Posted on 25/06/2019 by kathrin
Berlin, Germany, September 2014
Konstantin and I meet in a park in Prenzlauer Berg, a popular Berlin neighbourhood, during his lunch break.
‘Somehow I’ve been constantly walking into film cameras since I’ve lived in Berlin. When the sun is out I often spend my lunch break at this park and enjoy the sunshine. One day they set up a film set right in front of my nose. There was minister Renate Künast, a high-ranking politician having a picnic.’
Konstantin studied communication design and moved from Mannheim to Berlin a few months ago to do an internship in a small agency. He enjoys his work, ‘especially because we are only a few and so everyone can work on everything. That offers many opportunities. It’s only frustrating when customers want something cool to be changed into something ugly.’ Konstantin laughs.
We are sitting opposite each other on the lawn; today the sun is not out. It almost feels like autumn. ‘I do miss the weather in Mannheim in the south of Germany. I like warmth and sunshine. There is simply less of it here. Originally I come from the region of Freiburg, basically the Tuscany of Germany. But I didn’t want to go back to Freiburg either. I really like to visit. On one side the Vosges, on the other the Black Forest, that’s unique. That’s my home. But there is still so much to see. Even if I am grateful to be here: Berlin is not my final destination either. This is where my new life began. Finally, I can work in my profession.’
After his studies, Konstantin treated himself to a two year hiatus. He had already begun the transition in the last semester of his studies; it was to be entirely completed before a new phase in his life could begin.
Even during puberty, Konstantin knew that something was wrong. ‘But I didn’t know what it was, and I certainly didn’t know that I could be helped.’ Konstantin’s psychological condition is getting worse and worse. He seeks refuge in alcohol, drugs, and pills. ‘In addition to addiction, there were obsessive-compulsive disorders and social phobias.’ Konstantin speaks calmly, smiling cautiously when he says: ‘It’s great how pleasantly unspectacular my life is now. I’m just not special any more.’ With the beginning of the transition, all of Konstantin’s constraints are removed. He can breathe again. ‘Since then, my relationship with my parents and sister has been much better. It’s more honest and intense.’ When Konstantin informed his parents, they were not even surprised. ‘Maybe they already knew before I did what was going on. Maybe they were just relieved because there was a reason for my depression and destructive behaviour patterns. It was good that they never pushed me. I am a person who has to find his way alone.’
Now Konstantin has arrived: ‘Most of the time I’m still surprised how detached I feel from my old name.’ Of course, there are also those brief moments when the past comes to light: ‘When I come into contact with my old name unsuspectingly, there is a twitch somewhere in my stomach. Totally weird and somehow very hard to categorize. In such moments I wonder what it is like for my parents, sister or the rest of the family if they hear this name somewhere… ‘
At the beginning of his transition, Konstantin lives in Mannheim. ‘I would go back there immediately. That was an incredibly good time. I met some great people there who helped me a lot. It was all a bit difficult in the beginning.’ It takes a long time, too long until the testosterone is effective. The outward appearance becomes more and more masculine, but the voice does not cooperate yet. ‘I worked in a club. When I had to yell over the loud music, my voice regularly tilted into the feminine. I sometimes didn’t hear the end of it. But the whole team from the bar stood by me. When things got really bad, the bouncer would come and escort a guest outside. I am so grateful that these people are part of my life!’
‘What does your tattoo stand for?’ I ask him. ‘This is a paper plane with its nose pressed in. It’s a little battered, but that’s hardly noticeable. It can still fly. And flying is freedom’
‘In school, I always made paper planes. The folding of paper runs through my life. I am always doing something with paper. At the agency, we designed a poster for an exhibition for the ‘Gay Museum’ in Berlin, for which I folded paper mice.’
Now it’s getting a little chilly and we go to find a café and warm up with some peppermint tea.
‘Since I’ve been feeling alive again, I’ve been enjoying all these first moments very much. I can experience everything again for the first time.’
Konstantin is still impressed by how significantly hormones can take over. In some situations, he feels overwhelmed by testosterone. ‘When I get angry about something, I really notice how it slowly boils up in me, shoots into my hands and my whole body tenses. Then I get really hot with rage and it takes a little willpower to cool down again. It wasn’t like that before, anger definitely feels different now.’
Konstantin was very much looking forward to the physical strength that testosterone provides. ‘I’ve always done a lot of sports. And all of a sudden it really pays off. If I go to the gym regularly now, I can see real results quickly. That’s huge and a great incentive.’ With his 40-hour working week, Konstantin first had to develop a routine. Meanwhile, he needs sport as a means of release. ‘If I haven’t done any exercise for a week, I don’t know where to channel my energy.’
Konstantin still finds it difficult to live everyday life as a man, to fulfil the expectations that are placed on men. ‘I haven’t been socialized as a man and I don’t want to chase after any expectations that are supposedly placed on men and that I don’t recognise. I am not a CIS man (Cisgender – sometimes cissexual, often simply abbreviated to cis- is a term for people whose gender identity matches the sex that they were assigned at birth) and I will never be one. I am and will remain a trans-man. To accept that was real grief work, but an important step to becoming happy.’
How does he deal with his being transgender in contact with other people? ‘This is always a balancing act between openness and self-protection. I don’t want to let everyone I meet on the street and talk to in on my past. Why should I?’
Nevertheless, Konstantin also goes public with his story. He wants to contribute to the recognition of people with a transgender background. That’s why Konstantin is part of ‘Max is Marie’. That’s why he makes videos for a You-Tube channel about gender identity.
‘It’s fascinating, this feeling when you feel comfortable in your own skin for the first time, when you finally arrive. I still remember exactly this one moment when I stood in front of the mirror, looked at myself, looked into my eyes. That must have been around this time last year and I had been on testosterone for about half a year. So, I was standing in front of the mirror and I thought “Yes man, that’s it” and I just started to cry. Tears of joy; what a tremendous experience and I was able to share it, give something back to the community. In this video, I still feel this relief, this feeling of contentment, which was so new for me.’
Together with a trans-woman he has also been interviewed for a TV show.
‘I only agreed because it was a live show, and I could be sure that nobody could edit anything afterwards. If it had slipped into a cliché, I would have left. One cannot speak for all transgender people. We are a homogeneous group just like redheads, for example. That’s what I told the hosts before the broadcast. Likewise, certain terms may not appear in the broadcast.’ In fact, the presenter’s note contained the words ‘transsexual, transsexuality.’
‘I don’t like this term at all because it is totally misleading. With the terms with which one juggles around in the field of transsexuality, one walks on very thin ice. This is of course very difficult for someone who has not examined this subject. But it is very important to be attentive here. A person with a transgender background is not transsexual. The whole thing has nothing to do with sexuality at all!’
We stroll through the streets of Prenzlauer Berg a little longer. One pretty pub after another on every corner. ‘That’s the great thing about Berlin! You have a huge choice. And on the other hand, you go crazy because you can’t try everything.’
He smiles; one can sense how good Konstantin feels here.
Konstantin, what do you dream of?
‘Oh, I have to think about that…for me every day has something dreamlike at the moment. Because I am living something for which I fought for a long time. I am finally me!’ Pause. ‘Recently I had a very crazy realization: the thought of suddenly having a traditional family! Maybe it will become a dream someday. But that also feels strange, because I always felt so far away from the heteronormativity…somehow.’ Konstantin laughs again and I think that’s a wonderful final sentence, which makes me excited about how things will continue in Konstantin’s life.
Konstantin: ‘I feel, I have finally arrived.’