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)
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.