Tuesday, 26 May 2020

Interview with Maria Tymoshenko

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Maria Tymoshenko, a Ukrainian composer and piano player that documents her transition in front of thousands on YouTube. Hello Maria!
Maria: Hello, Monika!
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Maria: I am a composer and sound designer. I like contemporary art and sometimes participate in a different art project as a musician and as a model. As a hobby, I like roofing. My last clip was shot on the highest bridge in Ukraine. I climbed to it without safety gears. Last years I participate in LGBTQ and human right activism actions. 
Monika: Why did you decide to share your transition details on YouTube?
Maria: When I launched my YouTube channel, I never wrote that I am transgender. Even record labels and movie producers with which I worked did not know about this part of my life. I did not hide, but no-one asked me and I did not say.
Photo by Serhiy Morgunov.
First time I came out to my YouTube subscribers as transgender was one year ago. My friend, artist Maria Proshkowska made an exhibition FEMININE that was presented during Kyiv Pride week in the 2019 year. Maria invited me as a model. It was an exhibition about the daily life of Ukrainian transgender women. We spoke a lot with Maria, I showed her all my transition pictures and we decided to create a video about this. In this video, we aggregated several thousand my transitional pictures chronologically. I created music for this video.
To be honest, it was really scary for me to open all this to the public. This video included ALL my pictures taken during the transition, even ones, that I thought, would never be shown to anyone. But I met a very warm reaction on Kyiv Pride. And I published this video on YouTube. In first days I lost approximately 100 subscribers, but gained much more new ones. Many people supported me. And this encouraged me to make more videos about my transition.
Monika: What is the situation of transgender women in Ukraine in general and how they are perceived by society?
Maria: The situation is not easy. I’ve never experienced any violence to me personally because I live in Kyiv and only my friends know that I am a transwoman. But many people did. I work as freelancer therefore I do not have problems because I am trans. But for many other trans people, it is very difficult to find a job. Many companies are not ready to hire such people.
Also, many religious organisations promote “family values” guess that transwomen are perverts and freaks. In 2018 such organisations attacked participants during Transgender Day of Remembrance. Authorities failed to protect us. During the March of Equality 2019 group of extremists stuffed approximately 200 condoms full of feces to throw at KyivPride marchers and police. Thanks to police their attempts were not successful. Transgender Remembrance Day 2019 was without any incidents only due the massive police protection. During such actions, the number of police usually is several times bigger than the number of participants.
When the pandemic of COVID19 began, the primate and Patriarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyiv Patriarchate claims coronavirus is ‘God’s punishment for same-sex marriage’ In general, the life of transgender women much better than several years ago but it remains difficult.
Photo by Serhiy Morgunov.
Monika: Did you have any role models or any trans sisters that helped you in the transition?
Maria: I received psychological support in LGBT organisation and met many other trans people. It was very important to me for understanding that I am not alone and I am “normal”. They helped me to overcome internal transphobia that I experienced before. 
Monika: Are there any well-known Ukrainian trans women that have managed to promote transgender rights in the media?
Maria: Yes. Now this topic is very popular. There are several well known trans women, and LGBT organisations. They work a lot for transgender rights and human rights in general. Now it is very important for us to have the Istanbul Convention ratified.
Monika: Is the Ukrainian Health Service prepared to provide services to the transgender community?
Maria: It is difficult question… I am not professional in this field. There are endocrinologists who can help to choose correct hormones replacement therapy. Other doctors are the same for trans and not trans, so as I said it is difficult to say.
Monika: What kind of music do you compose? Do you have any music inspirations?
Maria: Main inspiration is the process itself. I would just close my eyes and improvise on piano. After a while, I would play something fresh, interesting and worth of recording.
I started to create music right after I started my HRT. I do not know why. I just wanted to. It started to be pleasurable. In my life “before” I liked technological stuff and worked in IT. But hormones changed not only my body but also my mind and things that I love to do.
First I composed piano music in neoclassical style. I published two EPs with Italian label Halidon: Magic Flow (2017) and Clarity (2018).
Photo by Serhiy Morgunov.
After that I stared to work on electronic multi-instrumental music. But my musical style has not formed yet. Maybe it will be chill-out downtempo music. Last year I published one clip “Do Not Try to Fly”. It was a very extreme and risky video.
Apart from music, I work a lot as a sound engineer and sound designer for movies and TV series. It helps me receive more experience and accumulate resources for my new compositions.
Monika: I watched “Do Not Try to Fly” and I was scared a lot looking at you so high up on the bridge!!!
Maria: I like roofing and other dangers. It makes my mind so clear. I feel myself so alive when I do it. Actually, roofing is a double danger activity, it is not only about being so high, but it is also about not being caught by the police. The shooting on this bridge was the second attempt. The first one was not successful. I climbed to the construction crane near an unfinished skyscraper. We made all shooting, but the police caught a drone operator and forced to delete the whole video. We saved only several pictures. The second attempt with the bridge was successful.
Monika: The song itself is about lesbian love... 
Maria: It about lesbian love and mental decease. We wanted to show several types of reaction to severe stress. One of the girls freaks out, throws rocks at the wall, screams. But she's fine in the end.
The other one accumulates stress in herself, and she starts hallucinating, she starts to think she's a bird, and she tries to take off. Although it's probably not clear without an explanation. That was our first video work.

Monika: Who was more behind the idea of the video: you or Antuanetta Mishchenko? 
Maria: I suggested an idea, Antuanetta found a team and organized the work. However, in the whole process, the original idea evolved very much.
Monika: But my favourite music of yours is "We Maybe Have the Second Chance". A bit sad but very beautiful ... Can you say a few words about this composition?
Maria: Thank you very much, Monika. It's a composition from my second EP "Clarity." I was living far away from the city at that time, near a forest by the lake. I could play the piano all night without risking waking the neighbors. This and other compositions were recorded live, without rendering in computer software, and without a predetermined structure. I improvised and recorded a small piece of the composition. Then I would play it, and when it ended, I would play the piano extension, the first thing that came to mind. Usually for about 20 seconds. If I liked it, I would leave it, so I would record the next part of the song.
Pivdennyi Bridge, Kyiv, 2019.
So the music in this mini-album sounds exactly as it was played for the first time. Actually, by composing this EP, I broke everything, even the most basic musical rules. For example, I wanted to write songs in such a way that there wouldn't be any repeating in them at all, so they would be perceived as a whole piece. I really wanted to create something really new and fresh. If we talk about the event underlying this composition, it was a very personal story from my life.
Monika: When you create a composition, is it often influenced by your personal stories or feelings?
Maria: Yes. All compositions are stories. Some of these stories are so personal, that it is possible to tell them only through the music or another kind of art. When I have a strong emotion, I want to play and record something.
Monika: Did the transition change your artistic perception of the world?
Maria: Transition changed everything. I used to be able to wake up at 7 a.m., live on schedule, do 30 things a day. The rhythm of life was very high. I worked in IT.
After the transition, I lost the ability to do things I didn't like. My willpower decreased. At the same time, there was the ability to notice small details in everyday things. To feel sounds, smells, colours, etc more subtly. After the transition, I do fewer things than before but understand them deeper.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Maria: It will be a chillout downtempo project. Now I work a lot as a sound engineer and sound designer in the movie industry. And this work maybe will affect my music as well, bring to it new kind of sounds and ideas. I hope you will like it!
Israel, 2019.
Monika: Any new roofing plans or challenges?
Maria: After the quarantine. I hope. So many bridges and skyscrapers still left! Now it is like a drug, and I cannot live without it. First, it should be 100% concentration because each mistake will be the last. And when I climb the top, it is... so calm, so beautiful. Nothing can compete with this. Any types of activity that look dangerous, but actually are not, do not appeal to me so much.
However, I would like to understand my motivation; why I like roofing. I am going to work on this topic with a psychologist because this hobby is very risky. I have to change it into something maybe also crazy, but safe.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colours or trends?
Maria: I like the dresses. I rarely wear a bra, which was invented by cowards. I like black, white, red and purple. I like wearing glasses. Sometimes I dress up like a bitch. Because I just want to look like this. Sometimes I like looking like a library girl.
Although sometimes I am invited to some projects as a model, I cannot say that I have a good taste. Creation of a visual image is not my strong side. I do not know why, but my best images taken by professionals are black and white. 
Monika: "A bra was invented by cowards"? :) Haha, really? I like it a lot ...
Maria: It is a joke. I know that bra was invented by ones without silicon inside :) 
Photo by Ksenya Kravtsova.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Maria: Only when I will turn 70! I hope to live such an interesting life that is will be worth writing a book or creating a movie. Who knows :)
Monika: Would you say that you are a happy woman now?
Maria: I do not know. The transitional issue is almost closed. Sometimes life is so amazing. But sometimes It is so difficult. I can definitely say that I am much happier than before. 
Monika: What would you recommend to all trans women struggling with gender dysphoria?
Maria: Understand that you are not alone. There is a trans community in almost every country. Meet other trans women. Speak to them about your problems. Understand yourself better. Gender dysphoria will not finish without action. Transition is difficult, but everything is possible. We are living in the best times for trans people ever!
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 transgender people doing. Our dreams should not end on an operating table; that’s where they begin. Would you agree?
Maria: I agree with Gina. Transition is very important. But it is the only one aspect of life. It is not a goal, but rather a necessary condition for starting a new amazing and interesting life.
Monika: Maria, thank you for this interview.
All the photos: courtesy of Maria Tymoshenko.
Main photo by Ksenya Kravtsova.
Done on 26 May 2020
© 2020 - Monika Kowalska

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