Posted on 25/06/2019 by kathrin

Mainz, Germany, July 2014

When I first arrive, a discussion among experts about ‘planes’ and ‘cars’ is sparked.
In the background, the little brother looks at me critically with his beautiful brown beady eyes.
‘He’s going to be a womanizer’, laughs Susan.
Susan is Asta’s wife. The two boys, 5 and 2 years old, are their sons. They’ve had two mommies for a few months now.

Around noon I left Heidelberg for Mainz to visit the young family. A trip through vineyards on a hot summer day. Now thunderstorms are on the horizon. The sky is dark, it is not raining yet. Maybe there is still time for a quick walk? ‘Mama, let’s visit the chicken!’ The boys grab their trainer bikes.

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We walk through the village and come onto dirt roads. The view sweeps over hills covered with cornfields. ‘I actually find the landscape quite boring. Especially in the winter, when you only look at bare fields. I grew up in the Odenwald (a low mountain range in Hesse, Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg in Germany). I miss the forests.’ Asta longs for fluctuation in the landscape. She and Susan still want to stay here and feel at home in the village community. They would like to buy a house in the village. ‘But this is the commuting area of Frankfurt. It’s very hard to find anything.’

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It’s an idyllic haven for children, chicken and all.

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Now it is starting to rain after all. Quickly we head back to the apartment.
The little one can’t go that fast, he wants and is allowed to go on Mama’s arm.

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Asta manages to rescue the German newspaper ‘Die Zeit’ from the mailbox.
Together we laugh about the fact that we are happy about the new issue every Thursday, but come around next Thursday we once again have only read one article. There is simply too much to do in life. Now, for Asta and Susan anyway.

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Asta still has to help a colleague with a problem, and then we sit down at the dining table. A stack of magazines and newspapers is next to children’s placemats. The little one quickly disappears into his room. His brother sits down with us for a moment, until our conversation gets boring for him, too.

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Asta talks fast, so fast that I can hardly keep up with my note taking. There’s so much to tell. ‘Even as a child, I knew that I was different. In puberty, the somewhat diffuse unclear feeling from childhood became quite clear: I was a girl or woman. I knew that at some point I would tell others about it.’

The pressure of suffering just had to get big enough.

Transgender, Lifestyle Fotograf, Kathrin Stahl-33In May 2013, Asta and a colleague are on their way to a congress in Monaco. The plane is delayed. Time to talk. The colleague says that he has been feeling bad for some time. Dejected, listless. The blame lies with his family and professional situation.
Asta recognizes herself in what the colleague describes. This dejectedness, this listlessness.
With Asta, the reason for this lay neither in her job nor in her family. ‘It suddenly became quite clear that I had to do something. Urgently. Otherwise, I would slip even further. I knew exactly where it was all coming from. And only I had the power to change something.’

From that moment on there was no other way.

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On the evening of the day she comes home from her business trip, she and Susan sit next to each other on the sofa. They are watching a film. ‘We are both fans of good movies. And I remember exactly which one it was that night: Martin Scorsese’s Hugo Cabret.’ Susan says that she was very surprised that her husband wasn’t paying much attention. ‘She wasn’t even noticing the story.’ Susan asks Asta ‘What’s going on?’ Asta becomes very quiet. ‘I must tell you something.’

‘When Asta had told me everything, I was almost relieved. I thought there was something else.’

‘She took me in her arms and this embrace still holds me today,’ Asta had written in her first mail to me. A sentence that touched me very deeply.

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It wasn’t until Asta spoke about hormone therapy a week later that Susan realized how important the issue really was. ‘What’s it like? Can it work?’ Susan asked herself. ‘I didn’t know all that yet. I could not and did not want to make any rash decisions.’

‘Now it increasingly feels as if it could work, doesn’t it?’ Asta inserts.
A loving smile serves as an answer.

The practical quickly came to the fore: who had to learn about it first? And how? Together Asta and Susan planned the next steps. ‘I didn’t suddenly go out on the street as a woman but proceeded very cautiously. I did the same for Susan, she should be able to get used to it slowly’. In the circle of acquaintances we “laid tracks”. Every week a new female little thing was added. “The anklet was Susan’s idea.”’ Her environment should not only know but also understand. ‘People can only accept what they know. That’s why educating is so important.’ Susan and Asta bought several copies of the book by Udo Rauchfleisch ‘Transidentity/Transsexuality: Anne becomes Tom – Klaus becomes Lara’ and gave it away to relatives and friends. ‘There are hardly any places relatives can turn to with their questions.’ The book answers many of them. The most difficult step was letting the children in on it. ‘I talked a lot with our older one. I told him that I had often been very sad and that I was feeling good now. That I would always be there for him. He was still afraid of losing his dad.’
Susan is standing next to us, she just came out of the kitchen where she is was preparing something for the boys to eat. She says ‘It really feels like someone has suddenly left.’

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Now, a few months later, it is quite normal for the children to have Mama Susan and Mama Asta.
There was no teasing by the other children in the day-care centre. One reason for this is certainly the openness of the teachers. ‘They really reacted very well. Their answer to my being a woman was “This is how life becomes more colourful”’.
For the older children in the day-care centre’s after-school care, the teachers organized an afternoon in which Asta sat with the children and answered their questions. A boy talks about a classmate of his brother who prefers to play with girls. Would he rather be a girl? ‘You can never know,’ is Asta’s answer.

‘I have two children. Two boys – so it seems at least so far – because I can say from my own experience, that can be deceiving.’ Another sentence from Asta’s first e-mail to me.

‘Say, would you like a coffee?’ asks Asta. ‘I’m a passionate coffee drinker.’
Asta designed the website for her cousin’s mobile coffee bar. As a thank you, he gave her a restored espresso machine. Today the cousin is a dentist; the espresso machine is still working. ‘Since then, the company’s brewed coffee no longer works for me,’ she laughs.
Asta studied media design, Susan communication design. ‘You’re sitting in a creative household.’

Asta graduated in 2006. In addition to her own diploma film, she produced another film during her diploma period. She then spent half a year in New Zealand. At that time Asta and Susan were already a couple. In 2007 Asta founded the company crosscut together with a friend. Media. Shortly afterward they moved to the apartment where they still live today.
‘My strategy was to always try something new. Anything but stagnation. Always doing something. Even while preparing for my final school exams I worked with a company that was one of the first in Germany to produce 3-D animation. At the age of 18, I was self-employed for the first time.’
She also didn’t just do sports. Asta trained for performance; triathlon at league level. Practice six days a week, three hours every day. ‘At least that didn’t leave any time to think.’

‘There was a lot of anxiety inside me about my outing. What if I can’t run away anymore? Will I still be as creative as I am now? It didn’t turn out the way I thought it would. Actually, I now have a completely different motivation. The miserable ruminating is gone. There is much more room in my head for new ideas.’

Asta had already been in therapy in her mid-20s.
‘Unfortunately, I found myself in the wrong place. In the sexual-therapeutic outpatient clinic in Frankfurt – which no longer exists today – during the second session, the therapist asked me “Why are you here again?”’
She switches to a therapist in Mainz. ‘When I told him about my feeling of having been born in the wrong body, he asked me about childhood abuse!’

‘The cognitive process took me a long time. This was still a long time before the internet of today. I had no opportunity to read anything anywhere’.
At the age of 18, Asta listened to a programme about trans sexuality for the first time. ‘On the one hand, what was described seemed very fitting. On the other hand, it was reported in a way that I didn’t want anything to do with it. The people introduced had all lost their families through their coming-out. They were all on welfare.’ Asta felt lost, she didn’t know whom to turn to.

‘When I had my coming out with my parents a few months ago, my father’s first question was ‘Do you already have a therapist?’ Astra’s father worked for a health insurance company. Now it turned out that he had already been entrusted with the subject of trans sexuality in the 80s. ‘Isn’t that crazy? Here I am running around – lost for years and feeling alone – and then this!’
Susan’s parents? ‘When they came to visit us for the first time in our new life, I had thought about asking Asta to take off her bra. My therapist said, ‘You can’t protect anyone from change.’ And that’s the way it is. They should know right away what’s going on. It wasn’t and isn’t easy for them.’

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Susan and Asta sit opposite me.
They have a lovely relationship. While talking they look each other in the eye. Again and again appreciative gestures, a caress. There is much respect for the other to be felt.
‘Our relationship has become very close again through the many conversations’, says Susan. ‘I hadn’t even noticed the intensity of the suffering that Asta had to endure until recently. Sure, I felt there was something there. But I didn’t know what it was.’

When Susan got pregnant for the first time, they were both happy. Life became calmer, everything became more stable at work and everyday life with a child also became routine. Suddenly there occurred what Asta never wanted: time to think. The second pregnancy followed. During this pregnancy, Asta suffered great lonely agonies. ‘I was so jealous. I was supposed to be pregnant. Of course, it was clear to me that this was not physically possible, but the feeling in me was so strong!’

She couldn’t tell her wife about the torture. Today Asta and Susan can talk about anything. About their feelings back then and their fears today. Since Asta has lived her life as a woman, she has learned about other transgender people in her parents’ circle of acquaintances; three transgender people in a village in the Odenwald with only 2100 inhabitants.

‘A woman had her coming out after me. She told me later that she dared to take this step because someone had already gone ahead. I had paved the way for her. We are not visible enough. It is so important to have role models.’
That’s why Asta is involved in this project. And that is why she is involved in youth work. ‘Everyone should know: You are not alone.’

Transgender, Lifestyle Fotograf, Kathrin Stahl-55Many people congratulated Asta on her courage after her outing. ‘It’s like running through the woods being chased by a bear, and then you finally get inside this cabin and you slam the door behind you and someone says, “Wow, you’re really brave,” but you’re like, “I was running for my life back there!”’

Asta is now quoting these words by the lead singer of the punk band Against Me!.
The Outing: A necessity to survive. The lead singer of the band, Tom Gabel, in May 2012 announced that he wanted to live as Laura Jane Grace.
‘I met Laura in June 2014. We had attended a concert by Against Me! After the concert, we talked to the merchandising saleswoman and she asked us if we were still around, because Laura always liked to meet other affected by the transgender topic. Later we sat together behind the venue and talked. Very relaxed.’

‘They had just released a new album. The theme is trans identity. Only today do I realize that a lot of lyrics from other albums went in this direction in the past. Back then I thought they were just song lyrics.’

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Now Asta is on her way. She is not alone. With small and big steps the small family settles into their new life. Last week Asta accompanied her children to their swimming lessons for the first time. ‘In a sports bikini. I was very nervous. But it was so much fun. And nobody stared in a funny way.’

It was getting much later than planned; the boys have to go to bed. Asta and I are already at the door when she says: ‘In the last ten years I have treated myself differently, treated my body more carefully and no longer exploited it. Just don’t age too fast. I still have plans.’ Asta laughs again.  ‘When I look in the mirror in the morning, I see myself as a woman. That’s very beautiful.’

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Asta: ‘I am finally myself’

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