Alice Schwarzer, 80, arrives a few minutes late for the interview at Manzini, a brasserie in Berlin-Wilmersdorf. The editor has already chosen a seat. Schwarzer greets him briefly and, in the second sentence, asks to change chairs. She has to sit with her back to the wall.
SPIEGEL: Ms. Schwarzer, why is the seating arrangement so important to you?
Schwarzer: It's obvious why. If I don't have the wall at my back, I get nervous.
Well, not because of you personally.
Maybe not because of me, but because of the subject of our interview? You've been the target of a lot of hostility for your positions on the self-determination law, which is now to be passed by the cabinet.
You don't think that can intimidate me, do you? But it is indeed unbelievable how much the debate is ideologized and hysterized. When I read from my autobiography here in Berlin at Babylon, the usual bookstore canceled the book table, the reason given being that an employee would quit if she were to sell Schwarzer-books. And when my female employees and I do research in progressive circles, that is, among committed women, lesbians or whatever, checkered people or dotted: Then, for about a year now, we've been getting to hear again and again that they don't talk to EMMA. Why not? Because EMMA is ‘transphobic’. My colleagues are really depressed about it. I am not so much. I have known hostility for almost 50 years.
The law directly affects only a few people. Why do you personally expose yourself so strongly on the issue?
The trans question is currently omnipresent, not only in Berlin-Mitte. And it has been at the center of my commitment for a long time. It's about gender, gender roles and identity. As early as 1984, I fought against some more rigid sisters for trans women to be allowed to go to the Women's Center. Because I found it remarkable that the psyche trumps the body. However, at the same time I found it tragic that transsexuals cannot simply take all the freedoms of even the opposite sex while keeping their bodies. Because that is the core message of the feminist project: the biological body does not condition the cultural role. It is a construct. But as a human being I have always been in solidarity with transsexuals. Those who walk such a rocky road are in deep pain.
What is different today than back then?
There's a fashion trend for young people to be trans. It's chic.
Do you really believe that? Anyone who comes out as trans still has to run the gauntlet in our society.
Talk to me about facts, not beliefs. The number of people who consider themselves trans has increased extremely in just a few years throughout the Western world, especially among young people. About 80 percent of them are girls. In some classes today, there are three or four who say they are trans.
Openness to trans youths may have grown in a few schools in trendy urban neighborhoods. But coming out in other milieus still means a years-long struggle.
We used to encourage brittle girls who weren't up for pink tulle and preferred to play soccer to just take the same liberties as boys. Those are the smartest girls anyway: the ones who don't feel like becoming women. But today it's suggested to these girls that if they don't want to be a real woman, they'll just be a man. Instead of liberation from the gender role, now the total opposite: two drawers and nothing in between. You can't get more binary than that. This has boomed through Corona. Girls are in internet communities and influencing each other.
Are you really suggesting that the path to trans identity today is one of low resistance?
Yes. Being trans is fashionable - and at the same time the biggest provocation. That's what makes it so attractive to young people. The Internet is teeming with trans cartoons. And at fashion shows, models are already walking around with narrow bandages over their breasts - as if there were the scars of amputated breasts underneath.
What are "real transsexuals" for you?
That's what I call people whose sexual identity is so deeply disturbed that they would give anything to be able to change into the other sex. This can go as far as self-mutilation. But purely physically this is of course not possible, it is only masquerade. A person remains biologically male or female even after a so-called gender reassignment surgery. You can't escape your body, only your gender role. But I have the impression that Minister Paus and her State Secretary don't know what they are talking about. They obviously don't know the difference between sex and gender. They talk about biological sex as if it were the gender role.
Gender is more than genes and genitals.
It is. There are very many gender roles, even depending on the stage of life. We're all in flux. But there are only two biological sexes.
Critics berate you for such statements as reactionary and biologistic.
The opposite is true. A feminist like me has been fighting against biologism for50 years and wants to free people from the confining gender roles. But these transideologists are reactionary, they propagate a deeply regressive thinking. Actually, one should tell a so-called tomboy, i.e. a young girl: Take all the liberties that boys also have! And now he is told: You are not a 'real' girl, so you are a boy. How absurd.
Why should the protective mantle of feminism no longer be spread over trans women today?
Because offensive trans ideology now threatens biological women. There are sports in which trans women can blow up any women's competition. They are simply physically superior.
As a sports official, you haven't really come to the fore so far. Are you really about defending the binary gender logic on soccer fields and running tracks?
Let's move on to women's shelters - homes for battered women, women's days in the sauna, public toilets. All the spaces where women rightfully want to be among themselves. Just the idea that there could be more unisex toilets: What nonsense! Let's face it, am I supposed to walk past those smelly urinals in the future where men take out their willies? So really, no.
Your concerns are aesthetic?
Not only. There's also real danger for women in unisex restrooms. We all know those cubicles with holes in the partitions. And I would never go to a mixed sauna either.
But Alice Schwarzer goes to public saunas on Women's Day?
Personally, I've never been to a public sauna. But if on such a women's day a person with a beard and a penis suddenly came into the sauna and said that she felt like a woman ... well, no!
A few comedians and provocateurs might try that. But the question is, how often will the scenario you're drawing really happen?
Anyway. Women have the right to shelters. Full stop. We have at least 5,000 years of patriarchy behind us, and we haven't been able to get rid of it completely in 50 years. We still need shelters! And above all: with this so-called self-identification law, we are legally relativizing the category of gender.
Are you worried about women's advancement programs?
Yes, certainly. If a change of sex is possible every year, this will also make women's quotas absurd. Sex becomes arbitrary.
If trans were a mass phenomenon, I would understand your concerns. But like this?
It is, unfortunately, a mass phenomenon and has long been part of pop culture. That's why you and I are sitting here.
I can understand the principle of your objections, but I can't shake the suspicion that you're all about principle riding. We're talking about a few thousand gender reassignments a year.
I have to defend myself against you all the time. Why actually?
That's why you and I are sitting here.
That's your role as a journalist, okay. But you could also ask: Ms. Schwarzer, why did you recognize the dangers of the law so early on? And how do you manage, on the one hand, to plead for trans rights and, on the and on the other hand to vote against the so-called self-determination law? That's the interesting thing about my position.
Do you think the previous transsexual law is good?
The transsexuals need a reform that makes their lives easier for them. But that doesn't mean that every person from 14 years of age should be able to go and change his personal status. And that every year again! Grotesque. I plead for an age limit of at least 18 years, better 21.
A self-identification law from 18 would have your support?
A law from 18 years of age, which at the same time mandates independent counseling. Not least, so that people themselves have a chance to become aware of their true motives. It must be clear whether it is a case of the very rare transsexualism. Or for example autism. Or that of an abused girl who wants to escape her body. Or even a hidden homosexuality. Because homosexuality seems to be more embarrassing than transsexuality in some milieus today.
Does that seem plausible to you?
No. But it does. I keep hearing that a modern young woman who frequents so-called queer circles is now more likely to describe herself as trans than lesbian. That alarms me. It should alarm the state, too. It has a duty to protect. It also tries to help in other cases of hatred of one's own body. For example, in the case of eating disorders. And girls in particular have reasons for this self-hatred. In times of the Internet and ubiquitous pornography, their bodies have once again become a battlefield more than ever.
Your motive is to protect young women from making a mistake. But by saying that so loudly, you are simultaneously offending and pathologizing trans people. Do you see the dilemma?
Many real transsexuals are themselves appalled that the new law does not even require counseling. Genuine transsexuality - I put it carefully - is a deeply disturbed relationship to one's own body. The phenomenon is, as I said, quite comparable with the eating-disordered girls who no longer want to have a woman's body. We send these girls to therapy and tell them: "You are not too fat". We don't tell them, "You're right, go ahead and starve yourself to death."
Is it possible that this comparison overshoots the mark?
Not at all. Transition is a very serious intervention in the psyche and body. That's why I think this self-determination law is totally irresponsible. At 14, young people are in the middle of puberty, a phase in which many don't know who they are, whether they have three noses or four ears. Offering young people in this greatest identity confusion of their lives the supposed solution of taking hormones for life and having their bodies mutilated - that is madness. And irreversible.
The Self-Determination Act is exclusively about changing one's name and personal status, not about hormones and surgery.
This is pure theory. As a rule, a change of personal status is followed by hormone treatments, a huge business for the pharmaceutical industry. And we operate today in Germany quite already minors. Just go to the Internet or take a look at EMMA magazine.
In Germany, gender reassignment surgeries for under-twenty-year-olds have been rare up to now, with statistics recording just two cases for under-fifteen-year-olds in recent years. But back to the change of first name and gender entry: For young people under 18, according to the draft law, the parents must agree or alternatively the family court. So there are hurdles.
These hurdles may not be very high. We live in a time when many people want to be modern. And those who want to be modern are currently pro trans. “The Schwarzer”, of course, is "yesterday's news and deeply reactionary," sure. Schwarzer is "Nazi."
Does this image bother you?
You don't care whether you are considered progressive or reactionary?
Yes. I just always try to do the right thing, I don't go by fashion, image and labels. Or I could stop right there. And it's not the first insult in my life. Besides, I'm very sure of myself in this case, I've been thinking about it for 40 years, I know more transsexuals than most of those who are now waffling on the subject.
Their main concern is young girls. But is that also the concern of the others who are running against the law with them?
You're not going to give me that now! If I say the sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening, and the AfD (right-wing populist party) says the same thing, it's still true. No matter who says it.
Why does a law that directly affects only a few people make so many people's minds boil up?
It's not because everyone is suddenly worried about pubescent girls and sauna-going women. It's because the core of the gender order is at stake. Right-wingers and conservatives come from a different corner than I do. They want to preserve the old gender order. A feminist like me wants to dissolve it. People should become free people and not now also force themselves into the narrow gender roles with hormones and operations. And I also have to defend the conservatives. The older you get, the more understanding you have for your opponents. Conservatives are rightly irritated when ten-year-olds are told about nonbinary, queer and trans in school.
Would you agree with me that school should be concerned about the children, not the feelings of conservative adults?
Yes, exactly! That's why I'm for sexual education, but against this propaganda for transsexuality. You have to answer children's questions - and open doors. But that ten-year-olds should talk about transsexuality: That's not education and liberation, that's propaganda and manipulation.
Why is telling ten-year-olds that trans people exist not education?
First, it's not relevant to them even before their first kiss. Second, an extremely rare phenomenon. Third, completely confusing. I'm all for answering all questions as accurately as possible. But not to impose anything on children. The propaganda of the so-called sexual variants has undermined the educational system. The bad thing is that this propaganda also runs under the label progressive. And progressive: that's where most people want to be.
Only you, apparently, do not.
I am modern, not fashionable. Most people, on the other hand, don't know what they're talking about. They hear that there are some poor transsexuals who feel discriminated against and who therefore want a new law. Then, of course, every decent but ignorant person says: Give these poor people this law.
Behind this is a classic liberal attitude: everyone should be happy according to their own fancy, as long as they don't get in anyone else's way.
That sounds good. But well-intentioned is not always well-done. One should always ask oneself to what extent people have the right to self-destruction. Until now, trans has rightly been considered a minority problem. And now it has become a trend throughout the Western world: in the USA, in France, in Great Britain. Everywhere this woke propaganda wave is rolling. How could it get to this extent? I ask myself the same question.
Without having an answer?
Not really ... But of course it is part of the rollback, an attack against universal feminism. Because suddenly gender is supposed to be arbitrary. In the State Department, the trans flag now even hangs at the entrance. Like a creed. There no longer seems to be any difference between politicians in power and those protesting outside of parliament. Ministers like Ms. Paus march in the lead at pro-trans demonstrations. You have to imagine that: with such a questionable, highly controversial law. A women's minister!
You seriously see feminism in danger?
Yes, feminist insights are being swept aside and manipulated in the name of progress. We're talking about a theory that "triggered the most momentous cultural revolution in the second half of the 20th century" - I'm quoting Rudolf Augstein (Founder of DER SPIEGEL). As I said, I am committed in deconstructing gender roles. But that doesn't mean I deny the biological sexes! How absurd that would be.
There is no feminism conceivable without two biological binary genders?
Feminism exists because as a female human being one is disadvantaged or even disenfranchised in large parts of the world. Here in our country, we have achieved a lot in 50 years thanks to the women's movement. But the gender pay gap, family work, sexualized violence: all that still exists! We can't pretend that the role that has been assigned to us for millennia on the basis of our biological sex no longer has any meaning. I tell you: To this day, every word of mine and every movement is evaluated differently than the same words and movements of a man. Only because I am a woman.
Do I understand you correctly that I cannot be a feminist because I have the wrong biological sex? As a man, I also struggle with gender role expectations.
You've got me all wrong. On the contrary, welcome! You are very welcome to be a feminist - if you really mean it. After all, this separation of the sexes mutilates both sexes. Feminism fights for the fact that women don't have to be females anymore and men don't have to be machos. You too can just be human.
You repeatedly accuse the trans community and also the federal government of advocating a "trans ideology." You may have heard the ideology accusation from opponents as well.
Me? I am the opposite of an ideologue. I am completely committed to reality.
But you know the accusation?
Above all, I know all the clichés about feminists. They've all been put on me for decades: man-hater, humorless, frustrated, and so on. I've been the target of a lot of hostility, including from other feminists. Feminism is not a protected label, but an inflationary coin. Some women used to feel like a war of the sexes, but not me. I am a pacifist. That's why I never propagated homosexuality as a solution, only as a possibility. All human beings are polymorphic, that is, they initially have a sexuality that is not purposeful. Freud already knew that. I, for example, live with a woman today, but I also lived with a man for ten years. So what label should I put on myself? Bisexual? Queer? Non-binary? Sounds perky.
More like fashionable. I'm avant-garde, after all.
Ms. Schwarzer, thank you for this interview.
What a closing sentence! I'll delete it when you authorize it.
Why would you do that?
I tend to be ironic, and that's dangerous. People in Germany don't understand that.
People like unambiguity.
That's the way it is.
When it comes to gender, you're also into unambiguity.
Nonsense. I assume that it only becomes interesting at all when ambivalences are admitted. For example, if someone is really non-binary, then that seems to me to be progressive, the fulfillment of the feminist ideal: Don't tie yourself down! Do what you want! But I look at the realities and see that under our feminist fighting terms today often quite reactionary wrong things are propagated, like the denial of the biological sex. You see, I'm really getting worked up.
Do you feel like arguing?
Yes, when it's important.
Only when it's important?
Exactly. I'm a peaceful person, really. I like people, I like to sit under my lime tree or in Paris in the café, I like to have my peace. But when it's necessary, I can get going. Unfortunately, in the case of the trans debate, the role of the media is also fatal, because they irresponsibly go along with this trans propaganda without any research. And politics is now on the well-known mediocre level. They just wanted to hammer through the law, as they have done so often lately.
Your publisher, Kerstin Gleba, wrote a remarkable afterword to her transgender book last year. As if she wanted to distance herself from you.
If that's what the publisher cares about. But my editor is the "Editor at Large," Helge Malchow.
It's never happened to me before. But I have been told that it took great courage on the part of Kiepenheuer & Witsch to publish this book at all. I find that very, very disturbing. But those are the times.
Ms. Schwarzer, thank you for this interview.
The interview was conducted by Tobias Becker, and first appeared on SPIEGELonline (22.8.2023). For further information see "Transsexualität" by Alice Schwarzer/Chantal Louis (Ed.), KiWi Cologne and EMMA September/Oktober