Thursday, 26 March 2015

Interview with Karine Solene Espineira


Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor 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 by 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 the 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 a 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 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 in 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. The 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: 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).

Karine with her cat (2005).

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 in 1979 and which worked up and regulated all transitions. Hormones, were not anymore 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 a 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.
editions-harmattan.fr
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 French society?
It is difficult to say whether the situation really improved in terms of society's progress. The increasing visibility of transmen and transwomen, in particular, could indicate an improvement in 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 transwomen seems, from my point of view, to go in the right direction.
In 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 health services,  jobs, and housing.
Monika: Is there any difference in the way the French political parties address the needs and rights of the transgender community?
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.

Karine in 2012. Photo by Leya Smith.

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 forensic medicine and psychiatry. Particularly without taking into account the diversity of the trans population's 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 was a big disappointment, from this point of view, for 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 favor 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 or psychiatrization of the identity. Any analysis has to take into account this specificity to understand the French opposition to progress.
The policies of the alliance are concerned themselves. Within the LGB movements, for example, the claiming of psychiatric emancipation of protocols is 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.

END OF PART 1

 
All the photos: Courtesy of Karine Solene Espineira.
The main photo credit: Naőel
© 2015 - Monika Kowalska

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