Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Interview with Vandy Beth Glenn

Monika: For today's interview I have invited Vandy Beth Glenn, an American writer, public speaker, and transactivist from Georgia. In 2007, she was dismissed from her job as a legislative editor at the Georgia General Assembly when she informed her supervisor, Sewell Brumby, of her transgender status. Following a lawsuit, her Glenn v. Brumby case became instrumental for the rights of transgender people that were discriminated against at work because of their transgender status. Hello Vandy! It is very kind of you to agree to be interviewed for “The Heroines of My Life”!
Vandy: Thank you! I’m happy to participate.
Monika: What are you doing for a living these days?
Vandy: I’m back at my job at the Georgia General Assembly, the job I was fired from for transitioning.
Monika: Where did you grow up?
Vandy: Here in Atlanta, Georgia.
Monika: Could you describe your childhood? When did you feel for the first time that you should not be a boy or man?
Vandy: My childhood was completely ordinary until I reached puberty. That was when I began to realize I was not like the other kids.
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?
Vandy: No, I transitioned later in life, so as far as anyone in school knew I was a straight male. My struggles were all internal until I began my transition.
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?
Vandy: I was over 30 when I began transitioning, but I think it was relatively easy as far as the support I received. I have a wonderful group of close friends. I hear other trans people talk about losing friends when they transition. That seems alien and unreal to me. Every one of my friends has stood by me and given me whatever help and love they could.

Courtesy of Vandy Beth Glenn.

Monika: Did you have any problems with passing as a woman? Did you undergo any cosmetic surgeries?
Vandy: I had electrolysis to remove my facial hair, of course, and I also had facial feminization surgery.
I’m also not especially tall, even for a woman, so I haven’t had much trouble passing. Of course, that shouldn’t matter, but in the real, practical world we have to live in, it matters quite a bit.
It can be a cruel world if you don’t match society’s expectations of what a woman “should” look like.
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?
Vandy: I would tell them that my only regret about transition is that I didn’t do it ten years earlier. It makes everything better, no matter your age. And I think the older you are, the less you should be concerned about what people think. Follow your bliss. It’s worth it. Almost no one ever regrets transitioning, whatever problems it causes.
Monika: At that time of your transition did you have any transgender role models that you could follow? What was your knowledge about transgenderism?
Vandy: By the time I transitioned the Internet was already well-established, and it’s been a wonderful tool for learning about our condition and what we can do about it, and for meeting other people. When I was a kid I thought I was the only person on Earth who felt the way I did. Thanks to the Internet, no one has to feel that way now.
My role model in many ways is my therapist, Dr. Erin Swenson, who is herself a transwoman. She has the wisdom and serenity I’ve always envied, and she approaches the many hurdles we all have to jump over with gentle good humor. She’s the best.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Vandy: Getting fired for it.

Courtesy of Vandy Beth Glenn.

Monika: What did you feel when you were finally a woman? 
Vandy: I don’t understand the question. I think transitioning is like Zeno’s Paradox; I’m always moving in that direction, but it’s a goal I can never finally, completely, reach.
And in many ways, gender is a performance. Before and after transition, when I’m alone at home with my cats, I’m the same person I’ve always been. I doubt my cats know the difference. Gender is just part of how we relate to the rest of humanity.
Monika: What do you enjoy most in being a woman?
Vandy: It’s much more fun to wear clothes as a woman, you know? Look at any awards show on television. The women wear a dizzying array of different gowns; the men are all in the same tuxedo. Boring!
Monika: Are you married to your partner? Was it difficult for her to accept you as a transgender woman?
Vandy: She met me after transition, so she doesn’t know me any other way. She loves who I am now. But no, we are not married yet. We couldn’t be legally married in many parts of the United States, but regardless, that’s not a step we’re ready for yet. 
Monika: You were subjected to transphobic treatment at work and finally fired but you managed to fight back and win against the employer at court. How did it start? Was it a difficult fight?
Vandy: The day I was fired I called Lambda Legal and told them what happened. They talked with me, then researched me, then researched the legal issues. It was nearly a year later before we were ready to bring suit, and it took over four years total for the process to play itself out. As Tom Petty teaches, waiting was the hardest part. And all my savings were used up by the time it was over. It was a hard, hard time.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender women facing such discrimination at work?
Vandy: Fight back. Speak truth to power. It’s the only we’re going to win.
Monika: What is your general view on the present situation of transgender women in American society?
Vandy: It’s getting better slowly, but it’s getting better faster than it used to be. I think this decade is going to belong to everyone under the LGBT umbrella. We’re unstoppable!

Courtesy of Vandy Beth Glenn.

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?
Vandy: I don’t know. There aren’t many of us, to begin with, but the more we assert our rights and show how capable and talented we are, the more respect and acceptance we’ll gain, and the more you’ll see us in the public sphere.
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?
Vandy: Better education and public outreach, and better civil rights protections overall. “Bathroom panic” beatings and transphobic killings happen because too many ignorant people view us as freaks; we don’t have the status of human beings in their eyes. The more out we are and the more we’re allowed to participate fully in society, the fewer things like that will happen.
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?
Vandy: In my lifetime, certainly. But I’m going to live a very long time.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Vandy: I’m working on it now.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Vandy: I like well-made clothes, but I also don’t have a large budget. My best clothes are from large brands like Banana Republic or Ann Taylor.
My biggest clothes-related indulgence is shoes. I love buying new heels. But truthfully, I’m happiest in blue jeans, and that was true before my transition as well.

Courtesy of Vandy Beth Glenn.

Monika: Are you involved in the life of your local LGBT community?
Vandy: As involved as I can be! I can’t participate too much in local politics because I work for the state government, so I have to remain officially neutral about most proposed state legislation.
But I’m a member of an LGBT nerd social group called Atlanta Outworlders. We play games and go to science fiction movies together. That’s great fun and is probably the main focus of my social life.
Monika: In 2011 the GA Voice granted to you the title “the Person of the Year” i.e. the LGBT person that had the most significant effect on LGBT rights in Georgia. What was your reaction to this title?
Vandy: I was very pleased because I knew it was not about me but about the great leap forward that was our win in two federal courts. It’s a huge victory, and I think many people still don’t know about it like they should.
Monika: In 2012 you were one of the grand marshals of the Atlanta Pride Parade. What was your feeling about it?
Vandy: That was very exciting; a wonderful day, and very humbling. I rode several miles in the back of a convertible while tens of thousands of people shouted and cheered for me! It was much more attention than anyone had ever paid me before. But if it helped more people learn about my case, that’s great.
Monika: Are you a feminist?
Vandy: Absolutely! I’d be a card-carrying feminist if they printed such cards. Maybe I’ll print one for myself.
Monika: Could you say that you are a happy woman now?
Vandy: Yes, I am happy in my personal life and optimistic for the future of our community.
Monika: Vandy, Thank you very much for your answers!

All the photos: courtesy of Vandy Beth Glenn.
© 2013 - Monika Kowalska  

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