The Origin of Strength

1995 self portrait

Two days ago, I was “on stage” for the first podiums discussion of my life. It was a very good, fascinating experience. Best of all, it moved something within me and gave me pause. Amidst differing opinions, I recognized my own stubbornness and realized my discussion partners and I all wanted the same, even had similar histories. We had just somehow taken slightly varying paths. These winding roads seemed to have led us to the same idealistic goals: to be ourselves no matter what and to make the world a better place, for everyone, if only slightly.

Listening to various stories and notions, I also began to question, “Where does my strength come from? Why can I overcome hardships that might break others? Do I have stubborn genes?”
Don’t get me wrong. I often pondered committing suicide in the past. I often battled depression and despair. But I would somehow manage to grab myself by the ears and pull myself out of the swamp – over and over again. And I would berate myself, “Liam, stop this nonsense and stop feeling sorry for yourself. It doesn’t lead anywhere.”

Overall, I think, I was able to deal with the transgender-related issues in my life in a reasonably positive manner because I saw them in perspective to everything else that was happening. (By the way, the picture shows me nineteen years ago when I was twenty-four.) Brazenly put, my life was a “shit-storm”, and in relation to all else, being a transgender man was just one of my bigger problems. I am an orphan; had a heavy case of spasticity as a child and could barely walk; my adoptive mom is a paranoid neurotic who turned my childhood into a minefield; and I was married twice under rather traumatic circumstances. I could continue. The list of challenges is long.

Nevertheless, self-pity or giving up was and is not ever a solution. A sense of humor is essential. And recognizing that everyone we look at has their own story to deal with. As cliché as it sounds, we are not alone in our pain.
When I look at myself and at my gift of compassion and understanding towards others, I am almost glad life kept throwing obstacles in my way. My soul definitely grew because of it. And the more happens, the more I survive, the more I know I can survive anything – WE, dear friends, can survive anything – except, of course, our inevitable death.

Here is to life! Let’s make the most of it.

Respect and Understanding

2013 goodbye bbq hodw

Just yesterday, I talked with another transgender man from Zurich, Switzerland. He asked me: Do you seek out other transgender people wherever you travel? And he proceeded to explain to me how much is wrong with the world; how we trans people are not understood as who we are; how society needs to change and embrace us; and how disrespectful it is to call us transsexuals…
I was reminded from the bottom of my heart why I usually avoid these encounters. I avoid them as I would avoid any other form of fundamentalism. It is unhealthy, judgmental, and paradoxically disrespectful by its very nature.

I love people and I love life. I love human beings in all shapes, colors, and forms. I love them for their diversity, their passion, their goodness, their stubbornness and their fallibility.
Why should I consciously seek out other trans people during my travels? Why should I limit myself to such an extent? Why should I not just walk the streets and open my heart towards any encounter? I have been blessed by meeting so many unforgettable characters already. Even the people in this picture, representing ‘only’ a four-year period of my life, are as diverse as they come. Crossing paths with them has changed my life forever – for the better. If you are going bald, will you henceforth travel the world only looking for bald people?

Yes, there is a lot wrong with the world, and there always will be. Human nature is what it is. But we can choose to look at the bad and see a threat in everything – or, we can choose to see the good and make the best of everything.

It is hard for human beings to understand what they do not know. How can someone who hasn’t been born in the wrong body ever really know what it feels like to be stranded in your own skin, like a traveler in an airport without a valid passport? How could I be so arrogant to ask them to change their entire world view just for me? How could I judge them? We all have very different journeys and are battling our own challenges and demons.
I have dozens of examples of what is hard to comprehend from my perspective. For example, I have trouble understanding strictly religious people. Or I don’t understand people who spend their entire lives in the same village. But it is their life, not mine. They have a right to their own freedom of mind. Who am I to say what is right or wrong for them? I don’t think anyone helps their cause by being judgmental or wagging a finger. We don’t help matters by taking ourselves too seriously.
What truly matters is respect and to let each other live the lives we have chosen to live. We don’t have to understand everything, and we can’t expect others to do so. We can only try, to the best of our abilities, to embrace each other the way we are.

Addressing the matter of being called transsexual: it doesn’t really mean much of anything. It is simply a way for people to try and give a label to someone like me, who was born in the wrong body – a body I needed to thoroughly change to become who I truly am. “Trans” essentially means to go from one thing or place to somewhere else. It can mean across, beyond, or changing thoroughly. “Sex” in English is simply another word for gender.

Problems seemingly horrendous for any of us, might not be as big as they seem. Many people are suffering, trying to fit in, trying to find themselves. We shouldn’t blow things out of proportion. I was being told, transgender people can get attacked or lose their jobs for being different. Yes, they can. But someone might also get attacked for being a foreigner, a christian, a hippie, a homosexual, a soccer fan rooting for the ‘wrong’ club, or maybe for simply being a student, wearing the ‘wrong’ clothes to school. I once got beaten up just because I asked some young men to be quiet during a movie. They had no idea I was a trans man.
People all around our planet lose jobs for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they are replaced by someone younger and cheaper, or maybe they don’t even get the job because someone doesn’t like their skin color or personality. It shouldn’t happen, but it does. We all face obstacles. I will not seek blame in others but take responsibility for my own actions. And if people tell me it can’t be done, I will try again and again until I find a way.
You don’t have to be transgender to find a multitude of problems in your life. And even if you are trans, 95% of your troubles will most likely be caused by things unrelated to your gender history.
Important is to remember our humanity. And to forgive each other for our shortcomings. Life is supposed to be hard. It is, in part, what makes our existence so beautiful and desirable.

I will keep doing what I have always been doing. I will try not to judge others. I will reach out and let myself be fascinated by the lives of my peers – and in my heart this term includes literally everyone. I will accept other humans as the beautiful people they are.
I will keep checking myself, for we all harbor prejudices, and sometimes those of us on the fringe of society are more prejudiced then your average Joe. I will keep positive and believe in the good of people – because I see evidence of it all around me every single day.

If we want respect, we have to first give respect to others. Some people believe, the only way to change the world is to make yourself heard, to force the issue. Sometimes, maybe, it can be necessary. But overall my life experience has shown me a far better way: life your life well, kind and compassionate and lead by example. You will touch the lives of those around you, creating a ripple in the ocean called humanity… and who knows where we will go from there… Anything is possible.

Sharing and Growth

2014 liam revisits aesch

A few days ago I passed by this beautiful old farmhouse. It was my very first home in Switzerland. I shared our half of the house with five amazing people who showed me what family and friendship are all about. We inspired each other, and were there for each other. Even though I stayed for only one year, I learned more than ever before.

Super 8

2014 oma on super 8

I spent the last few days visiting family. it’s funny how we react to extremes. My dad grew up surrounded by family as far as the eye could see – parents, uncles, aunts, cousins… Since then, what he craves most is simply to be alone.
I grew up having hardly any family at all. I have come to love my independence but, unlike my dad, I am aiming for a healthy balance. I feel happy connecting with relatives I have always liked but never had much opportunity to spend time with. Listening to their stories inspires me and makes my heart soar.
This last weekend, three generations sat together and watched Super 8 movies of family events reaching as far back as thirty years ago. Photographs can never live up to moving pictures. Seeing my grandma talk animatedly and smile was amazing. I wanted to reach into that silver screen and pull her out for just an instant to smack one last kiss onto her warm, wrinkly, old cheeks.
Seeing myself was interesting as well. I wore clothes way too big, in an attempt to hide my burgeoning bosom. Quite frankly, I looked a bit like a balloon.
Far more interesting however, was to see my posture, my smile and mannerisms. It confirmed what I already knew: I haven’t changed much at all. I was homeless in the wrong body, but I was always Liam. I still laugh the same, love the same, move the same… but since those childhood and teenage years, I have come home in every sense of the word.
Lounging on the couch with my partner and my relatives, hearing everyone laughing and seeing them point each other out in the movies was a grand experience.
I was humbled by the open-mindedness of everyone as well. Here they were, right next to me in my adult, male shape and form, and every so often my wonderful aunt or someone else would exclaim happily, “Ah look, there you are Liam.” all the while pointing at the big-boobed teenaged girl on screen.
Is there anything more beautiful than to be accepted exactly as who you are?

Writing in the Sun

Sunshine in Zug 2014

This is my workspace for today, and all while visiting treasured friends in Zug, Switzerland. I am now working parallel on my 4th and 5th draft. Lots of revision to be done. I am still amazed by how crap my 3rd draft was…
My lecturers at the art academy taught me well many years ago: Don’t be satisfied with your work too quickly. Even if it seems to be good enough – revise, revise, revise. But then of course, you need to know when to stop so you don’t overshoot the mark. Happy Sunday everyone. Sending you sunshine from gorgeous Zug!

James Bond

1997 dressed up metropol

This picture was taken only days after I came out at my workplace and announced, “I am actually a man and would like to be called Liam from now on.” Everyone embraced who I was. My employer gracefully ignored my big boobs and sent me to the tailor to get my very first tailor-made suit. All thumbs, I never managed to tie my own ties. But, thanks to the lovely ladies at the ticket office who helped me every day, I was just a short step away from looking as dashing as James Bond.

Oma

1987 oma and frau schmid

This is my oma (German for grandma) with her best friend. Oma left us on 26th December 1996. Today, she would have turned 105 years old. Whatever happens, she will always live on in my memories – and in all of yours, I hope.
My book will be dedicated to her. Everything you will read will be in large part thanks to Frida Klenk – my amazing, irreplaceable oma. Throughout my youth she was always there for me, lifting me up with her gracious heart, her strength, her smile and her undefeatable optimism. Happy birthday Oma! Thanks for helping me grow into the positive force I am today. I am sending you the biggest hug imaginable. I love you.