Have you met Miss Tobi?
(S)he’s the main character of the very first How It Is To Be You video portrait and am I ever grateful for it!
I could not have found a sweeter and more Berlin person than her and am very proud of the work we did together.
The little film is filled with insights into her life and the way she chooses to live it.
Here’s a hint: she does so with a lot of balls!
In case you missed the video, here it is:
Want to know more? Read on:
Who is Miss Tobi?
(S)he’s a 44 year old male born transgender anarchist living in Berlin who makes amazing metal sculptures, plays in several performance art groups and is also a part-time physical therapist.
A free spirit as ever there was one, she’s been dressing up in her mother’s clothes since she was 4 years old, has lived in a bus for 4 years touring all through Europe before settling down in Berlin 18 years ago and has loyal friends all over the world.
She comes from a loving and open family in Köln (Cologne) Germany and has been in an open relationship with the tough looking yet incredibly sweet Michael for the past 15 years.
Even though she was born as male, she doesn’t always feel that way. But she doesn’t always feel female either (the link is to a little video that does a great job stating what transgender is and what issues they face). She feels like herself and is happy with just that. No extra hormones or operations needed.
Actually, she doesn’t care about the pronoun ‘he’ or ‘she’ either, she truly feels transgender and like a person beyond the binary gender system and simply wants to express herself the way she wants to on any given day.
She’s very aware that she’s a very exotic person and that many people find her a bit strange to look at. And she does indeed get stared at a lot in the streets and sometimes even called names or worse…
But…she’s made the decision to live outside, to look what she wants to look like and to NOT be in the closet. And for that reason (and because of the fact that she’s gotten used to it) she doesn’t give a shit about people looking at her :).
In fact, if her flamboyant appearance will help others come out of the closet and into the streets looking however they want to, than all the more reason to do it!
It does mean however that she tends to avoid public transport but uses her bike to go around Berlin. It just makes her life a little bit easier.
How Miss Tobi and I met
I was looking for a ‘typical’ Berlin anarchist (which is indeed a bit cliche…) but the guy who was supposed to take me to a rough and rowdy anarchist’s bar to help me find one didn’t show up. As it was raining that evening, and as the bar didn’t sound like the kind of place a ‘normal looking’, barely German speaking woman should hang out alone at midnight (I’d imagined the bar was a bit like Fangtasia from True Blood but it turns out it’s just a rowdy yet regular dive bar…), and as anarchists aren’t really that well organised on the web (yeah…surprise surprise…), I ended up scouring for anarchists on OKCupid.
I mean, anarchists need love too, right?
As it happened, they do indeed! I’d widened my search range and after a bit of scrolling, Michael popped up in my feed (see the picture on the right).
The sensationalist filmmaker in me immediately saw the visual potential and when I clicked on and read through the profile I was immediately sold.
Because here’s a bit of the profile: “in relationships and sexuality I try to be open for new ways to live love and sexual desires. I’m polyamorous, live and lived in long term polyamorous relationships with a big sense of empathy and caring for each other.”
That had documentary gold written all over it!
So I sent Michael a message and a few days later we met in the garden of his surprisingly conservative building (mind you, it’s only the building, the neighbours and the garden that are conventional, his appartment is not!). He was very open to the whole idea but was struggling a bit with time so he proposed his partner Miss Tobi to me.
And Miss Tobi, well…as a performance artist and a little bit of a diva, she was of course instantly open to the idea and we planned the whole shoot in our very first meeting over cups of tea in her kitchen (where the fridge was covered in green fur and a little dragon sculpture was flying over our heads).
As this project was part of the documentary making course I had both my classmates, my teachers and the school’s equipment to back me up.
But…it was still the first time for all of us to do this so it took a little getting used to…hence the icky sound here and there and the important yet slightly awkwardly filmed interviews that made my editing life rather difficult…
Shooting at the physical therapist client came first, immediately followed by the art workshop.
The exotic Miss Tobi in a Berlinian suburban home was a very pretty sight indeed. And the workshop… tiny, dingy, stuffed with metal thingies and lots of fireworks going on; it was perfect!
Fun fact: in the longer version of this video (that I can’t publish yet because I’ll be sending it in to festivals), there’s a point where Tobi’s father says that she’s like a ‘big fire’ and you see sparks come straight for the camera. At the time, I was putting more money in the parking meter so wasn’t there but (in the unedited version) right after the sparks came flying, you can hear the camera- and sound women scream and see the camera topple over. I shouldn’t have laughed as hard as I did, but I did anyway…
Then came the shoot at Michael’s place (which didn’t make the cut of this short version unfortunately) but is was quite the experience! See, Michael’s apartment is…well….a giant mess! With clothes, leather BDSM making parafernalia, stuffed animals and all sorts of other items lying all over the place it took a little breathing and planning for the filmcrew to actually set up and be relatively comfortable. But…we were professional and dealt with it like bosses!
The final shoot in Berlin was at the Folsom Street Festival. Or better described as a (mainly gay) fetish street festival. On my own, with my DSLR and in my yoga tights and comfy sweater I followed red latex clad Tobi around and next to the many many naked butts I shot elderly men being caned and whipped in front of a crowd, 2 men fully wrapped in ductape (including arms) and several grown men dressed up in latex dog costumes (including tails) play and bark like…you guessed it…dogs.
Extreme? Yes! But in the end it’s all just human expression of relatively basic needs…so why not do so out in the open instead of fussing about it?
And lastly, our day in Cologne! 5 Hours to and fro (so a total 10 hours in the train) to visit Miss Tobi’s best friend Paul (who’d come over from Holland) and her parents. Another shoot I did on my own and with DSLR and Zoom only and apart from some newbie technical hick-ups, it was lovely!
The warmth, the love, the park, the pumpkin soup; what a great family!
The lessons I learned from Miss Tobi
Apart from the rigorous documentary film making lessons I’ve learned whilst doing this shoot (thank you Met Film School Berlin btw), I’ve learned a whole lot from Miss Tobi as a person and the way she lives her life too.
The most prominent of which:
- Be who you want to be, live how you want to live and don’t give a shit about what other people think of you.
I’ve done quite a good job in choosing the life I want to live but still…I’m nowhere near as cool as Miss Tobi is when it comes to not caring about other people’s opinions. And looking at her, seeing how happy and relaxed she is with herself, how many really sweet and caring friends she has…that seems like something worth striving for even more than I do now.
- Friendships are worth energy and the effort.
Interestingly, I heard that Miss Tobi was such a good friend from her actual friends and father before she even spoke about it herself. She’s very loyal to her friends, keeps in close contact with them even when she’s busy and the proof of that is for example shown through the many people that showed up at the screening of this film in Berlin. A friend of mine who was also there used these words to describe it: “She is loved”.
- Not every opportunity needs to be pursued.
Ah yes, a pitfall I know very well and Miss Tobi appears to be no stranger to this either. She loves new (ad)ventures and projects and has a tendency to say ‘yes’ to too many of them. This sometimes leads her to signs of burn-out or even depression as her father told me. It’s the risk of being an extraverted social butterfly that loves living life…sometimes it gets too much. But she’s learned to say no more often and realises that feeling unhappy is not worth it at all.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Is it he or she for Miss Tobi?
It doesn’t matter! She prefers Miss Tobi over Tobi but in the end they’re all just labels to her. The most important thing is that the people she’s in contact with are open, empathic and respectful.
- Has Miss Tobi had any surgery or hormones?
No. Though some transgenders lean more to one or the other gender and are grateful these options exist, Miss Tobi feels like a different person. One that lies outside the traditional binary system. She’s very happy with the way she looks and has therefore not felt the need to alter her body in any way.
- Does she ever NOT dress like a woman?
Yes, when she goes to client’s homes to give them physical therapy treatments she doesn’t have the orange eyebrows and skirts. Instead she wears colourful trousers. When she dresses like that, she does sometimes feel like she’s performing but a trusting relationship with her, often more conventional, clients is more important.
- What’s with the orange eyebrows?
She just likes them and paints them on every single day.
- What does it mean to be in an open relationship/polyamory?
This is the Wikipedia definition of it: polyamory is the practice, desire, or acceptance of intimate relationships that are not exclusive with respect to other sexual or intimate relationships, with knowledge and consent of everyone involved.
For Miss Tobi and Michael it means exactly that; they’re in a committed relationship with each other that is all sorts of respectful, empathic and loving but they have other relationships and lovers too. But the main condition though is that it is indeed open and honest and that the moment any feelings of doubt or jealousy arise, they’re instantly talked through.
- Does Miss Tobi’s art have a deeper meaning or is it mainly ‘just’ pretty?
Almost all the art Miss Tobi makes for herself or with befriended artists have a political meaning usually mainly geared to queer- and trans-rights and ensuring the city of Berlin remains as culturally diversified as it is (Miss Tobi is also an anarchist). In fact, she’s in Rio de Janeiro right now to do several projects in the slums!
- Miss Tobi’s art is amazing, where can I find more information and contact her?
Miss Tobi’s website has all the necessary details on her sculpture art and includes contact information: www.orangegecko.de. For more info on her performance art check: www.lickmehappy.zone.