Friday, 29 April 2016

Interview with Daliah Husu


Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Daliah Husu, an American writer, poet, former stage artist, the author of the biographical book titled “I Am Woman: Surviving the Past, the Present, & the Future” (2016). Hello Daliah!
Daliah: Hello Monika! Thank you for this opportunity to interview with you and for taking interest in me and my book.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Daliah: Well, I could say more than a few words about myself (laughing out loud), but I’ll try to keep it short and sweet…
I’m originally from the Caribbean, but I was raised in the United States. I’ve always been an artistically inclined individual, especially fond of visual arts, poetry, and music. I’m a big sucker for Latin love songs, which tells you that I’m also a very passionate person. I’ve been around and have worked in the fashion, beauty, and entertainment industries.
My biggest passion, aside from my husband Ruben, whom I adore, is writing. I also love the outdoors, great homemade foods, and a glass of white wine or Champagne in the evenings.
I can sometimes be overly opinionated, but then again, I’m a writer. My goal is to help raise awareness and acceptance for the LGBT community, especially the trans community, which is deeply misunderstood and looked down upon. I’m hoping that through my book, “I Am Woman: Surviving the Past, the Present, & the Future,” more opportunities will arise so that I can continue to spread my message.
Monika: Your life is extraordinary. You were born into poverty in the slums of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic…
Daliah: Correct, I was born very poor in one of the most dangerous slums of Santo Domingo. It was a scary place to live as I was growing up. I was raised by my grandmother until I was eight years old. During those eight years my mother was abroad in the states, trying to make a better living. I never met my biological father, since he left my mother when I was born.


Monika: … and then as a small child you come to New Jersey …
Daliah: I came to New Jersey when my mother married an American man, who adopted me and became my step-father. My life change drastically when I moved to the United States, since my step-father was wealthy. It was such a dramatic change going from having dirt floors in the house in Santo Domingo to living in a fully carpeted colonial Dutch home in the rich suburbs of Northern New Jersey. I was lucky in that sense.
Monika: When did you decide to explore your artistic expressions?
Daliah: I think I was already exploring my artistic expressions since I was four. I remember taking plastic grocery bags and making little skirts that I would wear and dance around in. I continued my artistic expression throughout my teenage years and got involved in drama classes and competitions. I also played the saxophone for about eight years.
As a young adult, I started going out to gay clubs dressed in “drag,” and I eventually started performing the local gay bars of Miami Beach. I did this for over a decade, but I also worked in the beauty salons as a stylist during that time. At one point I thought I wanted to be a fashion designer, so I enrolled in a Bachelors of Fine Arts program at Miami International University of Art & Design and graduated with a four-year degree in fashion design. That was when I began designing gowns and costumes for female impersonators and transgender showgirls in the night clubs.
Monika: I see that your interests cover different forms of art: costume design, acting, modeling, dancing, and now finally writing. Why writing?
Daliah: I find that writing, unlike my other interests, provides me with a creative and emotional outlet that is most gratifying. I always feel better when I write down my thoughts and ideas in a way that impacts other people’s lives. Writing is both therapy and art to me, so I find it more suitable to my personality. I’ve outgrown the glitter, the spotlight of the stage, and everything that performing arts offered me as a young trans woman. I’m a little older now, 36 to be exact, and I feel that writing definitely delivers my message to the world more effectively.
Available via Amazon.
Monika: Why did you decide to write your autobiography?
Daliah: The idea of writing my autobiography had been in my mind for some time, but I never thought I could achieve it. It wasn’t until I was in a financial and emotional crisis that I started writing my memoir. At the time, I was broke, my car was repossessed by the bank, and I was fired from my job. What I did have at that time was my now husband and lots of time, so I started writing.
I created an action plan and wrote one page per day, until my book was completed. It took me three months to write the first draft of my book, and then I re-wrote it a couple more times after that. Sixteen months later I had a completed product out on the market.
Monika: Which aspects of your experience can be useful for other transwomen?
Daliah: We all have similar experiences that we share as trans women—the fear of rejection, wanting to be passable, wanting to be accepted by friends and family, etc. We also have many experiences that make our lives unique—family upbringing, social and economic status, education or lack of, etc. So it’s hard to tell people what to do or what not do based on my personal experience.
What I can say, however, is that it is important to be yourself and to find a support group—be it friends, family, or other—that will be there for you no matter what you are facing at any given moment. I think that once I accepted myself as trans, being around other trans women was beneficial to me, because I learned about myself through them. I could have managed alone, but the journey would have been harder that way. I think many trans women will agree.
Monika: At what age did you transition into woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? 
Daliah: I transitioned when I was 27 years old. The time leading up to my transition was the most difficult, because I was afraid of the “what if’s: “What if my family disapproves?”, “What if I never land a job?”, “What if I become the victim of violence?”, and so on.
But once I made my choice to move forward with my transition, it was easier. I was resolute on transitioning and when I did, I never looked back or contemplated those fearful questions that daunted me before. 
Monika: Are there are any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now?
Daliah: I admire Janet Mock for her eloquence and determination. I also admire Laverne Cox for her simplicity and straightforwardness. Those are two of the better known public figures out there representing the trans community. But there are many girls that I know personally, who like me are living our day-to-day lives and advocating by simply being visible. They don’t get the acknowledgement they deserve, and it’s they that I admire the most.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Daliah: Fear! It was the only thing stopping me from being myself. It is the only thing that continues to stop us from living authentically and from achieving our goals and dreams. 


Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBT communities. Being the last letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBT group?
Daliah: Yes. The transgender cause is a cause of its own. I wrote an article recently where I mention that the gay and lesbian movements have overcome their greatest hurdles within the last thirty to forty years. It’s now the transgender community that is looked down upon and harshly criticized by the general public and the religious fundamentalists. As a community, we find ourselves fighting the same battles that the gays and lesbians fought years ago.
Monika: What do you think in general about transgender news stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers or books so far?
Daliah: I think that we have seen variety in the depiction of transgender characters in the media, films, and books. I do think, though, that it would be greatly beneficial if writers, producers, and directors would create more positive roles for transgender people in their productions. I say this because we are still at a critical point where people are still forming ideas about who we are as people and as a community. So portraying strong and positive trans characters in the media and in entertainment is crucial to our movement of social acceptance and equality.
Monika: Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Daliah: I don’t physically attend rallies or political demonstrations, but I do participate by staying abreast of the current political issues and signing petitions that are pro LGBT rights, especially trans rights. I also participate in exhibits and fundraisers that help the LGBT community and that help raise awareness.
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants? Some activists criticize their value, pointing out that they lead to the obsession with youth and beauty.
Daliah: Well, I think we can say that about any beauty pageant, whether it is a transgender pageant or a cisgender beauty contest. Pageants in themselves have no meaning or value, unless we place a meaning or value to them. In other words, entering a pageant has no meaning unless whoever is entering it has a clear purpose or goal. The value of these pageantry systems lies in who is competing and why. I’ve been in pageants in the past and won, but I competed because it was an artistic expression for me. It wasn’t about being the most beautiful girl, although we all like to be told we are beautiful. It was about accomplishment for me.


On the other hand, I know girls who compete and win simply on looks. To them, it’s a natural high knowing they are physically beautiful. It’s shallow, I must admit, but if it makes them feel good about themselves momentarily, then there is no harm in that. However, I don’t agree with pageant systems emphasizing and choosing winners solely on looks. I can see how many girls become obsessed with wanting more surgery, bigger breasts, a smaller nose, etc. I think that for a woman to alter her physical body for a pageant is extremely superficial. If we must alter our bodies, we should do it for our long-term happiness.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Daliah: Love is everything to me. I live for love, and I love to live. Without love, in whatever form it manifests in our lives, there is no meaning to anything. I experience love every day through my husband and through my friends. Love is what drives me to write and share my story with others.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Daliah: I’m currently translating my memoir into the Spanish language. It’s a time consuming task, but I feel it is important that I share my story to the Latin community that raised me.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Daliah: I would say to keep in mind that this is a journey like any other. Journeys take time, but sooner or later you’ll reach the destination. If you are struggling with gender dysphoria, find a support system that can help you through it. The local LGBT community center is a great place to start, or even an online support group where you can discuss the issues that are affecting you the most. It’s also really importantly to stay away from negative attitudes or people who are not helping you feel better.
As far as having surgeries or not being able to afford them, it is ultimately up to you to find a way to make it happen. If it means working and saving up your money, then that is what has to be done. If you are lucky enough to live in a country that offers you healthcare or covers the expenses of the surgeries, then go for it and count yourself lucky. If you have the money but are unsure about taking the next step, take your time and wait for the answers to come to you.
Monika: Daliah, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Daliah Husu.
Done on 29 April 2016
© 2016 - Monika 

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