Monika: Today's interview will be with JoAnne Wheeler Bland, a woman and a transgender activist, a practicing attorney for 44 years, former Special Justice on the Kentucky Supreme Court, former Vice-President of the Kentucky Fairness Alliance, current Board Member on the Fairness Campaign Coordinating Committee (in Louisville, Kentucky), current member of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education's Committee on Equal Opportunity (the Diversity Committee), Keynote Speaker for the 27th Annual Kentucky Governor's Equal Employment Opportunity Conference whose topic was "The Transgender Worker", Frequent guest speaker at Women's and Gender Studies at Kentucky Universities, Frequent guest speaker at numerous Kentucky Universities (on the issue of Transgender), frequent guest speaker at PFLAG Meetings across Kentucky, studied Theology for 13 years, a former United Methodist Certified Lay Speaker, former Evangelist and Teacher, former Church Choir Member, architect and interior layout designer, interior decorator, consultant to Kentucky School Districts on Transgender students, consultant to Kentucky Courts on issues of Transgender, Counselor and Advisor to parents, adults and children regarding Transgender issues. Hello JoAnne!
JoAnne: Thank you for interviewing me.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself ?
JoAnne: First of all, I am a 69 year old woman. I was born in Alabama in 1945 and was raised in Kentucky. Like many, if not most, of the Transwomen near my age, I knew that I was "different" when I was a small child. I had no words to describe it other than for some reason, I felt like I was really a girl inside. At night, I used to wish, hope, dream and pray that I would wake up and be the girl that I knew I was. My family was not wealthy. We had a farm. We lived in a small town of 250 people in rural Kentucky. There was no access to any information. And I assumed back then that I was "the only person in the world who felt like I did".
Elementary school was difficult for me in that I was very timid and spent most of my time alone. I always hated the bathroom issue. I could not go into a boy's bathroom I felt that I did not belong in there. I did not like to play with boys. They were too rough for me. I preferred to play with the girls. I was always very intelligent. School was always easy for me. I was a straight A student.
High School was equally difficult. I avoided playing sports. I could not go into the boys locker room. My father and my uncles were all great sports participants. I had tremendous pressure put on me to play sports. I just could not do it. I hated puberty. I hated the hair that grew on my body. I hated my penis. I hated the sexual changes that happened - because I was developing male sexual characteristics and I did not want any of them.
|This is her "before" photograph.|
It was taken on the day that she
was sworn in as a Special Justice
on the Kentucky Supreme Court.
While in college, I dated thinking that it would "cure" me. After obtaining my Law Degree, I got married thinking that "would surely cure me". It didn't ! I began practicing Law in the Fall of 1970.
I tried to become totally immersed in my Law Practice as a means to keep my mind off thinking about who I really was inside. Constantly (24/7), I could not get my Gender Dysphoria off my mind. I constantly tried to stay busy and engrossed in something as a way to keep my dysphoria at bay.
My spouse and I bought 50 acres of land. I spent hour upon hour clearing the land - anything to stay busy. Eventually, we built a house on the land and I kept most of the 50 acres manicured like a golf course or park.
Eventually I became interested in genealogy and worked at that for 10-12 years. Then I got involved with theology and became immersed in that for 15-20 years. I studied theology a minimum of 4-5 hours per day for 13 years. I became very active in church work and eventually began to teach and preach.
In 2009, at the age of 64, I got to the point that I just could not deal with my gender dysphoria any more. I was so physically and mentally and emotionally tired of trying to suppress and repress my feelings inside. I was always some what depressed because of it, but I hit rock bottom in 2009. I was suicidal. I just felt that I could no longer live pretending to be someone that I was not.
Toward the end of 2009, I finally accepted who I was and what I was. I knew that the time had come - either transition or commit suicide. It was a tough decision. It would have been much easier to die. I wanted to kill my male persona - I hated him. But from deep within, JoAnne pleaded with me not to die. JoAnne wanted a chance to live. Killing "John" would also kill "JoAnne" and JoAnne wanted desperately to be able to finally live. I chose to transition and I set out to make it happen after the first of the year 2010. I knew the WPATH Protocols and what they called for. So to that end, I started seeing mental health professionals in February of 2010. Soon afterward, I started on HRT and Laser Hair Removal. I was seeing three mental health professionals at the same time that year. 2010 was a difficult and at the same time exciting year.
Difficult - in that I lost my spouse of 40 years, my law partner of 30 years, my land, my home, my law practice, my possessions, my animals, most of my family, my church family, my social friends and my standing in the community. And still exciting - in that I was on a mission - a mission to let JoAnne be free. Hours upon hours of therapy, hours of Laser Hair removal, Hormone replacement therapy, and I started living full-time on September 2, 2010. A week later, I scheduled my Gender Confirming Surgery. On February 5, 2011 (one year to the date when I started mental health therapy, I flew from Louisville to Scottsdale, Arizona.
And on February 8, 2011, I had 12 hours of Facial Feminization Surgery and one week later on February 15, 2011, I had 14 hours of Gender Confirming Surgery and more Facial Feminization Surgery - all performed by the most awesome man I know, Dr. Toby Meltzer, M.D. I spent 18 days alone in Scottsdale - most in the hospital. I returned to Scottsdale in January of 2012, to have the final cosmetic stage on my lower surgery and more Facial surgery. All in all, I have had 32.5 hours of surgery from Dr. Meltzer. On both occasions, I returned to Kentucky and continued my life as JoAnne.
|This shows just how much her life|
just glows now.
Mine were from mothers and grandmothers who were dealing with transgender children. They started bringing children to me. I became an instant role model. I began to counsel children, parents, friends etc. And it has never stopped. I love being able to help others face their gender dysphoria.
So many of us have succumb to suicide or have been on the very edge of death over our gender dysphoria. Watching "Gay" men dressed as women, performing as mere caricatures of real Transwomen (and cis- women) hurts our image in public. They are having fun performing for money and frivality while we are on the very brink of life and death. And as I said earlier, the general public equates real Transwomen as nothing more that drag queens.
|Lecturing about Transgender at a University.|
I have been blessed to be able to present and pass and act and be just another woman. I realize that the majority of transwomen do not have the things that I get to enjoy. That pains me deeply. For the most part, transgender women have a hard time unless they have financial stability, presentation ability, emotional stability and acceptance where they go.
But if you seriously want to be seen and accepted, then you have to look like other women in the setting that you find yourself in. Admittedly I overdressed early on. But I was willing to learn. And how do you learn - the same way you learn about anything. Observe, study and practice, practice, practice. The majority of genetic or cis-gender females do not know how to dress either.
I "AM" making a difference everywhere I go. I have a personal goal of educating at least one more person about transgender everyday. And some days in my speaking engagements, I may educate between 200-250. I plan to make a difference in every way that I can, every time that I can, every place that I can, for as long as I can. That is the motto that I live by.
|Presenting an Award at a Kentucky|
Fairness Alliance Gala.
Furthermore, we are financially poorer than the LGB community. I have been trying to enlighten LGBT organizations that I have been a part of, but this is a real issue. There are times when I feel that the "T" is barely a part of the LGBT community, but we are so disorganized and do not have adequate financial resources to fight for our civil rights.
And at this point I have to make this statement: "Surgery does NOT change your sexual orientation !" This is true. It is possible I guess that I might be bisexual for the right man, but I have ALWAYS considered myself to be a Lesbian - and an extremely Femme Lesbian at that. Even when I was married, I considered myself to be a lesbian. At the present time, I am in a relationship with a "Soft-Butch Lesbian". She treats me like the lady that I am.
I always present as a very well put together classy professional woman. Colors come easy for me. I know how to put an outfit together and do the right makeup and accessorize my outfit. I usually wear pastels.
I feel that I have made a truly amazing and complete transition. We are all different. What I have done was what was right for me. I could not transition without doing so completely. I have always been a minute detail person. I try to think of everything. I realize that others may choose to not transition completely for a variety of reasons. I accept that.