For the series People UNTAGGED, 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.
Here we speak with Maarten, who volunteers at a castle and owns a webshop with medieval items. They talk about the transition process, where the changes were very gradual, and how you have to keep developing as a person, especially after your transition.
Hey Maarten, nice to talk to you. First of all, tell me something about yourself.
Certainly! I'm Maarten, 31 years old and I currently work in a store. I also do volunteer work at Castle De Haar and I am active in church. In my spare time, I like to be creative, for instance I like to write. I also like cooking and enjoy going out for a day, in nature or something cultural.
Sounds good, you're pretty active.
Yes you’re right, and it's all very diverse too. Because I also have my own webshop where I sell medieval- fantasy- and spiritual items. Which makes the assortment unique as well. If you're curious, drop by: www.bluefaris.com and I also attend various events. This also links back to my voluntary work at Kasteel de Haar. I have been working there as a host for four years now: I welcome visitors, tell them about the house rules and explain things like the lockers and that there are guides in every room. I recently became a guide myself and this is great fun to do. You learn so much about the castle, but I also find the spontaneous conversations with visitors surprising. Then I am in a room of the castle, and there I answer visitors' questions or have a chat with them. Since two years, there is also a shop where I work together with a colleague. It's all very fun and diverse to do. And also very satisfying.
"I couldn't identify with the girls at school, I was different."
Yes, how nice. To get straight to the subject I'd like to talk to you about: can you tell me something about your gender identity and transition?
Then I have to go very far back in time. It all started in high school. I noticed that I was different from other girls, I couldn't identify with them. I was also different from the rest of the teens in terms of character, likes and hobbies. I was aware of that.
During sex education in biology class, I first heard something about being transgender. Then I thought, 'hey, maybe I am too.' But I let it rest. Until one day I didn't feel quite right about myself. That's when things started to roll for me. It really went step by step.
It started with me looking more at boys' clothes. So I bought a pair of pants from the boys' department. With that, I had a good reason to shop there. That's how I started changing my clothing style and appearance a little bit. I had my hair cut a little shorter and I slowly started wearing boys' clothes all the time. As a result, I noticed that I was being addressed as a boy more and more often.
Because it felt so good, and I already looked more or less like a boy, I didn't want to pretend I was a girl wearing boy clothes. That didn't go together for me anymore. So I started to think about it further and made up my mind: yes, I am a boy.
"I couldn't pretend anymore and realized: yes, I'm a boy."
One afternoon I said to my parents, 'I want to be a boy, I want to go down that path.' My father was shocked; my mother already had such a suspicion. My father wanted me to think about it first. But I had already thought about it. So I said I really wanted to go down that track. I couldn't pretend anymore.
Next my mother took me to the doctor. She also said that when he saw me sitting in front of her, she saw a boy right away. So the referral to the gender clinic was no problem. After that I was very lucky with the waiting list, because within 3 months there was a spot for me. I had made a countdown calendar myself.
"I also still have a feminine side and learned to accept those feminine energies."
Wow how nice! How did the medical process go for you?
I started taking testosterone. Next I also had top surgery. So I thought, 'it's done, now I am myself.' But then I found out that I also have a feminine side to me. Because of that, sometimes I ran into things of which I thought, 'I'm not allowed to do that as a boy.' That got me thinking. To find balance again, I sought counseling. That helped me a lot to discover myself and my inner self.
I came to the conclusion that I had to try to accept those feminine energies. Because that is also part of me. That's just the way my character is. I have always been very cheerful, open-minded, positive and a somewhat childlike person. It’s just me. But it took a while before I could accept that. I found that quite bizarre. Because I don't label other people like that, and at that moment I really labeled myself.
"I don't want to be classified between either boys or girls."
If people ask you now how you identify, what would you say?
I've let go of it a bit more now. I think now, 'as long as I know who I am, how I am, that’s enough.' That's the most important thing. You can address me as 'Maarten' and you say 'him'. But in some cases 'they' would also be appropriate. I just don't want to be classified between either boys or girls. I want to take the middle road.
As I said, I now see myself more as a human being, and also the people around me. I am drawn to a person's character and energy. I found out that this is the most important. From this I discovered that I am Pansexual.
And how did you get to know UNTAG?
That was when I first saw the series 'Hij is een Zij'. In one episode a boy told about a prosthetic penis and special clothes. That sounded interesting and I became curious about it. Trans-Missie (red.: now UNTAG) was mentioned in this and was even featured in an episode. So I bought harnesses and prostheses.
What gave you support and helped you during that period of transition?
The transition process has given me the strength to do things I was afraid to do at first. For example, volunteering at Castle de Haar, or the things I do for the church.
I also followed workshops and a home study on subjects that really interested me. After I dared to follow my soul, everything started to flow more and it has really made me who I am today. The highlight was when, two years ago, I anonymously posed nude for Viva magazine, in the Anybody section. That was really quite a crowning moment for everything I had gone through. That was also the first time I literally exposed myself to someone.
That certainly takes a lot of guts! I can imagine you're pretty proud of that. Is there anything else you're proud of?
Well I've also been dating, and the sexuality part that comes with it for a while. Because yes, how do I present myself there? On an erotic dating site I came across someone who dressed more like a woman. I got into a conversation with that person. We turned out to have a very good click, and a week later I was at his house. He dressed up as a woman. Then we just had a great time together!
I didn't know beforehand that I would dare to do that. Now that I look back I think, 'okay, this is kind of special.' Especially when you've just been speaking to each other for a week. But because we also had app contact about the gender aspect - because he was also struggling with that - so we had really built a strong connection in a short time. Yes, if I had to choose something I'm proud of now, that would be it.
How cool. If you were to look to the future what ideal image do you see for yourself?
Ooh, if I can dream... Maybe having a partner after all. And if not, I would be happy with someone who is a very good friend. Someone I see as family. What I would like in the future, is preferably a cottage somewhere in nature, a bungalow or something. Then working a few hours a week somewhere, because yes, income is also needed. That could also just be charity work or volunteer work: something with the castle, history, or church for example. That's what I have in mind for now. And my webshop, I want that to grow as well. I am also considering doing more for the LGBT+ community and giving workshops on spirituality.
"Create a stable foundation for yourself, that really helps."
Do you have a message you would like to give to people who are reading your story now?
I would like to say that it is not only about the outside, but also about the inside. You have to see yourself more as a person, and not think, 'oh, I want to be a girl, so then I have to look like this and show this behaviour and vice versa, of course this also applies: I want to be a boy so then I have to be like this.' It's better to discover it step by step. Even if you're stuck with that waiting period at VUMC, in the meantime you can already change your appearance a bit more, for example. Start experimenting with it! Do the things you like to do and don't let them slow you down. Especially when your inner self is more stable, you will be more realistic about how the transition will go. If you focus too much on the hormones or the surgeries - because you want them so badly - you actually lose who you are as a person.
So even though you have to wait, I would say: try to work on yourself, on your inner self. Get a stable foundation. That too will take you very far.
Because yes, after your physical transition, you're not there yet. I was very much looking at how boys should behave. I thought: that's how I should be. You have a certain image of how you should look. But a lot happens after your transition. You hear that a lot of people fall into a dark hole. They don't get guidance. That can lead to depression, or just not knowing what to do anymore. Because actually the transition is an inner journey to the person you are. What helps me, is meeting with my psychologist every six months. Just to update on how I'm doing. Because I just like that myself. I think that if you do all the things you want to do on the inside, you have already made a lot of progress.
And the physical has a certain end point, but mentally the journey is just beginning.
Yes that's right, I certainly experienced that, yes.
"Don't suppress your feelings: you're allowed to be sad, angry, or very happy!"
You never finish evolving and developing, I hope.
No. True indeed. Most important, when you're in a transition journey, is to be open and honest with yourself. That can be confronting. But try not to suppress your feelings. Those feelings are allowed: you can be sad, you can be angry, but you can also be very happy. That is also something important: to feel. If you notice that you are not feeling well, talk to someone so that you can let it out.
2 tips from Maarten:
Kids church: once every few weeks, we gather with children up to 10 years old. Each meeting has a theme. We tell a story, we do some arts and crafts and the children talk about what they think of it. There I welcome the children and parents and provide some sweets. From the first time there, I felt right at home. And now I am also a facilitator for the First Holy Communion Children.
Like icing on the cake, for a few months now I have been volunteering in the beautiful Dom Church in Utrecht. There I also welcome visitors and answer practical questions, such as: where is the entrance to the Pandhof? and are there toilets here? My colleague and I are at your service. And I simultaneously learn a lot about the Dom Church itself, it has such a rich history.