Rian: GaySA Radio, where you are family. I’m Rian and online with me, Niels Jansen. Niels?
Niels: Yip? Hi.
Rian: And you are the current Mr Gay Europe?
Niels: Well I am the first runner-up
Rian: The first runner-up, sorry. You are Mr Gay Denmark, that you are?
Niels: Yes, I am.
Rian: Now I think what makes this very interesting and very unique, it’s you are also transgendered?
Niels: Yes, that’s correct.
Rian: And it’s the first time in seventeen years that this has happened in Denmark?
Niels: Well, it’s the first that a transgender man has ever won a national Mr Gay competition anywhere.
Rian: Wow, congratulations.
Niels: Ja, thank you
Rian: Now I’ve got a million and one questions, and I think I’m going to start asking you about your trans journey. How did your trans journey start?
Niels: Well, I don’t know if I’d call it a journey because it’s just my life, kind of, but I came out when I was thirty eight, so that was about six and a half years ago, and then I started my transition pretty fast, I got on hormones, got a bunch of surgeries and I got it over with pretty quickly. Once I realised that, you know, this was what I wanted I had the opportunity to get hormones really fast because in Denmark at the time, there were gynaecologists that sort of in protest against the system that we had, just gave us hormones, which was really good because I started about two months after I came out, and my surgeries, I’ve done two in Germany, which I paid for myself and one in Serbia which I also paid for myself, so I’ve been self-pay all the way which is why I could do it fast.
Rian: How did you realise you were different, I mean you must have known, always?
Niels: Well that’s kind of… I knew there was something wrong with me but I didn’t know what it was, and the weird is that, like a lot of trans guys did describe that “Yeah, I always knew that I was a boy“, well I didn’t. But I always knew I was different and I think that for a long time I figured that it was because I was smart, because that makes me different too and I knew that I was smarter than most other kids so I figured oh okay, that’s probably what it is, and I went on to puberty and that sucked, but then I just figured okay, well all kids have problems in puberty and that’s probably why I feel so bad, and it was never kind of obvious to me that I was trans until I kind of started to explore why I had these feelings, why I was so masculine, why I just felt more comfortable in you know, men’s clothes rather than women’s clothes, and what all of this was about, and I think the kind of thing that really made me realise was that I figured out you could be gay and trans, because I’ve always been attracted to men, and every single time I heard about trans guys it was oh, you’re some sort of lesbian, then you transition, then you become a straight man, that’s the narrative. So I never heard or met anybody that said yeah, I’m gay, and when I realised that you could do that, that’s when I started going oh okay, maybe I’m a trans guy, but when I started hormones I was pretty much like okay, I’m going to try this, I’m gonna see what happens, if it’s not for me then it’s not for me but at least I tried it. And so I had my first dose of testosterone and I knew immediately that this was the right thing for me, immediately. It was like I woke up, so for me it’s always been kind of like a physical thing, I didn’t know what the story was, if somebody had described it to me I think I would have recognised it immediately but there just were no descriptions.
Rian: You mentioned dysphoria, did you suffer from dysphoria at all, but you didn’t have a name to put to it? What did you go through?
Niels: Yeah, well I had anxiety pretty much since the beginning of puberty, but always it just intensified during puberty. I had depression, I couldn’t let anybody touch me at all, if I gave a hug to somebody it always felt wrong, it felt like I had to pull away because there was something in the way, that I didn’t want to be there, so I just couldn’t get physically close to anybody and I just felt bad about the whole thing but I just didn’t have the words to describe what this thing meant. I think a lot of the times when people describe their trans state they’re having this mystical feeling of always knowing and I think for a lot of trans people that’s true and that’s very true, they always knew, but for me it wasn’t like that. It was just, something was wrong and I didn’t know how to describe it but once I sort of came out as trans and decided I’m going to try to transition physically, immediately when I got given testosterone I knew that this was what was missing because the thing is men, when they don’t have enough testosterone in their blood, they get depressed and anxious and all those kind of things, we see this in the male menopause, that testosterone levels get lower and men start feeling bad, and I just had this my whole life, basically. I did not have enough testosterone in my blood and once I got it I felt so much better that I knew that that was it, it was just a chemical thing, like an anatomical, chemical thing for me. It wasn’t about feeling my gender as much as just knowing that this is the right kind of body for me.
Rian: And you say it took you thirty eight years to get to that point?
Niels: Well yes, it took a long time. Pretty much, I needed the internet to be invented, that was one thing, and second I needed somebody to write about this in a way that I could relate to, which was also… because I was looking but I think I was looking for the wrong things. I was searching for discomfort with my body and you know, the stuff that came up, it was always about well, sometimes intelligent women have issues with their bodies because they’re a true intellectual and this is what you do about it and blah, blah, blah, which didn’t really fit me but that was… you know, if you don’t know what you’re looking for it’s kind of hard to find it.
Rian: When you realised that this was the case, what did you go through? Was it difficult to cope with it, to come to terms with it?
Niels: It was, it took about I think six months really, when I realised that I could be gay and trans to kind of convince myself that this was the right thing because there’s a lot of things that you have to give up. Like I had tried to build an identity as a woman and tried to kind of fit into that even though it never worked but it’s hard, for something you’ve been trying to do for a long time and saying I can’t do it, I really can’t do it, I’m going to try something different. So that was kind of a struggle, but once I did that I just felt so much better, having this, you know, I’m going to give up and I’m just going to be me, I’m going to try and do that and it just worked for me, so I think it’s always kind of a struggle to realise who you are. Even, I went to a group of gay men who’d come out late in life and their experiences, they were cisgender gay men, but their experiences rang true to me too. I mean they had also been to counselling and trying to figure out what’s wrong with their wives and stuff and then you know, late in life like in their forties and fifties they just realised oh, I’m gay, that’s what it is. So I think some of us just come out late, we just don’t know, we’re looking for it and once we find it we realise, and I think that, I hope that in the future trans people will come out earlier because it’s a long time to live in a state of distress, which is what it was for me. My body was giving me stress and was making me ill and I think in order to do that, in order to have that future we need to talk about what it really feels like to be trans, and what it feels like for me. For me it was like I couldn’t reconcile my gender expression with the fact that I was attracted to men, that just didn’t work, and so what I’m trying to do is you know, just putting my story out there, saying this is how I felt, if somebody feels that way you might want to explore, things like that, but I also know that every single trans person is different and might come out in different ways, and come out as different things, so I’m just putting myself out there as an example, not as a template that everybody has to follow because everybody’s different.
Rian: I think that one of the things you mentioned now which is absolutely such a misconception about is that whatever gender you are, if you go for gender reassignment or have your gender marker kind of changed, people believe that you now kind of have to go for the opposite gender, and that’s not the case.
Niels: Not for everybody.
Rian: Not for everybody, no.
Niels: For me it was kind of obvious, yeah, I’m a man and I had my gender marker changed. At the time in Denmark I had to get castrated to get my gender marker changed. Now I was part of the group of trans people that together with MC International made a campaign to have the law changed. So what the law is now is you just have to tell them you want your gender marker changed, wait six months and then get it changed, so that was kind of my first human rights victory, is being part of the group of people because I got up and I told my story on TV and different news media and said I had to get castrated to get my gender marker changed, that is not right that there’s this state that decides what kind of body I should have and that is not right, and together with a bunch of other people who told their stories, we actually went in to politicians and we made them change the law. I think we were the third country in the world to change the law so you don’t have any kind of declaration from a doctor or need any kind of surgery, it’s just on your own say-so alone. But I had to be castrated to have my gender marker changed, but a lot of people don’t want that castration, they don’t want their body to be changed and I think that’s totally fine, you are what you say you are. Unfortunately we couldn’t change the law to include an option that is not male or female, like a third option. We’re working on it, I think it’s something that’s coming but the thing about it is we have social security numbers and the last digit in that number is either odd or even and if it’s odd you’re male, if it’s even you’re female, so every single system we have depends on that number, so if you want to change that it’s a big deal, it’s an expensive deal. So we’re still working on it but it’s gonna be a while unfortunately.
Rian: You were talking about the hormone replacement therapy as well, how easily accessible is it, because I know here in South Africa there are some difficulties, especially if you go from male to female?
NIels: Yeah, I mean I of course went from female to male, which is testosterone which, I was so lucky, I came out in 2012 and the system we have here in Denmark is horrible, it’s absolutely terrible. We have clinics where you have to go and you have to convince them you are what you say you are, so they put you through psychological tests, IQ tests, they ask you all types of invasive questions. It used to be that they would have your parents come in and then they ask them questions about your childhood, so we’ve changed that too but the way it was in 2012, I just could not deal with this. I mean at the time they also did not accept gay people, if you were gay you had to go to like, extra special, long time in order to get your treatment, so I just didn’t want to do that, and fortunately at that time there were doctors in Denmark who also thought this system was really, really bad and really, really you know, a human rights violation, so as a protest they gave us hormones, just from a conversation. I went there, I had a nice conversation, I talked about my physical health, I talked about why I wanted the hormones and the doctor said “Okay, I’m going to prescribe you this, take it. If it doesn’t feel right tell me immediately and stop immediately, if it does feel right then that’s good.” And then I had to come in about two weeks after to get my blood work and to talk about how I felt, I had to come back after a month and again blood work and talk about how I felt, and so that was shut down by the way, by the government. So what happened was they threatened to take this doctor’s authorisation to be a doctor and that he had to send everybody to the clinic, then they realised there were about two hundred people he had in his care and so they couldn’t do that, so they told him instead okay, you can’t give any more people hormones but those that already have the hormones, they can stay and have their hormones until we figure out what we have to do, and so that’s what happened to me, is that the government actually threatened to take away all of our hormones and then they realised how many there were and then we got to keep doing our hormones, and in the meantime I was castrated and then the law is different because when you’re castrated, you now have a physical problem, not a mental problem, so if you don’t produce any hormones yourself you can get hormones just from any doctor, so that was kind of my process. So I was pretty fortunate that I just happened to come out at a time where I could access hormones pretty easily. As far as surgeries go, I had my surgeries in Germany, there’s a hospital down there that most Danish trans guys go to for top surgery and castration and then I had my metoidioplasty surgery in Serbia where a lot of guys go to have that particular surgery so I was fortunate enough to have enough money to pay for it, I mean that’s another barrier in a lot of places, like I’m not allowed to pay for it in Denmark even now, so if some doctor wanted to do a top surgery and he was qualified, he wouldn’t be allowed to do it, even if I had the money to pay for it, I had to go somewhere else. So in terms of gate-keeping I was pretty lucky, but it depended on me being at the right place at the right time and also having money to do it.
Rian: What was the most difficult things that you’ve gone through on your journey so far?
Niels: Well, there’s been a lot but I think the one that hurt the most was, I had my surgeries, I was well into my transition, I was done with all the physical parts, and I met this guy at a party and we got to talking and it turned out he was gay too and we then went on a date and then after he kind of ghosted me and then after a couple of days he wrote to me that he really liked me but he couldn’t date me because I was trans, and that was really… that broke my heart because I really liked this guy and I know he liked me too, but the fact that I was trans was, and he didn’t even say something nice, he didn’t even say something like “No, I can’t do it right now” or anything like that, it was just “You’re trans, I can’t be with you” and that really hurt me because being rejected like that at a time when I couldn’t really do anything else, I’d had my surgeries, I was in a good place with myself, I was in a good place with my body, it was finally, everything was finally right and then realising that I now live in a culture where I am a secondary citizen and it’s perfectly okay to reject me just for being who I am, and you know, being in that situation, this is something that I couldn’t change, there was no amount of surgeries or anything I could do to help this, to change the gay community to actually accept me as an equal and that was hard. I really struggled with that for a long, long time and I guess I still am somehow because I’m still trying to do things that will make the gay community realise that I do belong here, that I am, you know, it doesn’t make you straight or bi to be with me, I’m a man just like anybody else and I think it’s something that we really need to work on because even though that I’m seen as a man in all other aspects of my life, when it comes to dating, when it comes to men, I’m still not accepted and that’s really hard. I’m really struggling with this and I don’t know what to do about it. I don’t know how to fix it.
Rian: I think that’s a common thing that happens specifically, and I’m not criticising here, I’m gay myself and I hang my head in shame for my gay brothers and sisters out there because that’s a common thing that happens is once you’ve gone through your transition, suddenly it’s like you don’t belong anywhere, you don’t fit into the gay community and now you don’t fit into the straight community and it’s like people feel lost.
Niels: Right, but I think it is not just for being trans because I did this project, I’m doing this project for Mr Gay Europe, and it was about collecting stories on how gay men are hurt by others in the LGBT community, and I talked to men of colour, I talked to men that had physical disability and I talked to men that had a different religion than the common one and all sharing this experience with me. It’s not just me, it’s everybody that kind of doesn’t fit into this culture and I’m still working on it but I’m sort of wondering if we can’t take this commonality to make this a more inclusive place because a lot of us don’t feel that we fit in, and we try to, it just doesn’t work.
Rian: Don’t you think that that’s from, all our lives we’ve fought to be inclusive in everything as gay people, and now suddenly we are inclusive but we are sort of doing exactly what was done to us to minorities within our groups?
Niels: I mean it’s a common thing you know, minorities, they’re actually more hurtful to each other than towards the majority, and I feel this specifically in the transgender community can be a very harsh place to be because people are struggling with their mental health and they’re very oppressed by society, so we oppress each other and I actually feel that the gay community is better than the trans community, just in terms of being inclusive because it’s a less oppressed community, it’s still there, there’s a lot of oppressing going on but it’s less. So I think in order to fix this we really need to decrease the pressure from the outside because then we’ll be better able to be there for each other and just be more accepting. I mean for myself I know that in the beginning of my transition I was very much “This is just the way to be a trans guy, and my way is the only way and if somebody is different that feels awkward for me and that feel wrong,” to now where I’m just like “yeah, do you, be yourself, I’m me, so that’s fine.” So it also depends on how mentally healthy you are. Are you in a good place in your place because if you are then everybody else being different doesn’t really bother you, but if you’re struggling with your identity, if you struggle with who you are, if you don’t fit in, if you feel lonely then somebody else being different is kind of a threat to you. Then we have all these different communities, you know we have the bears and the leather-gays and you know, the drag queens and the twinks and we all divide ourselves up in these different cliques in order to have some place to fit in, but if you’re comfortable with yourself you fit in anywhere. It’s just the fact that we’re so oppressed still, even in countries like yours or mine that are pretty liberal and open and where the laws are good, we’re still oppressed because we grow up in a society where we don’t fit in and so carrying that shame with us just messes us up, so we have a long way to go, all of us and just think that if I can do something about that I want to do it because I’m kind of standing outside of it. I mean I’m the person that they don’t let into this society, so if I could just say hey, there’s a lot of us standing outside of this and maybe there are more of us standing outside that aren’t included and maybe if we could start a conversation about that we can help each other. At least that’s what I’m hoping to do with my project, and with doing this whole Mr Gay thing. I’m trying to change gay culture, which is a big job, and I can’t do it alone but I think I can at least start some conversations about it because I think it would help a lot of people, not just trans guys, just a lot of people.
Rian: I think we tend to just sort of… I think the other thing we tend to do is we tend to label. We are just so quick to label and say you’re trans and your issues don’t affect my issues, but at the end of the day it’s common issues that affect all of us.
Niels: Right, and I think we have a tendency to label each other just to have some sort of identity for ourselves because we feel lost. If we don’t fit into a box it doesn’t feel good, I mean human beings, we need to socialise with other human beings, and in order to do that, if you grab a label and put it on yourself at least you’re in that box and you can socialise with those that are in the same box, but it doesn’t feel real good. It doesn’t feel like real human contact and I think there’s a distinct lack, and I don’t think it’s just in the gay community, but I think when everything is online and social media, there’s a lack of intimacy in the world and I think we need to figure out how to solve that problem, and I’m just trying to figure that out in the gay community. How do we actually start talking to each other? How do we get beyond the screens that we sit behind, how do we do that? And I know there’s a lot of cool people that are working on this from different angles but it’s a common problem in the world we live in and I don’t know how to fix it but I think we have to try.
Rian: I agree completely, it’s become a very cold and impersonal place.
Niels: Yes. And especially in the gay community where some people only in touch with the community through GrindR and Scruff and Hornet or whatever you’re using, and if that’s your only way to contact the community you’re not gonna have a very good image of what this community is. I mean, because it’s harsh and people are really, really harsh to each other and if that’s your only way to contact guys that are into other guys, you’re gonna have a problem with your self-image I think. So I don’t know, social media has done a lot of good. We can contact each other, we can find each other across great distances and that’s all good but it also does something to us that’s not good and we need to kind of figure this out really fast because social media is affecting the way that political things are working like the American election, like the Brexit election, it’s this beast that we created and we don’t know where it’s gonna take us, and I think it’s one of the great problems that we have to solve.
Rian: Talking about beasts, if we look back again on your journey, your darkest hour, would you say going through this break-up experience was your darkest hour or did it get darker than that?
Niels: Well, I think that was really hard, I mean that just brought up all my anxiety and stuff. Like I’ve never been suicidal, it’s just not my thing but I’ve been very depressed and I’ve been, I’ve had days where I couldn’t leave my bed, not just my house but my bed. I couldn’t get up, I didn’t have the energy, I didn’t have the inner strength to do that, so I guess that’s hard too, you know, that you just… but it’s hard to describe depression because it’s not necessarily a sad feeling for me, it’s just a lack of initiative, it’s a lack of energy and so I guess that’s… and I get that a lot, I’ve had that happen a lot to me, but also things have gotten better and better. Obviously taking testosterone helped me enormously and being in therapy, I have a really good therapist that helps a lot to just deal with being in this world as a minority, so I’ve always been somebody who just kept going no matter how bad things got. I just kept going and I think coming out was the only way to keep on going so I had to be in a place mentally where I was up against a wall and it was just time to make such a drastic change in my life because I think I would have just muddled along and tried to make things work as long as I possibly could, and then when I couldn’t do that anymore I had to really face some hard truths about myself. So that process was dark too but I’ve never been suicidal, which I think makes me in the minority or trans people actually. I don’t think it’s in my nature, it’s just that I have to figure out how to solve a problem and as long as there’s a problem I’m going to try to solve it.
Rian: I think the other thing that I’ve kind of spoken to, especially one of the rare occasions where I’ve got a girl that’s gone through the transformation going to a man, but most men going over to transformations as women spoke about is the difficulties going on to the hormone replacements for them and emotionally how they suddenly started crying more. Was this a difficult time for you on the testosterone?
Niels: No, testosterone is like a happiness drug, it really is. So much energy in the beginning, I was just so… you know, I went to the gym a lot, it was just… testosterone is amazing and it still is, like I still know when it’s time to take my shot, I know it because I start feeling bad and the anxiety starts coming back and I feel that lack of initiative, so testosterone is just amazing, there’s no two ways about it, it just fits me. My brain needs it, and so I think the interesting part is how differently you’re treated in society. Obviously since I transitioned to male, I suddenly have a higher status in society and I think a lot of people that go the other way have a rude awakening to how women are treated in the world and that’s something I know from my past, being perceived as a woman I’ve been through a lot of things like how sexism really works and stuff like that. I know this, but now there’s just a freedom to this, there’s a freedom to this anonymity because before, I stuck out. Like I looked like a butch lesbian and everybody in my friends and family, I was eventually going around as lesbian because that was the stereotype that I fit into. Like I’d always been attracted to guys so that didn’t really work for me but that’s what I looked like, so I was yelled at in the street, I just looked different. Kids would come up to me and ask me if I was a boy or a girl or stuff like that. I was just, I stuck out and I don’t stick out anymore at all. I just blend in and that gives me a lot of freedom but it’s also kind of like I don’t like being anonymous. I kind of like being somebody that people notice, and I have to work for it now a lot and I think it’s really weird also how different the expectations of you are. Like I remember I was walking down the street and this woman had two starter cables and her battery was dead, and she looked at me and she said “You’re a man, you know how to do this,” and I did not know how to do it but I was like okay, positive, that must be the red one and negative, that’s the blue one, and there’s the other car, and luckily some other guy who actually knew what he was doing came by and I didn’t have to do anything, but just the expectation of things that I know how to do that I really don’t know how to do, but it was just this positive thing, okay, maybe I do know how to do this, and that I’d never experienced, you know, being perceived as female I was always expected not to know how to do things and people were surprised when I knew how to do them, but being perceived as the man that I am, suddenly I’m perceived as somebody who knows what they’re doing and I don’t always know what I’m doing, especially when it comes to mechanics and stuff but just that, it gives you a boost of self-confidence, that people trust you to know how to do things, and especially in my workplace, I’m a software developer, it really was a rude awakening because once I, there’s a lot of online forums where you can ask for help, you know. You say this is my problem, how can I fix this, and when I had a female name people would just jump on themselves in order to help me to fix it and just take me all the way there, and once I started having a male name it was like “You can do this”, and then you know, I had to fix it myself, right? And for me it was like, are people really rude now, they’re not helping me anymore and actually I think it’s a vote of confidence you know, they don’t want to offend me by teaching me things that I should be knowing already so they want to give me a hint but not be extremely helpful, so that was really weird. There’s a higher expectation and people help you less, people help you a lot less, and I think it’s about… there’s a lot of pride there, I’m supposed to be too proud to receive help but actually I’m not. If I ask for help I actually need it. There’s a lot of mechanisms there that are just weird and that you kind of have to figure out how to navigate and you know, some things are just surprising.
Rian: On this journey were there anyone who supported you?
Niels: Yeah, I mean my family obviously, if that’s not obvious, a lot of families don’t but I was pretty lucky because my family just immediately said “okay, that makes sense.” I mean it did make sense. Once you kind of wrap your head around the fact that I’m a man, I use different pronouns, I have a different name, it kind of… like looking at my life, if you’d known me all my life it did make sense, it wasn’t like a big surprise. If you know the concept of a trans guy it’s like “Oh, okay, that explains a lot actually,” and the people that were in my life, they were still there, I mean I lost some friends but it’s more because of this thing I call being a tranzilla. Like if you’re a bridezilla and you’re getting married, everything is about the wedding, or you’re having a baby and everything is about the baby, and if you’re transitioning, then everything in your life us about transitioning and the friends you used to have, they may not be as interested as you are in this thing that you’re going through, and I think that that’s part of why I lost a couple of friends. It wasn’t that I was trans, I was just obsessed with my transition and what was happening with my body and stuff.
Rian: And that you cal tranzilla?
Niels: A tranzilla, yes.
Rian: I have to, I’m going to steal that from you.
Niels: Yeah. Everybody goes through it, it’s like you’re obsessed because every single hair on your face needs to be looked at and analysed, and if they’re… it took me like two years to get to even be able to grow facial hair, but it was very important to me to be able to do that. So you are in this huge think in your life that just takes all of your attention and your friends might not be there, they might be doing something else, and I think that’s… I mean I didn’t lose friends because I was trans, it was because I was obsessed basically, and also I think the kind of friends you make when you’re in a bad place in your life, it’s not necessarily the kinds of friends you want to have when you get over it and you get better and you’re in a different place. It just, you know, the friends you make are kind of usually at the same level as you, so they’re also kind of messed up, and when you’re not messed up anymore it’s kind of like “I’ve got to find some new friends”. So yeah, a lot of things goes on there, but my family’s always been supportive of me and that I’m extremely grateful for and of course also I had the support of my doctors basically, who gave me hormones when it was you know, kind of illegal, and surgeons and people that are used to trans people are usually pretty good, so for that I’m thankful. So I’ve been pretty lucky and I’ve made new friends obviously, you know being a new identity and stuff and starting to be in the LGBT community, doing activism work like I do, you kind of create a new family, it’s like your rainbow family, so I had my original family but also the new one, and in that respect I’m pretty lucky I think.
Rian: How has this helped you to grow?
Niels: Oh wow, I think that’s really hard… I mean, at some point you have to decide what kind of man you want to be, because you’re transitioning, you’re being perceived as a man in society and what kind of man you want to be, you’ve got to think about that, and for me, I mean I’m a feminist, I always have been but I think it just intensified more, you know, being in this role, being at a higher level of privilege, it just made me more conscious about well, what can I do for those that don’t have the same level of privilege, and just seeing things in that manner is very central to who I am so I think that coming out as trans and figuring out who you are in this world is almost like getting a humanities education in itself because you have to figure out how do you want to tell your own narrative. There are a lot of narratives that are kind of put upon us and then there’s your own experience and you kind of have to figure out well, who am I? What is my view of this world that I live in? What is my view of gender, how do I feel about that? How do I be inclusive to others, how do I, you know, contribute to the world? So I think that I don’t know where I would be if I wasn’t trans, I mean for me it’s a very central part of my identity because it’s just giving me a different perspective on the world than other men have and for that I’m really grateful, so I think just going through something that’s hard and that changes you, it’s always going to make you grow in some way if it doesn’t destroy you, which it hasn’t for me, so it’s a really hard question because how do you… it’s who I am, it’s my definition of myself. It’s just like I’m really grateful because the thing is you also get a chance to just throw away a lot of baggage and start over. You can really start over if you want to and if you have toxic patterns of behaviour you can examine them and you can kind of say okay, I don’t want to do that anymore and you get this chance to become who you’re really meant to be and I’m doing that, I’m being the person that I’m really meant to be right now and you know, it’s a great opportunity. I’m very grateful for having gone through this even though there’s a lot of years that I feel that I wasted and I’ve had to go through, like immediately after I kind of got over the puberty stage of my transition, I went into the biggest mid-life crisis because I was like in my forties, I’d had this long life and I had this life ahead of me and I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it and so I was in a massive mid-life crisis and I’m not sure if it’s over yet but I think it is, but I had to figure out what do I want to do with my life. It’s something that happens in your forties, you’re kind of looking back at your life and a lot of it is over, and you’re getting older and you want to figure out what you’re doing, and so I had to go through all of that, so I had my puberty then I had my mid-life crisis and I don’t know, if you don’t grow from that then I don’t know what kind of person you are if you don’t grow from something like that, but yeah, I’m pretty happy with where I am right now all in all.
Rian: So that brings me to my next thing, so you’ve gone through puberty and through mid-life crisis, how far are you on your journey now, and that’s a bit of a double one for me, it’s like emotionally I think, and then also physically you mentioned you’ve gone through all of the operations and surgeries and stuff?
Niels: Right, I finished my physical transition in two years and two months. Basically from the start of hormones until I had my last surgery.
Rian: That’s very quick.
Niels: But that was because I needed it. I was like okay, it has to be now and it has to be done because I needed my body to feel right and it never did, so it was fast and then after that I think the line in the sand was okay, now my physical transition is over, it’s not really because you’re always… like what’s happening to me now, it’s more like ageing and losing my hair, things like that which is just a part of getting older but I don’t see it as transition related, I just see it as part of being a man so that part has been over for quite a while, I finished in 2014 so that’s done. However just in terms of emotionally, it’s still about finding my place in the world, it’s still about finding out what… I’m a gay man, I’m a transgender man, and it’s about finding out how I fit in, how do I change the world so it fits me better basically, because I don’t fit in and I don’t know, to be continued, it’s a process.
Rian: How are you coping today? If you look back at and compare it to the past?
Niels: Well, I’m doing pretty well, I mean last year I kind of had a crisis so I got back on anti-depressants, I’d been on anti-depressants for a long time, for like twelve years, and then I started on testosterone and then I got off them because I was feeling a lot better and now, because of the crisis I was having I got back on and I feel a lot better, I mean I wouldn’t have been able to do Mr Gay Denmark or Europe if I hadn’t gotten help. So this past year has kind of been, now I’m doing really well, what do I want to do with this? So I’m in a good place at the moment and I think I might have to see what happens if I don’t take the anti-depressants, am I going to need them the rest of my life or did I just need like a tick? And that’s going to be interesting to see what happens and I’m working on being happy and I think I’m doing really well. There’s still some minority stress obviously because we’re all dealing with that, you know, being a minority, the majority is never going to understand us and we’re always going to somehow be oppressed, and that I have to deal with, and I’m continuing to deal with that but mostly I’m in a good place right now, I’m in the right place at the moment and I feel that I’m doing things that I would have never thought I’d be able to do because doing Mr Gay Europe is hard, it’s like a week of constantly being with people and I’m an introvert and I’m really proud of myself just for having stuck with it and finished it. It’s not about winning for me, it was just being there and making my statement, and just going for it and finishing it, and I’m really proud of that, I’m really proud of my achievements and so I don’t know where to go from here but things are looking good basically, so I’m in a good place.
Rian: That brings me to the next one, what are you planning for the future?
Niels: Well, right now it’s mostly about continuing with my project, which I really want to do, which as I said before, is starting a conversation of how we treat each other in a community and how do we fix that, so I’m doing that and then also I’m going to Mr Gay World in April in Cape Town, so that’s also something I have to prepare for and the project is a part of that because I’m bringing it to that competition as well. I’m not expecting to place highly in that one but I’m just going because it’s important that somebody trans goes, I think it’s important to be the first person to pave the way for somebody else, and that’s what I’m trying to do.
Rian: Well I can tell you you have my vote in that competition.
Niels: Thank you very much.
Rian: What is great about being trans, would you say?
Niels: I think I talked a lot about it, it’s a way to, you know, you get to examine your life in a way that a lot of people just don’t get to and you get experiences of what the difference is between being seen as one gender and another, and gender is really fundamental in the way we view the world so it’s kind of like an eye-opener in a lot of ways and that’s great and I think yeah, it’s that opportunity to learn, that’s what I think is important.
Rian: The best things that have happened to you so far?
Niels: The best thing? That’s difficult, I mean there’s a lot of good things, like when we got the laws changed. We got two laws changed in Denmark; the first one was that we don’t need to be castrated in order to have our legal gender marker changed, and the second one was we were actually the first country in the world to remove trans people from the psychiatric list of disorders to a different place, so in Denmark we are no longer considered to have a psychiatric illness, which is really quite extraordinary. So those were good things, and my surgeries just in general, it’s like, amazing. It’s amazing to finally have a flat chest, it’s amazing to finally have a body that doesn’t feel wrong to you, and I mean I’m just so happy with how everything went and just the joy of being in this body every day is amazing and I’m so grateful that I was able to afford this and be able to do it. So I think transitioning physically for me was… it saved my life and it pains me to think that there are trans people out there that just cannot afford to get the treatment that they need and this is something that we need to fix somehow because it is life changing to finally be comfortable with who you are.
Rian: What is better than you could have ever wished for?
Niels: Every time I had a surgery I was always kind of well, I don’t know if this is going to be right, you know, I don’t know if this is going to be but I hope it will be better, and it just is that good. It is just so good to be able to… I mean even to be able to have sex frankly, because I wasn’t able to have sex before I had my surgeries at all. I wasn’t able to have anybody touch me at all, so just being able to do that, being able to be intimate with other people, not even sexually, just hugging, just being physically close to people, that’s pretty good. I’m pretty happy with that, so I mean, even though I’m not part of the gay community as such, there are places in the world that are much more accepting to trans men than Copenhagen is and I can go there and I can be part of the gay community and I think that’s the best part: It’s just being a guy among guys. I mean even during the Mr Gay Europe competition, I was there as an equal, I was not different than anybody else and it just feels so good just being part of it.
Rian: What has all of this taught you?
Niels: I don’t know, everything? But I think it’s so important to be able to trust yourself and I think that’s what was lacking for me before, it was like because my body was somehow sending wrong signal to me, I couldn’t really trust my gut feelings, you know, it was very difficult. It was this constant state of anxiety that… now I know who I am, I know that if I have a bad feeling about something it’s probably right and if I have a good feeling about something it’s probably right too. It’s just this internal feeling of being able to trust myself, that’s really good and I think that’s what it’s taught me, and also it’s taught me to be patient because I’m not a very patient person and transition is slow, even though I did it fast it is still very, very slow, and just having been forced to be patient, I think that’s what it’s taught me, that I actually can be patient if I have to, if I absolutely have to I can and just, I got to know myself a lot better and I think that’s what it taught me.
Rian: Any advice that you could give people on a similar journey to as you are?
Niels: Yeah, it’s listen to yourself. Don’t do something if it doesn’t feel right for you. Don’t have a surgery if you don’t really need it and don’t take hormones if you feel that it’s not the right path for you, you have to know that that’s what you want but also don’t be afraid to try things, don’t be afraid to try and buy a binder and see if that makes you feel better, don’t be afraid to try hormones because it doesn’t change you immediately, so if you try it and you feel better then you know you’re going in the right direction but don’t be afraid to try and then realise oh, this was not the right thing for me, it’s okay to try to transition in your way, to try to wear the kind of clothes you want to wear. So I think that that’s the best advice for somebody who is just starting out is don’t be afraid to try and listen to your gut. Listen to who you are, don’t try to be as everybody else. There’s no one way to be trans, there’s like as many ways as there are trans people and what’s right for you is not necessarily right for everybody else and that’s okay. If it’s about being gay, I don’t know, I don’t know how to fix being trans and gay and getting that whole thing to work out with dating and meeting guys and stuff. I don’t know what I’m doing, I would appreciate if somebody gave me advice about that, but I’m trying. I’m trying to live the best life that I can and to stay away from the toxic parts of the community and try to find energy in the people that are actually doing really good work for human rights and for things like that. So I don’t know, I’m gonna have to get back to you on that because I still don’t know what’s the proper way to be a gay man and how to navigate that whole thing. But I don’t know if anyone knows.
Rian: I’m going to take you up on that one, I think that’s a whole episode interview on its own is how to be a proper gay man, because I still haven’t figured that out Niels, I’m still struggling.
Niels: I don’t think anyone knows, I don’t think anybody knows, that’s the thing, and the reason why I think we need to be talking about this is what kind of gay community do we want, not the one that we have because we can all criticise GrindR and the bar scene and all that stuff but what do we actually want? That I think is worth a conversation.
Rian: And a very important conversation as well.
Rian: Niels, anything you want to add that I haven’t asked?
Niels: No, I think I talked a lot actually, maybe you’re going to have to edit this because sometimes I have a way of getting to the point by going out on some tangent and then reeling myself back in. But I hope you got what you needed.
Rian: I did, thank you so much.
Niels: Yes, okay.
Rian: GaySA Radio, where you are family. I’m Rian and that was Niels Jansen talking to us about his journey as a transgender man.