Intersectionality is a concept that has never been a concept in my life

Experiences of a Trans person of color in Berlin.

There are two stories I need to tell if I want to get even close to doing any justice to the importance of Prof. Kimberlé Crenshaw. For one thing, there is my own personal story, which has to do with Prof. Crenshaw and her importance for Berlin’s association and activist scene in which I was actively involved and, sometimes, still am. For another, there are the Critical Race Theory retreats of 2010 and 2012, which have also influenced me.

As a Trans person of color, Prof. Crenshaw influenced me very early on, even before I knew her or her texts: I moved to Berlin from a small West German town in 2004, left school prematurely in the middle of my higher education qualification course to do so, and wanted to start a new life. In 2005, I entered the queer of color circles, including GLADT e. V., where we worked with her theory of multiple discrimination. In 2010, the year we met Prof. Crenshaw for the first time while attending the SUSPECT group (for the most part, a queer BIPoC reading group), I was 25, angry, bursting with energy, and deeply engrossed in my politicization, tightly connected to other queer and trans people of color. Crenshaw’s theories as well as the theories of Black feminists from a German context who have lived and experienced these theories in their bodies were and still are one of the most important sources for our common thinking and actions, and indispensable for me, too, as a non-Black person. I will forever treasure this generous sharing of knowledge.

One of my first recollections directly related to Prof. Crenshaw: She was invited to a conference that was organized by white feminists and held in a very white, elitist institution. There, her theory was not only called into question but also even “further advanced”. Crenshaw did the best thing she could have—for which I and other queer and Trans BPoCs (loudly) applauded her—: She spontaneously discarded her entire speech and gave an introduction into intersectionality. Moreover, that was absolutely necessary.

To me, it is very sad and, at the same time, awkward to see intersectionality meanwhile being used by white (queer) feminists in such an inflationary way. A few years ago, that very same group of people would have burst out in tears when we, or the generations before us had talked about racism or when we had merely mentioned that they are white. Today, however, intersectionality is the subject in university courses, in social sciences, or in capacity-building courses for professionals. How could this happen? There was a time when talking about racism, being white, about given and/or withheld privileges did not carry much weight all that. How then did this discourse reach Germany’s universities and associations? The one I find best is when they pretend that they had always thought this way or—even more annoyingly—that they had come up with the idea themselves.

In my opinion, Prof. Crenshaw’s theories have been established through the Black women’s movement in Germany; indeed, even in the face of resistance from the very same institutions and people that monopolize it today. Without the work of Black feminists and feminists of color, such as ADEFRA (Black Women in Germany), including Peggy Piesche, Prof. Maisha-Maureen Auma, May Ayim, Prof. Fatima El-Tayeb, or other queer of color thinkers such as Prof. Jin Haritaworn, Noah Sow, Koray Yılmaz-Günay, or migrant self-organizations such as GLADT (Gays and Lesbians from Turkey) and LesMigraS (Lesbian Migrants and Black Lesbians), there would be no intersectionality discourse in Germany whatsoever. After long-enduring, hard-fought battles, discussions, and also losses, which are far from over, as the racist backlash (not only in Germany) illustrates, it is clear that and by whom intersectionality must be fought for and defended.

Later on, at the two Critical Race Theory retreats in 2010 and 2012, I learned a great deal as a young, non-academic person. For one thing, given the person that I used to be, no easy feat, but by the same token, it was all the more important, as a young trans person with no academic background, to occupy a space, be loud and be taken seriously. You trust yourself to address things that other people either do not address or do. That many things and types of behavior are very predictable—and that they repeat time and time again. That our spaces are important and should be defended. That our support for each other is indispensable; that we are not replaceable. Beforehand, I had been active in the scene for a few years but, for the very first time, had seen so many amazing, super intelligent people in one space. They had long since committed to paper and reflected on thousands of times over all the things that I was only now discovering for myself, and were thus influencing generations. However, I also realized that these people are simply people, who (can) make mistakes too. Our end-of-retreat party was legendary, but this is not something that I can talk about in public.

I observed in some “fascination” for Crenshaw’s theories, a temporary allure. It is interesting that, as I am sitting at home right now writing this article, the course that I should normally be sitting in today is covering a text by Prof. Crenshaw. However, unfortunately only in theory. My decision to stay away was a conscious one. The spaces that have been created are not ones that I share.

Intersectionality is a concept that has never been “a concept” or a fleeting fad in my life. There is no way that this ever could have been, because, to me, intersectionality is a description of life’s realities that is indispensable. It is the practical, the growing benefit that the critical race theory has in my life and in the lives of numerous people like me. Because this theory stems, in large part, from the practice of survival and because this practice has proven, in exactly those areas, that it works. Every time that I try to understand how discrimination functions, I can only do so by trying to understand how different forms of discrimination work together. To me, intersectionality describes deeply rooted real things, which written and unwritten laws, boundaries and nation-states cannot grasp.