For the People UNTAGGED -series, we talk to people about their gender identity. By sharing their stories in a positive way, we want to inspire others, within the LGBTQIA+ community and beyond.
Read Marjolijn's story here, how she manages to survive in a man's world during her transition with the help of a positive mindset, caving and a good make-up brand.
Hi Marjolijn! Would you like to introduce yourself?
My name is Marjolijn and I have been working in gas detection for 16 years. I started as ‘him‘ in gas detection, but I made the decision 3 years ago to start my transition. When I was young, I actually planned to do that one day. In my youth there were no transgender people. There was almost no information available, because the internet did not yet exist. But I knew I was different.
What did you notice that was 'different' about you?
As a kid, I never felt like a good fit with all the boy-things. Of course I would romp sometimes as a child, I enjoyed riding cross bikes. I just had to learn to live with it. But I always liked the girly stuff. But, the girls' things were for the girls and the boys things were for the boys. I'd struggled with that in my head for at least 45 years.
What prompted you to do something about that struggle?
In 2010 I had a kind of TIA. I suddenly fell over in a supermarket and was taken to the hospital by ambulance. There they recorded everything, made videos and did a CT scan. They said: "There is nothing to be found''. The surgeon stated that it was due to stress. And I thought well.. That’s impossible!
But in 2020 I had another one of those TIA’s. By then, I knew what was going on. They happened, of course, because my own personality had to be hidden. A good friend then said to me: 'If you don't feel quite as good as him, then why don’t you start your transition?
The conversations I had with this friend definitely gave me a push. What also helped was that Sara Bettens had become Sam Bettens (ed.: singer of the Flemish band K's Choice). He was actually quite old already. Then I thought yes, I should be able to do that too. Next I considered whether I could continue to do my own work, because of course I work in a man's world. Would I be discriminated against a lot? Could I handle that? But I decided to dive into the deep-end anyway.
"If in doubt, don't keep it to yourself. Don't let it drag on for years."
And what is it like for you at work now?
I can just be who I am, I can dress the way I want - and the transition and an operation in the near future. Then when I'm done, and it's over, I'll be even happier. Because I'm already very happy with the fact that I've made this decision and have started the transition.
You just mentioned Sam Bettens, and of course the fact that there was no internet or information in your childhood. Can you tell something about sources of information or examples that helped you to take the step to transition?
Phew, that's hard. In the last 10 years, developments in the media have moved very quickly, which enabled me to put my finger on what was actually going on in society. The acceptance of transgender people has also grown. That did give me a push.
Still, as a trans person, I find it difficult to get good information. There are countless websites and blogs, many trans people keep a blog. But it is all specific for that person, aimed at that person. A good, relevant source of information, for example from the state or the government, is simply hard to find.
Can you tell me a bit about what the transition looks like for you?
In March 2021 I went to the doctor, where I asked for a referral to start the process. On January 1, 2021, Radboud also started transgender care in Nijmegen, because that only existed in Amsterdam and Groningen at first. I was on the waiting list and I actually expected to receive an invitation after a year. In April 2022 I was told by Radboud that they were really too busy. A friend then tipped me off to a psychologist, whom I could soon turn to, to draw up a report. I'm working on that now, so that I can send it to the insurance company. Then I can move on to step two: hormones, facial hair removal, and speech therapy.
And how exactly did you come into contact with products from UNTAG (formerly Trans-Missie)?
Well, that friend of mine also said: "You should check out Trans-Missie". I did, and I was overwhelmed by the offering. I then bought a string, on sale, and it still works.
Now that you have started the transition process, how do you envision the future?
I don't know if I will continue to do my profession for another 15 years. Maybe my interests will change soon. For now, my profession offers me enough of a challenge. As a woman I will soon be able to fully practise my profession. My passport and my birth register have already been changed. So I am officially a woman. What I occasionally run into with my work is that women are not considered equal to men. If I advise a client on something, they will first call the business to check whether that is really the case. If a man advises the same, it will not happen. Well… the world of thinking is like that. But I just think it's funny.
My appearance and face will also change with the hormones. Once I've had laser hair removal, I won't have to use so much make-up anymore. Because that is of course a hassle, finding the right make-up. The Jecca Blac brand has good products. It was always difficult to come by, because it had to be imported. Nowadays you can get your hands on it more easily.
What problems do you run into when looking for makeup?
Finding good, opaque makeup. Because I still have beard growth of course. And to get a good color match. Jecca Blac has a product that you can apply first, that will mask the darkness, and then you can apply a color afterwards. They focus especially on trans people.
I have just started laser treatments, because they are now reimbursed. If I had known in advance that the effect was so great, I would have paid for it myself. It makes a huge difference when the first layer of darkness is removed from your face. And now I need a lot less make-up.
The tricky thing is that my work doesn't allow me to enter the so-called cleanrooms when I wear make-up. I can't do my job very well right now, because of the make-up. But I won’t leave the house without make-up. They never had to deal with a transgender person at the office. But they handle it smoothly.
"I'm proud of the fact that I can be myself. Every day."
Yes, because how are things going for you at work?
I expected to face a lot of discrimination. That people would make nasty comments. That actually didn't happen at all.
A year after I started the process, in March 2022, we had a meeting. Of course everyone could already see that I was changing: I had colored my hair and wore make-up. That day in March, my work organized a coming-out day for me. There I told my story, with a question and answer session led by someone from outside the office. This gave people the opportunity to ask their questions. Since then, I have also been living as a woman in the professional world. From that moment on I could also just put on some make-up in the morning. I can wear my hair down now. So, I can just do all that, without hindrance.
Sounds positive! Can you tell me something you're proud of?
I'm proud of... That I can be myself. Every day. When I look in the mirror I think 'Well, I look good'. And that used to be different, when he looked in the mirror, he looked at his reflection. And when I look in the mirror now, I look at myself. That's nice to see. So I am really happy with myself every single day.
What do you like to do in your free time now?
I walk in the Ardennes, and I do a lot of caving. 'Speleo' is crawling around in a cave. It literally means cave. There are caves that you can only access if you are a member of a special association. That way you have access to closed caves which you have to crawl through. It’s a very active sport. I do that with a Flemish caving association. Of course I thought it was nerve–wracking to tell them that ‘he’ was going to be a ‘she’. But they took it very well. We also implemented that fairly quickly within the association. We have a chat with everyone who is new. About being transgender and being in transition. So that goes smoothly too.
And in terms of sports, it is quite safe. You make sure you never jump off something, because you don't know what the surface below will be like. So you always climb off. You do have some techniques that you have to learn, which is nice. And it takes you to interesting places! For example, I drive to Slovenia a few times a year. There I can walk around freely as a transgender. As a woman. In Italy too, and in Austria and France.
" One piece of advice about transitioning, especially if you're still young: do it. Just do it."
And is there anything you would like to share with other people who read your story? A message or advice?
Yes, if in doubt, don't keep it to yourself. Don't let it drag on for years. There's no need to hide. Simply do it. The waiting lists are hellish, I have to admit. I also don't know if it will be resolved any time soon. To keep the waiting times bearable for myself, I actually came out right away. I immediately implemented my social transition within a month. From then on I cleaned up all his clothes. So when I went out, I was a woman. Right from the start, as quickly as possible. The advantage for me was that you had to wear a mask during COVID-times. I could easily hide the insecurity about my make-up.
But again, do it! Soon you will be old, are not enjoying the life you’re living, and you will no longer have time to express yourself. Especially for old, or older people like me, because I'm 53. For older people who still struggle with it, who have learned to live with it, if you can: Do it. I know that there are a lot of older transgender people who are learning to live with it and who have just built a family, then it is difficult of course. But for the young, the youth… Do it. Just do it.
Check out the make-up brand Jecca Blac here: