Berlin’s public transport uses transphobia in a publicity stunt

  • Berlin’s public transport organisation intends to sell discounted tickets for women the coming Monday.
  • The corporation is inconsistent when it comes to communicating how the use of said tickets is going to be policed in regards to transgender people and botches their own social media communications.
  • BVG uses transphobic advertising for their Women’s Ticket campaign.
  • Berlin is no paradise for transgender people, with limited access to gendered spaces and prejudice lingering both in the private and public sectors.

BVG is Berlin’s main public transport corporation, the one that runs buses, trams and the U-Bahn. They have been known for edgy advertising and I’ve been a fan of their campaigns in the past.

The organisation took the plunge during International Women’s day and decided it would be a good idea to introduce what they call Frauentickets or Women’s tickets the coming Monday, 18 March

It is a very obvious publicity stunt and is only sold as a day ticket with a € 1.50 discount from a regular one, which symbolises the wage gap. This is still something that could have been used for good and I am sure that was their original intention, while the reality of the matter is in fact the opposite.

Unreasonable restrictions

BVG has been known in my circle of transgender friends for employing terribly transphobic staff, including ticket inspectors that target us specifically in order to cause us delays and do their best to misgender us and to perform other bullying tactics.

BVG‘s official marketing material confirms that those tickets can be used by transgender women — but only on the condition that said woman lives as a woman. (Auch Transgender, die als Frauen leben, erhalten das Frauenticket.)

Except for the fact that this is completely unrealistic, how is this going to be policed by ticket inspectors?

How much mascara or lipstick is required to prove that I “live as a woman”? — Are they going to check my IDs? — Are they going to look up my medical history? — See if they find boxers in my panty drawer? — Do they know what I look like when I take the train to the swimming pool in the early morning?

Is the small discount of € 1.50 enough to justify the chance of running into the usual flocks of ticket inspectors, having a fare avoidance ticket forced down your throat for € 60 while being called “sir” repeatedly and then going to attempt to have that corrected at the infamous BVG headquarters near Jannowitzbrücke?

BVG’s left hand does not know what the right hand is doing

As someone who has worked for large organisations in the past, including one with 30.000 staff members, I know that it takes good leadership and a long time to educate large companies about LGBTQIA+ issues and it will not reach everyone in the same way.

And knowing the behavior patterns of their ticket inspectors and having had good experience with BVG‘s social media accounts for clarifying things, I decided to ask BVG about the details on how they are going to handle us transgender women using the Women’s Tickets and if I would be safe during that day.

Twitter Post: Hey @BVG_Ubahn and @BVG_Kampagne — How have your ticket inspectors been instructed in regards to us trans women and Frauentickets? Is calling us "sir" and a 60 EUR fine the proper procedure?

I know this was a bit blunt, but the intention was to get their attention and to illustrate the problem in the space of a tweet.

What I got in return was a pre-written statement intended for cisgender men who may be sending BVG messages complaining about the existence of those tickets. This was absolutely uncalled for and just states the fact that BVG‘s communication staff considers us transgender women to be no more than men wearing dresses and lipstick.

They ended up apologising, but of course I know this is insincere and they only posted it to cover their asses in the heat of the moment.

However, I was hoping this would have gotten the message across and perhaps they would be more careful about this in the coming days, as mistakes are to be learned from.

That did not happen as I was hoping for.

And now for some transphobic advertising

I had almost forgotten about this when a friend sent me a screenshot of BVG‘s current advertising campaign for the Women’s Tickets.

Unsurprisingly, it was a picture of a masculine-looking person wearing a cheap nylon wig in front of BVG‘s ticket machines, with the text “it sure pays off to be a woman”, pointing out that the tickets in question are apparantly only for those they approve of as “real women”.

This is what they are using to advertise the Women’s Tickets, knowing very well that this is blatant transphobia.

As I said before, BVG‘s marketing department has done a good job of being edgy and funny in the past — however, punching down towards sensitive and already-oppressed minority groups should not be something you do as the propaganda department of a publicly-owned organisation.

To illustrate how hateful and harmful this is, transgender women don’t always “pass” as their gender and seeing public advertising putting that into the spotlight in a humiliating way for the purpose of it being funny is absolutely uncalled for. (And yes — many of us may sometimes resort to using cheap wigs, just like the one in BVG‘s ad, especially during early transition or in the case of hair loss.)

If this would have happened where I’m from, somebody would be clearing their desk for the last time right now.

In this case, when advertising on social media, it’s quite obvious to see what effect this has on the audience via Facebook’s reaction icons. BVG is knowingly radicalising its social media audience against transgender people.

This infringes on our mental health and puts our dignity and rights in peril.

What BVG could have done instead

BVG should have given themselves the following facts, as they are attempting to appear “woke” and modern in terms of gender:

  • Transgender women are women and should respected as such.
  • Transgender men are men and should respected as such.
  • Non-binary people are non-binary and should respected as such.
  • Agender people are agender and should respected as such.

This means that instead of accepting transgender people with strict conditions, they could have stated that “transgender women are women and we will not question the gender of those with Women’s Tickets” and not humiliated us in their advertising.

It’s that simple.

How this reflects institutionalised transphobia in Berlin

One would presume that one of the LGB capitals of Europe would be far beyond where it actually is in terms of transgender rights. The general consensus in Berlin seems to be that being transgender is either some sort of a lifestyle choice or a fashion trend — or that we are mostly sexual deviants seeking attention.

This has lead to a lack of policies, especially for those of us who have not had the capacity to update our paperwork, such as our identification documents. And that’s what I assume BVG is planning to use as a “proof” that one “lives as a woman”.

It is almost impossible to find official policies of spaces such as public swimming pools, which just like BVG are run by the State of Berlin and municipalities — let alone privately-owned gyms where transgender members may face being expelled from gendered facilities depending on which side of the bed staff members got out of that morning.

The general rule in Berlin in regards to accessing public or private services is the chance of exclusion, loss of access to facilities or even physical violence.

And even if there were policies in place, it does not guarantee they are being followed.

And BVG is not only complicit, but participating in this.

Why this is harmful to all women and gender-diverse people

Everyone looks different and even if BVG had the intention of excluding “men posing as women” on from using the Women’s Tickets the coming Monday.

Would a cisgender woman accept being taken aside by a BVG ticket inspector to be interrogated about being “a real woman”? — This may however happen as an effect of BVG’s transphobic ticket inspectors.

Even if Germany has a sad history of doing similar things, it is impossible in any case to go ahead and try to arrange people in strictly defined groups in terms of sex or gender — or let alone anything else such as ethnic groups, race or sexual orientation.

BVG has responsibilities as a public service

BVG is an entity owned by the State of Berlin and is thus under the political oversight of the Social Democrats, The Left and The Greens. Those parties are politically responsible for how things are run here in the city, both when it comes to budget and — indeed human and civil rights.

This places what is to be expected of them above the private sector.

And just to underline things — this isn’t about the € 1.50 discount, but general attitudes towards transgender people.

As a regular user of public transport here in the city, I know it’s impossible to boycott a giant like BVG — but I can say I am surely looking forward to the summer, when I can use my bike to go to and from the office every day and feel safer on Berlin’s bike-hazardous streets than when using their services.

Update: There is a follow-up post titled More on BVG’s transmisogyny here on this blog that I recommend reading as well after this one.

4 thoughts on “Berlin’s public transport uses transphobia in a publicity stunt

  1. Wie sollen Kontrolleure bitte wissen, ob die Person die ihnen gerade sagt, dass sie Trans ist, nicht nur den Discount haben will?
    Da kann man noch so geschult sein.

    Liked by 1 person

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