Author/Interviewer: George Fragakis
Psychologist, Child Psychologist, Person-Centered Therapist
Recently we wrote an article about gender expression in kids. Usually the term “transgender” is used to characterize people that don’t identify with their assigned at birth gender, and who usually feel a certain amount of dysphoria regarding their assigned gender. Some transgender people have the will to have a sex reassignment surgery or therapy, although those things do not define all trans people. Although there are many organisations both in Greece and abroad that struggle to educate people about LGBTQI+ rights, the term transgender in Greece consists mainly a taboo topic. It is much observed that in everyday life a trans topic is hardly a part of a conversation, and if so it is usually in the form of stereotypes regarding trans people. Many people are ignorant about trans people, except of course of the people who have some education on LGBTQI+ rights or they take activist action defending them. It is not common for people who do not know much about trans identity to approach trans people or even trans topics in order to get to know them better, to get to know their view of the world, their view of themselves.
In a previous article our topic of discussion was children’s gender expression, and how some times it may differ when there is less to none guidance from their social environment (e.g. their parents). We discussed how they can be much pressured and violated from a social environment when feeling more comfortable identifying with a gender other than “theirs”. We discussed the pressure some parents or school might put on their children who feel that way. We discussed how such situations can be handled appropriately, as to not scar children’s souls by undeliberate actions and judgments from their closest people, even their parents. We were interested in contacting people, from Greece and abroad, who have embraced their own identity and they out it without fear, educating other people about different gender expression in a way that they learn not to fear the unknown. Our latest contact was with a trans woman and student who gave us anonymously an insight about being trans in Greece (Interview). Τhe interviews we had with those people bring us closer to them and the reader closer to the interviewed. Our goal is to communicate thoughts and information on the transgender topic, if possible to inspire acceptance, too. Regarding the present article, we attempt to bring our foreign interviewed closer to the greek readers and build a bridge between them. At all times we attempt to build bridges between people, which they start from one’s soul to another’s and they reach the acceptance of emotion and the realization of this particular connection… Only after this can we talk about being part of mankind, a brother and a sister – hood.
We contacted Skylar Kergil, a well – known YouTuber, who gave us an insight of what it is to be transgender. He shared with us the main parts of his personal growth and acceptance of self, in addition to his sex reassignment process. Skylar Kergil is a transgender man (Female To Male: FTM) who chose to go through a sex reassignment surgery. He is well – known for his activist action around the world, as he has been giving public speeches about being trans, what that means and what is exactly this process of sex reassignment that is followed by the people who chose to do it. Adding to that, his YouTube videos are great, from an informative aspect, about people who don’t know what the above mean and they may be even afraid of it. The videos also have supportive content for trans people who might be in struggle of accepting themselves, fighting for who they are against others’ pressure or even violence. From his very early years, under the age of 5, Skylar started perceiving that his nature wasn’t like what others used to call him. He always felt that he was a boy, according to what we as a society call a boy. Until he met a transgender man he couldn’t put into words what deep down he knew was his identity. From this moment on he knew what the reality was for himself and the scenery started clearing out. The process he has been following so as to help his parents and close people understand the situation is a long and developing one, as he has chosen to put this aspect of his life into activism. We would like to thank Skylar Kergil for the opportunity he gave us to come closer to him and through that to come closer to trans people in general. He held his hand out for us, giving us a short tour in his world, he put us behind his eyes so we could see how it is to be Skylar, as he often sees through the eyes of others and he understands the fear or disapproval for the unknown. Through this experience though he becomes stronger, armed with empathy, more ready to handle the situation and help the other side understand his as well. Something like what we attempted to do here. We say let’s build this bridge. The bridge that will be waiting open for anybody, from any place on earth, that would like to contact us and share her/his experience or action. That way we can all hold each other’s hand.
When did you first realize that there was something different about you?
Around the time puberty hit, say 12 years old, I began to feel less like myself and more reserved with my body than I had been in childhood. I felt like I had to pretend to fit in around me as our bodies were changing.
How did you tell your family and what was their first reaction?
I sat my mom down first to ask her if I could go to therapy due to how uncomfortable I was feeling in my body. She was comfortable with this. After a few months in gender therapy, I confessed to her that I was a boy, to which she mourned the loss of a daughter and also was concerned, afraid, and sad at the prospect of my future as a transgender person. She was less worried about my identity and moreso about how society may hurt me or prevent me from success due to this part of my identity. My dad asked if I could just be a “normal lesbian.” He later realized the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity.
Have you experienced any aggressive reactions by others? How did you deal with it?
Yes, by a select few people that were quite close to me unfortunately. I would deal with it by ignoring them and leaving those situations when possible – realizing that though it hurt what they said and what they thought, I could avoid the unnecessary pain.
I would like to suggest you to close your eyes. Going back with your memory, how did the whole process feel for you? Which was the hard part and what are those that you remember with joy?
The whole process has felt overwhelming. Overwhelming times of joy and overwhelming times of grief. Transitioning has consumed much of my childhood, one that I both am nostalgic for but simultaneously happy to have moved beyond. The hardest part were all the times I was told, or made to feel, that I was unlovable because of my gender. The most joyous times are remembering my mom, other family, close friends and sometimes romantic partners, being there with me for some of the biggest milestones of my transition, such as the day that I had top surgery.
What has it been your greatest challenge as a transgender person?
My greatest challenge has been feeling like I fit in, that I’m wanted, and that I’m not an ‘other’ when it comes to being a human. I’ve worked so hard internally to be at peace with my mind and body, and it is difficult to continue to live in a world where people may dislike, harm, or injure someone else simply because that person is transgender. I suppose my greatest challenge, actually, has been mourning the lives lost to anti-transgender discrimination and violence. Those lives oftentimes being the lives of brothers, sisters, friends.
Why did you decide to create all these videos on YouTube? To me it’s a fascinated documentary!
It was sort of a funny circumstance – I began on testosterone in early 2009 and I began recording video on my laptop so that I could hear my voice and see my face change as the hormones began to take effect. I quickly filled up all the space on my computer with these recordings and began to ‘store’ them on YouTube since I had heard that I could download them again later off of there. There were maybe a few other transgender people making vlogs at the time (very stark contrast to the hundreds if not thousands of vlogs that can be watched now!), but in my world, no one really knew what YouTube was, so I didn’t expect people to find or watch my videos. Oddly, people must have been searching for information and stumbled upon me and decided to watch me as I grew as well! It became a really fun experience, to connect with mostly allies but also some other transgender people, across the globe. It also inspired me to continue making videos, which I am grateful to have to reflect upon my journey, up through this day!
How did you find the experience of making all these videos?
I found the experience of making videos to be a very cathartic one. It was an expressive outlet when I didn’t even know I needed one. Not only that, but being able to connect with members of my community was helpful for my transition and gave me the confidence to continuously be myself in my day to day life.
Which were the high and the low points of the whole experience for you?
Some of the best parts of my transition have been discovering the many things my body can do (such as working out and growing it in a direction where I can see my efforts!) and the many ways I can feel safe, comfortable, and happy within it. The low points were when people told me that I would never feel happy. I had a girlfriend in high school break up with me six months before I began hormone therapy because she was convinced that “even with hormones, you will never feel happy within yourself.” Those moments held me back, and made me believe that I wouldn’t be able to reach my dreams. It was difficult to move on from, but as I began to, I began to trust in the inherent kindness of the world again as I found it within myself.
What would you like your viewers to take away from it by watching your videos?
I would like my viewers to know that anything is possible in this life. I have been to places I never dreamed of years ago – just by continuously moving forward in the direction of my dreams and consistently trying to better myself as a person. I hope my viewers can see that we are not defined by what surrounds us, but by what lives within us, and the more of that that we can share and show with others, the more connected we will feel in our experiences.
You attended the President’s LGBTQI+ Pride Month at the White House. Would you like to tell me more about this experience?
It was a true honor to be invited by the President and his offices to the White House in June! I was contacted last minute but it was amazing to fly down overnight and be a part of a great moment in history. Upon arriving with my best friend, Amy, I was one of few people pulled aside to shoot a small video for the upcoming decision about marriage equality!
How did you feel by being present at this memorable event?
It felt empowering to be surrounded by many members within the LGBT community, to meet them and hear about the work that they do, and be united in the same place during a huge moment in history.
Do you think that the experiences of transgender males and transgender females differ at all?
I would imagine so – in fact, I would go so far as to say that the experience of every transgender individual is different than the next, regardless of their gender identity (or identities.) No one travels the same path – and it is on this path where we are faced with situations that can shape and change us forever.
How can you help anyone going through these struggles that transgender people go through?
Listen, and never assume. Sometimes asking someone “How can I better support you?” is the most helpful thing one can do. Challenge the binary system (whether that be in choosing gender/sex boxes on forms, having an option to self identify instead, or to challenge binary bathrooms which exclude transgender or gender non-conforming people.) Support challenging and changing the culture to include space for these individuals. Oftentimes, transgender people struggle to ‘fit in.’ That doesn’t mean to be like everyone else – it means actually having space and resources in society, such as unisex bathrooms, that allow them to fit into the world that was set up with a binary system and is slowly changing.
Art seems to play an essential role to you… How did art help you to get to know yourself?
Writing songs and poetry, combined with painting and sculpture, helped me express myself in ways other than speaking. I figured out how to convey myself through these many avenues, and can see in my old self-portraits, even as a child, some obvious hints of my identity as a man.
What are your ambitions for the future?
The future both excites and overwhelms me. I would like to write more – get my journey down in writing which is more natural to me than being in front of a camera typically is – and upon finishing that, I hope to move into the field of social work. I am pretty happy where I am right now, developing my art and relationships, but would love to travel the world more and find a career that balances my many passions with my energy.
Ideally, I will worth with LGBT youth in a variety of capacities throughout my life. It has been through the mentorships that I have had with youth that I have felt most challenged and fulfilled.
Do you have any thoughts that you would like to share with the Greek readers, and what do you feel it is important to non-binary people or non-trans people to know?
Everyone’s journey is different. There is no one way to become the person you are today. When it comes to gender, it all comes down to respecting an individual’s decision to identify as how they do. The binary is actually a spectrum of gender – we all express it differently regardless if we are transgender or cisgender (cisgender is a word that refers to a person who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth – such as a male who identifies as a man since birth, like my brother, is cisgender.) Diversity is exciting, though it can be scary, so taking one’s time to educate themselves on what they fear is most important. There are many videos and documentaries detailing a variety of transgender experiences and narratives – learning about the ‘unknown’ makes it more welcoming. Learn about our stories, our struggles – and you may find that we, as human beings, all have a lot in common.
It is truly sad how trans people very often become victims of discrimination. Its forms might be taunting, rejection from many work places, body violence or even killing attempts. Such incidents are not few and do not stop happening, which proves that a lot of times society does see but ignores bursts of violence and unjustifiable rage towards members of it, towards people that as everyone else deserve equal treatment and respect, things that don’t constitute anything more than basic human rights. It is important to note that some times people don’t perceive the not so common appearance of others as familiar thus it may become a source of fear and unanswered questions about an unknown situation. Often violent behaviors are recorded towards people that are in the actual process of a sex reassignment therapy when their appearance undergoes serious changes and might not conform entirely with the social expectations of their social environment.
How much lack of acceptance can we have towards the different, that which we cannot understand? Is it truly enough so as to stop us from comprehending what it is? Let’s keep a door open, to let new knowledge in, a new perspective. At the end, we are not just talking theory, our subject is human souls, it is the good life of people, in body and spirit.
Our editor, Maria Terzopoulou, has engaged with the english to greek translation of one of Skylar Kergil’s videos, in which he and his mother answer questions regarding the process of his sex reassignment as a whole, the use of hormones, how others treat him, in which manners he is affected by all this and what kind of a relationship he has with his family throughout his long trip to this day. The translation of the video has been made under authorised license by the owner to the Animartists team:
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/skylarkeleven and #askskylark