Thursday 2 May 2013

Interview with Dana Beyer

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Dana Beyer, an American transgender advocate, the executive director of Gender Rights Maryland, a civil rights and advocacy organization supporting Maryland's transgender community. In addition, she is a columnist at HuffPost and a Democrat politician. I am going to discuss with her the role of transgender women in US politics. Hello Dana!
Dana: Hi Monika! Good to speak with you today.
Monika: Could you say a few words about your career so far?
Dana: I’ve had a few, actually. I’ve been a physician and surgeon. I’ve done research on endocrine disruptors and human sexuality, as well as other public health issues. Then there’s been my work as an LGBT and trans civil rights activist.
Monika: What are the current issues on the transgender advocacy agenda?
Dana: The main issue facing many trans persons in the US today is still making life after transition. Even with federal employment protections, people find it hard to manage in a generally ignorant and, unfortunately, still hostile world. Persons of color are still targeted for assault and murder. Health care is hard to come by, though we’ve seen major improvements on that front.
Identification is easier to revise. There are more trained health care practitioners serving trans persons today than ever before, including a growing number serving children and adolescents. One national issue is that trans persons are still not allowed to serve openly in the US military, though we’re hopeful that with the recent removal of gender dysphoria as an official mental illness in the psychiatric bible known as the DSM 5, that situation will change.

With State Senators Madaleno and Raskin presenting
gender identity bill.

Monika: In 2012 you were a member of "Trans United for Obama", a national group of transgender people, their supporters, allies, families, and friends that acted successfully to re-elect President Obama. How did you organize that project?
Dana: A number of people, including the trans delegates to the Democratic National Convention, banded together to raise money to support the President’s re-election.
Various people took different organizing activities upon themselves, including a presence at Pride festivals and social media exposure, but the primary focus was fundraising to raise awareness that the trans community was an integral part of the LGBT community. Money talks, and trans persons raised over $100,000 for the President’s campaign.
Monika: How do you perceive the attitude of the administration of President Obama towards transgender Americans?
Dana: Remarkable. The administration has done more for the trans community than for the gay community, though we did start off from a position of much greater need. There has been little hesitation on the administration’s part to engage with us, and they have created an America where we can now feel we are heard and respected.

With Senator Baldwin.

Monika: You were following quite closely the US last presidential campaign. Was there any difference in the way the Republicans and Democrats addressed the needs and rights of the transgender community?
Dana: The Republican party ignores the trans community. There are very few trans persons who are members, and few compared to their gay membership.
Fortunately, during the Presidential campaign, the Republicans ignored trans issues. The President came out for marriage equality in May and there was little talk about LGBT issues on the national stage after that. Surprising, but very positive.
Monika: American politics is based on the interaction with different interest groups that wish to pursue their specific goals. How successful is the transgender community in this respect?
Dana: We’re doing better, both in and out of coalitions. We get along better with the gay community, though we don’t have nearly enough resources and the gay community is primarily focused on marriage rights. Today more progressive allies sign on to trans civil rights legislation on the state and local level. And recently we’ve made significant efforts to work for a comprehensive immigration bill in Congress.
Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBT communities? Being the last letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBT group?
Dana: We’ve been doing that for years now, and the “T” is not as silent as it once was. I’m hopeful that with increased federal and judicial focus on the issue of gender expression that mainstream LGBT groups will shift perspective from sexual orientation to gender expression and work more closely with us to advance all of our rights.

With First Lady Michelle Obama.

Monika: Is there anyone in the US transgender society whose actions could be compared to what Harvey Milk was doing in the 60s and 70s for gay activism?
Dana: Interesting question. People believe Harvey was the first openly gay elected official of any significance, but that isn’t the case. He was, I believe, the fourth, but he was very charismatic and became known nationwide for his efforts. There has yet been no trans analog to Harvey in the political world.
Monika: What is your general view on the present situation of transgender women in American society?
Dana: The major point I would make is one of generational change. What was very difficult for women of my generation is much easier today for the Millennials. It’s thrilling to see how much better life is today for young trans persons, for children, teens, and young adults.
Monika: Do you think that in our lifetime we could live until the day when a transgender lady could become the US President?
Dana: No (LOL). We first need to see a state legislator or councilwoman, then maybe a mayor or Congresswoman.
Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? Did you have any support from your family or friends? Did it have any impact on your job situation?
Dana: I began transitioning at 40, finished at 50. The difficulty was finding my courage – once I came out I lost very few family or friends. I had retired before transition, so I had an opportunity to create a new career from scratch. It wasn’t easy, but I persevered and succeeded.

With Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley.

Monika: At that time of your transition did you have any transgender role models that you could follow? What was your knowledge about transgenderism?
Dana: I had many role models, and felt I could transition because of the path blazed by those before me. Lynn Conway with her “Successful Trans Women” pages, Calpernia Addams, Marci Bowers, Donna Rose, Amanda Simpson, Riki Wilchins, Georgina Beyer, and many, many others.
As far as my knowledge goes, I had voraciously studied the issue of sex and gender since I was in high school, so I had 40 years of independent study – both as a physician and scientist.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Dana: Being willing to embrace the uncertainty of living in the world as a woman, having had no experience of doing so.
Monika: Have you ever been married? Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Dana: Yes, twice. Love is and has always been, important. It’s one of the key attributes that makes us human. For me, it was hard to love and be loved not as who I truly was, but who I was pretending to be. That is no longer the case.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Dana: I have, and it’s sitting in my agent’s office waiting for the hook I need to get it published.
Monika: Could you say that you are a happy woman now?
Dana: I had that discussion with a friend this morning, a talk about the meaning of happiness. Americans place a very high value on “the pursuit of happiness.”
Everything became worthwhile when I had completed my transition, and I have lived an authentic life with integrity every day since I began my journey. I enjoy my work, I look forward to greater success both personally and for my children, and I have no regrets. From that perspective, I think you can define the whole package as suffused with happiness.
Monika: Dana, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Dana Beyer.
© 2013 - Monika Kowalska

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