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Transgender parliamentarian: 'We deserve respect'

Katarzyna Domagala-Pereira
March 31, 2023

"Rather than remaining trapped in the role of the victim, we can act in society and actively change things," says transgender German parliamentarian Nyke Slawik in an interview with DW.

Parliamentarian Nyke Slawik speaks in the German Bundestag
Green party parliamentarian Nyke Slawik in the German Bundestag Image: Political-Moments/IMAGO

DW: Ms. Slawik, you and your colleague Tessa Ganserer have written history: you are the first transgender women in Germany's Bundestag parliament. Does that make you proud?

Nyke Slawik: It makes me happy for all queer people in Germany, above all for all transgender people, because they have never had this type of representation before. When I was young, I didn't have any role models in the media or in politics. That was something that I really could have used, to give me the feeling that we are a normal part of society and that we are everywhere. We can also act in this society, actively change something, and not just remain trapped in this victim role. It is an important step for us and our rights.

Your transgender identity is only one part of you, but one that you are often asked about. You deal with other issues in the Bundestag: transportation policy, modern social policy, climate protection. Is your transgender identity a blessing or a curse?

For me, it was always important to be open about my story and my identity because I know that people feel empowered by it, that it gives them power and that they feel seen. 

You and Tessa Ganserer have also experienced verbal attacks in the Bundestag, mostly from AfD [Alternative for Germany] representatives. You must have pretty thick skin…

You have to have thick skin as a politician because you have to deal with a lot of criticism, and some of that is good and right in a democracy. But many attacks cross the line, are trans-hostile. I am often attacked online and of course some of that sticks, but I do not want to give people the satisfaction of intimidating me and I continue to work toward a society in which no one has to hide.

Parliamentarian Tessa Ganserer speaking at a Green party campaign event in Nuremberg
Green party parliamentarian Tessa Ganserer (above) and Nyke Slawik are the only two transgender politicians in the BundestagImage: Dwi Anoraganingrum/Geisler/picture alliance

You came out at 17. When did you know you did not identify with the male sex?

It was always clear to me. Even as a child I felt it quite strongly. There was a strong desire by those around me to have me fulfill male roles. I remember quite well how I was dragged to soccer and all the hobbies that a supposed boy was expected to have. None of that fit me. And when I hit puberty I had a very strong physical sense that my body was developing in a direction that I could not begin to identify with.    

After you realized that for yourself who did you tell first? Your parents? Friends?

Back then I let a friend know first but unfortunately she was not supportive of me. She told me I would never be a woman. We broke off contact. My parents had a hard time dealing with it in the first weeks and months but then they supported me; my family and my school, too

Meet Germany's first trans women joining parliament

Your father is from Poland, from a conservative Catholic family. How did he react?

When I told him about it he asked me: "Should I hit you now, or what?" He wasn't serious. He was overwhelmed but he soon began dealing with the situation facing transgender people and he, too, started supporting me, which surprised me. I was very scared at the time.

Polish politician and leader of the Law and Justice party (PiS), Jaroslaw Kaczynski, often makes fun of transgender people, or claims transgender identity is a Western fad. How would you counter that?

No matter whether male or female, whether gay, lesbian or transgender — we are part of society. Transgender people carry their identity with them from birth or from early childhood. And the West did not invent transgender identity. Lesbian, gay, bi or trans people are everywhere across the world and they always have been.

Would you tell him that transgender people often undergo an agonizing process that no one would take upon themselves voluntarily?

Transgender people suffer insults online or on the street every day, or get threatening letters. It has been shown that transgender people have a far higher risk of losing their jobs, doing worse in their career or even ending up homeless. Being transgender does not bring advantages, rather the opposite — it entails lots of challenges. It's also still not easy for those who transition to get medical treatment, access to hormones or possible surgery.

Nyke Slawik in Cologne
Nyke Slawik at a 2021 Green party campaign event in CologneImage: Christoph Hardt/Geisler/picture alliance

Germany's ruling coalition wants to get rid of the "transsexual law" from 1980 and replace it with self-determination legislation. When will it become law?

Many parts of Germany's transsexual law are unconstitutional. Until just a few years ago it required people who wanted to change their name or marital status to divorce. There were also forced sterilizations. The Federal Constitutional Court declared that unconstitutional.

Even though the World Health Organization (WHO) says trans identity is not a psychological disorder the German state still forces transgender people to undergo long therapy sessions and requires two independent psychologists to attest that a trans identity is present. We want to change that so that those affected can submit an application themselves. The law is set to go through the Bundestag this year.

The self-determination law would affect name and civil status changes but is also supposed to make medical transitioning easier. How?

We want to make gender reassignment surgery a legal entitlement when it comes to service costs. Transgender people suffer psychologically when they have no access to medical services and have to keep writing their insurance companies and wait for months or years for services.  

Seven years after you transitioned you wrote: "Before, I used to blame myself for not fitting into this world and did everything possible to attract as little attention as possible. Things are different today. I am proud to be who I am and I would still give everything to ensure that this is no longer a social battle but rather the most natural thing in the world." A moving statement…

I want to be a door opener. We are more than 700 parliamentarians in the German Bundestag, among us, two transgender women. In the world of gender diversity there are far more. There are intersex people who do not fit into a world that only thinks in terms of male-female. There are transgender men and many people who do not identify with the categories male-female.

What can one do to get society to be more open and tolerant of minorities?

Representation is really important. There are probably many people who may not have contact with transgender people and have prejudices or fears. And I think when they see us and see that we are totally normal people, this fear can be taken away.

Even if we are a small part of society we deserve the right to be acknowledged and respected, That goes for other minorities too, whether that is in the area of religion or if it has to do with people with migrant backgrounds: We all have the right to not be attacked and to live our lives as freely and as self-determined as possible.

This interview was conducted by Katarzyna Domagala-Pereira and was originally published in German.

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