Thursday 22 July 2021

Interview with Claire Slingerland

Monika: Today I would like to present to you Claire Slingerland, a Dutch filmmaker from Almere, the Netherlands, the director of the documentary "De Oversteek'' (The Step) and owner of film production company Blits Motion, as well as a proud transgender woman. Hello Claire!
Claire: Hello Monika! Thank you for inviting me.
Monika: You seem to be a woman of many talents. Could you say a few words about yourself?
Claire: Yes, I can. I'm a sixty years old woman from the Netherlands. I'm married to my wonderful wife and together we have two grown-up kids. With my team at Blits Motion we make movies for companies. And I'm associated with a foundation wherefore I make documentaries about inclusive and diversity subjects.
I'm now preparing a documentary to pay attention to 1000 to 2000 homeless LGBT young people in my country. They became homeless because they were not accepted by their parents. I want to make people aware of this problem because most people have no idea this is happening in our country. And I want to explore whether there is room within the parents' beliefs to accept their child.
Besides that, I give guest lectures in secondary schools about sexual orientation and gender identity, which is interesting to do. I'm also active in my municipality within the LGBTI + Platform of Almere, which is my hometown. On coming out day last year, and IDAHOT (The International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia) this year, I was asked by the municipality to hoist the trans flag at the town hall and give a speech. An honor to do.
Monika: How did you start shooting movies? Has your whole professional career always been related to film-making?
Claire: I was educated as a graphic designer and about twenty years ago I started making movies. First I combined it with my graphic design work but now I'm dedicated to making movies.
When I came out of the closet as a trans woman, I realized I had to do something for people who are still struggling; and for people who are already out of the closet, but have to endure abuse, threats, and discrimination. At first, I had no idea how to do that. But then I realized I had to do what I do best. And that's making movies.

That resulted in a 40-minute documentary (De Oversteek/The Step) about the social transition of trans people. In the documentary, four trans people tell what (for many years) had stopped them from being themselves. It highlights what a difference it made to them when they finally took the step to become who they really are.
Monika: How did you select the four trans persons? Did you know them before?
Claire: There was a trans man who I already knew. And a trans woman who was very active in the trans community, so I had heard from her. And the other two were introduced to me by people I know. And I spoke with other people but their stories did not add enough to the ones we already had.
Monika: Given my own experience as well as that of many girls and women that I interviewed, I wonder whether we should be called ‘runners’ instead of transwomen. We run, run, and run away from our feminine self until it catches up with us. The only difference is how long we can run away. Was it the same in your case?
Claire: Yes, that sure was the case. I only chose for myself the moment I no longer knew how to continue living the way I had always done.
Monika: Was your wife surprised by your transition?
Claire: Yes, she was surprised. She knew there was something going on, but could not put a finger on it. I started to tell her about my feelings but did not come to the point. Then she said to me: ‘Do you want to be a woman?’ And I said, ‘Yes that’s it’. I was so afraid to lose her but she said she will love me anyway. That was so much better than I expected. It paved the way to myself.
Monika: Why did you choose Claire for your name?
Claire: I did not choose my name. All of a sudden it was there and I took it. But my parents chose my second name: Mylène. I’m very proud I still have a name my parents gave me.
Monika: I read in one of your interviews that your coming out was inspired by Bo van Spilbeeck, a well-known Belgian journalist. Is it true?
Claire: Yes. Bo opened my eyes. She was on a television show where she said she will continue her life as a woman. Bo is a few years older than me. I was in a phase where I thought it was too late for me to become who I really am. But when she told her story I thought it might be possible for me as well. And given the fact that her wife supported her, I hoped that that also would be possible for me.

"When I came out of the closet as a trans woman,
I realized I had to do something for people who
are still struggling."

Monika: Did you read her memoir "Bo: Eindelijk vrouw" (2020)?
Claire: Yes, I did. I was so moved by her story. There were many moments her story brought me to tears. Our past was so similar so there was so much I recognized. She fought the same fights I did. Like her, I have tried to deny my feelings and I hoped the feeling would fade away over the years. But the opposite happened. The feeling of being a woman got stronger over the years. I tried to read some paragraphs from the book to my wife. But I couldn’t. Every time I started to read for her I started to cry. In the end, I read the ISBN number for her. I could do that without crying, I recommended the book to people in my family. And after reading the book they told me they now understand better how I felt all my life.
Monika: It seems that the recent years have been very successful for the transgender community in the Benelux countries. Let me mention some amazing transgender women. Petra De Sutter was appointed Belgium's Deputy Prime Minister, making her the highest-ranking transgender politician in the world. A couple of months ago, Lisa van Ginneken became the first transgender Member of Parliament in the history of Dutch politics. Valentijn de Hingh continues her fantastic modeling career. I could mention more names. Does it mean that there is nothing left to be improved for the Dutch transgender women?
Claire: It’s great there are role models. Don’t forget Nikki de Jager of Nikki tutorials. She has her famous YouTube channel, and she was in 2021 one of the co-hosts of the Eurovision Song Festival. Valentijn de Hingh now identifies more as non-binary and can be a role model for non-binary people.
Despite the fact more trans people have prominent roles in society it doesn’t mean we are there. In our country, trans people experience violence and insult seven times more than other people. That's frightening. And if I read the hate on social media it tells me we have a lot to do.
Recently I was digitally attacked on Facebook by a group of TERF’s. They see trans women as a threat to cis women. They accuse us of entering women's domains to harass other women there. Without giving any proof for that. Asking for proof they told me I had to educate myself on this subject. That’s all the ‘proof’ they have, and they can't get any further than this.
Last year one of our leading newspapers published an opinion article written by a TERF. I was amazed they published it and they defended publishing because it was not an editorial article. But if ‘trans woman’ was replaced in this article by an ethnic minority group I’m sure they would not have published it. So yes, there is a lot to improve.

"Despite the fact more trans people have
prominent roles in society it doesn’t mean
we are there."

Monika: The phenomenon of TERF (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist) seems to be growing among some feminist organizations across Europe, though originally it was prevailing only among very few feminists that rejected the assertion that trans women are women and they should be excluded from women's spaces. I am just wondering why they are so prejudiced against us?
Claire: I guess you have to ask them. As said before they believe a trans woman is a wolf in sheep's clothing. But I can imagine they fought for a long time for women's rights and in that process, there were women who turned their back on men. And now men, as they see trans women, want to become part of their community. Most TERFs don’t speak about trans women but as men who identify as women. I think the problem is solved if they see trans women are women. Because that’s what we are.
Monika: You mentioned that you give LGBTI+ lectures at secondary schools. What questions do you usually get from students?
Claire: The students had previously seen three film fragments (among others from my documentary) in which LGBT young people talked about their struggle with themselves and why they found it so difficult to tell their surroundings about their feelings. Because of my background as a trans woman, I can empathize with the stories of the young people in the films.
Following the films, we talked with the students about the subject. We met students who were very committed and had many ideas on how to improve society. But also some students who were negative about the subject. And students to whom we could make clear that a 'joke' about gays is not a joke at all and can be hurtful.
Sometimes the line between what is acceptable and what is not proved to be thin. There were students who thought it was okay to have an opinion about someone who is 'different'. But they did not realize that consistently sharing that opinion is not respectful to someone who is different and it makes them feel very unsafe. One girl told how she stood up to someone who insulted a student in her class who was gay. I thought that was very brave and as an inspiration for others, we told the other classes about it. 
Monika: You also said that Almere operates the LGBTI + Platform. What services does the platform offer?
Claire: The platform is a cooperation between our municipality and the LGBTI+ community in our city. Every month we have a meeting and talk about how we can contribute to more visibility and acceptance of LGBTI+ people. We organize events like Coming Out Day and IDAHOT. But also lectures on schools and information meetings.

"It’s great there are role models."
Photo by @petravanvelzen.

Monika: Let’s change the subject a bit. Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Claire: Hormone treatment makes my body fit more into who I am. It makes my body good but not perfect. But in the end, no one has a perfect body. Fortunately, I have no side effects of the treatment, so that’s okay.


All the photos: courtesy of Claire Slingerland.
© 2021 - Monika Kowalska

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