Sunday 21 March 2021

Interview with Hannah Herr

Monika: Today I am going to host Hannah Herr, a German social media influencer and transgender woman that shares her transition story on social media. Hello Hannah! 
Hannah: Hi Monika! Thanks for having me.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Hannah: I'm 30 years old, and I studied biology and English before I got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I then tried myself as an optometrist for a few years until my condition got worse and had to quit my job as well. Now I am writing a blog on Instagram about being transgender while having a chronic illness, my life with my partner, my cat and whatever comes to my mind really. It has been a great outlet for me.
Monika: Hannah is a nice name. How did you choose it?
Hannah: I was set on the name Linda for the longest time, but a friend pressed me for an alternative and I spontaneously came up with Hannah. He loved it and it instantly grew on me, because it was similar to my old name phonetically, but different enough to not make an instant connection to the dead name. It is also a palindrome and I could keep my initials, the perfect name!
Monika: What inspired you to share your intimate life moments on social media?
Hannah: Honestly, I kind of slid into this whole blogging and Instagram thing. I made my account a year ago, because my girlfriend wanted to be able to link me as her partner publicly. I of course obliged. I connected with some people online and posted my thoughts and perspectives. I was surprised at the resonance I got and to be totally honest, I still am. It took a lifetime, but I finally like to be myself and sharing this with the world just feels good to me. I always try to help with information, advice or another perspective if asked, and I am happy to do so, but it can get a bit overwhelming at times.

"My parents had some problems at first with losing
their son, but never made their daughter feel unwanted."

Monika: Do you get many questions from your followers? What do they ask for?
Hannah: I don't know if it is that many, but I do get them. I would say most questions I get are about insecurities, many just want to gain a frame of reference for what they're feeling. They want to know if it is OK or normal to feel a certain way.
Some have really opened up a lot to me and I'm so humbled by their trust. I try to give advice as best as I can, but sometimes the problems are much above my pay grade and I can only urge to get professional help. There are the practical questions as well, like how to come out, what to do, what HRT does etc. Of course I also get a lot of nasty messages, but I just try to ignore them.
Monika: We all pay the highest price for the fulfilment 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?
Hannah: I was so incredibly lucky with my transition; it almost makes me feel guilty sometimes. I did not lose a single friend or family member, got supported throughout my transition and I am generally not even misgendered anymore. I had (cis) girlfriends to teach me how to do makeup, go shopping with me etc.
My parents had some problems at first with losing their son, but never made their daughter feel unwanted. My mum follows me on Instagram and is more involved in my life than ever. I really wish this was the normal experience for us, but I know that my coming out experience is like winning the lottery. Ever since I came out every aspect of my life has been better.
Monika: Was your mother surprised by your transition? Did she accept it?
Hannah: Oh yes, everyone was surprised, because I have always been a "manly man", competitive in everything, assertive, played confident etc. When I first came out to my mum she assured me that she will support and love me, but also that she just doesn't know what to say or do.
"When I first came out to
my mum she assured me that
she will support and love me."
I grew up in a somewhat small town, and my mum was the head teacher at one of the schools, so she was kind of known everywhere. I think it was hard for her that I was the talk of town for months and by extension so was she. After a year she started introducing her new daughter to close friends and opened up more and more. Now she is at a point where she actively asks for pictures of me and my girlfriend to put on her fridge.
The relationship between me and my mum has never been better, I could let go and be myself and she could see how happy her daughter was compared to before. She says a lot of my behaviour as a teenager made a lot more sense now that we know that I have never been a boy.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Hannah: Oh I could not be happier! It feels like my body is sucking up the estrogen like there is no tomorrow, like my body waited for it all the time. Just a few weeks after starting, the physical feeling of self-disgust was almost gone; I didn't feel like I had to take a shower every time I woke up or got sweaty, my body started to feel more like mine.
Over the last three years my chest has grown wonderfully, my body fat redistributed with diet and my hair stopped falling out and even regrew. I was hairy like a bear below my waist, but now there are barely any hairs left on my legs. I could go on and on about this, but going on HRT was the best decision of my life.
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?
Hannah: I know this might come off as harsh, coming from someone who passes as well as I do, but I am talking from the perspective of a disabled person here. Some facts of life are inherently unfair and there is nothing we or anyone for that matter, can do to change it, some people "pass" and some don't, some people are able-bodied and some are not. It is up to us what we do, with the cards that are dealt to us.
If we chase the "dream of conventional beauty", 99.9% will inevitably fail; all women lose out if they try to be like the 0.1% that are deemed "perfect". I did not do anything to pass this well, not more than any other girl, I was just incredibly lucky. My advice is to surround yourself with people, who see you for who you are and not give into the notion that only "beautiful" people are worthy of love.
Just as a disclaimer, I personally reject the idea of passing or not passing, there are cisgirls out there, who are as unfeminine as it gets (kudos to them, nothing wrong with it), but their gender never gets questioned. In my opinion, the concept of passing is a cisnormative idea that we only feel the need to adhere to, so we don't get discriminated against (as much).
Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow or followed?
Hannah: To be honest, I have never been interested in famous people, and social media is still new for me, so the only one I could come up with is Ashley Marie Preston, from her work with The Young Turks. I think she is awesome and her work is so important.
"I personally reject the idea
of passing or not passing."
Monika: Do you remember the first time when you saw a transgender woman on TV or met anyone transgender in person?
Hannah: My mum showed me a beauty pageant on TV and showed me how beautiful they were and how happy she is that this is possible today. Please don't ask how I didn't come out right then and there, I still don't know to this day, haha.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Hannah: Societally we are very accepted; I usually don’t have bigger problems than people being nosy. But the government seems to try to cut our rights left and right. Right now we're dealing with new and more stringent regulations regarding GRS coverage. Legislatively it feels like one step forward and two steps back sometimes.
It really seems our rights are under attack everywhere; the sad part is most Germans don't know this is happening and are shocked or in disbelief when I try to tell them how bad it can be.
Monika: A couple of weeks ago I had an interesting chat with Felicia Rolletshke. Although the German trans community can boast a very good quality of health service, she was very critical of the legal regulations. For example, it took her 3 years to change the name. 
Hannah: Yes the legal regulations are infuriating to be honest. First of all, in theory, it would be legal to go to your GP and she just gives you an indication for HRT, for example. But the reality is that many doctors and guidelines force people to live one year as the desired gender, before starting HRT. This means at the job with friends and everywhere.
Regarding the name change it is equally bad. You need to live in your desired gender for a while, then start a court proceeding. The court will appoint two psychologists, who then evaluate if your trans* enough to change your name. This often boils down to how well someone passes unfortunately. Girls who pass well almost never have a problem with the name change.
The worst thing about all of this? You have to pay for everything by yourself. How much is it? Take a guess, some paid 400€ for everything some 2900€. The psychologists can take whatever they want for the evaluation, make it as short or long as they want and ask really intrusive unrelated questions. There are a few known to be inappropriate.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colours or trends?
Hannah: I am a huge nerd and I am not much into fashion. I usually wear jeans and a shirt with a cute print on it. But I always wear dresses when the opportunity arises. They feel so feminine and pretty. I was always so jealous of women wearing dresses, whether it's a casual summer dress or fancier to go dancing. Now that I can wear them I take every opportunity.
Monika: Do you often experiment with your makeup?
Hannah: No, I am really glad that I got my daily routine and my "fancy makeup" down to the point that I can reliably do them. Holding my arms up for longer periods of time is very difficult for me, in the sense that my fine motor skills start to degrade after a while. If I don't manage to do the eyeliner in one or two tries I usually just wipe it and go without. Same goes for stuff like braiding my own hair, or styling it with a curling iron/blow drying it, putting in earrings, closing a necklace etc.

"I always wear dresses when the opportunity
arises. They feel so feminine and pretty."

Monika: By the way, do you like being complimented on your looks?
Hannah: It depends, of course I like to be flattered, like every human being, but I'd rather be complimented on my choice of clothes, or makeup or something else I actively did. When you compliment someone's body without knowing stuff you can easily hurt someone. For example, comments on how "nice and slim" I am are often uncomfortable for me, since I have trouble keeping my weight and not let it go down any further. Also the person and their intentions matter a lot, a comment from a girlfriend about how my boobs have grown nicely, can be so affirming, but if it is coming from a middle aged man with kids, it just feels creepy.


All the photos: courtesy of Hannah Herr.

© 2021 - Monika Kowalska

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