Trans activists in Germany want the “archaic” gender-recognition law to be reformed so that legal gender can be changed by a process of self-declaration.
The current process, in place for 40 years, sees trans people in Germany forced into a lengthy, expensive and bureaucratic process to change their legal gender and name, with campaigners saying reform is long overdue.
Trans activist Felicia Rolletschke, 26, began changing her legal name and gender in 2015 – the process took three years in total and cost her several thousand euros.
“It really is such a hassle and inconvenience to change your legal name and gender,” Rolletschke told Deutsche Welle.
“In late 2015, before I even came out properly, I found a really good therapist,” Rolletschke said. “Then we agreed I should begin the paperwork for the court in order to change my name, even before I began hormone therapy and surgery. But in order to get that process started, I needed to pay €1,600 ($1,955).
“It shouldn’t be a requirement to have enough money lying around in order to change your legal name.”
After an initial hearing in front of a judge, Rolletschke then had to pay for two court-appointed psychologists to assess her.
“My two assessments each took two hours, four hours in total. They are psychological assessments where they talk about your entire life story. They ask about sexual experiences, sexual orientation, fetishes, family structures. They covered many topics that were not relevant to gender,” she said.
“They judged how well my makeup was applied. They also noted that I crossed my legs when I sat down,” she said. “And they judged my sexual orientation. For example, if you are a trans+ woman and you are interested in men exclusively, that means bonus points.”
“It felt like they came from a place of pathologisation. They seem to believe that being trans is a mental illness.”
Germany’s ‘transsexual law’
Reform of Germany’s so-called “transsexual law” is on the table, with two new bills currently before the German parliament that would introduce a new self-declaration law, or Selbstbestimmungsgesetz.
The latest bill was introduced by the Greens in June 2020, and would see a simple system of self-declaration replace the current process, meaning “all people could submit a declaration on the indication of gender and the use of their first name at a registry office”. Self-declaration would remove the requirement for trans people to go through psychological assessment before changing their name or gender.
A second, similar bill was introduced by the Free Democratic Party. Both bills would grant self-declaration to people aged 14 and over, and both were discussed in a special hearing of the German parliament in November at which a panel of experts mostly agreed – with the exception of one doctor – on the need for reform.
German law on gender recognition has been updated before – in 2017, lawmakers approved plans to introduce a third gender option on official documents. This followed a change in 2011, before which trans people were required to be “permanently infertile” and to have “undergone surgery which has changed his or her external sexual characteristics and which has resulted in clearly approaching the person’s appearance to that of the other gender” to be legally recognised in Germany.
Introducing gender self-declaration would bring Germany into line with many other European countries, including Malta, Denmark, Belgium, Luxembourg, Ireland, Iceland, Sweden, Norway and Portugal, which have, since a 2015 Council of Europe ruling, brought in their own versions of legal gender recognition based on self-determination.