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.
(I found clarity in my life when I got clean and sober in 2001). So far, my book has been received well from both these groups. It just makes me smile with gratitude to know I am helping someone else.
Monika: Where did you grow up?
Danielle: I grew up in a small town in upstate New York during the 50s and 60s. It was a working-class town, very middle American. It was also a very religious community, mostly Catholic.
Monika: Could you describe your childhood? When did you feel for the first time that you should not be a boy or man?
Danielle: I first knew I should have been born a girl when I was three. I used to tell my mother this and initially, she wrote it off to my jealousy of my newborn sister. When the insistence of my gender identity continued, she’d become exasperated and would say, “Danny, you are not a girl, you are a boy. I don’t care what goes on in that head of yours. God created you as a boy and God never makes a mistake!” I’d argue with her but I eventually gave in when I began school and was immersed in the teachings of the Catholic Church.
I was confused, alone, effeminate, shy, and scared of the world. In private, I’d play with my sister’s dolls or cross-dress. When I realized I needed to become a boy on the outside, I modeled myself after my older brother. He was fearless and an athlete. Eventually, I became good at sports. I was still in fear of my inner thoughts of wanting to be female but on the outside, I looked like any normal boy.

Autobiography available
via Amazon.

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?
Danielle: Well Monika, I never came out until I was an adult so this did not affect me. In fact, while I crossed-dressed through high school and college, I remained deathly afraid I’d be caught by someone.
Like a lot of trans-gals, I overcompensated my maleness. As an athlete, I played football, basketball, and baseball. It hid my true identity from the world. All the adult life I lived in denial of my female side. I grew to hate myself as both Daniel and Danielle. Alcohol and drugs, which I used to cope with life, numbed my feelings. I considered suicide many times.
Fortunately, I recovered my clarity when I got clean and sober through a 12 step program in 2001. This, followed by intense emotional therapy, led me back to myself. I am a very lucky woman today!
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?
Danielle: I began my transition at age 54, as I was a late bloomer. I knew what the process entailed because I spent many years engrossed in transsexual chat rooms online. I planned carefully and was totally ready when I began.
My support mostly came from women I was close to in my 12 step program and one other transsexual woman who was in fact older than I. She was a year ahead of me in transition and paved the way for me. She helped with the name change etc. Since I live 5000 miles away from my family, I held off telling them until I was 8 months into transition.
Monika: Did you have any problems with passing as a woman? Did you undergo any cosmetic surgeries?

Danielle as Judy Garland in 1998.

Danielle: I rarely had any problems. The advent of hormones into my system allowed me to pass quite well. Facial feminization surgery was never a consideration.
I was quite an expert on using make-up from my days as a drag queen. I just toned my look down and was easily absorbed into the local business community like any other businesswoman.
Occasionally, on the telephone, someone would call me sir but in person, it was always, Danielle, Ms. Bergan, or Ma’am.
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?
Danielle: Well, I am living proof that this is possible as I turn 60 this year. My surgery was in 2010. In fact, my book would really be an asset for the older trans-woman. It proves it is never too late to become the woman of your dreams!
My advice is to get as much help as possible from therapists, endocrinologists, electrologists, friends, family, and any local transgender support group. Go online, meet others like you. There is so much available these days in terms of assistance for transition.
Above all, once you know it is your path to transition, just be who you are. It takes courage to be your authentic self but do not do it alone!
Monika: At that time of your transition did you have any transgender role models that you could follow? What was your knowledge about transgenderism?
Danielle: As I mentioned before my knowledge of transgenderism was extensive prior to transition. Transgender chat rooms and all the information on the internet gave me a solid foundation of knowledge. I went from not knowing much of anything to becoming extremely astute on who I was.
My main role model was another sober transsexual woman online. She was a down and dirty gal who advocated transition is not for wimps! I agree. It takes ultimate courage and sacrifices to become our true selves. One should do it only for themselves, not anyone else.
Cross Dressers often try what we transsexuals go through and are usually happy to go back to being men in dresses. It’s not dressing up or pretending. Transition is a serious business, life-changing business.

Danielle in September 2011.

Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Danielle: I’d say the fear of telling my family. I did not want to lose them. While my sister had an inkling about my plans, I feel I caught everyone else by surprise. While they did not understand, they all gave me their blessing through their love of wanting me to be happy. I feel at times they are still a bit uncomfortable with my change yet they are all getting used to me as Danielle. Like most things in life, it just takes time.
Monika: You had your gender reassignment surgery in Trinidad, Colorado. What is your opinion about the clinic there?
Danielle: Dr. Bowers was wonderful and her staff was the best! Robin, who runs the office, was hands-on months before surgery, during my stay there, and the following year after. She always helped me in every way possible. I am totally happy with my surgical outcome. Cosmetically speaking, I have a perfect vagina according to my personal physician.
The facility, San Raphael Hospital, left a bit to be desired though. After surgery, I was abandoned in the operating room by the nursing staff from the floor I was to recover on. Luckily, my anesthesiologist realized what was happening and he brought me back to my room.
When we arrived, there was no IV to hook up to and the inflation bags on my legs were not plugged in (these inflate and deflate to prevent blood clots). Fortunately, my best friend Mimi was there and she raised a huge stink with the nursing staff on the floor. I was taken care of quickly after that. The next day I filed a complaint with the head nurse.
In 2011 Dr. Bowers moved her practice to San Mateo. There are no longer any surgeries in Trinidad as far as I know.
Monika: What did you feel when you were finally a woman?
Danielle: The day I began my transition I experienced a feeling of total freedom. I was completely at home in my heart and soul. It was the same feeling I had when I first began hormones. Upon entering surgery I was completely ready, mentally, spiritually, physically, and emotionally. Unless you experience it, the emotions are hard to describe.
Monika: What do you enjoy most in being a woman?
Danielle: What I enjoy most is not pretending to be anyone else but me. There is no more hiding or worrying someone will discover who I really am. I am a literal open book (pun intended). For this, I am grateful on a daily basis.
Monika: Have you ever been married? What was the reaction of your spouse to your transition?
Danielle: I remained single my entire life. I think I secretly knew someday I’d transition so I never wanted to put a wife or children through the same pain I suffered. Unfortunately for me, it led to a very lonely life.
Monika: What is your general view on the present situation of transgender women in American society?
Danielle: We are an emerging group. Today because of those of us like myself, Lana Wachowski, Candis Cayne, and Jenny Boylan, trans-women who are willing to tell the world our story, we make it easier for those who follow.

Taken before Christmas of 2010.

It is also so important to remember transsexuals who have fallen to violence and death like Rita Hester, Gwen Araujo, and most recently Sage Smith who is feared dead but remains missing. These women have given their lives to be who they are. Their memory helps raise awareness to the general population that we as transsexuals need to be accepted like everyone else.
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?
Danielle: There will be many more to follow us and they will do great things. There seems to be no lack of courage among us trans-women. Eventually, we will be accepted like other races and creeds were before we were. History proves that. Until then, I will keep pushing and advocating in my little nook of the world for equal rights and acceptance of our community.
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?
Danielle: I’m not sure there is a way to prevent senseless violence. However, through education, raising awareness and political advocacy we can combat the ignorance that breeds this type of insanity. It is unfortunately learned behavior handed down from parents to their children that seems to be the main root of potential violence. Of course, certain religions also do their best to discount the reality of who we are too.
Most recently the Catholic Religion is the worst culprit. Under the guise of God, the church moved to paint a picture that the LBGTQ community is made up of evil sexual perverts who only want to prey on normal people. It is seriously hard to believe this kind of thought process could come from an organization that is supposed to represent God’s teachings on Earth.
To me, the essence of who we are is a community of loving and caring people just looking for the same things everyone else does, love and acceptance. For this reason alone, if Jesus were alive today I believe he would be appalled at the Catholic Church and its actions towards us.
Monika: Do you think that in our lifetime we could live to the day when a transgender lady could become the President of the USA?
Danielle: Not in my lifetime, LOL, maybe yours. First, we need a woman of any kind to be elected... Hillary Clinton, get well soon!

Danielle in July 2012.

Monika: Apart from your autobiographical book, you wrote a book of poetry titled “Breezes”. What did you wish to convey in your poems?
Danielle: My poems in Breeze’s were mostly forlorn and lonely love poems. I was very young, in my teens and early twenties. At that time I was still in denial of myself and felt the love of a woman could make me a man like my body told me I should be. I was hopelessly confused at that time of my life. There were a few poems that conveyed my internal conundrum, yet they were well hidden.
Monika: Did you also write some books for children?
Danielle: I wrote one book that still needs a good illustrator. It is very Dr. Suess-like. Someday I will go back to it and get it in print. Today though, it is not a priority.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Danielle: I love fashion but I am not really a Fashionista. My best friend Mimi is though and my wardrobe reflects her expertise. I dress my age, very businesslike at work. Nice blouses, long skirts, 2” to 3” heels.
However, I can also dress to the nines and look hot on a night out. Like most island gals I know though, I like casual when I am off work. Get me a tank top, some board shorts, and a flower in my hair and I’ll meet you at the beach!
Monika: Are you involved in the life of your local LGBT community?
Danielle: I am more and more now that the book is published. I had a booth at our last Pride Day in October and a few weeks before a local newspaper did a feature article on me. I was thanked by many for raising awareness. I am currently working to begin a local trans-woman support group. It is taking time but we will be meeting soon.
Monika: Could you say that you are a happy woman now?
Danielle: I am grateful every day that I am a nicotine-free, clean and sober woman! I love myself completely and I love my life! I am truly blessed because I know it is always okay to be me.
Monika: Danielle, Thank you very much for your answers!

All the photos: courtesy of Danielle Bergan.
© 2013 - Monika Kowalska

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