Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Interview with Georgia Lee McGowen


Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Georgia Lee McGowen, writer, blogger, the author of the autobiographical book titled “Dear Mom and Dad: You Don't Know Me, But ...” (2012). Hello Georgia!
Georgia: And a grateful Hello to you as well Monika. This is indeed a pleasure and honor.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Georgia: Oh Monika I could say more than a few words about myself as the original draft of “Dear Mom and Dad” would attest to. If published as originally written it would have run to 700+ pages. Thankfully my publisher, iUniverse, convinced me that it was way too wordy. As for a few words about myself in the context of your blog; I am a history buff; in particular, the history of famous people.
As a child I was fascinated by what made people famous enough for someone to want to record their lives. Not having done anything to cause another to write about me it was necessary for me to do the writing. I’m a late blooming flower. I’m 71 years old and totally enjoying my life. I still work 40+ hours a week as a Kitchen & Bath Designer at Home Depot here in Mesa, Arizona. I’m widowed and a devout Christian, a fact that my book attests to.
With her book - Amazon.
Monika: Why did you decide to write your autobiography?
Georgia: There is a passage in the Bible that talks about the way three servants utilized the “talents” they were given by their master. The one who was given the least, buried his for safe keeping and failed to put his one “talent” to work, a fact that did not set well with the master on his return. I did not want to have that conversation with my maker … at all. 
I had prepared a manuscript which was a collection of previously published essays written for various LGBT publications but realized they would have little, if any, value beyond our community if no one knew the back story, which of course led to “Dear Mom and Dad.” Thankfully, when I was discouraged beyond belief, that what I had to say was of any value, my dear friend the late Doug Benton provided the encouragement to finish what I started.
Monika: Which aspects of your experience can be useful for other transwomen?
Georgia: Two observations: First, accept the fact that society is not going to be accepting you with open arms. Face it, for most of us we don’t get much beyond looking like a man in a dress so I will share a secret; put on a big smile and get on with your business. Life will become far more enjoyable and you far more acceptable.
Second, acknowledge the reality that just because you choose to alter your body you cannot deny the possibility of the continued existence of the male spirit within your soul. One of the most important aspects that I became aware of as I became more involved in the trans community was the horrendously large number suicides among us. (One study put the number at nearly eleven times the suicide rate of the normal population.) Up to that point in my life I had personally known only one person who had chosen to commit self-murder. Within a matter of less than two years of becoming involved with the trans community three people I knew personally had chosen to end their earthly existence. A surgeon’s scalpel will not remove any part of your soul.
In addition to that experience I was constantly told that even though, early on I considered myself a cross-dresser, that I would eventually “cross that threshold”. As alluring as a life as Georgia was I could not comprehend the aspect of telling “George” that I “Georgia” was going to kill him off; that I was going to tell my children that I was going to kill their father. A variety of experiences, which I describe in my book, led me to the eventual realization that I was blessed with a soul inhabited by two clearly identifiable spirits, one male, George, and one female, Georgia.
"George" and Marilyn in Colorado, 1986.
To return to the original question you pose here … I realized that I didn’t have to make a choice other than which of those personalities was predominant at this point in my life. George had the use of this body for 65 plus years, now it was my turn. So the short answer to your question is: Whatever you do with your body, don’t deny the existence of a spirit that is a God given part of your soul.
Monika: At what age did you transition into woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? 
Georgia: As I said, I was a late bloomer. I was in my mid-sixties and it was not a normal transition by community standards. Up to that point everyone I knew who had transitioned had said that there was a point in their life where they just could not go on as they had.
One person described it as an impenetrable brick wall that only their female soul could penetrate. That wasn’t the case with me. It was a gradual process facilitated, in large part by a fellow “crossdresser” (I really hate that word. It says that it’s just about the clothes, which of course it isn’t, even for those who don’t transition fully).
I describe the process in detail in my book but the short version is that I was hired with the specific understanding that I was to work in both capacities; Georgia and George with the requisite business cards for both. Later, even though I had not transitioned fully I, Georgia, was hired to a full time position, “because everyone I would be working with knew me only as Georgia. If George showed up it would blow their minds.”
At that point everything began to fall into place. First I was hired as a full time Kitchen Designer at Home Depot in late 2013, and the process was completed just short of my 71st birthday when I underwent GRS under the capable hands of Dr. Marci Bowers.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Georgia: Actually I did not. I suppose it was a matter of arrogance on my part so I will own up to it. I guess I felt I had a corner on understanding what it was really all about and thought I was so unique that there was no one else like me. I still feel special but the arrogance is gone.
"George" and Marilyn at the Family cabin, 1995.
However, there were two “real” women that I admired enormously and that I endeavored to emulate above all. My wife was the first. She was an amazing woman and one whose life I still strive to pattern mine after. The other woman is Julie Andrews who I believe is the essence of a lady.
Monika: Are there are any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now?
Georgia: I have found someone whom I can openly admire and respect. That person is Caitlyn Jenner. I find much to relate to in her story and I truly admire her courage in transitioning in such a public and open manner.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Georgia: Like many of us, telling my children was the most difficult and challenging. I have to confess that I didn’t deal with it very well. The result is that the oldest 2 haven’t spoken to me in over 4 years.
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?
Georgia: Now you’re touching on a subject that is dear to my heart. Separating our cause from that of the gay community should be at the top of a list of our goals. Let them have their LGB and leave the cause of “T” to those of us in that portion of society.
The gay community is happy to have us for the sake of numbers but for many of them we appear to be an embarrassment; gay men in particular. Most of them “appear” on the surface to be normal men. In other words, if you see one of them on the street you wouldn’t give them a second look. Therefore, they can go about their lives without attracting undue attention unless they choose to make a point of their sexuality.
The same is true for a large segment of the lesbian community. But, as entirely too many of us can attest to, we don’t exactly “blend in” do we. As a result, the gay community tends to keep us at arm’s length unless we are needed for the sake of numbers.
Her first professional portrait, 2004.
In addition, our predominant feature is not who we are attracted to. Our predominant feature is how we appear physically as an expression of our gender self-identity. Who we are attracted to sexually has absolutely nothing to do with that facet of our being. 
Personally, when asked about my sexual preference my response is that George and I have one commonality … both of us are attracted to women and women only. In other words, he’s straight and I’m gay.
Monika: What do you think in general about transgender news stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers or books so far?
Georgia: Until Caitlyn Jenner came out, there was very little supportive or complimentary coverage of our community. I think a lot of that is due to the fact that we tend to associate within our own kind, with the exception of accepting family. We are never going to be accepted by society in general until we learn to step out into the worlds we live in and believe in our hearts that we belong in. It requires one of two things for that to happen.
As individuals we need to act like we belong or we need to simply suck it up brave the slings and arrows, the looks and snickers that come with looking different, put on a big smile and get “out” there.
The news stories are going to continue to be uncomplimentary and degrading until society finally figures out that the only thing different about us is the bodies we were born with don’t match the set of emotions we were born with.
As for motion pictures … when the industry reaches the point where it elects to have men portray men who were born in the wrong body, as was the case with “Normal” and not the case with “Trans-America” where a woman, Felicity Huffman played a transwoman; when the reality of who we are becomes the “norm” then and only then will society begin to adjust to us as maybe different, but “Normal.”
Monika: Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Georgia: I have never participated in any lobbying campaigns for a couple of reasons.
One … I still work for a living and don’t have time.
Two … I have found that those campaigns are about cramming our cause down the throats of society via their elected representatives, as opposed to convincing society, gently and compellingly to our point of view.
Getting moved into her townhouse, 2006.
When people feel as though something is being forced on them they react negatively, but when they are presented with an idea that allows them to voluntarily join the fight they will fight ferociously. Personally, I want someone fighting ferociously for me as opposed to bitterly giving in to an unappreciated idea.
The day a transgendered woman steps up to the plate with ideas that are not rooted in gender identity, but rather rooted in genuine concern for all of society that is the day transgendered people will have arrived. The day one of us steps up as a normal concerned citizen wanting to contribute to the world she lives in without reference to her gender issue, that will be the day of the real beginning of acceptance.
Monika: You hold many seminars with students. What kind of questions do you usually cover during those meetings?
Georgia: I usually take questions at the end of my presentation, by challenging the students to ask me a question that I will refuse to answer. So far I've not refused to answer any question. The questions I normally get are like, "How does your family accept you?" "Are you attracted to men or women?" "Have you had GR surgery?" (to that question I always ask why they want to know) "Do you have any regrets?" Are you in a relationship now? There is usually one or two questions that have not been asked before but to be honest, I can't remember any right this minute.
Monika: You are quite open about your faith and how it affected your life. Is there key point to that aspect of your life that you would like to share?
Georgia: Actually there is Monika. One of the things that struck me most as I became more and more involved in the LGBT community is the lopsided percentage of the community that is so anti-religion, anti-faith of any kind. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that the cause was rooted in, what I call Hyper-conservative Christian beliefs and dogma. For instance, taking Deuteronomy 22:5 literally is the main tool for rejection. I write about its effect on me. For me the antidote is listening to God and not his self-appointed representatives.
I came to the conclusion that the primary message in the New Testament, aside from the general value of love is that of the message of looking on God as a father … a perfect father, something none of us has had and therefore find nearly impossible to comprehend. 
When I arrived at that way of looking at what Christianity is really saying I realized that a “perfect” father would never abandon one of his children because they were different and certainly not when He was responsible for creating that child, me, different. Coming to that understanding freed me in ways I could never have imagined and gives me immense pleasure.
Near family cabin in Montana, 2005.
Monika: Why is God so merciless towards transgender people, placing their minds in the opposite gender bodies?
Georgia: God isn't merciless toward transgender people. Societies are merciless toward transgender people. Hyper-conservative Christians are merciless toward transgender people. God isn't.
All of the 3 or 4 verses in the entire bible that are generally referred to by those who use them to condemn us are taken completely out of the context in which they were written. The context was admonishment to abstain from participating in the perverted practices of pagans.
Each of us is entitled to accept or reject the form and mind that we were given.
When I eventually embraced the way I was created I found an amazing peace. For me, the solution was acceptance first and then allowing God to show me, by way of inspiration, why he made this way and what he wanted me to do with it.
Monika: In one of my previous interviews, Lisa Salazar indicated that transgender persons are said to be some of the least likely to become involved in religious institutions (like church) since most have been rejected and judged by their Christian families, friends and faith communities. Would you agree?
Georgia: Of course I agree. As I shared in Dear Mom and Dad, I myself was rejected by the leadership of the very church I (read that George) was baptized in the first time, when they learned of my dual-gendered nature. But, again, it was people who rejected me, not God. I found first one church that welcomed me with open arms and then another and then another and so on.
And then I (read that Georgia) was baptized. Being able to worship with others was the most important goal for me, worshiping with people that accepted me was secondary icing on the cake. When I worship God in the form he created me in I can feel a palpable sense of His pleasure and that gives me pleasure.
My next book is a parallel to my memoir about how my Christian faith developed in relation to my gender identity.
At Alpha Zeta chapter Christmas 2006 banquet.
Monika: What is the general attitude of the Christian religion to the transgender phenomenon?
Georgia: There really isn't a "general" attitude that I can detect. A large portion of mainstream Christianity is beginning to modify their attitudes toward us. I have to say something here about "appearances" and the effect they have on the very people we want to be accepted by.
It doesn't matter where a person is trying to "fit in" no one is going to really fit in with a scowl on their face. If you want to be accepted anywhere, especially church ... SMILE! A smile says "I'm happy because I like myself and you will like me too, so lets get to know each other.
That's the way to overcome any negative attitude, especially that of Christian religiosity.
Monika: Is there any reference to transgenderism in the Bible?
Georgia: Deuteronomy 22:5 "Women shall not wear that which pertains to men and men shall not wear that which pertains to women. The Lord your God detests those who do this." Sounds pretty much to the point doesn't it? The problem is that the context is totally ignored.
According to one translation, Moses was telling the Hebrews to refrain from participating in or approving of the pagan practices of temple cult prostitutes, male and female, switching roles in their temple ceremonies and practices; men dressing and performing sexually as women and women dressing and performing sexually as men.
The only other accepted interpretation was that women should not be expected to take up arms against Israel's enemies and the men should, in essence "grow a set", leave the domestic duties to the women and do the fighting ... Protect them.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colours or trends?
Georgia: Oh geez … how I do love clothes. Unfortunately, up to now I have been forced to shop the resale and bargain stores due to financial constraints. That tends to put me a year behind in the fashion field. I love casual in general, denim being my favorite, (another common trait I have in common with George) although as with any woman I do love to dress to the nines, as they say for a formal affair. Most of all I just want to look like any other woman with taste.
After her speech in Yucaipa CA, April 2016.
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.
Georgia: So, with that criticism I believe we are pretty much a part of the female society around us aren’t we. I personally have never had much appreciation for beauty contests because in spite of the fact that there are facets of them that aim at intellect and talent in addition to appearance, let’s face it … it’s the appearance of the individuals that is the predominant factor in the whole of it.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Georgia: Wow … how much space do I have here? Fully, sixty to seventy percent of “Dear Mom and Dad” has elements of “our” love life and how it affected the decisions that “we” made. So, indeed, love has been extremely important in my life. “We” spent and incredible amount of time and energy searching for love in our life and with one exception that search was in vain. But, that one exception, the love “we” found with Marilyn was worth all the disappointments.
When I was young I was unable to comprehend how our grandmother, “Granny” was never able to find another man she could love after Grandfather died at a very early age. When Marilyn took her leave of this world I thought I would soon find love again but I didn’t. I found myself comparing every woman I met with her … and the magic was just nowhere to be found. Eventually, I came to a point where I genuinely related to Granny and her inability to love another.
At this point in life I’m content to be alone, though if God sees fit to place another woman in my life, one that I could genuinely love in the context of what I still feel for Marilyn … so be it.
Students who wanted a pic with Georgia
after Yucaipa presentation.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Georgia: Oh gosh yes … I have one book half done which is a companion to my memoir that traces the development of my Christian faith in parallel to the development of my gender identity.
In addition, I’m laying the ground work for a sequel to “Dear Mom and Dad, You Don’t Know Me, But …” The title for that is, “Dear Mom and Dad, P.S.” which will chronicle all that’s happened since the point where “Dear Mom and Dad” ended.
In addition to those projects there are several; as many as eight or nine, motion picture producers considering “Dear Mom and Dad,” as a possible acquisition for film or television. 
I'm also working a book based on the life of Regina Gazelle, one of the most inspiring Trans-women I know and the founder of the first 5013C tax exempt home for homeless and transitioning Trans people here in Phoenix.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Georgia: I have one main recommendation. It’s this. If you aren’t sure; if you’re contemplating transition, explore the options thoroughly and don’t rush into a major change until you are, without a doubt, unequivocally positive of your choice.
Lastly, as Jennifer Finney Boylan describes in her autobiography “She’s Not There” love is not the answer. Love of a woman will not supplant the woman within. She’s always been there and she’s not going away … ever! In short, figure out who you really are first, then get on with your life in that context.
Monika: Georgia, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Georgia Lee McGowen.
Done on 19 April 2016
© 2016 - Monika 

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