Born in 1971 as a “little boy stuck inside the body of a girl”, Liam Klenk has lived and worked all over the world as a photographer, aquatic performer and production manager. Here he tells us about his first book, Paralian: Not Just Transgender, and of h
In my case, I knew when I was a little kid. I
knew instinctively and whenever I had the chance I just went up to people and introduced myself to other kids as a boy. I was always happiest if people couldn’t tell where I’m from; if they couldn’t really know who I was; if they couldn’t really tell what I was. I like to parents were always a bit confused!
I only fully understood who I was by accidentally picking up a book with short stories about transgender people. Up until then, I thought maybe I was just plain nuts, or maybe there was something wrong with me emotionally. I worried that I couldn’t feel anything. Everything felt wrong. Looking down at myself, I had the most enormous boobs and it was like: ‘Ah! What is that?’ I had no idea what to do and, of course, everybody tells you: ‘It’s normal. You’re a teenager and you’ll grow into it, so just relax.’
Then you realise no matter how much you relax, you’re just totally freaked out and you’re totally unhappy. You’re thinking of suicide and why you’re put on the planet like this. What you need most of all is a mirror mirror when I was just doing a summer job reading a book in the cinema, waiting next to my popcorn machine. I was just sitting there going: ‘Oh my God! This is me!’
When I was young, you only really saw the crazy cases of transgender people in the media because that’s all everybody ever focussed on. I don’t mean crazy in a bad way, just colourful and exotic. Those were the ones you saw if you switched into any talk show – there was a transgender person and she would look like Cruella de Vil! I remember lesbians that were portrayed back then on talk shows; they all had their army boots on and looked like they’d just chopped a lot of wood.
What I want to do is come from a completely autobiographies and they always make me cringe because they’re always very teary and all extremely depressing. It’s always, ‘Oh my to me? Half of my life is gone!’
life. I think that being raised and growing up as Stephanie gave me a sensitivity and a compassion towards all kinds of people that I wouldn’t have otherwise.
means ‘a dweller by the sea’, and water is a big theme for the book. The chapter titles are all the bodies of water that were most important at that point in my life, so it follows a thread. I wanted to highlight the fact that I’m moving around very much, meeting a lot of people that name, which helps when people search for it on Amazon!
Being transgender and adopted – both of those situations really suck. It’s a really bad deck of cards that you’ve been given, but the fact is it’s what you’ve been given! The last thing that helps is to just sit there all your life wishing it was another way. After I found the transgender books, I started phoning around, they all freaked me out because they were all so depressed. I was depressed too, but I didn’t want to meet more depressed people. I wanted somebody to smile at me and say, ‘It’s gonna be awesome!’
It’s been quite a while since my gender reassignment surgeries now and, although not mentioning anything about it! First of all, it’s not anybody’s business. Imagine you and I are two heterosexual guys who meet each other for a beer; I wouldn’t say, ‘Hi, I’m Liam and by the way, I’m a heterosexual and really
There’s a lot of things that I don’t understand and I don’t want to understand, and how can I expect everybody to understand what transgender means if even I have a hard time explaining what it feels like?
do feel like a man.’ You’d think I was crazy!
There’s a lot of things that I don’t understand and I don’t want to understand, and how can I expect everybody to understand what transgender means if even I have a hard time explaining what it feels like? I think we can’t just automatically force the whole world to understand LGBT+ people, which ever part of the LGBT+ spectrum they are. People just need to respect each other; that’s the point.
Everybody I meet from the LGBT+ community are usually lovely people, and many really nice homosexual friends in my life and I’m really glad that I’m open enough to meet people from all kinds of backgrounds, but I often also feel it’s a bit imposed on me. Then that thing comes where people start being small-minded from both sides. I’ve always fought against that.
Everyone tends to watch people on the street and start putting them in boxes. Certain people scare you, but there’s no reason that you should be scared of some people and feel comfortable around others just because they look a certain way. People just want to belong and I think you know better where you belong if you place everybody else in groups. It gives you your place in the world and everyone else has their little corner as well.
Something I’m very aware of is the fact that I have to always watch out wherever I go. For example, if I’m in Indonesia and all my buddies are smoking joints, I won’t. I can think of nothing worse than getting caught by a bunch of Indonesian policemen, being dragged into a dark alley and then they beat me to death. It’s a very real thing. There’s still thousands of transgender people, and a lot of gay and lesbian people, that are getting killed every year. Whenever people are scared and something is too foreign for them, they lash out in anger and violence. I just have to be careful depending balance between really being myself and trying to be smart about it.
I’m glad I’ve written this book relatively late in life because I feel I was mature enough. I’m getting through life bit by bit, learning things, falling on my face and growing stronger with every step. I don’t want it to be a self-help book. I hate self-help books; people are not stupid. Whoever reads it – it doesn’t have to be anybody from the LGBT spectrum+ – it can be lives. Being trans or adopted; it doesn’t stop you from anything. You can do whatever you like - you don’t need to let that stop you. My the power of optimism. Not about how horrible everything is. That’s what I’ve felt all my life.
I always really wanted to write a book. Even as a kid I always dreamed of it because I loved books – I read them all the time – and so it was clear that I’d write one, one day. The longer my story progressed and the more that happened; the more I felt I needed to tell this story. I think it can really brighten up someone’s day and give them strength, that’s something I’ve always wanted to do.
BELOW CHRISTMAS, 1971
ABOVE BREAST OPERATION, 1997
BELOW LEFT VISITING A LIGHTHOUSE, 1977
LEFT SELF PORTRAIT, 1995
RIGHT PRESENT DAY