Sunday 18 August 2013

Interview with Carol Mapley

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Carol Mapley, a Scottish nationalist, LGBT activist, and a former policewoman. She served in the RAF’s Observer Corps for 18 years. Her police career started in 1977 when she joined Grampian Police. She is Scottish Labour’s first transgender election candidate for the Castle Douglas and Glenken council seat. Hello Carol!
Carol: Hi Monika! It's lovely to speak to you.
Monika: Could you say a few words about your career so far?
Carol: I’ve had two distinct career strands to date – the police and mental health. I work within the Police Service of Scotland where I help formulate national policy and service delivery in relation to transgendered officers and staff as well as the transgendered people that we the police come into contact with every day in Scotland.
I play an active role in delivering mental health, and trans awareness training at our national police college in Fife. I also serve as a director of a major Scottish mental health charity – Vox Scotland. Vox is a charity that represents the views of mental health service users in the planning and provision of mental health services within Scotland.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Carol: I am very involved in the Scottish Independence campaign at the moment and looking forward to the referendum in September 2014. I am not involved with lobbying per se; however, I serve as a member of several Scottish Government Committees dealing with mental health policy and provision. I am passionate about mental health; it is something that affects us all directly or indirectly.
I believe the active participation of transgender women in politics is a barometer of the social health of a society. A society that both is open to and encourages transgender people to participate fully is a mentally healthy and inclusive society.

Taken in 2011 for an election leaflet when
she was standing for election as a councilor
for Dumfries and Galloway Council.

Monika: Is there any prospect of Scottish independence?
Carol: Will Scottish Independence happen? Well put it this way, I have every faith that I’ll be a citizen of a free and independent Scotland in 2016! Oh and I’m really looking forward to getting a Scottish passport for my holidays.
Monika: Are you working on any new project right now?
Carol: I have a couple of current projects. I am working with the Scottish Government to bring a new mental health crisis intervention to Scotland from the US. I hope to be the first trainer in Scotland.
In addition, I am actually considering re-joining the police here in Scotland, if I do at age 55, I‘ll probably the oldest officer in the force! I don’t know if it will happen, however being a police officer is something you never entirely get out of your blood.
And finally, I am trying to advance the use of Scottish Gaelic or Gàidhlig language within the Scottish police service. It is one of the three officially recognized languages used in Scotland and is certainly the oldest; it is still spoken on a daily basis in the more remote western parts of Scotland. I am fortunate to be a Gàidhlig speaker.
On a personal level, I’m in the middle of selling my home in Dumfries and Galloway to buy a new home in South Perthshire to be nearer to my work at the police college.
Monika: What is your general view on the present situation of transgender women in Scottish society?
Carol: Within the Central Belt area of Scotland I would say transgender people have reasonably good prospects and access to good services. However, the plight of transgender and LGB people in the Highland and Islands does worry me; even now transgender people there find being able to express their true identity difficult and consequently end up moving into the Central Belt area.
I believe people should be able to express their true identities irrespective of where they live. I hope we in the police can act as role models in this regard and show that the expression of one's gender and sexuality is both mentally healthy and socially acceptable.
Monika: What is your view on transgender stories which have been featured in media, films, books, etc. so far?
Carol: I have to admit I don’t have a television (a personal choice) so don’t get to watch that much TV. I have to admit the few times I have watched TV I’ve always found the depiction of transgender people very sensationalized and as such a poor representation of who we really are. Likewise, the UK media coverage in newspapers is on the whole pretty disgraceful, misinformed, and bordering on the transphobic.
I’m a pretty dry reader as I’m currently completing a leadership and management degree at the police college, so tend to keep my reading to relevant course topics. Unfortunately, transgender people don’t seem to get much of a mention in academic books on leadership and management!

Taken on my birthday last January.

Monika: In the USA there are 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 witness the same trend in Scotland?
Carol: Unfortunately we’re lagging behind in this regard within Scotland, I believe this is in part due to the malign influence of our bigger neighbor England. Much legislation in Scotland is still formulated and passed in the Westminster parliament and reflects the current right-wing neo-liberal bias of the incumbent Conservative/Liberal coalition.
My hope is once we’re able to throw off the yoke of English hegemony that Scotland will undergo second enlightenment. Already Scotland is on the whole a much more progressive and socially cohesive state than the rest of the UK, with independence this situation will only improve – then wait and see what transgender thinkers come forth from our small nation!
Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBTQ communities? Being the last letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBTQ group?
Carol: Of course, we can promote our own cause, what the transgender community as a whole lacks are figureheads or strong characters from within our own community. Understandably the goal for most people is to transition and then blend in and have a quiet life free from persecution, being in the public eye as an openly transgender person is not something most trans people would want.
In my own case I’ve been rubbished by the media so many times over the last 26 years I can no longer hide who or what I am nor do I feel a need to bother. People can either take me as I am or not, if not then, that’s their issue to deal with not mine.
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?
Carol: I had no support from friends or family, I was in a relationship, however, my partner was lukewarm about the situation and later became openly hostile and abusive. Transitioning for me was a very lonely time and on reflection, I was lucky to escape without seriously harming myself. 
Monika: At that time of your transition did you have any transgender role models that you could follow? What was your knowledge about transgenderism?
Carol: I had no role models and didn’t know any transgendered women. Transgendered people were rarely mentioned in the media except in the context of being some kind of freak. This gave me a very poor self-image and sense of self-worth which took me years to overcome. Fast forward 25 years and yes I do have role models both male and female.
My main role model and a personal friend is Mui Li one of the trainers at the police college, she has been a great influence and lit the fire of my renaissance!
Other people I admire are Steve Allen one of our deputy chief constables who is a fantastic advocate of trans people, and of course Fiona and Alan both of whom are also lecturers at the college and help keep me focused and grounded.

At Amsterdam flower market in April 2012.

Monika: Transgender ladies are subject to the terrible test whether they pass as a woman or they do not. You are a lovely lady yourself but what advice you would give to ladies with the fear of not passing as a woman?
Carol: Ask a trusted friend preferably a genetic female to be really truthful with you about how you look. What you wear makes all the difference; I’m not saying dress down or be dowdy but be sensible about what you wear.
I see so many transgender people making terrible clothes choices – fifty-somethings wearing mini skirts and 6 inch high heels. 
Look at what women your own age wear, don’t dress tarty, and always dress well with something that is good quality. Wearing the wrong clothes combination is like wearing a big sign saying “look at me”, just be sensible, and you’ll blend in.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Carol: I came out 26 years ago, back then I was subject to a lot of physical and verbal abuse by people. Part of the reason was that I’d been a police officer and was still living in the same small town where I had worked, many of my former ‘clients’ saw it as an easy chance to get even with me and made my life hell.
Whilst I had been in the police many of my former colleagues had been verbally abusive about my wanting to change gender. My former police force acted pretty horribly forcing me to have ‘treatment’ to help me get over my ‘perversion’. The eighties were not a good time for me.
Monika: In your case, you transitioned into a female but later you reverted to being a man following a mastectomy in order to revert back to being a woman? Have you ever regretted this?
Carol: My having a mastectomy was the result of being in an abusive relationship. I live with the consequences even now and yes it is something I regret let happening to me. I wish I had been stronger at the time and had refused.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Carol: Hmm, I dress for the office and at home, I’m smart casual. I love Autumn colors – russet browns, greens, etc. If you’re working, what you wear and how you present is so important, unfortunately, people do sum you up on what you wear. Rather than buy a lot of cheap outfits I buy a few expensive good quality ones, I bought my first designer outfit earlier this year (a sad confession!).
I must admit I had severe misgivings at the time but when I wear the ensemble it exudes class. If I’m going to make a big clothes purchase I normally run it past my friend Mui for an honest appraisal of whether it would suit me or not. Likewise, shoes (I love them) are important, if you’re tall ditch the heels and besides at work wearing heels is uncomfortable. I normally settle for a nice comfy pair of Clarks or Ecco loafer-style shoes.

Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Carol: Anything that objectifies another person as a sex object is wrong in my opinion whether it be a transgender beauty pageant, Miss World, or the local beauty contest. 
Monika: Do you intend to remarry as a woman? Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Carol: Remarry? Hang on I’ve got to meet someone first! To be honest, I’m not that bothered about getting married, it’s my partner and the relationship that’s important not the piece of paper. Of course, love is important to me, it’s the reason to get up in the morning, to smile, to care, to think about someone else.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Carol: My present task is to finish my police senior leadership course and of course my degree as well. I am also at career crossroads – politics, mental health, or the police. If I choose the police route I will apply for accelerated promotion which means I could end up as a senior officer within five years – now that would be an achievement for a transgendered woman!
Monika: Could you say that you are a happy woman now?
Carol: Easy answer this – YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Monika: Carol, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Carol Mapley.
© 2013 - Monika Kowalska

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