On June 11 1960 Yvo Manuel Vas Dias was born as a girl. Now, after more than 49 years and numerous hormone treatments and operations, Yvo is a man. Psychologically he had been a man for a lot longer, always actually, but he kept putting off cosmetic changes because Yvo wanted to find peace with his spiritual self first. His Jewish background and interest in religion were in that sense extra challenges, because how could he justify his actions before God? He found answers, and in order to help others who found themselves in the same situation, he founded the working group transgender, religion, philosophy of life and ethics. “Everyone has his or her own psychological shit, but as a transgender you have to literally and figuratively go through the pain.”
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As a child Yvo was very solitary. Due to all kinds of physical complaints he was often admitted to hospital, but he could mostly be found in his room. Then he did not want to be disturbed, and he liked to hang a small notice board on the door which read ‘Do not disturb’. He explored boundaries by racing around on a borrowed scooter. Yvo: “I was a child who liked to day dream, a true romantic. I liked to visualize myself with a guitar wooing a beautiful lady under a balcony. I was in love with the girl next door and the nurse. I was raised as a girl, but was a melancholic little boy. Oh well, my mother didn’t know any better…” Somewhat later on, Yvo ended up in the lesbian world. In his own way – in a three-piece suit and quick conversation – he got in touch with women. As a social worker he felt like a Freudian psychiatrist, a saver of women in need. It flattered his ego, and yet something was missing. The outside world, after all, continued to see him as a woman. That hurt and made him aggressive. Yvo: “I started to dress and act like a man and even changed my name. During that period I could have killed anyone who addressed me as a woman, but you have to remain polite of course. Buddhism, which I got to know out of curiosity, helped me to deal with these feelings. More than that: it taught me how to assemble the various types of man that I have in me and weld them together into one entity.”
Continuing on from the above Yvo says: “I did not have a problem with my transsexuality, but with my manhood. What kind of man am I, I asked myself. The teachings of the Buddha, meditation and reciting mantra’s led me to see that my masculinity expresses itself in various ways. Sometimes I am a butler in character, at other times a seducer, caring father, artist or manager. The concept transsexuality does not really apply to people such as me. You are in search of your identity, your deepest being. Sexuality is only a very small part of that.” The insights that Yvo received from Buddhism touched him even more deeply. Yvo: “Every person has an internal treasure chamber, in which the various pieces of his soul are kept. As a transgender person you are forced to open these packages one by one. That’s when you are pleasantly surprised, but it is important to first clear up the mess that you also encounter, think of aggression, hatred, incomprehension and other negative energies. Only then can you be at one with yourself and the world around you, and start enjoying who you truly are. For hours I sat crying and fighting on my meditation cushion, but slowly the sorrow, rage and aggression disappeared to make way for acceptance, compassion and love. Then I thought: now that I feel so good inside, it is time to show that on the outside too.”
After my inner quest, I went back to the Genderteam of the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. I was very pleased with their letter which stated ‘in writing’ that from that moment on, I was to go through life as a man. Although I had done so all my life, it was a beautiful honour.” During the next years, the visits to the hospital followed each other in rapid succession. Operations were prepared for and Yvo starts taking hormones. Not an easy period. Yvo: “Once again I came up against myself very hard. The hormone treatment meant that I relived my whole puberty a second time. Scooter out of the closet and in search of girls! Emotional storms raged through my body, but in the meantime I had to learn to tame the explosive man inside me. Emotionally very demanding, particularly when my breasts grew larger as a result of the treatment. But when I was able to shave, I was in a jubilant mood. Another mile-stone! In town I chose a shaver with the greatest care.” Yvo is very positive about the intake and support the hospital (the VU medical center Amsterdam) gave him. “You are treated like a king. When I was in for my operation, I had my own room, with a bathroom and all. The operations also went well. In addition to my breasts, my uterus and fallopian tubes were removed too, and I will undergo an operation for a penis reconstruction in a few years time. It is usually referred to as a conversion, but I don’t think that is the right term. After all, you are not a car and your body needs time to come to terms with such radical interventions.
There is a lot of acceptance for the decision made by the man born and raised in Amsterdam to change his biological sex, both in society, but particularly among his family and friends. According to Yvo his own openness is a help. Yvo: “Acceptance everywhere, but most do not really understand it. They are not to blame for that. After all, we live in a society where thinking in black and white is the norm. For the outside world it is difficult to suddenly treat someone who is regarded as a woman as a man. But don’t forget that I was not a woman in the first place! The reactions from people in the spiritual world are sometimes irritating. There I regularly hear people, in a so-called generous way, say: ‘Oh don’t worry. It doesn’t matter what you are: man or woman. You are here as a person!’ Then I think: ‘How would you like to be continually addressed as someone of the other sex?!’ Anyway, it’s pointless to fight against it. Then you will succumb like a modern Don Quichot. Lay your cards on the table and don’t avoid ‘difficult’ questions. Make your gender into your personal power and use the joker when you can. Without fear and with the right kind of pride.”
Yvo believes that as a transman you go through exams of acceptance. He experienced a moment like this when, before the hormone treatments and operations, he tried to enter the Amsterdam synagogue wearing his yarmulke. He succeeded and Yvo had the blissful feeling that at last he had been accepted as the grandson of his Jewish grandfather who had already passed away some time ago. Yvo: “By nature I am very interested in heritage. Not from a sense of preservation, but because it can be a source of strength and identity. Religion brings people together and offers enormous riches on a psychological level. Every human being must be able to tap into that well freely, and therefore also a transman. In the past I asked questions such as ‘Does God accept me?’ and ‘May I cut my body?’ My spiritual quest has answered many questions, but how are my fellow transmen and woman doing? The working group transgender, religion, philosophy of life and ethics has as its ultimate aim the foundation of a knowledge center where every religious transgender person can come for information or advice. In this way, I am working with religious leaders of various denominations to make an inventory of trans-friendly passages in the holy books. A little like a lawyer who looks for the loopholes in the law for his client. That results in arguments with which you can continue to visit your own church, mosque or temple. Important, because you really need an anchor-especially as a transgender person!”
Interview Paravisie – Text: Niels Brummelman journalist