Thursday, 24 January 2013

Interview with Andréa Colliaux

Monika: Today I am going to introduce to you Andréa Colliaux, a French stewardess and author of the autobiographical book titled 'Carnet de bord d'un steward devenu hôtesse de l'air' (2001) - Memories of a Steward Who Became a Stewardess. She was featured in many documentaries, including 'La méthode Cauet' (2008) and 'Nous n'irons plus au bois' (2008). Hello Andréa! 
Andréa: Dzień dobry, Monika! 
Monika: What are you doing these days?
Andréa: I’ve been flying a lot, and this has been quite difficult due to the snow we have in France. I was supposed to go to Austria yesterday, and it took me 18 hours! I came back home after a very hard day!
Monika: Why did you decide to write your autobiography?
Andréa: Because I was so tired to hear or read about transgendered persons, things which were not the truth. It was a huge amount of lies and “préjugés” about us. I wanted to tell the truth about our lives, the fact that in France, we were considered psychotic persons. I wanted to help other people and give them the hope that doing a transition in good conditions was possible, even if it is very difficult...
Monika: Do you travel to any exotic countries or places?
Andréa: I fly in Europe and France most of the time. I don’t do long haul flights anymore, even because as a transgender person, some countries would be very dangerous for me as I’ve been seen on TV, in magazines and in the film, which was made about my story in 2001 “La vie comme un roman, Andréa née à 35 ans” by Philippe Baron. I often fly to Italy because I do speak Italian, and sometimes to Warsaw. I love Poland...

Summertime in Mykonos.

Monika: Is it a nice job to be a stewardess? On one hand, you are required to work hard and be nice to naughty passengers, on the other hand, you always have to smile and look good with an impeccable hairstyle and uniform.
Andréa: Yes, it’s true. But I do love my job. The difficulty comes most of the time with naughty persons! Of course, it’s hard to work sometimes 18 hours on the same day, but the day after, I do not work, and this lets me the opportunity to do so many other things... like shopping!! 
No, I’m kidding. Of course, being impeccable, and wearing the uniform is something I love, BUT I’d say that sometimes when people are too mean, I can’t smile. Who would have ever thought that the company I’m working for would have admitted a TS person to be a part of the female team?
Monika: Where did you grow up?
Andréa: I grew up in the suburb of Paris, and in Brittany where my tutors had a holiday house.
Monika: Could you describe your childhood? When did you feel for the first time that you should not be a boy or man?
Andréa: My childhood was nothing but a nightmare! I felt that something was not doing fine when I was 6 or 7 years at school then my little friends already considered me as a little girl. My parents died in a car accident when I was 7. My tutors were my father’s parents. It was very hard. Then they never understood the difficulties I was passing through with my identity troubles.
At the age of 14, I was given many injections of masculine hormones. This was the beginning of a long nightmare; then my beard grew, I had hair on my chest, etc... From that time I was “androgynous”; afterward, it created a real confusion in my mind when I was looking at myself in a mirror, there was such a difference between what I was feeling inside and the cruelty of this body which was no longer mine.
Monika: For most transgender girls, the most traumatic time is the time spent at school, college, or university when they had to face lots of discrimination. Was it the same in your case?
Andréa: Yes, definitely, and afterward at that age, you have to find a job... When I was a teenager, people would consider me a “gay man”. Which I was not. I was so confused about my sexuality. I never did cross-dressing, I did not feel the need to do it. But I was a woman, in a male body. On the telephone, I remember, people would always call me “Miss”! When I was a teenager, in the ’80s, being “gay” was not as easy as it is now...
So imagine being a TS person. At the age of 25, I knew that I had to do something about this fact, BUT, I had no money, no permanent job to go through my transformation. I had to wait until the age of 35 to go through with this. Even in the ’90s in France, it was not possible to be treated by doctors, and endocrinologists. There were no official teams for this. It was considered a mental disease.


Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman? Was it a difficult process? Did you have any support from your family or friends? Did it have any impact on your job situation?
Andréa: At the age of 32. It took me 3 years. I had my final surgery at the age of 35 in London by Dr. Royle. Friends, family... what is this? ALONE, you are alone when you want to do such a thing that people would not understand OR do not want to understand this fact. I was already working as a flight attendant. It was very hard. The company I’m working for wanted to fire me: I was the first TS air hostess in France. But I had a very good lawyer, money, and patience! Finally, after 18 months, I came back as “Andréa”, a stewardess.
Monika: Did you have any problems with passing as a woman? Did you undergo any cosmetic surgeries?
Andréa: …. Oh, such a question Monika! But yes, I admit! I had breast implants and facial surgery by the wonderful Dr. Bui in Paris. I wanted something “simple”, I mean that I did not want to look like... somebody else. I wanted to be “me” and Dr. Bui did a good job. I also had some hair implants, 5000 hairs, and this was the most painful thing I had! The sex change was something so “easy” and painless compared to my face surgery.
Monika: You had your gender reassignment surgery in Brighton in the United Kingdom. Why not in France?
Andréa: The surgeon in France had a very bad reputation... a “butcher” some other girls said. At this time, I was taking part in Camille Cabral’s PASTT association. I met a girl. She was just back from her surgery in Brighton. We spoke a lot. I went to Brighton and met Dr. Royle two times before taking a decision. He was nice and handsome, and I loved his discourse. I decided that he would be the one!
Monika: We are living in times of modern cosmetic surgery that might allow to transition even in the late 50s or 60s. Do you think it is really possible? What kind of advice do you have for transgender ladies at such an age?
Andréa: NO! Too dangerous after the age of 40... Sorry girls, but considering the hormonal treatment you’ll be given afterwards, and all the complications that you may have after such a surgery, my answer is NO. Keep your “Willy” and live your life as a woman but this surgery is a real big one.

The Cyclades, Summer 2011.

Monika: At that time of your transition did you have any transgender role models that you could follow? What was your knowledge about transgenderism?
Andréa: I had no transgender role models for the reason that I wanted to be “me”. Audrey Hepburn was a model of life and “attitude” to me and she was not a TS woman! 
At that time, I met many people working in show business. Coccinelle was already an old woman but as Henry-Jean Servat was a friend of hers, he gave her my phone number. We spoke a lot on the telephone. Unfortunately, she died a few months afterwards.
I had read Maud Marin’s books and other books, which were given to me, but most of the things I found out afterwards were things I discovered in my woman’s life.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Andréa: My coming out was not hard, it was a second birth!
Monika: What did you feel when you were finally a woman?
Andréa: Well, this was done, so what? I’ve always been a woman, with a penis. I had plastic surgery and I considered that this surgery gave me back what I was not given at birth.
Monika: Have you ever been married? Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Andréa: I had been married for 7 years and I divorced 18 months ago. My husband was violent, even in his words and his acts. I brought up his two boys, they are 14 and 16 years old now. It was an experience but I’ll never marry again. Being a TS woman and being a bride are not compatible... the family, friends, business contacts, neighborhood, too difficult to deal with. 
Monika: What do you enjoy most in being a woman?
Andréa: Ask this question to a biological woman! Is there any answer to this? I enjoy being a woman with everything this means!

One day I'll fly away.

Monika: What is your general view on the present situation of transgender women in French society?
Andréa: Better now since French ex-minister Roselyne Bachelot changed the law so that trangenderism has not been considered anymore as a psychological illness. The problem is that we still don’t have good surgeons in France. Girls go to Belgium, Switzerland, or Thaïland.
Monika: In the USA there are more and more transgender ladies with the status of celebrity and fame, just to mention Lana Wachowski in film-directing, Jenna Talackova in modeling, Kate Bornstein in academic life, Laura Jane Grace in music, or Candis Cayne in acting. Do you witness the same trend in France?
Andréa: No, we don’t. Most of our celebrities come from cabarets as Madame Arthur, The Carrousel or La Grande Eugène. They used to be female impersonators or entertainers. Being a TS person in France is not something you can use if you want to be “famous”. The only ones we have are Marie-France, Bambi, and Coccinelle.
Monika: At the same time sometimes we get horrible news about transgender women being killed or beaten. How can we prevent it?
Andréa: Is there anything you can do with this? Most of the persons who are injured are prostitutes or call girls. Sometimes words could be very painful, and I can say a lot about this.
Monika: Do you think that in our lifetime we could live to the day when a transgender lady could become the President of the French Republic?
Andréa: Come on Monika! They don’t want a TS flight attendant, so imagine a French President, a deputy, a minister! France is too narrow-minded for this, much more than other countries in Europe, like Italy, Spain or Portugal which are very catholic countries. 
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants? Could we get rid of this label “transgender” and have only pageants for both non-transgender and transgender girls?
Andréa: What do you wanna be? A woman? Or do you consider yourself as a TS person for the rest of your life? It’s funny, most of them had A LOT of plastic surgery. It’s easy to be gorgeous and look like a top model when you had so much plastic surgery. I DO consider myself as a woman, I’d never go and say “Hello, My name is Andréa Colliaux and I’m a transgender person”. You are a woman or a man... What is the use?
The most important thing to me is to feel adequate in your mind and your body. Biological women are nice, beautiful, fat, ugly, tiny, tall... I’m one of them and I do not consider myself a TS person. I was a transgender person, I mean I had a TS past, but now I’m a woman. Do you want to see my passport or my birth certificate?

Me, just me.

Monika: No, of course not. Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear?  Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Andréa: A lot. Most of the time, I wear my Christian Lacroix uniform. I like casual things, discreet. Hermès is my favorite. My goal: a nice jacket, a pair of jeans and nice stilettos shoes. Black is never a mistake, and orange is my favorite.
Monika: Are you involved in the life of your local LGBT community?
Andréa: Of course, I’m a reference. I receive a lot of mails, letters of girls telling me about their suffering, asking for help. I took part in the discussions about the fact that trangenderism was no more a psychological disease with the Inter LGBT in France and my friend Axel Leotard. This is also the reason why I decided to write my autobiography. As long as I’ll be able to do it, I’ll continue doing it.
Monika: Could you say that you are a happy woman now?
Andréa: Y E S definitely! My choice was the good one! If I ever had to do it again, I would do it!
Monika: Andréa, thank you for the interview!
Andréa: Thank you Monika, and one more thing... my new boyfriend is from Poland, his name is Dariusz... Lots of love to all the girls in Poland!
I often fly to Warsaw and would be very pleased to have new friends in Poland!

Dziękuję Moniko, gorące pozdrowienia dla moich znajomych w Polsce. Często odwiedzam Warszawę i chętnie poznam nowych przyjaciół.

All the photos: courtesy of Andréa Colliaux.
© 2013 - Monika Kowalska

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