What does it mean to be a trans woman in Bulgaria? What kind of experiences is one going through? What is the price that the heteronormative cis-system makes one pay for not obeying the gender binary norm. This is a story in two parts about a young trans woman, living in a small Bulgarian town and within these two stories we will refer to her as Maria.
In the first part of this story we will focus on the experiences Maria had with medical experts who turned out to be incapable of dealing with a trans patient. In addition, we will talk about the relation with her family and her friends. A further topic will be the job aspect and the impossibility to get a labor contract when your appearance and your ID-identity are not coherent.
When she was between 14 and 15, Maria was confused about herself – was she gay? At 16 she already knew that she is trans and she started taking hormones, „experimenting“ with herself, as she says. She gained knowledge on the topic based on what she could find in internet and especially in forums. She got an appointment with a sexologist from a big city and he did not have experience working with trans people but did show perverse curiosity and wanted to experiment with her. First, he tried to convince her that she needed to get „more male“ and he could help her in that process, (even though since the beginning she explained to him that she was a trans woman and not a „female looking“ guy). He was convinced that after her „masculinization” she would not identify as a woman anymore. However, he reconsidered his opinion and since the shift was already obvious, he prescribed her a treatment, which turned out to be toxic for the liver and the long-term use of this medicine is not recommended.
Afterwards, she visited another sexologist and explained her what is a trans condition. Maria was already taking hormones and asked for basic medical supervision, however the sexologist wanted in Maria’s words „to get rid of her“ and declined providing such supervision over the time. It was also painful that the med perceived her to be mad and „was looking at me as if she sees an alien“.
The same plot took place one more time in a big hospital in their department for endocrinology. She got consulted by a renowned endocrinologist who claimed that such a shift is not possible, that she had to stop this „insanity“ and to look at herself – she was „such a good looking boy“. To my question if she felt humiliated by that, she replied: „No. However, very disappointed“. Once again, she asked for at least а routine inspection – the same doctor responded that „No one has died because of the use of hormones“, so – the right to medical checkup was again rejected with a cynical argument.
While searching in forums, she found out that in the same department there is a „specialist“, who makes a profitable business out of the transphobic help declines of his colleagues. He wanted to get paid as for a private medical examination. However, it turned out that he also prescribes a synthetic treatment, which use she described as „dangerous for the health“.
After going through this painful experience, she stopped trying to find adequate medical specialists. During our interview, she showed me some strange veins-looking formations under her skin, but she did not know if it is because of her use of hormones. To get a medical checkup was also not so easily affordable for her, because she did not have a labor contract and medical insurance. While living „under cover“, as she says, i.e. before she began presenting herself in public as a woman, she tried to get a job, but got only declines. It was because the potential employers did not consider her, (at that time him) as „sufficiently male-looking“, and now „it is absurd to search for a job with this appearance and a male identity card“. She could not start a legal case for gender reassignment, because of a lack of finances. She makes clear that she survives because of her friend’s help.
How did her family react to her coming out as a trans woman: she left home after the coming out since the family rejected her gender identity and kept on calling her with her male birth name and refered to her as a male. She explained to me that their behavior was based on patriarchal expectations: she was born as the only boy in the whole family and they blamed her for rejecting her grandfather’s name as well as for not preserving the traditions. She said that her family keeps on acting as if nothing happened and most sadly, they seem to care more about the neighbors’ reactions, than about her well-being. Every time she visits them, she can feel the shame her father shows by saying to her: „ Why are you not wearing common clothes? Look at yourself! Why are you doing this to me?” This makes clear that she cannot expect any kind of emotional or financial support by them. They, however, expected that all she was going through was just a phase that will pass away.
After all that, it does not surprise that she tried committing suicide several times, especially in the „under cover” period. Her friends were mocking at her and she could not reveal her true gender identity to anyone. In order to stop the bullying she had been practicing „male“ voice and behavior in front of the mirror, and all this brought Maria to a psychical condition in which she got paranoid having people around her, and especially people looking at her.
Now she has a new circle of friends where only few of them are familiar with her transgender identity. She does not want that people refer to her as „another category“, which in her opinion would be inevitable if they knew that she is not a cis-woman. She prefers to be treated as a woman.