Wednesday 7 February 2024

Interview with Michelle Karas

Monika: Today my guest is Michelle Karas, a Ukrainian transactivist and social media influencer. Hello Michelle! Thank you for accepting my invitation.
Michelle: Hello! I was very pleased to receive an invitation for an interview. I hope I will be able to answer all the questions thoroughly and well. Thank you for the invitation!
Monika: All the eyes of the free world are set on the war raging in Ukraine. Are you safe now?
Michelle: While there is a war in Ukraine, and every day there are air raid alarms and explosions in one or another region, I cannot say that I or other Ukrainians are safe. Now we are choosing the right to freedom, we are fighting for the existence of our country. Of course, no one in Ukraine will be safe until we win the war. People die every day, and this is a horror that has become a reality in the center of Europe in the 21st century.
On behalf of all Ukrainians, I want to sincerely thank the democratic countries for their great support, without you we would not have survived, your help is very much needed even now. Together we will defeat the autocracy.
Monika: Do you remember the moment when Russia invaded Ukraine? 
Michelle: I remember this day very well. I had an alarm clock for 5 in the morning, I worked as a visual merchandiser, but I had a lot of morning work... and about 20-30 minutes before the alarm clock went off, I heard loud explosions, the windows were shaking, I thought at first that the garbage truck had dropped a tank with garbage, and from that's the sound... but after checking the news, I realized that a terrorist country had launched a full-scale invasion of my country. I was braver than ever and believed that it would end soon, I didn't want to leave Kyiv, but my friend persuaded me and we went to a safer place - to Lviv region, although rockets and shahedis often flew there.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself? What was your life like before the war? 
Michelle: Before the war, I worked, dreamed of a promotion at work, went out with my girlfriends, and when I read the news about the preparation of a terrorist country for a full-scale invasion, I and my friends and work colleagues did not believe it. But unfortunately it happened.
Monika: What is the situation of transgender women in Ukraine now? Do they have to serve in the army?
Michelle: Ukraine has never been a very trans-friendly country, so now, as before, trans people often face transphobia. But it is worth noting that the situation is getting better every year, as confirmed by the latest social polls, according to which 74% of the population of Ukraine support equal rights for the LGBT community. This is encouraging.
Answering the second question, I will say that so far there is only mandatory mobilization of men. Women, as well as trans women, are not mobilized, so no, service in the army is not mandatory for trans women, only at will.

"Before the war, I worked, dreamed of a promotion
at work, went out with my girlfriends..."

Monika: And what was the situation of transgender women in Ukraine before the war? Was the National Health Service able to provide medical services to the transgender community? 
Michelle: I can't say that it was much worse before the war, the only problem is the lack of adequate statistics of crimes against trans women, because as a rule they are registered as crimes against cis women or men (if the gender in the documents has not been changed). I can say that some Ukrainians still treat us extremely badly, so we must always be ready for anything.
Regarding NHSHU and medical services, as far as I know, no operations for trans people are provided. In accordance with the Ф64.0 commission law on the appointment of hormone therapy, the purchase of hormonal drugs and operations are at your own expense.
Monika: What inspired you to share your intimate life moments on social media? 
Michelle: I started talking about transgenderism for the enlightenment of our people. Since my first interview, I have received dozens, if not hundreds, of words of support from people who were previously unaccepting of the trans community. Supporting and protecting the rights of the trans community was and is my main goal. I hope that one day I will be able to join one or another LGBT organization and work even more for our interests.
Monika: Do you get many questions from your social media followers? What do they ask for?
Michelle: The questions are divided into two types: the first are interested in whether I have had surgeries, the second ask about how to start a transgender transition in a particular situation. I always support the latter as much as possible and inform them about the trans transition procedure in our country.
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?
Michelle: The hardest part was rejection from my family, friends, teachers at school/college and classmates. I have always been feminine, with a high-pitched voice, and from the 2nd grade of school I faced severe bullying and physical abuse. After starting hormone therapy, my mother kicked me out of the house. The hardest thing for me was to hold on without any support. Thanks to my trans friends, I was able to.
Monika: Why did you choose Michelle for your name?
Michelle: Starting from the 5th grade of school, my physics teacher called me that, so I got used to this name and then I chose this name.

"I wear what I like, I don't follow trends."

Monika: Was your family surprised by your transition?
Michelle: My family knew since I was 6 years old that I feel like a girl, unfortunately, after the announcement of the start of hormone therapy, they were shocked, as a result of which they kicked me out of the house.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Michelle: Hormone therapy has greatly improved my psychological state and my body, now I like myself much more and see a girl in the mirror, which is what I always dreamed of.
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?
Michelle: You need to accept yourself, your past and understand that all this is part of our life, we need something to be proud of. If cosmetic surgery can improve your appearance, great, I'm all for it. But you should never have high hopes for surgery, you should first love and accept yourself as we are. It is difficult, but there is no way without it.
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?
Michelle: It was when I was 12-13 years old, at that time I saw Monro (Monritta Xacaturjan) on one of the Ukrainian TV channels, where she talked about transgenderism, then I realized that I had a future and an opportunity to become myself.
Monika: Did you have any transgender sisters around you that supported you during the transition?
Michelle: Yes, thanks to the support of Tomochka and Anya, I was able to overcome all the horror that happened to me.
Monika: Are you a professional model? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Michelle: I'm not a model. I wear what I like, I don't follow trends and I don't consider myself very knowledgeable about fashion. I always wear what I like. My favorite color is purple.
Monika: Do you often experiment with your makeup?
Michelle: I really like it when makeup artists paint me, but unfortunately I myself have not yet reached their level. Therefore, most often my makeup is mascara and hygienic lipstick.
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?
Michelle: No, I've been feminine since childhood, I can't say that I tried to copy someone. But I always faced insults about my femininity, it was painful.

"We are women just like everyone else, and
first and foremost we are human beings."

Monika: By the way, do you like being complimented on your looks?
Michelle: Yes, sometimes I get compliments, it's always very nice, every compliment heals my wounded soul and gives me confidence.
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?
Michelle: I don't experience any mental changes. I just became more beautiful after the transition.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Michelle: The most important thing in our life is self-love, everything else, unfortunately, passes. It is a great happiness to love someone and receive reciprocity in response, but not all of us in Ukraine receive this. Transphobia is still at a high level, and 95% of men do not perceive us as women, unfortunately.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Michelle: I don't think I have good writing skills, but who knows what will happen next. Maybe I will write something.
Monika: Where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Michelle: I see myself even stronger and more independent in a free and democratic Ukraine, where everyone can be himself without the reproaches of society.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender women who are afraid of transition?
Michelle: Don't be afraid and go to your goal, time plays against us, so don't wait, do everything to become yourself. Your body is your business, the most important thing is to be yourself. Go for it and you'll be fine.
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?
Michelle: Your friend is right, we are women just like everyone else, and first and foremost we are human beings, and we have the right to normal human dreams and to achieve them. Our body is a shell, the most important thing is inside and what is around us.
Monika: Michelle, it was a pleasure to interview you. I hope that the war is going to finish soon, and you will have the opportunity to fulfill all your dreams.
Michelle: Thank you for the invitation, I hope so too, it was nice to talk!

All the photos: courtesy of Michelle Karas.
© 2024 - Monika Kowalska


  1. Thank you for this interview. Although Michelle is not the first Ukrainian you have interviewed, she's the first since this awful war started. I am glad to hear that LGBT rights and public support in Ukraine are improving. I just hope Michelle and her country can be free of the invaders soon and live in peace again. Best wishes to her. Sue x


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