Robin: Twilight Zone

credit: Christa Holka


Robin was born in Switzerland.  He chose to take part in this project, as he felt ready to share something that “generally feels really private”.

Robin was raised in the Switzerland in the Swiss-German speaking part.  His mother is English.  He does not like to be referred to as Swiss as he feels it denies half his heritage. He describes himself as Swiss-German-English.  Robin grew up in a rural small village.  He had friends, loved going to school. At 19 he moved away to go to university.

Robin agrees that he has had a sense of not fitting into simple categories early on.  “Am I Swiss?  Am I English?  Am I male? Am I female? It’s like a red thread going through my life.”

“I often say I am a trans man.  It feels the most accurate.  Just saying I’m a man denies the fact that I was not born male and that I’ve had to work hard to become the man that I am in a visual way.  I don’t take things for.granted when people now call me ‘he’ or refer to me as ‘him’.  These are things that I have made happen”.

At 19 Robin decided to study theology and, potentially, train for the religious ministry.  He expected to be grilled about his religious practices but that didn’t happen.  Nobody asked why he wanted to become a vicar and study theology.  “They didn’t even ask me if I prayed”.  He didn’t come into contact with practicing Christians until he started training and they terrified him.  They knew the Bible and he had never read it cover to cover.  “At that point I realized that I knew next to nothing and what I had was my own spirituality and my own questioning and my own devotion.  But it was very off the beaten track”.

Robin studied theology to become a vicar.  He thought it ticked a lot of the boxes ‘in terms of sheer practicality’: Guaranteed job, good salary, place to live and in a position to look after his family. “These were really dominant crucial factors”.

At the age of 19 questions around gender and sexuality had started to be deeply suppressed and choosing a career made them flare up.  He was raised in a culture and a time when there were jobs for men and women:  “Being a vicar, which in my denomination has been possible since, I think, the sixties  (Swiss Reformed) I realized that this was a kind of gender neutral space… and it would probably be quite an asexual job.  And that suited me down to a tea”.).

In his late teens, he saw a documentary about a male to female transsexuals on television, but he couldn’t connect with it.  Trans people were talked about (if at all) as male to female, which was hard for Robin to engage with.  Only realized very late that there is also female to male and treatment was available.  He was a bit more aware of homosexuality, but “it just wasn’t on my radar.”

Robin did not confront his anxieties about gender at university.  He hid, felt vulnerable. This was a time when people were discussing whether it was OK to be gay. “I didn’t want anybody to know my ‘shameful secret’.”

“I think it’s quite hard to be in touch with your sexuality if your gender identity is unclear, and you are not OK being in your own body, and that’s where I was at the time… I was not in that space to open up and explore who I was.”

There were increasingly people he would tell, but he would be met by incomprehension, questioning… which would unleash a huge self-questioning.  He would be asked questions like, ‘Why do you want to be a man, ” but not in a reflective way.  “Often I would be asked, ‘Why do you want to be a man,’ and for me it was just, ‘I don’t want to be a man.  I just am.  My struggle is that I don’t look like one.”

I thought how long am I going to postpone this decision and live in this twilight zone… It made me think: ‘it’s worth taking the risk. It can’t be worse than what I’m living now.’”

‘I’d reached a phase in transition where even people in work were starting to see me as male and it was making life difficult.  And I decided that coinciding with changing my name I was now going to tell everybody I was now connected with.  I had a celebration.  My parents came to that. It was more than a party.  It was a real ceremony. I wrote the liturgy myself. I stepped forward in the midst of the ceremony to say I’d chosen this new name and asked people if they could affirm me in that choice.  My parents were there, my sister came, my brother-in-law and loads of friends and acquaintances, about eighty odd people… and that’s been probably one of my biggest and best experiences of … celebrating change and coming out and being public…  And it helped a lot with perceptions changing, people realising that they had to see me in a different way as well.  It wasn’t just about a name change, it was a change of pronouns, a change of self understanding.”