Thursday 6 June 2013

Interview with Toni Newman

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Toni Newman, an American author, and activist. Born in Jacksonville, NC, Toni is a graduate of Wake Forest University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology. We are going to talk about her memoirs and the challenges of being a transgender woman. Hello Toni!
Toni: Hello Monika glad to talk to you.
Monika: Could you say a few words about your career so far?
Toni: Well I am the author of "I Rise - The Transformation of Toni Newman" and work for Equality organization now fighting for equality of LGBT folk. I write a blog for Huffington Post and I am Community Editor for Proud to Be Out-The Digital Magazine. My goal is to complete my law degree and work for transgender rights and full equality for the transgender community.

Monika: What inspired you to write your autobiography titled “I Rise – The Transformation of Toni Newman”?
Toni: There are only 3 African-American transgenders to write memoirs in the United States and the last one was almost 20 years ago. I wanted to tell the story and life of an African-American transgender in America and how we survive and exist in society.  

Monika: You described the book as the first memoir written in America by a member of the African American transgender community…
Toni: Yes it is the first written in the 21st century and only the 3rd in American history.
Monika: The book is a very detailed account of your life. You did not try to hide anything, even some affairs with celebrities such as LL Cool J or Eddie Murphy…
Toni: I kept it real and pure. I was an escort and mistress for many years and told that part of my history as well. There are many hip-hop artists, actors, and rappers who speak negatively of my community but engage in sexual activity with my community. I wanted to show there are several highly respected individuals who engage sexually with the transgender community.
Monika: You are also the author of the TV play and scenario based on the real story of your trio called "The Erotic Professionals". Could you say a few words about it?
Toni: The Erotic Professionals title has been changed to Heart of a Woman and based on Chapter 7 in the book called The Erotic Professionals. The film details the disappointment of African-American transgender seeking a job, love, and acceptance in society and being rejected on all fronts.
It details the years as an escort/mistress working with a female escort and a male escort as a trio. Heart of a Woman is cast with Transgender Actress/Singer Angelica Ross, Calvin Klein Model Daniel Sobieray, Wedding Crasher/True Blood Star Rachel Sterling, Law & Order/Client List Star Elisabeth Rohm and Def Jam Comedian Leslie Jones being directed by British Director Keith Holland. The original screenplay was written by Alton Demore.

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?
Toni: No I came out much later and felt the most discrimination most when I started to transition and could not find a job or any type of employment. I sent out over 150 resumes and had almost 29 interviews and was rejected each time. Some told me they did not feel a transgender person on staff would be acceptable. I could not find a job or employment which drove me to join my transgender sisters working the streets of NYC as a prostitute to survive and exist.
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?
Toni: I began around 28 and had no support whatsoever. My family rejected me completely and my gay friends at the time did not understand or support my decision. I basically was all alone when I started my transformation process. I remember feeling all alone but I knew in my heart and soul I had to do it to be happy.
For the first 6 months, I lived off my savings and hardly spoke to anyone from my background. I prayed a lot since I was from a Christian upbringing and background. I doubted my decision so many times but I knew deep within this was the only way for Toni Newman to be happy and real. After 6 months and running out of money and losing my apt I accepted I had to fight and hustle to exist.

"I Rise - The Transformation of Toni Newman"

Monika: At that time of your transition did you have any transgender role models that you could follow? What was your knowledge about transgenderism?
Toni: In the late ’90s there were no real role models for me. I remember seeing Lady Chablis in a movie and was like wow. I had little knowledge of transgenderism at the time and learned most of what I knew from the transgenders on the streets such as hormones, blockers, and laser treatments.
Monika: We are living in times of modern cosmetic surgery that might allow us to transition 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?
Toni: I am not sure at the age of 50 I would be willing to start the transformation process. I applaud those who want to do it at any age since it takes such courage to start the transformation process. I tell all transgenders no matter the age to find a good doctor they like and trust and cover their options.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Toni: Telling my family and friends and seeing their disappointment in me as a person. To actually tell your loved ones and see the rejection in their eyes is very heartbreaking.
Monika: What is your general view on the present situation of transgender women in American society?
Toni: I think transgender women are coming out more and more and being seen in society more as well. There are quite a few role models for transgender women now in TV, music, art, literature, and entertainment. There are more laws being passed to protect transgender rights and equality.

Glamour photo.

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?
Toni: Yes we will. The tide has turned and transgender women are no longer hidden in American society. I applaud all transgender women to come out and be proud of themselves. You are beautiful and unique and God made us just like we are.
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?
Toni: Listen the transgender community as a whole is very small and we need the support of the LGB community to push our agenda of equal rights and equality. I believe the LGB community is more cognizant of our special needs and circumstances today and our voice is getting louder and louder. Visibility is the key and educating ourselves is essential in my mind for us to be recognized and accepted.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Toni: Yes I work for the largest LGBT advocacy group in California now and we are pushing bills through the California Assembly and Senate fighting for the specific rights of transgender students and individuals in the workforce. I make legislative calls asking for support of those bills and I do believe transgender men and women can make a difference in politics and be successful in politics. Our voice is unique and we can provide perspective to individuals that are forgotten, mistreated, harassed, brutalized, bullied, and even killed for being who we are. 
Monika: Do you think that in our lifetime we could live until the day when a transgender lady could become the US President?
Toni: Wow maybe in another 50 years.
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Toni: I have several friends who compete in them and they are very expensive. If you can afford to compete I am cool with it but first, let us educate ourselves so we can get better jobs. Let’s get our priorities in order so we can financially take care of ourselves and make a difference first.
Monika: Have you ever been married? Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Toni: I have never been married. I am happy for those who want to marry but that has never been a priority for me. I have been with the same partner for almost 11 years now and we don’t need a marriage license. He treats me the way I want to be treated and I treat him the way he wants to be treated. We are a team and strive to achieve goals and move forward in life.
I enjoy the feeling of a good love (which means love that does not hurt, humiliate, or control). So many transgenders in the pursuit of love will take any love no matter how harmful it can be just to be loved. I enjoy a good love of respect and honesty. 
Monika: Could you say that you are a happy woman now?
Toni: I can truly say I am happy now and feel loved and blessed and headed in a positive direction. I wish a happy love to all my transgender brothers and sisters. God is love and we all deserved to be loved and be happy.
Monika: Toni, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Toni Newman.
© 2013 - Monika Kowalska  

No comments:

Post a Comment

Search This Blog