Monday, 3 July 2017

Interview with Faye Seidler


Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Faye Seidler, an inspirational American transactivist, educator, and writer from Fargo, North Dakota.
Faye: Hi! :)
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Faye: I’m a trans activist, writer, and nerd with a strong belief in a better future. My work primarily focuses on my experiences, humor, and research, all of which seeks to create positive change for the transgender community.
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?
Faye: I saw a serious lack of visibility in our community and that most people were getting their information about trans people from stereotypes they saw on television. I also saw a medical network that told trans people to blend in, to deny, or to hide their identity. I saw a tremendous amount of erasure for what it meant to be trans and the identity itself controlled and enforced as a stereotypical binary by the medical industry.
I knew that to overcome that, we had to be open. That those of us that could safely take those risks, had to, to show the population we were real, authentic, and diverse. That trans women could prefer jeans to dresses, that trans men could enjoy cute things without subverting their identity, and that gender was more complicated than a politically defined binary focused on genitals or arbitrary social roles!
Monika: You are the champion of a myriad of causes that touch on transgender rights. Could you name some of the most successful initiatives that you took part in?
Faye: The North Dakota Safe Zone Project researched and developed a system for any pride center to develop safe zone training for their state. It looked at and researched effective ways to write grants, to organizes the structure, and ways to communicate to organizations. Even though I felt the project was successful and we did produce a project report with our findings, I had incredibly difficulty getting anyone to care about it.
I’ve been working with the greater North Dakota to get an anti-discrimination measured passed, but our incredibly red state has been resistant to hearing us.
In tandem with all of that, I’ve been giving transgender cultural competency training to local businesses. This includes banks, rape and abuse crisis centers, and police departments. It’s something that I draw a lot of energy from and enjoy doing immensely.


Monika: You had the courage to testify in front of the house of representatives of North Dakota and try to bring change…
Faye: It was disheartening to see more than 30 people from different social, economic, racial, and religious backgrounds stand up to demand anti-discrimination protection. We saw more than 4 hours of testimony for why we needed it. I spoke at length to them, I wrote up a document dispelling all the myths I expect the opposite to spout. And I then, later, heard the head of the committee declare that he heard no reports of discrimination, that it did not occur in our state and we did not need pro-active protections for it.
It was after that, that I realized no change would come to this state until we imposed consequences for their decision to ignore and erase our experiences. I wrote a widely viewed article on the reasons we have to leave North Dakota, as a message to tell them the costs of their position. That every year they will lose more and more students to more progressive states, that they’ve significantly lowered their hiring pool, and people are less and less likely to want to move here.
Monika: At what age did you transition into woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? 
Faye: If we’re talking medically, I started hormones at 25. The identity itself was something I constantly fought and denied for much of my life. I didn’t think it was possible to be anything other than what I was assigned at birth. I grew up in a different time, where the word transgender didn’t exist in my area. Everyone who I told about my feelings and confusion, looked at me like I was crazy or severely mentally disturbed.
I started to take this to heart and assume I was broken. To this degree, I tried to ignore the feelings and just get on with my life. I had hoped it would go away, like so many of us do, but as a medical condition the feeling of dysphoria only got stronger. The shame I felt at feeling like I was a woman, when everyone said I wasn’t, magnified over time, until I tried killing myself. That wasn’t the turning point, but afterwards I started trying to improve my life and that included talking to a trans woman for the first time. I talked about my experience and feelings and shame and they reciprocated. They showed me for the first time that it was okay to feel like I did, that it made sense, and that I was allowed to feel it.
They helped me out finding a therapist and from there an endo - in that regard it was incredibly difficult, but I’d also consider myself lucky for finding a mentor. Someone who I would eventually model myself after and create a mentor program to help others like I was helped.
Cosplaying Gurren Lagann.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Faye: Not in terms of transitioning specifically, but Julia Serano shaped my entire research and understanding of what it means to be trans in her book Whipping Girl. I took half a page of notes for every page I read and thirsted for the knowledge like someone who’d ran a marathon without any water.
My mentor I met online was really helpful in explaining everything to me in terms of time tables and healthy dosages. I also found a significant other, who was a trans woman further along in her transition, who had helped me lot with respecting and understanding myself and my body. So, I don’t know if followed is the correct word, but there were several people who lifted me up to places I could have never reached alone.
Monika: Are there are any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now?
Faye: Like in the answer before, Julia Serano, but also Janet Mock and Laverne Cox. More recently Jamie Clayton with her work in sense8 and of course the The Wachowskis sisters in general. There is also Mara Keisling of the National Center for Transgender Equality.
In general though I have a high appreciation and respect for any trans woman living their own and being their authentic self. Since I know that struggle, I can always see the beauty of the person who fights against it and strives towards happiness. I especially admire the youth who are coming out today and fighting their own battles to be accepted in schools. 
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?
Faye: I was preemptive in this endeavour. I made sure to surround myself with people who didn’t like me, because I didn’t like me. I had no real emotional support prior to transitioning and no real friends or family to be able to reject me. I worked a nothing cooking job and mostly lurked online invisible to others. That was how I coped with the dysphoria, by not being anything.
I never knew I was consciously doing that, until transitioning and discovering how awesome it was to be seen for the first time. To have friends I knew would be there for me if I needed them. As a mentor, like this question implies, I do warn for people transitioning that they should expect to lose one person. My life was set up so I had nothing left to lose first.
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?
Faye: It is something that is ever increasing in acceptability, especially as visibly increases. In America, only 16 percent of individuals personally know someone who is trans. That means the vast majority of people are getting biased information from media. But, that number has doubled in the last five years, so in another five years it should be 32 percent or there about. The more people that personally know someone is trans, the more likely we are to be humanize as what we are - human. We each share different life experiences, talents, personalities, hopes and dreams. We’re complicated, but also simple in that way most humans are. We need jobs, we want to do well, most of us want a family, and to leave someone of ourselves behind.
Understanding this of trans people is understanding the label doesn’t make them different or less capable. As we become more familiar with the identity, we become less awkward around bathroom usage, because it just doesn’t matter. Pronouns become less of a battle and allowing name change becomes more formal.
Presenting Community Award to Gender Therapist.
I think every year we will see more success stories and more trans people doing well and thriving. We’ll also see more murders and discrimination lawsuits, because we still have growing pains. But now we have better health care, more aware doctors, companies that actually seek us out, and companies that make sure everyone is respected. 
I don’t have an answer to this, after all of those words, that’s just some perspective. 
Monika: On the other hand, the restroom war is raging on and transgender women are killed on the streets…
Faye: I touched on this in my last question and as these issues continues it is hard for trans people to see a future. It is hard to thrive when one doesn’t feel safe. It’s not going to stop very soon, we have 22 states who don’t want anti-discrimation bills. We have a religiously motivated party in the united states that gets re-elected by throwing trans people under the bus. We have a department of education leader saying schools don’t have to protect the lgbtq+ community.
None of that will stop anytime soon and every year we’ll read the names and remember those we’ve lost. But we keep fighting for everyone who is still here, we keep fighting to make sure that number approaches zero. We fight and create safe spaces to allow our culture and our people to thrive when everyone else wants us to fail, to shut up, or to not exist. We’re a badass group of the most resilient people you’ll ever meet, because compare to gender dysphoria and our internal battles, oppression can’t win.
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?
Faye: I think so! The thing to understand is LGBTQ+ individuals are a minority that each experienced a specific kind of sex discrimination. It can be really hard at times, when the transgender community is throw under the bus or drag queens use our slurs as common language. But I don’t think we have the numbers, power, or voice to make institutional change without being part of a larger group. For every bad story we hear of a LGB leader being transphobic, we see organizations put effort into making sure they have trans leaders.
I think this will get better over time, I know the history of being thrown under the bus. I know of the plethora of times they sacrificed gender identity as a bargaining chip to gain sexual orientation rights. I know it hasn’t always been pretty and that the stonewall movie featured a white gay cis dude as the leading the birth of our movement. But I also know, the way forward is through unity. It is through creating action plans that involve a thriving and accepting culture. If we can’t fix the drama and infighting that happens within our own community, what chance do we have to change the hearts and minds of those outside of it?
Monika: What do you think in general about transgender news stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers or books so far?
Faye: They are pretty much all incredibly awful. Sense8 is an exception, but most of the time I go into the situation expecting it to be awful. They are almost always written by a cis person, who gives trans roles to cisgender actors, featuring the repeat of shitty tropes. The data in the 90s, I’m recalling from memory, was that 60 percent of trans characters appearing on TV were hookers/sexworkers. I’m not sure on the exact number, except it was the majority.
For a really long time we could only exists as victims, sex workers, or disguised villains. Julia Serano writes a lot about that and it really opened my eyes to how culture saw what being tran was.
So basically, I look at if anyone trans was actually involved first, if they aren’t, then I expect a shitshow. It isn’t to say a cisgender person can’t write a trans experience accurately, I think someone who’s been married to a trans person for a few years would have a great perspective. But right now, I think we see incredibly superficial storylines, cheap jokes, and an attempt to cash in on what they feel is “Trending”.
Monika: Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Faye: I absolutely think they can! I haven’t lobbied per se, but I deal with education within the sectors of healthcare, business, government, outreach, and education. I help to give individuals the understanding to accurately represent our community. I was part of the anti-discrimination efforts and current am trying to help change the school climates in my state.
What I’d tell other people is that you don’t need money or a degree to make change. I don’t have either. What I have is a passion for justice and a will to make sure others have it better than I did. What I do isn’t much more than organizing data, calling people and having conversations. I connect with people who do make change and make my voice heard. I interview people who know the things I don’t and I use their voice to help make the change I need.
I’ve always self educated and researched, I always loved reading and collecting resources and data. I’ve also spent my entire life writing. These give me an advantage and privilege in the work that I do, especially as a community activist and educator. But, you don’t need much to make change. It can be calling your district rep. It can mean speaking at town hall. It could mean making a few calls or asking some friends to vote a certain way. I’m a firm believer in that the small actions of many will outway the big actions of few.
Being Social at our Pride Center.
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? ☺
Faye: I won’t say it is impossible, but the odds approach zero. I think more importantly, if there was ever a serious nominee who was transgender or a partner of someone running, it would indicate an incredibly different and more accepting world. I think in that situation, we have already won something priceless and amazing. So, if we get to a point where that is even a remote chance, I think we’d have already won. Won what? A future where our labels don’t hold us back from our dreams.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion brands, colours or trends?
Faye: I grew up in extreme poverty, which has influenced my taste in clothing. When growing up, I wore clothes until I grew out of them. I didn’t get fancy things, I got what was the cheapest at a clothing donation area or hand me downs. In this regard, I always see clothes as utilitarian. I wear what I find is comfortable and that tends to be used t-shirts and jeans.
That said, I like the way green looks on me.
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 …
Faye: That’s a tough question to answer, because I don’t agree with the premise. I’m not sure cisgender women are liberated because we still see government try to control reproduction or downright attack women’s bodies. I also don’t think trans people are free due to surgery, because most of us can’t afford it, and there is little to be done about being 6’2 for passibility.
While not cosmetic, top and bottom surgery has allow trans people to finally have the body their brain understands. We have a way to relieve dysphoria that has never existed before. We have never been closer to our authentic self or the possibility of it than now.
What I’ll say is passing shouldn’t be the goal, allowing a world where women’s bodies aren’t shame should be. I have a tremendous amount of passing privilege, because hormones and genetics gave me a body that nobody mistakes as male. Before hormones though, I always feared I’d never be accepted or respected as anything other than a man in a dress. Even today, even after my development, I still feel shame for my body. I feel shame that it isn’t beautiful like the women in magazine. I feel shame that it isn’t female like those assigned female. I feel deep regret that I’m infertile, because I never really get to decide if I can or can’t have children.
But it is small moments where I catch myself smiling and think I’m beautiful. It is times where I forget my body and laugh and play with friends as just Faye. It’s times when my significant other is holding me, looking at me with love, and telling me that they love me.
As women it’s hard to not focus on our body and put a negative lens to it by comparing it to perfection. But, when we transition, we do more than change our bodies. We are allowed to express and be understood as ourselves.
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Faye: Transgender only beauty pageant? I’m not sure I have much opinion here. I think it can be empowering, but it can also be objectifying, depends on who’s hosting it and why. I think just allowing trans women within the scope of our currently running women specific pageants would be fine? 
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Faye: I’ve considered it, but never very seriously. I’m not sure I’ve done enough for people to really care about my journey or memoirs yet. I am a writer though and maybe I’ll do something in the next few years. :)
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Faye: I’m a romantic at heart and love is always a big part of what I do. I’m supported by my two girlfriends in a poly relationship. If they weren’t there for me, if they didn’t provide a safe home for me to go back and to be loved at, I would instantly burn out.
Aside from that, I love the work that I do and the impact it can have on people, because I didn’t have it growing up. I’ll always remember the look on a child’s face, when I explained what a gender was to a group of LGBTQ+ youth and their face lite up, because they finally had a way to describe what they were feeling.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Faye: My big project right now is the GSA project, which aims to create a resource for students in North Dakota to use to help construct a GSA in our state. It also has plans to create strategies to making these groups more appealing to administrators. Aside from that, I’m always writing articles for a local independent newspaper, and providing mentoring every Saturday. On the horizon, I’m working with a nurse to create a healthcare focused transgender cultural competency training. Then, next year, I’m hoping to apply for a continuing education grant through pfund to have the opportunity to go to college.


Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Faye: That you have a future. The quote I say is that “You can be Trans and Happy”. Because more than anything, being a struggling trans girl, I was afraid of my future. I was afraid that I wouldn’t pass, that people would see me as a joke, that I couldn’t get medication, that I wasn’t really trans, and every other possibility.
Despite all of those fears, despite being completely hopeless for several years of my life, I now find myself in a place where I can say I’m happy. I’ve had some lucky breaks, but the message isn’t that it’ll work out for everyone, because when you’re struggling you aren’t going to believe that. The message is that even if you’re struggling and feel like there is no hope or future, I came from that life and found something great. That even in that despair there is hope and possibility of something more.
As for the gender dysphoria specifically, the only thing we can do is keep taking steps closer to ourselves. It isn’t an obvious journey, we don’t always go forward on it, but we always discover something new. Start with pronouns and see which ones make you happy to hear. Think about your partners, how do you want them to see and treat you? When you have sex, what does your body want to do? If you choose to take hormones, how do you respond to them? The idea of your body changing, does it bring comfort? These questions all lead you closer to your infinitely complex self.
In terms of passing anxiety, I can say it gets better every day, but nothing is more important than being comfortable in your own body. A lot of trans women have said they started getting gendered correctly, not with what they did, but after they stopped giving a fuck what other people thought. When they just went about, natural and comfortable in their own body, that is what other people saw.
And taking a step back, it’s important to have support during everything mentioned above. Having at least one friend who can see you for who you really are. Even if you can’t find someone in person, there are a plethora of people online who can be that person and talk to you about what you’re going through! If I didn’t have my mentor, I know I wouldn’t be here now, filling out these questions! 
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?
Faye: I’d agree with the first part, but not that second. We are not limited in our potential because of how we were born, but we are given a more difficult journey than most have. We have to be weary and cautious as we go through life, we have to contend with discrimination in public accommodations, housing, and employment. We have to be knowledgeable about that fact people will violate our bodies and end our stories. That most places designed to help those who are marginalized actively reject or harm us. And that most of us don’t have access to gender confirmation surgery.
We have to start our lives by figuring ourselves out. That despite everybody putting us in one box, we know we don’t belong and we have to discover and proclaim our truth. In this struggle I see people who are self aware and empowered. I see people who, despite the shit, go out every day and make something of themselves. I see people find happiness and strive towards their dreams even as the world tries to push them down. 
Our dreams are constructed brick by brick to create a road from the life we have to the life we want. It is the hope that lets us fight in this world and the passion that gives us drive to continue that fight. It doesn’t end or begin on an operating table, it starts the moment we begin to understand the totality of ourselves, whether it be our authentic gender, the ones we want to spend our life with, the kind of person we are, what makes us laugh, cry, or the things we want to leave beyond. There is no end to the journey inside our self and there is no limit to our potential to dream and improve on ourselves throughout it.
Monika: Faye, thank you for the interview!
Faye: Thank you for hosting this incredibly beautiful and prolific project. It is an honor to be considered for it!

All the photos: courtesy of Faye Seidler. 
Done on 3 July 2017
© 2017 - Monika 

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