Saturday, 20 December 2014

Interview with Ann-Christine Roxberg

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Ann-Christine Roxberg, a lecturer, theologian and priest from Sweden. She is also the main character of her daughter’s book titled “Min pappa Ann-Christine” (2014). Hello Ann-Christine!
Ann-Christine: Hello Monika! What an unexpected pleasure to be interviewed by you! 
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Ann-Christine: I am 60+ with three daughters and three grandchildren. I have been working as a priest for 36 years. Last summer I resigned and now spend my time lecturing about trans and related issues, especially trans and the Bible. I am engaged to Eva.
Monika: When did you decide that priesthood would be your vocation?
Ann-Christine: It was shortly after college.
Monika: You can boast a very solid education background …
Ann-Christine: Well, I believe it is on average when you compare it with the academic background of others.
Monika: As a priest, you worked in many large and small churches in Sweden and Zimbabwe. Which post was the most challenging task for you?
Ann-Christine: Without a doubt, the most challenging and at the same time most rewarding was my time in Zimbabwe. We stayed there in 1985-89, at a time when the country was still in good condition. I was in charge of a dozen of small churches belonging to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe. I had to learn the language (Shona) and come to terms with all the cultural differences. The kindness of the people and the way they expressed their faith impressed and influenced me in a way I will never forget.
Monika: Why is God so merciless towards transgender people, placing their minds in the opposite gender bodies?
Ann-Christine: Is (s)he? I have never experienced God as merciless, rather the opposite. The main reason that I have found the strength to live as myself is my belief that God loves me, not in spite of what I am, but just the way I am. I believe that the strongest hindrance to living as me has nothing to do with God, but rather the fear and prejudice of others. Some Christians told me that transpersons rebel against God. Even myself, I was for many years convinced that my longing was a sin. But God changed that.

Monika: In one of my previous interviews, Lisa Salazar indicated that transgender persons are said to be some of the least likely to become involved in religious institutions (like the Church) since most have been rejected and judged by their Christian families, friends, and faith communities. Would you agree? 
Ann-Christine: Yes, and it is very sad. I grew up in a Christian family. I have worked as a priest for many, many years. I, for one, would feel at home in a church context.
But from the moment I came out I felt as a stranger. Not that other Christians were hostile to me. Well, a few were, but many were friendly. The majority though kept silent. And when it comes to trans, churches are still generally very silent. I am longing for an end to that silence and a time when Church leaders give a clear statement that trans is OK and does not go against the will of God.
It is not easy for someone who is trans to go to church, much less join a Christian community. People will not, as I said, be openly hostile. They will be polite and smile. But transpersons need more than a polite smile. It is like going to a party not being quite sure you're invited.
To live as a transperson is for many a daily challenge and takes a lot of energy. I am longing for the Christian community to be a place where transpersons can feel safe and be at rest. Knowing that they are not only accepted, the way you accept flu, but embraced and appreciated. And that will also be a benefit for others and will bring more freedom for all to live and breathe. That way I believe transpersons are God's gift to humanity in general and Christians in particular.
The way to reach that goal is of course knowledge. The opposite of love is not hate, but fear, fear of the unknown. But knowledge can drive out fear, put an end to prejudice and give way to love.
Monika: What is the general attitude of your Church to the transgender phenomenon? 
Ann-Christine: I would describe the general attitude of Christians in my church as ”oh, this is strange, and I do not know what to think of it. Best if you can avoid coming into contact, but if you do, be kind as a good Christian.” My Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sweden, has not made any statement at all when it comes to transpersons, which leaves, as I have already tried to say, transpersons on their own. I would like my church to ask transpersons the same question Jesus asked the blind beggar outside Jericho: What do you want me to do for you?
Monika: Is there any reference to transgenderism in the Bible?
Ann-Christine: There is a lot! The Bible is in fact very transgender-friendly. To begin with, both men and women are created in the image of God, which to me makes God transgender, containing both/all sexes. Adam, the first human being, is said to have sacrificed a rib for the forming of the woman. But the Hebrew word for ”rib” is elsewhere translated as ”side”. So you can equally say that God formed the woman from Adam's side. That can give way to the thought that Adam was in effect intersex, and God used the appropriate ”side” to form a woman!
And then we have the eunuchs, whom we meet all through the Bible. God makes a clear statement about them, that they will be honored and welcomed. (Is. 56:3-5) Jesus refers to them in Matthew ch. 19 without any negativism and the first to be baptized by the apostles was an Ethiopian eunuch.

Courtesy of Ann-Christine Roxberg.

Jesus himself was in so many ways a trans-gressor. Being born by a woman without any involvement of a man would have made him very suspicious in the eyes of (other) men. The way he constantly transgressed the norms of how a ”real” man should act, makes him in my eyes a trans role model.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in Swedish society?
Ann-Christine: I believe that for most trans women the situation is good, compared to many other parts of Europe, I would say very good. We are moving, though slowly, away from the view that trans is something pathological.
Trans-care is generally good, though the waiting time before you can actually start your transition with SRS etc. is all the time increasing. The reason is of course that more and more people decide to accept themselves, and this in turn is a fruit of a more open society. We know more, simply speaking, about gender than our ancestors.
Still, there are few trans women who are ”public”. Most of them live quite ordinary lives, where very few of the people they socialize with know of their background. And they generally want to keep it that way. I respect that, but it contributes to the general idea that transgender is very strange and rare. People just don't realize that transpersons are everywhere.
My impression is that when a trans woman reveals her ”secret” she is generally accepted and received well. For crossdressers, the situation is still very difficult, and very, very few want anyone to know. And that fear is real because a crossdresser can easily lose his/her job although the law prohibits discrimination on these grounds.
Homosexuals have been widely accepted in society. One of the main reasons is that well-known and respected persons have come out of the closet, and become ”icons” or role models. 
Transpersons still lack these ”icons”. Yes, we do have Laverne Cox. I deeply respect her as an actress and believe she talks well about transgender issues. But trans people have always been respected on the stage. In fact, the stage was mostly the only place where trans people were accepted. If you had the looks! So we are used to seeing what we believed were men dressing up as women. And sometimes it was! But transsexualism is something else than a stage show, and people need to know that. That is why we need transwomen from all strands of life to show that transsexualism is just as ”normal” as being left-handed.
Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? 
Ann-Christine: I came out to myself and to the world when I was 57, five years ago. At first, everyone thought I was a transvestite, since circumstances only allowed me to live as Ann-Christine periodically. That was a terrible time, both because I could not live fully the life I wanted, but mostly because no one supported me. I was completely on my own. Before I had to deal with my own fears. They vanished the very moment I came out. Now I had to deal with the fear of others, and that was not easy, to say the least.
Then there are all the necessary procedures with therapists and psychiatrists and so on. And I am still in transition, waiting to have my gender legally corrected.
By the way, I am not quite certain of what ”transition into a woman” means. Was it to be ”a woman”? How does it feel? I have asked numerous ”biological” women, but no one has yet been able to give an answer. When I finally decided to live life the way I wanted I did not turn into someone or something else. To others maybe, but not to my inner self.
In the highly recommended TV series ”Transparent” the main character gets the question: ”Why do you dress up like a woman?” And the answer is: ”I have been dressing up all my life. This is me!”
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Ann-Christine: The simple and true answer is no.

"Min pappa Ann-Christine" via

Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Ann-Christine: Meeting and dealing with the fear of others. And of course, telling my three grown-up daughters. They needed their process also; it took time and it was tough for all of us. Today I'm proud to say that I have a truly good relationship with them all and their families. They have fully embraced me as Ann-Christine and that is a joy beyond telling. 
Monika: Your daughter Ester Roxberg wrote a book about your transition titled “Min pappa Ann-Christine” (2014). Were you surprised that she would focus her book on you? 
Ann-Christine: Knowing my daughter I was not surprised at all. She is a writer and this became her third novel. The book is not so much about me as it is about her. It is a story of what happens when someone close, e.g. your father changes, and changes radically. 
Monika: Which aspects of your biography could be used by other transgender women planning their transitions?
Ann-Christine: The book is not so much my biography as it is a book about the process of a close relative to a transperson. Many have told their stories of coming out and transitioning. This book is rare since it gives the perspective of a trans woman’s daughter. I don't think anything like that has been published before.
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?
Ann-Christine: Once on the Internet I read a comment by a trans person who complained: ”There is not any trans person who wouldn't defend the rights of homosexuals. When will the homosexuals stand up for us?” There is of course a bit of truth in this, and that truth hurts. I find that trans-issues are increasingly put into the program at pride festivals, e.g. Stockholm Pride. But the trans community (if there is one?) needs to understand that the battle for acceptance in all parts of society has to be fought by themselves. Yes, with a little help from our friends, e.g. the gay community, but basically it is our own battle.
Monika: Is there anyone in the Swedish transgender society whose actions could be compared to what Harvey Milk was doing in the USA in the 60s and 70s for gay activism?
Ann-Christine: No. We do have transactivists, and I do not mind counting myself among them, but we have no one with the political platform and voice of Harvey Milk. The problem also lies with fact that it is very difficult to organize transpeople. Transvestites/crossdressers have a forum where secrecy is the key word. And a secret army is not of very good use on the battlefield. The majority of transsexuals just want to get on with their lives. Many do not even want to be reminded of their past.
Harvey Milk gathered gay people and told them to leave the relative safety in San Francisco and go home. "Go home, and tell your families and friends who you are. Because if you do not tell them, you do not exist!" I believe there are so many transpersons who should do just that. Yes, it may cause a lot of problems but as long as we transpersons let our lives be determined by others we are not free. We have to get rid of the fear that silences us.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Ann-Christine: I am not politically active, but I do try to be a part of any lobbying campaign that has to do with LGBT in general and T in particular. I help organizing our local pride festival. Last year we gathered 3000 people in the parade in our city. This year (2015) we hope to break that with at least 2000 more.
I do certainly believe that transwomen can make a difference in politics, really just by being there.

Courtesy of Ann-Christine Roxberg.

Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Ann-Christine: ”How bold one gets when one is sure of being loved” is a quote said to come from Sigmund Freud. I know for certain that I would not have been bold enough to come out without the profound conviction that I am loved by God the way I am. Unconditionally.
Last autumn I met love again, that's when I met Eva. We have been a couple for more than a year and are now engaged. I thought the love they sing about in all the ballads you hear on the radio was just non-real nonsense. Love like that only exists on screen or is fiction in literature. I was wrong!
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Ann-Christine: I very much would like to formulate a trans-theology so I am digging into all kinds of queer theology stuff, both printed and on the Internet. A somewhat larger project is to write my own story. My daughter has written hers with me in it. Maybe now it is time to write mine. 
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Ann-Christine: DO NOT GIVE UP! And most of all: Do not be afraid! Not of all the people around and not for yourself. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH YOU! And please, try to accept the woman you ARE, not the commercialized ideal of what MEN think a woman should look like. Women come in many, many different ways. Your way is just as good as any other. So walk proud, keep your chin, look people you meet in the eyes and be HAPPY that you are a woman and that you are you!
Monika: Ann-Christine, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Ann-Christine Roxberg.
© 2014 - Monika Kowalska

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