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.
We can’t just break down the barriers, but we have to actively encourage young women and girls to go in this direction.
Monika: Did you always want to be an engineer?
Abbie: Oh no. When I first started college I studied a lot of Philosophy. This was mainly because I was so damn confused about my life being pre-transition. Then I studied Economics, and I worked in finance and analytics for a while. It was a practical decision to move into technology because that’s where the demand is. Now I’m pursuing a Master’s degree in Computer Science, but it’s taking a while. :)
Monika: Where did you grow up?
Abbie: Well…nowhere. Lol. I was born in San Luis Obispo, CA, then we moved to Northern California, then we moved to LA, then we moved to Virginia, then we moved to South Carolina (deep breath), then we moved to Bakersfield, CA where I went to high school. It was tough being gender variant and moving all over the place, but maybe it let me start over a lot too. Who knows?

Abbie at home.

Monika: Could you describe your childhood? When did you feel for the first time that you should not be a boy or man?
Abbie: I was pretty repressive. I pushed it really far down and put Police tape around my gender variant thoughts. I was a “good boy.” I think I was able to be myself until I was about 6 or 7 when the taunting and ridicule started.
I just always wanted to be “nicer” than the boys and cooperate with people instead of fight and dominate them. I did tell some people in high school that life would be easier for me as a woman, but I had zero role models in that respect, and it was like saying life would be easier if I was a wizard. It was fantastical. So I just kept living in the “real world.”
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?
Abbie: Oh yeah, high school was a terror. I really hated it. We moved to my school when I was a sophomore, so I had no roots. There was a lot of pressure for me to play sports as a boy, so I did that, but my teammates were merciless at ostracizing me. I won’t go into a ton of detail, but there were some very traumatic moments.
The hardest part was that I was attracted to women, so I didn’t identify as gay at the time, and I would just think “I’m doing everything right, why does everyone hate me?” I think I got along with women a lot better than men at the time, but I was pretty much a loner. I just focused on my studies to hide. Funny enough though, I did performance (choir, acting, etc). That was like coming up for air to me, even though it put me right in the spotlight.
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?
Abbie: This is a long story, but I’ll keep it succinct. I had a lot of therapy and soul searching in my late twenties, as I was just not happy at all with my life, but the idea of being trans was buried so deep, it took a long time to unearth it.
I started to transition properly in Sept. of 2011. It was Soap Opera dramatic, let me tell you. I wouldn’t wish that experience on my worst enemy, but I got through it, and it taught me so much about who I am and what I can survive. Here’s the synopsis about family support: my ex-wife took my two kids and basically excommunicated me and fought me tooth and nail in court for over a year, bleeding me dry. I tried as much as I could to reconcile and move on and come to a compromise, but at present, it’s a non-starter. I haven’t seen my two baby boys in over nine months. I don’t get pictures. It’s achingly sad.
However, my family was and is supportive. Granted it’s been a rocky 16 months or so, but they’ve taken the trek with me, and now they are so, so important to my well-being. I would be lost without them.
My employer has also been awesome! We just got ranked the #22 place to work in the country, and I know firsthand why this is so. They helped me with every step of the work transition. They brought in a psychologist to answer any questions for my teammates. We have a Pride network where we can interface with fellow LGBT workers. My work has been my saving grace.
Monika: Did you have any problems with passing as a woman?
Abbie: My biggest tells that I was male are my height (I’m a little over 6’1”) and my build (I’m muscular). I know the muscles will shrink over time, though. I don’t really wear heels, but I’m getting used to it.
I’m lucky with my facial features in that I don’t have anything that really works against me. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, but I think I pass almost all the time now. I have mixed feelings about how important we make passing in the trans* world. It’s a little sad that sometimes we can’t see past the presentation, to the beautiful person underneath. But that’s the way of the world.
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?
Abbie: That’s a very interesting question! I think the same applies to anyone. Start seeking out your peers. They are all over the place. Get used to the Internet! It will be your best friend.
I know some of you are digital immigrants, but there is so much love and support on the internet for you. I have some links on my site as well. Oh, and find a really good doctor. About surgery, I’m kind of ignorant on that until I get to that bridge.

Abbie in pink.

Monika: At that time of your transition did you have any transgender role models that you could follow? What was your knowledge about transgenderism?
Abbie: That’s funny, I was just thanking my cousin Tim Miller who is a gay performance artist and has been for over gosh 30 years or so. He was the first person I told I was trans when I was utterly scared to death.
Then he introduced me to Kate Bornstein who is just a treasure. She taught me to just be wacky and loud and myself. I’m still learning about new people every day too.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Abbie: Oh most definitely not seeing my children and my marriage falling apart. It’s the hardest thing I’ve had to endure in my life. It almost feels like a spiritual test at times, because it’s so over the top awful.
My boys are 1 and a half and one will be 3 in June. I wish I could hold them every day, but that’s not, well that’s not reality…
Monika: What did you feel when you were finally a woman?
Abbie: Calm, happy, goofy, proud, and the weirdest thing is that I got a much stronger backbone when I became a woman. I was finally able to have pride and stick up for myself.
Monika: What do you enjoy most in being a woman?
Abbie: The emotional expression. Not having to filter the things that you say. Also, being a part of the female culture. Women wear their hearts on their sleeves, and when I was forced to be around men all my life, it was so bleak.
Monika: What is your general view on the present situation of transgender women in American society?
Abbie: Terrible and awful. I’m an optimist, but I’m also a realist. The statistics are staggering about how much discrimination and loathing we face as a minority. The suicide numbers are reprehensible for a supposedly enlightened society. It’s really time to wake up and fix this mess. Each generation has to do its part to pass the torch and spread the flame.
Monika: We are witnessing more and more transgender ladies coming out. 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 think we will have more and more such women?
Abbie: I think so. I think we are at a tipping point where people are starting to realize that it’s even possible. Before the internet, the only image you got of a trans-woman was this horrible sideshow stereotype that was probably worse than death to most people. Now we’re able to beam our pride into the homes of young, confused girls all over the planet. It think it’s fantastic, and that’s why I write.
Monika: At the same time sometimes we get horrible news about transgender women being killed or beaten just as in the infamous case of Chrissy Polis that was beaten by two teenagers in Macdonald’s because she used the ladies’ toilet. How can we prevent it?
Abbie: First of all, murder and rape, and violence are not going to go away, but I think there are important, organic steps that can be taken to help this problem. The problem of the bathrooms is just asinine in my opinion. Most people have this idea of some sexual predator in a dress lurking in women’s bathrooms, or this is the image used to scare people. This is not reality, and these people are going to be threats no matter what the policy.
I got into an Internet squabble about the Roseanne Barr quote where she was saying how transwomen shouldn’t be allowed in genetic women’s locker rooms. OK, let’s turn that on its head. Do you want hairy transmen with full beards changing in the women’s locker rooms because they have vaginas? Come on. Yes, it’s awkward, but the awkwardness leaves the door open for the sociopaths to go around beating and murdering people.

Full smile.

Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Abbie: I’m engaged, but I wouldn’t say I’m active in the sense that I really get out there and work the streets. I was greeted by a couple transmen in front of Target the other day working for trans rights. That was awesome!
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants? Could we get rid of this label “transgender” and have only pageants for both non-transgender and transgender girls?
Abbie: Yeah I think beauty is beauty. Honestly, I think beauty pageants are kind of a relic of a different time, but more power to people like Jenna Talackova.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Abbie: You know I’m pretty basic, but I’m getting better. It’s a struggle to learn all of the intricacies of women’s fashion. My mom is a fashionista, so I get a lot of stuff from her. Accessorize, accessorize, accessorize! Belts, scarves, necklaces, bracelets, etc.
Monika: Are you involved in the life of your local LGBT community?
Abbie: I have connections, but I’m more active online.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Abbie: Oh definitely, and I’ve already started it. But life is all about priorities, and if you’ve read up to this far, you know I’ve got a lot going on!
Monika: Your blog starts with the following motto: “I’d rather be me than anything else. It’s the easiest thing in the world to do and the hardest.” Could you elaborate on this?
Abbie: I transitioned not to just be female. I transitioned to be free to be myself, wherever I fit on the spectrum. There has been terrible loss and wonderful joy that has come with the decision to transition, but I’ll never go back. Ever! lol :)
Monika: Could you say that you are a happy woman now?
Abbie: I do my best.
Monika: Abbie, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Abbie Pope.
© 2013 - Monika Kowalska

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