Language that speaks to everyone, avoids stereotypes and discriminatory clichés and takes people with disabilities into account. 


"There are many ways I could address you now: 'Dear colleagues', 'Dear students', 'Dear employees', 'Dear staff' – or a quite sober ‘Dear college’ or ‘Dear student body’? In making my decision, correct spelling and precise and aesthetic language are just as important to me as the desire to express myself fairly. Equality should be a matter of course - and expressed in language that is sensitive to inclusion. But how? 

This is where worlds, needs and opinions collide in the German-speaking world at the latest. The Duden is of little help at the moment, because before language can reflect a social development process, social negotiations are first required. The gender issue and the sensitive use of language in dealing with people with disabilities are tantamount to reaching into a wasps' nest - and we as a university are faced with the question of how we can initiate and moderate the process towards gender and inclusion-friendly language. 

As a university, however, we are aware that we have the opportunity to actively help shape the change in language. And we will make the most of this opportunity!" 

Nicola Schmidt-Geheb  
Equality and Diversity Officer at IU International University of Applied Sciences 


A guide to gender-sensitive and inclusive (visual) language for staff, students and faculty at IU International University of Applied Sciences. 

Click here to check out the guide.


Even though most of the population sees itself as a man or a woman, perceptions and acceptance of the fact that there are a variety of gender identities are changing. A major factor for this is the law, which since 2018 offers the possibility to select "diverse" in the civil status register in addition to the entries "male" or "female" or to have the civil status deleted. Currently, there are no binding regulations on how this third option can be represented linguistically. 


A short historical excursion - In the seventies, feminists in Germany started using the English term "gender" (social sex). They wanted to draw attention to the fact that there are various factors that make up our gender identity. Social gender means the totality of expectations, conventions and role attributions with which biological sex is associated in our society. It is also the self-conception of our gender identity acquired through our upbringing. The term was borrowed because there is no corresponding word for it in German.

The English noun "gender" stands for the felt and lived sex. The word "sex", on the other hand, is used for the biological sex.

Gender-sensitive language implies an attempt to represent the facets of social gender without being discriminatory. This is because language has a great influence on our conception of the world.


The "generic masculine" is currently the usage norm in the German language. In this context, generic means "in the generally valid sense": if mixed groups are named, the masculine form is used, which is then to be interpreted in a general way. Female or non-binary persons, who could also be trans- or intersex, are inaccurately represented by this historically explicable but discriminatory technique of naming. In reception, they sometimes have to guess whether they are being addressed - or, at worst, consider not being meant at all. This reproduces gender stereotypes. How the difference between generic and specific is perceived in relation to the masculine form is one of the fundamental questions in the discussion about gender-equitable language. Therefore, the term established so far is also misleading, because from the perspective of gender-sensitive people, the masculine is not generic.  



  • Trans*  
    People have a deep inner knowledge of which gender they belong to. This gender identity is not visible to the outside world. Transgender people experience their gender identity as not - or not only - matching the gender they were assigned at birth. "Trans*" is a collective term that refers to all these people and is used as an adjective, as in “trans* person”. Since there are other gender identities besides male and female, specific terms have emerged over time to correctly name the different identities. The asterisk in the words “trans*” and “inter*” takes into account the diversity of gender identities, self-designations and life plans of people whose gender, gender identity or gender expression does not correspond to traditional expectations. The diverse attributes such as transgender, transident, non-binary or agender are thus all included in the term "trans* person". The term "transsexuality" is considered discriminatory because it is closely linked to the pathologisation of trans* persons.  


  •  Inter*  
    The term "inter*" is an umbrella term for intersexual physicalities and the realities of life associated with them. Some people are born with genetic, anatomical and hormonal sex characteristics that do not conform to the medical gender norms of male and female. Intersexuality can manifest itself before, at, or after a person's birth, during puberty or later in life. To this day, children undergo gender reassignment surgery, even though these medically unnecessary operations violate human rights and are strongly criticised from an ethical point of view. After all, parents and specialist medical staff cannot know how the children's bodies and minds will develop. Since the end of 2018, parents of intersex newborns have been able to register their child under "diverse" in the birth registry or to waive an indication of gender. The terms "trans*" and "inter*" are deliberately used as adjectives. Previously, the spelling “trans* person” or “inter* person” was common. In the meantime, this is strongly rejected in the communities, as it overemphasises the characteristics. In German, it is common to use adjectives to represent characteristics linguistically. The two adjectives “trans*” and “inter*” can also be used without an asterisk. Another accepted term is trans or intersex person. 

  •  Non-binary  
    The adjectives “trans*” and “inter*” include non-binary people, because some trans* and inter* people locate themselves beyond the two socially recognised genders of “man” and “woman” - or in between. Examples of such identities are agender people, for whom gender plays no role in identity formation, or genderfluid people, whose gender identity changes. 

  • Queer  
    Parallel to this, there is the term "queer", which originated in the English-speaking world and was initially a swear word. In the meantime, the LGBTIQ+ community has reclaimed the term as an important and diversely usable designation to name theories, practice, people and movements. The abbreviation "LGBTIQ+" stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans*, Inter* and Queer people. Queer people challenge societal ideas around gender and sexuality, which suggest there are only two genders and only one form of desire, namely heterosexuality.  


  • How many trans* people live in Germany?  
    There is no official figure on the number of transgender people living in Germany. Estimates vary greatly due to the different definitions used: Legal and medical sources mostly include people who have been diagnosed as transgender and are taking medical or legal steps towards gender reassignment. Trans* organisations, on the other hand, also take into account people who do not match their body, name or marital status. Estimates therefore range from 2,000 to 100,000 people in Germany. 


  • How many inter* people live in Germany?  
    There are no reliable figures of inter* persons living in Germany, as there is no body that collects the data. The data on the number of intersex people also varies depending on which manifestation is counted. In 2017, the Federal Constitutional Court assumed about 160,000 intersex people (1:500). Other estimates are much higher: The Intersex Society of North America states that for every 100 newborns, one child has physical characteristics that do not or only partially correspond to the common ideas and medical standards of male or female bodies. 


You can get more information from the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency, in the publications of the Federal Trans* Association and the association TransInterQueer. In the publication "Trans* in den Medien" (Trans* in the media), the association shows how trans* people can be written and spoken about competently and without discrimination. 


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