Monday 29 March 2021

Interview with Eva Echo

Monika: Today I am going to take you for a journey to the city of Birmingham, in the West Midlands, England, where I am meeting Eva Echo, an inspirational lady that loves tattoos. Eva is a transactivist and Ambassador of the London Transgender Clinic. Hello Eva!
Eva: Hi, it’s lovely to meet you!!
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Eva: I’m an activist, blogger, and spokesperson based in Birmingham, UK. I’m a brand Ambassador for London Transgender Clinic, an activist and trans spokesperson for the charity Gendered Intelligence and I also sit on the Crown Prosecution Service’s panel for hate crime.
Monika: Why did you choose Eva for your name?
Eva: My name comes from my friends’ band name, Eva Plays Dead. Prior to coming out and transitioning, they had some instruments stolen from their band van. I set up a crowdfunding page to raise money for replacements and I said that I’d legally include Eva as part of my name if we hit the target. We did hit the target and I did change my name. When I subsequently transitioned, I chose to keep Eva as my first name.
My surname comes from the name of a band I supported when I was a drummer (yes, music is a huge part of my life). It’s at that gig/concert that I met my wife, so it felt right to choose that. Plus Eva Echo makes me sound like a superhero!!

"I started my blog as a way to externalize my
thoughts and struggles over my gender identity."

Monika: What kind of music are you into?
Eva: I’ve grown up listening to and appreciating all sorts of music. I love alternative and metal music, but at the same time, I love pop and musicals too. People are often surprised when they find out my favorite artists range from Avenged Sevenfold, Architects and In Flames to Katy Perry and even Neil Diamond. A lot of the time, what I listen to depends on my mood or situation. I’m a firm believer that there’s a song for every occasion.
Monika: You have amazing tattoos. I have always thought about having a tattoo but somehow I have been afraid of what will happen if I want to change it? It is not easy to do it, is it?
Eva: Tattoos should always be taken seriously. Whilst cover-ups are possible, the success of a cover-up (or removal) depends on what you had to start with and the standard of the original artist. I always recommend to people that they get tattoos that mean something to them and aren’t based on trends. That way they will always love them.
Monika: What inspired you to share your intimate life moments on social media?
Eva: To be honest, I never really set out to do so. I started my blog as a way to externalize my thoughts and struggles over my gender identity. I honestly didn’t think anybody would read it. Soon I was being contacted by people around the world, saying how they could relate to my experiences. That’s when I realized this life and the whole issue of gender identity was much bigger than me as an individual.
As I learned more about what it is to be transgender, the more I realized there was so much misinformation and inequality. That’s when I realized I owed it to future generations to make a difference, whilst honoring those that fought hard for what I have today.
Monika: Do you get many questions from your followers? What do they ask for?
Eva: I do indeed!! I get asked all kinds of things. Things such as how to come out to those around them, trans healthcare queries, and even makeup. Every trans experience is individual and therefore very unique. No two transitions are the same, so any info or advice I give is only in relation to my own experience or fact-checked by professionals from London Transgender Clinic, whom I’m an ambassador for.

"Passing is societal oppression. A standard placed
on trans people, by which we’re then judged."

My followers aren’t exclusively gender diverse. I get lots of questions from cis people/allies too, ranging from how to help their loved one to how they can support us or be a better ally.
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?
Eva: It’s unfortunate that abandonment is prevalent in the lives of gender-diverse people. For me personally, though, I didn’t really have to deal with my biological family’s views of me, as I’ve not had a proper relationship with them since long before I came out. Even when I came out, they were the last to know – even then it was a formality, as opposed to necessity.
From a young age, I had communication issues with my family. There was no love or anything. We were a dysfunctional family. I made the decision to cut all ties with them many years ago and have never looked back. I’m fortunate in that all those around me were extremely accepting of me when I came out.
Monika: Was your mother surprised by your transition? Did she accept it?
Eva: When I told her, she didn’t really understand. My parents are very blinkered and withdrawn from the world when it comes to anything outside of what they’re used to, or willing to accept. After explaining, she said that she was fine with it but that she said I didn’t need to change myself physically, just accept myself and carry on. As it was just a formality, her opinion didn’t really matter to me and I went ahead with my physical transition anyway.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Eva: Yes, I guess so. Again, every journey is so very different. We cannot compare ourselves as we cannot change the genes that we have. For example, the same dosage of estrogen for one trans woman will produce different results for another. Self-acceptance and finding peace with this have helped me so much. This is our personal journey and should be grateful we can even access HRT. There are so many who aren’t able to medically transition, whether it’s because of cost or availability.
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?
Eva: Passing is societal oppression. A standard placed on trans people, by which we’re then judged. We grow up being told what men or women should do, what they need to look like, how they should dress. Who made up this rule, and why has nobody ever challenged it? 
Clothes are only gender-specific if we allow ourselves to believe that. There are some within the trans community who perpetuate this form of oppression by being hyper femme or hyper-masculine but that’s only because of societal pressures. Instead of bowing down to existing rules, we should be challenging them to the point where we can change them.
Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow or followed?
Eva: People like Nicole Gibson, Carmen Carrera, and Paris Lees are inspirations of mine, however everyone I follow is a role model in their own right. Rather than look up to people, I believe we should look next to us. We’re all equal and we’re all doing our part.

"Clothes are only gender-specific if we allow
ourselves to believe that."

Monika: Do you remember the first time when you saw a transgender woman on TV or met anyone transgender in person?
Eva: I can’t really say when the first time was, to be perfectly honest. Was I was younger, being transgender was virtually unheard of. It was such a taboo and people weren’t as visible as they are now. As such, I didn’t really see trans people until later on in life.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Eva: We’re under attack by anti-trans groups that claim to have no problem with us but masquerade their hate by trying to pass it off as concern for women. Let’s face it, they can’t claim to represent the interests of all women if they’re so ready to exclude certain ones. Unfortunately, their words do gain traction, especially in the press/media and those that don’t understand us. They push misinformation (for example, trans women are sexual predators) and dangerous rhetoric in order to scare others into believing they’re protecting society. The only thing they’re protecting is their own transphobia.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Eva: When I first came out, I used to go to extremes. Back then, I was guilty of subscribing to the need to pass as a woman. At the same time, coming out and finally being my authentic self after so many years meant I went to extremes to prove my womanhood.
These days, I tend to just wear whatever I want or what’s comfortable. Mainly casual looks to be honest. Having grown up listening to and playing music, especially alternative music, meant I’ve always deviated towards that scene, however, I try and not pigeonhole myself these days. Why come out only to then restrict myself, right?
Monika: Do you often experiment with your makeup?
Eva: I used to but these days I just do the same thing!! Mainly because I am so busy with various projects or activism that I don’t have time to experiment anymore. I follow some makeup artists on Instagram, and they always blow me away with their skill and creativity. 
One artist in Ireland, I followed quite early on in my transition and I love her bold looks and use of color. She’s since become a really great friend and every now and then I do ask for makeup tips!!
Monika: By the way, do you like being complimented on your looks?
Eva: I really struggle with compliments!! When people comment about how I look on social media, I tend to write one of 4 or 5 things. This isn’t because I’m not grateful or don’t care that they took the time to do that; it’s because I genuinely don’t know what else to say!!
Bizarrely, I was actually talking to a friend about this recently, as she picked up on how I divert the attention away from myself whenever anyone gives me a compliment. Personally, I cannot see why other people would compliment my looks – especially after so many years of hating myself, pre-transition. Even now, I don’t see my looks as anything special.

"Whether trans or not, we should never
limit ourselves."

Monika: Do you remember your first job interview as a woman?
Eva: When I came out, I was self-employed so I’ve not had to deal with job interviews. If I had to attend a job interview now, I’d be comfortable enough to not worry about it. I’m proud to be transgender and I’m just as capable as a cis candidate.
Monika: What would you advise to all transwomen looking for employment?
Eva: Whether out or not, make sure they are an inclusive company. Being stuck in a crappy job is bad enough, let alone a job where you don’t feel safe or are discriminated against. 
Personally, I feel being open and honest about being transgender is important. Not only does it mean you can access support from the company if you need it but you are a representative of the gender diverse community. This is activism at its most basic level. Being visible in such a way helps to normalize our existence amongst colleagues, and the wider society.
For those who aren’t out yet, and attending an interview, it’s up to you whether you tell the potential employer. Your safety is a priority. However, being transparent has its benefits. As much as they’re assessing you as a candidate, you can assess them over whether they’re an inclusive employer. You deserve to be happy where you work, so don’t settle for anything less.
Monika: Are you involved in the life of the local LGBTQ community?
Eva: I’m involved at many levels, from local to national to international. I’m a firm believer that positive and long-lasting change happens at the grassroots level. From there, it can reach out to so many others, and together we can move forward.
I’m currently creating awareness and initiatives that benefit gender-diverse people at both community and national levels. I also love getting involved with smaller, local Pride events too. Whilst larger events are great, the smaller ones are the ones that allow me to help create change, again at the grassroots level.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Eva: It’s very much needed, especially as I spent most of my adult life without a biological family to support me. For me, love is what drives me to do what I do and to want to make the world a better place than when I appeared in it.
On a personal level, my wife is my absolute rock and my soulmate. I’m truly blessed to have her in my life, loving me back. Even before I came out as transgender, she grounded me and supported me so much. Her love is also a huge source of strength for me.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Eva: My blog gives an insight into my life, as do my social media accounts. As for writing a book, that’s not something I’m able to discuss at present!!

"Instead of bowing down to existing rules, we should
be challenging them to the point where we can
change them."

Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Eva: I’m involved with a number of projects - some which I’ve started, some started by others which I’ve become involved with. I intend to keep doing what I do and to keep fighting for equality whilst educating those around me. Long term, I see myself doing that too.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender women that are afraid of transition?
Eva: There are many aspects to transitioning, such as medical or social. At the end of the day, there’s no set rule. There isn’t a right or wrong way to transition, so don’t be swayed by people telling you what you should do. Do what you feel is right for you.
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?
Eva: Whether trans or not, we (as individuals) should never limit ourselves. It’s even more important for trans people, who are fighting an uphill battle against deep-rooted standards. We need to be our own kind of beautiful, and not keep comparing ourselves. To this extent, I agree with the statement. However, I don’t feel they begin on an operating table. The dreams begin within us. A trans person who chooses not to undergo surgery or a medical transition is still trans.
Transitioning isn’t a conveyor belt where we qualify for acceptance or who we are once we’ve reached the end. The narrative that transitioning makes us who we are needs to change. The way we use language is so vital in how we portray ourselves and ultimately how society accepts us. The last thing we need to cis people only accepting those who’ve had surgery. Surgery helps us along the way, of course, but it doesn’t define us. 
Monika: Eva, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!
Eva: Thank you, I’m really grateful for this opportunity.

All the photos: courtesy of Eva Echo.
© 2021 - Monika Kowalska

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