Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Interview with Racheal McGonigal

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Racheal McGonigal, an author, businesswoman, transgender activist from New Zealand. She is the author of the following books: Transgender Guide (2012), Country Boy to City Girl (2012), Summer Storm (2012), A Pictorial Transformation - Him to Her (2012), Be Careful What You Wish For (2013), and Reflections (2013). We are going to talk about the situation of transgender women in New Zealand and her transition. Hello Racheal!
Racheal: Thanks, Monika. Thanks for the opportunity to speak out as I believe the more we show ourselves, the sooner we will be accepted in society as understanding/education is the key to end discrimination.
Monika: Could you say a few words about your career so far?
Racheal: A very diverse career. Farmworker, sheep and beef farmer, horticulturist, Restaurant provider, storeman, salesman, key account manager, territory manager, cafe owner, Fashion boutique store owner, tractor salesman, prostitution is not illegal downunder so Escort, Brothel owner, escort agency owner, Mistress, unemployed writer.

Monika: What are the current issues on the transgender advocacy agenda in New Zealand?
Racheal: I think NZ is likely one of the top three places for TS/TG in the world. Generally, 1 on 1 we are accepted pretty well. The issues arise with employment, health care, and for the younger, in schools. We can now marry easier (same-sex is legal), can get an ‘x’ on passport or even ‘M’ or ‘F’ as to how we identify, not dependent on what is between the legs. We can also change the sex identifier without proof of SRS.
Personally, I believe one of the main issues is actually within the TG community and that is learning to work together, accepting others have a right to differing opinions. The squabbling and bickering show us all as little kids demanding. We need to work together, acknowledging all are equal. I would also say mental health issues and in particular, suicide is a high priority. Better access to SRS/GRS would help this.

Just who I am, Racheal Amanda McGonigal.

Monika: A couple of years ago I read an article about transgender women in New Zealand. Their main criticism against the health system there was that the gender reassignment surgery was free of charge but it takes ages until anyone is accepted for the operation. That is why so many ladies went to Thailand to undergo GRS there. Has anything changed since then?
Racheal: Alas no it hasn’t. You must remember we are only a small country of 4 million people. So the waiting list of 53 doesn’t seem bad but when there are only 3 MtF surgeries and 1 FtM every 2 years allocated, that is list is growing, will take some 30 years to clear.
We also have only 1 surgeon performing SRS/GRS and he is about to retire. His reputation isn’t great either with a high percentage of his patients needing touch-up/follow-up work, compared to Thai surgeons.
I think the main reasons girls go to Thailand are the price and also the experience and quality of the Surgeons there. The NZ surgery is Govt funded but he does do private and that would cost NZ$30-40K. Surgery in Thailand plus airfares, accommodation, and BA included, plus a holiday would cost around NZ$20K all up.
Monika: You underwent your gender reassignment surgery in Thailand – Mecca of many transgender women seeking such an operation. Why did you choose the Thai surgeons rather than American or European ones?
Racheal: Cost mainly but also the experience of the surgeon. Sanguan Kunaporn had practiced on 639 before me. I was confident he knew what he was doing. Searching his name in google groups produced few criticisms of him.
I guess I never really considered Europe or America due to the distance and the prices I was told by girls, which made them out of reach. When I was emailing back and forth to Sanguan, he was prompt and clear. I felt I was actually talking to him and I found out later, I had been, as up to then at least, he insisted on answering his own mail to prospective patients.

'Now we can say her body matches her soul'.
Sanguan Kunaporn. 6 weeks post-SRS.

Monika: What is your general view on the present situation of transgender women in New Zealand?
Racheal: Too much bitching between the various different sectors. Not enough consideration of the needs of others.
Alas, Transsexuals are the minority within the minority yet are the neediest. They need access to hormones and surgeries, I believe their suicide rates would be higher. Alas, there are no data collected on TG.
Many girls will turn to work in the sex industry as a way to fund their surgery and so become exposed to drugs, which causes more issues.
Don’t get me wrong, not all turn to sex work. Many girls are out working normal jobs from Lawyers to car parts Managers, Check out operators to University lectures, Surgeons to shop owners. Most of these though are non-TS, TG. It is more the TS who turn to sex work.
Monika: There are more and more transgender ladies coming out in the USA. 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 witness the same trend in new Zealand?
Racheal: I heard the other day that the Auckland Sexual Health and Gender Clinic, where a lot of TG go, has seen a huge increase in the number of FtM. I would have to say, it appears there are definitely a lot more and a lot younger, under 25’s. I wouldn’t say the numbers of TS are increasing but more are being seen. Alas, no figures are collected so it’s just my feeling.
Normal kiwi bloke - Fishing,
beer, rugby, woman.
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?
Racheal: Around 48, I came out to all. I’d been on hormones for close to 2 years. I lost 3 stones (42lb) in 3 months. I lost my father 10 days after I came out, my kids disowned me and I have never heard from them since. Rumors and exaggerations were rife in the community where I lived. I lost a beautiful lady who I loved, My business suffered due to our bitter break-up. Stress was huge and I guess I went a bit ballistic. So I had no support from family or friends.
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?
Racheal: No. I can understand it but I never realized I was TS until likely 40ish. It’s hard for many to comprehend but you have to look at the years and what it was like back then. I knew I was different from around 7 but didn’t understand it. I never heard the word Transsexual until I was around 15.
Transsexuals were the dirty girls who worked the streets, used drugs, and had diseases. That wasn’t me, why would I think I was like that? Homosexuality and prostitution were illegal, words like faggot, queer, poofter were commonplace. We didn’t have Google or the Internet, just libraries and what was I going to sneak in and look up? I couldn’t go online in anonymity and ask questions and learn. 
Monika: At that time of your transition did you have any transgender role models that you could follow? What was your knowledge about transgenderism?
Racheal: There is no such word as Transgenderism. All the new words and terms we invent and use just keep us further from acceptance because it makes it too hard for society to understand us. They can’t be bothered to and so throw us in a barrel and say “So you’re one of those.” Sorry, but it is my pet dislike. Neither the DSM nor WHO’s ICD recognizes it but they recognize Transsexualism.
As explained in the last question, my knowledge grew really slowly due to access to information back then. It’s not that way now thankfully, due mainly to the internet. Also an improvement to discrimination. It wasn’t until I came out, that I found a couple of role models but they weren’t really that important to me. I knew who I was, I was lucky in that I am a strong person and confident.

Normal kiwi girl - shopping, wine, shoes, men.

Monika: Transgender ladies are subject to the terrible test whether they pass as a woman or they do not. You are a beautiful woman yourself but how about other transgender ladies that have to struggle every day to pass?
Racheal: Thanks but I am not special. I get sprung. I think too many ladies worry too much about passing. About their appearance and voice. It causes more stress. For those who feel it’s important, go for it but for me, passing has never been a huge issue or worry. I still have the deep masculine voice that pisses me off heaps on the phone when people call me ‘Sir’.
For me, if I change my voice, and I can, then it is false, it’s a lie and it isn’t me. I am just who I am, real. I walk alone anywhere a natal woman will walk alone. I don’t care or fire off at someone who says ‘You’re a man’. I just look at them and say ‘Use to be but then my brain kicked in and I realized the best side to bat for.’ Or ‘Bet I have bigger balls than you mate, you wouldn’t do what I have.’ Or I take every opportunity to educate and say ‘I use to be but now I am all woman. What would like to know?’ 
Education is the way to end discrimination, not demanding rights, which just causes friction.
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?
Racheal: I know lots who have transitioned in their 50’s, 60’s. Had FFS and SRS/GRS. I suggest people go to a busy café in a mall. Sit for an hour and watch the woman at your age walking around. Are they all stunningly gorgeous and passable? Picture perfect? I’m 57. I get sprung more when I have the long blonde hair to butt and the beautiful clothes than when I have a brown bob and a floral dress below the knees. No one notices me then.


All the photos: courtesy of Racheal McGonigal.
© 2013 - Monika Kowalska

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