What does it mean to be trans?


Magazine, 06.07.2021

ERGO employee Julia Dursch is transgender. She was assigned male gender at birth, but she always felt that she was a woman. In an interview, she tells us about her journey to find her own gender identity, and why openness and freedom are so important to her.

Julia Dursch, ERGO Group

Ms. Dursch, could you explain at the outset what the word trans actually means?

Julia Dursch: Trans people are people whose gender identity does not match the sex assigned to them at birth. As a result, they cannot or can only partially identify with the sex that was entered on their birth certificate at birth – usually due to their external physi-cal characteristics. And trans is the adjective used to describe this.

How did you realise that you were a woman and not a man?

I'd say that I've always known. I even had this feeling at nursery school. But I didn't deal with it for some time and essentially suppressed it. If you like, I tucked away my gender identity and my sexual orientation right at the back of a drawer. However, over the years, the feeling continued to evolve and I noticed that I didn’t feel good about this situation. Because I was not being myself. 

And then, it finally got to the point where you didn’t want to go on in this way?

Exactly. I said to myself that things can’t go on like this. I have to deal with this and find myself. I will take my life in my hands and help myself to find inner happiness, even if it won’t be easy. Taking this step changed many things and I feel much freer now. Freedom is a very important feeling in this context. I have never hidden myself away – after all, who asks you if you are a man or a woman? 

But there is a big difference between being silent about an important part of your own identity and avoiding everything related to it – or whether you can deal with this part openly and share the real you with the world. The question really is: who am I? That is a deep question and finding that out was a really long process during which I had to do a lot of thinking.

When and how did you ‘come out’? 

I came out at the age of 24. I started my studies as a male person, but then came out during my Masters degree in the USA. It actually went very smoothly. My immediate environment in the USA and the university over there gave me a feeling of security. Over in the States, there was a great sense of openness to LGBTQ+ and they even had gender-neutral toilets that I used. For me, coming out was the start of a new life. The positive response from my environment helped me a lot and I wish that everyone could experience this happiness. Unfortunately, I also know that many LGBTQ+ people are initially confronted with rejection, which is why openness and listening are so important. After all, coming out takes a lot of courage.

What were the reactions like in specific terms?

My circle of friends reacted very positively to me coming out. I told them on my birthday and everyone accepted it immediately. I told my family on Skype – in a very emotional conversation. They took it well too, which was very liberating for me. From this point on, I could be more open to other people, dress however I wanted to, and just be myself. But then the question about what name and pronoun I would like to use also needed to be addressed.

The title and pronouns used by trans people are another issue. What is the best way to solve this?

On social networks, many trans people, as well as people from the LGBTQ+ community, generally write the pronouns with which they wish to be addressed after their names. Thus, in German, English and other languages, people might choose the equivalent of he, she or they - or no pronouns at all. Due to the lack of an equivalent to the English “they” in the standard German language some even use “they” in German as well. And then when you meet the person face to face, you can simply say the pronoun with their name. That can make a big difference. Dealing with pronouns and the diversity of identities thus becomes normalised. However, if only trans people do this, it is, of course, a marker that these people are trans, something that, in turn, can lead to hostility or discrimination. This could be prevented if everyone did this – even people who are not trans.

Trans people often have to deal with a lot of misunderstanding. Have you also experienced discrimination?

The trans issue is very remote for many people. Up to now, no one has confronted me directly or become violent. I have been taking female hormones for several years and have already taken the first steps in my transition. This means that most people take me for a woman and my external appearance usually does not raise issues with other people. This makes it much easier for me – but it is a privilege that I am aware of. I am white, I have a German-sounding name, I fit into the binary scheme of male and female, have a permanent job, have access to medical care for my transition, and have an environment that supports me. 

There are many trans people who do not have these privileges – and they have different experiences to me, often associated with considerably greater discrimination. But, in general, it is important to make people aware and explain that it is very damaging to be denied your own gender or if people use the wrong pronouns. This can be clarified in a quiet conversation if the other person is open to this. 

Do people sometimes not know exactly how to deal with you? How do you respond to this?

Some people are confused when they see my identity card and don't know how to deal with it. Some people find it hard when reality does not match their expectations. Personally, I am relatively relaxed about this. For instance, I also talk to people in my working environment about my change of first name and status and I am happy to answer questions. However, I do think that people should always consider what it is they are asking. We need to make sure that we treat each other with respect, that we show an interest in other people, and also accept a “No, I’d rather not comment on that”.

How important is it to you that your employer ERGO supports and advances diversity within the company?

It is very important to me that ERGO shows that we are an open company and stand by our employees. No person should fear that they could be disadvantaged because of their own gender identity, sexual orientation or other aspects of their identity. This sends out a clear signal that people can open up, stand up for themselves, and support each other. You can also see this in the many networks set up at ERGO, including pride@ergo. Work is a big part of life: feeling comfortable and safe there gives me a good feeling.

The interview was conducted by Benjamin Esche.

 

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