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Polish transsexual makes history as lawmaker

31 october 2011, 15:55
Anna Grodzka is still coming to terms with being elected Poland's first-ever transsexual lawmaker, AFP reports.

"Everything that's important to other people is important to us. But of course I want to show other people that our interests are important too," she tells AFP as she flicks her hair and gently shoos away her cat.

"I'm not a single-issue politician," said the 57-year-old who only recently completed what she calls her identity correction.

Grodzka will take up her parliamentary seat for an anti-clerical party that is locking horns with conservatives in overwhelmingly Catholic Poland on November 8.

"Going into politics isn't just about representing transsexuals, but about social issues," the long-time left-winger said in an interview at her home in a leafy Warsaw suburb.

In the October 9 polls, the declared atheist was voted in with almost 20,000 votes in the southern city of Krakow, which has a conservative reputation but is also home to a large student and artist community.

Grodzka will be the world's only openly transgender lawmaker -- a broader term than transsexual including those who have not had a sex-change but plan to, or simply opt to live under a different gender.

The first recorded transsexual politician was New Zealander Georgina Beyer, elected as a mayor in 1995 before sitting in parliament from 1999-2007.

Transgender Italian Vladimir Luxuria -- still legally male but living wholeheartedly as a woman -- followed in 2006-2008.

"I could not be more proud of and pleased for Anna's success," Beyer told AFP by email.

"It is a great credit to the party she belongs to and to the voters of Poland that in this day and age people of diversity can participate in and contribute in a positive manner to their societies," she said.

Grodzka ran for the 460-seat parliament for the new opposition Palikot Movement, led by flamboyant tycoon-turned-politician Janusz Palikot.

It came third with 40 seats behind the centrist Civic Platform, which won a new term in government, and the conservative opposition Law and Justice party, which placed second overall.

Palikot is pushing to liberalise Poland's restrictive abortion law, and for the legalisation of soft drugs and gay marriage.

Such issued have been shunned by traditional parties in a nation of 38 million where the Church has had major clout since the fall of communism in 1989.

But Palikot tapped into a new generation of liberal-minded voters.

Born in 1954 as Krzysztof, Grodzka said she knew she was in the wrong body.

"I always felt like a girl, and then a woman. But unfortunately I couldn't be what I wanted," she said. "I didn't even know transsexuals existed."

She began writing her name as Anna in her secret diary aged 11.

"It wasn't simple for a youngster to deal with. Anna was inside me all the time, under my skin. But I learned to fit in with boys and men," she said.

"It was tough, like being an actor who has to stay on stage the whole time and can never go into the wings," she added.

"I was often on the edge of depression. I threw myself into my work," said Grodzka, who has been a publisher and more recently a filmmaker.

While still a man, she married and fathered a son.

"I was very close to my wife, I loved her deeply," she said.

She first discussed her desire to become a woman with doctors two decades ago, but was hesitant.

She said she knew a sex-change would mean the end of her marriage, and her son was still a child.

She finally took the plunge after getting divorced in 2007, starting a process of counselling and hormonal treatment, capped by surgery last year in Thailand, known for its affordable sex-change clinics.

Grodzka's life story has become tabloid fare since the election. "Unfortunately, that's how it is," she acknowledges.

She is guarded about her private life, saying she regrets having little contact with her ex-wife but declining to elaborate.

She still sees her son, a Polish Senate staffer in his late 20s, but refused to say more.

Grodzka, who has since 2008 run the Transfuzja foundation to counsel others like her, says she believes dyed-in-the-wool attitudes are changing.

"I've encountered hatred, but that's rare. I often meet with misunderstanding, but it soon turns into kindness," she said.

By Jonathan Fowler

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