Category Archives: Transgender

Shuffle Those Cards and Start a New Game

2008 liam and milo

The other week, when giving a presentation about my life journey, someone asked, “Why did you go and work in, for example, muslim countries, and travel worldwide to places where, as a transgender person, you were often potentially in danger of becoming the victim of a hate crime?”

The answer to this is really quite simple: “Why not?”

First and foremost, I am a human being who loves life and values his freedom. I greatly enjoy traveling all over the globe. I don’t think about being trans all the time. It doesn’t factor into what my next move will be. Rather, I look at a map and ponder which corners of our gorgeous planet I’d like to see next, where the best dive sites, the best wildlife encounters, the most beautiful landscapes are, and which points on my bucket list I want to tackle next.

I love connecting with people along the way, no matter what their background. The more diverse the better. There is so much we can learn from each other. And good people can be found anywhere. Going on an adventure together (like here in Palau with one of my best friends), or enjoying a cold beer with a couple of like-minded souls on a hot summer evening, chatting about our experiences, thoughts and dreams, is as close to heaven as I can imagine.

Nothing and nowhere is ever completely safe for anyone. No matter what we do or who we are. So why should any of us let ourselves be limited by the cards we’ve been given? Why not take charge, shuffle those cards, and start a new game? I’ve always looked ahead and tried to make the best of things. I’ll follow my heart and I’ll give it a go. Depending on where I am, I will exercise a healthy bit of caution as well, but I don’t see any reason why I should put limits to my existence. Author Helen Keller who overcame great adversity spoke straight from my heart: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”

Yet Another Presentation

book reading BCG zurich 1

Last Friday, I gave a presentation and read from my book ‘Paralian’ at the offices of The Boston Consulting Group in Zurich. Thanks so much to BCG for the opportunity! Special thanks to the amazing, open-minded, and engaged audience!

You Always Can – A Story of Coming Home to Myself

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I have always been drawn to water. Any body of water. Oceans mostly. Wanted to immerse myself. Dive in. Explore and discover.
But, as I grew up, I developed a spastic in my legs and couldn’t learn to swim properly. Later, becoming more and more aware of being stranded in a wrongly-gendered body, I felt too shy to take off my clothes and take the plunge. Until my 30ieth birthday it was all trial and error, climbing one obstacle after another. Searching for myself, slowly changing my body so I could truly become one with it, inhabit it, come home to myself.
After my gender reassignment surgeries, I gathered all my courage. Away with the shirt on hot summer days. Exposing ugly scars that looked like tectonic plates had clashed and created a whole new set of tender, jagged mountain ranges in the process.
At 31, during one stormy October week, I learned to scuba dive in the Mediterranean Sea.
One year later, I took swimming lessons, claiming the revitalizing, unpredictable element like I had always dreamt of doing.
In the years that followed, I left everything I knew behind. I lived barefoot on a Maldivian island, spent hours every day in the water – first as a snorkel guide then as a diving instructor. Every fin stroke brought me closer to my true self.
I hovered underwater. Weightless. Effortless. Aware. In the moment. Most of all: Alive.
I navigated pumping currents with the elegance of an adolescent dolphin. I helped people overcome their fear of the deep blue. Taught hundreds of students. Grew as a diving instructor until I finally even trained instructor candidates. Travelled the world. Then went on to coach performers underwater for ‘The House of Dancing Water’ in Macau – back then the biggest aquatic show on our planet.

Bottom line: Live your life. Own it. Dive deep. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can or cannot do (least of all yourself). No matter how impossible or hopeless something seems at the time, no matter how daunting the circumstances: You can. You always can.

International author backs Kent transgender student

Thank you Sean McPolin. I’m glad Lily won this battle. There’ll be many more to come. Some to do with her being trans, others just because challenging us is what life does…
Makes me think of a quote I read the other day, “You’re gonna be happy'” said life, “but first I’ll make you strong.”
All the best to Lily and all of you out there on a quest to come home to yourself. Follow your heart and don’t ever give up.

Sean McPolin

An international author is supporting a Kent transgender student who threatened to sue her school.

Liam Klenk, 45, from Switzerland has offered his support to 18-year-old Lily Madigan, Chatham, after she threatened legal action against a Catholic academy, regarding their policies on transgender students.

Mr Klenk, born female, understood the difficulties Lily has faced at school, and struggles she will face in life.

liam-kLiam Klenk, born Stefanie, lived in Germany as a child.

He said: “Gender dysphoria is not a joke. I myself was struggling with it for many years until I finally transitioned from Stefanie to Liam when I was twenty-three years old.

“A weight as unbearably heavy as the Himalayan mountain range resting on my shoulders finally, amazingly, gave way to the weight of a feather the moment I took steps towards letting myself be the real me.”

The former scuba-diving instructor’s book – “Paralian – Not Just Transgender”

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You Don’t Have To

2013-liam-in-gruyere-castle-window

From when I was four years old, I was happiest during vacations, far away from all who thought they knew me. I ran out to play, introduced myself as ‘Stefan’, and no one was the wiser. I would play “Cowboys and Indians” with the boys, roam through the forests or sand dunes and be free… until my parents would come looking for me, searching for their beloved daughter ‘Stefanie’…

I treasured those short spells of freedom. Being Stefan. Those moments during which I reinvented – or rather – found myself.

Back home in our little town, life went back to “normal”…
“Stefanie you have to wear a dress,” I was told.
“You can’t come with us. You’re a girl. They don’t climb trees.”
“You don’t need to be interested in science. Girls rarely are.”
“You have to wear at least a little bit of red and pink.”
Best was when, during the last year of high school, we were given suggestions as to what professional opportunities awaited us.
Being all sincere and helpful, the school counselor said, “Forget about being a game warden in a big national park. That’s way too unrealistic. You’d make a great midwife though.”

Many years later, after I knew without a doubt that I had, in fact, been born into the wrong body, I began hormone therapy. Amazing how with every drop of testosterone my body felt a bit more as if it actually belonged to me.

Yet, already during and after I went through all my gender reassignment surgeries, a whole new set of labels and rules crept up on me.
“You’re a man now, you have to drink beer.”
“You have to carry my suitcase. Men are supposed to do that.”
“When I run towards you and jump into your arms, you have to catch me.”
“You’re too soft spoken. You have to be tougher.”
“How can you not be interested in soccer?”
“You’re too sensitive. Men don’t cry.”

Over the years, facing societal expectations, I asked myself “Who am I?” many times over… and I realized it truly doesn’t matter what anyone thinks.

I am a man. I feel it in every fiber of my body and soul.

Yet I am my very own kind of man.

Growing up in a girl’s body gives me incredible insight I wouldn’t want to be without. I don’t fit many of the stereotypes usually associated with men…
I love my sensitivity, cry openly when I am happy or watch movies; hug and kiss my best friends, have no clue about cars, sports clubs, or beer; don’t get into fistfights, and never whistle after a woman.

Nowadays, when I am out and about and hear people tell each other who they’re supposed to be, I pass them with an amused smile.
We don’t have to conform to any labels or stereotypes. We can just be ourselves.

Lending a Voice

Annually, on the 20ieth of November we remember those who have been taken from us way too early, but, until we have reached a state of mutual respect and acceptance, every day is Transgender Day of Remembrance…

I was born in Germany in 1971, a little boy in a girl’s body… then transitioned almost twenty years ago, in 1993, in Switzerland. It’s not been easy. Fear, loneliness, depression, and despair were my constant companions, faithfully lurking just around the corner like a bunch of hungry zombies. Facing the challenge of being born in the wrong body was a matter of survival. Leaving things as they were was simply not an option. Today, I can say I am at peace with my circumstances. I like who I am, and am – mostly – at one with myself.

Considering all I’ve been through it comes as a shock to realize I am one of the lucky ones.

Annually, on November 20ieth, during the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), we memorialize those who have lost their lives to hate crimes.

https://tdor.info/

When I first came across this long list I literally had to sit down and breathe slow and deeply for a while.

So many killed each year. .. stoned, beaten, bludgeoned, stabbed, and shot to death. And why? Simply because they were being themselves.

The Human Rights Campaign posted a story in April 2016 of a transgender girl and her (very supportive) family. The girl’s mom said, “Imagine spending your life pretending to be someone you aren’t, to try to live to make everyone else in your world happy rather than yourself.”

Yes. Imagine.

Those who kill our transgender peers can’t comprehend, can’t allow the possibility of diversity beyond the scope of what they know to be their reality. They are scared, feel threatened by what they can’t understand. Thus their reactions become as primeval as their fear – leading to senseless violence and death.

In many countries it still isn’t safe and can be fatal to come out openly as transgender. Also, in many countries a large percentage of trans individuals are still homeless and can only find employment in the sex trade. They are perceived as freaks of nature instead of being appreciated as the intriguing, strong, and brave individuals they truly are.

I’ve always been able to live life the way I wanted. I never took no for an answer and managed to live all over the world, working as a movie theater manager, designer, scuba diving instructor, hyperbaric chamber operator, show diver, performer coach, and production manager.

However, I too had to be careful. Depending on where I lived or traveled, I knew I couldn’t let my guard down… On a road trip through the “bible belt” in the United States I kept to myself and never went over the speed limit (– lest a trigger-happy cop decides to pull me over, searches me and discovers I’m not quite a regular guy). In Indonesia I never smoked a joint. What would I do if police strip-searched me in a dark alley, discovering I’m a guy but don’t have a penis? In Macau I took great care to not get caught drunk driving to avoid ending up in prison overnight (standard practice there). In fundamental religious regions I never went to a massage or sauna.

I am fully aware I have to be careful with my very own brand of preconceived notions and prejudice. Regardless, it’s better to be alert instead of finding death prematurely. The TODR list speaks for itself.

It’s a tightrope act – managing to live my life exactly as who I am, whilst at the same time successfully avoiding any situation that could potentially end up with me being cornered by a bunch of trans-phobic guys or even police men who might or might not beat me to death.

One day, I hope alertness like this won’t be necessary anymore. I hope we won’t need memorial lists anymore. Diversity is a gift, a privilege, not a threat. Is it possible for people to someday truly accept each other without judgment?

Most likely not.

But it is a valid dream to have. A goal for all of us to work towards – honoring and speaking for those who can’t speak for themselves anymore – or those who haven’t found the strength to do so yet.

Gender has always been fluid. Some Native American tribes, for example, recognized this fact already long before our time by accepting up to nine different genders in their societies. More widely known amongst most Native American tribes was – and still is – the term “Two-Spirit People”, to describe individuals who find themselves with a soul imprisoned in a wrongly-gendered body.

From own experience I can say being trans is not something you just decide to be one day. It is who I am. It is who I was born as. None of us transgender individuals know why we were born this way. It just happened. It is not anyone’s fault… just a strange deck of cards that has been given… a quirk of nature that occurs far more often than you’ve been led to believe. Only within the last decade have more and more trans and/or gender fluid individuals dared to come forward. Many know from childhood on who they truly are. I’ve known since I was four years old.

And you know what? No one can define who I am. My identity isn’t bound to what is stated in my original birth certificate. I know better. Because this body is my home and I know it intimately because I’ve lived in it for forty-five years already.

Times are changing – albeit slowly. No matter what though, I’ll continue to live life to the fullest, being true to myself and reaching out to make – hopefully – a little bit of difference.

This is for all those who have suffered and left us far too early.

You will never be forgotten.