Tuesday, 26 May 2020

Interview with Maria Tymoshenko

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor 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 different art projects 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 gear. Last year I participated in LGBTQ and human rights 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 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 of 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 the 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 personally because I live in Kyiv and only my friends know that I am a transwoman. But many people did. I work as a 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 organizations promote “family values” guess that transwomen are perverts and freaks. In 2018 such organizations 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 the police their attempts were not successful. Transgender Remembrance Day 2019 was without any incidents only due to 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 is 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 from an LGBT organization 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 the 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 organizations. 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 a difficult question. I am not a professional in this field. There are endocrinologists who can help to choose the 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 musical inspirations?
Maria: The main inspiration is the process itself. I would just close my eyes and improvise on the piano. After a while, I would play something fresh, interesting, and worth 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 the things that I love to do.
First I composed piano music in neoclassical style. I published two EPs with the Italian label Halidon: Magic Flow (2017) and Clarity (2018).

Photo by Serhiy Morgunov.

After that, I started 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 so alive when I do it. Actually, roofing is a double dangerous 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 him 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 is about lesbian love and mental disease. We wanted to show several types of reactions 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 favorite 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.


All the photos: courtesy of Maria Tymoshenko.
© 2020 - Monika Kowalska

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