Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Interview with Racheal McGonigal

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Racheal McGonigal, an author, businesswoman, transgender activist from New Zealand, with whom I would like to discuss the situation of transgender women in New Zealand and her life. Hello Racheal! 
Racheal: Thanks Monika. Thanks for the opportunity to speak out as I believe the more we show ourselves, the sooner we will be accepted in society as understanding/education is the key to end discrimination.
Monika: Could you say a few words about your career so far?
Racheal: A very diverse career. Farm worker, sheep and beef farmer, horticulturist, Restaurant provider, storeman, salesman, key account manager, territory manager, cafe owner, Fashion boutique store owner, tractor salesman, prostitution is not illegal downunder so Escort, Brothel owner, escort agency owner, Mistress, unemployed writer.

Monika: What are the current issues on the transgender advocacy agenda in New Zealand?
Racheal: I think NZ is likely one of the top three places for TS/TG in the world. Generally, 1 on 1 we are accepted pretty well. The issues arise with employment, health care and for the younger, in schools. We can now marry easier (same sex is legal), can get an ‘x’ on passport or even ‘M’ or ‘F’ as how we identify, not dependent on what is between the legs. We can also change the sex identifier without proof of SRS.
Personally, I believe one of the main issues is actually within the TG community and that is learning to work together, accepting others have a right to differing opinions. The squabbling and bickering shows us all as little kids demanding. We need to work together, acknowledging all are equal. I would also say mental health issues and in particular suicide is a high priority. Better access to SRS/GRS would help this.
Just who I am, Racheal Amanda McGonigal.
Monika: A couple of year ago I read an article about transgender women in New Zealand. Their main criticism against the health system there was that the gender reassignment surgery was free of charge but it takes ages until anyone is accepted for the operation. That is why so many ladies went to Thailand to undergo GRS there. Has anything changed since then?
Racheal: Alas no it hasn’t. You must remember we are only a small country of 4 million people. So the waiting list of 53 doesn’t seem bad but when there are only 3 MtF surgeries and 1 FtM every 2 years allocated, that is list is growing, will take some 30 years to clear.
We also have only 1 surgeon performing SRS/GRS and he is about to retire. His reputation isn’t great either with a high percentage of his patients needing touch up/follow up work, compared to Thai surgeons.
I think the main reasons girls go to Thailand is price and also the experience and quality of the Surgeons there. The NZ surgery is Govt funded but he does do private and that would cost NZ$30-40K. Surgery in Thailand plus airfares, accommodation and BA included, plus a holiday would cost around NZ$20K all up.
Monika: You underwent your gender reassignment surgery in Thailand – Mecca of many transgender women seeking for such an operation. Why did you choose the Thai surgeons rather than American or European ones?
Racheal: Cost mainly but also the experience of the surgeon. Sanguan Kunaporn had practised on 639 before me. I was confident he knew what he was doing. Searching his name in google groups produced few criticisms of him.
I guess I never really considered Europe or America due to the distance and the prices I was told by girls, made them out of reach. When I was emailing back and forth to Sanguan, he was prompt and clear. I felt I was actually talking to him and I found out later, I had been, as up to then at least, he insisted on answering his own mail to prospective patients.
'Now we can say her body match her soul'.
Sanguan Kunaporn. 6 weeks post SRS.
Monika: What is your general view on the present situation of transgender women in New Zealand?
Racheal: To much bitching between the various different sectors. Not enough consideration of the needs of others.
Alas Transsexuals are the minority within the minority yet are the most needy. They need access to hormones and surgeries, I believe their suicide rates would be higher. Alas there are no data collected on TG.
Many girls will turn to working in the sex industry as a way to fund their surgery and so become exposed to drugs which causes more issues.
Don’t get me wrong, not all turn to sex work. Many girls are out working normal jobs from Lawyers to car parts Managers, Check out operators to University lectures, Surgeons to shop owners. Most of these though are non TS, TG. It is more the TS who turn to sex work.
Monika: There are more and more transgender ladies coming out in USA. Unlike in the previous years some of them have status of celebrities or are really well-known, just to mention Lana Wachowski in film-directing, Jenna Talackova in modelling, Kate Bornstein in academic life, Laura Jane Grace in music or Candis Cayne in acting. Do you witness the same trend in new Zealand?
Racheal: I heard the other day that the Auckland Sexual Health and Gender Clinic, where alot of TG go, has seen a huge increase in the number of FtM. I would have to say, it appears there are definitely a lot more and a lot more younger, under 25’s. I wouldn’t say the numbers of TS are increasing but more are being seen. Alas no figures are collected so it’s just my feeling.
Normal kiwi bloke - Fishing,
beer, rugby, woman.
Monika: At what age did you transition into woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? Did you have any support from your family or friends?
Racheal: Around 48, I came out to all. I’d been on hormones close to 2 years. I lost 3 stone (42lb) in 3 months. I lost my father 10 days after I came out, my kids disowned me and I have never heard from them since. Rumours and exaggerations were rife in the community where I lived. I lost a beautiful lady who I loved, My business suffered due to our bitter break up. Stress was huge and I guess I went a bit ballistic. So I had no support from family or friends.
Monika: For most of transgender girls, the most traumatic time is the time spent at school, college or university when they had to face lots of discrimination. Was it the same in your case?
Racheal: No. I can understand it but I never realised I was TS until likely 40ish. It’s hard for many to comprehend but you have to look at the years and what it was like back then. I knew I was different from around 7 but didn’t understand it. I never heard the word Transsexual until I was around 15.
Transsexuals were the dirty girls who worked the streets, used drugs and had diseases. That wasn’t me, why would I think I was like that? Homosexuality and prostitution was illegal, words like faggot, queer, poofter were common place. We didn’t have Google or the Internet, just libraries and what was I going to sneak in and look up? I couldn’t go on line in anonymity and ask questions and learn. 
Monika: At that time of your transition did you have any transgender role models that you could follow? What was your knowledge about transgenderism?
Racheal: There is no such word as Transgenderism. All the new words and terms we invent and use just keep us further from acceptance because it makes it too hard for society to understand us. They can’t be bothered to and so throw us in a barrel and say “So you’re one of those.” Sorry but its my pet dislike. Neither the DSM or WHO’s ICD recognise it but they recognise Transsexalism.
As explained in the last question, my knowledge grew really slowly due to access to information back then. It’s not that way now thankfully, due mainly to the internet. Also an improvement to discrimination. It wasn’t until I came out, that I found a couple of role models but they weren’t really that important to me. I knew who I was, I was lucky in that I am a strong person and confident.
Normal kiwi girl - shopping,
wine, shoes, men.
Monika: Transgender ladies are subject to the terrible test whether they pass as a woman or they do not. You are a beautiful woman yourself but how about other transgender ladies that have to struggle every day to pass?
Racheal: Thanks but I am not special. I get sprung. I think too many worry too much about passing. About their appearance and voice. It causes more stress. For those who feel it’s important, go for it but for me, passing has never been a huge issue or worry. I still have my deep masculine voice that pisses me off heaps on the phone when people call me ‘Sir’.
For me, if I change my voice, and I can, then it is false, it’s a lie and it isn’t me. I am just who I am, real. I walk alone anywhere a natal woman will walk alone. I don’t care or fire off at someone who says ‘You’re a man’. I just look at them and say ‘Use to be but then my brain kicked in and I realised the best side to bat for.’ Or ‘Bet I have bigger balls than you mate, you wouldn’t do what I have.’ Or I take every opportunity to educate and say ‘I use to be but now I am all woman. What would like to know?’ 
Education is the way to end discrimination, not demanding rights, which just causes friction.
Monika: We are living in times of modern cosmetic surgery that might allow to transition even at late 50s or 60s. Do you think it is really possible? What kind of advice do you have for transgender ladies at such an age?
Racheal: I know lots who have transitioned in their 50’s, 60’s. Had FFS and SRS/GRS. I suggest people go to a busy cafe in a mall. Sit for an hour and watch the woman at your age walking around. Are they all stunningly gorgeous and passable? Picture perfect? I’m 57. I get sprung more when I have the long blonde hair to butt and the beautiful clothes then when I have a brown bob and a floral dress below the knees. No one notices me then.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Racheal: Losing my children who were early 20’s. Finding out my daughter is married by seeing a pic on line 3 months after the wedding. Finding out she has had twins since so I am a Granny. Not knowing or able to find out anything about my children. If they were killed, I doubt I’ll know till long after it happens. Hurts heaps.
Racheal - a normal lady after a night before.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Racheal: No. I have a big problem and recognise it. I am not a diplomat. I call a spade a spade, as I see it. I speak up. I’m not good in groups for this reason either. I have been labelled a separatist, elitist, homophobic, transphobic and more but by a few people who have never meet me or got to know me. They are the ones who are transphobic and choose to isolate and discriminate. They should know better.
Yes, I do speak up and out, more for Transsexuals than Transgender but I will still support Transgender issues. I am quite happy to allow others to express their views and opinions, I don’t have to agree with them though but it gets me how others won’t give me the same respect.
It seems that I am not allowed to have my opinion or views and have to be nobbled. It is petty and silly. I am secretary of Transsexuals of New Zealand, a small FB site. Totally open group, not a secret or hidden. People say what they want and need to take ownership and be responsible for what they say. We have been working with a local district health board and just quietly trying to plod away. Alas we suspect there has been some interference from a couple of Gay/TG folk who have a personal dislike of me. It’s a shame because we have achieved a few things but we don’t brag about it. We are just out there and seen.

Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Racheal: Great stuff in ways. I am all for anything that gets TS/TG out there and seen. It makes people ask questions and understand us. It’s the way to end discrimination. The negative is alas instead of showing we are just the same as all others in society, it reinforces there is a difference. I’d prefer to see TS ladies allowed to compete in any beauty pageant, just on an equal footing. That we didn’t need a special one of our own. We certainly have the TS who can be Miss World. There are many stunning, unbelievably beautiful Transsexuals out there.
Glamor party girl.
Monika: Have you ever been married? Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Racheal: Yes. I have had 3 real loves and still love them all but we will never be together again. Sometimes I feel I must love differently than most. I have been a sex worker as a female, so know there is a huge difference between sex, lust and love.
As a man I have loved woman. As a woman I have never found love with a man but would love it to happen. I have loved a Transsexual but you best read about that in my book, ‘Summer Storm.’
Monika: As a result of your transition, your children lost their father but gained a new mother. How did your transition influence your relations with your children? 
Racheal: Wrong sorry. They never lost their father. I am their father, will always be their father and will never be their mother. I may have changed my gender, but that doesn’t make a person a mother. There is only one person who can be their mother and only one who can be their father. It annoys me when I see TG make this claim. They aren’t respecting who they are and are taking something from the real mother.
I don’t agree with seeing children bought up with two fathers or two mothers. My children have disowned me but I believe one day they will seek me again. I hope I am still alive then. Just because they disowned me, doesn’t mean I am not still their father. I am still their father and nothing anyone, including me can do about it. I am a realist, not a dreamer.
Monika: What was the reaction of your wife?
Racheal: My wife and I had been divorced and apart for 11 yrs. Daughter lived with her and my son lived with me. I turned to her initially when I came out for help with the kids. I thought she was great initially but then it became clear she was using it to get her son back. She actually was the biggest problem I now believe. My partner when I came out, we’d been together 5 yrs, along with her two daughters, alas couldn’t handle. I destroyed her dream, her illusion. She and her family were vengeful and money hungry. I realise now she was materialistic and it wasn’t real love.
'Storm' at work.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. You are the author of the trilogy: "Country Boy to City Girl", "A Pictorial Transformation - Him to Her", "Summer Storm (Transsexual Transition),”and "The Transgender Guide (Transsexual Transition)". Could you say a few words about them?
Racheal: Thanks, yes all are available on Amazon.com as ebooks. I also have a new one up, “Reflections” and hope to have my first Fiction work up within a few weeks. BDSM/Romance. “Country Boy to City Girl” is my life from birth to just post SRS/GRS.
It is a no holds barred book and tells it as it happened. “Summer Storm” post SRS/GRS, this is my time with an amazing Transsexual Escort. She taught me so much about life, from sex work to fashion, men to hair extensions. It was an incredible time and I owe her so much. 
We loved each other and yet were never intimate. Sex, drugs, love, lust, mafia, lies and more. It is all as real and true as I know it to be however Summer was a pathological liar. That in itself was incredible. I should hate her but don’t. I will always love her but we will never be together again. I can’t seem to hate.
“Pictorial Transformation – Him to Her” is a collection of 70+ photos of my journey and shows it all. “The Transgender guide” is really just a small booklet designed for those who are first starting to ask the basic questions. “Reflections” is a collection of article I have written or have been written about me. Magazines, newspapers, Internet.
I don’t want kudos or compliments. They are about me and my views but what I wanted is to show and encourage others to stand up and speak out. The more we do, the more people will become comfortable about us and ask questions. With that comes learning, knowledge and hopefully tolerance followed by acceptance. I’m not special. We all are but we need to be seen and to educate the world. So if these will give ideas and encourage others to somehow get their story out there, that's great.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colours or trends?
Racheal: I do love fashion, what lady doesn’t. Alas to follow fashion one needs a good bank balance and that is lacking for me these days. I loved when I was escorting and had $$$, the clothes, shoes, boots, hair and nails. So miss it. I believe I dress for the occasion.
I might wear a short cocktail dress and stilettos to some clubs but then there are other clubs I wouldn’t wear the same to. It depends if you are going for a romantic first date or to a swingers club. To the races or a Government Select committee. It really is important to consider what the event is, the people you will meet, do you want to blend in or make a statement.
Summer and I were working from an apartment in high class east Perth. When we got there we walked down to the local shopping centre for some supplies. It wasn’t long before Summers mood changed and she insisted we go back. When we got back, she gave me an ear full. She was wearing good jeans and a nice top. I was wearing a short skirt, stilettos and a slinky top. “Don’t ever go out again like that. We are in a class area and need to blend in, not stick out like a hooker.” She was dead right.

Monika: Could you say that you are a happy woman now?
Racheal: I am broke, no job, miss my kids terribly, would love the company of a good partner to cuddle in bed. I am the happiest I have ever been. I love who and what I am. I am proud and confident.
I have no regrets, disappointed I lost my kids but I have no regrets. It was right for me and yes I am happy as. People love me because I am always happy, no point in being down or glum. My glass is always half full. And it can always be topped up more *wink*.
Monika: Racheal, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Racheal McGonigal.
Done on 4 June 2013
© 2013 - Monika 

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