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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.
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.
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 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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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.
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.
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.”
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.
Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance #TODR. https://tdor.info
Everyone on this list has lost their lives simply for being themselves, for longing to live their lives as who they truly were.
In honor of those who have been taken from us so violently, let me share a positive story with you of how it could be. A story of hope:
“Even though it was still the early days – I’d had only four months of hormone therapy – it was time to announce to the people in my life what had been happening. I couldn’t pretend forever that my voice sounded deeper because of a cold, and I didn’t want to shave off the rapidly growing amount of body hair. It was time to jump into the bottomless ocean and reveal myself.
In the months following my decision to come out, my faith in humanity was restored many times over. Almost all reactions to my revelations were entirely, and sometimes surprisingly, positive. Many of my friends and acquaintances simply smiled a knowing smile when I told them, and confessed they had always taken me for either a hardcore butch or a transgender person. My behavior seemed to have given me away for years. People had known who I was, long before I myself had re-awakened to my identity.
Some reactions towards my disclosure about my real gender and my new name were outright comical. My team at the movie theater consisted of an elderly, conservative Swiss projectionist, as well as elderly Swiss ladies, stout-looking workers from Serbia, and other unique characters. One evening, I asked them all to gather in our small office because I had an important announcement to make. I was sure they would be outraged. I was sweating buckets and my heart raced.
In short, I told them I was actually a man and was going to change my body accordingly. Forthwith, my name would be Liam. Erich, the projectionist, just emitted a deep, rumbling “Hmmm?!” The elderly ladies exclaimed, “You will be such a handsome young man!” and the Serbians unanimously stated, “You are part of our gang. We’ll always have your back”. I was dumbfounded. Half an hour later, Erich passed by my popcorn stand. He stared at me very seriously and after a lengthy pause grumbled, “Couldn’t you have picked an easier name? How am I supposed to remember an odd one like Liam?” He stared at me for a moment longer, then turned abruptly, and walked away with a big grin on his face.
Only three days later, my company informed me of my appointment with the tailor who would change my work uniform into pants, blazer, and tie as soon as possible. I was in heaven.”
(The picture shows me only a few weeks after my tailor appointment.)
Lots has been said already about a certain orange-faced individual winning the presidency. I was shocked over here in Europe when waking up to the sad news. Terrified really and worried out of my mind for all of us. The only question was what to get worried about first… human rights issues, environmental concerns, international politics…
As a trans man who has lived and traveled all over the world (including the US), I am especially worried about my trans peers. Mainly trans kids, teenagers and all those who are just now thinking of transitioning or are in the middle of it.
There is unfortunately not much I can do for you from afar. I wish I had the resources to drop everything and just come over and be there for all of you in person. Since I can’t though, let me just leave you with this: It might sound like a cliche… but… you are truly not alone!
You don’t need to be ashamed for anything. There is nothing wrong with you. You didn’t choose to be transgender. You were born this way. None of this is your fault. And there is nothing wrong with being trans, either. We exist. We always have. And we always will. The world is the better for it. Diversity is a beautiful thing. Hopefully, one day we’ll be mature enough as a people to hold that thought, cherish it, and live it to our heart’s content.
If you feel threatened and terrified right now, please reach out. Help groups are all over the place. Other trans individuals are everywhere. Also don’t forget, there are many out there who actually do have common sense, decency, and compassion. Many people will accept you just as you are.
Forget about pronouns, passing, politics, and all that stuff for a moment. The only thing that really matters is to know you are beautiful just as you are. You are you and you have every right to be. Love yourself, look after yourself, and seek to find like-minded spirits who will embrace you in your entirety.
Trump or not, there’s always going to be small-minded morons. Thankfully it’s a big planet and you WILL have the privilege to meet many inspiring, amazing human beings.
I am here for you, too. I do have a few thoughts to share based on personal experience and I’m a good listener. I transitioned almost 25 years ago and I’m immensely happy in my own skin. I live my life the way I want, adventurous at times, less adventurous at other times. I will not be limited due to my personal history. I am proud to be trans but I am also not just trans. Like all of us, I am the sum of my experiences. In the end it is all about being human and rising to the occasion.
One more time, because it is so important: please know you’re not alone! As a matter of fact if there is no one in your closer vicinity you feel safe talking to, don’t be shy and PM me anytime. Be safe. Celebrate your individuality. Don’t ever give up no matter how dreary the situation might look just now. There’s always a way.
“On earth there is no heaven, but there are pieces of it.” Jules Renard
Yes, there are! And we will get through everything!