Interview with Karine S. Espineira - Part 2

Monika: And?
Karina: The difficulty of showing a united front also ensues from difficulties interacting with other autonomous or institutional groups. Another example relates to recent conflicts between materialistic feminists and feminist trans movements. Certain papers call back clearly the positions held by Janice Raymond in 1979. The trans movements were clearly beside the LGB movements from more than twenty years (recall Stonewall…) and they showed their solidarity with the inter-sexed, precarious, illegal immigrants or still sex-workers. However, the LGB movement shows itself as much less united with the trans movement and other allied movements as that of the inter-sexed. I specify that I make this analysis from a French point of view.

Karine in 2012. Photo by Leya Smith.

Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBT communities. Being the last letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBT group?
Karine: Sometimes, I think that to claim trans separatism and to remove T from the initials LGBTIQ could be a lash and wake everybody. I’m thus very divisive because I believe that certain trans movements worldwide have the means of autonomy. But on the other side, separatism could be perceived as a separation from the LGB…IQ movement and their allies. To give the feeling of a division could be counterproductive. It thus seems important not to give the image of a division.
But within
LGBT movements it is especially necessary to count on ourselves in the countries where the trans issues are not completely understood by our allies. We shall be the architects of our own emancipation of the control systems and sometimes the oppression. It will be necessary in certain cases, count only on ourselves, and that is why the internationalization of the question with the example which was given by the campaign Stop Trans Pathologization, the actions of GATE or Transgender Europe shows that we can be allied beyond the languages, the cultures and the borders without denying the specifics of the situation of the trans people in such or another country.
Monika: Are you active in politics yourself? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Karine: I’m known to be left-wing. From my adolescence, I was close to the socialist party, in which I had put a lot, in particular in the middle of the 1980s, with the student strikes and against the eviction, without paper and on hunger strike. More recently, I operated a link with the Green Party (ecologist).

Karine in 1973.

I did not try to enter clearly politics because I don’t think I have the profile nor I have this ambition. I more feel at ease with the "intellectual" activism. It is one of the reasons for which I wished to “take back” my studies and to get a Ph.D. in the science of information and communication.
It is a shape of empowerment and I do not hide to be a committed researcher. Due to my work, I participate in a way in the diffusion of trans issues and perhaps this work can be more composedly than a cisgender academic.
Karine: I think trans women, but also trans men, can make the difference in politics. It is much more necessary to them to think of others than of themselves and not to hesitate to emphasize their experience of life. If I may say, we experimented the gender in its complexity and saw the disparities, sexism, and discrimination at work, etc. These topped experiences become an internal incredible strength.
Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? 
Karine: I finalized my transition between 28 and 29 years old. I was lucky and had the opportunity to benefit from the experience and information collected by the first trans associations in France in 1996. I wanted at first to be examined by a medical team. After four months, I realized that the psychiatric follow-up was not only insufficient for me but there were also scandalous procedures for trans people.

Karine in 2014.

The day after my decision-making to abandon this follow-up, I found an endocrinologist, while booking an appointment with a surgeon in Belgium, a lawyer, and a flat in a city where I knew that the change of civil status was less time-consuming and easier than in Paris. I did everything almost at the same time. Six months after the beginning of my hormone therapy, I was operated on. Four months after my operation, I had my civil status papers changed. The transition in itself was not so difficult and it was thanks to the work of trans activists.
I want to specify that when I speak about my operation I do not promote “transsexualism,” which is for me a “practice and a medical concept”. And not an identity. I’m set against any hierarchy between trans people.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Karine: Before my transition, I had seen some trans people in the media but nobody who tempted me to identify myself, even if I admired the transition and the beauty of these people. My first "mediation" case was Kate Bornstein whom I found very beautiful on the cover of the book "Gender Outlaw" published in 1994.
I also admired the stars of the cabaret such as Coccinelle, Bambi, April Ashley, or still Marie France whom I discovered in magazines, reviews, or images of documentaries. But their beauty seemed to be inaccessible in a period when I felt very uncomfortable in my own skin. I had to try to be myself even in my own ways knowing that pioneers had opened the road.

Monika: Are there are any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now?
Karine: Since then, I have had various models and for various reasons. I think of Kim Pérez as a transfeminist prematurely. I think of Lynn Conway, Kelley Winters, and Andréa James for their respective transitions and for the sharing of invaluable information on the Internet. I think of Susan Stryker for her university works. Moreover, I respect transmen models, including Jacob Hale and Patrick Califia.
I think of Calpernia Addams for her sharp mind and her humor. Numerous South American activists also inspire me. For example, Loana Berkins played a very important role in the movement in Argentine but also internationally. She is the model of strong activism and a very committed person who remains simple and accessible. During a recent stay in Argentina in 2013, I got acquainted with Karen Benett and with Susy Shock who amazed me as artists and as persons. I could again quote numerous people whose I admire for activism, artistic talents, militant engagements, or simply their personalities: Belissa Andía Pérez, Maria Bélen Correa, Maria Sundin, Laverne Cox, Lana Wachowski, Julia Serano, Kate Bornstein, Kelley Winters, among many other ladies.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Karine: It was with the friendly and family environment that I had finally most of the difficulties (and dramas) with during my transition. My father abandoned me or rather denied me. My parents left to live in Chile where for the most part of the members of my family, I am a “freak”. Most of my friends have also abandoned me, not understanding that I have just remained "me” by “becoming myself".
Twenty years later, by committing myself to university research, I made a second coming out. This time by identifying myself as a university transwoman. The academy is not always trans-friendly and the housing conditions are not still easy to live in.

Monika: What do you think about transgender stories or characters which have been featured in French films, newspapers, or books so far?
Karine: From my point of view, the stories proposed in the media are often very consensual or at least they address the “transsexual model” as very close to the forensic narrative. From time to time, emerges a model a little bit different and closer to reality.
The documentary movie of my friend Marie-Pierre Pruvot titled "Bambi" (by Sébastien Lifchitz, 2013) is interesting because we discover the transgender cabaret culture and the life of the pioneers. With a television movie "La reine des connes” (The Queen of Idiots, Guillaume Nicloux, on 2009), in spite of the title of the movie, we discover a trans person of her time, a young person and a clumsy person but who wants to make her transition against all odds.
The break with stories of drugs and prostitution took shape slowly since the release of the French-speaking Belgian movie entitled “Ma vie en rose” (My Life in Pink, by Alain Berliner, 1996), which made an international career. This time, the trans identity is shown during childhood and with kindness. This movie, for example, was held in high esteem in France at the time where trans people found many stories in the media, which were full of ill-treatment. 
As regards the stories in the literature, autobiographies were often centered on narratives on marginalization and prostitution (for example, “Le saut de l’ange” by Maud Marin, 1987). These narratives were necessary to understand the difficulty of being trans in an intolerant society. The autobiographies of Marie-Pierre Pruvot and Coccinelle showed more glamorous faces but sometimes “exotisées” (more exotic), as shown by the media.
With Delphine Philbert (“Devenir celle que je suis” - Becoming the One that I am, 2011), we discover one piece of a new form of autobiography, this one is a narrative of life but politicized and very critical.

Karine in 2014.

Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life? 
Karine: Difficult question! My answer will be short: "I like loving". I have lived with a transwoman in a free relationship since 1996.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Karine: By publishing my first book in 2008 (La transidentité de l’espace médiatiques à l’espace public - The trans-identity of the media space in the public place), until the recent publication of my research ("La Transidentité: Ordre et panique de Genre" - The Trans-identity: Order and Gender panic and "Médiacultures: la transidentité en télévision" - "Médiacultures: the trans-identity in television", 2015), I took the challenge voluntarily except the autobiography.
It’s important to exist as a subject of knowledge and not see oneself, with a narrative of life, confined in the status of an object of knowledge. And this interview contributes to it as well as I ask myself the question...
And I begin to envisage this possibility. Perhaps I want to give "my version" of the facts of what "my life" was. I hesitated because my parents are still alive and because writing an autobiography will involve them negatively. But my desire to speak becomes stronger. Maybe as well as elements of my life can be useful. I ignore it and I admit that "to tell about me" still very frightens me. 

Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Karine: I think of a documentary on the representation of trans people in the media. I still have publications to come in scientific journals. This year, I would also want to dedicate my time to a historical novel that sleeps in a drawer, which covers the period 1792-1855 and takes place in France and in Chile. It has been a little more than 20 years since I was committed to writing this and it's time that I end it! For the rest, I always want to work so that trans people don’t have to prove their membership in humanity.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Karine: First, I would like to tell them not to consider themselves sick or abnormal. Their transition belongs to them. Nobody has the right to deny their rights to be themselves. The objectives are their happiness and life. Whether we choose or we do not choose some visibility, we can be trans and proud. [Very egoistically, I also have to tell them: you can also be transfeminist!]
Monika: Karine, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: Courtesy of Karine Solene Espineira.
The main photo credit: Naőel
© 2015 - Monika Kowalska

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