Sunday, 1 October 2017

Interview with Claire-Renee Kohner


Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Claire-Renee Kohner, an American transgender journalist, activist, blogger, transgender journalist, activist, and mom of 3 boys. She reports on the positive aspects of the transgender community and reports on everyday issues as well as trans and queer actresses, directors, musicians and the entertainment industry. Hello Claire-Renee!
Claire-Renee: Hi Monika! Thank you so much for taking some time out of your day to interview me, I really appreciate what you do.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Claire-Renee: As you mentioned, I’m a transgender journalist, activist and mother of three boys; I have over 100 published articles on venues like the Advocate, Bustle, PlanetTransgender, GayEssentials, Original Plumbing, Claire Channel and I’ve appeared on HuffPo Live, The Queer Radio Network, and MyTalk107.1 to discuss dating while transgender and current transgender issues.
Claire Channel Media, an outlet that includes two online papers and a pending Youtube Channel, has been two years in the making and is currently on a hiatus while we work on funding. CCM looks to feature all of my past articles as an archive as well as feature accessible outlets for new queer and trans writers.
PlanetClaire is an online aggregate news site that features news and articles from around the world about people who are transgender.
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?
Claire-Renee: I first came out publically about a year before that at a Minneapolis City Council meeting when they were discussing a city ordinance to make single stall restrooms gender free. Six months after that I came out on national TV when I testified in support of the Minnesota State High School League’s Transgender Sports Policy; after that, I started doing interviews and media appearances about being transgender when my short story was published in the NYT series.

One of Claire's media portal.

Monika: At what age did you transition into woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? 
Claire-Renee: This is such a difficult question and probably the reason it took me so long to get back to you. I knew at the age of 6 that something was different but it wasn’t until I was about ten years old when I was “supposed to be born a girl” as I told my mom. That did not go over well. I reiterated to her at about 13 and again, that went nowhere fast. 
During most of high school, I was shopping and wearing clothes from Deb, Maurices and the other women’s clothing stores that were available in my small town [Winona]. Needless to say, I was the school’s punching bag for dressing the way I did, but New Wave music was in and I thought, “Hey! If Duran Duran can dress like this and wear makeup, why can’t I?” So I did.
I never “secretly” dressed in anything because I always just dressed the way I wanted with no regrets. Depression was a huge issue that I dealt with – and still do as a result of my gender identity – suicide was always on the forefront of my mind.
About 4 years ago in April of 2013, I was in a horrible car accident which threw me into a greater depression; Knowing that I was running out of options when it came to my depression and dysphoria, in June of 2013 I tried to hang myself…unfortunately [or fortunately] the cross beam from the setup broke and I face planted on the concrete floor. 
Within a month, I was seeing a gender therapist behind my wife’s back trying to decide what my options were. I had seen a therapist in the early 90’s but back then, without HiPPA, I was involuntarily put into conversion therapy. Having such a bad experience kept me away from therapists for more than a decade.
In January of 2014, I finally came out to my wife and family as transgender and the decision was made to transition. Although it’s the best decision I’ve ever made, it has been both a difficult road and a satisfying lifesaving decision.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Claire-Renee: Living in a small town keeps you very isolated from what is going on in the bigger world so I always thought that I was alone in what I felt and what I was going through. One day, my father was watching tennis and pointed to Renee Richards. He said, "Hey [Dead name], see that girl right there?" pointing at the TV, "she used to be a guy." I was blown away because I couldn’t believe that there was someone else who could be like me. Research back then was limited to going to the library and searching for newspaper articles, so I read about what she was doing and it allowed me to put a label and face to what I was going through.
"No Way Renee: The Second Half of
My Notorious Life" via Amazon.
I do realize that Ms. Richards has made some polarizing comments in the last few years about transitioning and her legacy, but she remains an important influence on my younger self in realizing that we have existed well before the sudden visibility we are seeing today.
Monika: Are there are any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now?
Claire-Renee: I respect and admire all of my queer brothers, sisters and in-betweeners because oddly it takes an amazing amount of pressure to conform to societies binary standards that when marginalized folks like us decide to live the way we need to in order to survive, society back hands you with a high murder and/or suicide rate that it can be intimidating to color outside the lines of cis-het normative culture.
Specifically, I do admire Janet Mock; her book Redefining Realness was the first time any of us could read a biography by a trans woman and immediately identify with her experiences. The book made me feel less alone and allowed me to believe that there are people like me out there and that I could move forward with transitioning.
Jen Richards’ is also at the top of my list of people that I admire (and would love to date…but that’s between you, me and the millions reading this). Her series ‘Her Story’ is the first time that there has been an accurate portrayal of the trans community and our struggles with everyday life living ‘authentically’ (I hate that term, but it fits).
Monika: We all pay the highest price for the fulfilment 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?
Claire-Renee: Unfortunately, my coming out was not under my control. I had made plans for a big announcement sometime during the summer of 2014 when I was ‘outed’ on Facebook, which meant I had to focus on damage control for family members that follow me on social media. I immediately shut down my accounts and FedExed a letter to my parents explaining that I was transgender, what it meant to me and how hard life was since I was about six.
My parents called me a few days later and were speechless; they came up to visit me a few days after that call and then I basically never heard from them again…that was three and a half years ago. So yes, my parents were collateral damage to my coming out.
My wife and I are trying our best to reconcile after 19 years of marriage. My transition was obviously difficult on her and strangely, she’s not the one that considered leaving, it was me who decided to walk; we are currently in an open relationship and going to couples therapy.
As far as friends are concerned, I gained so many more plus a chosen family that I adore, I have my three kids that live with me and as you know, not all marriages survive a transition, but we are always working towards a happy medium. Honestly, I think I paid the lowest price possible for coming out transgender because there was no loss of my job, kids, social position or even neighborhood standing. I’m a lucky trans girl.
Being sad.
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?
Claire-Renee: I’m not sure it’s thriving as much as it’s finally being put under a spot light or finally given some visibility. We’ve always been around, it’s just that we’ve had to hide in the closet or face being persecuted or driven into conversion therapy. I think it’s awesome that we are getting to a point in society where we can come out into the open and get the support we need.
I refer to the media attention as Trans-Pop; it seems everyone from MTV to the Discovery Channel is racing to air some sort of programming centered on a trans person. Shows seem to indiscriminately throw a trans person in for ratings and there seems to be this media gold rush to find a trans person to stick in their film. We are not a fad or a marketing gimmick, so as soon as a trans person can play the role of a cisgender person, that’s when we know we’ve made it.
To answer your question, yes, we are just scratching the surface but it’s going to still take quite a few years before the cisgender populations sees us as anything but outside the norm. Trans is normal, society needs to get used to that.
Monika: On the other hand, the restroom war is raging on and transgender women are killed on the streets…
Claire-Renee: Republicans will always feel the need to put their hands and patriarchy where it doesn’t belong. They claim to be about small government, but they want to decide who uses what bathroom, who can have a baby, who has access to birth control, how women dress in congress and what is or is not considered rape…seems like big government to me.
The restroom war is being waged by the Christian right and national LGBT hate groups like The Family Research Council and The American Family Association. Locally we have Child Protection League Action that has lobbied against a transgender toolkit issued by the Minnesota Department of Education and opposes the anti-bullying bill passed a few years back. These are organizations that, although have the word ‘Family’ or Child Protection’ in them, actually advocate the discrimination and bullying of LGBTQ youth in public schools. 
Who should be afraid of whom in the bathroom? There have been more state and federal legislators, as well as priests, arrested in public restrooms than trans people. When will we see legislation keeping Republicans and Christians out of the restrooms?
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?
Claire-Renee: No, I’m a big proponent of ‘drop the T and let us be.’ We as people who are transgender have a series of unique issues facing us that the rest of the alphabet soup does not have. Housing, unemployment, a high suicide attempt rate, health care, access to safe spaces and even the LG community throwing us under the bus or using us as bargaining chips to get what they need put in place has put the trans community twenty years behind the LG community.
Being happy.
The greater part of the LGBTQ+ community is based on sexual orientation while our needs are stemmed from biology and a misalignment of gender and sex. I believe we need to organize as a community and break off from the rest of the alphabet so we can move forward without the baggage and stigma the LG community has placed on our backs.
Monika: What do you think in general about transgender news stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers or books so far?
Claire-Renee: I really haven’t seen any positive portrayals of trans people in any media. You may have a break out character like in Sense 8, but overall, Hollywood still has cishet males playing transwomen and anytime there’s news about a trans person, it’s usually because they were murdered.
Monika: Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Claire-Renee: Yes, as I mentioned above, I participated at the city level by testifying at some controversial hearings, however, I also wrote the Minnesota version of the “Trans Panic” law that they have in California. With the help of a local organization, we lobbied the bill-to-be and had quite a few legislators on board, unfortunately, it never hit the floor because we had (and still have) a Republican House, so it never saw the light of day. Once our state’s DFL regains control of the House and Senate, I plan to reintroduce it.
I also have a bill written called ‘The Respect After Death Act’ that met the same fate.
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? :)
Claire-Renee: No and Nope. We can’t even use the bathroom without cisgender people having an epic tantrum; but the good news is that there are so many trans women running for local and national offices that our future in politics is getting brighter.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion brands, colors or trends?
Claire-Renee: I love love love fashion, but then again, I always have even before transitioning. What I’m wearing really defines who I am, however, since I’m from Minnesota – the land of 10,000 solid colors – my color choices tend to lean towards dark colors with white accents, lots of stripes and polka dots, a fair amount of dystopian wear and as more than one person has stated, punker girl meets glam.
I’m importing a lot of my clothes from overseas because I can’t find the styles I want here, but I own quite a bit of Mochino, Rag & Bone, Lip Service, Tripp, INC, ANGVNS, Heavy Red and Manibee. My accessories are Betsy Johnson, Agashi is my go-to for harnesses and if I’m feeling fun or overly Minneapolisy, a cute outfit from Forever 21 always puts me in a good mood. I love black tights with a skater skirt that seems to get the boys’ attention. 
Fashion for trans and queer folks can be tough because we don’t usually fit into the binary clothes created by designers, so for the last six months I’ve been researching the cost of designing and manufacturing my own fashion line called 404Girl™ that would be aimed towards us fashion forward queers…but that’s another story.
Being glamorous.
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 …
Claire-Renee: “According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, transgender people are four times as likely to have a household income under $10,000 and twice as likely to be unemployed as the typical person in the U.S.” – The Williams Institute.
Based on these numbers, very few transfolks are able to even afford FFS [let alone GCS], so it’s difficult to be liberated when you don’t have the funds to liberate yourself.
I think liberation comes in accepting yourself for who you are; sadly you can point back to me as a hypocrite who has had multiple surgeries and possess passing privilege, so it’s a difficult question to answer.
Everyone is a prisoner of something. 
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Claire-Renee: Overall, I intensely dislike beauty pageants. There is something overtly patriarchal about a bunch of male judges’ actually judging woman based on their looks, talents and intelligence and then parading them around as “winners” to our rape culture. 
Pageants simply uphold an impossibly high standard of beauty created by the media and also present women as nothing more than a pretty face to be bought and sold by the corporate advertising machine.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Claire-Renee: I’ve started a book several times, but the direction of it never seems to head where I want it to go; It’s a work in progress and now I’m leaning more towards a fictional story, based on my life, but embellished to the point of the reader not knowing if what they are reading is fact or fiction, when in reality, it will be both. I would want the reader to think, “did that really happen?”
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Claire-Renee: This is a difficult question to answer because I have never had parental support and as a result, have a difficult time making connections [friendship, romantic, long-term] with other people. My parents haven’t spoken to me for the greater part of 20 years, so never having that attachment has thrown a wrench in my ability to create, make or even sustain loving relationships.


Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Claire-Renee: New projects –or my never ending creativity- seems to be my kryptonite because I’m constantly coming up with new ideas. Besides continuing to work towards a media platform geared towards the trans community, as I mentioned earlier, I’m in the sourcing phase of a clothing line and I’m looking at starting my MBA. All of this while working full time and being a mom to my three wonderful kids.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Claire-Renee: Reach out for help because you are not alone. I realize that seems like a cliché and when you are suffering with dysphoria, everything seems dark, useless and a pointless dead-end; I think the whole ‘It Gets Better’ project doesn’t really relate to the trans community because it glosses over our unique needs and focuses more on the LG community.
That said, resources like the Trans Lifeline have actually saved lives by being staffed by trans folks who understand what you are going through and can identify with our lived experiences; sometimes reaching out is the hardest thing to do, but as I’ve said before, “maybe we are the lucky ones for being trans.”
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?
Claire-Renee: I don’t think anyone should ever deliberately limit their potential based on how they were born. The only thing I can do is compare my current self to my past self and decide if what I am today is what I want or where I want to go; and honestly, it is.
I know this sounds redundant, but we all have the potential to be what we want to be, however, some of that can be limited by privilege. Sure I’m transgender, but I’m also white and passable and that gives me a huge upper hand in life. I was successful in my pre-transition self and I’m successful in my post transition life, but I’ll never forget that I’m one of the lucky ones. When it comes to your dreams, go big or go home. It’s your life, live it.
Monika: Claire-Renee, thank you for the interview!
Claire-Renee: Thanks Monika for taking the time to interviewing me!!

All the photos: courtesy of Claire-Renee Kohner. 
Done on 1 October 2017
© 2017 - Monika 

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