Searching for the Peace of Mind. Travel and Well-Being
For the last few
weeks I have been thinking extensively about well-being. I am
confronted with that topic as a long-time individual activist who in
their lifetime had suffered much from burnout, small breakdowns and
moments when all was thought to have been either lost or done for
nothing. I also manage a staff of 5 whose physical and mental health
is one of my key priorities. Every single action or development I
consider a success is a result of a series of previous attempts,
failures, frustration, small steps, bigger steps, but what is most
important is motivation that fuels every single step along the way.
This is where I start talking about well-being.
Which is exactly why
I’m writing these words half-way through my one week vacation. Every
three months I try to take between 3 and 7 days off from work,
knowing that they will give me the much needed energy to get through
every difficulty that arises through the year. You see, I’m a
workaholic. I work constantly. Every working day I wake up at six
thirty in the morning to sit in front of my computer and work (with a
short shower break) until it’s time to get to the office, where I do
the same thing. By the end of last year, I introduced weekends to my
schedule, giving myself two days to unwind and to try to connect with
my loved ones, myself and some of my smaller hobbies that I abandoned
for the sake of work.
The reasons why I
had to put restrictions on my activities are easy to understand –
identifying with my work and the organization which I currently lead
made me tired of reality. I wasn’t able to start my usual work
without following trans and LGBT media outlets, reading transphobic
comments online as well as comments on various message boards about
myself and my colleagues. Don’t get me wrong – I still do it,
because I still care. What changed, however, was the fact that I am
now finally able to draw the line and tell myself when I had enough.
When was the right time to stop.
What put me out of
this dreadfulness was an anonymous online bully who started stalking
me through my ask.fm page. Contemplating whether or not to delete
that profile, when I saw another one of those “you’re just a girl
who’s crazy” comments, I realized one thing – this was all
online. The second I realized it, I switched all my devices off and
went for a walk. And then it hit me. Moving places. That was the one
thing, which helped me not lose my mind in a maze of emotions,
whether connected to my work or not, navigate through fear of being
recognized and ridiculed or beaten on the street and through the
toughest times when I had to confront myself with… well, myself.
A picture from today’s travels.
I was lucky enough
to be brought up by a family with a little above-average income. You
may say at some point we were somewhere in the upper-middle class
part of society, with me currently feeling quite cosy in the
lower-middle section with not that much ambition to move higher. I do
hold a stand that if I am able to support myself without creating
debt, that is quite enough. At least for now. This initial luck made
me appreciate the concept of travel. My parents used to take me to
different places abroad, showing not only the world outside of my
native Poland (although it was quite touristy, something I don’t do
as much today, as we did as a family back then), but also exposing me
to traveling as an action and a process.
When I was between 5
and 11 years old, that was definitely a family experience. We talked,
sang songs together, stopped when I got car-sick, visited the
weirdest restrooms and had numerous important conversations, my
favorite being the “Are we there yet?” game. When I became a
teenager things definitely changed. I was not an easy youngster to
manage. I had it all – angst, hatred for the world, absolute
disgust in life and grownups, unfulfilled love and a passion to coin
these emotions into characters and write long and complicated stories
of their messy existence. I wanted to travel alone and experience
being with myself on a completely different level. And eventually I
did. When I was 16, I took my first 7-hour train ride on my own. And
it was amazing.
There was something
extremely soothing in watching the landscape moving through the
window. I sat in my own reflection capsule. Listening to my
favorite songs and not minding other passengers, I soon discovered
that travel can be absolutely inspiring. And not in just seeing
places which make you see the world from different perspectives
(although that also played a major role in my development), but also
with giving you the possibility to connect with yourself. If I was to
name three places I usually let my emotions go and cry, they would
definitely be home, train and airplane. I even remember crying my
heart out while coming back home from one of work-related trips,
because the sky was just SO beautiful that day!
constituted traveling as a way of life were some of my past
relationships – a number of them were long-distance with trains
going back and forth through Poland and other countries. And if there
is anything I can say I definitely miss from these experiences is the
anticipation of arrival. The absolute thrill of having someone wait
for me at the end of the road. Even when I went steady and moved in
together with one of my past partners, I still had to travel. And not
just for work. I needed to move, I wanted to leave to be able to come
back. Traveling reminded me what of importance awaited me by the end
of it. And now – whenever I travel, I try to reflect on these
positive and fulfilling feelings. It makes my heart grow with
thankfulness and fear. Thankfulness that I had the chance to
experience such wonderful moments and fear that I may never
experience them again.
For a number of
years traveling has been an obvious part of my life. I traveled for
work, to see loved ones, to do research, to meet someone I only knew
through a chat window and to deliver important decisions
face-to-face. I left two partners based on reflections I made while
traveling. In both cases I remember exactly what helped me ease in to
the idea that mine and someone else’s time together was coming to an
end. Observing changing backgrounds and recalling various events from
these relationships put me at ease, even though I was boiling with
troubling doubt. I suddenly knew where I was going and I could
definitely say that those people were not able to keep up with what I
had planned and that I also could not be the person they wanted me to
be. Both of these decisions had a great influence on my life and even
though I am still struggling with what came from one of them, I am
absolutely sure I made the right choice. And I also know that
traveling helped me to not only make a conscious decision but also to
find peace of mind.
Every time before an
airplane I’m on takes off, I close my eyes and ask myself if there is
anything I regret doing or not doing with my life so far. If I find
such a point, I hold on to it strongly, breathe in and ease myself
into one simple sentence: You did everything you could with the
time that was given to you. With these few words I find serenity
and open my eyes, ready for take-off. Because whatever happens next,
is never in my own hands.
Traveling helps me
to let go. And letting go has always been for me one of the many
steps to achieve well-being on different levels. Traveling makes me
also insignificant. Moving from place to place, I am never alone,
always surrounded by people who have their own destinations, whether
significant or not. When I travel, I feel as if I was a part of
something bigger, something of which I am only just a tiny fraction.
It teaches me to stay humble.
surprisingly, I wrote this particular post during an 11-hour train
ride. This is the final stop.
Photo: Preview polaroids
from my recent photoshoot. They do not show the final outcome, but
rather try to determine the intensity of light play.
And both I and the
camera loved it.
But don’t worry or
anticipate anything. You will not see these pictures anywhere,
especially not here. What I want to do here is to simply tell you
about this experience and why it felt so important to my overall
well-being and general body positivity – an attitude I’ve been
trying to master for some time now.
In short – if
you came here to see naked pictures, there are none.
If you’re a regular
follower or have dug deep into some of my previous, longer posts, you
most probably noticed that I am not only interested in “the body”
(this is a huge concept, I will look into that in another post), but
also in how bodies are being modified and adapted to our own
expectations. And how all of it plays into such features as
gender, sexuality and the vast category of identity. Something I
briefly touched upon in my “10
things I learned after quitting testosterone” post.
It is not just about
being trans, though (although this blog deals with these issues
primarily) – it’s about weight and its societal context, tattoos,
piercings, implants, scarification and scars in general, as well as
many others. All of these are fascinating and I feel as if I still
didn’t touch upon most of them, but rather glimpsed through a few
topics that were personally important to me.
Almost a year and a
half ago, I wrote a post titled “Transitions
of fatness”, which tremendously helped me deal with a lot of
issues that, surprisingly, are still bothering me today. Remembering
that fact, the problem of coming out as fat and appreciating my body
for what it is and how it can be used to break the weight and beauty
standards still rooted in our society, also when it comes to trans
masculine bodies, I changed the course of a photoshoot that I agreed
to do a few weeks ago and which took place last Saturday.
When my friend,
Joanna Łojas, approached me at Warsaw Pride in June (we seem to bump
into each other at Prides only, but then again we’re both super busy
these days) and asked whether I would be up for a photo shoot.
Although she mentioned my tattoos in that conversation, later on, she
admitted that she had wanted to do this for a longer time, but now –
thanks to finishing one of Warsaw’s best schools of photography and
working at a professional studio, she finally had the skills and the
tools to do what she had always wanted to. As one can imagine, I was
extremely flattered and, quite obviously, agreed to take part in it.
And after almost two months both of us finally found the time to
spend twelve hours together. Extremely important twelve hours to say
Photo: Joanna setting up lights and backgrounds.
This wasn’t my first
photo shoot, though. In 2010 I had the pleasure of having my pictures
taken by Manuel Garcia, author of “TransMen
of the World”, a year later I was invited to be part of a small
student project and just a few months ago, my friend Herbert
Marusiński, took some pictures for his ongoing “I am more than my
body” project. That last one is especially dear to me, since it was
for the first time that I did something that went beyond my usual
comfort and decided to show more of my body than I usually do. I was
not naked in these pictures, though. I covered myself with a painting
which I am still trying to finish. Five years and counting.
project was the first time a photoshoot took place in a studio
setting and the first time I was not covered by anything. In other
words – I showed my whole body to someone who was interested in its
form, how light changes its various features and how it in itself is
an object of gaze and admiration. At the same time, though, my body
became a tool to convene someone’s vision in a project that was
beyond me. Funny enough, this not felt as objectification. I felt in
control. Throughout this whole experience I felt as a conscious and
decisive subject. Someone’s vision was just a way for me to reach
consolation. It was as if I discovered something absolutely profound.
I rediscovered my body. With everything that it has to offer and
everything that I criticize every single morning when I look in the
mirror. I felt connected to this form more than ever. An experience
that felt amazingly therapeutic in its simpleness. I needed a set of
lenses to ease to the idea of my body being me.
What I have to
underline is that this was not the initial plan. It was supposed to
be a series of portraits to which I was asked to bring black, grey
and white clothing, which would then align with the all-white background.
And I did bring all of these. It was the hottest day of this summer
and I dragged a backpack full of clothing through half of the city.
As you may imagine, I was more than excited. And when I saw the
studio, the excitement rose to an absolute maximum.
Photo: Last minute preparations before the shoot can begin!
Joanna showed me a
few photos she took, which had absolute magic to them. Those of
humans were most fascinating and I quickly found myself wanting to be
seen through the lens, especially if the camera was operated by her.
We had a long heart-to-heart conversation what happened in our lives
in the past 2-4 years, since we have only bumped into each other
occasionally, even though there was a time when we saw each other
pretty often, in our young activist years. And now we were in a
different spot – her, a photographer pursing her dream of becoming
a professional, me – still having my biggest dreams stuck in a box
full of “things I will do one day”.
The comfort I felt
after that one conversation was tremendous, I found myself wanting to
do something that would cross my usual boundaries and would make the
time we spent together even more special. Which is why when Joanna
asked if I had a T-shirt, that would show my upper body tattoos from
the front, I immediately said “I can just take the damn thing off”.
We both laughed and she started working on setting up the light. I
took a few deep breaths and smiled. I knew this would be a start of
something absolutely brilliant.
There was one catch
in that whole process though. As a somewhat objectified subject I had
to agree that I do not get a say in which pictures are deemed good
and which are not, although I was able to push Joanna to take some
pictures with a digital camera (torso and up only), so I could use
them in my future personal projects. The actual outcomes of the shoot
will be developed soon (as they were taken with an analog camera) and
will be available to me and Joanna only. She will have them ready for
her Academy of Fine Arts portfolio and I will have mine to hang on my
wall and remember this one long Saturday that absolutely redefined my
sense of carnality.
I am not just a
body. I am more than the body itself. But I AM my body and MY
body is ME.
For your information:
This is how I looked a few minutes before the Polish Senate began
discussing the gender recognition law.
Full disclosure –
I have never, ever once in my life watched or even monitored the work
of the Polish Senate except for a short statement created together
with Campaign Against Homophobia just a few months ago. And to be
honest, I never understood why some Poles call it jokingly the
“Reflection House” and urge for dismissal of the whole
institution. I voted in the elections, that’s for sure, but didn’t
really bother to take a look at what was happening afterwards. I have
been monitoring Members of Sejm (the lower house), especially those who received
my vote, but never once did it occur to me to actually do the same
for the Senators.
discussion on the Gender Accordance Act, I can clearly say that I
started to understand the Polish Senate dilemma.
I caught a glimpse
of a discussion concerning in vitro fertilization and the law which
regulates it (barely passed by the Senate, by mere 3 votes), which
gave me an idea what could be at stake with the gender recognition
discussion. But nothing, and I really mean nothing, could have
prepared me for what went down.
As I mentioned in my
previous note, one of the Senators, Mr. Jan Rulewski is
absolutely concerned about the well-being of children born to
transgender parents. He proposed an amendment to ease his concerns
and “ensure that rights of children in such situation are
protected”. As Richard Koehler from Transgender
Still for some this is not enough. For the sake of children “to
have certain legal protection” a surprise amendment was introduced
in the Senate that would foresee a special procedure for those with
minor children. If the amendment is passed, it would be a European
first to make a legal gender recognition case dependent on an opinion
coming from an expert witness – child psychologist or a
court-appointed guardian. (…)
The amendment is in itself also problematic as it does not introduce
how much power said psychologist or guardian will have over the
gender recognition process. Can an expert witness advise the court to
deny recognition? How certain is it that a court-appointed child
psychologist knows anything about gender identity issues? Trans-Fuzja
Foundation report problematic attitudes amongst professionals who
view transition and gender recognition as a “problematic issue for
a child to comprehend and to be able to thrive normally”.
Before the Senate
began its discussion, Lalka Podobińska, my Vice-President and an
amazing person to say the least, approached Mr. Rulewski to ask him
about the proposed amendment. She tried to make him realize the fallacy of
his thinking about gender recognition, pointing out that most
probably there will be a lot of trans people already in-transition
who apply for legal recognition, as it used to be the case
before. She even went onto visually describing how “a transitioning
mother” (that is a very descriptive senator-tailored way of saying “trans man”) would
look like when accessing legal recognition.
“Can you imagine, Mr.
Senator? This person is both socially and visually already a man.
What if a child psychologist advises the court to not confirm legal
recognition? Do you think it is in the best interest of the child to
have a male parent whose personal data are still female? Don’t you
think it would be unfair to a child to have an unhappy mother instead
of a fulfilled second father?”. The conversation went further on,
ending even up with me coming out to the Senator with my own story,
trying to let him know that our lives are not something he reads on
paper, but actual stories of real people for whom an amendment like
this could mean the absolute end of legal recognition. Out of fear,
out of insecurity – there are too many issues at stake here.
Mr. Rulewski didn’t
reply to all these concerns, but instead dwelled upon how this law
creates something absolutely new within the Polish legal system, hence a compromise
had to be achieved. Well, from my point of view, the law is already
an act of great compromise, since it officially introduced forced divorce, made gender recognition inaccessible to minors and used medical authorities to confirm a person’s gender identity. But no,
children had to be brought into this. As if it wasn’t enough that for
many trans parents coming out to their families can not only be
difficult, but also heart-braking. Especially if one is confronted
with a spouse who refuses to discuss and understand the issue.
This is how it feels
to talk to a Senator who already made up their mind.
managed to find understanding Senators and already had fruitful and
meaningful discussions. At this point I should definitely mention Mr.
Józef Pinior who not only protected the law during the outrageous
discussion, but also kept shaking his head and facepalming through
most of the session (which is how you identify your political allies,
basically). But even he and other allies to the law (such as Mr.
Borowski, Mr. Borusewicz – who had a few extremely clumsy lines,
but still wanted to make things right – and Mr. Kutz, who –
unfrotunately – was not present during the debate) were not able to
get their arguments across surrounded by Senators who were keen on
dragging euthanasia, gender ideology, redefinition of men and women,
posthumanism and even Giorgio Agamben into the issue of gender
Mr. Jan Maria Jackowski made me realize for the first
time that the concept of biopolitcs can be used as an argument
against gender identity, instead of what it was meant to be used for
i.e. criticism of societal norms surrounding gender, sexuality, body
autonomy, bodily functions, fluids and everything that makes us
human. As a social scientist who teaches queer sociology, I do
believe I know my biopolitics quite well, but the Senate made me
reflect on that. I was struck by the “Reflection House effect”.
Both the queries and
the whole debate took more than 5 hours. Neither I nor Lalka managed
to stay until the very end although we made sure to tell our Twitter
and Facebook followers what was really happening (just follow #uzgodnieniepłci on Twitter). A lot of people
were also watching at home and were struck by the sheer ignorance
some Senators have been presenting. But the ignorance was not the
most problematic thing for me. To be honest, I did await a lousy,
tradition-centered package of political nonsense. What really struck
me was the fact that the Senators were using arguments very often
raised by The Institute of Legal Culture “Ordo Iuris”, a
right-wing driven non-governmental organization connected to C-Fam, European
Dignity Watch and Alliance Defending Freedom. All of which lobby
extensively (C-Fam especially, as it is extremely active in the
United Nations) against LGBTI rights, especially against broadening a
traditional definition of family and ensuring equal rights related to
sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. Senator
Jackowski outright read an opinion issued by “Ordo Iuris”,
underlining that it came from this particular organization, which is
why Trans-Fuzja posed a question after the session about the
possibility to have its opinion expressed before the Senators. It was
especially crucial since, contrary to “Ordo Iuris” Trans-Fuzja
actually works with trans people and has a well documented expertise
in that area.
Fortunately, the Act
had a great team to protect it. Minister Jerzy Kozdroń (Ministry of
Justice) and Minister Igor Radziewicz-Winnicki (Ministry of Health)
had a very tough role to play, as they both took the stand and were
bombarded by questions that could have been avoided if a Trans 101
workshop had been held for the Senate even a few days earlier. And it is
not to say that Senators cannot ask basic questions about a certain
issue, but if a law was processed in the lower House for three years,
one would think that a Senator could revisit the first reading and
watch their colleagues ask the same questions and being confronted by
experts in the field. We heard many weird statements that day, but let
make a short list of my absolute favorites:
rights depend on the situation” a statement shared by Senator
Bohdan Paszkowski, who would be very keen on introducing forced
sterilization, if he ever got a chance,
VAT number change if the social security number changes?” a very
basic question, easy to Google, especially that the Senate has free
Wi-Fi, but I guess Senator Jackowski wanted to have his 15 seconds
Zdzisław Pupa who was even able to compare gender recognition to
euthanasia and drug addiction,
times can a person change sex during their lifetimes” asked
Senator Jarosław Lasecki and Senator Alicja Zając took it up
asking whether there was an age limit to gender recognition
(proposing most probably that some people could be too old to go
through this process),
transsexualism be cured using drugs? Like depression can?” Mr.
Pupa did a number on himself, not only showing that he didn’t
research transgender issues at all, he apparently also doesn’t know
that drugs are simply a part of depression recovery and they are not
some magic potion in a video game,
and finally –
Senator Bogdan Pęk, who asked whether trans people going through
genital surgery could have their biological children according to the gender they transitioned to. Maybe I’m
expecting to much from someone who is payed from our taxes to
actually have basic knowledge on how the human body works? Honestly,
this is a question I could have answered in 6th grade,
but I doubt I would find an adult williing to ask me this.
Me and Lalka
Podobińska, Trans-Fuzja’s Vice-President, after 3 hours of listening
to the intense ridicoulusness that was the Senate’s debate.
There were many
other different, often tragically naïve questions. Fortunately, or
so I like to think, most of it was only for show, as are some other
parliamentary debates, especially those organized by the lower house.
It is very unlikely that a debate changes the outcome of the final
voting if parties and parliamentary clubs already have it all figured
out. But since the show lasted so long, the actual voting has been
postponed until tomorrow.
Having been there for the discussion and in
need of fulfilling other duties that have been overlooked due to this
extremely tiring week, our team at Trans-Fuzja decided to stay at
home and watch the session on our laptops. Especially given the fact
that the Senate does not publish an agenda of its sitting until the
very day things are being organized. We already did spend a whole day
at the Senate once. It was awful.
tomorrow, make sure that you make some noise. Share a tweet, Facebook
post, whatever you can with the hashtag #uzgodnieniepłci and #Senat
to let the Senate know that the world is watching. Fingers crossed.
Here are some thoughts on the recent
gender recognition debates in the Polish Parliament
As you may guess,
especially if you’re coming from a country that is based on
democratic or semi-democratic principles, there is a lot of talk in
the Parliament. And given the fact that the word itself comes from
French parler which means “to
speak”, it most probably isn’t a surprise to you at all.
comes as a surprise though, is the fact that so many politicians
still cannot learn the golden rule of debate – “If you have
nothing to say about it, don’t pretend you’re an expert”.
probably remember my two last posts about the gender recognition
legislation in Poland. One was about why
Poland actually needs one and the other were just photos
of me and my friends crying with joy after the lower house of the
Polish Parliament decided to pass the proposal. So, here we are, a
week and half away from that amazing day, with a voting in the Senate
scheduled for tomorrow.
two important Committees decided to hold independent meetings to
discuss the gender recognition proposal and have their say about the
next steps. Since Poland is a two-step democracy (not counting the
President, who of course has a final say whether a law becomes a
law), after the lower house, Sejm, passed the law, it needed
to be passed by the Senate. If it is not passed by the Senate, it
goes back to the Sejm, but requires a 2/3 majority vote to bypass the
Senate and go straight to the President. At this point I cannot say
for sure, what can or will happen, all I can say is
that I really do not know why
we need a second house, if it works the way the Polish Senate
back to July 30th,
during a sitting of the oddly named Human Rights, Rule of Law and
Petitions Committee an amazingly outrageous situation ensued. One of
the senators, Mr. Robert
Mamątow, actually asked why
the law had been even considered by the lower house, since apparently
more important things to worry about”. This
is what we call a
fallacy of relative privation – a very dangerous discussion and
lobbying/advocacy technique that makes a lot of actually important
issues seem irrelevant just because someone puts them on the same
level with something that shouldn’t even be considered in the same
senator, Mr. Jan Rulewski,
to the law, one of them being
that gender recognition would
be accessible only to those who never had a child. As
you may imagine, it was his idea of “protecting the children”.
Fortunately, his ideas were not taken up by the Committee. Mr.
Rulewski did not quit, however, and requested that the Senate sought
an expert opinion from the Hight Court, although such an opinion had
already been issued just a few weeks before. Mr. Mamątow asked for
the Committee to reconvene within a week, since the National Court
Council would have also finished their debate about some aspects of
the Gender Accordance Act. The Committee scheduled its next meeting
for August 4th.
The Committee will meet at 8:30 am and the usual session of the
Senate will begin at 11:00 with the Gender Accordance Act scheduled
as point 3 of the agenda.
It is already fair to say that it will not be an easy battle. The Senate Health Committee, which held its meeting on July 30th as well, did not recommend the Senate to enact a gender recognition law. This decision came as a surprise, since the Committee held a reasonable and thoughtful discussion about important issues surrounding both gender recognition and reassignment. It’s painfully obvious that major politics are involved here. The sort of politics that do not seem to realize that it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to change people’s lives for the better. Apparently, the Polish Senate sees ideology where none can be found. And refuses to take action that will benefit a number of Polish citizens.