Monday 11 April 2022

Interview with Emilia

Monika: Today I am taking you on a journey to Budapest, a beautiful capital of Hungary where I have the pleasure of talking to Emilia, a Hungarian model, and transgender activist. Hello Emilia!
Emilia: Hello Monika and everyone! Thank you for having me!
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Emilia: Since I was a preschooler, I know I don’t feel good myself in my own body and I don’t feel the role I have to play as a boy. In fact, that’s the point of it all, I felt like I was playing a role if I wanted to act like a boy. As early as the age of four or five, playing house in kindergarten - when you pretend to be a family in the household with your friends, acting out housekeeping and different family roles and stuff - I’ve always assigned the roles of the mother or the daughter to myself, and my friends have also assigned them to me. It just felt right you know.
In the last years of elementary school, I was already able to declare to myself that I was transgender. Of course, it took some time to share this with others, or actually coming out as a transgender woman given that fifteen or twenty years ago there were not many authentic, useful sources which I could find information from or at least not in Hungarian. We barely had an Internet connection when I was a child and seeing trans representation on the TV or in movies wasn’t really possible in those times.
By the time I started high school trying to improve my English and very specifically searching the Internet from those limited sources I knew exactly what my path was and what official and medical procedures were needed or offered to me. So after graduation, I underwent a medical transition, updating my ID and my documents, and in the following years I focused on development, healing, learning to love myself, and perfecting my self-image.
Monika: What inspired you to share your intimate life moments on social media?
Emilia: I’m actually a pretty introverted person. However, it is very important for me to communicate with people who have life stories similar to mine, and if I get questions about it, whether from an affected LGBTQ+ person or an interested straight/cis one, it is important for me to share my own experiences to help them to deal with or help them to understand. Ever since I finished my transition, I’ve been asked a lot of questions or people just told me how I’ve helped them with my openness, so I’d really like to continue to do so.
Monika: Why did you choose Emilia for your name?
Emilia: Actually it’s a quite fabulous story, as I literally dreamed of someone calling me Emilia, even if I had never thought of choosing that name for myself before. There were a few names that I particularly liked, and I couldn’t decide between them, but after that dream I woke up the next morning and it was so obvious that my name was going to be Emilia, and that’s who I am.
Monika: Do you get many questions from your social media followers? What do they ask for?
Emilia: People message me quite often for example on Facebook as I am a member of some LGBT+ and transgender groups, but I mostly talk about my life and transition live at various classes or lectures in high schools, community centers, festivals, and similar environments.
"It is very important for me to
communicate with people who have
life stories similar to mine."
Fortunately, now there’s a Facebook group in Hungarian, where a transgender person planning transition can find all the current information about doctors, hormones, surgeries, or administrative things, about which I may not even be up to date. I prefer to provide some spiritual support, guidance, and kind of a perspective in my own way if it’s needed.
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?
Emilia: I started the transition right after graduating high school. I consciously moved abroad for a while and started a new life at the time because I thought it was easier to start with a clean slate in a new environment. Today, I kinda regret that I didn’t allow people closer to me during my high school years and didn’t keep many of the relationships that were valuable to me, but it was easier that way then. It was easier to process the harms and traumas of the previous years this way.
Perhaps the hardest thing after that was finding that golden mean during and after my transition, when I didn’t hide as a transgender person and deny what I went through, meanwhile didn’t let my past and me being transgender determine my life.
Right now, I’m happy to work with great people for a great company where it doesn’t matter what my gender identity is and what’s important are my abilities instead and to do my job well. It’s important for me regardless of living my life as a woman for more than a decade now.
Monika: Was your family surprised by your transition?
Emilia: They weren’t surprised, as there were clear signs that I was different since I was a kid, so they were really looking forward to my coming out. However, our relationship has not developed as I would have liked, and we have not been in contact at all for many years and I don’t think it will change for the better.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Emilia: Yes, and I would like to emphasize the importance of hormone replacement therapy for the mental state. There was a period after my surgery when I didn’t get estrogen but my body obviously no longer produced testosterone either. That caused severe mood swings and depression, which improved a lot as I started to take estrogen again on the advice of one of my best friends.
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?
Emilia: This is a very difficult situation. All of us want to be treated as what we have always been and felt inside and it is much easier if our appearance looks as "acceptable" or „passable” as possible helping our environment to see us so. However, it is important to recognize that this is a vicious circle and if we expect happiness and self-identity solely from plastic surgeries or cosmetic procedures, we will be greatly disappointed.
Before and at the beginning of my transition, I also planned a lot of plastic surgeries to transform myself, but I am very glad that I did not have the opportunity to do so then, and later I did not want to undergo them already. I realized that I was going to find actual spiritual peace and self-acceptance from within, and what’s really important is to be mentally and emotionally stable so that I can see clearly and decide what I really need and what I don’t, instead of pursuing an imagined and unreachable ideal.
In recent years, it has also been proven to me that with naturalness and honesty I can go much further than with a reshaped face or body. Sure, sometimes I’m not happy with how I look but every single person has their own uncertain moments, and which one of us doesn’t need recognition? This is completely okay and fine.
I don’t think we should look so-called "perfect" though, let’s accept ourselves with our own unperfections instead, which makes us unique and work on developing our personality, becoming strong, stable, and humane. I’m not against plastic surgeries of course as I myself underwent breast augmentation and SRS too in the past, which was essential for me being really me but it’s also very important to realize that we don’t need to be supermodels and we don’t need to search desperately everyone's acceptance but we should be healthy and happy, finding those who understand and love us as we are.
Budapest Pride 2019.
Monika: Do you remember the first time you saw a transgender woman on TV or met anyone transgender in person?
Emilia: Absolutely. Searching the Internet, I found the first transgender people I saw. I remember it was Lynn Conway’s website where I could see many trans women successful in their own professions and it filled me with hope and joy. Back then I was like thirteen and I realized that transgender people really exist and can live a full, happy life. I also remember listening to Dana International’s songs and how I found her confidently beautiful.
Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow or followed?
Emilia: I try to be my own role model and become a person I can be proud of, but my inspiration comes from the trans people around me who just show and prove to the world that we are equal in every single way. They don’t have to be famous or something, sometimes I can draw inspiration from quite ordinary situations or conversations. I look up to all of us who live our lives with pride and humility and can set a good example.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Emilia: Unfortunately, Hungary has had a very homophobic and transphobic government in power during these years, and the campaign against us seems to be intensifying. Now, at the beginning of April, we had elections and, unfortunately, Viktor Orbán was elected Prime Minister for another four years.
At present, no legal change of gender or name is allowed in Hungary for transgender people, and tons of articles, books, and advertisements are published to deprive gays and transgender people of their rights. In these times, it is especially important for me to inform people and show them, through my own example, through my own life, that prejudices against us do not reflect reality, and we are just the same as anyone else.
At the same time, I just want you to know that the Hungarian government and their political views don’t represent the Hungarian people in general. These are really hard times for a lot of us LGBTQ+ people here but we don’t give up hope that positive changes are coming and the people around us are not evil, sometimes they are just easy to control or influence by the propaganda.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Emilia: I don’t really follow fashion trends, as I always prefer to dress to my own taste, even if those pieces aren’t to be found in the stores of famous clothing brands. I think the most important thing is to find our own individuality in our clothing as well as feel good in what we wear. Of course, I also have my own preferences. I really like earth tones, green and brown shades, and I always choose tights instead of pants.
Monika: Do you often experiment with your makeup?
Emilia: Honestly, I don’t really use makeup. It’s a completely conscious decision because I used to think I wasn’t pretty without putting on a lot of foundation and stuff, I almost thought makeup would make a woman and it was mandatory to use as many products as possible.
A few years ago, one day I felt this had to end. I didn’t want to live like not even looking in the mirror in the morning, as I didn’t feel beautiful without an hour of getting ready. That’s why I stopped using makeup almost completely. I just put a little concealer here and there, maybe some color on my lips, and I’m done. Since then, I’m able to love my own skin and my own face with its natural look.
Monika: By the way, do you like being complimented on your looks?
Emilia: Of course, I like to get compliments and I don't think there's anything wrong with that. What’s important is to realize that our beauty does not depend on the opinions of others and to not build our self-confidence only from external feedback, but also learn to love ourselves and to find our own style based on our own tastes, to dress and look the way we like. The way to get complimented more is by complimenting ourselves first and feeling good in our own skin, which is not that easy sometimes but it’s worth working on it.

"What’s important is to realize that our beauty does not
depend on the opinions of others and to not build our
self-confidence only from external feedback."

Monika: Do you remember your first job interview as a woman?
Emilia: Yeah, pretty much, and honestly, it sucked. The main reason for this was that I didn’t believe I was worthy of the position and that I couldn’t really believe I could just fit in the way I am. Then, as I gained experience in hard jobs that paid little at first, and as I learned how good a worker or colleague I am and what I am capable of, it has become easier and more natural for me to be confident and get the job I want.
Monika: What would you advise to all transwomen looking for employment?
Emilia: As I said the most important thing is being confident, which isn’t the same as being cocky of course but you shouldn’t have to feel like you’re the one who needs that job desperately and that’s it.
You have to know you’re a great catch for either the company or employer you’re currently interviewing for. It’s important for you to realize that you’re worthy and your being a transwoman doesn’t make you a less good colleague or anything like that. Honestly your identity it’s not even relevant to your abilities. You deserve to find a supportive work community and believe me it’s gonna happen even if you have to go through some less good experiences until then.
Monika: Are you involved in the life of the local LGBTQ+ community?
Emilia: I’m trying as much as my time allows. I always like to go to Budapest Pride and this year I would like to visit another Hungarian Pride parade outside our capital, which is held in the city of Pécs, where I grew up.
I also support and participate in an initiative called "Living Library", in which we share our experiences with others as members of different minority groups in an organized way. There are gay and transgender people on the team, as well as people who are visually impaired, former drug addicts, and so on.
In the current political situation, I find transgender visibility and LGBTQ+ awareness increasingly important in my home country and I want to put as much energy into this as my time allows. I completely understand my fellow transgender peers who move abroad fleeing the transphobic laws, but I feel I’m in the fortunate position right now of being able to stay here, trying to bring a little more understanding, peace, and acceptance in my own way.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Emilia: True love is not easy to find, but it gives it its value. I have been in a serious relationship for seven years, but it’s long over. I’m currently open to find someone with whom I can develop a valuable, deep relationship, but until then, I’m fine being alone. I’m not the relationship-dependent type who prefers to jump from one relationship to another. I still believe that two people can complement each other perfectly, but over time I have experienced what is important to expect from a relationship and what is not to be sacrificed for it. At the same time, I know that when the time comes, we will find each other, me and the right man.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Emilia: I really enjoy writing in my spare time, but I haven’t really thought about writing my own story yet. I talk a lot about it, and I’m happy to share my experiences, but I feel like it’s not time to write a memoir yet. I don’t necessarily think my story is so interesting that it’s worth writing a book about it, maybe the point of view, or the way how I have processed some events and traumas in my life can be unique, as we all experience these things differently. But a book where transgender women compare their own experiences from different stages of their lives, or about different phases of their transitions, could be interesting, right?
Budapest Pride 2021.
Monika: Absolutely! What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Emilia: Currently, the next step for me is to continue to exist in peace as a transgender woman here in Hungary, and I am confident that the next elections will bring us more favorable results.
In my private life, I still want to travel a lot, see the world, and be as open as possible to build valuable human relationships.
What will happen in 5-7 years? Honestly, I don’t tend to plan ahead, I prefer to focus on the present and the near future. But I hope that by then I will be able to be even more open and carefree, worry even less about things, and simply enjoy life, which is sometimes a quite difficult thing to do.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender women that are afraid of transition?
Emilia: I understand that it’s not easy to begin your transition, but it’s better to focus on the positive changes that come with this, rather than analyzing the difficulties. Think about it: are you really more afraid of starting to accept yourself and coming out, than to live the same life without the hope of transition, the hope of change? The latter is way scarier, isn’t it?
Our identity is not something we can change or set aside, so the sooner we accept ourselves and start taking the right steps, the sooner we will be relieved. Don't be afraid to ask for help from people you really trust, don't be afraid to ask other transgender people about their experiences. You will be reborn step by step, regardless of your current circumstances. Be conscious and be patient with yourself and others. Never too late to be your authentic self.
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?
Emilia: Absolutely! I remember, long ago, I also thought that after SRS, all my problems would suddenly be solved. But the transition didn’t end with the transformation of our body at all. It is very important to heal and be well both spiritually and mentally letting the world opens up before us so we’re going to get the opportunities we are waiting for.
It is also very important that we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others; of course, we can have role models, but we should know and accept that we are all different, with different personalities and different stories being no more or less than others. Never want to live others' life or envy others because we don’t know what they are feeling or what they are going through. We can take control of our own lives instead because we are beautiful when we're not trying to mimic somebody but doing our absolute best as ourselves in our own lives being a person who knows their value.
We can learn from others, but we need to focus on our own lives, face our own problems, and rejoice in our own successes. This is how we will find the people for whom we are the ideal friend or partner and so we can get the most out of the life that is given to us.
Monika: Emilia, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!
Emilia: Thank you for having me, Monika! It’s a pleasure to be a part of your blog after reading so many inspirational thoughts from fellow great women in it!

All the photos: courtesy of Emilia.
© 2022 - Monika Kowalska

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