Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Tiina Miettinen, a transgender woman from Finland, one of the main characters of the documentary titled “Sukupuoli X” (1996). Hello Tiina!
Tiina: Hello Monika. I find this project of yours really delightful, and appreciate this opportunity to share my thoughts about these important issues.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Tiina: Well, to begin at the obvious. This, the trans thing, has naturally been the most characteristic feature of my life. It's been present as long as I can remember, and before my tenth birthday, 1974, I secretly decided I must do something to... to enable it. Namely if by that date, regardless of all my wishes and prayers, God or fate or anything had not agreed to change circumstances for my favor.
So I made a conscious decision to begin secretly cross-dressing. I also found the word transvestite at an encyclopaedia. Sensationalizing magazines sometimes reported, in a scandalous tone, about hormones prescribed, breast implants applied and genital surgery performed to some magical creatures living apparently nearby Hamburg's Reeperbahn in West Germany.
Later I read somewhere about Lili Elbe and Christine Jorgensen, and after I contacted Helsinki local trans group at age 17, I heard about Cybele's priest(esse)s of the Roman Empire, the Native Americans' berdache, and hijras of India.
As I came out of the closet that time, my parents strongly disapproved. After a while, when I had moved out to live on my own, we gradually quit having contact with each other. Being artistically relatively talented, and still largely influenced by the firm sort of advice from my father, an engineer, I tried to study architecture at university. But I couldn't find motivation or willpower or – I don't know what exactly I lacked - to graduate. Proper mental attitude as well as interest to that particular profession, I suppose.
Then, a couple of years after having begun my physical transition, I was employed as a secretary at Seta, our national LGBTIQ organization. And one day the Seta office was contacted by two young filmmakers wishing to create a documentary concerning transsexualism. That film was eventually to be named Sukupuoli X.
Monika: It has been 18 years since your participation in the documentary Sukupuoli X (Gender X). How has your life changed since then?
Tiina: 19 years to be precise; the film came out in 1996 but the events took place in 1995. For most years of the nineties I was active in gay and trans organizations. I kept contact to the European TG field, took part in launching Seta's Trans Support Centre, and was for a short while the chair of Trasek, a national organization mainly for transsexuals. I didn't plan to “move on to normal life” like some see recommendable for transsexuals, but it sort of happened nevertheless. Most of my friends are still queer though, which of course is most fabulous.
After my Seta years I got employed at the National Board of Antiquities: the authority protecting and preserving the Finnish cultural heritage, organizing excavations, governing museums and such. My main task was to make very detailed drawings of (mostly) prehistoric artifacts. Perhaps as a result of doing that for a decade and a half, or who knows, possibly just because of getting older, I've begun to really ponder how civilized it actually was at the southern coast of our good old Europe, when Magna Mater aka goddess Cybele was worshipped in the Roman Empire.
Even though for some Roman citizens, and later especially for a certain new cult of a crucified man, it seemed like Cybele drove her followers into madness. Sadly the thought of “sacrificing” one's masculinity can be very scary to those who don't understand it is plain gain to people like us. So that beautiful faith, that state-institutionalized way to serve holiness by leading a transgender life, was demonized and suffocated. I can't help wondering if could rise again, like Phoenix. Of any attempts to revive the religion of Cybele in Europe, I'd be very interested to hear.
Tiina: A few documents on the subject were produced in Finland before Sukupuoli X. But their style was... I must say I found it depressing. A lonely character in shadows, voice altered, complaining life's cruelty. When the filmmakers asked me to participate a documentary they wanted to create, I agreed on the condition this one would be done differently. It should present a multitude of trans persons openly leading a happy life, or at least an ordinary one. To demonstrate we are neither rarities nor oddities.
Whether it's a journey to womanhood, well, that might not be my first choice of words. I mean, I'm not that insulted if someone tells me I'm not a woman in a sense they consider authentic. I say it's a matter of opinion then. But, if they claim I'm in reality a man – that absolutely bugs me. Because what more can one even do to prove otherwise, than discard that silly piece of meat, bloom a bosom, and be happy with the result? So when it comes to defining my identity... a “cis” lesbian friend once stated she don't know how to specify her personal gender except by saying male it is not. That's how I'd also express it.
Now some alert Finnish-understanding viewers may point out that in Sukupuoli X, at the hospital, I do define myself a woman. Yes. But at that time I believed it was the smartest policy to simplify the educational message. Not to mention satisfying the sorry-ass gatekeeper shrinks who require the flawless Harry Benjamin storyline.
To be perfectly honest though, there are also times when I ask myself if I'm needlessly overcomplicating the issue by this habit of avoiding calling myself a woman. Because after all the shoe does fit... like a glove. This indeed isn't black and white, but hey, why the heck would it even need to be? Besides I bet a typical cis gender experience is not constant by its intensity either.
|Visiting Stockholm in 2009.|
Tiina: We are in friendly relations but don't have more than occasional contact. Jiri moved to countryside several years ago, I live still in Helsinki.
Naturally, because it means that explanations of physiological or psychological dysfunction are biased crap, and this is quite simply about people being of different sorts and nothing else. So I'd say that, rather than any single individual, my role models are the numerous generations of transpeople who have already left their mark in history. (Not to mention those whose mark has been deliberately erased by insecure, hostile or ignorant cis rulers, or even researchers.)
So - I can only answer your question by saying there's definitely room for more, and the less bizarre the persons are written, usually the better. Even though I must admit my favorite fictional ever is Bernadette in Priscilla queen of the desert, in spite of her slightly caricatured ways.
Interestingly enough, there has not been a phase in the Finnish queer history, where T would have been excluded from the agendas of our gay organizations. While that's apparently a necessity of our population being small, I think it's still something we have a reason to be proud of.
|Enjoying a campfire place I built at|
an ex's summer cabin around 2000.
Our gay president candidate finalist in the last election, Pekka Haavisto, is a fine example of that time not being very far though. In this context I'm also compelled to mention Tarja Halonen, our former president, who acted as the chair of Seta in the early 80's.
My childhood upbringing was rather old-fashioned even for that time's standards. Discipline was highly valued, and pampering children was considered harmful for their personality development. Both my parents, due to their own backgrounds no doubt, seemed to have a somewhat limited capability for genuine empathy.
These things have a tendency of inheritance, and even though it's impossible to be objective about oneself, I see some evidence of such problems in my past relationships. Whatever the reason, they simply seem not to last. Fairytale type all-conquering eternal True Love may be an illusion, but I'm afraid even the mundane real-life version of love is something I still need to learn a whole lot about.
Strangely, part of me wants to give all kinds of explanations to how come I don't dream about catwalks, while it certainly is acceptable to simply state that it just doesn't happen to be so in my case.
In the western world there is this tiresome tradition of excepting endless progress in just about everything, while I'm more like, you know, for downshifting and finding harmony and valuing simple life myself. By steadily following the direction I took at age ten was enough that I accomplished what was personally necessary, and more. So, I'm quite content here and now, thank you :)
I assure that regardless of young age you do quite well know your own good, and basically all is right as long as you're not harming anyone. They have no grounds to say you're causing them damage by your gender expression or by your sexual orientation. They are annoyed, not injured, and unable to understand that you simply can not become like them, however much you try or however threatening they behave.
Besides, they in the first place have no right to require others to be like them - as we don't have such right either. Feels ridiculous to even say that, but as strange as it is, that's exactly what they fail to grasp. Telling us to change is as foolish as if we instructed them to turn queer. For instance my father literally complained I was a bigot towards him by not being straight. Go figure.