Monday, 27 January 2014

Interview with Katie Anne Holton


Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Katie Anne Holton, an American photo model and transgender advocate. Hello Katie!
Katie: Hi Monika. Thanks for contacting me. I’m honoured. My girlfriend laughed when I told her that she’s now dating a model.
Monika: How did you get involved with "Visible Bodies: Transgender Narratives Retold" photography series?
Katie: Scott Duane is a dear friend, so when he asked if I wanted to participate, I jumped at the chance. I believe in the goal of Visible Bodies, to let trans people tell our own stories. And, let’s be honest, being asked to model is very good for my 50-year-old ego.
Monika: In the captions to the series you reveal that you are a lesbian. Why did you decide to come out publicly?
Katie: Coming out as gay was almost an afterthought. It was a natural consequence of my transition. I was oriented towards women before I transitioned, so to me it was obvious that I would be after. I know that isn’t how it works for every trans person, but it was almost that simple for me. Part of my motivation for appearing in the Visible Bodies project was to emphasize that many trans people are also gay, lesbian or bisexual. 
Monika: Have you got any new projects in the pipeline?
Katie: I am looking forward to speaking to a few college groups around the county, but I don’t have any big projects coming up. Mostly I’m concentrating on loving my kids, loving my girlfriends and teaching my classes.
The Visible Bodies photo.
Monika: What is your view on transgender stories that have been featured in media, films, books etc. so far?
Katie: We’re in an uncomfortable place. Trans stories are becoming more common, but even the most sympathetic portrayals seem to be pretty two-dimensional.
Trans stories are usually presented as issues or novelties rather than as the stories of real people. I look forward to seeing what I call “just happens to be” characters. We’re starting to see it in terms of gay characters. We’re seeing some films and TV shows where a character is a mathematician or a teacher or a computer programmer who just happens to be gay. 
Monika: What is your general view on the present situation of transgender women in the American society?
Katie: Sadly, I think there is an incredible range in experiences. We see success stories of trans women in government and business and entertainment. Then, every few weeks, we read about some trans woman who was beaten to death simply for being herself. Economic status has a whole lot to do with it. Transition is horribly expensive. Women who can afford to transition do it. All too often, those who can’t afford it are stuck waiting and hoping.
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?
Katie: I was 45 when I came out to myself and to my family. Once I realized I needed to transition, I didn’t wait around. I went from my first gender therapy appointment to living full-time as myself in about 9 months. Although it hasn’t been easy, I have been very fortunate. Most of my early support came from within the San Diego transgender community.
Also, my experience has been that in San Diego, our larger LGBT community is very supportive of trans people. Since my transition, I’ve found myself at home within a variety of communities, but mainly the local Tantra and polyamory communities.
Monika: At that time of your transition did you have any transgender role models that you could follow?
Katie: A few. One of my best friends is a trans woman I met at my first trans support group meeting. It was crush at first sight. She still inspires me. She does a fantastic job of being the woman she is. And, I still dream about her long curly black hair.
Another local heroine is Autumn Sandeen. Autumn served honourably in the U.S. military. Now she is a tireless warrior for justice. For example, she was one of a small group of activists who chained themselves to the fence of the White House to protest our military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. DADT is gone, but transgender Americans are still not allowed to serve in our military. Autumn fought the policy because was wrong, not because she would benefit from it’s repeal.
Her first Tantra Theater show.
Boho is short for bohemian.
Monika: Transgender ladies are subject to the terrible test of whether they pass as a woman or they do not. You are a beautiful lady yourself but what advice would you give to ladies with the fear of not passing as a woman?
Katie: Why thank you (Katie swoons). Let’s face it. I wouldn’t have done a nude photo shoot if I didn’t want to be seen. I have a very vivid memory of a transgender support group I attended very early in my process. We were discussing what we wanted to look like after we transitioned. My answer was that I wanted to be someone I would sleep with. Well, I would totally do me.
I’m not a fan of the phrase “passing as a woman.” I know it’s the common term, but it implies that we are trying to pass ourselves off as women. We aren’t passing as women. We are women. Maybe we could talk instead about letting our women show through. I try to be humble about giving advice.
I had advantages that many of our sisters simply don’t have. I was relatively small for a guy. My voice was relatively high. I still had a full head of hair. And, I used to have good credit. I’ve spent $33,000 on Facial Feminization Surgery and $7,000 on breast implants. I’m pretty deeply in debt, but it was worth every penny.
I also know I’m fortunate that I had the option of going into debt for the medical treatment I needed. In terms of advice, I would suggest that sisters do their best with whatever they have, and then let their joy at being themselves shine through. Happiness and confidence are beautiful. I know I’m no beauty queen, but I also know that I’m much more attractive as a woman than I ever was as a man, mainly because I am so much happier and so much more comfortable in my own skin.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Katie: No question, telling my kids was the hardest part. My sons were nine and 14 when I came out. I knew that no matter what, my transition was going to make their lives more difficult. As morbid as it sounds, I had to resign myself to the idea that my kids are better off with a transsexual lesbian father than they would have been with a dead father.
Four years later, some parts of it are still a struggle for them. They worry about what their friends will think about them because of me. But, they also see advantages in our unusual life. My 13 year old now likes having two very different families. With my ex, he has a typical heterosexual monogamous happily married family and with me he has a joyfully non-typical queer, trans and polyamorous one.
My boys also see the humour in our unusual situation. My older son thought it was hilarious when one of his soccer buddies asked him who that hot blond was who picked him up from practices. We laughed and laughed imagining how his friend would have responded if he had said, “She’s my dad.”
Smooching her beloved at their first Pride celebration.
Monika: We are witnessing more and more transgender ladies coming out. Unlike in the past, some of them are celebrities or are really well-known in their professions, 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 think we will have more and more such women?
Katie: It’s inevitable. Trans folks are not going away and we’re not going back into the closet. There is no room for me in my closet. It’s way too full of clothes. As trans folks come into our own, some of us will become famous. We’re just too fabulous to stay hidden for long. 
Monika: The American politics is based on the interaction with different interest groups that wish to pursue their specific goals. How successful is the transgender community in this respect?
Katie: There is a lot of discussion about that and opinions vary. My perception is that alone, the trans community doesn’t have the numbers to have much political impact. We are a tiny voting block and we don’t tend to have a lot of money to donate to politicians. Our real strength is in the power of our stories.
Most of our concrete political successes have come when we have joined forces with others within the LGBT communities. Together we have made significant strides on issues like creating non-discrimination policies. There have also been betrayals, where mainline queer groups have compromised away trans issues. Still, healthy families have conflicts. At the end of the day, we are all stronger together.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Katie: Hmm. I vote and speak and teach and raise my children. Those really are all political acts, but I want to do more. I’m still developing as a political animal. Because I’ve lived in so many different worlds, I’d love to someday serve as a bridge between the trans community and the larger LGBT community and society at large. Still, I think it will be a while before the American political system is ready for a polyamorous transsexual lesbian candidate.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colours or trends?
Katie: I don’t really get fashion. It’s still mostly a foreign language for me. Except shoes. I totally get shoes. I know what I like and I know what’s flattering and I am borderline obsessed. I once made it through six weeks at work without wearing the same pair twice. Other than that, I’m still learning. On the other hand, my friends would probably say that I’m a bit too good at dressing as the borderline slutty twenty-something girl I never got to be.
First Visible Bodies showing, with Wolfgang, the photographer.
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Katie: Although beauty pageants can be silly, I appreciate almost any kind of respectful visibility for trans people. In San Diego we have a Mr. and Ms Trans San Diego event. The winners become our community’s representatives within the larger LGBTQ communities. 
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Katie: Love isn’t everything, but for me, it is the most important thing. I am at my most alive when I am loving and being loved. I am polyamorous. Polyamory means “many loves.” I am currently in two long-term loving relationships with two women I adore. They both like each other and appreciate the role the other plays in my life.
My beloved Sarah and I live together and we are building a beautiful life together. I also have another lover I see regularly. The two relationships are very different, but in each, the love is real. Polyamory is not for everyone and it’s rarely simple, but it is right for me. 
It seems silly that I would make myself choose only one of the women I love. As a parent of two children, it’s obvious that I can fully love more than one person. It’s not always easy, but the great things rarely are.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Katie: Yes, I’ve got the raw materials for my book scattered around my hard drive (and back-ups). I’ve saved almost every email, text message, Facebook posting and status update since I came out. Together, I think they will create a story worth telling. My working title is New Girl: The Sexual Education of a Kinky Polyamorous Transsexual Lesbian.
Monika: Having transitioned yourself, what would you recommend to all transgender women struggling with gender dysphoria?
Katie: I’m not very comfortable giving advice. All too often, it’s too easy to give and too hard to follow. I can say that with every step I take to live as my authentic self, my dysphoria eases. I’m not there yet, but I know a lot of cisgender women who would say they’re not there either, that they are still learning to be the women they were meant to be. So, if I have any recommendation, I’d suggest that my sisters do whatever they can to transition as much as is possible for them. It’s so worth it.
Playing herself on stage, but much sexier.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Katie: Genital reconstruction (what we call “bottom surgery) is my next big step. I want to have a body that fully matches the woman I know I am. Until recently, bottom surgery was, for me, an impossible dream. I am out of money and out of credit.
However, California law regulating health care has changed recently. It’s no longer legal for insurers to discriminate based on gender identity. Health plans are now required to provide all “medically necessary” care for trans people. The American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association agree that for many trans people, genital reconstruction is medically necessary.
So, for the first time, I can realistically pursue getting my very own vagina. It’s exciting and scary. Major surgery is always risky. Many trans women hate their penises. I don’t hate mine. I joke that my penis has been my oldest and most loyal friend. Still, a penis doesn’t belong on this woman’s body. In five years (or less) I’m going to be, head to toe, inside and out, the woman I was supposed to be. I also want to continue living as an out, proud and visible trans person. My journey has been so much easier because of the contributions and sacrifices of those who have come before. It is my duty and my joy to help make the road a little bit smoother for those who will follow.
Monika: Could you say that you are a happy woman now?
Katie: I typically say that I may not be happy, but I am happier. I’ve dealt with chronic depression my whole life. I’m not sure I have the brain chemistry or the family background to be a truly happy person. I love living my true gender, but it hasn’t automatically solved all my problems. On the other hand, those other problems seem much less daunting now that I’m comfortable in my own skin. I love those moments when I let my guard down and catch myself feeling truly happy.
Monika: Katie, thank you for the interview!
Katie: Thank you so much for the opportunity. You are doing great work, Sister!

All the photos: courtesy of Katie Anne Holton.
Done on 27 January 2014
© 2014 - Monika 

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