Saturday, 12 March 2022

Interview with Lenka Králová

Monika: Today I have invited Lenka Králová, one of the most inspirational transgender activists from the Czech Republic. Her vlog “V Tranzu” provides information about transgender-related topics and includes interviews with Czech transgender women and friends of the Czech transgender community. Hello Lenka!
Lenka: Hello! Thank you very much for the introduction and let me greet all readers!
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Lenka: I am 40 years old, I live in Prague. It took me a long time to realize my identity, so at the age of 38, I started taking hormones. My marriage broke up after 15 years because of that, but we have a friendly relationship with a nine-year-old son who makes me very happy.
During the transition, I started filming interviews on YouTube for my show "V Tranzu". I have several different series there, but the most popular one is called "Trans Stories", where I invite trans people of all ages and professions and we talk about their life journeys for about an hour. So far, I have conducted over 30 such interviews.
The vlog helps people on several fronts - it allows people from the general public to have a close look and understand our needs, and especially that our condition is not sexual in nature, but that we are primarily concerned with everyday life. It helps people, who are willing to transition, to see the others who have been through it and that there is nothing to be afraid of.
The same is for mothers of trans children. At the moment, the total number of views of all episodes reached over 700,000 views, and "V Tranzu" has become the most important source of information on transgender topics on the Czech Internet.
In addition, I am also a member of the board of the Transparent Association. But activism doesn't feed me - I work as a software developer. The break-up of the family was a great pain for me, but in the end, I managed to find a soulmate and I have been living in a relationship with my girlfriend Nela for half a year., I met her at a demonstration against Viktor Orbán's anti-LGBT laws in front of the Hungarian Embassy.
Monika: So we could say that your relationship with Nela was love at first sight...
Lenka: Well, not really. For her, it was love at first sight, but at the time, I was unhappily in love with someone else who didn't want me. I also had a prejudice against the large age (19 years) and height differences (40 cm). But Nela didn't give up. She attended events where I performed and brought me giant bouquets, and over time I found that I liked to spend time with her. It used to be me who courted girls and somehow I thought it would stay that way. But for the first time in my life, someone courted me and she succeeded! Gradually, I found myself falling in love more and more. And now we have been living together for several months and our relationship is working out beautifully.
"My appearance is a huge surprise
to me. I started my transition when
I was 38."
Monika: When I was preparing for this interview, I read many articles about you on the Internet and I noticed that the most frequent question that you had to answer was about why you have not "completed" your transition. Is the Czech society ready to go beyond a simplistic concept of male and female?
Lenka: I'm really quite surprised by that question. I never say I didn't complete the transition - I just say I don't want the surgery. After all, it is not possible to say that the trans women, who voluntarily decided not to let themselves be cut with a scalpel, did not complete anything. I live a perfectly female life from morning to evening, everyone addresses me everywhere as a woman. I perceive myself as completing the transition with great success. I'm happy and content with myself and that's what it's all about. The only thing that I have a little more complicated is my sexual life, but that's purely my business.
I'm surprised that as of 2022, someone called it an "uncompleted transition." In our country, the society and sexologists have long been pushing trans women to believe that without surgery they will not be real women. We are one of the last countries in Europe that do not allow official gender recognition without surgery. To call it "uncompleted transition" is, in my opinion, extremely toxic and degrading. As if the trans women who had not decided to do so were somehow inferior and "uncompleted." After all, it is primarily everyday life that matters. Each week has just over 10,000 minutes. How many of those minutes do we spend having sex? Who in everyday life sees what we have or do not have between our legs? It is everyone's private business.
There are trans women who have severe physical dysphoria and cannot tolerate their genitals. But for example, I had mainly social dysphoria. I hated male life. I have a completely neutral relationship with my genitals. I am ok with living with them, it is not worth the huge risks that the surgery carries - for example, loss of sexual sensitivity or incontinence. The only thing where it matters is sex, and my current girlfriend has no problem with that. I would take a woman's body right away if a wizard came to me and created it for me using magic. But that's not the case. I myself cannot perceive the surgically created organ in my head as something other than an imitation. Although I realize that for many girls it is liberation and that they long for it - it is just my personal feeling.
I have never been seriously ill, I have never been hospitalized, I have never had any surgery. I'm so afraid to gamble with my healthy body, especially because of something I don't care that much about. Only my girlfriend and I see my genitals, so I definitely won't do it just because of other people. And certainly not because of the legal requirements, I'd rather continue to function in society with the letter M and my original name. I think that this is my big task and mission, to break those stereotypical ideas in the Czech society. In my opinion, the biggest problem is the perception of being transgender as a problem of a sexual nature. After all, just having to go to sexologists in our country is humiliating enough. At the same time, it is only a historical legacy.
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?
Lenka: It was a bit unusual for me. I didn't lose my job or any friends because of that. My social status has even improved significantly - I used to be just a dad who comes home after work, and now I am a well-known influencer, and I have had countless interviews in newspapers and television stations, and I receive invitations to various social events.
However, what I lost was the family. I cried a lot. Most of all, I was afraid to lose my wife and it was a legitimate fear - it was the worst moment of my transition. Her reaction was very negative and then she took it as if her husband died. For a while, our relationship was downright hostile.
However, now it will be three years since my coming-out and our relations have already settled and have been friendly. Sometimes we even call each other. We have a son together (he is now 9 years old) and we are in contact several times a week. But my son reacted to my coming out very well. We have an amazing relationship and he is such a great ally of mine. He calls me "Daddy", but otherwise uses feminine words to address me.

"Many trans women I know have some
expectations and are often disappointed.
I just had low expectations and thanks
to that I am happy now."

Monika: You look like a million dollars, so this question may not be relevant for you. 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?
Lenka: Well, really, my appearance is a huge surprise to me. I started my transition when I was 38 (I'll be 41 soon). I was very bearded and hairy. I was convinced that I had started the transition too late, and I will never pass at first sight. But I didn't care. I went into it with that in my mind. I just wanted to live a woman's life and I didn't care that everyone would turn around and stare at me.
Then I started hormonal therapy and I'm probably very lucky with genes, because I didn't have to have any plastic surgery, and not only do I look feminine, but I see myself as really beautiful. I am infinitely grateful that even though I started transitioning just before I turned forty, I can still enjoy the time when I am a mature woman and I am myself. I still can't believe it completely. Thanks to the fact that my appearance exceeded my expectations by about 1000%, I am completely 100% satisfied with my transition and I would not change anything - this is probably not typical either. Many trans women I know have some expectations and are often disappointed. I just had low expectations and thanks to that I am happy now. This may be my recipe - not having high expectations and then one can only be pleasantly surprised.
Monika: Do you remember the first time you saw a transgender woman on TV or met anyone transgender in person?
Lenka: When I was growing up, the M.A.S.H series was broadcast on television every day, featuring the character Klinger, a soldier who disguised himself as a woman to be considered a fool in order to be discharged from the army. Then I don't remember anything for a long time until the film Danish Girl came and the Czech series Most. But in these cases, trans characters were played by a cis actor or a cis actress.
When I started to discover my identity, I purposefully searched for this topic and I saw more of those trans women on YouTube, and I watched mainly American channels, I don't remember which one was the first. Tereza Španihelová (Tores Gorgeous) was visible among the Czech YouTubers at that time, however, she recently deleted her videos and publicly expressed hate on Instagram for the girls who decided not to undergo surgery. That's the end for me and perhaps all the trans girls I know, and she is rather for laughs to people now.
When I was starting my transition, I was also very touched by the video about Caitlyn Jenner, screened at the ESPY Arthur Ash Award, although today I disagree with some of Caitlyn's views, the video was inspiring.
"We have always been here"
(Byli jsme tu vždycky), 2022.
At that time, near my residence, there was a supermarket where an elderly trans woman worked. I remember my ex-wife having an ugly comment about her. I never addressed the lady there.
Then when I was deciding to transition, I saw another trans woman in a tram, and she seemed so scared. I could definitely meet trans people I didn't know about and I don't know about it. But I started the transition without knowing anyone trans personally - not even on social media. I had started the social transition about 5 months before HRT. It wasn't until I was taking hormones for two months that I began to show very strong emotions. I was crying all day. And that was the moment when I decided to go to the Transparent Therapeutic Support Group (I'm in its management today). And that's where I first met some trans people in person.
Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow or followed?
Lenka: I absolutely admire Natalie Wynn, who produces the YouTube show Contrapoints. In my eyes, she is so perfect in every way that it completely overshadows other publicly known YouTubers and personalities. She is funny, smart, educated, and beautiful.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Lenka: I think the main problem that contributes to all other problems is sexualization. That transgender is seen in the eyes of the public as something sexual or sex-related. These stereotypes, which have long been (and probably unknowingly) pushed by the Czech media, which uncritically borrowed it from the local sexologists, have been reflected, for example, in legislation where we are one of the last countries in Europe to require castration for official gender reassignment. I try to fight against this stereotype that absolutely all trans people desire surgery.
In addition to sexualization, the issue is that Czech sexologists solve our problems in a purely historical, traditional, and dogmatic way. There is a desperate shortage of them. There are absolutely great specialists among them, such as Dr. Petra Vrzáčková, but there are also really bad among them, who just polish their ego and create obstacles for trans people and clearly harm them. The worst what they require are real-life tests before HRT and plethysmograph examination, where they show real child porn videos to innocent people and also force their clients to undress and then touch them under the pretext of diagnosis.
As for the perception of trans women in society, it is very diverse. It depends on many factors, on what type of environment, family, job, friends she has and what social status she belongs to. I know a lot of trans people in the Czech Republic. Some have a completely comfortable life and others experience hell on earth. This isn't exactly generalizable.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Lenka: I love fashion. I basically only wear dresses, and in winter I put a warm sweater on top. I like timeless feminine elegance. I would never go outside in sportswear.
Monika: Do you often experiment with your makeup?
Lenka: Definitely not. When I started the transition, I found a makeup artist who works in the largest TV station in the Czech Republic. She taught me everything and advised me what would suit me best - what colors and products. Since then, I do it the way she taught me - I just adjusted it a little bit after the hormones modified my face. When I am in front of the camera, I put full makeup on, when I just go out, I use just eyelines, mascara, eyebrows, and lipstick. I just never go out with no makeup on. But I'm not experimenting or trying anything new really.
Monika: By the way, do you like being complimented on your looks?
Lenka: Well, that's clear! And I get a lot of praise. Due to my age, I didn't expect at all that I could look really feminine, and the fact that I get so much praise, that's still a bit unbelievable for me.

Nela and Lenka.

Monika: What would you advise to all transwomen looking for employment?
Lenka: That's a good question, because I'm in the process of looking for a job right now, so I've had a lot of interviews in recent weeks, and now it looks like I'm finally going to sign a contract with an American company. I must say that all the interviews went very smoothly and correctly. Only in a few cases did I say that I was a trans woman when they asked me what I like to do in my free time, so I mentioned my activism.
In my country, it is not possible to officially change the gender in documents without surgery, and it is not even possible to change your name to a female one without surgery. The state only allows a neutral name (like Alex, for example), but with that name, you completely shout to the world that you are trans. I did not change my name at all (on one hand I am a rebel and on the other hand I am lazy) and so I still have my original male name on my ID card. But everywhere I appear under the new name - from a legal point of view, it is a pseudonym.
Many girls in the same situation feel that they have to state their official names in their CVs. I don't know if there is a law, but in practice, nobody cares. "Lenka Králová" was everywhere in my CV and on LinkedIn. There is no reason at all to show that I am trans and communicate my official name to them until the contract is to be signed. Then of course it's necessary to tell them. But at that moment, employers already want you, so they consider it a formality. So that's my advice - there's no need to write your official name on your resume, it's useless.
Otherwise, I find it even more important to emphasize that I am in a very different situation from many other girls - I am a software developer with more than twenty years of experience, perfect English, and various special skills.
Monika: Are you involved in the life of the local LGBTQ+ community?
Lenka: I am a member of the board of the Transparent association, where we mainly organize events for trans people in summer - various trips and picnics. I like to participate in them. I also work closely with Prague Pride, which is the most important LGBTQI+ organization in the Czech Republic - there I usually work as a discussion moderator. I also gave speeches at several demonstrations.
But I probably got into the LGBTQI+ life mainly by becoming such a media face - I already had a lot of interviews in magazines and TV stations. Just last week, Filip Titlbach, the author of the podcasts of Deník N, published a book called "We have always been here" (Byli jsme tu vždycky), which is a set of 13 interviews with LGBTQI+ personalities about life in the Czech Republic, and I had the honor of being one of those addressed. It is already certain that the book will have to be reprinted.

V tranzu on YouTube.

Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Lenka: I even started writing. But it was conceived a little differently, as a story rather than a memory. But then I started doing my YouTube vlog and focused on letting other people tell their stories - and more often people who would never get to present their own story publicly. Somehow I lost the desire to continue writing. Maybe I'll come back to that someday.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender women that are afraid of transition?
Lenka: I know that these fears of transition are very diverse, and it's hard to come up with a one-size-fits-all solution. Self-confidence always works great, but few people have that among trans people and you can't just get it on command. Anyway, try to realize that you are the only one important in your own life. Other people's opinions are irrelevant and you don't have to take them into account, even if they are your parents or loved ones.
Don't pay attention to others, take care of yourself - this is often the only way to be happy in life. Life has been given to you as a gift, and if you prefer other people's satisfaction to your own happiness, it's as if you don't value that great gift. They will tell you that you are selfish, but those are their words. In fact, they are the ones who are selfish, because they don't want to let you live your life.
I understand this huge fear. Sometimes it is necessary to break ties, especially in the case of parents, it is not an easy decision. However, I had a problem in my environment only with my wife, with whom it has already settled. Everyone comes from a different environment and background, it's hard to come up with some universal advice.
Monika: Lenka, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!
Lenka: It was a great honor for me. I didn't know your blog, but I've already looked at it and I'm overwhelmed. We actually do the same thing, I just have it in the form of videos and only in the Czech language, yours is text and international. I keep my fingers crossed for your project in the future and I hope to meet you in person someday! Thank you!

Main photo: @annahrabakova
All photos: courtesy of Lenka Králová.
© 2022 - Monika Kowalska

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