Monday 15 February 2021

Interview with Sandra Krogh-Bjerke

Monika: Today I would like to introduce to you Sandra Krogh-Bjerke, a mental trainer and coach from Norway. We are going to touch upon her transition, inspirations, and challenges as a transgender woman. Hello Sandra!
Sandra: Hi Monika! Really excited and grateful to have this opportunity.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Sandra: Just a few words? Oh my, where to start? Haha... I´ll start with my identity which has been the same over my whole life. I am a helping and caring woman that can connect with anyone and find solutions to their problems.
Monika: Sandra is such a lovely name. Why did you choose it?
Sandra: My old name, what someone calls a deadname, was not so different. My name was Sondre when presenting as a man. When I was young, about 13 years old, I was already very aware of me being a girl. I looked for a female name that I could feel comfortable with. At that time the German artist Sandra (Cretu) was very popular and I could really relate to her soft but determined artist personality. Also, Sandra means "the helper/defender of the people'' and that really fits me well. On the inside, I was Sandra from the age of 13, even though I didn't come out before October 1st, 2018 at 41 years old.
Monika: What can a mental trainer and coach do in pandemic times?
Sandra: My first and most important task when meeting my clients is shifting their focus, inspiring them to change their body language and internal voice. This is an ongoing task for me and will not change when a pandemic or any other crisis comes along. I have learned that most people focus too much on negativity and consume too much negative news and opinions. And that is detrimental to their own mental health and mental strength. My task is to defend my clients against this negativity. I want my clients to be positive and realistically solution-oriented.
Monika: Do you have any transgender clients?
Sandra: You know, I might have. I really do not know. What I do know is that I do not have any clients I know are/were transgender. How long are we actually transgender? Transgender people blend in so well in society because we are just like everyone else. And if your radar isn´t adjusted to spot transgender people, you will likely not see us unless we are early in our process or deliberately think it is OK to stand out visually.

"First of all, this was not a dream. This was a pure
necessity. I had to choose this because I would
kill myself if I didn´t transition."

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?
Sandra: First of all this was not a dream. This was a pure necessity. I had to choose this because I would kill myself if I didn´t transition. Well, to be honest, I dreamt about gender dysphoria just vanishing from my head and body.
I dreamt about waking up as a cis woman the next day. I dreamt about being in an accident so I had to go through surgery. I had so many thoughts and they drove me to the ground finally.
I was married to the most fantastic woman and I knew there was a realistic possibility that I could lose her forever. I would lose my "unicorn". The one person I would do anything for, except leaving her by taking my own life.
Monika: How did your wife react to your transition? Was she surprised?
Sandra: In regards to my ex-wife, yes I lost her, I do not want to speculate too much on her side of the story other than what I saw and experienced. So these are just my thoughts based on my observations. She has the right to own her part of the story.
In our early relationship, 14 years before I came out, I remember her asking the question several times: “Are you sure you are not gay?”. And I also remember hearing her saying “You are different from all men that I know!” With this in mind, she surely had a gay radar going. But trans radar is something quite different.
She was caught but surprise and it really hurts my heart every time I go through the coming out part. I could see she was devastated to the degree that she could not go to work that same day. I hate that I hurt her by not being the man she thought I was. She is a straight woman so living with me as a woman would not be possible for her. She showed me so much respect and comfort that I got overwhelmed. I never thought I would receive that kind of care from her.
I hoped for a couple of weeks that she would be able to try living with me, but I lost her before my transition ever started. When I started with my transition she clearly thought it was very hard. Every new adjustment I made, whether it was plucking my eyebrows, styling my hair or wearing a bra underneath my clothes (it showed) she had an emotional reaction to it. I can't blame her and I can totally relate to the emotions as I too had a very hard time dealing with her going on a date, getting a new boyfriend, her boyfriend moving in with her, her boyfriend started working in the same place as me and her, seeing them kiss and hug.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Sandra: I have been on hormones for just over 5 months so the physical effect so far is not what I will be satisfied with. But, I know more results will come. I think my results so far are about the average of what to expect. I have experienced a bit of feminization in my face and also to my body and my breasts. The mental effect is another chapter. I LOVE the effect the hormones have on my mental health. I am so grateful for the calming and soothing effect hormones have on my internal stress level. I am finally calm. And I also LOVE that I finally have immediate access to my repertoire of feelings.
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?
Sandra: I can believe that claim, but who are really the ones having the syndrome? Is it us as transgender, because we want to satisfy cis people? Is it cis people, because it is hard to see non-passing transgender people? You know, I am a victim myself and my way to cope with it might not be suitable for anyone else. I have a bit left before I can claim to be finished with my process. What do I do? I focus on the future and what I want to have. This pulls me through the process and it gives me drive and motivation to do what I have to do to take the next step.

"I want to have as many years as a passing
woman as possible, that's why I take charge
and create the changes I want to have."

I also appreciate the progress I have gotten already. I am thankful. The last thing I do is to take charge of my own life and not wait for things to happen. I didn't want to wait for the feminizing effect of hormones, so I did breast augmentation in a private clinic. I also have had facial feminization with fillers. I want to have as many years as a passing woman as possible, that's why I take charge and create the changes I want to have.
Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow or followed?
Sandra: Way back before I even considered coming out I never had any role models. I was too nervous that I would be outed if I followed anyone or talked about being transgender. The fear had a hard grip on me. After I came out I discovered, and still discover, a lot of amazing girls on Instagram. If I should name a few: @minaalette, @suddenlysamantha, @mikaelaville, and @lavernecox.
I rarely have a specific role model, but I often have personality traits and the mindset I look up to. These girls I mentioned have traits and mindsets I really look up to. The only one I have met in real life is @minaalette and I am extremely thankful that she has become a very good friend in a short period of time.
Monika: Do you remember the first time when you saw a transgender woman on TV or met anyone transgender in person?
Sandra: The first transgender person I ever saw was in a Norwegian gossip magazine when I was about 8 or 9 years old. I can remember the situation and place when I read the article and I had an epiphany moment. "This is what I feel!" Looking back I am a bit sad I didn't say anything at that time, but my life has been very good to me anyway. And there is so much I am grateful for that I wouldn't have if I came out in my younger years.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Sandra: Norway is a fantastic country. Very liberal. Transgender women are respected as members of society and as human beings overall. Violence is very low, thankfully. There are things to improve, of course, and we all work on that. I am fully open about me being transgender and have been since I came out publicly. I have been embraced and welcomed as a woman in my social circle and also on my social media accounts. I know some transgender women experience differently and that really makes me sad on their behalf. 
When we look a bit closer at the beliefs and prejudices that exist in society we have a very long road ahead. Transgender women are often looked at as either a sex object, if you look good enough, or as not at all interesting as a girlfriend. So often we are either fetishized or just friend material. I guess it has something to do with several factors. How far we are into transition may be important for a majority of potential boyfriends or girlfriends.
The sexuality of the person may also be important as a lesbian woman or a straight man does not want to have sex with a penis. The passing abilities may play a big role for some because people are attracted to different features. I know the inside, personality and having a big heart, is important in finding a potential girl-/boyfriend. But we cannot forget that looks also play a big role in this. I know it and I look forward to having even better-passing abilities, even naked.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Sandra: I'm not into fashion as in following trends or fashion shows. I'm more into finding my style and what I feel comfortable with. I would say that I am a classic-style girl when I dress up for dinners and parties. The day-to-day wardrobe is more relaxed and cute. My wardrobe overall is very limited as I haven't spent much money on clothes yet. My body is still changing so I want to wait until I have settled into "my final" body shape. When it comes to outfits and colors I usually wear something that shows off my assets (haha) and often black, white or earth colors. I also like red, but for special occasions.
"Now I really love compliments
about my looks if the compliments
support the fact that the giver sees
the woman that I am."
Monika: By the way, do you like being complimented on your looks?
Sandra: Yes! Finally, I love compliments! Earlier in life, I was a handsome man in many people's eyes. As I never felt at home in that body and looks, I never liked it or took notice of any compliments about my looks. I was more into my achievements and compliments about that.
Now I really love compliments about my looks if the compliments support the fact that the giver sees the woman that I am. I am still a bit uncertain about what the person on the street sees when they pass me by. I guess it has something to do with the degree of dysphoria on that particular day. I have been told by many that I pass very well and that people who don't previously know me think I am a cis-woman. I look forward to the day that I leave the uncertainty behind me.
Monika: Did you have your first job interview as a woman?
Sandra: Job interview? You know, I had a settlement with myself some years ago that I would never work for someone else. If I ever do in the future, it will either be completely on my terms or out of pure desperation (haha). I have had some conversations with companies about future possibilities but not a formal job interview.
Monika: What would you advise to all transwomen looking for employment?
Sandra: Know your worth!! You are valuable and a resource to society and any workspace. But never be naïve! You probably need more education or just improve your already good skills. Whatever your skills are or how good you are, be humble and willing to improve. We have talked about passing before, and I truly believe that it is easier to be respected in society if you pass well. BUT! The ability to pass does not define you or your abilities. If you are a great and caring human being, your ability to pass is not important at all. I have met many people in my career as a personal trainer, and I have been surprised time and time again how much the appearance of a person changes before your eyes when you get to know them. Showing an employer your true inner self reveals your true beauty and makes it easier to connect.
Monika: Are you involved in the life of the local LGBTQ community?
Sandra: No, I am not. I have made the decision to only be involved in the life of individuals. I thrive and I can contribute at my best when I meet a person face to face. I will let others take care of the community part. I am a firm believer of that in order for a life to change, the person has to change as well. Of course, it helps that society around also improves, but for a person to have a good life in a good society the person needs to see all the good that surrounds them. This is why I take on individual coaching.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Sandra: Oh my! Love… such an important part of anyone's life really. Some people are hurt and do not dare to let love in. Love is really important to me and I find it in the honest conversation with a stranger, in the hugs I get from my daughter, the small and important gestures from my closest friends.
After 20 years of relationships, the last 15 years with the woman of my dreams, I have been used to having someone to show love and receive love from. So the last 2+ years as a single, I really miss the intimacy of a relationship. I am not a girl who can have casual sex, so these last years have been very, eh... boring (haha). Love on any level is the foundation for my ability to connect and then maybe be ready for the more intimate part.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Sandra: Yes, I have indeed. I have already started :) My focus in this book will be to close the gap between transgender and cis-gender. We are very similar and have the same psychological patterns when we try to work out our identities through a long life. I didn't want to only write a life story, but something we all can learn from about how it is to be a human being.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Sandra: I mainly focus on the next big step in my transformation, but I also have business plans. During the next few weeks, I am starting my new personal training studio together with my ex-wife and her new boyfriend. I´m not 100% sure if this is a smart emotional move, but I know 100% it is a smart financial move. This is only for the next 2 years or so and then I move on to a new project.

"Norway is a fantastic country. Very liberal.
Transgender women are respected as members
of society and as human beings overall."

I'm not sure what will be my focus at that time in life, but maybe the same concept and maybe more one-on-one coaching. Within the next 4 months, I am going to Thailand for my bottom surgery. Then I will be out of it physically for maybe as long as 12 weeks. When my new vagina works properly I guess I want to explore my new "asset" (hihi). Hopefully, I find a person I can call "honey" and tell "I love you". But that is for the future to bring. I try not to stress about it, but I do have times I feel lonely and really miss someone to cuddle with and plan the future together with.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender women that are afraid of transition?
Sandra: First I have a disclaimer. I am myself not even close to being afraid to go through transition, and I never was. I always wanted transition, but my fear of being rejected by everyone I know and from society kept me tightly hidden in the closet. For my recommendations I want to say: -You know what you want, you can feel it in your gut and in your heart. If you don't want to fully transition, then don't. This is entirely up to you. You do you, for you! Not for anyone else. Not even your boyfriend/girlfriend.
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?
Sandra: I truly agree with this. I also believe that our dreams start way before transition. My life is here and right now even though I have my main focus on my future and when I have fully transitioned. I would like to warn people to be too focused on the transition and waiting to live a normal life after transition. Try to live every day through your transition also. Our life is every day, not only in the future. We do not have to put our lives on hold until fully transitioned, and we also do not need to only focus on transition. Be bold and brave and start dreaming of your future days. Then start today by preparing for that future. You will thank yourself in the future.
Monika: Sandra, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!
Sandra: Thank YOU, Monika. I really loved your questions and how they made me think. To all your followers and readers: You are worthy of love and happy life. You deserve the body you were meant to have from birth. Take charge of your own life. No one else will do it for you. And, please follow my Instagram account: @sandrakroghbjerke. Love to all!

All the photos: courtesy of Sandra Krogh-Bjerke.
© 2021 - Monika Kowalska

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