Monday, 6 October 2014

Interview with Anna Kristjánsdóttir

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Anna Kristjánsdóttir, a transgender activist from Iceland, former marine engineer, co-founder of Trans-Iceland. Hello Anna!
Anna: Thank you Monika for giving me this honour.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Anna: As for my education and work, I am educated as a marine engineer officer and still working as a technical person; now working as a control room engineer at Reykjavik Energy, and going out to sea on merchant vessels every summer and also voluntary working as an engineer aboard a SAR boat (Search And Rescue), similar to the RNLI service in Great Britain. 
Monika: Anna, you are the icon and legend of the transgender movement in Iceland. How do you carry this burden?
Anna: I did never try to be such a legend. I tried to go through my transition for myself; it was a pure coincidence that I became the face of the transsexual movement in Sweden in the early 90’s and I lost my “virginity” as a transgendered person making the transition in peace. I became known in Sweden and Iceland and the Lutheran bishop of Iceland at that time asked God to save his soul from this terrible person. :)

15 years old aboard an old deep sea trawler
in spring 1967.

Monika: How big is the Icelandic transgender community?
Anna: We are approx. 50 to 60 but we still have many persons still hiding in their closets, often because of their age or their marriage status. They have decided to keep it that way until some changes will occur in their lives or the society.
Monika: It seems that the creation of Trans-Iceland in 2007 has become an important reference point for the transgender community. What was the situation of the Icelandic transgender people before that?
Anna: When I came back to Iceland in 1996, I was the “only gay in the village”; I was simply alone there as those transgendered Icelandic persons at that time were living abroad just as myself before and the only FtM transsexual I knew about never came out and is still in the closet.
Few more persons came out later, but the big breakthrough for transgender persons was the founding of TGEU in Vienna 2005 and for the health authorities, the WPATH conference in Chicago 2007 where the Icelandic authorities opened the discussions with the transgender movement with positive results for most transgender persons. The foundation of Trans-Iceland was simply a necessary result of this movement.
Monika: You are the first Icelander to have undergone a gender reassignment surgery. You had to do it in Sweden. Is there such a possibility available in Iceland now?
Anna: I was the second Icelander who underwent a gender reassignment surgery. The first one, a good friend of mine, got her surgery in Norway few years before me, but she decided to keep it for herself, her family and friends. At that time, we had no possibility to do anything in Iceland so we had to move abroad and live there for years for the foreign society's acceptance.
I did so in Sweden for years and became a Swedish citizen before I got my surgery in 1995 and moved back home a year later. Today there is a good possibility for gender reassignment surgery in Iceland and there have been almost twenty surgeries in Iceland during the last five years.

Engine reparations work, 1981.

Monika: What is the current agenda of Trans-Iceland?
Anna: It's as always, to provide support to transgender people, make connections between them and the authorities in attempt to introduce as many new changes in the legislation as possible.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in the Icelandic society?
Anna: It's getting better and better every year, and now it's almost as good as in Europe. 
Monika: At what age did you transition into woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? 
Anna: I got my surgery when I was 43 years of age. I fought for my existence as a woman for eleven years as there was no understanding for it in Iceland at that time. After five years of struggling, I moved to Stockholm, Sweden in 1989.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Anna: One person has a place in my heart, April Ashley. She was not only the first transgender person I had ever heard of in the early 60's, but we also had similar childhood in poverty and both went out to sea, maybe to prove our manhood that never was there.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Anna: Partly it was my own prejudice, at least while I lived in Sweden where work mates and chiefs showed me a good support when I did go through the physical difficulties. The worst of all was the discrimination I faced in my professional life in Iceland from 1997 until 2000. I had to leave my work twice in the first three years because of prejudice but everything settled down and I am still working there. Most of those who discriminated me became my friends later, they were simply misunderstanding transgenderism.

The Pride Parade, 2013.

Monika: Could transgenderism be the new frontier for human rights?
Anna: Yes, of course!
Monika: Have you recently read or watched any interesting Scandinavian book or event/film about transgenderism?
Anna: The film Ångrarna (Regretters) was very interesting. One of the persons from the film told me about her regrets shortly after her transition and I did doubt about her seriousness even before her surgery.
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?
Anna: In most cases, yes. Not always.
Monika: Is there anyone in the Scandinavian transgender society whose actions could be compared to what Harvey Milk was doing in the USA in the 60s and 70s for the gay activism?
Anna: No. I can hardly believe it. I can point at our own ex-prime minister Johanna Sigurðardóttir, a lovely lady and a good friend of mine, and her wife, Jónina Leósdóttir. Their situation is simply too different to be compared together. Jóhanna was prime minister in a society that accepts homosexuality and LGBT, Harvey Milk didn’t. He had to fight in a society that hated him.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Anna: Yes. I am a member of the Social Democratic Alliance in Iceland but I'm also a pacifist. I am a member of the peace movement and active member of Amnesty International.

Eyjafjallajökull eruption.

Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Anna: It's difficult to tell. I lived as a heterosexual person in my former life and I have never changed my love to women. I was married and got three children.
Now I have six grandchildren and I try to keep a good contact with them. I am not such a person who can't live without other person. I am simply too selfish and eccentric for another person in my life even though I love many other women in my heart.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Anna: Yes. I have already made most of it, but no publisher in Iceland wants to publish it. I understand it very well. Such a book would be as a disaster because I have experience in so many miscellaneous things in my life. Maybe I will try a new attempt to write my memoirs later.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Anna: I am almost 63 years of age. I have been a front person of transgenderism for decades. Today, we have got young transgender persons who are able to take over the activism and I am ready to leave it to them. My time is over in activism, but I will enjoy the future activism as long as possible, but as a senior member.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Anna: Very simple. Get on and don't surrender. It's your life and you have to live it!
Monika: Anna, thank you for the interview!
Anna: Thank you Monika!

All the photos: courtesy of Anna Kristjánsdóttir. 
© 2014 - Monika Kowalska

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