Thursday, 26 March 2015

Interview with Karine Solene Espineira

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Karine Solene Espineira, a Chilean-born transgender activist from France, one of the most inspirational and charismatic leaders of the transgender community in France, blogger, the author of "Transidentité: Ordre et panique de genre" (2015), "Médiacultures: la transidentité en télévision" (2015), “La Transyclopédie: Tout Savoir Sur Les Transidentités” (2012) – an encyclopedia of the transgender movement in France (but just not). She is a researcher at the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis, and a member of the coordination team of the international campaign Stop Trans Pathologization. Hello Karine! 
Karine: Hello Monika! I’m very enchanted with this interview. Thank you for it. It is an honor to contribute to your blog, which is a precious source of information about our community. Our stories can contribute to the culture of our groups but also to the “common culture”. I also have to apologize for my English … but my Spanish is better and my French is fantastic!

Monika: Karine, you are the historian of the French transgender movement. Who or what events are instrumental for the development of the transgender movement in France? 
Karine: As often, people and movements of resistance and revolts meet mutually in this history. As well in France or somewhere else. We can define this history in three periods that are specific for France: 1965-1985, 1986-1999 and 2000s until our days.
La Transyclopédie.
The first period is marked by the foundation of the first trans association in Paris in 1965: “Association des malades hormonaux” (Association of the Hormonal Sick) established by Marie-André Schwindenhammer. 
But this association and the personality of her founder did not reach a consensus within the trans community of this period. For example, Bambi said it herself and some of her friends did not wish to subscribe to it. We can regard it as a first refusal of the pathologization with the abstract tools of our own time.
The “transgender cabaret culture” embodied by Coccinelle and Bambi, among others, and this first association is a turning point. Indeed, the trans people got organized and they helped each other. With the Homosexual Front of Revolutionary Action (1971), such personalities as Marie-France and Hélène Hazera asserted themselves in an intellectual, artistic and political register. Till the beginning of 1980s the other associations emerged in France but the trans movement did not still display as such. The first concerns of the people were to be accepted in a society where the trans people were considered marginal or treated as pariah.
The second period is marked by the emergence of a new shape of associations. In 1992, the PASTT (“Prévention d’Action Santé pour le travail des transgenres” - Prevention of Action Health for the Work of Transgender people, established by Camille Cabral) worked in the field of the prevention of the AIDS with trans people involved in prostitution while providing general support and specific support in the administrative procedures to various trans communities.
The ASB and the Caritig were respectively established in 1994 (by Tom Reucher among others) and on 1995 (by Armand Hotimsky among others). These associations, not only made a commitment in the support, but also claimed rights for trans people. It is a common point of these three associations, which were very important.
In that period I committed myself to the trans movement (1996). In 1998, with Maud-Yeuse Thomas we joined the Zoo of the sociologist Marie-Hélène Bourcier, which worked on the Queer theory and which allowed us to reach papers from Anglo-Saxon transgender studies. We thought that if we had to claim rights we also had to elaborate on the theory of the living conditions of trans people and join the women's movements and the libertarian movements in particular. In that period we understood that we also had to think from a trans standpoint.
Karine in 2005.
The third period is taking place now. 2000s saw an explosion of associations and collectives in France. This explosion seems to have been facilitated by the new technologies of information and communication at that time (Internet with its websites and its forums, and now with the web 2.0). It would be boring to enumerate all the groups. Let us enumerate the most politicized the Activist Group Trans (GAT), STS 67 or still Sans Contrefaçon (“Without Imitation”). The second generation of associations emerges from feminist concerns, rights of trans, foreign trans people, trans sex workers and the visibility of the FtM: Chrysalis, Outrans, Acceptess Transgenre, etc. 
We can consider that the trans movement was born in France in the 1990s with many difficulties, that it has asserted itself since the 2000s and it has benefited from the work of various personalities and groups since the 1970s. 
Monika: For many years France was a very conservative country where transsexualism was regarded as a psychological illness. On the other hand, the French people used to love Le Carousel, Bambi, Coccinelle, Marie-France and other travesti cabarets and artists.
Karine with her cat (2005).
Karine: We can treat the French case as a paradoxical case. The “psy” disciplines (psychoanalysis and psychiatry) knew important developments in France until our days. From Jacques Lacan to Colette Chiland there was a certain continuity, to see a conservatism of these disciplines to consider the gender claimed by trans people as an illusion (a kind of lie).
In reaction to the psychiatrization the “trans-gender identifications” are more and more anti-authority and also express themselves by refusals of assignment in a "sex of arrival" (a sex role) as illustrates by the acronyms Ft*, FtU, MtX, FtX, etc.
France was also one of the lands of the golden age of the cabaret and the transgender cabaret in particular. All changed with the hospital teams, which started to set up from 1979 and which worked up and regulated all transitions. Hormones, were not any more on "free" sale, for example, and change of the civil status became impossible in France until its condemnation by the European Court of Human Rights in 1992.The analysis which I made of this cohabitation indicated that the craze for the cabaret symbolizes a craze for trans people but in a place defined as outside of the public place. Inside this public place, the cabaret celebrities had some difficulties with the police, for example. Trans people seem to have been tolerated as long as they were not visible in the common spaces and as they did not claim this visibility.
This political and cultural limit was illustrated by the reactions to the first church marriage of Coccinelle in 1960. This mediatized marriage made scandal in France and caused a political and legislative retort: the impossibility to change civil status and thus to get married or to adopt, for example.
Society adulates on one side and represses on the other one. From the 1960s there was a kind of French hypocrisy, which we had to find in other countries, in the acceptance of the trans people of the cabaret and the rights of all the trans people. The psychiatrization or the pathologization were also political tools of control and sometimes of repression. 
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in the French society?
It is difficult to say whether the situation really improved in terms of society progress. The increasing visibility of transmen and transwomen in particular could indicate an improvement of the living conditions. 
In practice, transwomen always seem to be exotic objects or rarities in the media, at university, etc. In the militant circles, the situation of the transwomen seems, from my point of view, to go into the right direction.
In the society generally, everything depends most of the time on images proposed by the media. Besides, the French context has presented rather violent conservatism for two years and it has not helped at all in the construction of a positive image of trans people.
The situation will improve with tackling real obstacles, including the changes of civil status for example, access to the health service,  jobs and housing.
Monika: Is there any difference in the way the French political parties address the needs and rights of transgender community?
Karine in 2012.
Photo by Leya Smith.
Karine: The differences are real. The left-wing parties are more open, it is indisputable. But in the said “progressive” or left parties, compared with other more conservative parties, there are also differences in the analysis of needs and rights of trans people.
The problem of all the parties is that they do not comprehend the trans issues. They want to act for the well-being of the trans community but without consulting trans people. That is why the diverse proposals for legal amendments of civil status are imperfect and divide associations and collectives. 
The politics has a vision only based on the “transsexual model” as it was built by the forensic medicine and the psychiatry. Particularly without taking into account the diversity of the trans population needs, which vary according to their transition or route of life, before a social experience of life in its everyday nature.
Even in strictly "health" related issues, to be trans does not limit itself to hormones and operations. The politics and policies have difficulty in understanding it and do not give to themselves the ways of this understanding by not listening to the trans people, by not handing over to them and even by not trying to meet them "in reality".
Monika: How do you perceive the attitude of the administration of President Hollande towards the transgender community? 
Karine: President François Hollande disappointed a lot, from this point of view, by not respecting its electoral campaign promises. After the outburst of violence of the most conservative Christian lobbies against the "marriage for all", the socialist party was afraid of waking these lobbies with a law in favour of trans people over and above the fact that republican parties surf on these lobbies with whom they sometimes maintain very shady relations. There are thus few chances that the rights of trans people will progress under this legislature. 
Karine in 2012.
Photo by Leya Smith.
Monika: Politics is based on the interaction with different interest groups that wish to pursue their specific goals. How successful is the French transgender community in this respect? 
Karine: One of the specificities of the French case it is its role of pioneer in pathologization / psychiatrization of the identity. Any analysis has to take into account this specificity to understand the French opposition to progress.
The policies of alliance are concerned themselves. Within the LGB movements, for example, the claiming of psychiatric emancipation of protocols are misunderstood. The transidentité was associated for so long with the psychiatric follow-ups which other groups have difficulty in understanding that the trans people are capable of realizing transitions without psychiatrists, if such is their wish.
The difficulty showing a united front also ensues from difficulties interacting with other autonomous or institutional groups. Another example relates to recent conflicts between materialistic feminists and feminist trans movements. Certain papers call back clearly the positions held by Janice Raymond in 1979 … The trans movements were clearly beside the LGB movements from about more than twenty years (recall Stonewall…) and they showed their solidarity with the inter-sexed, precarious, illegal immigrants or still sex-workers. However, the LGB movement shows itself as much less united with the trans movement and other allied movements as that of the inter-sexed. I specify that I make this analysis from a French point of view.
Karine in 2012.
Photo by Leya Smith.
Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBT communities. Being the last letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBT group? 
Karine: Sometimes, I think that to claim a trans separatism and to remove T from the initials LGBTIQ could be a lash and wake everybody. I’m thus very divisive because I believe that certain trans movements worldwide have the means of the autonomy. But on the other side, the separatism could be perceived as a separation from the LGB…IQ movement and their allies. To give the feeling of a division could be counterproductive. It thus seems important not to give the image of a division.
But within LGBT movements it is especially necessary to count on ourselves in the countries where the trans issues are not completely understood by our allies. We shall be the architects of our own emancipation of the control systems and sometimes the oppression. It will be necessary in certain cases, count only on ourselves and that is why the internationalization of the question with the example which was given by the campaign Stop Trans Pathologization, the actions of GATE or Transgender Europe shows that we can be allied beyond the languages, the cultures and the borders without denying the specifics of the situation of the trans people in such or another country.
Monika: Are you active in politics yourself? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Karine in 1973.
Karine: I’m known to be left-wing. From my adolescence, I was close to the socialist party, in which I had put a lot, in particular in the middle of the 1980s, with the student strikes and against the eviction, without paper and on hunger strike. More recently, I operated a link with the Green Party (ecologist).
I did not try to enter clearly politics because I don’t think I have the profile nor I have this ambition. I more feel at ease with the "intellectual" activism. It is one of the reasons for which I wished to “to take back” my studies and to get Ph.D. in the science of information and the communication.
It is a shape of empowerment and I do not hide to be a committed researcher. Due to my work, I participate in a way in the diffusion of trans issues and perhaps this work can be more composedly than an cisgender academic.
Karine: I think trans women, but also trans men, can make the difference in politics. It is much more necessary to them to think of others than of themselves and not to hesitate to emphasize their experience of life. If I may say, we experimented the gender in its complexity and saw the disparities, sexism and discrimination at work, etc. These topped experiences become an internal incredible strength.
Monika: At what age did you transition into woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? 
Karine in 2014.
Karine: I finalized my transition between 28 and 29 years old. I was lucky and had the opportunity to benefit from the experience and information collected by the first trans associations in France in 1996. I wanted at first to be examined by a medical team. After four months, I realized that the psychiatric follow-up was not only insufficient for me but there were also scandalous procedures for the trans people.
The day after my decision-making to abandon this follow-up, I found an endocrinologist, while booking an appointment with a surgeon in Belgium, a lawyer and a flat in a city where I knew that the change of civil status was less time-consuming and easier than in Paris. I did everything almost at the same time. Six months after the beginning of my hormone therapy, I was operated. Four months after my operation, I had my civil status papers changed. The transition in itself was not so difficult and it was thanks to the work of trans activists.
I want to specify that when I speak about my operation I do not promote the “transsexualism” which is for me a “practice and a medical concept”. And not an identity. I’m set against any hierarchy between the trans people.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed? 
Karine: Before my transition, I had seen some trans people in the media but nobody who tempted me to identify myself, even if I admired the transition and the beauty of these people. My first "mediation" case was Kate Bornstein whom I found very beautiful on the cover of the book "Gender Outlaw" published in 1994.
I also admired the stars of the cabaret such as Coccinelle, Bambi, April Ashley or still Marie France whom I discovered in magazines, reviews or images of documentaries. But their beauty seemed to me inaccessible in a period when I felt very uncomfortable in my own skin. I had to try to be myself even by my own ways knowing that pioneers had opened the road.

Monika: Are there are any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now?
 Karine: Since then, I have had various models and for various reasons. I think of Kim Pérez as transfeminist prematurely. I think of Lynn Conway, Kelley Winters and Andréa James for their respective transitions and for the sharing of invaluable information on the Internet. I think of Susan Stryker for her university works. Moreover, I respect transmen models, including Jacob Hale and Patrick Califia.
I think of Calpernia Addams for her sharp mind and her humor. Numerous South American activists also inspire me. For example, Loana Berkins played a very important role in the movement in Argentine but also internationally. She is the model of a strong activism and a very committed person who remains simple and accessible. During a recent stay in Argentina in 2013, I got acquainted with Karen Benett and with Susy Shock who amazed me as artists and as persons. I could again quote numerous people whose I admire for activism, artistic talents, militant engagements or simply their personalities: Belissa Andía Pérez, Maria Bélen Correa, Maria Sundin, Laverne Cox, Lana Wachowski, Julia Serano, Kate Bornstein, Kelley Winters, among many other ladies.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Karine: It was with the friendly and family environment that I had finally most difficulties (and dramas) with during my transition. My father abandoned me, or rather denied. My parents left to live in Chile where for the most part of the members of my family, I am a “freak”. Most of my friends have also abandoned me, not understanding that I have just remained "me” by “becoming myself".
Twenty years later, by committing myself in the university research, I made a second coming out. This time by identifying myself as a university transwoman. The academy is not always transfriendly and the housing conditions are not still easy to live.

Monika: What do you think about transgender stories or characters which have been featured in French films, newspapers or books so far?
Karine: From my point of view, the stories proposed in the media are often very consensual or at least they address the “transsexual model” as very close to the forensic narrative. From time to time, emerges a model a little bit different and closer to the reality. 
The documentary movie of my friend Marie-Pierre Pruvot titled "Bambi" (by Sébastien Lifchitz, 2013) is interesting because we discover the transgender cabaret culture and the life of the pioneers. With a television movie "La reine des connes” (The Queen of Idiots, Guillaume Nicloux, on 2009), in spite of the title of the movie, we discover a trans person of her time, a young person and a clumsy person but who wants to make her transition against all odds.
The break with stories of drug and prostitution took shape slowly since the release of the French-speaking Belgian movie entitled “Ma vie en rose” (My Life in Pink, by Alain Berliner, 1996), which made an international career. This time, the trans identity is shown during childhood and with kindness. This movie, for example, was held in high esteem in France at the time where trans people found many stories in the media, which were full of ill-treatment. 
As regards the stories in the literature, autobiographies were often centered on narratives on the marginalization and prostitution (for example, “Le saut de l’ange” by Maud Marin, 1987). These narratives were necessary to understand the difficulty of being trans in an intolerant society. The autobiographies of Marie-Pierre Pruvot and Coccinelle  showed more glamorous faces but sometimes “exotisées” (more exotic), as shown by the media.
With Delphine Philbert (“Devenir celle que je suis” - Becoming the One that I am, 2011), we discover one piece of a new form of autobiography, this one is a narrative of life but politicized and very critical.
Karine in 2014.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life? 
Karine: Difficult question! My answer will be short: "I like loving". I have lived with a transwoman in a free lovesince 1996.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Karine: By publishing my first book in 2008 (La transidentité de l’espace médiatiques à l’espace public - The trans-identity of the media space in the public place), until the recent publication of my research ("La Transidentité: Ordre et panique de Genre" - The Trans-identity: Order and Gender panic and "Médiacultures: la transidentité en télévision" - "Médiacultures: the trans-identity in television", 2015), I took the challenge voluntarily except the autobiography.
It’s important to exist as a subject of knowledge and not see me, with a narrative of life, confined in the status of object of knowledge. And this interview contributes to it as well as I ask myself the question...
And I begin to envisage this possibility. Perhaps I want to give "my version" of the facts what "my life" was. I hesitated because my parents are still alive and because to write an autobiography will involve them negatively. But my desire to speak becomes stronger. Maybe as well as elements of my life can be useful. I ignore it and I admit that "to tell about me" still very frightens me. 

Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Karine: I think of a documentary on the representation of the trans people in the media. I still have publications to come in scientific journals. This year, I would also want to dedicate my time to a historical novel which sleeps in a drawer, which covers the period 1792-1855 and takes place in France and in Chile. It has been a little more than 20 years since I was committed in writing this and it's time that I end it! For the rest, I always want to work so that the trans people don’t have to prove their membership in the humanity.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Karine: First, I would like to tell them not to consider themselves sick or abnormal. Their transition belongs to them. Nobody has the right to deny their rights to be themselves. The objectives are their happiness and life. Whether we choose or we do not choose some visibility, we can be trans and proud. [Very egoistically, I also have to tell them: you can also be transfeminist!]
Monika: Karine, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: Courtesy of Karine Solene Espineira.
The main photo credit: Naőel 
Done on 25 March 2015
© 2015 - Monika 

1 comment:

  1. Very powerful piece about, and from, a very bright woman. I enjoyed the perspective of an academic Continental Philosophy theorist.

    Thanks, Monika.


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