Confidence

2002 hat and suit session 3

In 2002, a friend took this photograph. I felt very confident at the time, like a forgotten orchid suddenly receiving the right amount of sunshine, water, nutrients, and inner strength to bloom into an amazing being.

Still though, at that point, I found it hard to take off my shirt, because I was worried far too much about how others might react to the sizeable scars across my chest. It had been a few years since my gender reassignment surgeries but, like a fugitive on the run, I expected trouble from all directions at any time. Everything was still too raw emotionally. No matter how unhappy and incomplete I had felt growing up in the “wrong” body, my mind now wasn’t just at rest after the reassignment. I needed some time to get accustomed to my “new” body, in all its beauty and imperfection.

I was far too tuned to my surroundings and got upset about the smallest comments. I even gave up a friendship once because my buddy chose the somewhat unfortunate phrase “you’re neither fish nor fowl” to describe me. Years later, I smiled at my lack of confidence and my consequently harsh response. In a state of emergency it had been hard to see the bigger picture and relax about simply being myself. My friend had never meant me any harm. Like me he had merely dealt with adjusting to sizeable changes.

Over the years, I pushed myself into extreme situations to learn and grow. The remedy to overcoming feeling awkward about people seeing my scars, for instance, came in the form of me working four years abroad as a snorkel guide and diving instructor, in a strict Muslim country, in nothing but my swim shorts. Today, I don’t even think about my scars anymore, and, as it turns out, neither do those around me.

The overall issue of confidence is a lifelong struggle. Words or looks can still throw me off balance. I know now, however, that I am not alone in this. Depending on our daily form and a combination of factors we all have days during which we feel less stable, and others during which even a tornado wouldn’t be able to throw us off base.

I guess the main thing is to forgive ourselves our imperfections, be they protruding ears, pimples, a lack of six-pack, being born in the wrong body, or any number of underlying reasons. After all, it is our imperfections just as much as our strengths that make us unique and beautiful. How humble and kind we deal with both shapes us and defines our character. It is a long-term learning process I am immensely grateful for.

He to She

2015 gzira barber

When we first arrived in Gzira, Malta, I couldn’t help but notice this cute sign. I would pass it every day, chuckling to myself as I imagined this tiny space to be a secret clinic for gender transitions. Of course, Gzira’s “He to She” is only a small neighborhood barber shop. Being a transgender male who doesn’t take himself too seriously, I became a regular. As imagination and humor swept me away, I would just barely manage to contain my laughter each time I went for a high-speed Maltese haircut.

Coming Home

2008 palau-liam and dave

Not in the jungle right now, but on the move again… just like in 2008, when I explored the Palauan rain forest together with my best buddy Dave, I am excited and happy. This time, however, it is an adventure of a different nature: In two days, Hanna and I will pack ourselves, two cats, and quite a few heavy bags into a rental car and drive from Malta to Zurich, Switzerland.
For me this move marks a coming home after ten years of exotic adventures as well as an entirely new beginning. Even more amazing, I finally feel I am mature enough to enjoy settling down in a place I’ve always loved.

Meant To Be

2013 marktluecke balcony

I’ve always believed in signs. If I hadn’t, then this last month surely would have changed my mind…

It all started with me writing an old buddy in Zurich, asking, “Hey, if you guys ever have an opening in your team, could you let me know?”

Five minutes later, I get an email, “What a coincidence. I just got back from a long vacation, first day back in the office, and we do have an opening right now.”

Two weeks later, I fly over for the interview and get upgraded to business class for the very first time in my life.

The interview day is so positive, it’s almost eerie. Even though I am as nervous as a giddy first grader approaching the school gate for the first time, I feel comfortable with everyone. The office is located in my favorite part of town and from the meeting room I’m put in for a whole series of interviews, I can see Zurich’s Uetliberg on which I used to spend many happy hours.

Upon returning to Malta, strange things happen. The next day, early morning, I decide to stop being lazy and take the stairs in our apartment building for the first time in weeks. Three floors down, I find a trapped dove. On the fourth attempt of throwing my sweater over it, I finally succeed. I manage to pin the delicate bird securely between my hands, walk down six more floors and upon reaching the street raise the sweater high above my head. I open it up towards the sky. The dove sits there for a long moment, stunned, then takes off soaring into freedom. Being overly romantic by nature, I can’t help but wonder, “Does this mean we’ll soon be flying to a new life, too?”

Two weeks pass without a word. Waiting patiently for big decisions has never been my greatest strength. But just as I begin to doubt, I get the new monthly shift plan for my job here in Malta. The team leader coordinating it for our team is very conscientious and never forgets anything. Curiously, this month he has forgotten two entire weeks on my plan. According to this, I don’t work here anymore from end of June. “Is this another sign?”, I wonder.

The weeks seem to pass in slower-than-slow motion. My inbox refresh-button would have sores on it by now if it were a living being.

Then my wife and I travel to her sister’s wedding in Korea where we have wireless everywhere and spend too much of our time continuing to refresh that inbox.

A week later, still waiting, we travel back to Malta via Paris and Amsterdam. In Amsterdam we have a long layover and spend the night in a hotel room. After seventeen hours of traveling, we collapse on our hotel bed and fall asleep instantly. The next morning as we relax on the bed, I notice a nice painting on the wall across from our bed. “That’s a great watercolor of Amsterdam,” I think. Then, “Wait a minute, that’s not Amsterdam!” Sitting up straight on the bed, eyes wide in wonder, my wife and I realize that we have booked the one hotel room out of a thousand in this huge hotel, sporting a watercolor painting of Zurich. We look at each other with goofy smiles on our faces, sensing something like magic in the room.

Five days later, I get the long-awaited email. Such a little thing… a click on a button, a small link on the screen, a few lines of text… but in the end this little thing can determine the course of a life. It can make all the difference.

Scared out of my wits at first, I finally open the email with closed eyes. When I squint a little, I see, “It is my pleasure to inform you…” and breathe out with a long sigh. Minutes later when the first shock has worn off, both my wife and I whoop with joy.

So, after ten years of living abroad, I’ll be coming home. Better yet, I’ll be coming home with my soul mate, and I’ll be able to work in a profession I enjoy. I’ll be having lunch breaks in Zurich’s Niederdorf, at the River Limmat, one of the places in this world that has always enchanted me.

I am so grateful life is leading us in this direction. And, I am sure, with every happy fibre of my heart: This is meant to be.

It is so ordered.

2015 old couple getting married

“The first gay couple was just married in Dallas today. An 82 yr old and an 85 yr old man finally got to be recognized as legally married in the city they call home. The world just became a little bit brighter in our corner of North Texas.”

As I read through my various online newsfeeds, tears of joy keep welling up. I smile, laugh out loud, and rejoice in this positive humanitarian milestone. I bow my head in respect to the US Supreme Court. Well done. Here is to love, humanity, freedom, equality, and mutual respect!
There will be outrage from some sides, I’m sure, but no matter what will happen, one fact will remain: we have caught a rare glimpse of humanity at its best.
Halfway across the globe in Malta we can feel the Earth shaking as rainbows light up our lives and even the Mediterranean sun is celebrating, glowing brighter and warmer than ever before.

Behind the Scenes

Beautiful backstage video of the show I dedicated four years of my life to. I was just one little cog in the giant mechanism of this masterpiece, staying with it as an underwater coach and show diver from training and formation through creation through to operation. I ended up working more than one thousand shows behind the scenes and trained most of the artists between 2009 and 2012 for their underwater exits and entries.
During creation, our director used to say “let’s shake the stage.” And we did, twice every day. Shaking not just the physical stage of our theater but also the individual stages of our lives, growing far beyond our years while performing at our utmost best every single day. Living in this show family was heaven and hell, Jekyll and Hyde and all shades in between. Life’s learning curve has never been steeper.

Thank you Mr. King

one with the wave

I read something this morning that lifted my spirits, a quote by Stephen King: “The only mortal sin is giving up.”
Thank you Mr. King, I needed this today.
The last four weeks have been hard. I am waiting for a decision. It’s nothing earth-shattering. I applied for a job. Still, a “yes” will be life-changing. It will mean to be able to move back home, be amongst my most trusted friends and family, and do something I like doing (whilst also having enough time, energy, and money to continue with publishing my book).
As I wait, all seems to come to a standstill. I can’t help but be obsessively focused on the question of what the answer will be. Time seems to stretch and everything seems to slow down to a crawl slower than that of a tortoise on diazepam.
Of course, I am aware that life will continue and our planet will still rotate no matter what will happen.
So I breathe, do gardening, read, cuddle my cats, and gaze into the eyes of the woman I love. As the weeks pass and my sense of insecurity grows, I remind myself that I am worthy. I have done all I could, shown an immense amount of motivation and dedication. All else is out of my hands.
Some years ago, when equally important decisions loomed, I painted myself, standing firm, enveloped by huge waves crashing all around me. That time has come again: to stand firm, believe in myself and have faith in the ways of the world.