Dreaming of my days traveling and exploring the oceans. Like here in Palau, getting ready to submerge for a night dive with one of my best friends. Underwater, you are profoundly yourself. You rely on your skills, on the integrity of your mind. There are no doubts. There is only peace and focus. Your buddy and you are side by side, enveloped by the sea. Trusting each other. Living intensely in the moment. Together.
Freedom and independence have always been important to me.
These past few years, I’ve been increasingly reminded of their importance because – additionally to my own constant quest – someone close to my heart has been struggling with claiming her independence after having been imprisoned by religious and societal standards for most of her life.
I remember many conversations we had during which she felt I can’t possibly understand her massive need to manage her life entirely on her own. Her need to be in control of her own destiny without having to answer to other people or institutions. To understand herself and the world around her and conquer it by her own standards.
The thing is… I understand perfectly, because even though our background is different it is also incredibly similar. Instead of being limited by an institution, I was limited by my own body. I too, had been born into an existence which wasn’t mine.
It was dictated by the shape of my biological body, dictated by my – in the truest sense of the word – surroundings. On top of my body not matching my soul, societal standards which didn’t match my soul either, ruled my life.
And even though those around me meant well, I was never free until I realized: I am who I am, not who they think I am.
It took me until I was thirty to have enough life experience and courage to claim my freedom fully, step by step. To say “no” more often to things I had not dared say “no” to before. And to say “yes” to other things I had never before imagined were possible in my life. This picture was taken then, as I was still growing into my own skin. Ever more comfortable with my own existence. But it took another ten years until the age of forty for me to really understand myself, love myself, and rest within myself. That last part is still a work in progress… but getting better all the time.
Personal freedom. Independence. Integrity.
All so very important.
All of us are growing up with a layer of rules, societal standards, opinions, assumptions, and automatisms. Some of those are great. Others are not. We need to carefully, critically examine all of them. Always.
While growing into the adults we now are, I picture us as living in a coat shop and being surrounded by enthusiastic salesmen and saleswomen. All of them want to sell us what they think is the best coat. After a while we end up wearing dozens or even hundreds of coats. We’re wearing them on top of each other and doing our best to fit into all of them. Then, at some point, we realize, “Damn, this is heavy. I can’t move and I can barely stand up straight.”
We realize somewhere along the way, underneath all those coats, we’ve forgotten who we are. We want to stop and breathe, to find the coats which make us feel at home with ourselves. Which are ours. So, inevitably, we’ll start sorting through the ones which have been given to us. And, if we find the courage, we’ll take off the ones which don’t fit. The ones which make us feel restricted and uncomfortable.
Only then can we get back to the core of who we are… re-build ourselves.
With love compassion, and kindness, for ourselves and others.
With ethical considerations as well as our own well-being and happiness in mind.
It’s all about healthy boundaries, and taking care of our own souls, our own lives.
Ever since writing this blog, I’ve noticed how I lose followers when, for a while, I don’t specifically write about being transgender. I guess some people are hoping for specific insights into a trans existence. But what is a trans existence? The truth is – and I can’t stress this often enough – we are all the sum of our experiences. That being said, no matter what I do and write, being trans (or being categorized as trans in our society) is undeniably part of who I am.
However, when you are trans it isn’t foremost on your mind every single day. It isn’t what you think and talk about all the time. It just is. I transitioned 25 years ago. Yes, I have faced and still face many challenges because of being trans. But, in essence, I am facing what everyone else does. Like every other human out there, I fight my battles, struggle, grow, love, hurt, long to belong, long to be loved, and aim to find a healthy balance between taking care of myself and taking care of others.
Over the years, what has become most important for me is to open my mind wide and see beyond the labels. If I am any sort of activist, then this is it: I fight for a world of compassion and mutual respect. A world in which labels become obsolete.
The more I experience life all over the globe, the more I realize that, rather than focusing on what makes us all different, it is so much better to focus on what connects us. The best I can do for myself and for everyone else out there is to be authentic, ignore the labels, and rather write about life in all its rawness. I want to observe the world around me with empathy. I want to understand those around me, no matter what their background, and write about the beauty and painfulness of our shared existence.
The longer I think about it, I even wonder, “What does transgender mean?” I was born as who I am. The gender assignation of the body I was born with did not match with my soul. But my soul was always human. I was just another splotch of color in our diverse universe. No matter what my physical shell looked like at any point in time, inside of it I was always beautiful, flawed, unique, struggling Liam. Society will classify me as a trans male. I classify myself as male. But in the end, does it even matter?
I am Liam. And I believe that is enough.
Photo by Susanne Stauss
Hello 😊 Shout-out to all of you, who have read my book ‘Paralian’. If you haven’t done so already, can you be so kind and write a little review for it? Even if it’s just one word? Like a thought shared with buddies around a camp fire, books live on and grow through word-of-mouth.
If you search for either ‘Liam Klenk’ or ‘Paralian’ on any Amazon page, you’ll find my book immediately. Scrolling down, you’ll find a link where you can add a review.
And/or you can write a review for it here on Goodreads.
The more the merrier. Cheers! Much appreciated!
I often fondly remember working as a diving instructor in the Maldives. Four years of living and working on a small island with individuals from all corners of the globe, in closest quarters, with hardly any privacy.
Teaching students who are sometimes terrified of the element they are about to enter.
Learning a whole new level of social competence, acceptance, and problem solving amongst my colleagues and friends.
Finding moments of peace within my daily responsibilities.
The odd cheese fondue in front of my room was a rare highlight of relaxation… enveloping my staff accommodation neighbours in wave after wave of strong Appenzeller and Gruyere scents.
Now, as a stage manager, I have exchanged the magical deep blue sea with the also magical deep black backstage.
In many ways, it’s just another island.
And, thankfully, learning and growth always continue…
What better to do during an unexpected break between jobs than to catch up on some writing… (under the strict supervision of my cats, naturally).
As I get older, I remind myself to not forget the simple pleasures which made my heart beat faster when I was a kid. Sweet, sticky ice cream dissolving on my tongue and brain freeze on a hot summer’s day… Sitting in the shade of a tree, day dreaming and escaping the sizzling afternoon heat… Balancing on that wall along the water’s edge, gazing out over the blue, sparkling water surface towards the horizon… Simple pleasures, but oh so satisfying!
A couple of weeks ago, I was invited by UBS Hong Kong to give a presentation about my life journey. It was my first ever speaking engagement in Hong Kong. The audience was wonderful. Curious, openminded, and not shy to bombard me with questions after the talk. Standing in the conference room on the 56th floor of the IFC tower, dramatic clouds piling up across the horizon, I was happy to be alive… and grateful to be given the chance to make a little difference.
Flashback to 2016, the year Paralian was first published. Writing this book was one of the best things I’ve ever done, even though letting myself be seen to such an extent was also terrifying. Over the last year, life has been so turbulent, I wasn’t able to focus on anything at all. But, I will keep on writing and will always be the quiet yet gently persistent voice in the background promoting mutual respect, love, compassion, inclusion, no labels, and the basic human right of freedom for us all to be the unique individuals we were born to be. Diversity is a precious gift and privilege, not a threat. (Photograph courtesy of LiterallyPR)