to travel long distances to the nearest big city to find doctors who know their way around.
The topic of medical care and intersexuality is also always in the public eye. Only recently, the Bundestag announced that gender reassignment surgery on intersex children is prohibited. Is this an achievement or a step backwards?
It is very important that this law exists. Before, there was no precise legal regulation on surgeries of this kind. Now it is the case that surgeries are still permitted if they demonstrably contribute to the child's well-being. This is decided by a commission of several people and in the end again by the court. In my opinion, it is very important that it happens this way, because it means that the decision is no longer the responsibility of just one doctor, but an attempt is made to proceed in an interdisciplinary manner. It is also good that there is room for counselling. Many parents have social fears and out of this fear decide on a surgery as a supposedly simple solution. However, the fact that these surgeries can also have long-term consequences is quickly forgotten. These interventions do not have to take place in infancy. They are also possible in the course of life, when people can decide for themselves what should happen to their bodies.
At what age should a person be able to decide whether or not to undergo surgery?
There is no fixed age limit in the new law. The child's capacity to consent is not checked again separately before an operation, and there is also no regulation that a consultation by an independent, non-medical authority must take place beforehand. This is one of the weaknesses of the current law. At the same time, it is of course very difficult to set a rigid age limit. Some children know very early what they want and how they imagine their life.
In which areas is there still a need for change to minimise the risk of gender discrimination? 
For people with a non-binary gender identity, it is always discriminatory when there are only two options for gender on forms. Since 2018, that is no longer a reality in Germany in purely legal terms; there are four options: male, female, diverse and no gender indication. The next question would be: Why does gender need to be asked at all? If it is not absolutely necessary for an organisation, then one should rather refrain from it. In addition, the option of a gender-neutral form of address is often missing. In German it is so simple: "Guten Tag" followed by first and last name would be a good variant, for example. Sometimes, however, the potential for discrimination is more subtle, simply because our society as a whole is still not very sensitive in many cases. It may be that the equal opportunities officers in companies still think in terms of the binary gender system and do not even have intersex on their radar. Of course, an intersex person will think twice before coming out at work.
What measures should a company or an institution like a university take to create an environment in which all people can feel comfortable, regardless of their gender?
It would be important to create internal possibilities within the company or university on how changes of personal status or name can be carried out unbureaucratically. The process between the decision to bear a different name and the actual name change in official documents can take a very long time. If the old name is still on the diploma because the university requires an official document for it, it is frustrating. Then, of course, the counselling services should be designed accordingly for all people and should also be informed about intersexuality. If an intersex student has problems, but first has to explain to the counselling centre what intersex is in the first place, this takes a lot of energy that may not be available at the time. University groups that address sexual and gender diversity and a corresponding offer in university libraries are also important to create a pleasant environment. 

The interview was conducted by Gina La Mela.