Sunday 4 April 2021

Interview with Robin Rose

Monika: Today I am going to interview Robin Rose, a young trans girl from Belgium that chronicles her transition on social media. Hello Robin!
Robin: Hello Monika!
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Robin: I'm 25 and currently finishing up my bachelor's in HR as well as having my eye on a possible master's in business psychology in the future. Going through depressive episodes due to gender dysphoria as a teenager and adolescent has had a big impact on my career as a student, so I'm quite proud of myself for not giving up.
I hope to make a positive contribution to the community and help against the discrimination against minorities at the workplace. I'm also passionate about makeup, fashion, yummy food and generally leaving this world a better place than when I came into it.
Monika: What inspired you to share your intimate life moments on social media?
Robin: I didn't have many role models when I was growing up. My biggest regret is not transitioning sooner, so if I can inspire someone else to live authentically by sharing my experience I'll gladly do it.
Monika: Do you get many questions from your followers? What do they ask for?
Robin: My trans and non-binary followers tend to ask me about transition-related topics such as HRT, permanent hair removal, and what my experience is like as a trans woman within Central Europe. A lot of my cisgender followers tend to ask what's in between my legs and if they can see pictures or seem to believe backhanded compliments will get them a date with me. Luckily I've also met some wonderful cis allies and it's not all just online sexual harassment.
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?
Robin: Generally speaking I've been very lucky. The hardest part was my relationship with my dad. We never had a close bond but we always loved each other. When I "came out" as a teenager for being attracted to men he had a difficult time processing it, so when I came out as trans this complicated things even further. He passed away in 2019 after a long period of time of hardly having any contact with me. It saddens me very much that he'll never get to know the real me.

'Passing' is the heritage of a recent cis-heteronormative
society, it hasn't always been the norm.

Monika: Was your mother surprised by your transition? Did she accept it?
Robin: She was surprised to an extent, although she did tell me a funny anecdote about her pregnancy. During her pregnancy, she really wanted to have a girl and didn't give up hope for one even after the gynecologist told her it was going to be a 'boy'. That's also why she chose the name Robin; it's been a blessing to have a gender-neutral name since I'm terrible at making decisions and would have had a really difficult time choosing one myself. We've gotten a lot closer since I started living authentically.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Robin: Very much so! I used to feel very dysphoric about little things like incredibly obvious veins on my hands and feet as well as the long dark hair on my arms and legs. HRT has had a positive impact on both of those things. My face was also a big dysphoric trigger before transitioning; I used to want full FFS because all I could see were the deformities caused by male puberty. Now that I have been over four years on HRT all that has passed and I'm quite happy with where I am.
Monika: You look absolutely fantastic. 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?
Robin: Thank you! I think it's important to realize that 'passing' is the heritage of recent cis-heteronormative society and that it hasn't always been the norm. Before religions like Judaism and Christianity etc. started spreading through the Western world and colonization of the Americas, Africa and India happened, sexuality was much less labeled (Ancient Romans whose existence overlaps with the rise of Christianity didn't even have a word to describe homo and/or heterosexual sexuality, they basically just had sex with whomever they pleased) and gender diverse people were often celebrated instead of shunned like Two-Spirited people in Native American cultures and the Hijra in Indian culture.
Furthermore 'passing' has become something, which like a lot of today's beauty standards in society, isn't even reachable by a lot of cis people. So if plenty of cis people fail to 'pass', we as trans people should be cut some slag as well. Especially from within our own community.

"Trans women don't owe
anyone femininity."

Monika: Belgium can boast an amazing group of inspirational transgender women. I love the story of Petra de Sutter, the current Deputy Prime Minister in the Belgian government. I had the pleasure of interviewing her 6 years ago. How about you? Are there any transgender role models that you follow or followed?
Robin: In Belgium, the majority of role models are from an older generation than I am (like Mrs. de Sutter and Mrs. Van Spilbeeck) and are inspirational in their own way but not very relatable to my own situation.
I grew up following people like Gigi Gorgeous, Julie Vu, Saline Simon, Joe (Jojo) Harwood etc. on YouTube and although I don't very much relate to most of them anymore they've still had a big impact on me figuring out my gender identity.
On another note, I'm pleased to report that more young trans and non-binary people are being represented in the Belgian media and are able to leave their mark and inspire others. My reach here on Instagram is more international than local but I hope to have a positive impact on the gender diverse community within Belgium as well.
Monika: Do you remember the first time when you saw a transgender woman on TV or met anyone transgender in person?
Robin: I'm afraid the first time I saw a 'trans person' on TV was probably on a show like Friends where they're the center of ridicule (Chandler's parent, constantly referred to as his dad). The first trans person I met in real life was one of my neighbors who also helped me get in touch with the local gender clinic, however, we never really seemed to connect on a personal level so we're no longer in touch. But I'm grateful she was able to help me.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Robin: Compared to countries like The USA, The UK, and Poland, Belgium is pretty great. We're not bombarded with politicians that try to take away our rights all the time and harassment and murder rates aren't really noteworthy. There's still room for improvement though.
Waiting lists for trans and nonbinary people that have a need to medically transition are very long and certain medical institutions that are meant to help us still have a bit of an archaic point of view on medical healthcare for trans people, e.g. I was almost denied HRT at the time because even though I was diagnosed with gender dysphoria and I didn’t want my body to continue to masculinize further I wasn't certain if I wanted to have gender-confirming surgeries like SRS/GRS. Private insurance companies tend to discriminate against us, and the national healthcare system only financially supports the bare minimum of medical transition-related costs (HRT, top surgery, and bottom surgery). The media also still struggle very much to use proper language when talking about us on TV, in newspaper articles, etc.
It's all very much linked to an archaic view of what it is to be trans and in particular what it is to be a man or a woman. Nonbinary individuals are mostly ignored by the entire system. 
Trans women are expected to get and be content with having breasts and a vagina, other gender confirming procedures are seen as cosmetic. So Belgium still has a long way to go, but it could be a lot worse. 
Monika: Well, I think what you have just described sounds great to most of our readers. Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Robin: I love fashion but am still trying to find what suits me. (I actually studied fashion for two years at a renowned fashion school here in Belgium; it was a toxic environment that I decided to leave.)

" I really enjoy it when my partner,
family or friends compliment me."

The biggest reason I struggle is finding what suits me because I still suffer from body dysphoria quite a lot as well as being a perfectionist and being very harsh on myself. It took me over three years on HRT for me to find myself 'feminine' enough to wear dresses and skirts, hich is obviously ridiculous since you're never 'too anything' or 'not enough' to wear an item of cloth that covers your body.
Overall I’d say I enjoy classic silhouettes and interesting textures. My favorite designers are Iris van Herpen and Alexander McQueen.
Monika: Do you often experiment with your makeup?
Robin: Yes, all the time. I love makeup and have been playing around with it since I was 13. It used to be a mask to cover up my gender dysphoria but now it's just all about self-care and having fun for me. I've also stopped wearing makeup every day, which has been an incredible confidence boost.
Monika: By the way, do you like being complimented on your looks?
Robin: It depends. I get 'compliments' from horny cis men that I don't know all the time so it does take away the meaning of getting compliments in general. But I really enjoy it when my partner, family, or friends compliment me or when other trans people do.
Monika: Are you involved in the life of the local LGBTQ community?
Robin: I used to be a volunteer for a local trans support group but I got too busy with school to keep up my commitment. My current reach here on Instagram is more international than national but I do hope to use it in the future to also reach the local community more. 
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Robin: As a trans person the most important type of love is self-love in my opinion. We live in a world that has evolved to be against us a lot of the time so I think it is important to remember to be kind to ourselves and others like us, which seems to be a challenge as the community can be so divided.
Additionally, it's really important to have a good support system; this can either be family members like your parents, siblings, and partner as well as friends, or your chosen family.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Robin: I consider my Instagram to be somewhat of a memoir. It's where I share everything related to my transition.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Robin: First up would be graduating and getting my bachelor’s degree as well as having another gender-affirming surgery. Within 5-7 years I hope to have obtained a master's degree and have either started a business with my partner or possibly one of my own with the goal of making our society a more accepting place that celebrates diversity and inclusivity.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender women that are afraid of transition?
Robin: If you can do it safely, just do it! Nothing is worth not living your life authentically, but safety always comes first. Make sure you have a good support system around you, a place where you can just be yourself, and get a therapist to help you deal with possible gender dysphoria. Lastly, it's important to understand that being transgender doesn't mean you have to adhere to labels society has placed on us. You don't have to be the stereotype of a woman, man, or non-binary person. Trans women don't owe anyone femininity, trans men don't owe anyone masculinity and non-binary people don't have to be androgynous. Just do you.

"I'm pleased that more young trans
and non-binary people are being
represented on the Belgian media."

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?
Robin: To a certain extent. I mentioned earlier that we trans people shouldn't adhere to stereotypes and burdens put on us by a cis heteronormative society. We are much more than what they put us down as, we are parents, we are siblings, we are actors, we are teachers, we are politicians, we are business owners, and we can be everything and anything we want to be!
The only thing I wouldn't agree with is that Gina implies all trans people need gender-affirming surgery. I believe it is important that people regardless of being cis- or transgender get the needed psychological support to help figure out their gender identity without the push for automatic medical interventions. We all know what happens when cis people medically transition because they're confused or when trans and non-binary people have surgeries they don't really need: regret. Even hormone replacement therapy can have unwanted side effects leaving individuals unable to 'transition'. When in fact it doesn't make them any less trans than myself, an individual who has chosen the route of medical transition out of a need for a dysphoria-free life. HRT and surgery are often a way to blend in, pass, assure safety by adhering to what society expects from us but it shouldn't be mandatory in order to be considered 'trans'.
So I wonder what life as a transgender person would look like in a society free of judgment when it comes to gender identity and gender expression. Where everyone is just able to 'be' without the weight of gender stereotypes. I imagine it would be very freeing for cis and trans people alike. 
Monika: Robin, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!

All the photos: courtesy of Robin Rose.
© 2021 - Monika Kowalska

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