Three years ago, bookseller Giese made a life-changing step. He was at a train station Starbucks in Frankfurt, and the barista asked his name. Linus, he said. It was the first time he publicly identified himself as a man. Now Linus is very public about his identity as a trans man – he is a beloved figure on social media and author of a bestselling debut book, Ich bin Linus (Rowohlt). This memoir – the first of its kind in the German-speaking world – records in intimate detail, and with plenty of charm, Linus’s journey from childhood through transitioning and the various joys and challenges of his life as a Berliner.
How has the book’s success changed your life?
Well, I’ve been doing a lot of interviews [laughs]. What’s changed for me most is that I’ve always received a lot of negative feedback and hate messages online – but since the book came out, I’ve been getting a lot of very positive messages about how much it’s meant to people. Many are young people saying they’ve read the book, or they’ve given it to their parents to read and now their parents understand them better. For the first time in my life, I have the feeling that I can really make a lasting impact – that I can make people’s lives better – and that’s a lovely feeling.
Was anything particularly difficult about the writing?
Because I was writing so personally, and so intimately – it was kind of like a therapy session for me. So the hardest part was fear of what might happen when other people read it, and then a whole lot of strangers would know all about me while I know nothing about them. For a while, I wished that the book was a novel, but now I’m happy with what it is, and I don’t regret being so radically open. I couldn’t have written it any other way. And I did so in the hope that others could get something out of it.
What sort of influence do you hope to have?
I came out really late, at 31. And it’s something I’ve thought a lot about – why it took so long. My hope is that this book can encourage people to listen to themselves, to trust in themselves – and not to think too much about what their parents or friends might think.
My hope is that this book can encourage people to listen to themselves, to trust in themselves – and not to think too much about what their parents or friends might think.
To know that, if they do have these desires and needs, then they can follow this path. I also wanted to soothe the fears and concerns of parents. Many parents are overwhelmed when their children say, “I believe I’m a boy” or “I’m a girl”, and I hope my book can give them a way into the subject.
You don’t dismiss your life before coming out – instead, you write very movingly about the hope and consolation you wish you could give to your earlier self. Did the book allow you to tell your whole story, before and after?
Yes, it’s something you can’t do in little pieces on Twitter or Instagram. The book was my first opportunity to really take a lot of space to narrate my whole life – and to have a space where nobody is commenting or interrupting or asking questions. It was a way I could feel deep into myself and decide what I wanted to show. Literature can also be a way to try things out, to see how they feel. That’s something I’ve always used writing for – an engagement with my identity.
There are many dark moments in your narrative, but also plenty of friendship, gratitude, and joy. Did you set out to write something positive?
It was important to me to show that both exist. After my coming out, I had the feeling some people responded to me as if I had said that I had cancer or something. And I really wanted to show that being trans isn’t some horrible fate: it can also mean a happy life.
Almost all the queer role models you mention are American.
Yes, there’s very few well-known trans people in Germany. Representation is crucial. It is so important for people like me to see ourselves in the public sphere. Because only then does someone really know that they, too, can live this way. Although my book tells just one story – every trans person is different.
You address serious issues, from the healthcare system to online hate. What could have made your journey easier?
Things would be much easier if people could show more understanding, but we’d also need to update our laws about what is punishable and what isn’t. For instance, with the harassment that I suffered, it took a long time before anyone believed me about how bad it was – and that it wasn’t my fault. At the beginning, when I talked about what happened, many people said, OK, then just don’t write on the internet that you’re a trans man. I would really like to live in a world where you can blog or tweet about being a trans man without some stranger coming to stand outside your apartment door or harassing you at your workplace, and the police telling you it isn’t necessarily punishable by law. People need to be better protected.
What are you planning to do next?
I have the desire to keep on writing – I’d love to write a children’s book, or a book for young adults. And I’ve joined the team at She Said, a new bookstore in Kreuzberg that only sells works by women and queer authors. We want it to be a community space, too, with lots of events and readings – that’s difficult at the moment, but we’re trying to make the best of the situation.