Transgender Alexa bares all
Alexa Strauss-Hoffmann was born a man; but converted himself into a woman a few years ago.
“I was born a man, but today I am a proud transgender,” Alexa declared during a recent interview with Barbados TODAY in which she spoke openly about her decision to change gender, and how life has been since then.
This was the direction 21-year-old Alexa decided to take after years of suffering in silence being somebody she did not want to be.
“I would say for my entire life I have always felt that I should be female. But only within the last three to four years I decided to make changes in terms of my life and how I dress, how I interact with persons, and even to an extent, my own self-image to bring it more to the fore that I can admit it to myself,” she said, as she sat neatly dressed in a skirt-suit.
The Barbados Gays & Lesbians And All-Sexuals Against Discrimination (BGLAD) had an inner image she preferred, but yet at the same time she was presenting herself as something that was not in alignment with how she felt.
In her opinion, she was not being truthful “with people I was interacting with; I was not being truthful with myself. So there was an internalized sense of betrayal, and then on top of that it was just discomfort”.
“I turned 16 in 2010, and it was around the start of that fifth year in secondary school that I had to do a bit of introspection, because around that time a lot of things were going wrong.
“I was getting into a lot of conflicts with classmates. I was having even more problems at home; and my mother and I weren’t seeing eye to eye sometimes; and so I had to take a step back.”
After tackling problem after problem, Alexa was forced to figure out why is was that all of a sudden these issues were occurring; and that was when she realized she had reached breaking point. “I was being targeted with the bullying, the name-calling, and the rumours –– just because people would look and see I carried myself with perfect posture, prim and proper, and voice very high-pitched.
“They used that as a checklist to say, ‘This person is gay’. As a result it was bulla this, bulla that; batty boy . . . . In primary school it was just the odd name-calling and teasing,” said Alexa who admitted she was not physically been attacked for her sexual preference, though she had to deal with the threats, and almost being purposely run over by a vehicle in her neighbourhood.
One of the most difficult times in Alexa’s life was when she had to break the news to her mother. She could not bring herself at first to tell the woman, who had welcomed a son into the world, that she was now going to have a daughter.
“I called my mother aside, and I took my Blackberry and typed out a memo to give to her, because I couldn’t bring myself to verbalize it. My mother read it; and it was back and forth text messaging between us.
“She was asking, ‘Are you sure? Why would you now do this? You were trying to get into relationships with classmates, and all of a sudden now you are telling me that you are into men? And you are telling me that you would wish to become female?’,” Alexa recalled.
The transgender would not say that her mother treated her any differently, but noted there was some change in the internal emotions of that woman dear to her, as her mum “started to get a bit depressed”.
Alexa’s mother was not only worried about what had “invaded” her “child’s development”, but also concerned about the potential fallout in her relations with her own work colleagues because of it.
“But my mother had already got to the point where she was accustomed to my already being attracted to men. But then when the gender identity stepped forward, it was another shock for her.
“She had to try and draw a line, saying, ‘Look, when I was pregnant, I always wanted a boy. I didn’t want to have a daughter; and all of a sudden my son is turning into my daughter; and that is something I can’t handle’.
“There was a point where we started to grow apart; and then she realized ‘okay, so now you are comfortable and you are able to get things done’,” Alexa said in a soft voice.
Unfortunately, her mother passed away in December last year at age 43. But according the transgender, by that time her mum had finally accepted her as she was.
“The last time we went out before she died, we went out as mother and daughter. So that was the first time I dressed in full female attire. We went to a NIFCA literary arts gala of some sort, and my mother actually came across some of her friends who were there; and she reintroduced me.
“She said, ‘You remember my son Gavin, right?’ And they said ‘yes’. And she said, ‘Well, meet my daughter Alexa’. For the most part it was a comfortable reaction.”
However, Alexa’s sudden new lifestyle change did not go down well with her family, especially after her mother died.
She is now no longer close to her relatives and barely says hello whenever she passes them on the road.
“The way how they had behaved when my mother passed away, while I can understand not everyone would be accepting, one would have accepted that, under those circumstances, family would have pulled together; but this was a case where they allowed that factor to nullify whatever family meant to them before,” she said.
“As far as they were concerned, I was no longer family. I was just someone or something that was there in the bloodline. So because of that, I am not very close to my relatives any more.”
Relatively tall and broad-shouldered, which she calls her Amazon build, Alexa’s erect walk causes many to stop, turn and look her way –– which helps to stroke her ego. Alexa noted that she must always look good in public, but like any other woman, had her flaws.
“At home, I am not in the skirt; I am not with the make-up; the wig comes off. So it is just me with short black hair. It becomes evident that I am a bit heavyset because I am close to 200 pounds; so then I would feel a bit self-conscious when I am looking in the mirror.
“Psychologically, I tell myself I am going to face the world. I am going to go about my day; and whatever happens, happens,” said the transgender, who has moments when she becomes withdrawn, becomes angry –– and, ironically, when she woud discover humour in sad situations.
For Alexa, being involved in relationships is a serious undertaking, as she prefers to be in a committed one.
In her view, many young men, around her age, only want to fulfil their sexual needs. However, this young lady has declared she does not want to be somebody’s “booty call”.
“I want to be with someone where I can settle down, have a relationship. I have had one or two relationships where the person genuinely wanted to be committed, but because of some reason or another we couldn’t be together, because their family didn’t approve, or the chemistry wasn’t right.
“I actually had a relationship this year that lasted six months and it actually got as far where he actually moved in with me, and we were living just under two months. But then unfortunately, plans changed for him and he decided, ‘I want to move on’. Though he genuinely liked me, he still had this goal in his mind that by a certain time and a certain age, he wanted to be married with children, because that was something that his family expected of him.”
Still looking for her perfect partner, staying away from intimate relationships for the time being, the transgender divulged she had contemplated having a genital change, and was currently thinking about the right time and place.
As an activist, Alexa has come across many young males as young as 12 who were attracted to the same sex.
Nevertheless, “I try to advise them, ‘At your age, you have got your studies ahead of you; you have got friends to make, do not focus so much on transitioning and do not focus so much on relationships. Just focus on enjoying your childhood now and then when you get to that stage you decide’.”
Alexa has identified young people in society, even those in their 30s and 40s, who would want to be able to transition in some form or another, be it in how they present themselves in gender identity, or just in their sexual orientation.
“I know of some men who are married; and they wish they could have a relationship with a man. But just because of the marriage or what their family might think, they are too scared to do it. It is almost like a threat to do it.”
When asked to state her views about the introduction of gay rights in Barbados, this transgender is all for it and has called especially for the implementation of gender-neutral laws concerning domestic abuse.
She sees it as “something that needs to happen because gay people were also expected to obey the laws of the land”.
“They are going to expect me to pay my bills, pay my taxes, obey the law. If I commit a crime I am going to be sentenced the same way as if you commit the crime.
“I am not going to at this point rally for marriage, because Barbadian society has not yet been able to grasp that concept; so it’s more or less something that they are not ready for.”
When it comes to her future, the seemingly intelligent transgender has not decided on a particular career goal, having attempted a law degree and computer studies.
When Alexa is not busy paying attention to her appearance, she is very much into automotive designs, and is always talking about cars to her friends, or may be found on the computer designing various models.
Alexa is often advised that Barbados is not ready for the transgender’s way of life, and is often prompted to tone down her feminine dress and behaviour. She listens and sometimes jokingly returns to her “male voice”.
“That is just theatre,” she stressed.
According to Alexa, who aspires to someday have a husband and maybe even adopt a child, the reality is that she has no plans on ever seeing herself as a man again.
“I am not turning back; I can’t turn back. It is just too far set in stone. Even before I transitioned, the writing was on the wall; and even for me to try to change back, it is still going to be obvious.
“One person thought when I was dressed in a T-shirt and jeans that I was a butch lesbian. I am not the slightest into women.”
Alexa sees her role as a member of BGLAD as a very important mission, as she strives to bring to light the situations many persons –– not only in the transgender community –– face daily.
The transgender also hopes to bring forward suggestions on where society could go in terms of being more understanding and sensitized about dealing with members of her community.
She pleaded: “I would like to see a point in time where we can walk the streets freely; we can go about our business and not be harassed and not worry about being assaulted; not be in fear for our lives.
No longer living in the closet, and feeling as free as a soaring eagle being herself, Alexa is adamant an individual’s sexual preference is personal, and one should not be ridiculed or persecuted for it.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say that my gender identity is just my business now, because I am already out there. But, what is under my clothes and who I interact with on an intimate level is between myself, my closest friends, my family; those who would care to know.”