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Letter from Brussels: Bo

by De Ket in Columns & Opinions , 22 March 2018

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar

Dear Neighbors to the North, For a while, Flemish political TV journalist Boudewijn Van Spilbeeck became international news. This time as “Bo,” as of January 30th, Boudewijn is going through life as Bo. A remarkable story, especially if you have a lot of respect for Boudewijn’s long professional career and how he could keep this a secret for so long.

Boudewijn Van Spilbeeck
But now that he is Bo, I will also address Bo as a woman.

Bo announced her transition in Cathérine Moerkerke’s TV show. It was great for Cathérine’s ratings, of course. It is remarkable that the fifty-eight-year-old Bo chose a coming out as a transgender in front of TV cameras. Bo is still happily married and the father of two adult children. Both his wife and his children support him unconditionally. It is an example of true love for those who are still looking for it.

The coming out of a well-known television personality is always a good thing. Professional journalists who can be seen on TV on a daily basis have a certain authority, and sometimes also a credibility. When they bring their own personal story out, viewers are all the more amazed. Or at that moment, they understand the power of words even better.

Bo also indicated that she hopes her coming out will help other transgenders. A somewhat peculiar statement for someone who has wrestled with this for decades before coming out with it. Perhaps Bo would have liked to come out of the closet a little earlier. As a political journalist she was in contact with Prof. Petra De Sutter, professor of gynaecology and senator for the ecological party Groen and a well-known Flemish transwoman.  Petra De Sutter completed her transition some fifteen years ago, and can therefore speak from experience.

Bo Van Spilbeeck
But not all transwomen or men lead “successful” lives. The process of transition is a burdensome psychological journey, not to mention the painful medical transition process. The stories about transgender people appearing in the press are usually testimonies of transgenders who have gone through their transition without any major problems. In all honesty we should also mention that many transgenders do not find the hoped-for personal happiness after their operations and transition. On the contrary.

“Once I’m a woman, my life will be so much better,” is often heard just before the transition, also from Bo. But that’s not necessarily true. A befriended psychologist told me that the majority of transgender people still face severe mental problems, and that suicide rates are particularly high. Transgenders often find themselves marginalized, as it is much harder for transgenders to find work. Discrimination of transgender people is illegal, but the world out there is hard and tough for transgender people. Tougher than for our gay community.

Are transgenders therefore not entitled to a gender reassignment, as the most difficult period of their lives is often the period after the transition? Of course, they are entitled to this, but a successful transition can only happen with a supportive social circle. This could be their own family or a close circle of friends, the extended family. Exactly those concepts, “family,” “circle of friends” and “extended family” no longer represent what they used to represent. There have never been more divorces, and nowadays friends are exchanged more often than underwear. Families fall apart over the inheritance. These social trends can pose a danger for transgender people who need that warm support network.

In the media Bo said that she “is certain that her transition will end well.” I truly hope so for her sake. But I also hope that more attention will be paid to those stories that do not have such a happy ending. It is good to be a role model for transgender people, but our attention should not be averted from the many and often insurmountable problems that arise after the transition. Fortunately, the care for transgenders, also after their transition, is particularly good in Belgium. However, it is unfortunate that transgender people have to appeal to it. Many would have thought it unnecessary. Practice proves - unfortunately - just the opposite.

Yours sincerely,

De Ket



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