Beginning of this year, ‘Writers Resist’ events were held all over the world. These readings were to remind ourselves of the importance of human rights, freedom of speech, and mutual respect.
Here in Zurich, on a mid-January evening, we spoke up as well, reading from many different works of literature (including our own) in front of a sincere, spell-bound audience. I’m glad I was able to do my part. Because, as I pointed out in this article by JJ Marsh in ‘The Woolf’: “Kindness, compassion, and freedom of mind are key to our existence.”
The road is the destination and every milestone serves a purpose.
In my case, to name just a few, being orphaned and then adopted; living with my gay, often helpless father; surviving my paranoid, neurotic mother; having the greatest grandma of all; spasticity in my legs as a child which kept me from being able to play like other children; diving deep into the turquoise blue of the Indian Ocean; growing up in a girl’s body; being a social outcast in high school; cuddling with my animal companions; finding my biological mother and sister; being trans; coming steadily home to my true self; meeting and engaging with people from a multitude of different cultures; living in a show family; savoring friendship and love; waking up to the smiling eyes of my soul mate gazing into mine; traveling the world; listening to water; rejoicing, despairing, longing…
And moving forward. Always moving forward towards opening doors and new life experiences…
The unforgettable day I met my birth mom for the first time… and, at the same time, a rare photographic moment, captured just months before I had gender reassignment surgery…
“My biological mom lived on the top floor of the four-story apartment building. There was no elevator. With every step up, my heart soared and fluttered a bit more. My legs were made of feathers and lead at the same time. Finally, I reached her floor.
In the doorway of what looked like a modest little apartment stood the same short, forty-something, elegant lady I had observed the weekend before. Her eyes were careful and guarded yet also filled with wonder. Her expression was vivid. She looked me up and down and said, “Oh my god, you are so tall and pretty!” I was instantly amused, since I am only five foot six and stood in front of her in my usual, rather boyish attire: tennis shoes, faded jeans, and an old red tank top. My hair was cut short and, as always, I wore no make-up. My biological mom took a hold of my hand and pulled me into her little rooftop domain.
I had not arrived with any expectations – of the situation, of her, of anything. I savored the moment and treasured the opportunity to find out more about her and, maybe more about myself at the same time. Sandra hadn’t started talking yet, but I already recognized impulsiveness and an emotional intensity in this woman that seemed all too familiar.” (excerpt from Paralian, chapter 2)
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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.
The biggest treasure underwater lies in the shallow depths of the coral reefs. And in the simple joy of softly gliding along weightlessly, being just one more unassuming organism within the endless depths. I love the wild beauty underneath those waves. The myriad shades of turquoise and blue. The diversity of ocean life all around me. Everything, big and small. Most of all the small critters you only see if you dive in slow motion, all your senses tuned to pick up the tiniest movement or irregularity around you.
We called this little Frogfish Pinocchio. He sat in his sponge for several months. On this particular dive, I watched him for sixty minutes as he braved the currents that shook his chosen home. Spreading his foot-like pectoral fins. Balancing himself so delicately… with a split that would have made Jean-Claude van Damme proud. I returned several times. We kept blinking at each other until, one day, he was gone. Instead, other mysterious creatures took his place. The oceans. A neverending source of wonder and, for me, a lifelong love affair.
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.
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.”