Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Interview with Lois Simmons

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Lois Simmons, an American tax preparer and writer from Suffern, N.Y. She writes posts for the blog titled “Being Christian and Transsexual: Life on Planet Mercury.” Hello Lois!
Lois: Hello Monika. To be included with such an illustrious group of trans women who you have interviewed is quite an honor.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Lois: This is the toughest question you asked me, as it is difficult to limit myself to a few words on almost any subject! But here goes.
I’m 64 years old. I was born in New York City (borough of Queens) and have lived all my life in the city or its suburbs. I went to Cornell with plans to be a Civil Engineer/Urban Planner/designer of roads and rail systems. I ended up with a degree in Government.
I have worked in the financial services industry since 1983. At various times, I have been a stockbroker, real estate salesperson, insurance salesperson and a Certified Financial Planner. I started to prepare tax returns professionally in the late 1980’s. I currently have clients in 13 states and 4 foreign countries. The only foreign tax return I prepare is a Canadian one. I do mostly individual returns but do a handful for small businesses as well. 
I qualify for Mensa. I was a member at one time long before I transitioned but at some point I didn’t renew my membership.
I enjoy many sports. I went to a small private high school and was able to make the varsity teams in baseball (just about every position), ice hockey (goalie), and soccer (midfield or wing). I also ran cross country one year, but didn’t like it. I recently learned that it is very likely that I played baseball against Denzel Washington.
I was also the manager of the cross country and track & field teams at Cornell for all four years that I was there. In American colleges, a manager is someone who takes care of the equipment and does other odd jobs needed by the coaches and athletes. During that time, I was privileged to meet a number of past, present and future members of the U.S. Olympic Team including someone who won a gold medal in 1952. One of those Olympians also won the Boston Marathon.
My favorite spectator sport is baseball and I am an avid Dodgers fan.
I love to sing, or more specifically do vocal impressions of famous singers. Because of my vocal range, I can imitate singers (at least some of their songs) with voices as high as Minnie Riperton and as deep as Jerry Butler. Most of the singers I imitate are from “back in the day”.
I also have been actively involved in Christian ministry. I am part of a mentoring program at a local high school for the general student population. I also have spoken to a number of college classes, sharing my story.
One of the ways I keep my sanity is to read about a dozen classic comic strips plus two online strips. A daily dose of them helps me laugh at myself and take the world a little less seriously.
And that’s about as few words I can manage. And the rest I will fill in here and there in response to your other questions.
Monika: I have read some of your blog posts. 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?
Lois: It is my sincere and respectful wish that all people would know the abundant joy that I have received since having what Christians refer to as a born-again experience. It is with great sadness that I see some people who identify as Christians (whether they actually are, God knows, I don’t) who drive transgender people away from learning more about Jesus and His love.
Professional photo shoot.
Also, as a Christian, I believe that I have the guidance and counsel of the Holy Spirit available to me. And that spiritual resource was a great blessing during the transition process. My gender counselor thought I was out of my mind with some of the things I chose to do and even to this day she is amazed at how successful I was. I can’t claim credit. I was following what the Holy Spirit led me to do.
Monika: Why is God so merciless towards transgender people, placing their minds in the opposite gender bodies?
Lois: I don’t believe that He is merciless when someone is born transgender. I’m going to share a story about that.
I started to meet other Christian transgender people who found my blog. One of them told me that her Christian landlord didn’t believe her testimony about being born transgender. In other words, he believed that it was all in her mind; a delusion. And he told her, “God wouldn’t do that to someone.”
Now it is a complicated topic as to how much of our formation in the womb is because God does it and how much is because God allows it due to the corruption that came into a perfect world. But let’s take the premise that God does most of the formation and allows some corruption to affect each person. Some may have a congenital heart problem, some may be more susceptible to cancer, some may have the gene for alcoholism, some may be Intersex, and so on.
And some are born with life-threatening conditions or conditions that may affect the quality of their entire life. For example, people are born with cleft palates, spina bifida (my dad had a very mild form of that), a hole in their heart, Down’s syndrome and so on. Now why would God do these things to people?
So in response to this landlord and others who believe as he does, I wrote a very long blog post describing many birth conditions far more devastating than being born transgender. There is nothing about being born transgender that is problematic for me. Far and away the only problem is the reaction of certain individuals and certain segments of society.
One thing that God provides is various ways in which we are tested. For me, dealing with being transgender was a test of my faith. When other Christians, even some friends and clients, turned away from me, would I turn away from God or would I be steadfast. And for cisgender Christians, it is also a test: would they show compassion toward me or prejudice? The Bible tells us that God is not a respecter of persons. In other words, He doesn’t play favorites based on color, gender, wealth, physical strength, visual beauty, talent and so on. And Christians are supposed to follow that example.
Furthermore, as one who believes in eternity and that our life here on earth is a blink of an eye in comparison, where we will spend that eternity is far more important than what happens to us here, including the conditions of our birth. Trust me, when something goes wrong in my life, I don’t always practice what I preach at first. But this is always what I come back to. The Lord has blessed me far more than any slings and arrows I have received.
So I don’t think of it as God being merciless or punishing someone. Because of the way much of the world still treats us, I wouldn’t wish transgender on anyone. At the same time, I think of it as a huge blessing in my life. It has helped me to be a more caring, helpful and insightful person. And who knows what kind of person I would have been if I had been born cisgender? If I had been born intelligent and attractive, I might have ended up a stuck up bitch!
This is who I was meant to be. Everyone else is already taken (with apologies to Oscar Wilde).
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?
Lois: Many transgender people will have nothing to do with the Christian church and some other religions that are negative about transgender people. But many others were raised in the Christian church or these other religions. And a high percentage of those have either left the church/religion entirely or moved to a more liberal and accepting denomination. 
One of the support groups I belong to meets at an open and accepting church that has hosted TDOR and other supportive events for many years. And still, people who expressed interest in attending the group choose to stay away when they learn that we meet in a church. Mind you, the church doesn’t have any say over the activities of the group and in general has been nothing but supportive. But that doesn’t matter to certain people in the TG or CD communities. And it is very sad.
I would be happy to assist any transgender people who would like to return to the Christian church as well as those who want to come out to their church but are fearful of doing so.
Monika: What is the general attitude of the Christian religion to the transgender phenomenon?
Lois: It is quite varied. It ranges from those denominations that are quite open and accepting to those who think we are quite reprobate. And there are some in between who aren’t quite sure what to make of transgender people.
One of my favorite outfits.
I am quite an anomaly to some open-minded Christians who I have met. On the one hand, they were taught that pursuit of a transgender life is sinful. On the other hand, they see me as a sincere, Bible-believing and in many ways very conservative Christian who demonstrates being led by the Holy Spirit in her worship and everyday life. And I am happy to report that most people in this quandary tend to resolve it by giving me the benefit of the doubt and treating me well. And in such situations, I always try to remember the two catchphrases I coined to help me keep perspective:
- If it took me fifty years to figure out what to do about being transgender, I can’t expect you to understand it in fifty minutes.
- If I want to be understood, I need to be understanding.
It is also important that we try to help those in the church understand that transgender is not a recent phenomenon. Some are fearful because in their perception, we are recent and growing. But that perception is due to medical science reaching the point where at least some measures can be taken to make our bodies and mind congruent; as a result more of us are willing to go public. Therefore more fair-minded people have gotten to know us and learned that there is nothing evil about being transgender.
In reality, there is a great deal of evidence that transgender people have been around since the earliest days of recorded history. In some societies such as Native American tribes in the western part of North America, transgender people have been revered for centuries. Transgender is dealt with favorably in the Code of Hammurabi, and the Talmud takes into account more than two genders without a pejorative toward any of them.
Monika: Is there any reference to transgenderism in the Bible?
Lois: Most of them are indirect and deal more with how God identifies gender in general, how people are born, and how people should be treated, including those who are transgender. The most direct reference is considered to be Matthew 19:12, where transgender people would fit two of the three examples of people cited by Jesus who are called “eunuchs” in the King James Version. Jesus would have been quite familiar with the Talmud.
Rather than reproduce a full discussion of the key Bible verses I use in discussions on the topic, it will be simpler to provide a link to the page on my blog where they are listed.
Monika: I saw your short story in The New York Times series titled “Transgender Today.” Why did you decide to come out to the general public?
Lois: The primary reason was that I knew how rare it was for someone to be both Christian and transgender. I wanted readers to know that we existed, even someone who would be considered conservative within Christianity. And two of my friends in the broader TG/CD community (one Jewish and the other New Age) thought that my story and the acceptance I received in my church was noteworthy. They suggested and even urged me to do it.
If I received recognition and more opportunities to be active in helping the transgender community, that would have been great. As it turned out, the response far exceeded what I and the NY Times editors expected. So I have no idea how many people read or connected with my story. And a 400 word limit doesn’t give much opportunity to tell one’s full story.
Monika: At what age did you transition into woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? 
Lois: It depends upon how you define the beginning of transition. My awareness of being female occurred at age 7. As someone with an engineer’s personality, my initial reaction was that this was ‘cool” and unique.
But at around age 10-11 when I went from elementary school (5th grade) to a school that was a combination of junior and senior high school (grades 6-12), I was suddenly confronted with what my future would be like and I could see it wasn’t pretty (literally and figuratively). So one could say that my transition started then: when I started praying to God that I would wake up with the body of a girl. And it was around that time that I renamed myself. After all, if I had faith in God, then I needed to be ready when he answered it.
Only I didn’t know it would take Him so long! So for about 49 years it was a struggle. I would go to the local library and look for any new books on the topic. When I found one I hadn’t read before, I would go into the farthest corner of the library and have the book as flat as possible on the table so no one could see what I was reading, lest they guessed my deep, dark secret. By then, I had learned that society treated transgender people as a joke: someone to mock.
Conundrum by Jan Morris.
As I got older, my search expanded. I found and read Jan Morris’s book “Conundrum”. I found a place in New York City that sold relevant literature. I bought magazines about CD’s, drag queens, female impersonators, and trans women. I began to understand the differences, who I identified with and who I didn’t. Of course, I was fascinated by the ability of those who transformed themselves into beautiful women. For a time, my travels gave me reason to walk past Renee Richards’ Park Avenue office on a regular basis. Her office window with her nameplate faced the street. But even when the light was on, I was not able to summon the courage to ring the bell and get buzzed in. She must be bothered by too many people already was what I told myself. 
Looking back on it, I wasn’t really ready, fearful of the risk to take a very lonely journey. And it probably wasn’t God’s timing yet. It was nearly 40 years of my adult life with many false starts and missed opportunities too numerous to detail.
But if the beginning of my transition is defined as age 58 when I realized that I finally had to face my gender identity situation head on once and for all, the evaluation becomes quite different. My epiphany came from a totally unexpected source. A female Christian friend, asked me to download a video for a Christian woman’s conference. She didn’t know I was beginning to struggle with and acknowledge that my masculinity was a fraudulent fa├žade. The video helped me see that the type of relationship I wanted deep down with other women was to be girlfriends in the buddy sense, not to have romantic relationships. Of course, the only way that would be possible was to have the outside match the inside.
Because this came from a Christian source totally separate from the secular transgender community, it was easier for me to accept that this might be from God and other confirmation followed. I began to see how certain Bible verses reveal how God views gender and identifies people. It wasn’t that I used to believe that God was against transgender people and now reversed my opinion. I simply spent many years not knowing one way or the other. Ironically, my life verse as a Christian (many of us have one) was a clue all along and I just didn’t see it for years. It’s a portion of 1st Samuel 16:7 – “… for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.”
Once I was able to remain serious about transition and no longer feel guilty about how God saw me, it went relatively quickly and easily. It was so freeing to no longer carry the burden that wanting to transition would make me a disappointment to God. It was like I had spent all those years building up a critical mass, but once I achieved it, LOOK OUT!
I began taking herbal hormone substitutes in October 2011, to see how my body reacted to them. Meanwhile, I started to gather other resources. I found a transgender friendly shop that helped me know my approximate sizes (November). Of course, woman’s clothing sizes are much less definite than man’s sizes because of manufacture variation, but at least I had a starting point now, especially if I wanted to buy online. (It starts with baby steps.) And I bought my first bras and shapewear there.
Then I started to gather other resources: support groups (December), makeup (January 2012) people who could advise me how and where to buy clothing and shoes while still dressing as a guy (February), hair removal (March), gender counselor (May), and eventually through my gender counselor a referral (September) to be able to get prescription hormones and a personal physician who was transgender friendly and knowledgeable (November). Within a week of starting prescription hormones, I started living and presenting myself to the world full time as Lois. 
(Note: I very quickly stopped using the term “therapist” to describe my gender counselor. Therapist implies something wrong with me that needs to be cured. Counselor implies working together to find the appropriate solution to a situation, the appropriate goal to fit that solution, and the appropriate process to implement the solution and reach the goal.) 
Of course there were other things involved along the way: practicing makeup, reconnecting to my female voice, practicing comportment, developing a budget, doing homework for my counseling sessions, and preparing to come out to clients and friends. I also informed my pastor and his wife in January and had regular sessions with him until I went full time (we still keep in touch). I had to come out to the governing board of my co-op apartment (September) and decide on a new church to go to (not knowing that no one guessed that I was transgender, even as a newbie).
So once I shed my guilt, gathered resources and gained confidence it went remarkably quickly. I was still timid leaving my apartment for a while, but a very successful makeover and photo shoot nine days after going full time was a huge boost to my confidence. And I gain confidence daily. I have been blessed that I have never had a negative incident in public after 4½ years.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Lois: When I found Lynn Conway’s website, she was a huge inspiration to me. We both have STEM backgrounds. We both attended Ivy League universities. I could relate to her in a way that I couldn’t relate to the show girls that I found in those magazines and then on websites. Her gallery of trans women successes was extremely encouraging. For the first time I found others, non-celebrities, who I could relate to better: scientists, engineers, professionals (attorneys, doctors, financial services) and clergy, for example.
Gina Grahame is someone relatable you mention who I found there. It made me happy to see some who had found long-term relationships and even marriage. (I love a good love story with a happy ending.) It was encouraging to see so many who looked very feminine without the glam, exotic or sexually provocative looks that I used to see in magazines and on websites. But other than Lynn, no one in particular stands out to me from those galleries. It was the totality of all those relatable and successful trans women on one site who helped me go forward.
Monika: Are there are any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now?
Lois: In addition to Lynn, I have added a number of them in the last few years. They tend to be success stories that, like Lynn, have been positive role models for the trans feminine community. In no particular order, I think of Calpernia Addams, Andrea James, Dana Beyer, Marci Bowers, Christine McGinn, Phyllis Frye, Jennifer Boylan, Janet Mock, Michaela Mendelsohn, Joy Ladin (who encouraged me to write my blog), and two others who I have met in person besides Joy: Grace Stevens who does such a wonderful job at First Event and in many ways it is like we were separated at birth, and Abby Stein who has had to overcome so much more than most of us to transition. And if I have left anyone out, I apologize.
Monika: We all pay the highest price for the fulfillment of our dreams to be ourselves. As a result, many trans women lose their families, friends, jobs, and social positions. Did you pay such a high price as well? What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Lois: Wondering that first year what would happen to my tax practice was by far the hardest. If I lost my source of income, I would probably lose my home, too.
First of all, I had a very tight window between when extensions were due in mid-October (filed under my old name) and sending coming out letters with pictures to my clients by mid-December. Plus legally changing my name and registering it with the IRS and New York State had to be accomplished by the time the new tax season started in the second half of January. Having told my clients my new name, I didn’t want the old one to appear on the tax returns. There were some bureaucratic delays. The office of a local congresswoman helped straighten that out.
But the main concern was the reaction of my clients. Most of the transgender people I know have to transition with one employer. I had to transition with about 80 clients. I contacted some of my key clients in person or via phone conference in late October and received a positive response. But I couldn’t contact everyone that way. I sent out letters with a photo card of three pictures from my photo shoot. I received an immediate response of support from about a dozen clients by New Year’s Day and support continued to trickle in for a couple of weeks. Then, after the first week of January, I got the e-mails and letters from a handful of people who were dropping me. One was very polite. One client contacted and then must have changed his mind. Another client simply didn’t respond. Unfortunately, three clients were quite nasty when they told me. And they were all people who I had known as friends before they became clients. And they were all one of my support groups. Christian, although I had many Christians who stayed with me.
In May 2015 at a gala held by
one of my support groups.
And then there were the clients who I sweated out because they took their time to contact me. But they stayed.
There was a humorous side to this. I changed both my first and last name. And I looked quite different from the old me in the photos I sent. A handful of people confessed that they didn’t recognize me at all before they read the letter and the stories were usually very funny.
I also had a few people who contacted me by phone or e-mail using my old name. They weren’t being impolite. They swore they never got the letter. There were too many to chalk up to post office error.
What I think happened was this. The letters came during the height of Christmas card season. They opened my envelope. The photo card fell out first. They saw the picture of someone they didn’t recognize and whose name they did not know. It mentioned that I was a tax professional. They assumed it was someone looking for new clients. But they were satisfied with their tax preparer (me!). And so they tossed it aside without bothering to read the letter.
I’ve gotten more than enough new clients since then to replace the ones who left. I even have a few clients who were more determined to recommend me to their friends and family after they found out that some dropped me.
I lost some friends and others are still slowly coming around. One very dear young woman who saw me as the dad she never had has really struggled with this as another loss. I left one church and found another with new possibilities. I resigned from a Christian ministry and found a way to become involved in a different capacity.
My parents had passed away before I transitioned. The cousins I had stayed in contact with over the years have all been wonderfully accepting, amazing to me because they are all older than me and raised at a time when transgender was not accepted in most circles. And our family would have been described as fairly conservative. My brother is still in mourning for a lost brother. Our contact is basically limited to birthday and Christmas cards (never to “sister”). But because of a trans person in his high school class, I know he does not have a moral objection. So I am hopeful.
When I transitioned, I was unmarried, not in a relationship and had no children (and therefore no connection to an ex because of the children). In comparison with trans women who had some of those things in place, this made my transition much simpler and with less drama. What had been a disappointment to me for much of my life became a blessing.
Monika: The transgender community is said to be thriving now. As Laverne Cox announced “Trans is beautiful.” Teenage girls become models and dancers, talented ladies become writers, singers, and actresses. Those ladies with interest in politics, science, and business become successful politicians, academics, and businesswomen. What do you think in general about the present situation of transgender women in the contemporary society? Are we just scratching the surface or the change is really happening?
Lois: It’s a complex situation because in the U.S. it varies by region and community, and in the world it varies from country to country. It even varies from family to family and it is generally very difficult for marriages to stay together. I’m fortunate to live in a state that has been increasingly proactive in legal protection and health care for the transgender community.
But I have trans women friends in the South who are under attack and have lost a lot in terms of family, friends, resources and career. And I know others in that region who are fearful of transitioning or going full time because of the likely consequences.
Internationally, it is much easier being transgender in Japan than in Indonesia; in Western Europe than in most of Africa. In Israel, it’s easier to be trans in Tel Aviv than in Jerusalem and in Brazil, it’s easier in Rio than in Sao Paolo. There are parts of the culture of Brazil that are very positive towards the transgender community. And yet the number of reports of transgender people, usually women, being murdered every year is downright scary and their diligence in reporting only accounts for a small percentage of the difference.
White trans woman are more likely to avoid violence than trans women of color. Part of that is racial and part of that relates to education levels and who is more likely to need to do street work to survive. Regardless of color, trans women who are better educated tend to do better. And those who can find a way to be mobile, if necessary, to move to a locale that is less hostile to trans women tend to do better.
If anything, the situation seems to be becoming more polarized. In some circles support is growing. But those who were already hostile are becoming more so. At one time their focus was on gays and lesbians and we were barely a blip on their radar. As a result of recent losses, trans people have become their new line in the sand.
Monika: On the other hand, the restroom war is raging on and transgender women are killed on the streets…
Lois: Again in some places more than others for the reasons noted in the answer to the previous question. And there are some countries (many of the Moslem countries, Russia and China to give some of the more prominent examples), where trans women are killed and it isn’t being reported, or the murders are being reported under the person’s birth name and gender rather than recognizing their true identity and transition.
Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBTQ communities. Being the penultimate letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBTQ group?
Lois: I stopped using "community" to describe LGBTQ. I use the term "coalition". "Q" can stand for a variety of things (and many older gays, lesbians and allies struggle with the term because of how it was previously used). But there are significant differences between what identifies someone as L, G or B and what identifies someone as T. What gives us common purpose is that many who are hostile to LGB are hostile to T.
There are organizations and open and affirming churches that I have been told are very LGB oriented and pay lip service to helping or welcoming anyone who is T. Then there are some lesbians who also identify as Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERF’s), keeping us out of women’s only events with fervor that matches those on the right wing, and accuse trans women of such things as being arrogant males who think we can be better women than someone born with a vagina. I have yet to read how they explain trans men, whether they apply the same logic and explanation to them.
Often LGB have been wonderful allies to T. But there are times when the T gets kicked to the curb or thrown under the bus when push comes to shove in terms of legislation. There have been slights and omissions in the historical narrative of the part played by transgender people in terms of the struggle for equal rights. At times the alliance has worked well and at times it has been uneasy.
At the end of the day, I welcome the support of any ally whose other positions would not be a total embarrassment to our cause. But we need to be prepared that there may be times when we will have to go it alone, as difficult as that may be for a tiny minority. If we can build bridges to new allies, it will be wise.
Monika: What do you think in general about transgender news or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers or books so far?
Lois: As far as the news, the number of stories has exploded in recent years. Twenty years ago in my locale, it would be unusual to have a story on the topic more than once a month unless someone famous like Renee Richards was in the news. Ten years ago, it had increased to as much as once a week. Now there are multiple stories every day. It’s a slow day when I don’t see something about transgender-related legislation or health issues or a human interest story on a transgender person or an update on one of the more famous transgender people. It’s reached the point where I can’t even read them all.
As long as the news stories are objective and even-handed, it helps normalize us within society. And I have seen very even-handed stories in newspapers in areas where there is still a lot of hostility towards transgender people (e.g. Charlotte and Dallas). So those are good things. Still it can be disheartening if one scrolls down and reads the negative comments, some of which can be quite vile. And the amount of misinformation, misgendering, dead naming and misrepresentations of transgender people in some online publications is difficult to take.
My 40th college reunion in
June 2014. This is me without
a professional makeup.
I haven’t watched too many films with significant transgender characters or themes, primarily since I am not much of a film buff. I did enjoy “A Danish Girl” on the whole with some parts I thought could have been done better. And as difficult as it was to watch the ending (even when you know what’s coming), I thought that “Soldier’s Girl” was an excellent film. When I was younger and was looking for every scrap of information I could find in those pre-Internet days, I watched movies like “Outrageous” and “I Want What I Want”. They were sensationalized in some aspects and have to be taken as a product of their times.
I prefer documentaries to films and for the most part when it comes to books, I will read biographies when I have time to read anything at all. I came across “Trans-Sister Radio” by Chris Bohjalian about a year ago. It was a cute and clever premise (I like puns and can be an incorrigible punster). But it was clearly wanting in spots. It would take an extraordinarily insightful and empathetic cisgender person to write accurately about a transgender person’s life experience.
Monika: Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Lois: Occasionally. I recently wrote a letter to House Speaker Joe Straus in Texas on behalf of the transgender people I know in Texas, encouraging him to continue to sit on the anti-transgender bill in that state. But it is often difficult for me to actively engage in a lobbying campaign with an organization that supports the same policies I do in relation to transgender issues but is very anti-Christian in other things they advocate. And I have been so busy lately that I have been finding it difficult to contribute to my own blog. I am looking to do more, and it would be easier if I had someone in my household who could share the burdens: taking care of the car, household chores, shopping, etc. But that person doesn’t exist.
Many victories I have achieved have been quiet. I recently won two appeals with my health care provider. In one case, a trans-hostile person who negotiated contracts with service providers is no longer working there. In the other, my general practitioner credited me with not only winning my own appeal and helping her win an appeal for some of her other transgender patients, it armed her with the information she needed to talk with the Chief Medical Officer and get them to change some of their policies to be more trans-friendly.
I am also slowly helping some people in my church and who knows how many who read my blog see transgender people in a better light (and hopefully for transgender people to see Christians that way, too). Although I am a Christian, certain Zen and Taoist philosophies resonate with me and are not incompatible with Christianity. And so rather than being a hammer, I am water. It may take longer. The path may meander. But it will eventually reach its destination and other people are less likely to be broken in the process.
Any person can make a difference in politics. It’s a matter of talent, access and persistence. 
That said, we are a tiny minority, even within the LGBTQ coalition, let alone the U.S. at large. So it would take someone of extraordinary talent and a combination of circumstances to make a major impact. However, that should never discourage someone from doing their part. As the old proverb goes, for want of a nail, eventually the entire kingdom was lost. Or as Mordecai said to Esther, “… who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for a time such as this?”
Monika: Do you think that in our lifetime we could live to see the day when a transgender lady could become the President of USA? Or the First Lady at least?:)
Lois: It isn’t likely, considering both the small size of the population and the fact that there would be a lot of opposition from certain areas of the U.S. towards any candidate who was transgender or even married to someone transgender. We have just been through a presidential election with two very polarizing candidates. A candidate closely identified with being or being married to someone transgender would be far more polarizing. It would be difficult for someone like that to get nominated by one of the major parties in my lifetime, let alone elected. It would take quite unusual circumstances. It would even be difficult if it was the Vice Presidential candidate who was associated that closely with transgender. It would even be quite a political risk for an unmarried President to marry someone transgender.
It’s only been 33 years since a woman was nominated for Vice President on a major party ticket and 1 year since Hillary Clinton was nominated for President as the first female candidate at the top of a major party ticket. It’s only been nine years since a black man was nominated for President on a major party ticket. We have never had an openly gay or lesbian major party candidate for one of the top two spots. It’s even been difficult for anyone Catholic or Jewish to get nominated. In that context, it is easy to see how difficult it would be for a trans woman to attain to any of those positions. It would probably be less difficult for a trans man to be nominated, but only slightly.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion brands, colours or trends?
Lois: One of my strong suits is my eye for women’s fashion. (Most men’s fashion bores me, even while I enjoy looking at a well-tailored man in traditional men’s dress clothes.)
About 30 years ago one Christmas, I was invited at the last minute to the home of a female co-worker’s family. I knew I didn’t have time or the money to buy presents for everyone, nor did I think I was expected to. But what to buy for my friend? I decided on an outfit for her of separates. I decided on earth tones: a knit sweater in various shades of brown, a simple black skirt and a costume jewelry necklace of chunky polished stones with similar shades as in the sweater, but a bolder pattern. And I decided to put them in three separate boxes. As the youngest daughter was handing out the presents, she called my friend’s name and gave her the first box (I scattered them around the tree). It was the sweater, which she held up to oohs and aahs, and a bit of a surprise that (as far as they knew) it was from a guy. More presents handed out to everyone and then the second box: the skirt. More oohs and aahs; more surprise at who gave it.
Finally as the evening wore on, the necklace was unwrapped. Not only was there more praise, my friend simply couldn’t resist any further. She had to go and try everything on. If they were only being polite, she never would have gone to that length. A few minutes later, she came out and everyone else is very complimentary. First of all, the sweater and skirt fit perfectly, amazing by itself since I was a neophyte at women’s sizes and played it safe by sticking with letters rather than numbered sizes. But everyone marveled at how well everything went together, especially from a “guy” and a stockbroker at that.
Thirteen years ago, I was in a relationship with a woman who had horribly dated and poor fashion sense. I shudder to remember the dress she wore to our first date when she’s trying to make a good impression. It wasn’t so bad that it was a vintage style dress. It was the fact that it was shiny material the color of pink bubble gum that was horrendous. A very nice person but it was like having a date with a bottle of Pepto Bismol!
Anyway, we hit it off despite her outfit. One day, we went to the local mall. As we were walking through the women’s clothing area, on one of the racks I spotted it: THE DRESS. I stopped her and suggested she find her size and try it on. She came out and she looked fabulous. She liked it, too, and she also liked the attention. A woman shopping nearby saw her and told her she looked great in it. That attracted another woman and soon there were a half dozen women with us making positive comments. (I love it when an informal meeting of the “women’s club” is spontaneously called.) And when she told them that I picked it out, hoo boy! They were telling her what a keeper I was. Not only was I willing to go clothes shopping with her, making me a rare enough male at the time, but to have great taste, too!
That relationship died long before I transitioned but we stayed in touch for a while. She gained weight and no longer could fit that dress. I wish I had it. I am almost certain it would fit me!
Then there was the time I went clothes shopping with another female friend. She had a weight problem, but I had an idea for what could help her look better. The problem was that I didn’t see my idea in any of the stores and had no words to describe it. This was many years ago and if the term was invented, it wasn’t commonly known then. It is common now: color-blocking.
For myself, I like separates to stretch the budget (even if it adds time to the decision on what to wear), bright colors for a good portion of my clothes, often paired with something more neutral (rarely dark brown, however) and simple classic styles and patterns rather than trendy. Just because orange and purple were in a couple of years ago, I was not about to go out and buy or wear orange and purple. Often, I want something with a bit of stretch that comfortably hugs my upper body to show off what modest figure I have. I don’t like things tight around the neck or under the arms, but body hugging looks and feels nice. And I think I have a figure that shows off women’s clothes well. But I will let others judge that based on the pictures I shared.

Link to Lois's blog.

Monika: I have read somewhere that cisgender women were liberated thanks to the development of contraceptive pill whereas transgender women are free now thanks to the development of cosmetic surgery, so they are no longer prisoners of passing or non-passing syndrome …
Lois: Transgender surgery and safer hormones have made what was generally impossible now more possible, if not perfect, depending upon what age the person transitions. But it is still relatively new and consequences have to be weighed. And we have to be careful what we wish for because we may get it. I just saw a promo trailer for the upcoming season of “I am Jazz”. In one part, a surgeon is telling her that while going on hormones early did wonders for her bust line, the effect they had on her genitals will make bottom surgery much more difficult as far as achieving a satisfactory result.
In general, advances in medicine and surgery have made things much better than they were 75 years ago or more. But they can only do so much. For most of us who were fully affected by testosterone, they will only reverse so much. Hands can’t be made smaller, shoulders can’t be made narrower, and it doesn’t change the voice. And for those with a lot of male baggage, that can take a long time to shed and some never do it completely. And they aren’t a magic bullet that changes public opinion. So I think it’s an exaggeration to say that these developments freed us. But they do help.
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Lois: If they are staged in a way that honors the entrants and that’s what a trans woman wants to do, go for it! However, if they objectify the entrants, or worse, conduct the pageant like a freak show, I have a problem with that.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Lois: I’ve thought about it, have an outline and a hook in mind, and even a working title. Now I just need a patron! :)
It is difficult to find the time when a person doesn’t have a lot of money, has to work a lot to pay the bills, and is also called upon by many people for moral and emotional support. 
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Lois: In general, I have not been lucky in romance. Maybe that will change now, but so far there’s been little evidence of that. About 35 years ago, I met a wonderful lady and we fell in love and married. Unfortunately for her, she went through a childhood trauma that resulted in untreated PTSD and major abandonment issues. That led to her sabotaging every close relationship she was ever in that I am aware of, even close friendships. Our marriage was over in less than a year.
Ten years ago we reconnected and at first it appeared that we could make a go of it this time. But she hadn’t been healed. God didn’t reunite us so we would remarry. For me, He did it to give me closure. And the bottom line is that it would have been very difficult for her to deal with me telling her that I am transgender.
It would be nice if I had someone to share the rest of my life with. But I try to be realistic about the chances considering my circumstances and beliefs.
Of course good friends can love each other in a non-romantic way. My friendships are very important. And knowing the love of Christ and letting others see that love is also very important to me.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Lois: I have a huge backlog of tax work at the moment, attention on my upcoming surgery and some other health issues that are not major but still important. If anything, I need to finally get serious about getting rid of the clutter in my apartment from a downsized office, my old life, personal items saved from my parents’ lifetime and general accumulation. If I do well there, maybe I can get back to the gym. Maybe I can get back to writing my memoirs.
Glamour photo shoot.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Lois: If they are reading this, it probably means they have access to the Internet. I would have loved to be able to do Internet research when I was a teen and young adult. So my first advice is use the Internet to search for age appropriate support groups near them; to search for other trans women; to search for other resources such as doctors and mental health professionals who are knowledgeable in the area of transgender; to search for transgender friendly hair removal technicians. And when you find the first two items on the list, they will often help you with recommendations for the other resources.
The point is, do not continue to go it alone. This is going to be one of the most important journeys and lead to one of the most important decisions you will make in your life. Ultimately all the final decisions are yours, but you will be facing many steps along the way. There are many different people to come out to: immediate family, distant family, job or clients or perhaps your school, friends which may include someone you are dating, in some cases neighbors or a house of worship. Some of those are more difficult than others and none go perfectly, but decisions have to be made as to both when and how. Where are the best places to shop for clothes? Where can you store your clothes until you are out at home? What about establishing credit in your new name (and yes, start thinking about your new name, both first and last, if you haven’t chosen one already)? What are the procedures for changing your name where you live? What are the procedures for changing your birth certificate where you were born? Because it can be complicated, some local support groups hold clinics just on the topic of name, birth certificate and gender marker change. Or you might need to find out a trans friendly lawyer or law firm for any number of other issues that will develop.
For most of us, any significant journey includes dealing with fear and facing the unknown. There are the unknowns that we know exist but that we fear because we don’t know how to deal with them. And then there are the unknowns that we hadn’t even thought about that we will encounter along the way. Perhaps you will be at a group meeting and someone a few steps ahead of you will mention something she has to do that you hadn’t even realized you will need to do as well. It is easier to deal with fear and unknowns when you are not alone. And there is more safety in numbers.
Monika: My pen friend Gina Grahame wrote to me once that we should not limit our potential because of how we were born or by what we see other transsexuals and transgender people doing. Our dreams should not end on an operating table; that’s where they begin. Do you agree with this?
Lois: This is very well said. First of all, remember that while our stories will have many things in common, they are still our stories and they are unique to us. We are shaped by our inner nature, by our attributes and by our circumstances. So as someone unique, be hesitant to use other stories as a measuring stick and quick to use the success stories as encouragement and inspiration.
In a similar manner, while we might do foolish things (hopefully avoiding most) on the transition journey, there is no one right way to be trans and no one right way to transition. And that includes if we will even end up on an operating table. Of all the possible surgeries, there might be some you don’t need, some you don’t want, some you can’t afford, some that are medically contraindicated and some you will choose to have. And the same goes for whether or not you will take hormones. Not everyone transitions with them at all, some use herbals and some use medicinals.
If you think about it, life is a series of transitions: childhood to adulthood to old age; from student to worker to retirement; from single to married; from childless to parenting; from married to widowed or divorced. With each one, doors close and new doors open. Gender transition is one that the vast majority of the world doesn’t experience, but the same general principle is still true. Surgery and other key steps in transition may have been lifelong goals for you and it is fitting to take time to savor and celebrate them. But don’t neglect the new doors that open as a result and don’t neglect preparing in anticipation of them opening. Most of all, enjoy the journey, the journey of life!
Monika: Lois, thank you for the interview!
Lois: You are very welcome. Thank you for asking me to participate in the wonderful blog you developed and interview project you are doing.

All the photos: courtesy of Lois Simmons. 
Done on 21 June 2017
© 2017 - Monika 

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