Monday, 25 February 2013

Interview with Abbie Pope

Monika: Today I would like to invite you for my chat with Abbie Kathryn Pope, a transgender lady and the author of the blog titled “Threads of Gender”. She currently lives in Portland, Oregon where she works in the high-tech industry as a computer engineer. Hello Abbie!
Abbie: Hello to you too!
Monika: What are you doing these days?
Abbie: Well, a lot! I’m moving to Portland, OR from LA in a few weeks. I started a new blog at which is less trans-oriented and more geared towards personal and spiritual growth. And you know, just keeping the wheels turning to survive as a trans woman in America.
Monika: You are a computer engineer. Could you tell me why there are so few ladies that are successful in the IT business?
Abbie: It’s really quite unfortunate. I think there is a ton of cultural bias against genetic women pursuing careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math) fields. One of the few silver linings of growing up trans is that there were never barriers to pursuing these fields.

Interview with Suzie St James

Monika: Today we are going to Australia to meet Suzie St James, an Australian business consultant and web designer, transgender icon, and showgirl. Suzie has been a drag cabaret entertainer for over 30 years, impersonating Marilyn Monroe and Jessica Rabbit. She toured all over Australia, and she is known for such shows as “The Midday Show” with Kerri Anne and “Simone and Moniques” Playgirl Review. Hello Suzie!
Suzie: Hi Monika!
Monika: What are you doing these days?
Suzie: Working in hospitality and care.
Monika: How did you start your career as a showgirl?
Suzie: At a young age I saw a showgirl and was captivated and knew it was what I wanted to be.
Monika: What was your career like in the 80s? What was the Australian drag show business at that time in general?
Suzie: I was very young in the ’80s and new to the scene, I was slowly establishing my sexuality and identity. The eighties was a buzz of activity for showgirls in Sydney, Australia. Every venue had so many showgirls and shows you could work seven nights a week and most of us did.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Interview with Lizethe Alvarez Echeverry

Monika: Today we are going to Helsingør in Denmark to meet Lizethe Alvarez Echeverry, a remarkable woman and transgender activist born in Colombia. Lizethe participated in many initiatives targeting the improvement of transgender rights in such countries as Colombia, Spain, Germany, and Denmark. Hello Lizethe!
Lizethe: Hi Monika! Thanks for the invitation!
Monika: You have worked for over 20 years for different organizations that defend human rights in such countries as Colombia, Germany, Spain, and Denmark. Could you say more about these organizations and your work there?
Lizethe: It was a great experience for me, where I learned a lot about human rights in different periods of my life. For example, in Colombia I worked in the field of HIV/AIDS; in Germany, I worked for the rights of transpersons and in Spain, I focused more on labor insertion for immigrant transpersons. Now in Denmark I work for the visibility and human rights of transgendered couples.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Interview with Allison Lenore Annalora

Monika: Today I have invited a special guest. Allison Lenore Annalora is an American cabaret singer and hairstylist. She was born in Alderwood Manor, Washington, as Larry Duane Miller, and then given up for adoption at birth in May of 1955. Alison is working on a biography to be published in 2016. She lives in Arizona. Hello Allison! It is a pleasure to interview such a remarkable woman as yourself.
Allison: Thank you!
Monika: What do you do for a living these days?
Allison: I work full time as a hairstylist in a Spa at a large resort/casino in Rancho Mirage’, California, and sing in a Cabaret Show once a month at a local restaurant.
Monika: Where did you grow up?
Allison: Seattle, Washington.

Interview with Jessica Janiuk

Monika: For today I have invited a special guest. Jessica Janiuk is an American gamer, software engineer, writer, photographer, and transgender activist from the sunny state of California. She is known for her blog on which she shares her transition story. In addition, Jessica is a community organizer with Google's GDG and Women Techmakers programs. Hello Jessica! How lovely of you to agree to be included in my series of “Interviews with Transgender Icons”.
Jessica: Thanks for having me.
Monika: What do you do for a living these days?
Jessica: I’m a web developer for a trailer hitch company based in the state of Wisconsin, in the US of A. It’s a very glamorous job involving multiple computer monitors and pale skin from lack of sunlight.
Monika: Where did you grow up?
Jessica: I grew up in a small suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin called Delafield. It had between 5,000 and 8,000 people while I was growing up. I think it’s larger now though due to urban sprawl.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Interview with Diamond Stylz

Monika: Today I am meeting Diamond Stylz, an American singer, transgender activist, and vlogger. Diamond is originally from Indianapolis, Indiana but she lives in Houston, Texas. She is the Executive Director of Black Trans Women Inc, a national non-profit that is led by Black trans women focused on social advocacy for the transgender community. In addition, Diamond is a producer and creator of Marsha’s Plate podcast. Hello Diamond!
Diamond: Hello Monika, darling. I am so glad to be here.
Monika: What are you doing these days?
Diamond: Well I am loving and living life. In my free time, I'm doing videos for my vlog, shopping, and hanging out with my friends. My day job is retail management for a popular body care line here in America. That job is just to pay the bills.
As far as my music, I am still in a space of creating and getting better. I'm honing my craft by writing more and more in the hopes that I will be able to get some financial support to produce an album of my own original work.
I am building my presence as a transgender woman in the social media arena. There are so few examples of non-sexual role models for transwomen. I want to be one of them.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Interview with Lana Moore

Monika: Today is my lucky day as I have the honor and pleasure of meeting an incredible woman. Lana Moore is a female firefighter, transgender activist, and surely a transgender icon from Ohio. She retired as a captain of the Columbus Division of Fire with 35 years of service. She received many awards and recognitions, participating from 1982 to 2002 on the Division Honor Guard marching and firing squad, being an Honor Guard Commander, and serving 16 years on the Division Awards Committee Review Board. In 2008 she came out as transgender and transitioned on the job. In 2013, Lana joined GLAAD on their national Board of Directors as one of only a few transgender board members. She is the parent of two children.
Lana: I'm not sure that many would consider me an "icon" but I’m flattered just the same, and happy to participate. Thank you very much for thinking of me!
Monika: What are you doing these days?
Lana: Just trying to live my life, most of the turbulence from transition has subsided, the dust is finally settling, and things seem to have returned to “normal.” Running a fire station and a household takes quite a bit of mental and physical energy.
I’m not quite as active in the trans community, however, my daughter, who is a psychology major, is working with me on a workshop presentation for the TransOhio Symposium coming up in April. We want to share our story of transitioning together as a family.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Interview with Carla Lewis

Monika: Today I am meeting Carla Lewis, a transgender woman and activist, software engineer, mother of two, and US army veteran. She lives in east Tennessee with her lovely partner, Jaime. Hello Carla! It is a sheer pleasure to interview you. Welcome to The Heroines of My Life!
Carla: Truthfully, I’m honored that anyone would care to know about me.
Monika: Honest as usual! What are you doing these days?
Carla: The only recent significant change in my life was a closed head injury as a result of a rear-end collision in December of last 2011. I’m plagued with constant migraine-like head pain that makes it difficult to do some of the things I normally take for granted. That aside, I’m part owner of a small computer service company. That keeps me busy during business hours.
When I’m not at work, I enjoy the hell out of science fiction and fantasy movies, hero comics, and a newfound love of sewing and cosplay. The highlight of every year is now our annual trip to Dragon*Con in Atlanta, Georgia where I get to dress up as my favorite superheroine, Power Girl, and Jaime gets to be whichever hero I feel like creating for her.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Interview with Danielle Bergan

Monika: Today I am going to take you to the Hawaiian islands where my guest lives and works. Danielle Bergan is an author, transgender advocate, and speaker. In 2012 she published her book “It's Always Okay To Be Me: A Journey to Recovering Lost Hope”, which became the catalyst for her passionate transgender advocate's platform. Hello Danielle!
Danielle: Aloha Monika! I hope you are well.
Monika: What are you doing for a living these days?
Danielle: Well, as a writer, we do whatever we can, you know, “the starving artist.” I am still writing and trying my hand at working for New York Life. They have helped so many people over the past few centuries I was attracted to their ethics. I’m also working in a small restaurant as a cashier. Both jobs involve helping people; which is exactly why I wrote my book.
Monika: Why did you decide to write an autobiographical book?
Danielle: I wanted to share my story with the world for a few reasons, but mainly to help others. My story is not just for the transsexual who still suffers but for anyone who is living a life addicted to drugs or alcohol.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Interview with Gina Grahame

Monika: Today’s interview will be with Gina Grahame, an American businesswoman, and writer from San Francisco, California. Gina is also a motivational speaker, coach, and creator of how to ‘be authentacious’, educating and people on personal authenticity, overcoming adversity, transgender, and LGBTQ issues. Hello Gina!
Gina: Hello Monika! 
Monika: What are you doing these days?
Gina: I’m a Global Sales Manager for a worldwide media company, specializing in the videogame industry.
Monika: You are involved in one project titled The Association of Transgender Professionals. How is it progressing?
Gina: It’s progressing well though my involvement is actually quite minimal. The group was in need of a corporate identity so I established an online contest whereby interested persons could enter their logo designs and association members would choose a winner. To stay true to the association’s core principle of financial equality, I initiated a cash prize for the winner. The charting of the group's course is in the very capable hands of others.

Interview with Fiona Solis

Monika: Today I am going to chat with Fiona Solis, a model, and businesswoman from the Philippines. Hello Fiona!
Fiona: Hi Monika!
Monika: What are you doing these days?
Fiona: As for now I am preparing for the upcoming commercial, photoshoot, and beauty pageant.
Monika: You are a successful model. Could you say a few words about your modeling? 
Fiona: Thank you for that. I am really having fun right now as a model. I am grateful for the things that are happening right now.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Interview with Maria Roman

Monika: Today’s interview will be with Maria Roman, a model, actress, show business celebrity, social activist, and transgender icon. I must say you are my idol, Maria!
Maria: Thank you Monika for giving me this opportunity to share a bit about myself. I think it is so beautiful when we can share love and admiration for one another. I am so flattered that you even would say I am your idol. That is a beautiful thing!
Monika: When I look at you, you always radiate with a natural smile and innate kindness? How do you do it?
Maria: Well, life has challenged me in so many ways. I have dealt with homelessness, discrimination and at moments in my life, I have felt hopeless. However, even in those challenging moments in my journey, I always remembered the people that made an impact in my life and to me those that were kind and loving human beings that offered me love without any expectation in return.
I try to live as honestly as it is possible for any human being, and I firmly believe that we are here to love one another, so every chance I get to smile at another human being is an opportunity to share some love with them.
We are so blessed to be given an opportunity in life to be who we want and follow our dreams and that is defiantly something to smile about.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Interview with Penny Clifford

Monika: Today’s interview will be with Penny Clifford, an Australian icon, showgirl, journalist, actress, and dancer. Hello Penny!
Penny: Good’ay Monika!
Monika: What are you doing these days?
Penny: I am still performing and I am also into Entertainment and PR Management. 
Monika: The perception of Australian transsexual and transgender ladies is often shaped by the movie “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”. How far was the movie from reality?
Penny: The Movie was fun and was written by people that actually hung around the Sydney drag scene in the early '80s, where they took ideas from drags and transsexuals and created their script. Many of the jokes and characters were based on real life. I was in a show that did travel to the exact casino that the Priscilla Bus & Girls traveled to and the show I was in performed at that casino for a 6-week period. So some of that was definitely based on us, although we flew to get there and there were definitely no pink buses!

Glamour photo.
(This photo and the photo above

Monika: What is your general view on the present situation of transgender women in Australian society?
Penny: Transgender women in Australia at the moment are a mixed group but many live in stealth in working society; so to be honest I have no idea of their life. As a ‘Tranny Showgirl’ I have been a performer all my life.
When I first started in the business to be a showgirl you needed boobs and to be a transsexual; there were very few crossdressers or drags back then, but in the showgirl world of today the situation seems reversed and it's primarily considered that if you are a transsexual woman you should not really be a showgirl.
Most clubs in Australia now shy away from hiring transsexual women in the clubs. It is a sad situation.
Monika: There are more and more transgender ladies coming out in the USA. Unlike in the previous years, some of them have the status of celebrities or are really well-known, just to mention Lana Wachowski in film-directing, Jenna Talackova in modeling, Kate Bornstein in academic life, Laura Jane Grace in music or Candis Cayne in acting. Do you witness the same trend in Australia?
Penny: I love the ladies you have mentioned especially Candis Cayne and Jenna Talackova as they are both so glamorous. In Australia, we have had but a few high-profile transgender women in media, the most famous being Carlotta who has been a regular on TV for over 20 years. They are currently filming a movie about her life. Apart from that, there have been very few transgender women that have made celebrity status in mainstream media in Australia.

SX Magazine Cover Photo.

Monika: You started your career as a drag stripper in the 80s to evolve into being a full-time showgirl at Patch’s Nightclub on Oxford St, Sydney where you stayed for over 7 years. How do you recollect those times?
Penny: I actually started at Patchs as a showgirl and then went on to become more of a Burlesque Stripper and host after that. I have always incorporated striptease in my shows whether I am working to a Gay Audience or a Straight Audience.
The early days of my Drag career were fun and free and we all seem bonded, even though we were still living in a very homophobic society. I managed to live in a bubble that made me feel safe. I don’t think the showgirl world of today has that same feeling of family that it did when I was a baby showgirl.
Monika: Then you did many fantastic shows and events: “Simone & Monique’s Playgirls Revue”, “Raw Images”, “Diva Awards” and “Priscilla Show”? Which of these do you cherish most?
Penny: All the shows you mentioned were different and I loved them for many reasons. Simone & Moniques was like working in Vegas; it had won many Theatre Awards and to be asked in this show was a huge honor. We traveled in Australia and beyond, but then I also loved my own show with the boys Raw Images as we had so much more control and I developed a very special bond with the guys I worked with.
The Diva Awards was a huge achievement to create a Gay Event that is still running after 22 years and raising monies for charity. But if I had to choose one that I cherish the most it would be Simone & Moniques Playgirls; this show helped me grow as a transgender woman and appreciate who I am.
Monika: Where did you grow up?
Penny: In a suburb called Regents Park which was 40 minutes out of Sydney, small and easy to grow up; I had a reasonable childhood.

Monika: Could you describe your childhood? When did you feel for the first time that you should not be a boy or man?
Penny: I was always very effeminate. I did all the usual things like singing in the choir at school, going to dance class. I was a school library monitor. I was always dancing for Mum and Dad in the backyard. My brothers always called me a girl’s name and even wrote that name on Christmas cards and birthday cards, not to be mean just that’s how we related. I think I was about 14 when I really knew that I was not a normal boy.
Monika: For most transgender girls, the most traumatic time is the time spent at school, college, or university when they had to face lots of discrimination. Was it the same in your case?
Penny: Yes, I did get quite a bit of bullying at school as I was so effeminate but I was also tall so I did escape a bit of the harassment because of this. I did OK at school but never really fitted in, which is why like I said above, I did so many other things at school to stay away from the kids, like library work, choir, and music.

Simone & Moniques Playgirls Revue (Left of the photo).

Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman? Was it a difficult process? Did you have any support from your family or friends? Did it have any impact on your job situation?
Penny: I think I started dressing as a woman around 17 but did not go on hormones till I was 19 when I moved out of my family home.
The first few years I remember I was feeling very androgynous and it was very hard but each year made life easier. 
Monika: Transgender ladies are subject to the terrible test whether they pass as a woman or they do not. You are a beautiful woman yourself but how about other transgender ladies that have to struggle every day to pass?
Penny: I might be OK to look at now but in the early days I was not, and I struggled very hard. At night it was easier for me as I dressed in lots of make-up and big hair and spent my time in the showgirl scene.
It’s very hard to pass as a lady and as I am so tall I often found it harder. I was surprised with the number of negative comments people have the courage to say to you in the day. I often went home crying from someone’s rude comments or actions.
All I can say is to other ladies going through the transition is to hold your head up high, do the best to make yourself look presentable, and don’t fight back to negative comments, just walk on by and remember how loved you are by your friends.
On the other hand, there are some really deplorable situations like the one which happened in the UK some time ago when Suzanne Moore, a British controversial newspaper columnist, wrote in an article that biological women are angry with themselves for “not being happier, not being loved properly and not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual.” How would you respond to this? 
Penny: I don’t know this article nor have I read it so I am not sure how to respond. I do know however if I have read this question correctly that many women I have met over the years are always surprised how good we transgender ladies look like women and I have often been told that they are jealous of my legs or my body etc.
I think sometimes transgender women have to work harder to be who they are, so sometimes that means we don’t take for granted being who we are.

A fun photo from Instagram.

Monika: We are living in times of modern cosmetic surgery that might allow transitioning even in the late 50s or 60s. Do you think it is really possible? What kind of advice do you have for transgender ladies at such an age?
Penny: Cosmetic surgery of today is a wondrous thing and I have had many procedures myself and still intend even at 52 to have more.
I think if you are older and intend to transition later in life it’s a harder road but it’s possible and fulfilling and I think you should not hesitate if you are unhappy as life is definitely too short to live your life in the wrong body.
I often wish I has started my transition at 16 or 17 but there was not so much information on transgender issues when I was young.
Monika: At that time of your transition did you have any transgender role models that you could follow? What was your knowledge about transgenderism?
Penny: I had 2 role models when I was younger: Carlotta who was the first transsexual woman I ever saw and Tula from England. My knowledge was mostly what I could read at my local library or what I heard family and friends would say when talking about Carlotta and the showgirls of Les Girls.
Monika: Have you ever been married? Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Penny: No, I have never been married. I have had very few relationships that have lasted the past 2 or 3 years. It’s hard to date a showgirl that is transgender as we advertise who and what we are and I have found that’s very hard for a male to deal with. I have found love in my life through my family, friends, and my dog.
Monika: What do you enjoy most in being a woman?
Penny: I love dressing in lovely clothes and make-up and as I get older I am so glad to be an older lady rather than an old effeminate male.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Penny: I’m not active in politics at all, as I have been a high profile showgirl most of my life, and I have been involved in many charities to raise monies for AIDS I feel that I have done my part for society. As I have gotten older I tend to live a quieter and simple life.

Sydney Harbour Photo.

Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Penny: I love the pageants, we only have one in Australia and it’s not that huge yet but it seems to be growing.
I love seeing the photos and videos of the pageants in the USA and Thailand etc. I like that as transgender women we have our own.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Penny: I am not a huge fashionista I like what I feel comfortable in. I like clothes that are more sequin and have some bling. I like a good pair of fitted jeans and a nice high heel and simple tops.
Being a showgirl I tend to wear more over-the-top outfits on stage but in my normal life, I am very basic and quiet.
Monika: Are you involved in the life of your local LGBT community?
Penny: I have been over the years but of late I have been quieter. I have found more often that not all the work I did for the community and fundraising was never really appreciated so there have been moments over the years when I needed help and it was reciprocated so I tend to have the view why bother anymore.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Penny: Many people suggest it to me. But I think there are too many transgender books out there now. I would however like to write a more comical book about the ‘Famous Faces I have Partied with’ but there are a few lawsuits that would happen out of that. So best I stay quiet LOL.
Monika: Could you say that you are a happy woman now?
Penny: Yes, for the most part, I’m happy living as a woman. I have the same problems most people have as they get older. Not enough money, hating old age, health issues but as far as my journey as a transgender lady, I would not change a thing.
Monika: Penny, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Penny Clifford.
© 2013 - Monika Kowalska

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Sunday, 3 February 2013

Interview with Lisa Du Preez

Monika: Today I would like to present to you Lisa Du Preez, a stunning model and successful businesswoman from South Africa. Hello Lisa!
Lisa: Hello Monika, lovely to meet you.
Monika: How did you start modeling?
Lisa: I met a photographer in London and he asked if I will do a photo shoot with him, so I thought as I know him I will give it a try, he was so impressed with my pictures that he passed it to a well-known photographer and he did a shoot with me, and this is how it all started.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Interview with Kirsty Scarlet Cass

Monika: Today I would like you to meet Kirsty Scarlet Cass, a lovely lady from West Sussex in England. Her gender dysphoria was covered by the British media in 2010, following her suicide attempt. Hello Kirsty! It is my sheer pleasure to welcome you to “The Heroines of My Life”!
Kirsty: Thank you It is a pleasure to be interviewed by you.
Monika: How are you doing these days?
Kirsty: I have never felt better, thank you. Now I’m living my life how it should be.
Monika: Where did you grow up?
Kirsty: I was born in Crawley, West Sussex in England, and I have been here ever since.
Monika: Could you describe your childhood? When did you feel for the first time that you should not be a boy or man?
Kirsty: I had a happy childhood but from a very early age I preferred the company of females rather than boys, and as I got older I knew that I was different but did not know why.

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