“Transgender people are more than their gender”- Activist Yvo Manuel Vas Dias of TransAmsterdam

Yvo Manuel Vas Dias, founder and chairman of the Netherlands based organization TransAmsterdam and who is also the ambassador of Sahodari Foundation is interviewed by Sahodari Foundation

Yvo Manuel Vas Dias, founder and chairman of Transamsterdam
An Introduction on Netherlands firebrand transgender rights activist Yvo Manuel Vas Dias

Yvo Manuel Vas Dias is a trans-man, a Buddhist with Jewish background, and a born networker. In 2014, he organized the first TransPride in Amsterdam and started the TransAmsterdam foundation in 2015. By starting TransAmsterdam, he aimed to improve the image of transgender people in the Netherlands, empowering the community through organizing festivals, social events and provide an art-and-culture-platform for transgender people. An example of this is the start of the Trans Art School, which organizes creative and expressive workshops for and by trans people.

In 2016, Yvo was the first trans-man to be nominated for the ‘Amsterdammer of the Year’, and in 2017 he received a declaration from the Amsterdam police force for his continuous work for the trans community, his commitment to combating inequality and for connecting Amsterdam citizens. In 2018, he was named ‘Amsterdam Hero’ by the Amsterdam Heroes Network.

What is your feeling about becoming the Ambassador of Sahodari Foundation?

I was extremely honored when Kalki asked me to be an ambassador for the Sahodari Foundation. It is so special to work together with eachother’s organizations, to be able to work for the transgender people, transgender creatives and transgender artists, and to build a bridge between our organizations in the Netherlands and India.

TransAmsterdam and Sahodari Foundation both work on transgender community’s creative expressions. Why is artistic expressions so important for the community?

Transgender people are often confronted with prejudice and discrimination, such as unequal treatment when applying for jobs, being addressed incorrectly and inappropriately (being misgendered), and verbal and/or physical violence. The stress related to this unequal treatment is also called minority stress: stress because you belong to a minority. You become suspicious of other people and you no longer dare to step outside, out of fear to be treated negatively.

Minority stress can lead to depression, loneliness and suicide. By using creative expression we can develop more self-confidence as trans-people and community, and feel we stand stronger in society. Empowerment, self-awareness and self-esteem are the keywords to develop our talents, and show that we are more than transgender. Through our art, we show that we are powerful people.

Yvo with Ms.Candy Cotton Candy, the Drag Queen
Will there be cultural exchange of art and artists from both sides?

Most definitely. We are planning to set up an art project with our transgender artists and organize exchange with one another. Which themes we will work with, and through what ways, is still a surprise. We will keep you informed of our plans.

How did the idea of Open Dag Trans Arts School conceive?

We found out that there is a lot of talent within our trans community that has not yet been discovered. That is why we wanted to start an art project for transgender youth and transgender newcomers. Trans Art School is a nice name for this art project, we thought. During the workshops, transgender people can develop their talents, learn to build confidence, learn to make poems together with other transgender people, self-portraits, photos, films and music. Through art and culture we want to show that transgender people are more than their gender. It also forms a connecting factor between the transgender community and society.

Kalki Subramaniam is an international ambassador of TransAmsterdam. Her artworks were showcased in Amsterdam are many venues. How did people received it?

For me and the team, it was an incredible honor that Kalki came all the way to Amsterdam in 2019. Kalki’s artworks were exhibited for 4 days in the magnificent Manor Hotel, and her colorful exhibition was opened in the presence of the respectable chairman and mayor of East-Amsterdam, Maarten Poorter, and the Manor’s General Manager, Nicole Lagas. Visitors were excited and impressed with Kalki’s artwork, and the lucky attendees during the opening were given a personal tour by her. Each piece of art was thoroughly introduced, discussed and given explanation, regarding Kalki’s vision, message and thought process, and evoked make questions among the visitors. In addition to the exhibition, there were several other activities, including a workshop, art talk and meetup.

Many visitors expressed how the various speeches of Kalki had moved them and touched their hearts deeply. It was a wonderful four days to have Kalki with us in Amsterdam, and after she returned to India, TransAmsterdam continued an exhibition of her work during the Amsterdam Pride and Pride East in the ‘Amsterdam East Public Library’. Her work remained exhibited for a full month, open to see for the thousands of daily visitors to the magnificent library, many of them who left positive reactions about Kalki’s work.

As the founder of TransAmsterdam, what is your vision for the year 2020?

TransAmsterdam is starting 2020 with a lot of energy to open the Trans Art School. We will offer a great variety of workshops, including dance, music, rap, scat-singing, spoken word, writing, theater, drag, photography, printing, making presentations, and martial arts. All workshops are exclusively for transgender youth and newcomers, and organized and presented by our own transgender community. During the workshops, trans youth and newcomers can develop their talents, learn to make poems together, learn to dance, take photos, make music and much more.

At several events throughout the year, participants can show of their newly learned skills and share their art with the public. Examples of these events are the monthly Trans-and-Friends cafe ‘InClusion’, Transgender Visibility Day, Transgender Flag Day, TransPride and Pride East. This year marks the 5-year anniversary of TransAmsterdam, which we will obviously not let pass by silently, and celebrate loud and proud during our many events of the year with a great diversity of speakers, performances and acts.

Who are your favourite artists? Have you done a painting? Can you show us?

I really like the calligraphy artworks of Hassan Massoudy. Hassan is an Iraqi painter and calligrapher, currently living in Paris, and uses beautiful poems in his calligraphy. In the past I have painted a lot, though not in recent years. Unfortunately I can’t show you anything, (laughs Yvo). I now prefer to enjoy the work of other artists.

What is your message for the artists of Sahodari Foundation?

It is very important that you, as a transgender artist, follow your heart. Developing your own style through painting, drawing, writing stories, writing poetry, singing, dance, theater, filming, photography or any other form can be very liberating and build self-confidence. Dare to be who you are. Don’t let anyone distract, discriminate or suppress you. Be Trans and Proud!

Thank you Yvo!
Yvo Manuel Vas Dias with Transgender flag

Photographs by Erzsi Molnar and Mick Luna.

Yvo can be contacted at his official Email: info@transamsterdam.nl. Website: https://www.transamsterdam.nl/