Tuesday 23 March 2021

Interview with Lennie Blockmans

Monika: Today I am going to host Lennie Blockmans, a young model and social media influencer from Antwerp in Belgium. Hello Lennie!
Lennie: Hello Monika! Thank you so much for having me.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Lennie: My name is Len, but most people call me Lennie. I'm 22 years old and I live in Antwerp where I study psychology. My interests are fashion, art, music, pop culture, and things like that. I came out as gay at 15 and when I was 17 I came out as trans. I completed my medical transition last year and I'm happier than ever.
Monika: What inspired you to share your intimate life moments via Instagram?
Lennie: I've always been very open and honest about everything regarding my transition. I use Instagram as a visual diary where I document my life, just like most people. But when I started my transition I figured it would be nice to have a timeline with pictures from start to finish and I'm very happy I did that.
I even made a photography project in art school where I took the same picture 4 years in a row to see the evolution. I've been very conscious about documenting that evolution because I wanted to be able to look back and appreciate my journey.
I also wanted to share everything with the world to inspire my trans brothers and sisters. Social media is a unique way of reaching people all over the world so I take advantage of that. I don't have a big following at all but if I can at least inspire one person I'm happy. It sounds really corny but it's true. When I was around 16 or 17 I started doing my research for my transition and I learned so many things on YouTube. I watched other people's journeys and stories and it made me feel empowered and educated. So I wanted to do the same.

"I had the hardest time at the beginning of my transition with strangers'
reactions in public. I always saw people stare at me, making fun of me,
and most of all making me feel bad and very insecure."

At last, I feel like it's refreshing to also show the bad parts and the struggle of transitioning. I have beautiful portraits on my profile as well as pictures of me in the hospital after surgery. I think it's important to be transparent so that people can see what it really looks like.
Monika: Do you get many questions from your followers? What do they ask for?
Lennie: I do get some questions from people online. They are mostly about my FFS because I did an interview with my surgeon for his website. People often ask me about the price I paid, info about the downtime, my exact procedures, or my experience overall.
Other questions I get are from people who ask about my transition and how I came out to my family for example. I always hope I can provide some helpful advice. I have also received some messages from people telling me their story and how I've helped them in the early stages of their transition and that makes me feel really proud of them and myself too! 
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?
Lennie: At the moment when I started my transition I was just finishing my last year of high school. I felt like I always had a lot of good relationships with friends at school but after we all graduated we kind of went our own ways and I lost contact with most of them. So I kind of started off my transition with very few friends. I did have my two very best friends by my side on every step of the way. They've seen me go through everything and that made our bond even stronger for which I'm very thankful. I have heard that some people, who I used to be very close friends with, didn't want anything to do with me after learning about my being trans. I just figured that I really didn't need that kind of energy in my life at that moment anyway.
Almost everyone in my family has been supportive but my father and sister had a very hard time with everything that was going on. Although they have come a very long way, my sister even more than my father, I didn't have their support when I needed it most. I've always had a lot of patience and respect for them and their own process during my transition but at a certain point I just couldn't slow down too much and that's when that distance between us appeared and grew for a while.

"When we transition we come a long way
to feel better and happier about ourselves."

Things are better now but it will always be a touchy subject. My mother on the other hand was always by my side and loved me unconditionally. She wanted me to be happy and she really understood why I had to do it all.
I had the hardest time at the beginning of my transition with strangers' reactions in public. I always saw people stare at me, making fun of me, and most of all making me feel bad and very insecure. I struggled with severe social anxiety and as a result, I skipped classes and locked myself up. It took an awful lot of work to get me out of that place and to get better.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Lennie: Yes, I'd say so. One thing I did not have the blessing to receive through HRT was breast tissue. My breasts really didn't grow at all and so I had a breast augmentation to receive what I have now. I love the way my face changed and the way my body formed after taking hormones.
The downside of course was the mental instability that came with it. I was very depressed on top of my other depression for a good year and a half. I have been on hormones for almost 4 years now and I can tell my body has found a nice balance. And I'm glad it did because going through those changes was hard, both physically and mentally.
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?
Lennie: I find that a very hard question to answer. That's a huge struggle and I have yet to find out how to cope with it myself. The hardest part is that it's not only about us. When we transition we come a long way to feel better and happier about ourselves. At the end of that road, we feel more confident and we feel more at home in our bodies. We can also surround ourselves with people who accept us and love us, all to make life easier. But all of that can be reduced back to nothing because of one person's opinion or a single comment. It destroys your confidence and everything you have worked for is put into a different perspective.
All of that is not because of you, but because of those other people and that's something we just can't change or control I'm afraid.
Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow or followed?
Lennie: Right from the beginning I started watching a lot of YouTube videos from people who documented their transitions. People like Gigi Gorgeous taught me so much about the topic and the existing options for trans people. They really formed the base of my knowledge and gave me so much inspiration.
But the one that really pushed me over the edge so to speak was Caitlyn Jenner. I may not agree with her on many things nowadays but I have to admit that she gave me the ultimate push to come out. I bought the Vanity Fair issue she covered and I read in the interview that she didn't want to die without ever living a day as her true self. And I took that to heart and from that point, I decided I was going to do it.
Nowadays I follow a lot of trans people and I love to see us represented in so many ways. I wish I had that exposure to trans people when I was a child.

"Clothing has been one of the
most  important ways for me
 to express myself."

Monika: Do you remember the first time when you saw a transgender woman on TV or met anyone transgender in person?
Lennie: I don't remember my first time meeting a trans person. I was mostly exposed to them through the media. Before I saw Caitlyn Jenner I had seen Laverne Cox in ‘Orange is the New Black’. After that I watched a lot of important documentaries about queer culture such as ‘Paris is Burning’ and ‘The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson’. Those are all real-life stories and a huge part of our community's history.
Much later in my transition came my favorite show of all time, ‘Pose’. Because I had lived and experienced life as an openly transgender woman I recognized so much of myself in that show and I have never related more to a storyline.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Lennie: I'm very lucky to live in a country where the situation is really good compared to some other places in the world. Our healthcare is great and insurance covers some surgeries, for example. We have specialized teams in Belgium that are put in place to help trans people along their journey. I know that a lot of other people have to travel and pay a lot more money to get the same things done so I feel very blessed in that way.
There's also no such thing as being 'illegally' gay or trans here so there's no fear of that. I also feel like a lot of people are tolerant and accepting of our community. But that's all relative of course because it could always be better. There are haters all over the world and I also get a lot of stares or bad reactions from people. Just compared to other countries or religions we're in a very good place.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Lennie: I absolutely love fashion! Clothing has been one of the most important ways for me to express myself. Finding my style was an interesting process to go through and I just love putting time and thought into it. I love elements from the '80s and 90's a lot and I usually like lots of colors.
Above all, I just want to wear things that make me feel confident and powerful and that translates in a lot of ways. I also feel like I'm fearless in a way and I feel confident to wear stuff that maybe some other people won't go for. When you do things as hard as transitioning it becomes easier to do what you want on other levels too I guess.
I've always looked up to supermodels or people like the Kardashians or Rihanna for example. I've been reading Vogue ever since I was 11 so the admiration for fashion has been there for a long time. And now I always think about what I'm wearing. From going to a birthday party or going to a hospital to get surgery, every outfit is well considered. I do have a kind of 'uniform' too: high-waisted jeans with a black bodysuit are always my go-to.
Monika: By the way, do you like being complimented on your looks?
Lennie: Of course I do! It's always nice to receive compliments. I appreciate it a lot when people compliment my looks because I've worked really hard to feel the way I feel. I didn't do it for the likes of others of course but after all, I've been through to be who I am; it's just nice to hear. It also feels like so much more than just a compliment.

"I also feel like I'm fearless in a way and I feel
confident to wear stuff that maybe some other
people won't go for."

Monika: Are you involved in the life of the local LGBTQ community?
Lennie: I'd say that I'm really not that involved. There's no particular reason for that but I'm just not involved. I'd be open to do more but I have to admit that I wouldn't even know how. Maybe in the future, I will be able to do some things. I definitely hope so!
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Lennie: Love is an important part of my life. As a child, I didn't always feel loved and I think I've been searching for that love throughout my entire life.
As queer people, we often get rejected by our family or friends or things just don't work out the same anymore when the connection gets lost. But in a certain way, we get to choose our own family. And that's what I have done too. I'm comfortable with the friends I have by my side and have been through thick and thin.
I can also say that I'm happily in love with my amazing boyfriend. I've struggled a lot in that department and at one point I wasn't even convinced I would find someone one day. And that's a sad thought for someone who's still as young as I was.
When I was transitioning I was also growing up and being a teenager at the same time. Those things are hard on themselves, let alone all together at once. I've had my fair share of bad experiences with bad people with bad intentions. But that's behind me and I have moved on to better times.
Today, I'm very happy with someone who loves me for who I am and doesn't care about anything or anyone else. It's very cliché of course but it is what a lot of people look for and for trans women it's not really easy. I'm very blessed and thankful for finding the love I've always wanted.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Lennie: Yes I have! There's nothing in the works or anything but I have thought about it. Maybe one day it will come to fruition. I think my story would make a very interesting book and even amongst other memoirs written by trans people. I'm just 22 but I have lived through a lot of things most people will never experience in their lives. Not to brag or anything, but I really think it would be so interesting and juicy, haha.
But if it happens, it won't be anytime soon I think. After all, it's also a strange thought to have a book written about your life when you're just in your twenties.
I have to admit that I'd love to publish my story in some kind of way. I've even dreamt about having my own TV show about my life. That would be totally awesome and would make great TV, I think! Hahaha.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Lennie: Right now I'm focusing on college. Lots of things have obviously changed over these past few years and I finally feel like I can focus on one thing at a time. I want to become a psychologist to help people like me. In that way, I want to give back to the community. I've always wanted to make a difference in some kind of way and inspire people. I hope I can be that source of inspiration and help in the future. And most of all I want to do something I love.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender women that are afraid of transition?
Lennie: I would tell them that it's all worth it in the end. It's a huge jump that you take and that's scary but it really is the best gift you can give yourself. You'll be forever grateful for what you have done and you'll take that with you for the rest of your life.

"I'm very happy with someone who loves
me for who I am and doesn't care about
anything or anyone else."

I was afraid too. Of people's reactions and of the unknown. But those reactions really don't matter in the end. Even if the whole world turns its back on you, you'll always have yourself and you know what's best for you. You have to be on a mission to make YOU happy, not everybody else. At times it will seem like you're falling down more than before and it's only getting harder but you have to trust the process. All will be alright in the end, even if it doesn't look like that along the way. Keep your eyes on the price and GO!
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?
Lennie: I do agree with that. I have always looked at it this way: Completing my transition and feeling good about everything was never the ultimate key to my happiness. It's my starting point and I'll build from there to go to bigger things.
When people ask me now if I'm finally happy I tell them I'm finally happy with myself and now I can start living.
I'm also very much convinced that trans people can do anything. We've come a long way and we've tackled huge things just to be who we are and we can do anything we put our minds to. We should channel that same energy into other things too and not put boundaries on ourselves. We could be unstoppable even when people try to tell us the opposite.
Monika: Lennie, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!
Lennie: Thank you so much, Monika! The pleasure was mine.

All the photos: courtesy of Lennie Blockmans.
© 2021 - Monika Kowalska

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