‘I don’t want to be a women. I just don’t want to be a man’
Recently I met an old friend back in Sweden, Claes Schmidt/Sara Lund. Yes, he has a male name and a female name because he is a transvestite. Why? Because from time to time he wants to ‘get out of a man’s gender role’ or put differently, stretch the gender role of a man, which he considers too narrow.
Sara Claes’s story fits very well into the work of the European Institute of Gender Equality to convince decision-makers and the public that gender equality is also a men’s issues, exchanging good practices of men’s involvement across the EU.
Sara Claes is 66 years old. He has a long career as both a musician and a marketing manager. Together with his wife he was running a successful event business, including theatre, shows, nightclub, restaurant and conferences, which hosted many of Sweden’s most famous celebrities and entertainers. After 16 years he sold his company and started working as a public speaker, featuring in national-wide media and press. With a combination of seriousness and plenty of humour Sara Claes lectures about societal norms and why we are ‘programmed’ to believe that for example transvestism is something abnormal, instead of simply unusual. In 2012 Vesna Maldaner wrote his biography (‘Från Man till Människa’).
Gender equality is about emancipation both for women and men, and men are the ones with the most to gain from it, Sara Claes explains. Today’s labour market asks for employers with ‘female’ qualities such as social skills and refraining from unnecessary risks. Diversity feeds creativity and should be seen as an asset instead of something negative. Coming out at the age of 54, and not having to hide his full personality at work, made him a better manager and Sara Claes is convinced that openness leads to better companies and organisations, creatively as well as financially. Although, fear of losing one’s spouse, children, friends or employment keeps many transvestites still in the closet.
As Simone de Beauvoir said you are not born with your gender, it is made; we praise girls for their looks, and boys for their courage. Girls play princesses and boys monsters, wrestling vs. cooking, football vs. shopping etc. Studies show how grown-ups hold new-born girls more gently than boys, throw boys higher in the sky than girls, and let boys crawl further away than girls. Sara Claes says that adults behave this way because of our programming and settings. Just like you can change the setting on your computer or on your phone, you can change the setting of your own way of thinking. We should upgrade ourselves to be more compatible with reality and no longer find other people different from ourselves strange.
Sara Claes provides several examples of prominent people that made claims once regarded as incontestable: in 1835 the engineer Thomas Threshold claimed trains would never drive faster than 15 km/h, in 1932 Albert Einstein implied atoms were not useful and the founder of IBM predicted in 1943 that no more than five computers would exist in the world. What once were considered truths, are today contested opinions (and incorrect!). In other words, we think ‘within our box’ and create norms, but norms change with time. What we call abnormal may simply be unusual in our time.
For more information on these topics please visit the website of our member Transgender Europe.