Imagining Identities


This technique is used to address and dismantle prejudices and stereotypes. Its basis is a respectful examination of different gender identities and life plans of real people.

“Imagining Identities” is based on older activities of the out@school1 project which deals with LGBTQIA+ issues and the challenges of heteronormative societies. Taking that as a starting point, poika has developed a technique that is adapted to current gender-political developments and at the same time true to the core theme, namely the examination of external attributions based on a person’s appearance, especially concerning their lifestyle and gender identity.

By showing and discussing photos of people who either lead a life that the majority of society regards as atypical because of their gender or who are intersex, genderqueer and/or trans, a broad spectrum of realities is opened up that transcends the boundaries of hetero- and cis-normative ideas of ​​gender. This in-depth technique is best suited for groups who have already dealt with LGBTQIA+ related terms and concepts and are ready to dive into the process.

Nonetheless, this can be an emotional issue for young people and has an unsettling effect as (binary) gender is exposed as a constructed norm. It is important to address and reflect on any uncertainties. The process initiated by this activity is an essential step towards the deconstruction of gender norms and stereotypes.

  1. Unterlagen des Schulprojekts out@school/Verein Go West für Lesben, Schwule, Bisexuelle, Trans, Inter und Queer, Bregenz, 2010; adaptiert im Rahmen des Projekts WITH YOU*TH. ↩︎


LGBTQIA+ is an acronym used for labelling both non-heterosexual orientations and preferences and other identities than cisgender. 1 2

  1. Amnesty International. LGBTQI Glossary, 2015, https://www.amnestyusa.org/pdfs/AIUSA_Pride2015Glossary.pdf. ↩︎

  2. Čechová, Helena, and Lada Hajdíková. Duhová Příručka pro Vyučující. PROUD: Platforma pro Rovnoprávnost, Uznání a Diverzitu z.s., 2016. ↩︎

*Trans stands for transgender. Transgender is a term for people whose gender and identity do not correspond with gender assigned to them at birth and that have been perpetuated by language, family, and social interactions. Gender is one’s identity which does not have to depend on one’s sex or correspond to it in any way. Rather, it describes the inner experience of one’s identity. more…

Cisnormativity as well as heteronormativity describes the assumption that cisgender people are considered normal. Cisgender people identify with gender identical to biological sex which was ascribed to them at birth. 1

  1. Čechová, Helena, and Lada Hajdíková. Duhová Příručka pro Vyučující. PROUD: Platforma pro Rovnoprávnost, Uznání a Diverzitu z.s., 2016. ↩︎


Intersex is a general term used for a variety of situations in which a person is born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit the boxes of “female” or “male.”1

  1. See Planned Parrenthood: What’s intersex? https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/gender-identity/sex-gender-identity/whats-intersex ↩︎


Genderqueer is an umbrella term for people who do not contextualize themselves within the binary norm or people whos genders change. Genderqueer can have a similar meaning as non-binary or genderfluid but the definition falls to the poeple who are affected.1

  1. See Queer Lexikon e.V., 2017, https://queer-lexikon.net/2017/06/15/genderqueer/. ↩︎



Group Size

The exercise is suitable for small as well as larger groups of around 6 to 20 people. If the group is smaller, there is more time per group, i.e. per picture. If the group is larger, more images can be discussed. Especially with larger groups, it makes sense to form small groups and then discuss them together at the end.




The activity takes place in three steps: Introduction, small group work, and joint discussion.

One possible way to start is:

“In this activity, we will focus on different people, their lifestyles, gender identities, and interests. You’ll get pictures of different people, and you should think about who these people could be, what gender identity they could have, what they do professionally and in their free time, what the relationships in their lives look like, where they live, what they like and what not, what characteristics they have, and whatever else you find interesting. Write down everything you can think of so that we can discuss it together. It is important to remember that this is about real people who we want to treat with respect. So please, do not make hurtful comments about their appearance or gender.”

The suggested questions can be used as an aid. However, depending on the group, it can also be interesting not to ask any questions and to compare which categories relevant to identity are found within the small groups and to what extent and in what form gender plays a role in the descriptions of people. It is usually noticeable how much our ideas of gender are shaped by external characteristics such as appearance, clothing style, make-up, etc. This is a good chance to address clichés and rigid gender norms and to deconstruct them together with the participants. It is important that the trainer is particularly familiar with LGBTQIA+ issues and can reflect on discriminatory statements together with the participants.

If there are few participants, each person works individually. Otherwise, small groups of 4 to 5 people are formed. Each group can draw one to two pictures. If the trainer feels that certain group constellations are beneficial but others are a hindrance, it makes sense to divide them up. Depending on the group dynamics, there may sometimes be conflicts or there can be less need for discussion in homogeneous groups than in heterogeneous groups. While the small groups/individuals are working, it is good to provide support as questions often arise concerning terminology or the participants may not feel comfortable because the topic affects them. Next, it is important to emphasize once more that nothing personal has to be disclosed.

Once the groups/individuals have finished with their biographies, they all come together in plenary and present their results. Then the trainer briefly introduces the actual biographies of the processed images and facilitates a discussion.


The following questions can serve as a starting point for the discussion:

“During the ‘Imagining Identities’ activity, it quickly became clear to me it is important that the group has prior knowledge of LGBTQIA+ issues. If you work with an uninformed group, it often happens that the participants are so overwhelmed that they react defensively or with disinterest. So, to avoid contemptuous statements and denial, it makes sense to offer this activity towards the end of the workshop cycle. Of course, it can also happen that participants express themselves in a derogatory way. It is then important as a trainer to react quickly and to signal that such behaviour is not okay and that it discriminates against people.”

Trainer, poika