How is it to undergo a female-to-male transition in Poland? What is the knowledge of an average Pole on being transgender? Kacper Potępski, a transgender activist and tiktoker shares his experience in an in-depth interview.
You educate and share your experience as a transgender person on Instagram and Tiktok, you take part in social campaigns, photoshoots, etc. Where did the idea for such activity come from and what kind of response are you getting?
It all started by accident. I wanted to make a diary on Instagram. And on TikTok, I started with a joke that I don't have a penis. Then TikTok turned out to be a new platform with many possibilities where people can learn from. I started responding to comments there, and many people came across a transgender person for the first time.
I began to feel like an older brother - first for myself, then for others. I usually talk about my experiences and try to show that you can be aware of your privileges and adversities, and you don’t have to put yourself above anyone. I just simply spread love.
The response is diverse. With such activity, especially in times of the pandemic, we lock ourselves in our own bubbles. People who observe me often say that what I do helps them a lot. Anyway, sometimes I have the impression that for me it is self-therapy.
There are also attempts to hurt me - I don't even know what to call it. Hate exists and always will, but I have an impression that it can hurt me less and less with time. The most important thing I focus on is to share correct information and if someone points out a mistake I made - I quickly correct it and I apologize. What I educate about is what I try to introduce and apply in my own life.
Which parts of the LGBTQ* community are you close to? Which words reflect how you feel?
All and none at the same time. I feel good with a tag - transgender queer.
I had my first coming out as a bisexual, then as a lesbian, and the last one as a transgender man. Now I know that sexual orientation doesn’t matter to me, I don’t want to put myself in frames, because I feel that choosing one label is not enough for me.
What are your first memories of realizing you might be transgender? What process did you go through?
The first incident that I might be transgender was when my girlfriend half-seriously asked me if I’m not a man. It was the year 2016.
I started browsing the Internet about being transgender. On Instagram, I found accounts - only foreign - of boys who documented their transition. On the one hand, I was impressed, I wanted to do it as well. On the other hand, I imagined in my head that I would have to be a super athletic, beautiful man. I imagined that if I said I am a trans man it would be like a gym pass and sharp training. Also, I was overwhelmed by my dysphoria and unimaginable fear of entering the women's toilet (or explaining that I wanted to go to the men’s bathroom because I had a very stereotypical feminine chest).
Later I wrote a book, pretending to myself that I was creating a hero and that I wasn't pouring my own thoughts onto him at all.
I finally came out as a transgender man on my 21st birthday, and a moment later took my first steps in medical transition.
What might be the reason for the difficulty for parents when it comes to accepting their LGBTIQ* children in Poland? (80% of parents of LGBTIQ* youth in Poland do not accept their children who came out of the closet, statistics for years 2015-16)
First of all, the lack of any appropriate education and stigmatization of this topic, turning it into a taboo. We face huge stereotypes.
It took my mother a long time to understand that my gender was not a choice. That hormone therapy and surgery are not self-mutilation. That fighting for myself is not making my life difficult, that the path I have decided to follow will not make my life difficult. It was only after listening to what I was saying on my TikTok that she began to understand that I was regaining myself, that I was becoming a happy person. I was becoming myself. She also told me that she was bad, that she had no one to talk to about it because her friends had no contact with this topic. But this is also a misconception. Lots of people have met non-heteronormative people in their lives. The stigmatization of this topic made it inappropriate to be afraid to talk about it. Our parents' generation rarely speaks of non-heteronormativity as if it was the most normal thing in the world. The image of an over-the-top gay and a “normal” gay who fits into the hetero norm was created. Now the image of a transgender person is being created - many people start to accept transgender if a person wants gender reassignment, but when they do not need it - they treat it like a figment of their imagination. It dehumanizes us and oversimplifies our experiences that are so different ...
Each sexual orientation and gender identity have its own stereotypes that kids have to deal with. It's also hard to judge for whom it is the worst because everything depends only on the parent.
For some parents, sexual orientation is harder to accept than gender identity, for others it is the opposite.
Psychological help is also stigmatized among our parents' generation, they rarely use help for themselves, not to mention support groups for parents of LGBTIQ* people - of whom there is a depressingly small number in Poland. We need such things, we need to spread the availability of this type of help because parents often do not listen to their children, they must feel empowered that they are doing something themselves.
When transgender kids report to me about their parents' concerns about coming out and declare that they need the help of a specialist, I suggest that they find an LGBTIQ* friendly psychologist and go to the parent and ask to book a visit with a psychologist. Sometimes it works - then the child has the support of a specialist and sometimes the specialist explains to the parent that being transgender is not a fantasy at all and that the therapy for this child is to recognize their gender orientation and/or gender identity.
How does dating look like for transgender people in Poland? What is the awareness of Poles on this subject?
When I started the transition, I had to tell myself that even if I would not be able to love anyone for the rest of my life, I would do it for myself and at least I would love myself. I was afraid that nobody would want me because I'm transgender.
When I used Tinder, I positioned myself as a lesbian - it said in the description that I was trans. I was not ready to collide with the heteronormative world because I know that knowledge and awareness are lacking there. I wanted people to know right away so that I wouldn't have to come out during my relationship or have to explain that I don’t have a penis during a date.
I was dating and I had different experiences. Once a girl, a lesbian said "I would like to see what it's like to kiss a man" - and she started kissing me straight away. Without my consent. I didn't want to, but I couldn't pull away, I just froze.
I happened to kiss a guy at the club too, but I was embarrassed, I finally told him that I’m transgender. He said 10 times that he needed a penis for sex, which stressed me out and made me dysphoric. Anyway, I wasn't planning on going to bed with him, he could have told me once, it would have been enough. He followed me around the club half the night, he was drunk. After telling him to let go for a while, he actually left. Fortunately, I was with my friends back then.
My current girlfriend cares more for my dysphoria than I actually am. We create boundaries when we talk, I explain to her why things are the way they are. But I date a total leftist and a feminist, so she just has this sensitivity and understanding. She had seen my TikToks before, too, so she knew I was transgender before we met in real life.
How do you recall the transition process? What were the emotions behind it?
Fear, lack of knowledge, wandering in the dark.
Which Polish institutions do you see as favorable/unfavorable to transgender people?
In Poland, the transition process is by no means standardized.
You don’t know where to go, where to look for doctors. In 2016 I was looking for psychiatrists-sexologists on the Internet and I was sending them e-mails, that I’m not sure if I’m transgender and I would need help. If they responded they would only say that they cannot help me.
I found out about a good doctor in my city by accident, at the meeting with someone from Tinder a few months before my coming out. I did not know yet that this number would be helpful for me. I found it perfectly - one of the few doctors in Poland who approached the subject with full commitment, individually, trying to help the person in the best possible way. There was no gatekeeping, misgendering, deadnaming, everything was always explained, and the team had a psychiatrist, sexologist, psychologist, endocrinologist (usually endocrinologists do not know how to work with transgender people taking hormones). This is the only team I know in Poland.
Later, I was very lucky, because I joined the LGBTIQ* organization, which happened to be in my city - Krakow - that started to develop a legal team. So I got help with my gender trial for free.
But anyway, to handle all the stuff related to the transition I worked a full-time job and an extra half-time job making money where I could, and for the chest surgery, I am a dropout and had to quit my studies because I couldn't afford it.
There is no standardized gender reassignment process in Poland. Doctors usually do what they want. It is not uncommon for them to take advantage of the situation to earn as much as possible, keep people on hormones, making them pay for each appointment and prescription for hormones.
The process is also not friendly to non-binary people, or those who want to skip some steps - e.g. they don't want HRT (hormone replacement therapy) or surgery.
The court is also absurd. We are sewing our own parents, citing an article in the legal code in which someone once found a legal loophole. Parents, regardless of the age of the child, must consent to the record change of sex. Otherwise, the hearing takes a long time.
Institutions? We have several organizations that target transgender people, we have grassroots support, we try to help each other. I use my "recognition" myself and once in a while, I co-organize binder drops for people with chest dysphoria. But it's very exhausting and still not enough.
What does the LGBTIQ* community need the most in Poland right now in your opinion?
A lot of leftist tolerance is needed.
We need help for individuals - psychological, legal, financial in transition processes, for people at risk of a homeless crisis, for LGBTQ + organizations - financial, because they mainly help individuals, but making contacts and sharing knowledge is useful.
We need our situation to be heard all over the world because in Poland not many people listen to us.
In 2015, President Andrzej Duda vetoed the law on the gender recognition process in Poland, which made the correction process difficult for the following years. This year I started to fear that we would get another law in a moment - like Article 33 in Hungary (the article was passed in Hungary last year, it bans transgender people from legal gender recognition). Work on similar ones is already underway, the Sejm was reading the project “Yes to the family, not to gender”.
What are your dreams when it comes to Poland?
Wake up one day with the feeling that I don't have to think about moving abroad.
Not having to convince everyone around me that transgender people are ok.
Kacper Potępski is a transgender activist active on social media (IG: ka.per, TikTok: lewackitrans) and locally in the Federacja Znaki Równości. He is also a member of the drag-performative collective - House of Katharsis, as well as appearing in the KPH [Campaign against homophobia] and Zalando campaigns. He was the organizer and co-organizer of two crowdfunder to buy binders for transgender and non-binary people with thoracic dysphoria.
He would like everyone to understand that the saying" the hardest to love is those who need it most " is really about ourselves.
Interview by: Kuba Urbaniak is a helping hand for the campaign “I’m not an Ideology”. Trained as an architect and intermedia artist, he worked and studied in Poland, Iceland, and Vienna. Based in Poznań PL. Currently developing his skills and interest in social campaigns with ENOUGH is ENOUGH!