Wednesday 28 February 2024

Interview with Gabriella Karlton

Monika: Today I have invited Gabriella Karlton. She is a Belgian model and proud transgender woman who shares her life moments on social media. Hello Gabriella! Thank you for accepting my invitation.
Gabriella: Hello, nice to be with you!
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Gabriella: Of course. As said previously, I am Belgian, I was born and have lived all my life in this small, somewhat complex country. I love cooking, exercising, and shopping. I'm also keen on art history and architecture... In the end, I think I'm a pretty ordinary woman.
Monika: What inspired you to share your intimate life moments on social media?
Gabriella: Initially my Instagram didn't look at all like the one you discovered. I signed up because a few friends told me it was funnier than Facebook and Snapchat where I posted very little. In fact, my family is on Facebook and was quite uncomfortable with the idea of showing so much of me.
After a few weeks, I took it for a game and it helped me externalize certain facets of myself. It is sometimes easier to have a screen between yourself and others.
Monika: Do you get many questions from your social media followers? What do they ask for?
Gabriella: Of course, I get some. Some interesting and some not at all (laughing).
When a person asks questions about their gender or about the procedures I always take pleasure in answering and trying to help others at my level. I think that's what networks are also for, through our own experiences being able to reach out to others who might not dare to ask if you pass them in the street.

"When a person asks questions about their gender
or about the procedures I always take pleasure in
answering and trying to help others at my level."

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?
Gabriella: What you need to know is that I was very afraid of all this. When I was 19 I wanted to start a transition whatever the cost. Following a very upsetting experience, I postponed it. In fact, I met a boy who forcibly kept me at his home for several days and I still have fears and after-effects to this day.
After that, I focused on finishing my studies and meeting my future husband. I worked as a hairdresser and salon manager in various brands until I had my own salon. Despite a good career, a fairly united family, a kind husband, and a more than pleasant lifestyle, I was missing the essential: myself.
When I started everything I lost my living room there because of the Covid19 confinements. The divorce came quickly, my husband no longer knew how to look at me, my family moved away and the enviable lifestyle disappeared.
I lost a lot but I know how to rebuild myself and above all I gained myself.
Monika: Why did you choose Gabriella for your name?
Gabriella: Gabriella means Force of God. And it takes inner strength for a transition.
Monika: Was your family surprised by your transition?
Gabriella: At the moment I only see one of my aunts, my grandmother, and my parents. They were not surprised and appreciated me as I am. As for the rest of my family, I have very little contact and they are quite ashamed to have a person like me in their family.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Gabriella: I like the physical effects of course they have considerably changed my physical appearance. Despite everything, I have a lot of mood swings and pregnant women's desires.

"When I was 19 I wanted to start a transition
whatever the cost."

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?
Gabriella: Unfortunately, there are no miracle solutions. There will always be people who judge us, point fingers at us, etc. we just have to remember that they are not living our lives. 
No one on this planet can please everyone. Everyone judges and is judged.
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?
Gabriella: It was on a Belgian reality TV show from the 2000s. Everything to please. Her name was Miss Julie Rondal. She was there to do surgery and talk about her life. After the show she had a certain notoriety in the Liège region, she performed in clubs at night and sang a little. When I saw her perform her show, no one else existed in the room, I really understood that I was not the only person asking myself these questions and that there were answers.
Monika: Did you have any transgender sisters around you that supported you during the transition?
Gabriella: I know 2 transgender women but I met them later. In fact, and I never knew why, other trans women don't like me without even talking to me.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Gabriella: In terms of paperwork, Belgium has put in place a lot of aid as well as for certain operations. Despite everything, transphobia is quite present and at minimum security. I'm not spitting in the soup but I'm considering moving to a country with more open-mindedness.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Gabriella: I LOVE fashion to put it mildly... I can go from a retro Y2K look to a sporty or bimbo look. I admit that on a daily basis, I like to wear jeans with a tight fit at the buttocks with a simple little blouse with a bit of a neckline and metallic basquets, all adorned with a Guess bag in general. Over time I favor materials and beautiful pieces over fast fashion. It’s better to have a few quality, well-cut pieces in a beautiful fabric than a polyester set that you only wear once.
Some pieces in my wardrobe are new and others are second-hand, color or pattern-wise it depends on my mood at the moment.

"The brave may not live long, but
the fearful never lives."

Monika: Do you often experiment with your makeup?
Gabriella: I'm not the best at makeup. In general, I put my foundation on, a concealer, a little powder for light contouring, a little liner, and a velvet lipstick.
But when I take the trouble I wear heavier makeup but only for an evening or an event.
Monika: I remember copying my sister and mother first, and later other women, trying to look 100% feminine, and my cis female friends used to joke that I try to be a woman that does not exist in reality. Did you experience the same?
Gabriella: I think that there is in each of us the ideal woman who we would like to look like and we all try to project our look by contributing to some of our influences. Personally, some of my looks and my hairstyles were inspired by Anna Nicole Smith, Pamela Anderson or Paris Hilton… Gradually I preferred to make my clothing choices based on my own input. Through a look we send an image to others. It is better that this image be ourselves and not a role.
Monika: By the way, do you like being complimented on your looks?
Gabriella: Who doesn't like that? (laugh)
Monika: Do you remember your first job interview as a woman?
Gabriella: Yes of course, I applied to be a hairdresser in Luxembourg where the salaries are more attractive. After the interview, I got a day of testing in a shopping center. I went about my day taking care of male and female customers for all services.
Unfortunately, a few days later I got a phone call telling me that I had worked really well and that I was without a doubt the best person who had applied for a long time but that due to the post-pandemic economic context, the salon did not want to not take the risk of hiring someone like me. I was devastated by this observation.
Monika: When I came out at work, my male co-workers treated me in a way as if the transition lowered my IQ. Did you experience the same? Do you think it happens because we are women or because we are transgender? Or both?
Gabriella: No ideas, I haven't been confronted with this kind of reaction.
Monika: What would you advise to all transwomen looking for employment?
Gabriella: It won't be easy to find one and it can be frustrating but I have faith in humanity and I think that professional skills alone should be judged.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Gabriella: As I told you I have been married and now divorced. I met my current partner more than 3 years ago and everything is going well between us. I don't share it on my networks or in my life for that matter.

"Opening your life to others through honest work
can be a way of freeing yourself from certain
things but also making yourself vulnerable
in front of readers."

Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Gabriella: I thought about it but if I had to write it this book would sadly be tainted with painful and humiliating shocking elements. Opening your life to others through honest work can be a way of freeing yourself from certain things but also making yourself vulnerable in front of readers.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Gabriella: I am currently putting together a financial plan to be able to get into the tourism sector. If this project succeeds I will move to the sun, work, and simply enjoy life.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender women who are afraid of transition?
Gabriella: To paraphrase the film “The Princess Diaries,” the brave may not live long, but the fearful never lives.
It is better to live your life in a different way from others than to have a life like a play where you are the protagonist.
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?
Gabriella: Absolutely, operations can help us feel like ourselves and beautiful but of course, that's not everything in life.
A little prominent cheekbone or a huge cleavage gives an effeminate smile, the meaning of all life cannot be found through a scalpel.
Operations make us feel good about ourselves and when we love ourselves we can love others and start real life.
Monika: Gabriella, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!
Gabriella: It was an honor for me to answer these questions and perhaps influence one person on this planet. I hope that through my answers I have conveyed the hope of a tolerant world and a better life for each of us.

All the photos: courtesy of Gabriella Karlton.
© 2024 - Monika Kowalska

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