While in Latvia trans-sexuality is still considered pathology and a sex-change operation is the only  accepted  way how somebody can change their gender (which is not always wanted or possible), Spain is one of the most LGBT friendliest countries when it comes to the law. That is the reason that for this interview I asked two Spanish guys who are not afraid to talk about trans-issues.

I met Asel and Andrew in March in the Erasmus+ project called InterACTive Colors in the Netherlands. Both guys are not afraid to publicly admit that they are transgender. We talked about coming out, self-acceptance, other people’s opinions and gender roles in the society.

TELL ME SOMETHING WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT YOU?

ANDREW: I’m an eighteen year old transboy and I’ve been out of the closet for almost a year. I’ve always loved activism, I feel kind of useful knowing that I am doing something for the future. Apart from that, I’m a young writer —I even self-published a book, around two years ago— and I study Psychology in Madrid. I would like to study something related to Literature at some point of my life.

ASEL: I lose every sock I have, everywhere. I never wear matching socks because I can’t find the pair. I feel like a black hole for socks.

ASEL during the project InterACTive Colors. Photo: Elīna Primaka

WHEN DID YOU REALISE THAT YOUR OUTSIDE BODY DOESN’T MATCH WHO YOU ARE AND FEEL LIKE?

ASEL: I didn’t know what it meant, but I always felt discomfort with my body. I didn’t hate it, but I knew I would like to change a few things here and there. I didn’t know what that meant until a few years ago, maybe three or so, when I started reading about trans issues. Month by month, day by day, I couldn’t really see myself in the mirror anymore; I was actively conscious of this after a night of reflection on the issue.

ANDREW: I think I’ve known that something was not quite right with my outside body since I was very young. When I was five or so I used to ask my mother to refer to me as if I was a cat, or a dog, or whatever animal I liked at the moment.

When I got my first period my first reaction was denial, and my mother’s excitement around the issue only made things worse.

However I only started thinking about that as a matter of gender identity when I was 16, perhaps then I was already a bit informed about trans issues and gender theory in general. I considered the situation for months.

The moment of truth, however, was somewhat sudden. I was at my grandmother’s house, trying to survive a Christmas with my family. I was reading this book and felt huge connection with the main character, who happened to be a boy, and who struggled, too, with his own identity. When I closed the book – my mind was clear.

HOW WAS IT FOR YOU?

ANDREW: The awareness of whom I was at last gave me, at least initially, an indescribable sense of relief. For a while I even thought I had minimally recovered from my eating disorder. It did not last long, soon came the anxiety of having to go back to class and face misgendering and/or rejection. Oh my god I was afraid of everybody back then. The mere thought of coming out gave me shivers. However the first week was one of the nicest things I’ve experienced in my life. It was like discovering a brand new reality.

ASEL: Scary. It was a lot of things, actually, but mainly scary. Scary, because I didn’t know what to do next. Tell someone else about it? Change my life for the outside world? Just keep quiet? A lot of possibilities, and the good ones scared me just as much as the bad ones. However when I finally came to terms with it, it was liberating.

HOW WAS THE REACTION FROM PEOPLE YOU SHARED THIS INFORMATION WITH?

ASEL: My family is pretty conservative, so this is information I am scared of sharing directly with them because of my safety. When I shared this with my friends, the reaction was really great. They accepted me more than I accepted myself.

This coming out process wasn’t straight for me, I went back and forth many times.

But even when I went back, they kept treating me as they knew I wanted even though I was scared of doing it myself. It was really helpful. I couldn’t have done without them.

ANDREW: Well, it depended. The high school classmates I trusted enough to come out to didn’t have any problems in accepting it or incorporating that reality into their daily lives. Funny, it almost took me more time to tell my friends outside school, the closest ones, emotionally speaking. It may be because even when I’ve known a person for a long time I always have trouble trusting fully, and I was far more afraid to be rejected by them.

When it comes to my family, the story turns into something a bit harsher. I came out first to my sisters, believing that because of their young age, they would not be so full of misconceptions. My middle sister was the first one to give me problems because she snapped back and explained to me that it was impossible that I was probably just confused or going through a hard time.

Transgender people, she told me, were not like me.
She was eleven.

My youngest sister was nine and, even today, is the only one at home that calls me Andrew. I didn’t come out to my parents by choice. My sister asked them some questions because she was trying to understand my own reality, and I didn’t have that much of an option whether to answer to my mother’s inquiries about me. My father left, claiming he I was making him nervous. I think he still believes I’m going through some sort of aesthetic phase, huh. My mother spent the next hours screaming about how little she knew me, how many bad decisions I was making, how difficult it would be for everyone to love me in those circumstances. Fuck. War flashbacks.

ANDREW during the project InterACTive Colors. Photo: Elīna Primaka

WHEN DID YOU START YOUR TRANSITION?

ASEL: Medically, I’m about to do it—I did my tests and I have just scheduled the appointment with my doctor. Socially, I fully started back in September 2016. It was really uncomfortable at first because I didn’t know how people would react. Surprisingly, the reactions were pretty good, even from professors at university. I have a lot of support there—actually,

I think my university is one of my biggest supports in these matters; they help trans people change their names in the university’s paperwork, they communicate with your professors about it, and they have the legal obligation to treat one according to their identity and pronouns.

IN THIS SOCIETY WHERE SO MANY  PEOPLE IDENTIFY AS CIS-GENDER HOW DO YOU FEEL TO BE TRANS?

ASEL: I am conscious that my life experience is pretty different from the ones of those who are cisgender. However, I don’t feel like being trans defines nor limits me. It’s not something I think much about unless the situation requires it—usually, in a negative way, when someone misgenders me or treats me badly because of me being trans.

So, I don’t feel anything specific about being trans. I feel like Asel – someone who just happens to be trans, as happens to have blue eyes.

ANDREW: I must say that, as a trans boy living in a democratic and fairly open country, things are not that difficult. When you have a minimum of what is called cis passing, all you do by transitioning is gaining social privileges.

Is true that, especially because of the bureaucratic and legislative situation in my country, you can encounter a lot of obstacles and fears in your daily life, like being asked if your id is fake or being afraid of losing your job for coming out as transgender to your boss, but you are less likely to be beaten up in the middle of the street as a trans girl, for example.

The biggest problem is usually ignorance. People who don’t know anything about transgender people as a reality and who are full of prejudices and misconceptions because of how we are portrayed in the media. People who think they have some right to judge you, ask you really intimate questions or just think of your identity as a matter of perspective just because you are not cis. The kind of things that could be solved by introducing LGBT-related education in our societies.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR OWN PERSONAL GENDER EXPRESSION?

ANDREW: I think my gender expression is something quite androgynous sometimes. I don’t know. Probably just a bit not conformed, that’s all. I haven’t started my transition (yet), but I think my gender expression became freer once I realised I was transgender. I went through this awful denial phase right before that, and I tried to stick to the traditional gender expression of femininity, and it did me more harm than good, in terms of mental stability. So yeah. I guess in a way, I was suddenly less afraid of being myself.

ASEL with the team members during the project InterACTive Colors. Photo: Elīna Primaka

ASEL: I consider that my gender expression, even though I’m a man, is very feminine. Not only do I have some feminine manners, but I also like typically feminine-associated stuff. Before my transition and coming out, I liked these things, but it felt trapping and obligated. Now, after coming to terms with my identity, I still like this kind of thing, but now it feels natural and liberating. Not much changed—I now wear more masculine clothing than before—, but it feels so much better now.

WHAT IS IS REAL MAN?

ASEL: A real man is someone who identifies as a man. You don’t have to be cis, trans, or behave in a certain way.

DO YOU HAVE PENIS ENVY?

ASEL: I do not. I’d like to change many things about my body, but that’s not something that is on my mind. I guess it would be easier when it comes to finding partners for sex—sadly, there are many people who feel uncomfortable having sex with a trans person—but those are just occasions, and what is important how I feel about it. I don’t feel like it would change my life much because

I feel pretty comfortable with my private parts, and gladly, people are not going to look inside my pants.

ANDREW: Not really. In addition to the fact that the operation required to put an end to that hypothetical envy is, to this day, quite complicated, I see genitalia as no more than a biological fact, which does not put any obstacles to my identity. Maybe because, unlike secondary sexual characters (breasts and all), it’s something far more intimate.

DO YOU NOW FEEL COMFORTABLE IN YOUR BODY?

ANDREW: Oh, no. I struggle with body dysphoria almost every day.

ASEL: I feel comfortable in my body as a whole. There are certain parts that make me feel uncomfortable, and I do what I can with them, but I don’t hate the general picture. I know it’s something I can change even if it will take some time, so it doesn’t make desperate. I want to think of my body as my home, and not as my prison.

HOW AND DID THE TRANSITION AFFECTED YOUR OWN SEXUALITY?

ASEL: I haven’t started my medical transition yet, but my social transition had a big impact in my view of my own sexuality. When I came to terms with my own masculinity, I also came to terms with how I view masculinity in general.

Being a man who likes men is difficult, and I think it’s even more difficult when you are trans. Am I enough of a man to call myself gay? Am I gay enough for other men?
Will men even like me?

These questions are still in your mind even when you’re confident, but in my case, not as strongly. Being able to openly say that I’m a man also allows me to openly say that I like men.

HOW IS THE DATING SITUATION WHEN ONE IS A TRANS-PERSON?

ASEL: It is pretty limited. You don’t have that many options or safe spaces. Before going out with someone, I really have to make sure that I will be safe, so I can’t do it with everyone.

ANDREW: Much more complicated than the dating situation for cis people. Even when you are searching only for a romantic partner, it is difficult to know to what extent your partner will understand and support you in the various situations in which you may be involved. And we have to consider the widespread ignorance that exists about the problems faced by trans people.

People are full of misconceptions and prejudices, and that is a huge problem. It is not surprising that many trans people end up dating other trans people.

ANDREW (third from the left) with the team members of the project InterACTive Colors. Photo: Elīna Primaka

DO YOU FEEL THAT NOW YOU HAVE MORE PRIVILEGES COMPARING TO BEFORE THE TRANSITION?

ANDREW:  As someone who has not yet begun any kind of hormone treatment and has only a vague cis passing, I haven’t noticed an excessive increase of privileges which, on the other hand, I will gain as I go further into my transition. I can point out, however, some:

  • I don’t suffer from cat-calling or street harassment in general as much as I used to;
  • I have less trouble when it comes to being heard without having to endure with condescending comments from my colleagues or teachers;
  • People are now less surprised when I tell them I have anger issues than they were before, as well as by the fact that I’m a really belligerent person when it comes to discussing politics or any other topics.

ASEL: When strangers assume I’m a man, I feel like they respect me more than when they assume I’m a woman. It doesn’t matter if you’re cis or trans—people will always respect man more than a woman, sadly.

I remember than when I first came out to a teacher in high school, she said that I wasn’t really trans that I just wanted men’s privilege in society.

Of course that isn’t true at all, for anyone. However, it is true that men have privilege over women, even if they’re trans.

WHAT IS YOUR MESSAGE TO OTHER TRANS-TEENS AND TRANS-YOUTH YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE?

ASEL: Know what you have to do in order to be safe and happy, and don’t be afraid to do it. Your life is yours, and you choose how to live it. You don’t have to answer to the negative people in your life if they don’t like it. Make yourself your priority. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and support. And keep going. I know it’s a hard and scary journey, but you can make it, and the destination is so beautiful and peaceful I promise you won’t regret it.

ANDREW: Take one minute at a time. Go at your own pace. You don’t have to go through transition if you don’t want to. You don’t have to actively join the fight if it makes you anxious. Take care of yourself, support each other and create safe spaces where everyone can find their individuality.

Inform, deconstruct, build!

Author: Ilze Ozola