Saturday, 15 March 2014

Interview with Erica Elizabeth Ravenwood


Monika: Today’s interview will be with Erica Elizabeth Ravenwood, a video blogger that documents her transition on YouTube. Hello Erica!
Erica: Hi Monika. Thank you so much for asking me to do this. I’m just a little fish in a big sea really.
I do have to correct the term video blogger though. That would suggest I actually talk to the camera, which really isn’t my style of video. Rather, I use music and images to help me tell my story.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself? 
rica: Few words LOL. You don’t know me very well Monika. I’ll try to keep it pretty basic. I was born in 1965. A difficult period to grow up transgender since the information and resources didn’t exist back then like they do today. But growing up in the 70’s was also a magical time. I was 12 years old when Star Wars came out, for crying out loud. What better era was there to be a kid?
That being said, as many transgender girls do, I grew up without friends, I’ll go into that more in a later question.
I hid, buried, denied all that I could as I got older so that by the time I met my future wife I had a pretty decent alter persona going that at least allowed me to pass as male. I found the strong silent type the easiest to pull off. If I said little I would have less of a chance of giving my true thoughts away.


I went in the Army in 1986, mostly in an attempt to try to please my Dad but also to further my denial. An Army scout for the 101st Airborne was my first job and I went to many different training schools. Did a tour in the Sinai, which was wonderful and where I learned to scuba dive and climbed Mt. Sinai on several occasions. And served in the Gulf War until I was discharged for mental exhaustion in 1991.
My (now ex, but still best friend) wife and I had three wonderful kids together and she later had a fourth child after we separated that I consider my own. I have two grandchildren and am probably the coolest “Grandpa” ever.
Monika: Why did you decide to share your transition details on YouTube?
Erica: The first video I did was on a different channel than the one I use now. Jan. 7 2007 I had a suicide attempt (which is mentioned in Goodbye Alice in Wonderland briefly) and was made a day after I had gotten out of the hospital. I made it as part of my healing process (Transgender Inequality) and made some others throughout that year.
It was a difficult two years for me. I drove from New York to California one night after what had been a six-month nervous breakdown and I had hit that point of “You either need to do something or your going to die.” I went to live with a transgender girl and her husband that I had met on line and went from boy to girl literally overnight. Not something I would suggest other people do. I believe my greatest difficulty came from trying to constantly “pass”. Something I’ll go into a little more in the next question.
During my time in California, I was seen by the V.A. (Veterans Administration) but they didn’t know how to treat a transgender veteran. Not at that facility anyway and my gender identity, though acknowledged since I presented as female, was never addressed. Instead I was treated for bi-polar and schizophrenia and drugged up pretty badly. Though my time in Bakersfield, California wasn’t fun I don’t regret it. I learned much from the experience.
Erica and her Mom.
I came back to New York in guy mode January 2009. My children knew about California, so there was no secret really but they were young and for their sake I buried things all over again. I continued being seen through the V.A. here in Western New York, under the wrong assumption that all V.A. records followed me and they knew about California, and I never mentioned it to my psychiatrist. She continued treating me as they had in California. (I know this seems convoluted to the question but I have a point. Really I do, Honest.)
I had reached a point of overmedication that landed me in the hospital for a month. Thankfully the psychiatrist that was assigned to me knew enough to take me off everything and I started a long detox period. Hyper Mania is my natural state and he started me on MAOI inhibitor. Well after that I felt like a whole new person. I liken it to the Robert Denero character in Awakenings.
I had been suffering from agoraphobia to a point where I wouldn’t go to the mail box unless it was midnight and my psychiatrist suggested I find a chat room to get at least some social interaction. I came back to my next appointment and told her I took her advice.
She said “Great! What kind of chat room did you find?” as she was typing away, looking at her computer. “A Transgender one.” I replied. She froze and stiffened, turning in her chair. Her eyes boring through me. “Are you transgender?” she asked. “Yes.” was my answer “And WHY did you never tell me this?” She’s still mad at me to this day but I was off and running at that point. That was the beginning of August 2013.
Back to your original question. I started my current channel September 6th because I feel I have experiences to share that might be helpful to others. (I hope your not charging by the word. LOL)
Monika: At which stage of the transition are you right now?
Erica: Mentally I have fully transitioned and to me that’s the important part. I am very openly transgender and out to all my family, which is a large, extended one, and to the community, which is still perhaps getting used to the idea but I’m having fun with it. Physically, I started HRT on November 6th 2013.
I had said I would go into the idea of trying to “pass”. From the two years living in California I know that was the largest source of stress in my life. Not the fact that the part of town we lived in was the worst in Bakersfield and there were gang shootings on a nightly basis, not that I was penniless.
It was the constant worry and self-conscious feeling of “Do I pass.” I will NEVER do that again. It’s OK to be transgender. I’m proud that I’m transgender. And if forever through my life I’m known as transgender that’s fine by me.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the results of the hormone therapy?
Erica: HRT is going well. Apparently I was born with a hormonal anomaly where I produce high amounts of both estrogen and testosterone. Though my testosterone levels were fairly normal. This is something I never knew about before. There had never been a reason to have hormone levels checked until I was doing blood work in preparation for going to the endocrinologist.
Because my estrogens levels were fairly high naturally I didn’t really have any issues when I started. I theorize that is because my body was probably already used to it, it didn’t care about that extra we were putting into it.
I did stopped taking my spironolactone just recently due to some dehydration and headache issues, which we are watching and determining what the next step might be.
I would like to take this opportunity for a little PSA and say to all your readers, please do not attempt HRT without the guidance of a medical professional. Transition is a wonderful thing but it’s not worth your life to do it in an unsafe manner.
As far as GRS, I don’t plan on having the full surgery. An orchiectomy is all I plan to do surgically for various reasons. Suffice it to say, after long consideration I feel it’s all I need for myself.
In her prom.
Monika: Could you describe your childhood? When did you feel for the first time that you should not be a boy or man?
Erica: I felt I was female from my earliest memories. When I was very little I didn’t know the difference and lived in a blissful state of unawareness until just before the time I started school. I was the youngest of four children and there was a several year gap between my youngest sister and me, so I spent all my time with my Mom and Grandma.
They were both very sweet, kind and gentle people and never said a word when I would follow behind them in the kitchen wearing my Mom’s shoes or going to my sister’s room to play with their toys. It was a very natural thing for any little girl to do and I did it without thought or care because neither of them did anything to make it feel wrong.
My bother, who is ten years older than me and we shared a room, was always afraid that I would brake his stuff when in fact I had no interest in his stuff.
There was a point though, just before I turned five and just before I started school that I remember my Dad being angry with my Mom for letting me be me. It was a sad turning point in my life. It was the first time I had been told, even if it wasn’t said directly to me, that who I was, was wrong.
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?
Erica: I hated school from day one. I had never really been around other children too much and it was painfully obvious I didn’t fit in. I wanted to play with the girls but they didn’t want me to and was forced to be with the boys who I wanted nothing to do with. When recess came and we were allowed to go outside I would just walk out the gate and walk home at five years old. My Mom, always kind, would take me back but I would cry. After a few days of this they finally figured out they should lock the gate.
The first couple years I was just ostracized. After that I started getting beaten up and that continued on an almost daily basis until my parents put me in a very strict Christian school when I was in 6th grade. I had never told my Mom about being beaten up and I was always afraid to talk to my Dad.
The Christian school was a fire and brimstone Baptist school and while I was no longer beaten up I was again ostracized and told I was going to hell regularly. I tried so hard to hide who I was but I must not have done a very good job or maybe I just gave off a vibe.
I was often called gay but they didn’t use that nice of a word. I also grew up being called Erica as a slur, which I would later embrace as my true name. I stayed in that school for three years but did everything I could to get kicked out by just refusing to do anything as far as schoolwork. It didn’t work but after much pleading my parents finally put me in a different Christian school.
My Dad took me to Sears calling me “squirly burly” the entire time, up to that point that was probably the most he had ever spoken to me, and he bought me a weight set. That summer, between eighth and ninth grade, I used that weight bench and grew six inches. By the time I got to the new school, which was an extremely small private school that only went to ninth grade, I was the biggest, tallest kid in school for the first time in my life and that protected me that year. I was six feet tall at fifteen.
I talked my parents into letting me go to the regular high school the following year having had a year where I had felt good about myself for the first time since I had left the safety of my Mom’s kitchen when I was so little. My parents were very worried and didn’t want me too but gave in. It turned out they were right that it was a bad idea.
A falling star?
The first week of tenth grade was one of the scariest times in my life. I went from being a big fish in a small pond to a very small fish in the open sea. I was beaten unconscious by a group of guys during gym. Singled out for being tall and big and a challenge. What I thought had protected me before made me a target and I didn’t have the faintest idea of how to fight back.
When I came to I climbed the fence and left and never went back. It was the first year they had put a computer in charge of attendance and some kid kept hacking it and clearing all the records. No one had any idea I wasn’t going to school. Instead I would go to the library or hike Malibu Canyon, always taking my copy of the Hobbit with me.
At the very end of that year someone came to my parents house. They figured out I hadn’t been there finally but by then the year was close enough to over they didn’t make me go back. My Mom and Dad got divorced that year and I went to live with my Dad so I would be in a different district. I moved in with the man who had never spoken to me. It was very quite.
No one said boo to me at the new high school but by that time I was so paranoid and traumatized it didn’t matter. I couldn’t do it and I left that school after a week as well. They put me in a continuation school that was supposed to be for the “bad” kids but turned out we were just all stoners.
I didn’t do anything school wise the remainder of the time in school, and it was never expected of any of us by the “teachers” but it was a very needed social experience for me. I made a small group of very close core friends and it seemed our mission in life was to stay as stoned as possible. It was during this period that I met my future wife.
Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow?
Erica: My first transgender role model was Bugs Bunny. At this point in my life I wouldn’t say I have role models but I have many friends.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Erica: Coming out, honestly, has been a bit by bit journey for me. I came out to my wife but didn’t have the vocabulary or presence of mind to explain really what I was feeling and she sort of settled into the idea that I was a cross dresser, just hoping that I was straight. She confided in me, just very recently, that she had seen a Jerry Springer episode, way back when, and they had some cross dressers on that all said they were straight but just liked to wear women’s clothes. It gave her some piece of mind that that was true for me though I was rarely allowed to dress.
We separated, in large part looking back on it now, because I just couldn’t perform with her anymore in the marital sense. There were some hard moments but we always managed to be close. After I moved out it was a slow process of self-awareness and trying to figure out what the heck was going on with me. I still had never heard the word transgender and had never been on a computer.
When I got my own true first place I was able to dress “openly” even if it was just in my house with every window covered for safety. It was during that period I also found my sexuality and had my first and so far only boyfriend. So that’s when I came out as gay. (Though identifying as female I consider myself straight. But that’s a whole perception conversation for another time.)
In pink and green.
I had one last ill-fated relationship with a woman after my boyfriend and I broke up after a year. (We were engaged too. I still wear the ring but on my right hand.) But even though we probably should never have gotten together that relationship did save my children for a time when I was too messed up to care for them myself (and I thank her for that) and the first time I got on the internet. That was 2004 and I found a TG chat room.
Well, that’s what it took. I now knew both my sexuality AND my gender identity (or at very least could put a name to it). At the end of 2006 is when I jumped in the truck and drove to California.
The rest is pre-read history except for a second coming out to my family which again was hard. They knew much but not all the details.
Monika: What is your general view on the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Erica: There’s still a lot of fear among the majority of transgender people and an extreme lack of education for both them and the general public. It’s my mission in life to help educate both groups even if that means one person at a time.
Monika: We are witnessing more and more transgender ladies coming out. 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 modeling, Kate Bornstein in academic life, Laura Jane Grace in music or Candis Cayne in acting. Do you witness the same trend?
Erica: Perhaps that is true but I’ve also noticed a trend of people coming to their realization at a much younger age than was true in the past. The Internet has done tremendous things. Both bad and good. It’s up to us who know better to help set right that which is bad.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Erica: That’s a tricky question for me. I would call myself a gentle activist with a mission. I’m very involved in a certain chat room I mentioned before (the link btw is on the header of my channel. Plug plug, nudge nudge) and am an administrator there as well as the chairperson for a two hour forum called Sunday Brunch that is held every week.
It may sound bad but I don’t watch the news and most of what I learn politically I hear from a very good friend of mine who stays on top of everything. I don’t have to watch because she keeps me up to date on so many things as well as other people who send me things they think are important or may be of interest.
I would love to get more involved and am being asked slowly, just as you had asked me to do this interview, which you were so kind to do.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors or trends?
Erica: Well, hmm, I do prefer clothes to walking around naked. At this early stage of my transition and it being winter I pretty much layer and cover my body. I do love the clothes from Holy Clothing and have some nice pieces. Very often that’s what I wore in California. 
I would say I like a Boho style. Long, loose, flowy and comfortable but also very much a jeans and a top kind of girl. At 6’1” heel-s is a four letter word to me and I prefer to wear flats. If style and comfort come in conflict comfort will always win out.
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Erica: I really don’t pay attention to them but then I don’t pay attention to any beauty pageant to be honest.


Monika: Are you involved in the life of your local LGBT community?
Erica: LOL As far as I know I am the local LGBT community. I know there are many gay people in my town but as far as I’m aware I’m the only openly transgender person. I did recently get a roommate who was in a bad situation and not able to be her and I invited her to live with me in a safe environment but she’s not at the point at the present to feel comfortable going out. Though I know she will get there.
But again, here in town and the surrounding community, as I become known better, I’m more than willing to educate or be a shoulder to lean on. I’m willing to do any and all that I can.
Monika: What would you recommend to transgender women that are afraid of early transition, discrimination and hatred?
Erica: Wow, that’s kind of a tricky question as well. Here in the United States there are safe places and not so safe places. Usually depending on the religious fervor going on there. I guess the best opinion I could give is to start with a therapist. Some will say you HAVE to see a gender therapist but a good therapist is trained to listen and will learn from the experience if your open and honest with them.
But I stress the word “good”. If your scared I believe you really need to get a handle on that before going out into the big bad world if you hope to have any confidence in doing so. Also know that living with GID often creates additional issues beyond gender identity that should be discussed with your therapist.
Having a support base is crucial even if that has to start with people you meet on line. Being alone with your thoughts when dealing with dysphoria is a killer. But buyer beware of people you meet on line that you want to meet in real life. A piece of advice I’m often told I have to follow myself by the people who love me.
Many faces of Erica.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Erica: Well, unfortunately I have what they call the “Transgender curse”. In addition to that I do have a psychological condition that keeps me for the most part in a high mania and unless my mind is constantly engaged I start to hallucinate in a way and have conversations with people that aren’t there.
That usually means people I know and is innocent enough but very annoying and at times embarrassing. That’s why the videos have been so good for me as a hobby. I learn new things all the time and can have several different programs working at once.
Since I got out of the hospital I’ve made 46 videos, written, illustrated and published a children’s book, written three others and started a novel that I’ve given myself a target completion date of July 31st.
I just plan to keep going and let God lead me where He wants to lead. Hopefully I can do a little good along the way.
Monika: Could you say that you are a happy woman now?
Erica: I can honestly say I am very happy. And thank you. This was wonderful.
Monika: Erica, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!

All the photos: courtesy of Erica Elizabeth Ravenwood.
Done on 15 March 2014
© 2014 - Monika 

3 comments:

  1. Erica is quite a woman. i feel privileged to know her.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you, very well spoken and not unalike my own story. Ali M

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you, very well spoken and not unalike my own story. Ali M

    ReplyDelete

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