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Akina on finding freedom in the Netherlands: ‘I’m no longer afraid to be myself’

Photo: Loet Koreman

Akina Brunzel (23) grew up in Bavaria, Germany. She now studies Industrial Engineering at Avans Breda. She has known her whole life that she is in the wrong body.

Imagine: during your puberty, you finally discover who you are. But no one close to you seems to understand your situation and your neighbours laugh at you. The bullying gets so bad that you feel unsafe and eventually decide to cross the border and start a new life in the Netherlands.

“I studied physics in Germany for two years. After four or five weeks of lectures, all the universities closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Studying at home was a mental challenge, and after two years I decided to change courses. I tried industrial engineering in Germany for a year. When I started that course, I came out as transgender. I started dressing in a more feminine way and I began voice therapy to develop a more feminine voice.

Wrong body
I have known that I am transgender since the age of 13 or 14. I feel like a woman. I don’t like wearing boys’ clothes, it feels weird. Every time I see myself in the mirror, I think: this is the wrong body. I came out to my parents, brother and a few good friends when I was 17. My mother was always convinced that it was ‘just a phase’. That made me doubt myself, because what if my truth wasn’t real? But every time I thought about it, I knew there was no reason for that uncertainty. This feeling can’t be a phase if I have felt it for ten years now.

A year and a half ago, I told a good friend that I am a trans woman. He reacted calmly and supported me straight away. I went public with it quite impulsively. I changed my name on social media and changed my pronouns to she/her.

I went clubbing in a skirt and a nice top for the first time. It was very overwhelming, but I did like the feeling. Everything fell into place. I started wearing women’s clothes at university too. No one looked askance at that. I even got compliments from people about how I was dressed. That made me stronger.

More open-minded
People are more open-minded on campus. Outside the university grounds, I always got funny looks. That was in Bayreuth, Germany. It’s a conservative area and a lot of the people there are religious. Whenever I walked around town wearing women’s clothes, people stared at me as though I didn’t belong there. I was even verbally and physically abused. They shouted insults like ‘Scheisstranse’ at me. That made me decide to leave Germany. I had been to the Netherlands four times on holiday. Every time I was here, I felt comfortable. Walking around here in women’s clothes I feel more at home than I do in my home town in Germany.

When I came out publicly, I also had to come out to my mother a second time. She got angry and wasn’t at all understanding because she didn’t want to believe it. As a result, our relationship was strained for a long time. Just before I moved to the Netherlands, she gave me a letter that began with the words ‘Dear Akina’. She had never called me by my female name before. When I read that, I knew that she now accepted me. If I hadn’t moved, I would never have received that letter and I would still be at loggerheads with my mother. Then I would still feel ashamed and unsafe to be myself in Germany. The bad experiences and memories faded with my departure. My mother and I now get on well. We are in touch almost every day. The fact that I live here gives me strength. I no longer feel afraid to be myself when I go to visit my family in Germany.

A dream come true
The first time I turned the key in the lock of my apartment in the Netherlands, a weight fell from my shoulders. Starting a new life was a dream come true. Because the good friends I had in Bayreuth still knew my ‘deadname’, the name I was given at birth. Sometimes they accidentally still call me by that name. I don’t hold it against them, but it does hurt. Here in Breda, that person simply doesn’t exist. They only know me as Akina and no one else.

Ultimately, this adventure was and still is worth it. My mother sometimes asks me why I decided to become a woman. My answer always was that I didn’t choose it but that’s what I have always been. But now I have a better explanation – I have simply decided to show that I am a woman. I made a conscious decision to come out and I choose to show that to other people. Previously, I hid my true identity because I was afraid of what other people might say about me. That feeling melted away when I came out. That was the decision I took: to drop the mask. In the Netherlands, I have been able to build a basis of trust in myself. I have found my freedom here.”

This article appeared in Dutch in Punt magazine ‘Grenzeloos’ (boundless). You can pick up the magazine for free at the various Avans locations.

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