Friday, 6 March 2015

Interview with Victoria Masl

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Victoria Masl, a young T woman from Russia, the first-known deaf Russian T woman, the first LGBT Russian disabled /deaf/ refugee in the West /the official refugee status since 2012/, living in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Hello Victoria!
Victoria: Hello Monika and our readers!
Monika: I must say that when I read your story published in the recent issue of the Frock magazine I could not help crying …
Victoria: The world is very cruel, especially to not typical people and we know this. I never lived a secure or privileged life. Maybe, my parents belonged to a Soviet semi-privileged class, circle, but I have been deprived of it since my childhood.
Monika: You were born in Russia where you spent your childhood …
Victoria: I was born in the USSR. They were two different countries. I spent my childhood on a trip with my parents, living in small special military towns.

In a planetarium.

Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? 
Victoria: In November 2005, at 31. It was a very hard, close to the impossible process. The point was that the Russian officials started to perceive me in a negative way and they could block my SRS due to my being a deaf person… Incredible.
Still now, I cannot believe that I managed to do it. Of course, I was a woman inside since my childhood’s first thoughts about “who am I, of which gender?” But to correct it physically was almost impossible for me.
My guess is that the medical Institute there was a need for “voluntary patients” at the time, and they had amazingly low prices due to it – 1000-2000 USD. Though, their operations turned to be rather good with time. Probably, I was lucky to find myself as one of such patients by a chance.
Monika: You hit the Russian headlines in 2000 when the media outed you as a transgender woman…
Victoria: Actually, there was not such a word as an “outing” in Russia. Many Russians considered such people as “interesting, fantastic creatures or funny harmless freaks”, though it was an offensive view on us too, even it was not for long. When time passed such attitudes turned to be solemnly negative. Frankly, Russians have a very anti-LGBT climate in their society. The modern Russian government even does anti-LGBT society as an official doctrine.
Monika: And really awful times started …
Victoria: It was the time of hard pressure, especially in psychological matters. Sometimes even in physical matters, attacks from some silly youngsters, coping “cool gangsters” from movies on night streets. Rudeness in shops, in official houses, etc. Laughing and bullying in the streets.
Also, I was forced to live out of human society as an outcast. Plus I was and am a deaf woman. But the Russian deaf society treated me the same way as hearing society. I lived very alone. Even if there were some friends in my life, they were “advised” by other bullies to leave me alone. Sadly, they listened to them. It was a nightmare.

Walking on a street.

Monika: That is why you decided to immigrate to Spain?
Victoria: Actually it happened by a chance, all of a sudden. I never thought of Spain before. Only I knew that there is such a country on the world’s map. I was invited as a “mail-order” bride by a Spanish man from Galicia. My situation was dangerous in Russia and I ran to Spain without a second thought.
Monika: The Spanish soil was not friendly either …
Victoria: It was weird, not like the rest of Europe. Even people’s appearances were like middle-Eastern people and Latin American people. Their way of life, their interests were very different from mine, even not very European. For curious tourists, it could be interesting. But as for living, it turned to be harsh.
I suffered and was upset most of the time. Frankly, first I liked that country and I was impressed with its subtropical climate and no winters. Unfortunately, there were too many factors that made my living in Spain nearly as dangerous as in Russia. In addition, it turned out to be nearly impossible for me to be integrated into Spanish society and their way of life. I speak only English, no Spanish.
While living in Spain I met some American, British, German, and Canadian tourists, visitors and their company was much better for me than others’ company. I realized that it should be much better and easier to be integrated into an English-speaking society. It turned to be true. It works for me. Though, my refugee case looks, probably, too complicated. Having the Spanish refugee status I am trying to transfer it to the UK now. Such cases took place, but rarely. I can only hope for good.
Monika: At the moment you are living in Belfast. Is your life different now?
Victoria: Belfast is a city with a unique history, you know. And I am a unique person, probably, a joke. Thus we both met each other. Of course, my life is very different from what it was in Spain. I can even pass easily here for a usual local woman, because my look is a Northern European, as I am, like them. Surely, I prefer to live as a usual woman here. I lead a rather normal life.

Northern Ireland, Atlantic Ocean.

Belfast is the best place I lived before. Maybe, many people would not agree with me. But it is so for me. It is better than Spain for me. Moreover, I feel here as a respectful person with all human rights. I never felt like this before. Not in Spain, nowhere. And I like it. The locals are nice people in general, very friendly to me.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in Russian society?
Victoria: I could give only one reply – I knew nothing. But I can guess that it is even much worse when I left it. Every day we have news about attacks on LGBT people in Russia, even murders. Or throwing LGBT people to suicide with bullying. I did not read Russian news especially, but such news is in the world media very often.
Monika: At the time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Victoria: Such sort of information was always concealed in the USSR. I made my discovery about it at 15, in a magazine. It was an article in a magazine about SRS operations in Australia. Such women were described as “extremely beautiful, long legs, luxury hair, model’s figures”, plus the sensational journalists added that Australian men marry them rather willingly.
After my first shock and delight that it was real and I was one of these women, I wished even to run to Australia, ha-ha. But it took such a long journey… And it is still a road. I knew about one famous Western T woman – Caroline Cossey /Tula/. Being thrilled by her story, I even tried to take my first female hormones /from the birth control pills/at 19-20 years old, but stopped soon, because I had no information and was scarred by the urban myths that the hormones “would kill” you. It is even not funny to recall now.
Monika: Are there are any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now?
Victoria: I admire and respect Donna Keyes from Texas, my online friend for the last two years.
Monika: What do you think about transgender stories or characters which have been featured in Russian films, newspapers, or books so far?
Victoria: The Russian modern culture has no transgender characters. Except me, joking. But I belong to the West already. Or both. I was told that after me there was another hard-of-hearing TG person from a privileged Moscow family, a copy-paste, a project to imitate me, probably. But I know nothing and it is not interesting for me. I am only me.

The Mediterranean Sea, 2011.

Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Victoria: Strangely enough, I had no interest in clothes. I know that many TG people passed the “crossdressing” step, but it was not about me. The money question is important here too, of course. Well, many “primary TS” /the Benjamin’s medical TS term/ has no such a step, they jump to upper steps without it.
Sometimes I regret missing the step, because, having a figure like a model, I don’t know what to put on! Or I put on such old-fashioned or unisex clothes that some pedestrians react with a smile, just looking at me. Some said that I need a good tutor about clothing.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Victoria: I could tell you that I had real and mutual love in my life. It was a unique story, again. It happened in Spain, in a refugee camp near Madrid. I suffered in it from perpetual sexual abuse or offensive behavior from other refugees and negligence from Spanish workers.
The young African guy appeared there to the end of my living there. He tried to speak to me many times before, but I rejected him being fed up with the terrible behavior of other refugees towards me. One day I agreed to speak with him, he turned to be a very good person and really respected me as a woman and a white lady.
After it, we started to walk together around the camp or even to Madrid by bus or train. One evening we kissed, sitting on a branch in a park and I felt such a strange feeling – as we were one whole person and as a golden sphere surrounded us. And the world understood us that we are a true pair. More importantly, I understood it myself. As if even God and the devil agreed with it as well. I never felt like this in my whole life.
Monika: How sweet!
Victoria: I read many times the phrase “God is love” but thought it was just words of banality and there is no real love in the world. But suddenly I was blessed with it – to experience such a feeling myself! I had many disappointments about false love affairs in my life in the past. However, I was given true mutual love at last. I understood the difference between a lot of false loves and only one true love. The difference is simple – all these numerous “love-like” feelings are not love.

On a walk.

To experience a real, true and mutual love is a very rare case even for mediocre, cisgender people. Millions of people who live their lives never know what is real love. Or they confuse for it something else. But I had such a wonderful feeling. 
The African young guy was an asylum seeker from Sierra Leone; he ran from Switzerland to Spain to his brother. He was 23, enough tall, athletic body, had a noble face like a prince /just black, his features seemed European/ very communicable easy-going with people, and… an admirer of white women.
He confessed it himself while deleting such women’s contacts from his smartphone. Even in Spain, he found a local mid-aged rich Spanish woman in 2-3 months only, he dumped her after he met me. She came to the refugee camp several times with scandals and tears. He said to her leave us.
Monika: How did you feel?
Victoria: I even did not feel jealous – in real love, there are not many wrong feelings as in false love. I just knew we are a true pair, there’s nobody else for me and for him. He knew it too. We spent all our time together, he said to his brother that he would marry me, he introduced me to all his friends, he spent on us and on our food all his money his brother supplied him. 
One time on a visit to his friends in Madrid’s suburbs we had no money for tickets barrier and he carried me on his hands over the train station rails and fence on his hands. I was not afraid of anything, totally relying on my man and his hands, for the first time in my life. His friend turned to be an Italian woman, who was marrying his best friend, an African man too, and going to live in Switzerland. We drank a little with them and we went for a walk. He wanted us to run back to Switzerland, where we would start a new life, “cos Spain turned to be a bad country even for him”, etc.
Many refugees or other immigrants from the Spanish refugee camp ran to other countries in this way. First I agreed but after thinking I was horrified. My position in Spain was unclear at that time, even with documents. Such a runaway could be a catastrophe for me. Plus, he did not know that I was a T woman.
Later I tried to explain to him that I was a “special woman, for example, I could bear no children, etc.” He seemed to understand it, but the next day he dreamt that “we would have 2-3 children”. I thought only – how to explain to him, “Uf!..” He ran to Switzerland one sunny morning, after bringing coffee to me, as usual. We sent each other many SMS for many months. I lost my previous mobile number or so after and it stopped.

In Belfast.

Surely, it was a very unusual love story again. It was true mutual love. Between me and that guy. Usually, I was and am afraid of dark-skinned people, due to my bad past experiences. But he did not like other dark-skinned people too.
The love changed me, of course, it gave to me more strength, self-acceptance; it helped me to survive bad times in Spain and even to come to the UK. It lasted 1,5-2 weeks in the summer of 2012 and if it’s true that real love could happen only once, I’d accept it too. Now I need just a nice partner, probably.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Victoria: I want to do it too as everyone and win the Pulitzer Prize or the Nobel Prize in literature! A joke. If seriously, maybe, I own one really interesting life story, which deserves not only a book but a movie? Who knows. 
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Victoria: I am in the transfer refugee process. No one knows how long and etc.? My previous claim, made by my local solicitor, was declined by London. We were not very well prepared. My solicitor did another claim. The United Nations Organization said nothing about it too. I wrote to them, asking for help with my transfer.
I want to work in the future on the same things – a positive image of the TG people in mainstream societies. If my story could help it, I would be glad to be useful. Also, I was included in the local Belfast cochlear implant NHS program. The possibility to hear again can be thrilling for me!
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Victoria: Be yourself and trust your inner side.
Monika: Victoria, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: Courtesy of Victoria Masl.
© 2015 - Monika Kowalska

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