Thursday, 6 April 2017

Interview with Anna Kouroupou

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Anna Kouroupou, an inspirational Greek woman, transgender rights activist, writer, blogger, the author of the biographical book titled “Γιατί δεν έχω σαν το δικό σου, μαμά” (2011). Hello Anna!
Anna: Hi Monika!
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Anna: I’m afraid it’s difficult to talk about myself. If I talk about my positive aspects, I’m afraid it would seem like I’m boasting. On the other hand, if I mention my quirks, an imaginary line will present itself, meaning that I’m searching for compliments, therefore, I let others speak for me. 
Monika: Many transwomen in Greece regard you as an icon and relentless activist fighting for the rights of Greek transwomen. Do you accept this title? 
Anna: No, I don’t consider myself an activist, in the classical sense. A person who is an activist has no personal life. Rather, his life is only that. I don’t belong in that category. I support trans individuals and their problems, taking into consideration a change for the best, especially for the younger generation. Believe me, these kids draw strength from me and my actions, despite a “whole” trans personality. Meaning that after their own experience as a trans individual who has been sidelined socially, I find it logical they seek help.

At LGBT parade.

Monika: What is your general view on the present situation of transgender women in Greek society?
Anna: In this social crisis, as always expected, a coin has two sides. On the one hand, human rights have entered the agenda and we have managed to make progress concerning some demands and making the trans situation become more visible.
On the other hand, every fascist and prejudiced individual takes advantage of a heated situation to harm trans people in any way possible.
Monika: Do you notice any progress when you compare their current status with the challenges you had to face yourself in the 80s?
Anna: Of course, back in the day, when they heard the word transvestite, everyone expected to see a “hairy gay man”, wearing a wig. This was their knowledge and they acted accordingly. Small steps have been and are still being made. Everything though starts from family and education. If there is no basis there, all “victories” will be pointless. 
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?
Anna: Essentially, it’s not anymore. More letters have been added. The trans community has achieved much via the Greek Transgender Support Association (GTSA). The trans agenda, I believe is a heavy, valuable burden that should be optimized by the entire sociopolitical system.
We are interesting people, capable, professionals, etc. Therefore, human beings. Part of a society. Deprived, abandoned. To answer your question though, yes, we have the whole LGBTQI movement as an ally. Just as we in every vulnerable movement, are the foundation as much as we can commit to that role.

Supporting people with HIV.

Monika: Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Anna: I wholeheartedly believe that a trans person can’t avoid participating in lobbying campaigns, due to his or her own physical being. It’s just that most of them don’t even realize it themselves. Being discriminated against to such a degree will definitely make you think politically. Based on this, we absolutely need such individuals in the political system.
Monika: What do you think in general about transgender news stories or characters which have been featured in Greek films, newspapers, or books so far?
Anna: Things are slightly improving. The caricature is taking its simple form. Reporters, however, refuse to act politically correct and respectfully more than anything else, concerning trans issues. They continuously use offensive language with only a few exceptions. Even though the GTSA has issued and published guidelines to all major social media outlets concerning the correct use of terminology, most of them just threw it away in the rubbish bin.
Monika: Why did you decide to write your autobiography?
Anna: It was clearly a personal need. The need to write down on a piece of paper, some pieces of my life which marked me, so as to discover the reasons for the psychological dead-end I found myself in. I carry great darkness within me, but I am always open to any beams of light. The publication was mostly due to the encouragement of my friends, that I had something to say. I couldn’t believe it; I was delightfully proven wrong.
Monika: Which aspects of your experience can be useful for other transwomen?
Anna: The messages I receive and the conversations held show that many young individuals draw strength from my own. Strength, I myself didn’t know had. We owe it to ourselves to remind us that no one has the right to subdue or humiliate us. No one!

Anna's book.

Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? 
Anna: At the age of 24. Not a difficult procedure, especially for those times. Now I believe that the intense idea of it happening overshadowed all the rest. Keeping the vagina “active” the following days was a painful procedure I admit, but one well worth the pain and effort.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Anna: Yes, there was a trans woman who had a sex change, who I met when I realized I belong to another “world” and not the one they showed me. A magnificent lady, to whom I owe a lot. I wish her the best.
Monika: Are there are any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now?
Anna: Since their birth, I admire all trans individuals for exactly what they are. Of course, there is a difference between liking and admiring someone. I deeply respect the efforts of Marina Galanou and what she has offered the trans community as chairwoman of the GTSA. I appreciate any person who dares put fear aside – something very difficult – and make a call to arms. All of us carry this. We are just afraid to do so.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Anna: Becoming a target and the unrestrained racism coming from all directions. It scared me a lot. It also empowered me, made me persistent and whole as an individual. I was obliged to follow a “role” due to circumstances. Woman. I couldn’t yell at an uneducated society, that I am a woman but was not born as one. I am referring to my biological sex of course.
I had worked for many years at prostitution houses, as a “genuine” woman. I convinced them due to appearance, lack of information, etc. This situation though which transpired every day for many years left a wound within me. It obliterated me. I had reached my limits. My soul was slowly fading away and my body reacted as well. This liberation which came most intensely resulted in my being afraid only of myself and no one else. I consider it a huge victory.

Simply gorgeous!

Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Anna: I never followed the fashion. I’m a very reactive individual when coming to what the mass dictates. I grab whatever suits me. I definitely prefer black.
Monika: Have you ever thought about modeling?
Anna: Hahahaha, never. Besides, I couldn’t. I never had the qualifications. I’m too short for something like this. I never really considered it. If you think about it though in a humorous manner, I’ve been “modeling” for so many years now. 
Monika: In the 80s you took part in many transgender beauty pageants. What do you think about them? Some activists criticize their values, pointing out that they lead to the obsession with youth and beauty.
Anna: First of all, I didn’t take part in many. I once did and received the prize for first place. Is there anything wrong with youth and beauty? And what does obsession have to do with it? Loving thyself is at times a lifesaver. It’s a path that has the strength to lead you elsewhere as if it “hides” the real ugly path. To put if briefly, whoever says that he or she doesn’t want to be beautiful is a liar.
Monika: In retrospect, you had the intelligence, talent, and looks (still have!) to become a great actress. However, I found only one role in your career, in “Luton” (2013) directed by Michalis Konstantatos. Do you regret anything? Could you achieve more in this respect? 
Anna: I think you’re exaggerating, but OK. Thank you for the compliment. I never had the desire to become an actress nor am I one. I was “used” for what I was. A trans prostitute. If I had not accepted myself for who I was, I wouldn’t do it. As for those who asked me if I were insulted by these propositions to play these roles – in two films – my answer was that I love my mirror and I clean it often.

Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Anna: Love is of the utmost importance to me. First of all, the love I get from my family. My mother. Some men loved me a lot. So, did I. Maybe not that much, come to think of it. The persistence of survival tightens the margins for these “luxuries”. I finally loved based on my own interests. However, isn’t this the way we all love? For ourselves?
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Anna: First of all, they should speak with a specialist. Any other advice would be nonsense since every case is unique. I could say though, bravery. Where do you draw it from if e.g. you live in a small rural town and have a finger pointed to your face? If your father abuses you, even verbally each time you escape your life and follow your true nature. How should I say, dare? If you don’t know the circumstances, you can’t offer advice. I definitely advise bravery, patience, and persistence.

At home with Lucy.

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?
Anna: Definitely but in a slightly different sense. Surgery is not a requirement. Even if she means it metaphorically. We trans individuals are made of unique material. We are valuable to society due to the fact that we unwillingly become its mirror. And it doesn’t like its reflection because it doesn’t have the courage to act in the name of freedom.
That’s why they love to hate us. They see what they desire, but don’t dare realize their dreams and commit themselves, due to the norms society dictates we must follow. I’m not saying this with disdain, nor anger. I feel sorry for them. Freedom has a price but is inexhaustible and more than anything, non-substantial.
Monika: Anna, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Anna Kouroupou.
Translation from Greek: Katherine Reilly.
© 2017 - Monika Kowalska & Katherine Reilly.

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