Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Interview with Brooke Sullivan

Monika: Today’s interview will be with Brooke Sullivan, a young American transgender woman and HIV activist from California. In addition, she is a video blogger that documents her transition on YouTube. Hello Brooke!
Brooke: Hello Monika!
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Brooke: I am a 28-year pre-op female transsexual living in beautiful San Diego, Ca. I currently work as the Communications and Consumer Marketing Manager for a start-up telemedical company called EXUSMED.
Some of my passions in life are volunteering with non-profits/non-profit events, making music, and creating digital art. I like to think I am a jack of all trades and master of some. 
Monika: Why did you decide to share your transition details on YouTube? 
Brooke: I felt compelled to share who I was with others, I have always been that way. I thought my story might empower others, as it has also empowered me by exposing myself to the world. When you find yourself and work towards an end goal, it gives you a sense of pride. I wanted to share that with the world. I also wanted to find solidarity…and posting a timeline video seemed like a good way to achieve it.

Right before her performance in 'The Vagina Monologues'.
TVM fights the uphill battle of violence against women.

Monika: At which stage of the transition are you right now?
Brooke: I have been on hormones for over two years now. I rarely ever get mispronounced at this point and everyone for the most part sees me as a woman. I am very confident in my female voice which has helped me in passing but I only use it when I have to. I am now looking forward to moving towards getting my surgeries done.
If even though my insurance covers SRS, it will probably be the last surgery I’ll get. I am in no rush to get my vagina to be honest. Boobs and my FFS are more important to me at this point in my transition.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the results of the hormone therapy?
Brooke: Yes! I love the results I have gotten. The only thing I would like to have more of is boobs lol…but I wager that is how many girls feel.
Monika: Could you describe your childhood? When did you feel for the first time that you should not be a boy or man?
Brooke: I was raised in a traditional Irish and Portuguese Catholic house in Madera, a small farming community of California. I was a star athlete in football/soccer and was involved in things like G.A.T.E./Academic Decathlons. There were always high expectations on me I felt throughout my whole childhood. Those expectations always weighed heavily on the decisions I made.
The first time I realized I was born in the wrong body, was at 8 years old. My sister, brother, myself, and the neighbor’s 3 kids got together and played dress-up as the opposite sex. From that day forth, I couldn’t stop thinking about how I could change my sex and become the girl I was supposed to be.

The headshot as of 29 July 2013.

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?
Brooke: Nope, I didn’t want to be harassed or discriminated against in school, so I just didn’t transition then. It is something I sort of regret now, but everything has its time and place. I still ran into discrimination but it was randomly in public places. 
Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow?
Brooke: I like Maria Roman! Ever since I saw her speak at San Diego’s 10th annual Transgender Day of Empowerment, but I don’t follow any specific transgender role models, to be honest. I really just want to help people.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Brooke: Letting go of white male privilege and my looks as a man. My looks took me places easily and I thought if I transitioned I wouldn’t be attractive anymore. I felt tall women weren’t appreciated as much as cute small girls. I thought I wouldn’t be able to find shoes, clothes, etc. I was so wrong.

In the dress at a Trans Pride fundraiser, June 2013.

Monika: What is your general view on the present situation of transgender women in American society?
Brooke: We have much work to do. Transwomen are still overly sexualized and experience discrimination even in ‘safe spaces’. We achieve stable employment while still being able to get our surgeries done. Most girls resort to escorting to live and pay for their surgeries. This should NOT be the main option we have to take.
We need socialized medicine here in the US, in my opinion. Housing can be another issue many have a problem with. Most importantly Transgender people cannot serve in our military/armed forces, which is terrible.
There are so many trans people enlisted, wishing they could transition, but they are too scared to lose all their benefits or/and their job. DADT only allowed gays and lesbians to serve openly not transgender people.
In the media, transgender women seem to be popping up more and more in movies, music, etc. these last few years, which is great for a positive visibility of transgender women!
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?
Brooke: I believe we will see an explosion of transgender people in the media/movies/music scenes over the next five years. We are such creative and intelligent people that strive through hardships most never experience. That strength we get, I believe it pushes us to succeed more than others and to become more visible in the years to come.
Monika: Do you think that in our lifetime we could live until the day when a transgender lady could become the President of the USA?
Brooke: That is optimistic, to say the least, but I think anything is possible. We transgender people tend to have higher IQs and are more driven to achieve our goals against all odds. Cause of this I think it is possible, but I don’t think the odds are that good. It took forty-four presidents before we had one, that wasn’t an old white man. I think if we have a female president soon then maybe a trans president will happen in my lifetime. 

The main group of volunteers that worked the T-Spot
(transgender, genderqueer, and intersexed community resource
and educational booth) in 2013.

Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Brooke: Yea, I guess so... I like to look good but I don’t care about the brand or where I go get my clothes or accessories from. I really shop at the $10 mall a lot and get plenty of compliments on my outfits. I am a simple girl who wears jeans and shirts in the winter and skirts and small shirts in the summer.
I dress in cute collared shirts and pencil skirts when I go to the office. I love to get all dolled up to go out, and normally wearing a sexy short dress. I love deep, rich colors like red, purple, and black. I choose to never follow trends… I just wear what I like, when I like.
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Brooke: I think they are just like all other pageants. If it makes them happy we should have them. I don’t think we need to segregate ourselves though, but integrate ourselves into regular pageants.
Take Jenna Talackova, she is a perfect example…I understand that for some trans people having a transgender pageant would feel safer and they might be more confident in such a setting. Either way, they aren’t really my cup of tea, but I support them nonetheless.

On her way to the rally for the repeal of Prop 8!

Monika: Are you involved in the life of your local LGBT community?
Brooke: I am very involved with my local community as the Chairwoman for the San Diego Pride’s Community Advisory Council, the coordinator for Pride’s trans, genderqueer, intersexed contingent, and educational booth.
I am on the board for the S.G. Reichen Trans Assistance Fund that helps struggling trans people with small expenses (i.e. hormones, binders, clothing, some housing help, etc.).
I run a trans women’s discussion group once a month at the LGBT Center while making reports for the Equality News Network. I have a community website where I share my story and have resources from around the U.S. I am involved in a few other trans projects locally, but I think I’ve named enough lol.
Monika: Do you intend to get married and have a family? Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Brooke: I don’t know if I will ever get married. It is a nice idea but I am not into a traditional marriage. I am polyamorous, which makes marriage and family life to be very complicated.
I think love very important. Loving myself allows me to really love someone else. I believe it is a part of life I cannot live without daily. Though love can hurt, I will always embrace it.
Monika: What would you recommend to transgender women that are afraid of early transition, discrimination and hatred?
Brooke: Move to a big city where you can find a trans community. We were all afraid to start. Shoot it scared me so much before I transitioned, that I turned down earlier chances to start HRT with my family supporting me.
It is amazing how once I started, I thought, ”why didn’t I begin this sooner”… I was scared. Nothing worthwhile in life is easy, and nothing has been more worthwhile than transitioning. 
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Brooke: Fixing my life would be at the top of my list. I was bad with finances when I was younger and it has caused me problems later in life. I am planning to fix all of that and start to save up to travel the world. I will get my boobs done at the end of this year and my FFS sometime next year.
In about 3-7 years I will get my SRS. I plan on getting a house in 5 or so years with a big yard that I can landscape into a beautiful world of its own. I also see myself becoming more and more involved with the trans community here in San Diego and Southern California. Volunteering has become a true passion of mine!

The recent picture at work.

Monika: Could you say that you are a happy woman now?
Brooke: Yes! I am truly happy for the first time in my life. I have my bad days, but they are so outweighed by all the good days. I look with optimism to what the future has in store for me.
Monika: Brooke, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!

All the photos: courtesy of Brooke Sullivan.
© 2013 - Monika Kowalska

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