Sunday 3 March 2024

Interview with Lea Amanda Svensson

Monika: Lea Amanda Svensson is my lovely guest today. She is a Swedish physician, biker girl, high heels lover, hobby photographer, and proud transgender woman who chronicles her transition on social media. Hello Lea! Thank you for accepting my invitation.
Lea: Thank you for your invitation, Monika! I apologize for the lack of my availability but I was extremely busy during the last month. Being a doctor and a single parent is not really easy. Time and energy meet each other rather seldom in my case.
Monika: No problem! Could you say a few words about yourself?
Lea: I am a 46-year-old trans woman coming from Russia, Saint-Petersburg. I moved to Sweden 6 years ago to work as a doctor in a little village in the southwest part of this beautiful country. I moved here to go through my transition also because Russia has never been a friendly place for trans people. It took extremely much time and energy to take me here, but I never had a single regret about it. I am finishing my education and soon I will be a specialist in general practice.
This job gives me a reasonable work/life balance, which I need more than ever. I have good relations with my friends and colleagues, who accepted my transition and are helping me every day. I’ve also got a diverse range of passions including outdoor pursuits, fashion, music (both listening and even playing, though my way of playing piano is more of a disaster), and motorsports. I'm drawn to intellect, and creativity, and have a refined taste in art, fashion, design, cuisine, and more. But I think my best quality is my incredible modesty, it goes without saying!
Monika: What a nice introduction! What inspired you to share your intimate life moments on social media?
Lea: Well, these moments are not really so undisclosed. I’m just an ordinary girl posting my selfies and thoughts on Instagram. I am highlighting some moments of my transition, but most people use to share important things in their lives on social media, don’t they? Same thing with me, I’m not feeling special about it. I never write about my private life or my body aspects, for example. These are intimate issues that I would not show or discuss.
Monika: Do you get many questions from your social media followers? What do they ask for?
Lea: I’m really tired of all sorts of men, writing nothing more but “hi”. They are annoying and they drain my energy. If we forget them, there are not many people who ask me something, but these questions have an incredible value for me. I’ve met several trans girls in my region, they became my friends. I gave some advice to young trans people and their families, maybe 10 contacts during the last year, but they were very useful for all of us.
I am a tall girl, with all its pros and cons -
195 cm height and 16 cm heels here!
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?
Lea: I can’t say I’ve lost anything important during my journey, and even more - my transition is a story of escape, gain, and take-off. I lost a hard and stressful job as a doctor in Russia. I lost my home country that turns the life of trans people into a nightmare. I lost contact with several transphobic comrades in Russia, why should I regret it all? It was only good for me. My family in Russia has generally accepted my transition, talking about my father and my younger brother. My mom hasn’t, but we have not lost any contact, we ring each other every week, and I hope that some day the situation will change for the better. 
Moving to Sweden I gained a job that gives me a way higher social status than in Russia (should I mind economic aspects also?) among my colleagues who gladly accepted my transition. Much more free time also. But I have paid my price, of course, because the whole process of moving to Sweden as an expat, a person who is invited and welcomed in Sweden, took about 5 years of my life. 5 years of hard work, nearly no free time, Swedish lessons, and a very long process with sending all my diplomas and other papers to the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare to obtain the Swedish doctor license. But I made this decision because I didn’t want to lose everything, moving to Sweden as a refugee. It was not easy, but it was worth waiting for. And there never was any other alternative for Sweden, since it’s the country I fell in love with at first sight visiting my friends in Stockholm many years ago.
Monika: Why did you choose Lea for your name?
Lea: It’s similar to Princess Leia from Star Wars, and to my so-called “dead name” also, I wanted to get some continuity with it. Most of the trans people try to forget their dead names completely, but that’s not my case. I love myself, I will always be myself, the same curious mind and personality.
Monika: Was your family surprised by your transition?
Lea: Definitely yes. Nobody but my brother and a few closest friends knew I was trans before my coming out in November 2022. It would have been a deadly risk to come out as trans in Russia, in that environment and among those people whom I had to work with. One could forget at once not only about career, but about any ability to work in the Russian healthcare system. And it's only getting worse now. My trans story started very long ago - I was 6 or 7 years old, and even then I was smart enough not to tell anyone about it.
From my childhood, all my doubts about being an ordinary male person were top secret. It was very difficult for me to understand and accept myself as I am, it took many years. My work took all the time and energy, and there was no one around who could explain something to me, help me - not even listen. I did not dare to open up even to my friends, fearing to lose them. My brother accepted me at once - he said directly that it was my choice, and I am thankful that he has influenced my father’s opinion also, my father was not so glad about me in the beginning. But it has changed for the better, we have a wonderful contact now, especially after his visit to Sweden in October. My dad is one of my most devoted fans now, and I am incredibly thankful for his love and support!
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Lea: I’ve been on hormones for 2 months only, and I’ve got no significant body effects yet. The only thing that I definitely feel - I became way more calm and peaceful. My restless soul has finally got what she’s been striving for so many years. Makes sense.
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?
Lea: I don’t care how I will be judged. The story of my transition is a story of self-love. I am not running FROM my former body, gender, and social role. I am traveling TO the point that I feel more comfortable with. Exactly as with my emigration - positive motivation is king.

"I don’t care how I will be 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?
Lea: This scene still stands before my eyes, I remember it in HD-definition, though it was very, very long ago. I was 6 or 7 years old, and watched a TV programme for children on a Sunday morning. There was a short scene, a 5-minute musical. I guess that every person born in the Soviet Union remembers this song about a boy who was very afraid to cut his hair. He cried and ran away every time he would meet a barber. His mother became so tired of it that she bought him a dress, braided his hair and he became a girl. Now he happily comes with his mother to curl his hair at the hairdresser’s. What is this if not a thoroughly depicted transition?
Of course, this sketch was made to propose the opposite, it was supposed to shame boys going with long hair - for boys and men it was always a taboo in the Soviet Union. But since I saw it, I got a very strong interest in the whole thing. Boys, wearing dresses and braids, became my idée fixe. Is it any wonder that I tried on one of my mother's dresses after a very short time?
Monika: Did you have any transgender sisters around you that supported you during the transition?
Lea: Not really, it’s more vice versa. I came out as trans not very long ago, and all the trans girls I met after that have been in their transitions for a long time.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in Russia?
Lea: In Russia, it’s a disaster. Since the summer 2023, the medical and legal transition are not available anymore. They crushed down a relatively modern, European-like system that didn’t require any surgery done to get a name and a passport change. The only thing needed was a medical conclusion with a F64.0 “diagnosis” in it. So it was at least theoretically possible, if we forget about the horrible society’s attitude to trans people in Russia and the point that you should pass 200% as a woman not to be shamed and declassified.
It became slightly better in the big cities due to the change of generations, the young people at least know that trans people exist. But it’s tough anyway. I know two trans women in Russia, they made their medical and legal transition a long time ago, they pass perfectly and they are relatively safe now. For those who have not done it yet, the situation is horrible.
"Living as a man, I was not interested in
style at all."
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Lea: I do! One of the biggest advantages of being a woman is all the beautiful clothes you can wear! Living as a man, I was not interested in style at all. It all changed after I came out. I would call my style “elegant and feminine”, it’s also minimalistic, I don’t wear a lot of accessories, but if I buy something - it must look perfect on me, and quality goes first, of course. I love playing with silhouette and color, it’s like being a Pygmalion and Galatea at the same time.
Monika: Do you often experiment with your makeup?
Lea: I did it a lot when I learned make-up. When I decided to go through transitioning, my make-up skills were... mmm, not really polished. It was disgusting to look in the mirror every time, after every single attempt, it always made me feel sad and frustrated. Shortly after my decision, I began a regular make-up practice. I started with watching some educational videos for a couple of weeks, then I bought plenty of cheap makeup on summer sales.
Every evening I worked on only one thing: eyes, brows, contour, lips, etc. Begin. Wash away if it goes wrong, cry, and then do it again. If it looks OK, wear it in half an hour, take a selfie for reference, then wash everything away and repeat from the beginning. I repeated this schedule 4-5 times every evening, during weekends it could be more. I saw the first results after 6 weeks - how glad I was! I became able to go out as a woman, and I did it first in August 2020, roughly after 2 months of my make-up practice.
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?
Lea: Well, we all go through gender socialization in our chosen role, and we are always copying other people, nothing better than this has yet been invented. I have also been told often that I present more feminine than many cis women, but what’s wrong with it? There are thousands of women who are more feminine than me, too. I am just one of them, why should I care? As long as I am honest with myself it’s OK. They say often that trans people are trying to follow gender stereotypes more than cis people themselves. Definitely not my case. I am guided only by my own sense of taste and my ideas about beauty and femininity. I am smart enough to understand what’s what and I don’t need any other opinions except my own. Looks like it works for me.
Monika: By the way, do you like being complimented on your looks?
Lea: Definitely yes, and I get compliments rather often.
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?
Lea: It felt most in the work briefings when I suddenly found out that I was interrupted by my male colleagues, or they just began to speak when it was my turn to say something. I don’t think that it’s a special transgender thing, it looks more like an acceptance of me in my new gender and social role, with all its pros and cons.
Monika: Are you involved in the life of the local LGBTQ community?
Lea: No. Don’t need it. During my whole life, I tried to avoid any contact with all kinds of communities, regardless of their purpose. I have no idea how the local LGBTQ community can help me actually. I have no existential or practical problems that they could help me with. I’ve done it all myself. Helping other people? Yes, but I would rather do it personally, without spending my energy on needless social things. Have neither time or lust for it. I am just a girl living her best life, nothing else.

"I am just a girl living her best life,
nobody else."

Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Lea: Love is important if you have one. I love my daughter and my family. It gives me energy and meaning.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Lea: I used to write down my thoughts, mainly to get rid of them. Those who have read them, think that they are lovely written. I could compose a book, I have more than enough material - but who would read it? I don’t think that my thoughts and experiences are relevant for ordinary people, and for trans people it’s nothing new.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Lea: To be a specialist in general practice. That’s my aim for the near future. It will give me a lot of new professional opportunities. I will be more free to move to some other place in Sweden also. I was born and raised in a big city, and I miss that city feeling.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender women who are afraid of transition?
Lea: Just to remember that other people don’t care so much about you and your trans things. Most of them are going to stay indifferent or to be silent, which is actually the same. For me, it was very important to come out well-prepared and to present as a woman from the very beginning. You can change a lot in your body even before you come out! I made my final decision to transition about 3 years before I came out. I needed a lot of things to do since I was a nearly bald guy with a belly. To come out like this, wearing a wig and having a beard shadow? Never!
So I lost 20 kg weight, took away my face hair, had a hair transplantation, learned make-up and style, and even began with some voice training. It helped me to come out not as “a guy in the dress”, but as quite a feminine person, seamlessly switching from one gender to another.
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?
Lea: The operating table is just an operating table. It’s not a goal, it’s one of the possible means in our soul’s journey. The surgery itself is not obligatory, there are many trans people who don’t do the lower surgery at all. So I would separate spiritual and physiological issues, they are actually not the same thing for some people. Who cares what you have in your pants after all? Our soul, its needs, and dreams go always first. The body can be adjusted, it’s 2024 and surgery’s opportunities are broader than ever.
Monika: Lea, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot and let the force be with you! 
Lea: Thank you! Some of your questions helped me to make an overview of my future plans and needs, so it was very useful for me also!

All the photos: courtesy of Lea Amanda Svensson.
© 2024 - Monika Kowalska

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