Gert Christian Südel

Gert Christian Südel together with Holly White

“The vicious circle of a transsexual” by Gert Christian Südel, bequest at the Lili Elbe Archive.

During training in Hamburg as an intaglio retoucher

Berlin 1972



Gert Christian Südel (1951-2014) was a trans activist and pioneer. He founded the Arbeitskreis TS – Interessengemeinschaft für Transsexuelle und Transvestiten, did public relations work and networking and significantly influenced the history of trans people in Germany. Without his commitment and idealism, the history of transsexuality in Germany would have been decisively different.

The Founding of Arbeitskreis TS

In the summer of 1972, Gert Christian Südel decided to found the Arbeitskreis TS – Interessengemeinschaft für Transsexuelle und Transvestiten (TS Working Group – Interest Group for Transsexuals and Transvestites), the first association of trans people in Germany after the Second World War as far as we know today. This group had existed informally since 1968 and was composed of all the contacts he had in Europe until then. In repeated conversations with Volkmar Sigusch at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE), he learned that many trans people had problems, were socially excluded and that there was no place for them to go for information. Even basic information about stores for plus-size women’s shoes and wigs or opportunities to meet like-minded people did not exist. His own transition had been positive up to that point, thanks in part to the help of his best friend Tommy, and so he wanted to support other trans people and offer them a home in the community. At that time, Gert was very impressed by how trans people had coached and built each other up in nightlife. Above all, he admired the humor with which they glossed over disheartening situations. It was not an easy life, but one marked by hardship. As a rule, their employment opportunities did not offer insurance.

Founding of BETSI e.V. (Beratungsstelle für Transsexuelle – Informationsdienst)

Gert Christian Südel rented an attic apartment in his grandparents’ house. His TS working group became increasingly known and he received transgender people from half of Europe. Some of them stayed overnight with him and the proximity to his parents’ inn was convenient for larger meetings and evenings together. It was known in the neighborhood that Gert Christian Südel advised transsexual people. If anyone looked around searchingly, seemed a bit lost and couldn’t quite be categorized gender-wise, people there would say, “Ah, you must be looking for Mr. Südel. Take a right and then a left.” In the nearby stores, people were also very good about dealing with his guests.

Some transgender women had inhibitions about going out in a dress. He practiced a lot with them all over the neighborhood. He regularly held photo sessions with them, where they stood in front of as well as behind the camera. They could hide behind the camera and forget that anyone might be looking at them. It also provided a distraction from their own perceptions, because they could focus their attention specifically on other things, thus reducing the stress levels in these unfamiliar, new situations. This was helpful for very many at the time. He also went shopping with them and the baker in the neighborhood always had charming compliments ready. Sometimes he would say, “Oh, you have a great voice. Almost like Amanda Lear.” This had a very positive effect on the women’s experience of self-efficacy and they went home quite happy every time.

During this time, the political work continued to increase and Gert Christian Südel thought it was time to professionalize. The founding era began. He coordinated via circular letters with all engaged and interested people, whereupon they first fixed December 3 and 4, 1977 as dates for the foundation meeting. In a letter, Gert then asked about their wishes for travel and accommodation, because many people came from outside Hamburg. Due to the huge interest in the founding of BETSI and more feedback than expected, the first meeting was moved to January 15, 1978. The time in BETSI was marked by the negotiations over the German Transsexuals Act. At the same time Südel continued to organize photo sessions and arranged to have people contribute articles to various newspapers.

The road to faith

When he was 30 years old and his relationship broke up, he felt he could use more grounding in his life. Until then, his life had always been very spontaneous and volatile. He moved from one relationship to another and sometimes in the middle of the night in different hotel rooms. Suddenly, this life was no longer fulfilling to him. He thought that inner values were more important to him than the adventures he was having. It was time for a new beginning. He also stopped working with his association. His activism era was over and he didn’t mind letting others take over. He went into activist retirement with a clear conscience and has not regretted this decision. After all, he had been partly responsible for the Transsexual Act and had achieved more for all transgender people than anyone before or after him. For him, this was a good conclusion to his commitment. In the years that followed, he became increasingly involved with the Christian faith and remained a committed member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints until the end of his life.