Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Interview with Dana Zircher


Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Dana Zircher, an American software design engineer and actress. Hello Dana!
Dana: Hi Monika, first and foremost I’d like you thank you for asking me to participate in this interview. I’m really impressed with the collection of interviews and information that you’ve accumulated for your website. I thinks it’s a great asset to our community. Thank you so much for pulling it together. It must be a labor of love!
Monika: Could you say a few words about your career so far?
Dana: I’ve been really fortunate with my professional career, I was always a bit of a techy nerd and decided to pursue a career in electronics. Software was more or less a natural fit and I have been writing software professionally for about 20 years.
I’ve had the pleasure of working on products like Lotus Notes, Groove Workspace, Microsoft Office, SharePoint and even Windows. It’s been a wonderfully challenging and rewarding career so far and I’ve had the opportunity to work with and learn from so many brilliant industry leaders.
I also love performing, it offers me rewards that are hard to quantify with words. When I was younger, I played different instruments with several local bands, studied music theory in college and was even fortunate enough to work with some regional roads acts for a short while.
It was always important to me to keep my love of performance as much a part of my day to day as possible, that’s not always so simple when you’re working on enterprise software products.

Practicing the v-drums.

Until recently, I owned and operated a private recording studio in my spare time. I really enjoyed that, I selected the artists that I wanted to record & produce and there was really very little need to produce commercially viable product. There was no pressure to pay the bills with any of these ventures either and that was very liberating. It allowed for a great deal of experimentation and sometimes the results were really quite fantastic.
My daughter who is 14 has really been shining with her musical talents as well. It’s so wonderful to watch her grow musically and develop her own sense of style. Unfortunately I suffered some pretty serious hearing loss a couple of years ago due to a nasty virus.
Once I was unable to listen critically and mix well I decided it was time to retire from music production. I still play a few instruments from time to time but mostly for my own enjoyment and to jam with my daughter of course.
Monika: In 2012 you debuted in the movie industry with a role of Interviewer in one of the episodes of Chris/tina (TV Series)? How did you feel as an actress?
Dana: My role in Chris/tina was an incredible opportunity for me. The writer/producer, Jorge Ortiz reached out to me for support and to review his script for accuracy. There were few corrections to be made regarding technical errata, such as transitioning language and other community expressions but it was a really compelling story.
During the course of our interactions I was offered the opportunity to come out to LA and perform a brief walk on role. I never really meant it to be the beginning of a career but it certain sparked a new passion in me.

Dana and Mica on set doing takes for the interview scene.

Jorge’s goal for this series was to increase the awareness of the challenges that the LGBT community faces and he’d written a very compelling story about Chris/tina. A young Latino man who harbored his secret transgender identity.
Here’s the description of his work: "A teenage identical twin living in a machismo, middle-class thinking, Catholic-based, Latin neighborhood with his college, all-American athlete brother and his politically ambitious mother is caught between the expectations of that world and with who he really is inside: a woman."
His project’s major focus was to stop the bullying and hatred associated with the transgender and gay community. The pilot episode that I acted in had a focus on the family rifts that existed with his gay uncle. It set the stage for the lack of tolerance that existed within the family dynamic.
Christina wouldn’t come out to her family until a later episode however it did offer insights into the pain of having a ‘secret self’. A topic all of us have had to learn to cope with since the beginning of our journeys. I was the first real transgender person to work on the project and it was such a growth opportunity for all of us. I felt a bit of a subject matter expert naturally but I also had the chance to see the innocence and newness of the topic through the other actors’ eyes.
Dana standing next to her mixer early 2004.
My scene was really short but there were so many incredible things running through my mind as we were shooting.
First, there I was acting in a scene in which I was portraying a genetic female interviewer. The actor I was working with Mica was playing Christina and Mica did not identify as transgender. I had never been in a situation in which a non-transgender person was depicting the transgender dilemma.
There was something very powerful in that moment for me. It was probably the first time I ever felt like I was engaged in portraying a different role for the purpose educating people about the transgender community. Everyone working on this project was acting and somehow that made it something bigger than us. So much that I had learned to take for granted became real again.
Secondly, I’ve been involved in the transgender rights movement for many years, I’ve taken a behind the scenes role but I have also spoken at many press conferences and given testimony at a few statehouse hearings. Funny but I always felt as though I was acting then, even though I was telling my own story. My role in Chis/tina offered me some insight into the power of telling stories through an entertainment vehicle. It is something that I would like to continue to do in the future.
On set for "Everyone Matters".
Finally, did I mention that I had a makeup and hair stylist? My makeup artist was incredible and while she was working on me she asked about how I became involved in the project. Her jaw dropped when I told her I was a transsexual playing the part of the interviewer.
For me, naturally that was a great success not being clocked by someone working so closely to my face but also it opened us up to a ton Q&A.
I discovered that she was really drawn to this project because of its cutting edge theme and felt that it was special to be a part of it. She and I still keep in touch quite often. That was just awesome and something I wish I could wake up to every morning. I felt really special having them pay so much attention to my look. They did such a fabulous job too! (See the main photo.)
Monika: Do you have any favourite actresses?
Dana: I do, I admire the work of legends like Jodi Foster but there are also a few lesser known artists for which I have a ton of respect. I mostly enjoy female comics like.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Dana: Not just now although I’m always looking for the right opportunity. I did start a new hobby last year that I’m really proud of. One that I’ve wanted to do since I was pretty young. About 3 years ago, I started training to learn how to race super-bike motorcycles and I just completed my first rookie race season. We are starting to see more and more woman racers on the pro and amateur circuit these days and many have been terrific supporters of mine.
Dana carving through turn 4 on her Ducati 848 Superbike.
I even won a race or two! In fact I took first place in my last race of the season this year. Although it came with a hefty price as I crashed during a low-side and broke my left patella.
Monika: At that time of your transition did you have any transgender role models that you could follow? What was your knowledge about transgenderism?
Dana: I did, Prof. Lynn Conway. Lynn really opened my eyes to the evolving culture and spirit of acceptance of transgender woman in America culture. 
Most of my reading from other transgender woman spoke about successful transitions in terms of going stealth. Generally, when I thought about transitioning, the notion of reinventing my entire life was not at all appealing to me. I wasn’t ashamed of the things I had accomplished prior to my transition, in spite of any challenges I might have faced.
Lynn, who maintained a stealthy existence for a majority of her corporate career decided to take her outing by one of her graduate students as a teaching opportunity. She saw her outing as a chance to educate people on our struggles but more importantly to help them see just how much similarity everyone shares. That was an incredibly powerful message. And was incredibly well accepted largely because of her academic and professional accomplishments.
Adjusting the GoPro before a race.
A dear friend of mine, Ethan cautioned me that too many transgender people thrust themselves into the public eye long before they’ve found comfort in their own skin. More often than not, their lack of a clear message resulted in more confusion rather than education.
A few years later when Prof. Conway asked me to share my story, I was terrified that I might do our community a disservice. Fortunately, I was able to refine that I wanted to convey and those initial thoughts have really defined my voice in the community.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Dana: I’ve been asked this question before and I suppose my gut reaction is always the same. I think the best is yet to come and even though I think my story is interesting, it’s nowhere close to unfolding.
I know that I’ve had an extremely blessed life which has offered me so wonderful opportunities. I suppose, at some time someone will ask me that question and I’ll nod knowing that it’s the right time.
Monika: Dana, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Dana Zircher.
Done on 25 February 2014
© 2014 - Monika 

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