Liam Klenk

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

GT (UK) - - CONTENTS - WORDS nick hoare

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

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