Monika: Today’s interview will be with Gina Grahame, an American businesswoman and writer. Hello Gina!
Monika: What are you doing these days?
|With a morning smile.|
Being transsexual is at the core of much of my life experience and is the root of the most challenging and difficult times I've experienced. It’s not ‘coffee talk’ to be casually bantered about with voyeurs or the fairest of friends. The details of my history are something I chose to share only with those closest to me and would expect my partner to feel the same.
|At Aleshia Brevard's house.|
But the taunting stopped at the gymnasium door. Being athletic, being better at something than most of the other guys, gave me a strong sense of self-confidence and by the end of 7th grade the taunting had stopped completely. Of course I had also changed how I carried my books and had adapted an outward style more in line with the other guys.
Still, my sense of being female would surface in unexpected ways. Funny story, long after transition a friend from high school reached out to me and said “ well this explains why you always seemed to take the girls side when we’d complain about our girlfriends – and why you referred to your car as a guy when we all referred to ours as a girl”. I certainly never gave it any thought at the time and found his comment to be over-analyzing and hysterical.
|Retro-inspired bell bottom pants.|
By my mid-twenties I could no longer run from it and that led to depression, a suicide attempt, then to a therapist, and finally to self-acceptance.
Any sense of decorum people had at the start of an evening would be lost during the course of a seven hour open bar. The comments made at my expense and to my face were very hurtful, and repeated night after night with each new attending group. Michigan, the state I lived in, had ‘at will’ laws in place which meant I could be fired at any time for most any reason.
If I were to have complained to management about the verbal abuse I was receiving by customers, it wouldn’t have taken them long to conclude that as an employee I was more trouble than I was worth. I also understood ‘corporate’ was watching my transition as a bit of test case and that future Trans employees would initially be judged by my actions and performance. And because no one likes to be a whiner, I knew complaining to co-workers was not going to win me any points. So I kept it all to myself, day in and day out, for the four remaining years I worked there.
I watched every bad Geraldo and Jerry Springer talk show looking for any common thread with their guests, bought any book that appeared to offer advice. I drove hundreds of miles to attend conferences just on the hope of meeting someone else ‘like me’ as there were none in my area that I knew of.
Knowledge was gained first hand; it was hard fought for and highly valued. The sharing of it was held as a duty and an honor. I feel a lot of that has been lost in a world filled with thousands of blogs dedicated to before/after pictures and the feelings about one’s personal transition, with so little actually devoted to how one transitions – the medical, physical, emotional, societal, and psychological rode and potholes one must navigate.
On a daily basis I relied on myself, my therapist, the belief that life would be better once I reached ‘the other side’, and the seemingly insignificant random acts of kindness of strangers.
|Channeling her inner Ingrid Bergman.|
I can honestly say we are once again a family that truly welcomes and loves each other. I’m eternally grateful to my therapist for teaching me about the ‘stages of grief’ in preparation for it all. Without that knowledge I’d have walked away from anyone at the first sign of their hatefulness – much to the long term regret of all involved.
The second impact was more personal. Many times guys approached me wanting to have sex, and because I was transsexual they believed that meant I would automatically say yes and would be open to every kinky fantasy they had. We weren’t on a date when these conversations happened, they would ask me this in the middle of a ballroom when no one else was within earshot and while their girlfriends or wives were waiting back at their table.
And more to the point, the world is full of women of every size, shape, and level of beauty that go about their day with complete confidence the world sees them for the women they are. They know it in their soul and that truth radiates outward for the all to see. For transwomen, the first step to achieving this is the stripping away of the mannerisms, attitudes and responses learned during a man-forming puberty spent around males. The lack of doing this is where the stereotype of ‘a man in a dress’ comes from.
|Lady in blue with a hat.|
They are Photoshop enhanced idealizations from the mind of an art director or editor. Even the models themselves don’t look like this in real life. Rather than attack the author for the transsexual reference, I'd suggest opening a dialogue on the fashion industry's fixation on the very skinny. Even I have looked at some of these models and thought "tall, skinny, no hips, no boobs - that's how I looked at 13!"
In short, I fear ‘transgender’ has simply become a business, and big business at that. When I transitioned there were only four or five noted GRS surgeons in the entire world and the cost of surgery was just easily under $15,000 USD. Seventeen years later there are probably that many surgeons in Los Angeles alone!
In economic theory, competition is supposed to bring prices down and push quality up. Yet in the case of trans-related surgery, prices are higher than ever and climbing every year, and surgeons the world over have waiting lists. I’ve heard stories of people selling their home or closing their 401k to get the $50,000 needed for some surgeries. And the flip-side of this growth is the number of people who openly regret their surgery seems to be growing larger as well.
|With Aleshia Brevard.|
I think I was 13 when I heard, or more accurately saw, the word ‘transsexual’ for the first time. It was in a magazine while seated next to my mom in the optometrist's office. The story was of a woman in her early 20’s who'd undergone surgery and was now studying for a nursing degree. I was so enthralled that I secretly tore the article out and read it over and over in my room.
In my twenties, the only references I recall were the occasional tabloid stories on Roberta Close and Caroline ‘Tula’ Cossey. They were - are – remarkable, stunning women, and their stories showed me what was possible.
Role models that quickly emerged include Eleanor Roosevelt, Hillary Clinton, Katherine Hepburn, Mary Tyler Moore, Dolly Parton, Nora Ephron, the American Suffragettes, and my favorite at the time was Dixie Carter’s character of ‘Julia Sugarbaker’ on the tv show ‘Designing Women’. She was strong, opinionated, proud, compassionate, and beautiful. Everything I aspired to be.
Funny side note; during their visit the four of us went out to dinner. David – who knew my gender history – was determined to impress my parents. On the way out of the restaurant my Mom held me back a bit as David and my Dad walked ahead. “He’s a very nice man” Mom said, “but he’s not for you.” I couldn’t help but laugh at her passing judgment on my dating life. Time quickly proved she was right. David was a nice man, but he was not the right man for me. Mother really did know best.
A friend of mine said a common phrase in the gay community is “it often takes us 30 years to accept who we are, yet we expect our family to get there in 30 minutes”. The same certainly holds true for the trans community. We must allow people the right to their feelings and whatever time they need to process.
|With her ex-boyfriend in Florida.|
Since transition I’ve been asked to marry once, had it alluded to twice, and was even asked to “just spend our lives together”. None of those relationships stood the test of time for one reason or another.
A few years ago I visited a good ol’ fashioned Tarot Card and Palm Reader while in New Orleans who said “I see two great loves in your life. And you’ve already had one.” I will always be the optimist.
|Special night out.|
lace where measurable results are seemingly irrelevant. While I love to debate and am good at it, I am intrinsically a problem solver with a GSD degree. That’s my acronym for ‘Gets Stuff Done’. It's why I went into business; that's a world where actions truly do speak louder than words.
On the other hand, I prefer to see transsexual women competing alongside ciswomen as that is reflective of the world we live in. That’s why I am so proud of and impressed with Jenna Talackova. I would rather finish Top 20 in an all-encompassing beauty pageant than be crowned queen of a transgender pageant. But that’s just me.
|Vintage hat from Italy, circa 1962.|
You’re also just as likely to find me in a pair of great jeans, cowboy boots, and leather jacket walking thru the city. Being 6’ 1” tall, long A line skirts and dresses also work well.
From Aleshia I’ve learned that ‘drapey is better than form-fitting’ as I’m no longer 30. My color palette in clothes includes a lot of black, teals, rust, deep blues, greens, fawn-like browns, and off-white. Makeup color choices vary with the outfit and season. I limit trendy to nail color; it’s inexpensive and a great way to stay current.
As for quirky, there are two things: first, I absolutely adore hats. Newsies, cowboy, and especially the wide brimmed styles reminiscent of the great starlets of the 1930’s and 40’s. I have a quite a collection including some vintage Italian hats from the early ‘60’s. Secondly, I have an affinity for retro – from the structured look of Joan on Mad Men to the flowing tops with bell bottom pants of the early ‘70’s. I’ve incorporated certain pieces reminiscent of those styles into my wardrobe and just love the look.