Monday, October 22, 2012

Kitty Mermaid

If you have been following my merfolk interviews, you have discovered that mermaids and mermen can be found across the globe. Today, we are taking a virtual trip to the Netherlands for a chat with Kitty Mermaid.

Cynthia: Greetings, Kitty, please tell us about yourself.
Kitty: Well... let's see... Most remarkable of me is my first name: Kitty-Madison. No, 'Madison' is not my nickname, but my real one. I will tell you more about it soon. I'm a 42 year old woman, living near the beach in IJmuiden, North-Holland, Netherlands. In Holland we call it "IJmuiden aan Zee" but I call it "IJmuiden Beach". You have to know that my life is not like many others. I wrote 'woman' but I was born as a boy. Perhaps for some of you a surprise. My dream to be a mermaid and my gender dysphoria were the most important 'lines' in my life. Later you will understand why.

For more than 20 years I worked as an electrician in a giant greenhouse: the biggest horticulture in bromeliads in the world. Now in daily life I'm a mindfulness trainer, and I have my own company named "Kitty-Madison". Being a mermaid is a part of my company. But some people said that I'm multi-talented. Well, perhaps that's true. I also work in Zuid-Kennemerland National Parc. It is located nearby my home, with forests, dunes, beaches and of course the North Sea. The Parc uses my experiences in technical science and engineering, but I also love nature, the sea and the dunes. I'm also a musician. I have played piano, keyboards and synths for about 34 years - but I cannot read music. For me I have to listen to a CD or MP3 and I can play it. Composing is also a part of it, of course.

Cynthia: How did you first get into mermaiding?
Kitty: Although most mermaid lovers were inspired by The Little Mermaid, my mermaid dream began in 1984. Yes, Splash. I was 14 years old, and since then I wanted to dive like a mermaid. Please note that I write: 'dive like a mermaid' and not 'to be a mermaid'. You have to know that Dutch people are very, very down-to-earth. If I told them that I wanted to be a mermaid, I'm sure they would say that I'm crazy. 'Being' a mermaid is for Dutch people impossible, but perform as a mermaid is accepted.

But, let's return to 1984 and the movie Splash. Mermaid Madison, played by Daryl Hannah. Her dream came out, my dream began. How to start? Swimming lessons, or need I diving lessons? How can I make my own tail? And... oops... yes, I was a boy. Not happy with the choice of Mother Nature, but realize that in the early eighties gender dysphoria was not well-known. Fortunately my mermaid dream helped me with my gender problems.

A dive instructor of CMAS, who was interested in mermaids too, told me about a manufacturer in custom made diving suits. They created my first swimmable mermaid tail, with a Waterway monofin. Before that I made many tails from old leggings and home made monofins, and a 'dry-tail' out of polyester. The dry-tail is still one of my most realistic mermaid tail I'd ever made.

From the early beginning I did not want to dive with scuba. For me it was so un-mermaiding. My mermaid-dive-instructor helped me with tips and tricks in freediving, and I was very surprised that I could swim 100 meters underwater after half a year of intensive training, and a 'static apnea' of 6 minutes!

Cynthia: Tell us about Dive4Life and your other Freediving activities.
Kitty: After my own personal record of 100 meters dynamic freediving, I realized that I need a serious freedive training. AIDA in the Netherlands was just born. In a small pool in Haarlem, North-Holland they taught me the secrets of breath-holding, diving- and swimming techniques, buddying, and safety underwater. Yes, without my first mermaid tail, because they do not want to be associated with mermaids. I got the first 'pool' 2* AIDA certificate in Holland. Of course I plunged in open water, but you have to know that in Holland we have no warm and clear seas. I didn't like that, I wanted to dive in a clear blue ocean!

Many years later the freedive group saw that my mermaid dream was very seriously, and that I use the AIDA safety rules during my dives. Slowly but surely they accepted my mermaiding and they helped me with my video projects (Project Madison I, II and III) with camerawork and safety underwater. Not much later they were my safetydivers during a great photoshoot in the Mediterranean Sea near North Spain. My dream came true again: I was diving in a clear blue sea!

Back in Holland I was looking for possibilities of diving during winter. Travelling to Florida or other beautiful coral reefs was too expensive for me, so I decided to use diving towers. Project Madison III was held in DiveWorld - a 10 meter deep tower filled with 60 F cold water. Dive4Life in Siegburg, Germany, is much deeper (20 meters) and much warmer. Now I use that location for my training, and I even want to dive in Nemo 33: the deepest pool in the world.

I told you before: scuba is not done for me. Not even a single gulp of air at the bottom from a scuba diver. That means that I use freediving for all my projects. Breath-holding is a second nature for me, as a safe home for me when I stay underwater. Above the waterline meditation and mindfulness are my friends.

Although I have a great mermaid tail, I do not always swim with it. My mermaid feelings are not based on a mermaid tail, but based on my graceful movements with a monofin - without a diving suit of course. I have to feel the water alongside my skin, the power of the monofin - even during training. My mermaid tail is used for performances, photo shoots, pool sessions, underwater projects and for fun of course.

Cynthia: You are active in spreading the word about the dangers of plastics in our oceans.
Kitty: In the beginning of mermaiding, I was asked for many television programmes, magazines and newspapers. Kitty Mermaid was new in Holland, and in combination of my gender dysphoria I was well-known in only a few weeks. But now I'm a woman and I've no longer a gender problem. For me that is history. My mermaid dream came true. This sounds like the end of a story. Doesn't it?

But no. I'm also an environmentalist. My whole life is based on saving energy, less traveling as possible. I live in a small apartment, with water-recycling systems in it. I use 100% wind power. I have no car, only a bike and a reclining bycicle. Every evening I walk along the shore at IJmuiden Beach. And I hear the voice of the sea. She is screaming, crying... For much people the sea is like a dumping-ground. I want to help her, save her. Why not use the mermaid in me to accomplish that?

In Holland there is a non-profit organization called Plastic Whale. They want to make a giant ship out of thousands of PET bottles, found in the sea, lakes and even in the moats of Amterdam. It is a small beginning to solve a giant problem: plastic in our oceans. For them I perform as a mermaid in the moats, fishing plastic with my own hands. Sure, it is a small step, I know. But more important is the Dutch media like television and newspapers about this project: let the world know about the plastic soup, the problems in the oceans and possible solutions.

The other 'clean-the-sea' project is a so called 'zeemeerminnenparade' (Mermaid Parade). At the longest day of the year thousands of people will be dressed up like a mermaid, starfish, jellyfish, of even like a crab. It will be held at the beautiful beach of Scheveningen, South-Holland. Sure I will be there, perhaps in a 'mermaid aquarium' or other water tank. 

There is also a group of divers in Holland to clean up wrecks in the North Sea. Sometimes fishers lost their nets, hooked on a wreck. These nets are still 'fishing', even if the trawler is back in the harbour. We call it 'ghost fishing', cause all fish in these nets will die. Of course for me as a mermaid diving to these wrecks is no problem, but removing nets is a spacial job. I support these group of divers and use the mermaid in me to spread the word about ghost fishing.

And of course I support Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace too ;-)

Cynthia: Do you perform on a regular basis?
Kitty: Yes, I perform as a mermaid mostly three of four times a month for principals, like demonstrations, an opening of a pool, helping a school of journalism, and much more. That is my part time job. But every week I dive in our local pool for the kids. Sometimes I help them with swimming, but mostly it is only for much fun.

However I'm not only a performer, but also a kind of mermaid trainer. Since my dream came true, I wanted to share it with others. Of course professional mermaiding without training is almost impossible, but sometimes I let people try to swim in my tail. The "One Day Mermaid Experience" was born. In our pool I start with small tips and tricks, relaxation-, breathing-, and monofin techniques, safety underwater and last but not least: a real underwater photoshoot. For others who want to become a professional mermaid, I have a "Mermaid Academy". Based on freediving, using apnea tables from the world champion freediving, in one year you can dive like me and many other mermaids. After that it is possible to stream in a AIDA freedive course. The first professional mermaid who followed the academy was Vicky Mermaid. She is my stand-in when I'm sick.

Cynthia: Have you been to any mermaid gatherings?
Kitty: No. Sure I know about Mer-Palooza and similar events, but I prefer to dive only with my buddy or team. You have to know that I'm high sensitive: much people around me makes me tired. That will be no problem for events like the Mermaid Parade or Plastic Whale cause I'm the only mermaid underwater. Underwater is my home, where I find my rest and peace.

Cynthia: Do you have any special stories from your mermaid adventures?
Kitty: Sure! Of course, just like every mermaid, I can tell you about the kids who've seen a mermaid for the first time. But I'll take you back to early this century. I was asked for a photo shoot for a newspaper: held on the only island of IJmuiden. I just received the brand new mermaid tail from Thom Shouse. Without a zipper it took more than 20 minutes to put it on, with help of much baby powder. The photographer deceided to pick me as a mermaid up at home with a large van. I was waiting in my living room, tailed and be ready for it. Three strong men carry me outside, to the van. People who see us thought that I was kidnapped and wanted to call the police. After a journey of 10 minutes Kitty Mermaid was carried on the small ferry to the island. On the island a bulldozer transported me to the pier of the island.

The photographer wanted to wait till the ferry to Denmark was there. It is a great background of course! After an hour the ferry was turning around the island, but the harbour master's office saw us during the shoot. They called the captain of the ferry: "Hey, if you look at starboard, you will see a real mermaid!" The captain do not believe his eyes, cause he knows only the little mermaid in Kopenhagen, Denmark. Only a minute later the captain said to all passengers via the announcement system: "If you take a look at starboard - that will be on your right - you will see a real mermaid!" I never seen so much people on one side of a ship, most of them waved to me :-) Since then they call me The Mermaid of IJmuiden.

Cynthia: Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
Kitty: Yes. Since I dive like a mermaid I receive much, much e-mails about mermaid tails. Which one will be the best or most realistic? But what is 'realistic'? Since my first kicks underwater, for me safety is more important than realistic - especially during freediving. When I'm diving at 20 meters below the surface I have to trust the construction of the mermaid tail. That's one of more reasons to create a new one. Lightweight, easy to use and with a separate modified monofin. Inside the tail a ballast-system is built-in, and a system to take off the tail in a second in case of an emergency. The tail itself is made out of neoprene: just like my first swimable tail. In the meantime that one is more than 13 years old, weekly used.

Safety underwater. I'm very strict about that.

During the way to my dream I figured much out: how to see clear underwater without a mask? How to protect my eyes against chlorine water, without milk? How to close off my nose when I'm swimming upside down? How to 'remove' my two tattoos for photo shoots, with waterproof make-up? I'm very thankful for all friends, manufactures, companies, instructors, and inventors to help me...

Cynthia: Thank you, Kitty, and thank you readers for coming along for the swim! Look for Kitty-Madison on Facebook. Be sure to visit Kitty's web site as well. The site is in Dutch, but if you visit with Google Chrome you will be asked if you would like to translate the page.

Best wishes and starfishes,
-Mermaid Cynthia
cynthia (at)

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