Friday 10 March 2017

Interview with Hannah Abigail

Monika: Today’s interview will be with Hannah Abigail, a German college teacher, skydiver, trans advocate, and video blogger that documents her transition on YouTube. Hello Hannah!
Hannah: Cześć – Hello, Monika. Thanks so much for reaching out to me. I feel so honored to be interviewed by you considered the many famous names on your website.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself? You have some Polish roots, don’t you?
Hannah: Yes, my great-grandma was Polish. But my ties with Poland stem much more from personal experience. I grew up in Cottbus, Germany, and learned Polish as my third foreign language at grammar school and spoke it almost fluently in the 1970s and 1980s when I visited so many Polish regions. I learned a lot and keep having a special, cordial, and respectful relationship with Poland.
But back to me. I am 55 years of age and I have been married to my wife for 33 years – 30 years as husband and wife and 3 years as wife and wife. We have two children both of which have left the nest for more than a dozen years. And I am a, well, grandparent. My wife is “Granny” whilst I am “Hannah” which is the way their parents and my wife are comfortable with. I am curious when the grandchildren will figure out that “Hannah” isn’t a relationship term but my first name. :) I work as an English teacher at a college. I could also teach physics and astronomy which I studied in the late 1970s and early 1980s… if these were subjects here.
I am also a certified skydiving tandem instructor. One of less than two dozen females amongst more than 600 in Germany. And, as far as I know, the only active transgender TI in the world. Not that we advertise this, though. My students simply jump with this 6’1” tall woman. 600+ tandem jumps so far (and counting) of more than 2,000 jumps. My story made it onto the cover of Blue Sky Magazine.

Riding her canopy at about 2,500 ft - one of the fun jumps
she can make it when the dropzone is less busy with tandems.
May 2016.

Monika: Why did you decide to share your transition details on YouTube?
Hannah: I owe my life to a trans woman who shared transition videos on YouTube. You know, I was about to commit suicide in December 2012. I had known for some years that I am not a filthy pervert but just happen to be transgender.
However, the videos of young trans girls blossoming and transitioning successfully simply dragged me down. After all, I looked so übermale, so old, so bald, and so ugly. There seemed to be no way and no hope I could transition successfully.
And then, there it was: A video about a trans woman whose life was very similar to mine. All of a sudden there was hope. I could – at least – try. Good, I did, huh?
And this is why I want to pay back to the community. And I actually had trans women aged 50+ writing me either on YouTube or via Facebook or mail that I had given them hope, inspiration, or some advice. If you want to friend me on Facebook, you can find me on HannahKruse61.
So my main goals are just this: First of all, be that random beam of light to a desperate soul searching the net. And second, I want to give advice based on my experience on what to consider or how to do this and that on your own transition.
Monika: I am sure you get many questions from your YouTube fans. What do they ask for?
Hannah: I wish there were more questions. I had people reaching out to me but mainly to say Thank-You. There were some questions and in a few cases of German users, they led to closer contact and lots of more detailed questions via mail or phone. HRT, legal questions, voice feminization, how to get rid of facial hair, and why my marriage survived were the main topics.

At a shopping mall in her town, in June 2015,
some weeks after GCS.

Monika: Do you write scenarios for your videos or do you just improvise?
Hannah: I just think some time about a topic and which aspects to cover. I then sort of audition without the camera rolling. Doing this I notice which parts are difficult, or if I need to take some notes.
And then, I simply shoot the video. No post-edit except adding the title. I don’t like videos that are heavily edited, where every pause is cut out. Even if it is done well you notice. I like single-shot videos better, they are more authentic. After all, pauses, fill-words, searching for words, all this is part of day-to-day communication.
Monika: At which stage of the transition are you right now?
Hannah: Oh, that’s a tricky one. I could say I am done so far. I have lived full time for three years, all documents have been updated for two years and the other things cisgender people often are interested in, well they are done so far as well. On the other hand, do we really ever come to a point where we say “Nothing new ahead, nothing more to explore?”
Monika: Are you satisfied with the results of the hormone therapy?
Hannah: Oh, yes. It was about three or four weeks after starting HRT that I got so calm, so happy, so real, so authentic. I am sure only trans people can really understand. The bodily effects of HRT keep amazing me. When you start at my age, you need to be patient. It is only now that I start curving out. Waistline, bootie, you know. Or take my skin, so smooth. Bodily hair has disappeared which is so great. And HRT may also have had an impact on my sexual preferences. Talk about looking at a hunk in the gym, swoon…
Monika: Are there any German transgender role models that you follow?
Hannah: I must be one of the strangest German trans advocates. All my role models are Anglophones, mainly from the US, the UK, Canada, or Australia. I have a few German trans friends but they’re rather FB acquaintances than role models. 
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Hannah: Oh myyy. Telling my wife. That was the hardest thing. I had prepared and prepared and finally wrote her a five-page letter and the rest of the day was just the two of us crying. I am so blessed she stayed with me.
Taking a New Year's (2017) Day stroll
with her wife.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Hannah: The situation looks better than in many other countries. However, there are so many problems. We are still considered mentally disordered, the legal process is burdensome and there is still a stigma or at least so much lack of basic knowledge and decency about transgender issues in wide parts of society.
Our Supreme Court has declared most parts of the “Transsexual Act” of 1980 unconstitutional but the legal process in our Bundestag has not even reached the stage of a new bill being introduced. Or take medical expenses. They are covered… but for this, you still need to jump through many hoops. If you aren’t well off financially, you are at the hands of bureaucrats who often decide heartlessly based on way-behind guidelines from 2009. Yes, a lot of work is still ahead of us.
Monika: What do you think about transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers, or books so far?
Hannah: Me, being a bookworm… so my first thing is books, and especially biographies. They were an essential part of my preparation for transition. But, English books. There are almost no German books on the topic though one can now find a few good German ones.
Articles in German newspapers and magazines have changed over the last years, for the better. You can see that most journalists try to be respectful and knowledgeable. Trans activism and the interviewed people being in charge of what is written may also attribute to this. German “stern” magazine ran a seven-page feature about my wife and me, and the journalist, a woman, was so respectful, so considerate, or an article in the federal magazine of my teachers’ union that was published half a year after I had come out. The journalist was privy to trans issues and so it was a pleasure to work with her.
Movies, oh well. There are so many movies where we are cheap jokes, being stereotyped as deceivers, aggressors, or pitiful victims. But never boringly normal people from next door. There is one German movie “Mein Sohn Helen” (My Son Helen) that got some aspects right but that was that. Or TV, especially chat shows. One still needs to cater for the cisgender gaze to be invited, Shrill make-up, an obvious blonde wig, mini skirt, fishnets, 5” heels, baritone voice, you know.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Hannah: I left political activism behind me. “He” was a city councilor for 10 years and that was enough for two lives. I take part in developing a program promoting diversity and LGBTIQ acceptance in my state, though. Which taught me that even there making trans voices heard and accepted is never granted. But, I take part in online campaigns. My main focus is local grassroots activism. Giving lectures at universities, schools, or church parishes.
At her gym, after working out and
enjoying the endorphins. Jan 2017.
Monika: Are you involved in the life of your local LGBTQ community?
Hannah: We still don’t have a trans support group in my town of almost 100,000 inhabitants but are now in the process of starting and a first meeting was promising so far. However, of the probably 600 trans people who should live here, I only know a few handfuls.
Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBTQ communities. Being the last letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBTQ group?
Hannah: I can only speak from my experience. I frequented a support group in a town about 80 miles from where I live and there, lesbians, gays, and trans people got along with each other very well. We have our meetings that are trans-only for an hour or so but are open to anyone after. On the other hand, I noticed that – especially in activism, when folks who almost professionally come into play – G and L tend to be less sensitive to trans issues. Another reason I don’t like to take part in any activism beyond the local level. I simply am not able to spread my elbows, you know.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Hannah: Oh, fashion. Yes, yes, yes. I have two-and-a-half cupboards full of feminine attire. I like dresses, even in winter because I like them because I can, because they give me a feminine silhouette and because you simply look elegant in a good dress, which is why I always try to combine great feminine outfits with good quality.
I dress a little younger than my age, but not 15, rather 30+. Elegant dresses or a sporty chic: Skinny trousers with cute tops, jumpers, or blouses. Shoes are a problem, size 44 (European size) which translates into size 11.5 in the States. I like boots, especially ankle boots. I had ballet classes as a youth, so walking in heels up to 4” isn’t a problem, though I limit them to a max of 3”.
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Hannah: There aren’t any in Germany and, well, I am divided. On one hand, such pageants cater to the expectation that trans women must meet cisgender beauty standards (or better, surpass them and be ultra-feminine) which is narrowing, objectifying, and disrespectful of the many other walks of trans women lives and participants as well. On the other hand, after all the many efforts I have taken and still am taking, I wouldn’t say no if I were invited.
At her college in a class of English.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Hannah: It was love that saved me. My brother and I have not really experienced love at home. My father was an alcoholic and abused me. My mother was rather cold. So, after a failed suicide attempt as a young university student, I begged the Lord to save me and that love shall “heal” me.
My request was granted as much as a beautiful woman picked me. She taught me what love means. She is my first and only love. Had she not picked me, I would certainly have put an end to my miserable earthly life. She couldn’t “cure” me, but this part of my begging the Lord was wise enough to not listen to. So now that I live authentically not a single day goes by without me being grateful for her being my partner and my love. And my children, I love them, of course.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Hannah: As I mentioned before, there are only a few memoirs in German. So I would lie if I said I haven’t thought about a memoir. But, time. My job, sport, and first of all, spending time with my wife. However, I may start writing a book one day.
Monika: What would you recommend to transgender women that are afraid of transition, discrimination, and hatred?
Hannah: To think hard and decide whether you will slowly die in the closet or go out into the world and live authentically. If you prepare well, your chances are good. Add the fact that open discrimination or even violence are much less rampant in Germany, I would like any trans person that has reached this “critical threshold” to ask them this very question.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Hannah: Well, being my true self and living true to it has become natural to me. 24/7, and it is my normal. Not new normal, just normal. So I think I will be a boringly normal woman in her early 60s whose only strange aspect is that she jumps out of perfectly good airplanes. I will still have to live with the fact that I will keep being outed by colleagues and students to new colleagues and students but this shall be the only place where I shall be seen as a trans woman. Anywhere else, just a tall woman people hopefully take for early 50ish.
Winter walking with her wife in
Davos, Switzerland. (Feb 2017)
Monika: My pen friend Gina Grahame wrote to me once that we should not limit our potential because of how we were born or by what we see other transsexuals and transgender people doing. Our dreams should not end on an operating table; that’s where they begin. Do you agree with this?
Hannah: Oh this is so true. I am so annoyed when I read comments by cis or even trans women that they finally, through the scalpel, have reached womanhood. You simply don’t “become” a woman on the operating table. 
The journey starts with this moment of epiphany in yourself way ahead of the operating theatre and it never ends. There are waymarks, of course, but there is so much I am still dreaming of. And I don’t postpone this “for later.” I have left behind what has restrained me and now I am free to explore what this life holds for me.
Monika: Hannah, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!
Hannah: You are very welcome and thank you – answering your questions gave me the opportunity to reflect upon my past, present, and future life. I wish you all the best and please keep working on your website that holds so many interviews I still need to read.

All the photos: courtesy of Hannah Abigail.
© 2017 - Monika Kowalska

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