When providing information to raise awareness, it is important to test your communication to see what type of information is best suited for your intended audience. This is exactly what Bundesverband Trans* e.V. (Federal Trans* Association)- a German Trans* organization – did. They held focus groups to test the narrative techniques for their brochure.
Kalle Hümpfner, the policy officer at Bundesverband Trans* tells us how it went.
Why launch a campaign on TG rights in Germany at that time?
In 2021, in Germany, a new government had just been elected, and we knew that, at some point, they would discuss the self-determination law. This is a hot topic which is why we felt that more information should be made available, specifically for the broader audiences that are not targeted by queer organisations.
Why did you choose this particular medium – a brochure?
We noticed that written material gives information more authority. We could have opted for a more engaging or informal social media campaign but when legal reforms are under discussion, it is crucial to have materials that are perceived as authoritative.
We also saw that it was a good medium for allied organisations, for example for players in the healthcare sector. For them it was a helpful resource for raising awareness with their employees.
Tell us about the target group
The audience we had in mind for our brochure consisted of people who were not opposed to Trans rights but who were relatively uninformed.
It was a pragmatic decision to choose this particular audience. We knew we wouldn’t be able to convince anyone who had a very negative attitude. Our main goal was to inform a wider audience about what it means to be a Trans person, the reforms that are needed to reduce discrimination, and that legal gender recognition is an important step forward.
And how did you define the content?
We conducted two focus-groups which consisted of 5-6 cisgender heterosexual and non-heterosexual persons who declared they didn’t know much about gender diversity and the stakes of self-determination. We showed them the materials we wanted to use to test which would work best.
We wanted to develop the brochure in the form of a Q&A. So we presented the focus groups with 3 questions and 3 different styles of response for each question, based on the following approaches:
– Answers based on evidence, using research results or some authoritative sources (such as court decisions);
– Answers based on anti-Trans stereotypes;
– Answers based on information about the realities of life for Trans people in Germany to create empathy and make people understand the problems we face.
|Example: Testing the “Trend” argument
Question: Is Trans* just a trend? Do young people claim they’re Trans because it’s cool?
Trans* children and young people are often not believed when they come out as Trans*. Many adults assume that being Trans* is a trend that children and young people will follow while it’s considered cool and attracts attention.
Response type A
Doctors and psychologists state that children and young people are clear about their gender identity early on. In a study by the German Youth Institute, almost a quarter of the young people surveyed said that they always knew they were Trans*. On the other hand, the pseudoscientific story of Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria, makes the assumption that young people come out as Trans* unexpectedly and due to social pressure. This claim is based on a study from the renowned Brown University. However, following publication, the study was found to be methodologically biased and the University distanced itself from its conclusions. There is therefore no scientific evidence to support the idea that Trans* is a trend.
Response type B
Coming out as a Trans person has no advantages. On the contrary, young Trans people are at high risk of experiencing discrimination and violence, particularly when, as minors, Trans* youngsters cannot choose their living environment such as school and family. Reports of bullying at school, conflict at home, depression and suicidal thoughts are common. Devaluing young people’s Trans* status as a trend also has serious consequences for their health care. It makes it more difficult for them to access urgently needed medical and/or therapeutic care. Also when their identity is treated as a trend, they do not receive the support they need from family, school and those around them.
Response type C
Trans* phobia often means that the gender identity of Trans* people is not respected. Trans* people are thought to have false identities or to be trying to appear cool. This undermines the reality of their lives, their sense of themselves and their self-determination. To say that being Trans* is a trend among young people means that adolescents aren’t taken seriously when they come out. When adults describe Transgenderism as a trend, it is meant in a derogatory way. Such devaluation arises when adults feel uncomfortable and don’t want to face something that is outside social norms.
We received mixed feedback on these techniques. However, most people agreed that the best approaches were either to give evidence-based arguments or to show lived realities. The second option of highlighting Transphobic narratives was not considered relevant for this specific audience.
How did you come up with the 12 questions featured in the Brochure ?
We created a set of 12 different questions divided equally between the themes of legal gender recognition and the issues of Trans youth.
The questions reflected the most popular topics on our social media platforms and the discussions with the team.
As for the wording, I’d say it’s quite provocative. The questions are not framed in the usual language of Trans organisations but in a much more formal style. For example, the title of the brochure is one of the most typical questions we hear: “Has gender been abolished?” We thought it would be interesting and useful to use such a language in our questions so readers could relate to it and find answers for their own concerns.
Some examples of questions from the brochure: “Does the high number of Trans teenagers suggest it’s just a trend?” or “ Is there a powerful Trans lobby?”
How did you disseminate information about the brochure? How successful was it?
We decided to link up with LSVD – the biggest queer organisation in Germany. It was important that this brochure was created not only by a Trans organisation but that it involved a queer organisation with a wider outreach.
We had a short social media campaign where we published several posts with just one question and a shortened version of the answer then said that people could learn more in the brochure.
We also talked to ally organisations that are not queer specific and invited them to order this brochure.
We sent the brochure to MPs explaining that it could be used in their daily work. The feedback was mostly positive, and they said that the brochure was really helpful.
Basically, it was word of mouth that worked. The word spread quite easily. Many people were waiting for such a brochure and so demand was really high. We had to do several reprints for distribution to a wide range of institutions and organisations.
Today we can see the impact on the way the government is communicating about the self-determination law. We can also see that authorities have started using this method of Q&A more often.
Did you face any challenges?
There was one problem that can also be seen as a success. TERF groups published a counter brochure. They used the same set of questions, but answered them differently. It is a very good piece of anti-Trans propaganda.
We never reacted to it publicly, because we thought it would give them more publicity.
We consider this as a success, because our original well-written and popular brochure provoked the publication of this counter version.
Can you share any lessons learnt?
Writing the brochure was stressful because of the project’s time ine. We could have improved some of the writing if we had had more time.
Ideally there should have been more people recruited into the focus-groups.
For the next brochure I’d like to have non-queer organisations on board: women’s rights and human rights. It would help our advocacy work and also encourage recruitment for the focus-groups.
Do you have any advice for those who want to do similar projects?
Plan ahead! It’s good to be prepared in advance. Think carefully about which partners you would like to cooperate with, who would be good for public image and distribution. It’s always better when there are several logos on the brochure.
Can the brochure be used in other countries?
This brochure is quite specific for the German context. However, I think the contents could be adapted to other contexts. You can get in touch with us and discuss how you might be able to use our materials. There is also this resource by TGEU which is a useful guide for writing your own brochure.