Monday 1 March 2021

Interview with Lisa van Ginneken

Monika: Today I am going to introduce you to Lisa van Ginneken, a Dutch politician, human rights advocate, and LGBTQI+ activist. Lisa is the President of Transvisie, an organization that supports the trans community in the Netherlands. This year she is running for a Member of Parliament seat, representing D66, a social-liberal political party in the Netherlands. Hello Lisa!
Lisa: Hello Monika! I feel very honored to be here today with you and your readers. 
Monika: We are meeting a couple of weeks before the General Elections in the Netherlands. Our whole trans community is keeping fingers crossed for you, and I am very grateful that you have found some time to present yourself to the readers of my blog. Why do you want to enter the world of politics?
Lisa: Politics might feel a world apart from our own daily lives sometimes, but it is not. It affects our lives hugely, not only through the decisions politicians make but also by the example they set with their behavior. The tone of public debate really worries me, in the Netherlands and worldwide. In my years of advocating transgender rights in the Netherlands, I got familiar and intrigued with the ways of politics. And it felt like this is the right point in my life to put forward this and other experiences I have.

"Politics might feel a world apart from our own daily lives
sometimes, but it is not. It affects our lives hugely, not
only through the decisions politicians make but also
by the example they set with their behavior."

Monika: What are the main pillars of your political agenda?
Lisa: I strive for an inclusive society where everybody counts and everybody joins in. Nobody, no groups, must be left behind. On this mission, I focus on three things: transgender and intersex rights, better patient rights in general health care, and an honest and more balanced digital society. I worry about the seemingly uncontrolled power of big-tech and social media companies and the eagerness of our government to collect, link, and analyze data of the public. This threatens our fundamental human and democratic rights.
Monika: Georginia Beyer from New Zealand, Vladimir Luxuria from Italy, Anna Grodzka from Poland, Sarah McBride from the USA, Petra De Sutter from Belgium, I have just named only a few trans women that were successful in politics. Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Lisa: They can and they do! A transgender experience is an intense insight in who we are, our unchangeable cores, and all the conditioning that happened to us. We tend to call the latter upbringing or culture and this can limit personal freedom so strongly. Just think of women’s rights all over the world, not to mention LGBTIQ+ rights, but also cultural attitudes towards the dominion of mankind on our planet and how this inflicts climate change. But in the end, culture is nothing more than an agreement you can change. If you dare and you are willing. This is a valuable perspective for a politician.
Monika: The example of Petra De Sutter must be really inspiring for you. She is the Deputy Prime Minister in Belgium!
Lisa: What I find inspiring about her is that first, she is a capable Minister, not a transgender woman. She is open about her transgender experience but doesn’t let that define her. One of my messages in my campaign is that I want to show to the Dutch people that transgender people are more than the compelling transition stories the media tend to focus on.

"One of my messages in my campaign is that I want to
show to the Dutch people that transgender people are
more than the compelling transition stories the media
tend to focus on."

Monika: Is there anyone in the Dutch transgender society whose actions could be compared to what Harvey Milk was doing in the USA in the 60s and 70s for gay activism?
Lisa: We have an active forefront of activists in the Dutch transgender community and we all know each other. I regard us as a team, although everybody plays their role autonomously. By naming just one or two I would derogate others.
Monika: You can boast an amazing experience of working for the cause of the LGBTQI+ community. Could you name some of the initiatives that you took part in?
Lisa: When I became President of Transvisie the transgender health care in the Netherlands was completely outdated. It was mainly centralized in one academic hospital, had huge waiting lists, and followed a classical approach with gatekeeping and one-size-fits-all treatments. I reached out to health care providers, health insurance companies, government, and politicians to try to decentralize, normalize and depathologize transgender healthcare. 
Today we have three academic hospitals working together with several decentralized networks of (mental) health care providers around the country. Because of this increase in capacity, while the demand rose enormously, the waiting lists ‘only’ doubled over the years. Depathologizing trans care has been the toughest topic. But I am happy to tell you that it is no longer at the fringes of the debate now.
Recently, through my involvement in D66, we managed to pass a resolution in parliament that instructs transgender health care professionals to create triage criteria to quickly distinguish between transgender clients that do and do not need a psychological assessment before medical treatment. This is an important step towards full depathologization.
Monika: In order to win the parliamentary seat, you need to attract many voters, so it is important that you are not associated only with LGBTQI+ rights. How to avoid it?
Lisa: It is a fine line. I explicitly use my transgender experience to put myself forward as the inclusion candidate to vote for. The fact that I could become the first transgender Member of Parliament in our country, draws attention and attracts progressive voters. To widen the perspective I also put forward my ideas for patient-centered health care and a more balanced digital society. We’ll see how it works out.

"We have an active forefront of activists in the Dutch
transgender community and we all know each other."

Monika: What is the situation of the trans community in the Netherlands? Are there any problems that need to be addressed at the political level?
Lisa: One of my main concerns is that, despite the positive attention in the media, transgender people are still hugely discriminated against in our country. Compared to the general public they experience violence 7 times more often, experience loneliness 6 times more often, and commit suicide 7 times more often. When I look at the LGBT-free zones in your country, it really infuriates me. This intolerance literally kills people. Stigma has a lot to do with this and this is one of the reasons I fight for depathologization.
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?
Lisa: My transition was not an easy ride as well. When I embarked on this journey, I feared two things the most: losing my son and losing my partner. Both happened. I am very grateful that after years and years of patience, my son has opened up to me again and we slowly are becoming part of each other’s lives again.
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?
Lisa: Not wanting to diminish the really harsh social challenges transgender people face, I regard this as an intensified version of general normativeness in our society. We tend to impose tight norms and stereotypes on one another and media, social media and pop culture play a role in that. Other groups are standing up for this as well, like the body positivity movement and BLM, and we might benefit from this. But firstly we should stop judging our peers ourselves. Why do you need to put down others to make yourself feel better?

Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow or followed?
Lisa: Not particularly. I tend to follow my own path. But there have been a few transgender people that showed or learned me valuable lessons for my own path. I remember being at a theatre once, at the start of my social transition. I had insecurity running through my veins constantly. On stage, there came this transgender comedienne and she said: “as you have probably guessed already by the tone of my voice…. I am an alto”. And then she started to sing. I was so much impressed by the way she uncompromisingly embraced her being transgender. One year later I played my first female role in theatre, which I still tend to do once in a while.
Monika: Do you remember the first time when you saw a transgender woman on TV or met anyone transgender in person?
Lisa: When I was eight years old, I saw a documentary about a trans woman on TV. It was only then that I learned about transgender being different from drag. This woman instantly felt like a sister, but this realization blew my mind. My father, who was watching as well, disapproved strongly of this ‘horrible freak’ on TV. This was one of the experiences that made me hide for a long time before transitioning.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Lisa: I am not particularly interested in fashion or make-up. In that respect, I think I’m a typical Dutch woman with a pragmatic approach towards how she looks.
Monika: Do you remember your first job interview as a woman?
Lisa: Yes, I remember the first time I was about to train a group of IT professionals after I transitioned socially. I had a preparation talk with the manager of this group and asked him how his team anticipated this training. He replied that one of them said: “I don’t feel like it very much, but it is okay as long as this woman is nice to look at”. This struck me: never before, my looks were regarded more important than my skills. Welcome to the world of women.

"I started writing a book... But life has put my attention
towards advocacy and now politics. Who knows, I
might finish it in the future." Photo by Frank Diemel.

Monika: What would you advise to all transwomen looking for employment?
Lisa: Try to regard your transition (and the gap in your résumé that it might have caused) as a period of self-development. And explain it like that, if asked. Your transition makes you stronger and more valuable. There’s a lot of evidence that more inclusive companies are more successful. You are indispensable for that.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Lisa: That is quite a philosophical question! The full answer is a very long one, I’m afraid. But I guess it comes down to this: the important love in my life is the love of life itself. 
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Lisa: I started writing a book, based on a blog I wrote during my transition. But life has put my attention towards advocacy and now politics. Who knows, I might finish it in the future.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Lisa: Close your eyes. Don’t look in the mirror, but look within. That is where you are. That is where all the conditioning and cultural norms are blocking you to shine. You are beautiful and the world deserves to see it.
Monika: Lisa, thank you for the interview! Good luck with the campaign!
Lisa: Thank you Monika for this very enjoyable talk.

All the photos: courtesy of Lisa van Ginneken.
Main photo credit: Frank Diemel.
© 2021 - Monika Kowalska

Update: Lisa van Ginneken has won the seat in the Dutch parliament! She will be the first transgender Member of Parliament in the history of Dutch politics. What a great moment for the Dutch trans community! Congratulations Lisa!
18 March 2021

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