Friday, 4 December 2020

Interview with Andréa Colliaux - Part 2


Monika: It has been almost seven years since I interviewed Andréa Colliaux, a French stewardess, transgender activist, the author of the autobiographical book titled "Carnet de bord d'un steward devenu hôtesse de l'air", one of the most inspirational women that I had the pleasure of talking to. Therefore I am extremely delighted that Andréa has decided to chat with me again. Bonjour Andréa!
Andréa: Hello Monika, long time, no see but I always have a look at your page on Facebook and I am always delighted to read the stories of all these extraordinary women who have chosen to transition from one gender to another and to live their life as a woman.
Monika: Andréa, you look so lovely! It seems that beautiful women never get old!
Andréa: Yes, I'm 55 years old now... and I feel like I am still 25 in my head! Still in the '80s. Listening to ABBA, and I think that growing old is not so bad especially when you feel so young in your mind. And I assume the fact is that I have had plastic surgery and injections recently. 
Growing old is not a problem to me, but in good health, physically and mentally. And then I sometimes wonder if the air conditioning in the plane does not preserve me like an old mummy!!!
Monika: How are you doing in these crazy COVID-19 times? Do you have a chance to work as an air stewardess?
Andréa: Such a hard period! I grew up in the mid-seventies, 20 years after the Second World War, and I would never have believed that this could happen in my life. The French government considered that France was in "war"... and it was like that indeed!
My professional activity has been reduced to nothing. During the first pandemic, I spent three months without any activity. Fortunately, I have my dog, which was of great psychological help.
At work.
It was very depressing not knowing where and how this virus could be caught. Everything was becoming so difficult: shopping, going to the hairdresser, going for a walk. Paris was a "dead" city. For me, Paris is always a party! And then there is the anguish of losing my job since there was no longer any aeronautical activity and all the airline companies went almost bankrupt! 
Monika: What happened in your life during the last seven years?
Andréa: Many things! My life is so rich. Let's say that the most important thing is my marriage, two years ago, with an extraordinary man that I met between Geneva and Paris. A very beautiful story. This is what made me forget my previous marriage and my divorce in the "Italian style".
Professionally, I obtained the rank of a chief flight attendant, but not without difficulty, though! This made me decide to continue my career beyond my 55th birthday (the legal retirement age for stewardesses).
It's a big challenge for me since during these recent 20 years I have been confronted with a lot of transphobia within my company. And then I am sometimes confronted with colleagues who do not agree with my company's choice to have given me access to this position.
On October 13, I was a winner in the election of "LGBT + Model Roles" for the year 2020. This event was organized by the association "L'Autre Cercle" that rewards managers and employees who are committed to defending the rights of LGBT+ people. It is a great honor for me. Even though I don't feel like I've done anything for my community. I did this above all so that our world promotes the inclusion of LGBT+ people and more particularly within companies. I realize that there is still so much to do.
Monika: Woooow! Congratulations on your marriage! Was it love at first sight? :)
Andréa: Yes, definitely! We met on a plane between Geneva and Paris. I had divorced in 2014. I did not think about rebuilding my life after my divorce. But this meeting turned my life upside down ... all because of a jetway blocked against the plane's door. There's no hazard! When I saw it, I said to myself "waowwww"! Then the flight being very short, just 25 minutes, it is this blocked door which saved us!
We had time to talk. He knew everything about my life, had read my book, seen the documentary ... and he had always been waiting for me, always waiting for me he told me. We met at Charles-de-Gaulle airport, had dinner at the restaurant ... and we never left each other again! A year later, he proposed to me. A real fairy tale!
Monika: How did you feel as a happy bride?
Andréa: I was very afraid to grow old "alone". I saw the years go by. As a "trans" woman, I only met gentlemen who were more drawn to my status than to my personality. I had given up the idea of rebuilding my private life.
Today I am a happy and fulfilled woman. My husband is a very open-minded man. He is protective and more than anything he never alludes to my past.
We now live in the "chic" suburbs of Paris, and we spend our time between Paris and our home in Nice.
Monika: Surely, as for the "LGBT + Model Roles" event, I am sure you deserve the title of the woman of the year! Has France changed a lot in terms of the perception of transwomen since our previous interview? At that time you were rather critical of the situation where cabarets remained the main source of role models for French transwomen and media in general ... 
Andréa: I am not sure I can say that things have really evolved, even if around me I have friends who are lawyers, judges, consultants, saleswomen but prostitution and the cabaret are still relevant today. The Covid-19 pandemic has not helped matters and has further widened a wedge between the so-called "rich" and those who find it difficult to live on a small salary.
Prostitution has been reduced to nothing and sex workers have found themselves even in a more precarious situation. So I would tell you that "no" as the situation has not changed much in 7 years.

Being happy.

Monika: By the way, can you witness a new trend in France in which transwomen are more visible in fashion, movie industry, literature, or art?
Andréa: (Smile) No, I think I am the most "popular" trans woman in the French media! ... and it has remained so for 20 years, as when it comes to transsexualism, I am always called upon. 
But for the rest, we don't have public figures in the arts, fashion, and media. Where are they? I do not know! And France is not ready. Transphobic and homophobic acts have increased by 60% since 2019 ... everything said! 
Monika: Your autobiographical book "Carnet de bord d'un steward devenu hôtesse de l'air" was an inspiration for many transwomen in France. Do you plan to publish the second book?
Andréa: My autobiography has been edited for the second time. I don't think I will write another book whose subject is my background. I know this book has helped a lot of people. I receive a lot of testimonials sometimes from the very end of the world. But I want to move on.
With my nomination of "Role Model" I am in great demand. I have to go to the United States for a conference on the inclusion of LGBT + people in the world of work.
I am also invited to Italy for the same subject. I was recently consulted for a documentary on an 8-year-old transgender girl. That's a lot of things!
My husband understands the situation and supports me in my fight. However, I am 55 years old; it is time for me to hand it over to younger people. I have a lot of difficulties, for example, in positioning myself on the case of "queer" and "no gender" people. So I think younger people would be better able to answer these questions.
Monika: You are very active as an advocate of the transgender cause in the French society. Do you sometimes have an urge to forget about your "trans" legacy and enjoy the life of a woman and wife without the need to use the word "trans" which I am sometimes fed up with?
Andréa: Monika, we are in the same situation! I'm tired of being relegated to the role of "trans" and not being seen as a full woman. This annoyed my husband enormously ... "Your wife is trans?" I can no longer count the number of times we have been confronted with this kind of situation in our entourage when people - always very caring - go on Google to search for information about me.
Then, I would still be "the steward who became a stewardess". The title of my autobiography alone sums up the great problem of my life! But if you analyze the situation, a gay man will always remain "gay" ... "you know, my gay friend" ... "do you know my lesbian friend?" ... it's very restrictive, but it is so!
Monika: I wish I could have transitioned earlier myself. Do you have the same regrets? 
Andréa: This is a question that does not arise: the answer is "yes". If I could, I would have. But that was 20 years ago. No social networks, no Internet, no access to information or to medical care. I was lucky because my job allowed me to go for treatment abroad, in England and in the USA.

"La vie comme un roman: Andréa née à 35 ans" (1999).
Director: Philippe Baron. Source: YouTube.

I have just participated in a documentary about an 8-year-old child: "Little Girl" and I am happy to see that children can now choose their gender and that their parents - with an open mind - can help them grow up in the gender they chose for themselves.
Medicine has evolved too; we can now block puberty and ensure that these children can have the choice of their gender and if necessary to go back. 20 years ago, France left no other choice than castration ... today you can change your first name, your identity without going through the SRS. This is huge!
Monika: In my interview with Marrie-Pierre Pruvot (Bambi), she said: "The purpose of life is not to be trans but to understand your strengths and your weaknesses and develop your talents as much as possible. If you need to do certain things to transition, you’ve got to do them. It is not a goal in life. It is a condition that allows life to start and the human being to flourish." ...
Andréa: It's philosophy! Marie-Pierre had her career, I had mine. I would say my journey is a fight of life over death. If I hadn't made this transition, I probably would have killed myself. Each case is specific.
Marie-Pierre had a career as a cabaret artist before returning to civilian life as a teacher. I have not had this course. I stayed in my company, which was not easy, but I fought to keep my job. Each case is different. We cannot compare the journey of two people because they are all unique and each lives it in their own way.
Monika: Have you ever thought about adopting a child?
Andréa: I raised two children; the sons of my first husband. They are now 19 and 21. Since my divorce in 2014, we have broken off all exchanges. Their father probably gave them no choice, much to my dismay. But life is like that, you don't raise children for yourself. One day or another they make their living.
My second husband has no children on his side. So we have a dog and he occupies a lot of time in our life, he is a bit like our "baby". I must also admit that the situation in which we live does not make you want to adopt ... what world are we going to leave to our children? Violence, cruelty, wars ... I think I was a good "mom" for a few years.

"Andréa Colliaux, la transexualité à travers Franz Kafka"
INA Café Picouly (2005). Source: YouTube.

I must admit that for a "trans" woman, motherhood is a great asset. Unable to procreate, I was able to have the feeling, for a time, of a pseudo-motherhood.
I would have liked to be able to keep in touch with my two stepsons, which is unfortunately not the case to my great despair. Such is life... And then we have DJohn, our Jack-Russel, and he fills our life!
Monika: I remember you wearing your Christian Lacroix and Hermès outfits with obligatory jeans and stilettos shoes. Have you changed your fashion taste since then? :)
Andréa: Never! I fought to be who I am today. It is clear that "biological" women have forgotten that they are women! I attach a lot of importance to my clothing. I am very attached to Hermès and Chanel. That doesn't make me a "granny"! But with slim jeans and heels, a designer jacket always looks great.
I don't buy many clothes; basics mainly, and I condemn brands like Zara or Primark, which sell products made by children in third world countries. This is my philosophy. And then France, it's fashion, gastronomy, "French chic". I wear a Christian Lacroix uniform ... and I am so proud to represent the French woman in all my business trips. It's a religion!
Monika: In one of the articles written by Carine Roitfel, a French fashion editor and former model, I read that the French style is more the way you mix the clothes and how you move, how you open your bag, how you cross your legs — just little things that make a difference. With French women, you first see the woman and then you see the clothes. Do you confirm it? 
Andréa: Fashion is not what it used to be. Women prefer comfort to elegance. We buy "practical" without conforming to the dictatorship of fashion. It is regrettable. I have always preferred to mix a beautiful Chanel jacket with jeans, for example, and some accessories. Fashion is "sad" ... jeans, sneakers, a badly cut jacket.
The colors... we do not see them anymore. Black is black. An elegant woman is always noticed. It inspires respect. By wanting parity at all costs, women have forgotten that they are women.
Monika: Are you still a vegetarian?
Andréa: It is a sensitive subject. I was brought up by tutors. My tutor was a butcher ... so when I was a kid I saw animal suffering when he killed rabbits, chickens, or pigs. I still hear the cry of the pig when it is slaughtered. When I was 18, I decided not to eat meat anymore, and it has been so until now.
I am not "vegan" but my diet remains rich: vegetables, fish, and eggs. But no animal meat. There are so many documentaries on social media ... horrors! So dear Monika, to answer your question: yes, I am and will remain a vegetarian!

Greetings from Andréa.

Monika: Do you have your favorite places in Nice? Le Jardin Albert 1e? Or maybe the Cobblestone Street of Vieille Ville or Parc de la Colline du Château?
Andréa: We rarely go to Nice. My husband and I prefer to stay in our villa by the sea to contemplate the golf course of Saint Tropez in front of us. It's a kind of a refuge, far from Paris. We love to enjoy the pool, our BBQ. When we go out, we usually choose Monaco, Ventimiglia, or San Remo.
Monika: When you look back at your 20 years as a flight attendant, which images or perceptions are the closest to being true: the “sexy waitress in the sky” (I guess something common for male passengers), a superheroine that is responsible for several hundreds of lives above the clouds and on the ground on every flight, someone that consoles an irate passenger whose life is over because he didn’t get the window seat, or someone that balances a tray of five glasses filled with cocktails while a passenger squeezes his way to reach the lavatory, or a therapist to a nervous flier?
Andréa: The answer is in this dictionary! :)
Flight attendant \flaɪt əˈten.dənt\n. Actor; Babysitter; Bartender; Busboy; Concierge; Conversationalist; Counselor; Dietician;  Dispatcher; Firefighter; Maitre d'; Gourmet Cook; Juggler; Lifeguard;  Mind Reader; Mechanic; Model; Negotiator; Nurse; Plumber; Police Officer; Porter; Psychiatrist; Referee; Safety Inspector; Sanitary Engineer; Security Guard; Tour Guide; Travel Consultant; Usher.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Andréa: Since my appointment as "LGBT Model Role" last October, I have been in great demand by the media and other associations.
I will take part in a project for IGLTA in order to meet the demands of TS people during their tourist trips: needs, expectations, offers, etc ... I will soon - after the pandemic - take part in a conference in Atlanta and another in Milan. As for literary projects for the moment... I must say that I have been very busy these last years and I focus on my private life.
Monika: What would you recommend to all our trans sisters and their partners reading our interview?
Andréa: Be PROUD, be YOURSELF, and LIVE your life, no matter what other people would say about you!
Monika: Andréa, it has been a sheer pleasure to talk to you and see you so happy. Merci beaucoup! Can I book our next interview for 2027? :)
Andréa: I would be 61 years old ... with great pleasure if God gives me the possibility to still be with you and, Monika, I hope to visit you in Poland. See you in 2027 then?
To all my TS sisters, be proud, live your lives, be happy and never let anyone judge you or put you below the ground! I embrace you affectionately!

All the photos: courtesy of Andréa Colliaux.
© 2020 - Monika Kowalska

 

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