MYSTORY with …
64 Years, Berlin
“It has always been important to me
to live with children, to be linked to
the future through children…”
Published: March 2023
The first time I had sex with a man, it was still forbidden – it happened in what was then West Germany. Shortly after that, rumours about a newly discovered virus began to spread. Deadly. Soon it was clear that homosexual men were particularly affected. The German magazine Der Spiegel wrote about the “Schwulen-Pest,” a translation of the term Gay Plague. We had to be cautious.
Today I live in a different world. I am married to a man. And we have children, too.
This would not have been possible without fundamental changes in our laws during the last 30 years. What seems to be nothing special today was wishful dreaming or even unthinkable back then.
It has liberated me. I came out when I moved to Berlin, quite late, at the age of 35. My life would have been different if I had been clear about who I was and how I loved earlier. I had been living with a vague idea of bisexuality far too long. Today I think this was also because at that time I could not imagine how to combine my desire to have children and my love for men.
I am very grateful to all those in my life who have encouraged me on this path and made it possible. And I am happy for everyone who clearly knows early on and I understand everyone who needs time for this. The open interaction in queer networks can help and encourage people on this way. And these networks now exist in many federal agencies, including the ministries of the Federal Government.
LGBTIQ* employees still experience discrimination in the workplace far too often. Even small talk at the coffee machine can quickly lead to an unwanted outing. Often enough, not only their well-being at work, but also their professional future depends on the reactions of their superiors and colleagues. But only those who feel at ease can deliver the best results at work. Organisations, companies and administrations can actively contribute to an inclusive corporate culture. On INQA.de you can read how networks or interest groups in companies can help to improve the situation of LGBTIQ* employees at work.
Ending discrimination requires the support of those who are not affected. Through active solidarity (allyship), companies can promote diversity in the world of work. On INQA.de you find five tips on how managers and employees can work for diversity and show: We are Allies!
ROLF, Thank you very much for YourStory!
We were excited to welcome Wolfgang Link as a guest at our PROUT PERFORMER Lunch Talk on Wednesday, February 22, 2023.
Click here for the recording of the interview (German):
Wolfgang Link was appointed to the Executive Board of ProSiebenSat.1 Media SE in March 2020. He is responsible for all entertainment activities of ProSiebenSat.1 Media SE and is CEO of Seven.One Entertainment Group.
He joined the ProSiebenSat.1 Group in 2009 as Head of Entertainment at SAT.1, and was later responsible for all entertainment formats of the German station group as Senior Vice President, bringing “The Voice of Germany” to Germany, for example. From 2012 to 2016, he was Managing Director of ProSieben, became Managing Director of ProSiebenSat.1 TV Deutschland GmbH in October 2013 and took over as Chairman of the Executive Board shortly afterwards. In 2019, as co-CEO, he was responsible for merging the station brands, content, marketing and distribution operations under the umbrella of the Seven.One Entertainment Group, which will operate in 2020.
After studying communications, arts and psychology, Wolfgang Link initially worked for various musical and live productions. From 2003, as a producer and executive producer at Grundy Light Entertainment, he helped make the “Deutschland sucht den Superstar” format a success, among other things.
PROUT EMPLOYER Hogan Lovells
“The diversity of our employees is important to me – not only because of my role as Managing Partner and Diversity Sponsor, but also personally. As a company, we function best when people feel comfortable with us and have trust in our working relationship.”
Dr. Stefan Schuppert advises companies in the field of data protection and information technology. He is Managing Partner for the German offices of the international law firm Hogan Lovells and also Sponsoring Partner for Diversity in EMEA. In 2021 and 2022, he was recognized as a PROUT Executive Ally.
Hogan Lovells has been a PROUT EMPLOYER since 2017 – so it has been committed to LGBT*IQ diversity for a long time. Why is this particularly important to you?
Dr. Stefan Schuppert: As a global law firm, we have been committed to equal opportunity, appreciation and respect for many years. The diversity of our employees is important to me – not only because of my role as Managing Partner and Diversity Sponsor, but also personally. As a company, we function best when people feel comfortable with us and have trust in our working relationship. In an open working atmosphere, we can be creative and find innovative solutions for our clients. And the work is fun! It’s a positive sign for all our employees when we commit to equal treatment for all people and an appreciative, respectful working atmosphere.
In 2022, Hogan Lovells’ LGBT*IQ network, Pride+, celebrates its 5th birthday. Congratulations! What do you see as the biggest success of the network so far?
Dr. Stefan Schuppert: Thank you! We are very proud that this network has been part of our everyday life for five years. Pride+ is present and active at all our locations and provides assistance even in countries where it is not so easy to promote LGBT*IQ issues. Pride+ promotes knowledge about the LGBT*IQ community, sensitizes people to diversity issues and supports the visibility of role models. And it connects us to one another – because as “allies” we demonstrate our solidarity with our LGBT*IQ colleagues.
What advice would you give to companies that are still at the very beginning of their commitment to LGBT*IQ diversity?
Dr. Stefan Schuppert: My advice would be: just do it and keep at it, even if the seats at the first diversity events are not booked out right away. It’s important to raise awareness of the issues. Because it’s often ignorance that leads to discrimination. This is where PROUT AT WORK, as an important partner, can help to overcome uncertainties and build up knowledge.
For the acceptance of the topic, it’s also important that the “tone from the top” is visible every day. My advice is to win over important role models in the senior management team for the topic.
Ultimately, it is crucial that all employees – regardless of hierarchy – are committed to the topic of diversity and help create an open and appreciative culture.
Where do you see the challenges to LGBT*IQ diversity at Hogan Lovells in the coming years?
Dr. Stefan Schuppert: Especially after the pandemic and in times of many very present crisis situations, it is important to sensitize employees again to LGBT*IQ and other diversity topics. Here we would like to create as many opportunities and incentives as possible. We offer exciting lunch talks with external and internal speakers, workshops, team events and much more. Because it is often ignorance that leads to insecurity, this is where we can provide our employees with concrete support. For example, with our guideline for gender-sensitive language, which we have been using for our general internal and external communications since the beginning of the year. We attach great importance to offering everyone in our office an open working environment in which they can be themselves, every day.
Which joint initiatives on LGBT*IQ diversity do you particularly remember, and which projects are you looking forward to in the coming period?
Dr. Stefan Schuppert: I remember many great joint initiatives that we have carried out with PROUT AT WORK in the past five years. For example, our inspiring networking and awareness workshops, or the ToGathering event on inclusive language with clients and the PROUT AT WORK dinner with very interesting keynote speakers. We can’t do enough to further the visibility of the LGBT*IQ community, so I’m looking forward to many more exciting projects in our cooperation.
Dear Dr. Stefan Schuppert, thank you very much for the interview!
PROUT EMPLOYER ERGO
“I believe that in addition to the pure visibility that we achieve with pride networks, for example, other things are also important. We need to point out unconscious bias. We need gender inclusive language. ”
Markus Bader is 45 years old and lives with his partner in Hamburg. After studying business informatics, he joined Hamburg Mannheimer Versicherung, part of the ERGO Group, as IT coordinator in 2002. After 3 years he was able to take over a first management position as group leader in this area. In 2013 he had the opportunity to join a department manager position in ITERGO, the IT service provider of the ERGO Group. In 2018, he left IT with a step into business as division manager for Life Classic Operations.
As a leader at ERGO, what does it mean for you to advocate for more LGBT*IQ diversity and visibility?
Markus Bader: As a gay and outed executive, I think it’s important to advocate for more visibility and I’m glad that we’ve also had a pride network for a little over 2 years now and that I can get involved there. We know that there are still many LGBT*IQ people who decide against coming out in a professional context because they fear disadvantages. We need role models who make it clear that your choice of job and your career goals are not dependent on your sexual orientation.
What experiences in your career so far have shaped you in terms of LGBT*IQ?
Markus Bader: In fact, in the first (un-outed) years of my career, I had the experience that derogatory remarks were made about outed colleagues regarding their sexual orientation. Not always and often, but it happened. That definitely shaped me for the years to come. I didn’t feel ready to expose myself to that at the time. The confidence to come out to colleagues didn’t develop until a few years later. However, I never experienced rejection or disadvantages and to this day I am happy and grateful that I can be open with my sexuality with my employer. I was therefore all the more pleased that, in addition to the many other diversity issues, the topic of LGBT*IQ has also become an institution at ERGO with the Pride network.
You are committed to LGBT*IQ diversity at ERGO, to what extent do you receive support from your colleagues?
From my immediate colleagues, I feel the normality and matter-of-factness that my life model is met with is actually the strongest support. Today, I never have the feeling that someone avoids asking me how my summer vacation with my partner was, for example, just to avoid bringing up the subject. On the contrary – I experience just as much interest in my life and partnership as I do with others.
pride@ergo was founded by committed colleagues.
The Diversity Management Team has provided support from network building to the present day, and the godmother of our network is our Chief Human Resources Officer. This is an important contribution on the part of the employer and also shows me that the topic is important and is seen.
You were part of the PROUT Executives list in 2021 and 2022, congratulations again! What did that mean for you and how did you perceive the reactions?
Markus Bader: I was very happy about the positions on the Prout Executives list. For me personally, it was also an exciting process – I’m not very active on my social media channels, or rather a consumer than a creator. Sharing the list position on LinkedIn, among other places, was another new experience for me – and I received positive feedback without exception afterwards – from previously unknown people, from people I had lost sight of, but also from my immediate environment.
What specific actions for more LGBT*IQ diversity are you concerned about right now?
Markus Bader: I believe that in addition to the pure visibility that we achieve with pride networks, for example, other things are also important. We need to point out unconscious bias. We need gender-inclusive language. We have already revised the language and image of our brand presence at ERGO. This will certainly not happen overnight, but we have made a start, and ERGO must continue to develop.
Dear Markus Bader, thank you very much for the interview!
MYSTORY with …
31 Years, Berlin
“I forgot that I could afford flexibility,
experimentations and imperfections in my path;
that I could be living in intersections, in multitudes. …”
Published: December 2022
Quite recently, a friend of mine asked me over text: “Are you non-binary?”.
I laughed in front of my phone at first because to me, it was just the most obvious thing. My pronouns were displayed everywhere, from Instagram to Linked In, I would occasionally post the non-binary meme on Instagram, have my cute “they/them” in my work signature even; overally I live a pretty open life.
I also knew that this person didn’t mean any harm, the question came from a genuine place of interest and care. Yet, it remained hilarious to me because I realised one thing: I simply forgot to come out to her and despite all the signs, she actually wasn’t sure, because to her, I appeared to be a man.
I presented like a man, therefore I was one, right? I forgot that it was important to notify people of any “updates” on your gender, sexuality, religion, etc.
I got so used to displaying my identity that I eventually obliviated the fact that it needed updates once in a while and that it wasn’t in fact, so obvious. People had known me for years as Safir, Algerian, queer, gay, ex-Muslim, cisgender, able-bodied, immigrant, low-income, etc. Because it took me so many years to come to terms with how different I was going to be from everyone else in the world, I unconsciously “fixed” my identity the way some get fixed-term contracts.
I forgot that I could afford flexibility, experimentations and imperfections in my path; that I could be living in intersections, in multitudes.
There was no prerequisite for me to reduce who I was to fit any pre-created boxes.
As a result, my answer to the text was “Yes, I am. Let’s talk about it this weekend :)”. Following this exchange, I had to think about where I was at, as a person. Was I actually Algerian? Well, of course I was, but I had also figured out by now that I identified much better with my Amazigh and African roots overall than the regular national one.
Was I queer? This was pretty certain as well. Gay? Well this needed a bit of an update actually. I first came out as bisexual when I was 18 but people back then always told me I was gay so I accepted it as my fate without questioning it. Over 10 years later, I have to be clear about it: I am not gay. I am indeed closer to omnisexuality than to anything else but also accept to be called pansexual.
What about ex-Muslim? Tough one. I negated this part of me for such a long time because it felt like the part of me society hated the most (even more than my queerness, can you believe?). I can admit now that it was part of a very needed survival strategy to distance myself from how we were perceived worldwide. I was hoping it could offer me the chance to be treated better globally. In all honesty, years have taught me that no matter how far I stood from Muslim culture (from my culture) I would always and forever suffer from islamophobia so I could as well just embrace not only said heritage but also my faith. I also now try to approach Islam from an adult, non-judgmental perspective and I have to make a confession: there is some much beauty and peace in it.
Cisgender Safir? Well, this was a blatant lie. I always knew I didn’t fall under the binary-spectrum but lied to myself and to everyone else as it was too difficult to admit that I was going to “transgress” the common idea of what gender is, that most people wouldn’t ever understand it. It was such a liberating and joyful experience to talk to one of my best friends about it the first time. Their eyes opened and broadened with an incredible warmth. I told them gender to me was a construct I struggled to understand, that I neither felt like a man, nor like a woman; that I neither felt masculine, nor feminine; that I wasn’t feeling like a 50/50 but rather like none at all. While I understand how important gender is for some and respect it; I do not want gender to define me, I feel far from it, like it is of no importance to me. Today, I would call myself agender: a person who does actually not feel like they have a gender. My best friend received the news with a smile, a hug and a simple question: “Will you go by any specific pronoun from now on?”.
What about my non-disabled body? Up to now, I still agree with that statement but who knows what is going to happen in the future? I could write further about all the other sides of my identity, but I believe that by now, you get the image. Updates to me are necessary. Not only for others but mostly for yourself. As I regularly check myself up on how I feel within, I get to have a deeper understanding of who I am as an individual and as a part of my communities. There is so much power in knowledge.
Coming out for me was never (and won’t ever be) linear.
It still happens everyday: on Mondays about gender, on Wednesdays about sexuality. Most importantly, within me it changes every morning. Ever so slightly but with fluidity. Is my experience unique? Probably not. Is my experience universal, absolutely not! So should we expect anybody to live their experiences the same way we do? According to the Western ideology, it appears that everyone should come out.
Trust me, our sole experiences should never be made rules. Coming out is not obligatory. You can also live a beautiful, healthy and positive life without having to go through such intense momenta. Some of us won’t ever come out, and we shouldn’t police them. The way we embrace and empower ourselves, we should embrace and empower them in their own experiences as well.
Safir, Thank you very much for YourStory!
MYSTORY with …
53 Years, Einbeck
“My journey began with an end and a beginning, and this end made my truly new beginning as a non-binary person possible in the end. …”
Published: November 2022
A new beginning.
On March 6, 2020, the most unusual journey of my life so far began. It began with an end and a beginning, and this end made my truly new beginning as a non-binary person possible in the end. On that day, the love of my life ended with the death of my relationship person. I was infinitely grateful for the 23 years that I was allowed to spend with her, despite all prophecies of doom.
A love that seemed so unusual even to us lovers in the beginning that we asked ourselves at the time, “Can our relationship really work and go well?” We decided to take the risk. My great love was and remained until her death, married to her husband and had three children, who at the beginning of our relationship, were between 6 and 13 years old. She was 12 years older than me. We lived an unusual, publicly known, patchwork rainbow family relationship for 23 years. I miss her to this day.
Today, I am actually grateful for that void her absence has left in my life. I am also thankful that the Corona Lockdown that started shortly after her funeral turned me back on myself. With the absence of external distractions, I was able to use this time for inner gathering and my refocusing. On many lonely evenings on my balcony, I began to search for answers to life questions and to define new goals.
“Where should my path lead now?”
“How do I want to live?”
“What are my goals?”
I found more questions than answers at that time. I discovered within myself dungeons and locked doors, dark caves and buried shafts. What I lacked was light. The deeper I went, the less hope I had of finding answers on my own that could shed light on the darkness. I admitted to myself that I couldn’t answer all the questions on my own, and I enlisted professional outside travel assistance in the form of coaching.
It quickly became apparent that I had been asking myself the right questions at the wrong time. By the end of 2020, I was still far too caught up in the social norms and conventions of heteronormativity around me and in my own inner beliefs. These thoughts and conventions were blocking my path to answers.
I wanted, no I had to try something new, like when I was on vacation in Canada. Every day at that time I had opted for the classic English breakfast. The Canadian breakfast of French toast (Poor Knights), crispy bacon and maple syrup seemed too absurd a combination. Bacon and maple syrup?! A white bread soaked with egg, instead of egg on the white bread and bacon extra on top. I could not imagine this combination of sweet and salty as delicious. One morning, this meal looked so delicious at the neighboring table that I dared to order and try it too. It was a revelation and a symbiosis of opposites that, combined like this, gave me a completely new, incredible taste experience. For this experience, it was necessary to ignore old ideas and concepts (like taste experiences).
My experiential process right before my non-binary coming out was very similar, but much more intimate. This process, too, was about reconciling opposites and exploring new territory. The phrases that went through my mind before making these decisions were, on the one hand, “Do I really dare?”. What happens if it’s an absurd experience?” and on the other, “I’m so excited! I can’t wait!” I, (then still Judith – gender: female; gender identity: “butch”; sexual orientation: lesbian), boldly decided to try something completely new and unfamiliar, leaving old paths behind. With a curious beginner’s mind, I embarked on a new experience.
I was gifted with answers to questions that have accompanied me my entire adult life. „Wer bin ich?“ „Wer oder was ist meine Identität?“ „Wieso fühle ich mich stets „zwischen den Stühlen“ sitzend/stehend?“ These questions have accompanied me for many years of my life.
In this experiential moment, I let go of my preconceived thoughts about gender and gender identities and freed myself from convention and propriety.
I let go of Judith, or in other words, Judith said goodbye, and in the same moment I was transformed into Jay.
As Jay (gender: diverse; gender identity: non-binary; sexual orientation: women loving), I felt whole and complete for the first time in my life. I realized that I now had a new name and a new gender. After 50 years, the search for my true identity ended in a truly new beginning; a new birth certificate even made this official very soon.
It was out of the question for me to make this inner transformation visible to the outside world as well. Sometimes bureaucratic mills grind fast, too. In February, I received a certificate from my family doctor, submitted an informal application for gender and name change with it to the registry office and promptly received an official appointment for the oral application.
It was on February 18, 2021, when I was handed my new birth certificate with new name and gender by the registrar of my town. I thus wrote Einbeck town history, as the first person with a diverse gender entry in the town’s birth register. I am very grateful for all the experiences, for all the people who contributed to this moment. I would like to thank all the people for their appreciation, solidarity and joy shown to me during this coming out.
DEAR Jay, THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR YOURSTORY!
MYSTORY with …
33 Years, Munich
“Over the years, Drag became a bigger and bigger part of myself, its not only an art form to me, but also a way for playful confrontation with my personality...”
Published: October 2022
A VOYAGE IN DRAG.
Vicky Voyage is always worth a trip.
With my drag persona Vicky Voyage, I take you on a varied joyride into the world of drag art. With charisma and wit I present as an international performer, moderator and entertainer I use thoughtful clever concepts with both extravagant outfits and strong make-up. I serve a wide variety of eye candy at my stops: among others, I was on the road as a fulminant fire fairy (CSD Munich 2018), as a dazzling butterfly (CSD Munich and Vienna 2019), legendary snow queen (Drag Voyage calendar project 2022) and also as a loving local heroine in Dirndl (at various events). At galas and parties, in shows and in the theater: with pole dancing, a touch of acrobatics or just with my “plump” presence, I invite the audience to marvel.
Over the years Drag became a bigger and bigger part of me, which for me is not only an art form, but also allows the playful confrontation with my personality.
After the pandemic – following many different events – nearly brought the world to a complete standstill, I came up with the idea for Germany’s first professional drag calendar during the lockdown period. Performances were not possible, projects fell away – a new one was needed. Since the drag scene has also developed in Germany, I wanted to give a little insight into the facets of different characters and, together with other artists, take you on a journey through the wonderful world of drag. Discover fabulous Kings & Queens from Munich and Augsburg, and how they play with more diverse and colorful art, always guided by the question: What does drag mean to the artists, what does it mean to you?
With the picture you see, the motif for December 2022, I wanted to express something very specific. My theme was:
#legendary: I write my own story and walk my own path – preferably in high heels.
Based on Cinderella, the image is meant to illustrate that I don’t have to wait for my prince until I can have a fulfilled life, but that as a strong personality I can choose and shape my own path and be responsible for my own happiness in the process.
For the sale of the calendar, I have not only set up my own web store, but have also worked with various retailers who have distributed the calendar throughout Germany and also in Austria and Switzerland. Although the product “calendar” in 2022 is no longer found in every household and the drag motifs do not appeal to all people equally, the calendar with our personal and expressive images was well received across society. Almost all 1,000 copies were sold or dedicated to social projects. It was a great new experience and the whole team can be proud of the result. Here again a big thank you to everyone who worked so motivated and contributed to the successful final result.
Since I hope that the Corona situation will improve and more opportunities will be allowed again, I will devote myself in 2022 and also the next years as an entertainer, presenter, performer or even organizer again strengthened events, for example, the CSD in Munich may not be missed or a drag show in my Allgäu home, which is planned for 2023.
In addition, I would like to try in the future to combine my engineering background more with my art, because the journey of Vicky Voyage is far from over.
DEAR VICKY, THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR YOURSTORY!
MYSTORY with …
42 Years, Berlin
“any discrimination experienced in a
particular cultural context enabled my
mind to arm itself against oppressions and
microaggressions of other social groups. …”
Published: June 2022
I am mixed race, cis male, middle aged, homosexual, with no previously identified disability, French, not a native German speaker (who speaks accent and error free German), coming from the proletariate, who has experienced educational advancement. I am all this and so much more.
Coming out is almost foreign to me, I´d say. When I was about 18, I worked for the Hotel Central, one of the first gay establishments starting from the 80s in Paris. After my first shift, I told my mother my first impressions about this LGBT*IQ place. She asked me if all my colleagues were gay. My answer was yes. She then asked me if I was gay myself. My answer was yes. That was it, my meaningless powerful statement about my sexual identity. All in all, it was a paradoxically insignificant experience for a gay PoC from a proletarian immigrant neighborhood, in the late 90s. I never felt the need or compulsion to explain myself. I was “openly gay” the way a cis-heterosexual man might be “openly straight”: uneventful. A few months later, when I moved in with my first boyfriend, my youngest brother came to visit regularly to play videogames with my boyfriend. Life, as usual.
In contrast, I experienced intersectional queer awakenings several times, which I came to understand in retrospect. After reading “The Return to Rheims” by Didier Eribon, I realized that my ego-gayness played a role in my aspiration to become something other than what the determinism of social reproduction drove me to be. In fact, I felt drawn to enter other spheres to encounter my own kind.
I felt the need to understand the contradictory multiplicity of my interwoven identities and to reconcile them. This was pointless.
At that time, neither in the gay scene nor in other subcultural spaces, I could feel a sense of complete belonging. No matter what social groups I was in, mechanisms of oppression emerged without exception. There was no one like me, but the eternal ballet of attributions and self-determinations. Again and again I observed how social interactions could be redefined in binary social oppositions. However, any discrimination experienced in a particular cultural context enabled my mind to arm itself against oppressions and microaggressions of other social groups.
Let us take the example of language, which, beyond its communicative function, is also a structuring element of culture. Indeed, it can be an instrument of stigmatization or an assignation for social prestige. Thus, the verve of the youthfully caustic gutter language of the multicultural urban world of my neighborhood, Barbès, helped me fend off both the (un)consciously racist slogans and the ironically exclusionary repartee of the dominant white men of the queer community. Thus, the shameless black humor of the queer scene helped me to free myself from the shame of my proletarian speech. Thus, the shameless boldness of the language of my class helped me to speak foreign languages shamelessly with accent and mistakes. All of these facets of my identity help me navigate a society whose norms and deviations are constantly negotiated. One might perceive this adaptability as pretense, but I would call it the social performativity of an individual’s multiplicity.
Meanwhile, my PoC queer identity was an asset in my D&I consulting work with the Ozecla agency in France to deconstruct mechanisms of oppression and people’s distorting filters.
It often happened that in white feminist milieus it was necessary to elucidate the vicissitudes of social asymmetric dynamics in relation to the distribution of power relations. To the extent that white women needed to be made aware that they might be exercising forms of oppression vis-à-vis a queer black man because of their dominant white heteronormative-cisgender identities.
It takes a great deal of resilience on my part to endure the defenses of an oppressed group as I educate them about their own mechanisms of oppression. I have encountered this phenomenon again and again in recent years in Germany as well – both in my D&I work in the queer community and during my engagement in my main job. It is a burdensome challenge to expose and denounce the social mechanisms of racism, queer hostility and sexism. But as a black queer man with intersectional views, I can’t help it.
DEAR Bakry, THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR YOURSTORY!
MYSTORY With …
43 Years, HaNnover
“Sometimes it takes time and
role models to bring change. …”
Published: May 2022
One Life, Two Outings plus Migration Story – One box is enough!
Since my birth and in the first moments of the perceptions of myself, I knew that I did not fit into this existing body costume and into the “classical” distribution of roles. The assigned colors (red and pink) and the ideas of society were not compatible with my self. I was nevertheless – without being listened to or recognized in my existence – pushed into the female system. Be it through education or the societal guidelines in kindergarten, school, training and the work world. At that time, transidentity and intersexuality were not yet as visible as they are today.
There was no knowledge transfer, contact and counseling centers – simply nothing, although trans* and inter* people have existed since there are living beings on planet earth.
So I resisted this female costume since childhood and fled for many years into the lesbian identity, in which I was allowed to be more or less me, wear male clothes and behave as I wanted, simply not female for me. I accepted this “hiding place” and outed myself as a lesbian to all the people around me as a matter of course. The reactions, many questions, prejudices and discriminations were very familiar to me due to my Scottish-Turkish migration history from an early age – I was already “trained” in having to endure this discrimination in all ways. What else could I do?
My mother was not surprised and said that I had always been like a boy anyway. With the difference that I always was and am one. She didn’t know any better, how could she? The rest of the German-Scottish-Turkish relatives reacted differently. From “we always knew that” to “this person is not coming into my house anymore” everything was there.
It was a tremendous effort for me to be hidden inside myself for all those years. Every time I had the courage to really “come out”, something happened that set me back: fear of the reactions of my family, friends, colleagues, fear of losing my dream job, fear of the separation from my former wife. And at some point you learn to play this role, try to convince yourself that it will be worth living somehow.
But the I-am-allowed, to be free and the desire to let this body costume disappear, became stronger and stronger over the years. To look at myself in front of the mirror and – then as a child as well as in adulthood – to feel the desire to simply throw off this ballast and to finally be able to be happy and free … this dream, this feeling was energy-draining and unattainable, because I could not get out of myself. The fear was too great for many years.
Whenever articles about trans* people appeared or I saw them at the CSD, this feeling and the desire for freedom came up. Inside I was torn, but I tried to function, to get up again and again and tell myself “you can do it”.
When I came out to my wife in 2018 and talked about the great desire to break free from the chains of suffering, because I can’t and don’t want to be like that anymore and feel the same way as Balian B., I triggered great shock and had to endure the classic reactions: “You don’t want to be a man. I love you the way you are. I love your feminine bust. Sure you are very masculine, but I also like the feminine side. I don’t want a man with a beard and lots of hair. You are good the way you are, why do you think you want to be a man now? If you are actually going to do this, then I will divorce you …”
That was only a fraction of the sentences that rushed through my insides and caused hellish pain every time. I loved this person more than anything, and I tried to understand her side as well, but did she want to understand me? After the conversation with my wife, I first decided for us and our marriage and tried to bury the longing again. Only I noticed that I didn’t succeed so well anymore, because the longing and the suffering pressure were very hard to bear. Two and a half more long years and recurring conversations with my wife later: “If you do this, I’ll divorce you.”
Then I met great people who were just like me, with identical life stories. These two people gave me the strength to take my next step: in 2020 came Corona, and because of all the arguments with my wife, I temporarily moved to the country with my dog at the time, a French bulldog.
There I had a lot of time to think – the first time that I took a lot of time for myself and was not always available for other people. Finally it was my turn!
Simply EVERYTHING from the past years came shooting up like a tornado wave. In the 4 weeks my life changed by the second. My wife realized her threat and I stood alone. And due to a local change of profession, I was also facing a new beginning there.
I took all my courage after 41 years and outed myself a second time. If not now, when then? First with my inner circle of friends, then with my colleagues and finally with my superiors. The response was mostly very positive!
Since 2 years ago I finally feel free and I am glad to have taken this important step, even if it took many years for many different reasons. Sometimes it takes time and role models to bring change. Today I am allowed to be a role model and would like to encourage many people. Do not be afraid, because you are not alone! It is important to make gender diversity and the different facets visible and to bring the knowledge about it into all areas. Looking back, I sometimes wonder where I had developed the strength to get up again and again and keep going. It was the many great people around me who gave me strength and courage. Of course also my desire and joy in life and the fact to be able to give courage and strength to other people.
These experiences have shaped me into the person I am today, with all my facets:
My name is Leon Dietrich, my birthplace is the earth, my nationality is human, my politics is freedom, my religion is love and I love people and our democracy!
Dear Leon, Thank you very much for YourStory!
MYSTORY With …
34 Years, Hamburg
“Once you were in, this parallel world opened
up where everyone knew each other and you
were allowed to be whoever you wanted. …”
Published: May 2022
I come from Russia – the country that today is associated with war, violence, propaganda and homophobia. And it’s hard to believe that in my youth, in the 2000s, I experienced probably the most liberal and free time of this country. That was the time when the pop duo “t.A.T.u.” became famous in Europe and in the USA. At that time in Russia no one was bothered by two girls kissing on stage. Many girls then walked hand in hand in the streets in short skirts, like in the video All The Things She Said. There were also other Russian artists who made homosexual references in their songs and videos. I grew up with that.
When I was a student, I knew that homosexuality existed, but I didn’t identify with it. I always had close relationships with my girlfriends, even held hands and slept in the same bed. It was all harmless and felt normal. I also knew that in a parallel class there were some girls who were supposedly into women. It was only whispered about (later I saw them at lesbian parties). When I met a girl at a summer camp and felt jealous every time she talked about boys, I couldn’t place my feelings.
I didn’t realize the fact that I was into women until I was 17, after a young woman approached me in a heterosexual club and wanted to get to know me. I dated her for about a year after that and we still keep in touch (today she lives in San Francisco with her wife and child). She introduced me to the lesbian community.
The LGBT*IQ community in my hometown (population about 2 million) was quite big at that time, there was a club for lesbians and one for gays with weekly parties. In Moscow and Saint Petersburg, of course, there was more: more clubs, more parties, more people like us, but we were happy with what we had. Of course, none of this was public and you had to know your way around, but once you were in, this parallel world opened up where everyone knew each other and you were allowed to be whoever you wanted.
That’s where I found my soul mates, my best friends. I loved this parallel world, even though it wasn’t perfect either.
I was a student, had little money, lived with my parents, who raised me liberally but didn’t know about my sexual orientation at the time. While I felt so comfortable in the community, the outside world became less and less tolerant – but I didn’t realize that until later.
At the end of 2008, I came to Germany to study, without knowing how long I would stay … 14 years later, I’m still here, happily married to my wife and with a great job, leading the life I always wanted. I feel free and safe in Germany. I am grateful for all the experiences I have had and all the people I have met. I am grateful for the time I experienced in Russia and I know that nowadays it is unimaginable and sometimes even dangerous to walk hand in hand there. Nevertheless, I wish all LGBT*IQ people to find their way early and have only the positive encounters. To those who don’t dare yet, I can only say: “Don’t be afraid, you are normal and not alone!”