Tuesday 14 March 2023

Interview with Nora Dahmer

Monika: Today I have the pleasure of talking to Nora Dahmer, a German businesswoman and transgender activist from the Rhineland, and the author of "Endlich Nora!: Aus einem Transgenderleben" (Finally Nora!: From a Transgender Life). Hello Nora!
Nora: Hello Monika, nice to meet you.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Nora: My name is Nora and I am 60 years old. For almost 3 years I have been living as a woman in society. I have two adult children. I advise companies on strategic issues as a freelancer. At the same time, I give lectures at schools and in companies for teachers and managers about LGBTQIA+.
Monika: What inspired you to write "Endlich Nora!: Aus einem Transgenderleben" (2022)?
Nora: With the decision to change my life, I sat down and reviewed everything for myself. Then I kept a kind of diary for myself practically during my transition from the moment I came out. I noticed how much was happening to me and my environment and decided to make a book out of my scripts. The aim was to help other people and to explain the background.
Monika: Why did you choose Nora for your name?
Nora: This name was a gift from my ex-wife the day I came out. Since I had never lived a double life before, there really wasn't a name for me.

"All members of my family, no matter what generation,
were extremely surprised." Photo by Monika Plump.

Monika: We all pay the highest price for fulfilling 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?
Nora: Luckily I didn't have any problems with my private life. Everyone was very surprised, but never let me down. Unfortunately, many other people are far worse off in such situations and I really appreciate that I was spared.
Monika: Was your family surprised by your transition?
Nora: All members of my family, no matter what generation, were extremely surprised. In my previous life, I did everything to ensure that nobody could suspect anything.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Nora: The hormone therapy went really surprisingly well for me. The desired effects (skin, breast formation, and so on) came very quickly despite my age. In the meantime, the risk of thrombosis has increased significantly and I was lucky enough to survive a pulmonary embolism. But overall I'm fine with it. One should not underestimate the many side effects and must therefore always act very preventively and attentively.
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?
Nora: If you are not yet at peace with yourself, you will certainly need the necessary small steps such as laser epilation and one or the other minor cosmetic surgery. However, if self-confidence returns after puberty caused by hormones, you should only take the steps that you want to take for yourself independently of third parties. The important thing is that you are at peace with yourself. In particular, people who are late in transition have to learn to live with the fact that eternal youth and ideals do not find their way into reality.

"As a man, it was more of a duty for me
to look neat. Now it's a pleasure."
Photo by Monika Plump.

Monika: Do you remember the first time you saw a transgender woman on TV or met anyone transgender in person that opened your eyes and allowed you to realize who you are?
Nora: I knew from a young age that I was a girl. But I had no explanation. In the 1970s there was no public knowledge about transgender people other than the socially established stereotypes and prejudices. It was only in 2010 that I accidentally learned that transsexuality existed and what it actually means. That's how I started to understand why, as a heterosexual biological male, I still felt like a woman.
Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow or followed?
Nora: At the beginning of my transition I did a lot of research and read a lot about other transgender people on the Internet. But at my age, I decided to go my own way as there were few things in common with many other transgender people that I could identify with.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Nora: I believe that on the one hand the situation in Germany is much better than in many other countries around the world. And just because I personally don't have to have any negative experiences or simply don't let them get to me, doesn't mean that this is fundamentally the case. Many transgender people, especially the younger ones, have to struggle with massive discrimination in everyday life. That's why I'm also very involved in educating cis people so that ignorance decreases and prejudices are reduced. So there is still a lot to do in Germany and the situation is anything but ideal.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Nora: At the beginning of my transition, it was very important to me that the outfit was feminine. Still, I've always made sure it's unobtrusive and appropriate. The irritation of the other people when meeting me was already big enough. I don't have to attract attention with more eccentric clothing. But it was a lot of fun for me to get new clothes. As a man, it was more of a duty for me to look neat. Now it's a pleasure. In everyday life, I dress casually, but on certain occasions and at work, I dress according to the general conditions. For the opera, for example, there is also something really festive.

"Just a few weeks ago I gave my first
interview as a woman in a professional
context." Photo by Monika Plump.

Monika: By the way, do you like being complimented on your looks?
Nora: Like probably everyone else, I am happy about every compliment. In our country, many people are unsure whether they should compliment us. Since it's not just the clothing, but the overall appearance, and this still has sufficiently masculine features, many people are concerned that a compliment will not appear honest but rather fake.
Monika: Do you remember your first job interview as a woman?
Nora: Just a few weeks ago I gave my first interview as a woman in a professional context. Of course, the interviewers focused on the transition and they wanted to learn from me what effects my coming out has on my professional environment.
Monika: What would you advise to all transwomen looking for employment?
Nora: It is certainly always very much dependent on the profession you want to work in. But basically you have the same rights as everyone else and you shouldn't put yourself under pressure. Certainly there will be significantly more rejections of applications, but with patience, you should be able to find the right job. You have to find the right path between your own aspirations and professional reality and, above all, you must not let yourself be thrown off course by setbacks and you must be patient. That's easier said than done.
Monika: Are you involved in the life of the local LGBTQ community?
Nora: I am not directly active in the LGBTQIA+ community. I see myself more as a bridge between cis people and the community and I would also like to use my management knowledge to take people's prejudices and break down hurdles. To do this, I go to companies and vocational schools to inform teachers and managers and educate them about LGBTQIA+. Because if these stakeholders learn through my workshops that we are all normal people, they may be much more open and respectful towards their students or employees.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Nora: If love means humanity, I am much more empathetic today than I used to be. I try to empathize with other people and respect them. There is love for my whole family environment and friends. Physical love hasn't played a role for me since the transition, at least not currently. As a lesbian woman now, I have no need to get involved in new relationships.

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Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Nora: I'm just enjoying the new way of life and finally being me. I enjoy the situation every day. With my workshops, I realize that I can help many people and take away insecurity. That means a lot to me and will accompany me intensively in the years to come.
On the other hand, I've now reached an age where I want to enjoy life and, for example, my hobby of golf. Traveling, which I liked to do a lot as a man, is now reduced as a transgender to regions in the world where you can stay without fear and negative feelings. Not many corners of the world are quieter.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender women that are afraid of transition?
Nora: If you are firmly convinced that you are at home in the opposite social sex, you should not be afraid of the future and dare to take the step. Even if you don't do it, life doesn't get any better. It's a huge burden to live under a false identity and whatever the circumstances, you should do it. This is of course very different from person to person. I can only speak for myself and for me it was the golden step. If possible, you shouldn't make the journey without psychological support. We are not mentally ill because of our identity, but it can be overwhelming if we are not well looked after.
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?
Nora: I can't judge whether it has to be the operating table. But if we live in the wrong body, it takes a lot of strength and a right to a very personal need for oneself remains hidden. No matter what steps you take as a transgender, every step closer to yourself is the right step. What physical paths are taken for this is left to each person and their personal desire.
Monika: Nora, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!
Nora: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to express myself here. Thanks very much!

All photos: courtesy of Nora Dahmer.
All photos by Monika Plump.
© 2023 - Monika Kowalska

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