Wednesday, 20 January 2021

Interview with Felicia Rolletschke

Monika: Felicia Rolletschke is a young German transgender activist and academic teacher. Her website Transformational Tomorrow is the source of all relevant information for the German trans community. I am going to discuss with her the most recent actions launched by the German trans activists in order to change the archaic gender-recognition law. Hello Felicia!
Felicia: Hello Monika! Thank you very much for doing this interview.
Monika: How are you doing in the pandemic times of COVID-19?
Felicia: As well as possible in times like this. Much of my work was and is based on in-person workshops so naturally during 2020 many changes happened and I had to improvise a lot. Nonetheless, I already had my first online workshops this year and am already looking on a filled calendar for March and the following months.
Monika: Felicia is such a lovely name. Why did you choose this particular name?
Felicia: Thank you! There were many names I considered. "Felicia" won in the end over "Ayana" and "Julia" for being a name that meant something to me personally, was easy to pronounce in both my mother tongue German, and my most commonly used language English, and it was at least familiar enough to most people, so they do not have to struggle when writing it.
Monika: Did you expect that it would take you three years and cost several thousand euros to get it?
Felicia: I didn't. When I first had my internal Coming-Out and came to grasps with me being transgender there were many things on my mind that might become challenging over time. I was afraid of discrimination, public harassment, and many more things - but I never figured that something as simple as changing my name would prove to be probably the biggest challenge during my transition. I remember that my therapist told me very early on that this was one of the processes we really needed to start early as it took so long - something that surprised me back then but makes a lot of sense with the benefit of hindsight.

"The fact that it took Germany almost two decades
longer to legalize same-sex marriage than the
neighboring country of the Netherlands should give
you a good idea on German queer legislation."

Monika: Although Germany is a liberal and democratic country, the trans community has been endlessly fighting for the change in gender-recognition law that entered into force 40 years ago. Any reasons why?
Felicia: This is a tough question. The way I see it Germany is not nearly as liberal and progressive as it views itself or as it sometimes is seen in other countries. Large parts of the country are fairly conservative and ideologically far from the progressive city of Berlin that I can call my home. The fact that it took Germany almost two decades longer to legalize same-sex marriage than its neighboring country of the Netherlands should give you a good idea of German queer legislation. The TSG - the law that regulates the legal rights of transgender people - with its archaic restrictions and assessments is just one representation of the deeply rooted conservative, heteronormative, and cis-normative culture that is predominant in Germany.
Monika: However, the health service is probably very good, isn’t it? Does the free service cover FFS, SRS, voice feminization, and other services?
Felicia: The German medical system is generally very good - especially in times of Covid it is easier than ever to recognize the privilege of living under the German medical system. For transgender people this means that we have access to affordable medical care - however, that access is kept behind several barriers of gatekeeping. Any transgender person in Germany technically has access to free gender-affirming care but has to undergo Psychotherapy as well as take part in something called “Alltagstest” to do so.
The “Alltagstest” is a period of time (usually one year) in which transgender people are supposed to “practice” and “experience” life in the gender they are. This includes but is not limited to testing out clothes that are associated with one's gender identity or coming out to many people in one’s personal environment. While these are things transgender people may sometimes experience as an important part of their transition the “Alltagstest” as a system forces transgender people into doing these things often at times when they are either not comfortable doing them or it is not safe for them to do so. In addition to that, the “Alltagstest” reinforces gender stereotypes by demanding gender-conforming behavior from transgender people. Many transgender people report strongly increased numbers of discriminatory situations in their everyday life during these times.
Furthermore, the quality and the supply of gender-affirming surgical interventions is limited which leads many wealthy transgender people to leave Germany and look for their treatments elsewhere. The places in Germany that do provide good surgical interventions for transgender people are often highly sought after and have an extensive waiting list of several years.
Monika: Do you remember the first time when you saw a transgender woman on TV or met anyone transgender in person?
Felicia: I remember seeing an interview with Kim Petras when she appeared many years ago on a German TV program. She was seventeen back then and was speaking about her transition and her difficulties with the German healthcare system.

"Living openly as a transgender person is an act
of resistance against systems of power."

Monika: You have mentioned that cisnormative culture is predominant in Germany. When can we talk about the more prominent presence of transgender women in the perception of German society?
I am familiar with some of the German trans women but most of them became more prominent in the last decade of the 20th century: singer and actress Gloria Grey ("Mit allem, was ich bin", 2009) painter Simone-Yvonne von Budzyn (Vom Supermann zur super Frau. Wechselbäder einer Geschlechtsidentifikation, 1996), or politician Michaela Lindner (Ich bin, wer ich bin. Ein öffentliches Leben als Mann und als Frau, 2000).
Felicia: Generally speaking there aren’t many transgender women that are prominent in modern German society. There are some - we have transgender politicians like Tessa Ganserer and every other year there is a young transgender woman on “Germany’s Next Top Model” or any of these singing contests. We have writers like Felicia Ewert and Pari Roehi and some other transgender women that make an appearance on public TV but if we look at it from a distance representation of transgender people in Germany is pretty lackluster.
Monika: The last years witness the presence of many young trans girls in the German media, just to mention: singer Kim Petras and model Giuliana Farfalla. What do you think about this trend?
Felicia: While it is problematic that media outlets still almost exclusively choose passing and conventionally attractive transgender people for these appearances I am extremely happy to see more young transgender people anywhere. The fact that there are more young people that manage to come out and transition in whatever way they want is a testament to the improving situation of transgender people overall.
Monika: We all pay the highest price for the fulfillment of our dreams to be ourselves. As a result, we lose our families, friends, jobs, and social positions. Did you pay such a high price as well? What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Felicia: I don’t think I ever had to pay a price. As part of my transition, I lost much of my social position and I lost some of my closest family members, but I don’t consider that a price. The word “price” makes it sound like something you only get after giving up something else. In reality to me it seems much more so that it is not transgender people who decide to give up part of their lives, their securities, and their families - it is the society around them that takes these things by force of discrimination and hostility. A “price” is something that puts a value on a good - as if treating transgender people with dignity and respect is anything more than the bare necessity.

Interview for TACHELES! Folge 2: IDENTITÄTEN.
Available via YouTube.

Transgender people are an oppressed minority after all - we live in a world that as wonderful as it often is often harms us with its laws, its norms, and its violence. Living openly as a transgender person is an act of resistance against systems of power. It is a daily show of strength and endurance. I am proud of being able to do that every single day and I am proud of facing the adversity I experienced but I would never consider them a price I paid for something in return.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Felicia: I am - It massively helped alleviate the negative influences of dysphoria.
Monika: We are said to be prisoners of passing or non-passing syndrome. Although cosmetic surgeries help to overcome it, we will always be judged accordingly. How can we cope with this?
Felicia: I don’t think we will always be judged in that way - I believe there is a world in which people can express themselves and their gender however they please and do not have to face adversities like we do now. I believe that that world is a possibility.
Passing and Non-Passing is a complicated topic though and I sometimes find it hard to talk about it. Partly because I speak from a point of privilege as I assume that I pass quite well - much of that is due to factors I had no control over whatsoever. Passing is and always has been a privilege granted by genetics, wealth, social class, and nationality. Judging people by their level of passing therefore inherently is not just transphobic but also classist. I believe that by tackling transphobia, classism, and other power dynamics we can also influence the judgment put on people's ability to pass.
Monika: You wrote a nice article about your successful voice feminization therapy. Did it really work? I have a friend that could not achieve this, so she had to undergo a special surgery in South Korea to feminize her voice.
Felicia: It certainly worked for me, but I know that it doesn’t quite work for everyone. I am now at a point where I am most comfortable with my voice and don’t feel bad if I hear it on a recording or something like that.

"Passing is and always has been a privilege granted by
genetics, wealth, social class, and nationality. Judging
people by their level of passing therefore inherently
is not just transphobic but also classist."

Monika: I love the way you described your sensations about your fashion discovery as a woman. “And now I can start to enjoy the more feminine way of clothing. I have already had my experiences there, but I feel like there is so much more to discover. So much more to learn and so much more to feel. So much more to live.” Are you still in your discovery mode? 
Felicia: Always. And I enjoy it very much. There is so much to discover when it comes to ways of expressing ourselves through our clothes and I am enjoying finding new ways every day.
Monika: By the way, do you like being complimented on your looks?
Felicia: It really depends. Usually, when cis people do it there is the subtext of “You are pretty for a transwoman” which really boils down to me not being what their stereotyped idea of a transgender woman was and that really ruins that compliment for me. There is a good chance that I am being a bit too harsh with that but having experienced how often these compliments come at a moment in which cisgender people would not have received them makes it hard for me to like being complimented on my looks. In a personal context or in the context of dating I very much like it though - like most people I assume.
Monika: Do you remember your first job interview as a woman?
Felicia: Yes, I remember. The interview was for a job at my university for which I definitely was at least sufficiently qualified - most likely even overqualified. I remember the interviewers’ awkward questions about my gender identity and recall a strange and slightly disturbed feeling when leaving their offices afterwards. Turned out I didn’t get that job. I didn’t think much of it at the time but some months later after the interview didn’t work out I realized that there was an element of discrimination at work that made it harder for me to get a job.
Monika: What would you advise to all transwomen looking for employment?
Felicia: It’s tough. I highly recommend actively looking for companies that take active measures to be more welcome and more inclusive to queer people. Depending on where you live that may be quite difficult. I also would like to remind all transwomen that disclosing the fact that we are transgender is nothing that is required from us at any point in our professional working life. Sometimes it is not safe for your personal security or your financial situation to come out at the workplace and then deciding not to come out is a perfectly fine and valid choice.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Felicia: Very important, but I would assume it is very important for anyone. I am glad to have incredible friends, great family, and a romantic partner that I love and all of these things matter a lot to me. Life without love seems kind of empty.

"When I first decided to finally transition I was scared shitless of
all the challenges and barriers I would have to climb in the next
few years and taking that first step was incredibly hard. But it
was worth it - so worth it."

Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Felicia: I am a blogger after all. Writing about my life is what I partly do to make a living so it seems only natural that - maybe in some years - I will write this entire story down in a book.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender women that are afraid of transition?
Felicia: It really depends on what they are afraid of. Are you afraid whether you will be happy afterwards and whether you should take that leap into the unknown leaving behind a painful life that at least looks like a comfortable one on the outside? Deciding to transition is a big decision for all transgender people. It is connected with many mountain-high challenges that must be overcome. Being afraid of that is very understandable. When I first decided to finally transition I was scared shitless of all the challenges and barriers I would have to climb in the next few years and taking that first step was incredibly hard. But it was worth it - so worth it. My life now is not just better than my life some ten years ago but also better than my life could have ever been if I didn’t decide to start transitioning.
But it also needs to be said that if the thing that scares you most is the rejection from the people around you and you have reasonable doubts whether you will have a support network once you come out you might want to reach out to help networks before you do so. Coming out while you are not safe can be very dangerous and while I wish that every transgender person can live a life in which they are out and proud there is one thing I wish more for them: To be healthy and safe. If coming out is not safe for you it is totally okay not to come out. Look for a safe place, find help, you can do it, and until you can come out: Hang in there. It will get better - trust me.
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. Do you agree with this?
Felicia: I think that our dreams don’t depend on an operating table. Not just because many transgender people don’t want to have surgery but also because we are more than our bodies. Our gender identity doesn’t depend on our body - transwomen are as much as a woman pre-op than they are post-op. I can understand how much surgical intervention can mean to transgender people - it meant something to me as well - but our dreams can be so much more. Our dreams are more than our gender identity. Our lives are more than just being transgender.
Monika: Felicia, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!
Felicia: Thank you very much for having me. It was a pleasure!

All the photos: courtesy of Felicia Rolletschke.
© 2021 - Monika Kowalska

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