Hello again folx. My name is Cassandra Kazimierza and I am a gay, non-binary transfemme, and my pronouns are she/her and they/them. You may remember me from my first article with USAC where I discussed preparing to study abroad in Krakow as a trans student. Today is the end of my first month here in Krakow, Poland, and my sixth month on hormones. This blog post will serve as an update of that Q&A, as well as a general reflection of my study abroad experience through the lens of being an “out” transfemme.
In honor of National Coming Out Day, 11 October, I thought it would be beneficial to revisit the original article I wrote in an effort to help other people under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella understand the realities of a study abroad experience. This is not to say that if you do not identify as someone under the umbrella, that you cannot benefit from an article like this. At the time of the previous article, I had just come out to my father, and was dealing with an increasingly fragile relationship with my mother. One of my sisters knew about my gender identity, but the other two siblings did not. Some of my friends reached out after reading the article and expressed support. Some didn’t know what to say. Some of them aren’t here anymore, and I miss them, but I cannot wait for them to accept me as who I have always been. I must move forward because I no longer have a choice; if it costs you your peace, it’s too expensive.
Poland has become neutral place for me to transition. No one knows who I was before: the little boy who was afraid to cry. No one knows anything about me; Poland is a chance for me to build the life I want to live. There is a power in anonymity, and for me, this is a time to explore what my gender identity means to me, what it means to be trans, and who I want to be after the dust has settled. This is the time to understand what I want, and how I am going to accomplish this. These really aren’t different than anyone else’s reason for studying abroad. Embarking on a program like this is an opportunity to understand yourself a little better, whether you’re trans, cis, gay, straight, ace, gender non-conforming, or non-binary. This is an opportunity for all of us to ask the question: “Who do I want to be, and how am I going to get there.”
The previous article was my way of coming out to everyone who weren’t yet “in the loop.” It’s been scary, coming out, becoming more visible, asserting the woman I am today. I am happy I did it. I am happier now. Poland has brought me some unbelievably validating experiences, as well as a few that I wish went better.
Part of asserting who I am is acknowledging that some people might not agree with my existence, they might not want anything to do with me, and they could be openly hostile. That has not generally been the case. When the participant list was circulated between us, one of the other students suggested we start a group chat to get comfortable with one another. After all, we’re here together for the whole program. Why not be friends? Why not make plans? We received our class schedules shortly after, immediately making all sorts of fun weekend plans together: a visit to Prague, attending Oktoberfest in Munich, maybe even going on a hike. Everyone was so kind and genuinely fun to talk to. It made me forget I was different. What I feared coming here was that I would not be accepted by my peers, that I would not make any friends, and my time here abroad would be a very lonely one. That was kind of true of my first week. I was having trouble coping with this. I reached out to my therapist back home on the third day. I visited the university’s resident therapist a day after that, a free resource.
Week one started as a growl and ended with a bang.
I met a gay woman here.
And then I met another.
And then I met another new friend, and she took me to a gay bar, and we sang Cher and Elton John karaoke together with her girlfriend.
And I made another friend the next town over. I visit her when I can; we talk every day on Facebook messenger.
And then I met yet another new friend, an English student from the Erasmus program.
And then I met someone who is transmasc, and he welcomed me into a community that greeted me with a hug.
Last week, I was lucky enough to have found the resource I lacked back in Texas: a trans support group. I was invited to attend last week, the last week of September, as a guest, and I will be returning weekly now as a member. I cannot express the intense emotions I felt sitting on a cushion in a house, surrounded by people who thought like me, who felt like me, but did not speak like me. One of the members, another new friend of mine who is bilingual, kept checking on me because he could see I was just leaking tears constantly. It was cute. Another women shared her week with the group in English, saying “I want everyone to understand what I am saying.” I’m thankful for that kind of awareness. Watching them interact with each other, comforting one another, crying with one another, I knew I was home. The language of love and validation is universal. I understood that immediately. Home is a powerful thing, and I have one here too.
I felt that not everyone would accept me for who I am. I felt that unless I perform “hyperfemininity,” that no one would see me as a woman. I felt that people wouldn’t like me. I felt I would be stared at, made fun of, ostracized. But when I’m with my new friends here, who I lovingly call the “locals,” perfect strangers refer to me and my friends together as a “group of girls.” Men hold doors open for me. People have politely told me that I’m entering the wrong bathroom, “the women’s restroom is the other door.” They do not see me as anything other than a woman. They have no reason to suspect otherwise.
I am coping, in spite of these tangible, palpable, and concrete ways I have felt alienated. I am more than surviving. I am thriving. I don’t have any ill-will towards those who don’t want to be my friend. They’re missing out. I love me. I love my new friends here. I love my old friends back in Texas too, and I miss them. But today, I am in Poland, and I am happy to be here, sitting in my fuzzy pink blanket, living in the moment, with just a few tears in my eyes. But they’re tears of hope. Every day is a new day for me to explore the city, to take a walk down the alleys, to skip through the park, and to day dream through the cute little Bohemian cafes. The woman I am becoming gives me chills. I am obligated to move differently. I have work to do.
Cassandra Kazimierza is currently studying abroad in Krakow, Poland.