Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Interview with Christine Beatty

Monika: Today I would like to introduce to you an amazing woman and artist. Christine Beatty is an American writer, senior software engineer, musician, and transgender activist. She was born in San Mateo, California. In 2000 she was distinguished as Transwoman of the Year by the Los Angeles Transgender Task Force. Christine helped to organize the 2003 Transgender Day of Remembrance in Los Angeles, and a year later she appeared in a Calpernia Addams’ and Andrea James’ all-transgender production of the Vagina Monologues. In 2011 she started a publishing company for the TS/TG community, Glamazon Press. Christine writes articles for Spectator Magazine, Transgender Tapestry, TransSisters, and other LGBTQ publications. She is the founder of the Glamazon rock band, and the author of a semi-autobiographical collection of short stories and poetry "Misery Loves Company" (1993) and biography "Not Your Average American Girl" (2011). 
Hello Christine! Welcome to “The Heroines of My Life”.
Christine: Hi Monika, thanks for asking.
Monika: How would you describe yourself? Musician, writer, transgender activist, or someone else?
Christine: First and foremost I’m a writer. So far it’s not paying the bills — yet — but it’s the one creative thing I do consistently. I do plan to get back into performing and recording rock music again. Also, I started taking film school classes last autumn.
Monika: Are you a feminist?
Christine: Most definitely, long before I knew I was a girl trapped in a boy’s body.
Monika: Where did you grow up?
Christine: In my memoir, I describe my terribly ordinary upbringing in a suburb twenty miles south of San Francisco. It was terribly middle-class and ordinary; I hated it. I instinctively knew I wasn’t destined for ordinary or “normal.”
Monika: Could you describe your childhood? When did you feel for the first time that you should not be a boy or man?
Christine: Quite honestly I cannot remember feeling like I was in the wrong body until I was well into adulthood. What I felt like, ever since I was four, that I’d been born on the wrong planet.
I’d always been ill at ease, uncertain of myself, terribly shy and I had no idea how to *be* in the world. My parents really weren’t right for each other and divorced when I was nine. However only a year and a half later my mom became involved with a terrific man who made a great stepfather, so I can say for certain that I had no lack of a positive male role model.

Christine Beatty's memoir.

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?
Christine: Middle and high school were traumatic because I was so shy and lonely and a huge sissyboy who always ran from fights and was a disaster at sports except for running.
The real problem started in 1985, halfway through my second year of college when I was 27 and I transitioned. When I showed up at college as a woman I was not well received, so after a few times, I gave up and only attended in boy mode until I completed my two-year digress in Computer Science.
Then I dropped out instead of transferring to a university. I refused to live a double life any longer
Monika: You served in the US Army for many years. Did you want to be a soldier? Why did you end up there? 
Christine: Actually I was in the U.S. Air Force. It was kind of like running away and joining the circus, leaving the middle-class life I despised and hoping it might make me more sure of myself as a man.
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?
Christine: I was 27 and I had almost no money and so I was coached by my peers who were also living on the underside of society. I lost all of my old friends and I became estranged from my family.
Also, I got fired from my housekeeping job when I said I wanted to work as a woman. That was when I became a prostitute, so I could afford to support myself and to do my transition.
Monika: Did you have any problems with passing as a woman? Did you undergo any cosmetic surgeries?
Christine: It was near-impossible for me to pass as a genetic woman. There are many transwomen in San Francisco and the locals know how to spot us, so an obvious one like me faced a lot of ridicule and hatred.
In the mid-80s I could barely afford hormones much less surgery, but when I finally got a decent job in 1989 I saved up for silicone breast implants to help me pass a little better. It took a long time before I was able to blend in.

Christine as a sex worker, 1986.

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?
Christine: Two decades ago I heard of a transsexual woman in her 70s obtaining SRS (sex reassignment surgery). My suggestion is more of a general nature — don’t wait that long!
If you have a genuine gender identity issue, putting it off or sublimating it with work, sex, family, drugs, or whatever is not going to make it go away, just cover it up. Maybe you’ll be miserable deep down and maybe not. Maybe you’ll find some way to be happy without it.
However, over and over I’ve heard from later transitioners how they wished they done it a long time before because they’d missed out on being a young girl. And trying to act like a young girl when you’re over forty will get you ridiculed even if you’re a genetic (born) female, and it will be much worse if you’re a transwoman.
Also, if you’re that old the chances are good you’ll have a family, and if you transition that may well likely leave you and hate you, quite possibly forever for depriving them of a husband and a father.
The bottom line is, if you notice gender identity issues at a young age, sort them out at a young age. Don’t be a later transitioner if you can avoid it. I have known some older transitioners who’ve done quite well, whose families embraced the new them, and who don’t regret waiting. But I know far more who wished they’d done it decades before.
Monika: At that time of your transition did you have any transgender role models that you could follow? What was your knowledge about transgenderism?
Christine: Back when I transitioned, the usual advice to post-operative transwomen was to blend into society, go “deep stealth” and never admit your transsexual status. Until I was forty years old I never knew one of the greatest computer engineers who’d ever lived, Dr. Lynn Conway, was a transwoman.
So my role models were the transsexual prostitutes who made $100 an hour because they were in charge of their lives and nobody got to tell them they couldn’t be women. The transgender rights movement that gained speed in the mid-1990s combined with the Internet to change all of that.

Christine with her band Glamazon.

Monika: You are a musician. Could you elaborate on your music career? Do you think that the transition into a woman had any impact on your artistic performance and creativity?
Christine: It wasn’t much of a career to speak of, yet what I did do was pioneering in a way. I’ve loved music most of my life and in the Air Force, a buddy gave me a cheap electric guitar he’d given up on. Because of how much I was partying and the limited attention span I progressed very slowly.
In the mid-1980s, I formed an all-transsexual hard rock band with some friends but there were too many addicts in the band, including me, so we never amounted to anything.
In 1994, I formed Glamazon with a brilliant female guitarist, but by then the Heavy Metal scene was dying out, and even though we had the novelty of being the only working Metal band with a transsexual lead singer we never got signed.
Monika: You were married once. What was the reaction of your wife when you came out as a transgender woman?
Christine: Let’s just say we got divorced. All of the twisted details are in my book; there are too many to recount here.
Monika: What do you enjoy most in being a woman?
Christine: Not having to pretend to be a man.
Monika: What is your general view on the present situation of transgender women in American society?
Christine: It’s a hell of a lot better than it was when I was coming up 25 years ago. We have an organizing community connected by the Internet and starting to make social and political gains. The transgender kids of today have a much better chance of succeeding in society without settling for underworld jobs.

Christine at Play, 1993.

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?
Christine: Definitely. It’s always the leaders who show others it can be done and encourage others to take a shot. The more of us who try, the more who will succeed.


All the photos: courtesy of Christine Beatty.
© 2013 - Monika Kowalska

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