Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Interview with Lisa Olsson

Monika: Today’s interview is with Lisa Olsson, a transgender advocate, and activist, a photographer from Sweden. Hello Lisa!
Lisa: Hello Monika! I am happy to be interviewed by you.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Lisa: Well, it is hard to describe oneself in just a few words. I am a person that can not just sit idle and do nothing, there has to always be some activity. Preferable some activities that demand some intellectual focus. I am 35 years old and work as an unemployment agent. I still study at the university level, mostly for fun.
Monika: How did you start taking photos?
Lisa: I have always had a camera of some sort. For a long time, I thought about investing in an SLR camera so I could take better pictures. In the end, about three years ago I finally bought a simpler version. And upgraded to a far better one soon after that.
Monika: What kind of photos do you take i.e. nature, portraits?
Lisa: I mostly take photos in nature, and focus on insects. Macrophotography is fascinating, you see details that you never normally see and the colors are fantastic. I also have a small studio at home for portraits.
Monika: Have you got any new projects in the pipeline?
Lisa: Not in photography. But I did recently register a company that will focus on lectures, courses, and personal coaching to raise the knowledge and visibility of LGBT in the business sector and public administration.
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?
Lisa: I began my transition rather recently when I was 30 years old. I have always known that something with me was different, but it took a long time to realize what it was. When I finally did everything went really fast and after six months my social transition was over and I had begun to take hormones by myself.
At the beginning of June 2013, I was done and I got my legal gender changed so it represented my gender identity. For me, it was not a difficult process. The most annoying part was the waiting. 13 months until I got an appointment at the gender clinic, 12 months until I got HRT legally, a further 12 months until they felt ready to send my application for a new legal gender, and a further 12 months until I sent in the application since I did not wish to be forced to be sterilized.
And all waiting, except the last, was the minimum time limit according to medical guidelines in Sweden. On the other hand, I did get full support from both family and friends. There has never been a problem and most prefer me as I am now.

Common work outfit.

Monika: At that time of your transition did you have any transgender role models from Sweden or anywhere that you could follow?
Lisa: No, none. A few existed, but I could not identify with any of them. Most that wrote about their transgenderism did it from a very negative perspective and very few mentioned any positive experiences. Since I have experienced rather few negative effects about my fascinating background as transgender I could not identify with that.
Many MtF transgender persons had ultrafeminine visions and expectations that I just could not agree with. The often extreme hate for any masculine part of oneself and the wish for total stealth and a complete rewrite of oneself history was far from my own experiences and wishes.
My transgender background is an important part of who am today, it gives me experiences and knowledge that few people possess. That is not something I can or want to ignore and forget. I am the one I am today because of – not despite – my fascinating background.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Lisa: The hardest thing was telling my family about me being transgender. When that was done and quickly accepted there were no more really hard parts. I have even used my background as transgender as an argument when applying for a job, it worked and I got the job.
Monika: Transgender ladies are subject to the terrible test whether they pass as a woman or they do not. You are a lovely woman yourself but how about other transgender ladies that have to struggle every day to pass? What would you recommend to them?
Lisa: That passing is a terrible test is in itself a problem. In a perfect society, there should be no need to pass. Everyone should be accepted and treated as one identify oneself, regardless of transgender background. One should not have to struggle to pass! To be forced to pass is in itself discrimination, but unfortunately often necessary.
But what would I recommend in this imperfect world? Primary confidence. With confidence and enough relevant gender queues, one will seldom be questioned. If others see one as insecure one will be investigated closer and are easier to challenge. I think confidence just enough relevant gender queues are the key, but this is of course not easy either.
Monika: What is your general view on the present situation of transgender women in Swedish society?
Lisa: I would say that from an international perspective it is very good. It is of course not perfect and much can be improved but we have come far. A few groups are actively working against transgendered persons, mostly extreme right-wing and conservative Christian groups. But they are comparatively small in Sweden.
In most places transgender women are safe. Incidents happen, mostly when alcohol is involved. It shows that there still is a cultural bias against transgendered people that need to be addressed. That is a slow process, but progress is made every day.
Monika: What is your view on transgender stories which have been featured in the Swedish media so far?
Lisa: My views are very positive. I am very happy that transgendered people are no longer portraits as stereotypes. Instead, we are seen as individuals with different backgrounds and different lives. Focus is more on positive stories and not as much the worst media can find, and I very much like that. To change public opinion to be more accepting the diversity has to be seen, we can be anyone anywhere.
Monika: I used to believe that Sweden is one of the most democratic countries that respect the rights of all citizens. However, I was surprised to learn that Swedish transgender women had to accept sterilization in order to change gender legally … It seems so cruel …
Lisa: It is cruel. It began in 1972 when we were still sterilizing unwanted people in the name of eugenics. I am sad to say that Sweden was one of the absolute worst countries in this regard. Forced sterilization became illegal in 1975 for everyone, except transgendered people applying for gender recognition. Everyone else was awarded monetary damages in 1999, and transgendered people were still sterilized.
It was not until December 2012/January 2013 that this law was overturned by the court with references to human rights, from 1 July 2013 it was also formalized in law. When the first law of gender recognition came in 1972 it was really progressive, unfortunately, it was never improved, and close to 1000 transgendered persons forever lost the possibility to have children. One has to remember that this law not only stipulated sterilization but also that one should not be able to procreate. Any saved gametes had to be destroyed.

Winter photo.

Monika: Are you satisfied with the recent changes in Swedish law in this respect and the way your government handled the change?
Lisa: I am very happy that this part of the law finally was overturned. But I am very unhappy with how the government handled it. They tried to wait for as long as possible and every week another one was sterilized.
They could have done this a long time ago, but they just tried to ignore and forget that they violated human rights, even though it was pointed out to them repeatedly.
Monika: What are the current issues on the transgender agenda in Sweden?
Lisa: There are several issues that are still dealt with, a few new and a few that are ongoing. Damages to those that have been sterilized are one of them. Others are gender recognition and surgery for those under 18 years, several issues regarding parenthood and being transgender, changes in the care and treatment for those that seek it, and so on. 
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Lisa: I am not active in any political parties. But I am a member of RFSL - the major Swedish LGBT organization. I participate in different campaigns and I am as active as I can, I also did start my own company to promote knowledge about LGBT issues. We can absolutely make a difference, as long as we are active and continue to be seen we can make a big difference.
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?
Lisa: We can, about that there is no doubt. Transgender issues have been the largest in the LGBT community in Sweden for some time if one looks at political campaigns. On the other hand, when general awards are handed out in LGBT transgendered people are still invisible. The large gay names still tend to get the most recognition.
Monika: Have you ever been married? Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Lisa: I have never been married but I have had a few more serious girlfriends. At the moment love is not a priority, but I would not say no if love found me.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Lisa: I like fashion, but never really the current fashion. I prefer to be some time behind. Clothes and outfits should be simple and feminine. At work, I prefer skirts that end just above the knees and professional tops to that. At home, I do love colors, really bright colors. High heels are also favorites of mine that I can not be without.
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Lisa: I do not like them myself. On the positive side, it is a way to be seen. On the negative side, it promotes passing and stereotypes too much. The beauty ideals are as bad there as in the rest of society.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Lisa: To be honest, I have not read a single one of these memoirs. I am certain that many find them interesting and helpful, but memoirs have never been an interest to me. Because of that, I am not interested in writing a book about myself. My blog is more than enough, and probably more enlightening.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Lisa: I have no idea what my next step is. In regards to my transition, I have felt done for years, so almost everything is done. I am also happy with my life and do not feel that I have much more to do, except continue working, studying, and lobbying, of course.
Monika: Could you say that you are a happy woman now?
Lisa: Oh yes, without a doubt!
Monika: Lisa, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!

All the photos: courtesy of Lisa Olsson.
© 2013 - Monika Kowalska

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