Saturday 17 August 2013

Interview with Mikki Whitworth

Monika: Today’s interview will be with Mikki Whitworth, an American transgender writer, author of "Masks of a Superhero", featured in Topside Press‘s “The Collection: Short Fiction from the Transgender Vanguard” (2012). Hello Mikki!
Mikki: Hello, thank you for this opportunity to reach out to my readers and the community at large.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Mikki: What can I say about myself? I guess the one part of my life that stands out is that I am a disabled American veteran. I served my country in my youth. Now 25 years later, I am still picking up the pieces of that service. I have been with a wonderful man for 18 years, he has stood by my side through understanding my mental illness, standing next to me through transitioning, and returning to college at nearly 40.
Monika: How did you start writing?
Mikki: I started writing as a way to deal with my illness. I began writing with a group of veterans at my local veteran’s hospital. My first two major works were entered into the VA National Creative Arts Festival. They won silver and bronze medals. I knew I was doing something right and thus began my goal to write more and better, which eventually led to my desire to return to college.

At school during her first year in transition.

Monika: Could you elaborate a little on "Masks of a Superhero"?
Mikki: I began writing it partially because I wanted to see a different kind of trans character. Annie began as a hope that any type of character could be strong and trans at the same time.
I knew I wanted to submit it for The Collection but I didn’t really expect it to receive the responses that it has. I have gotten comments from around the world and love telling the story and see people think about this character type in a different way.
Monika: When you create transgender characters in your books, do you include any autobiographical elements in their life or stories?
Mikki: My simple answer is yes but that really isn’t a complete answer either. For example, the name of the main character in “Masks of a Superhero,” Annie was a name I tried out for a while but it didn’t fit. My characters tend toward letting me explore my hopes, dreams, and wants in a way that the rest of my life might not.
Monika: Is there anything like transgender literature?
Mikki: I don’t really think I have an answer yet. I am trying to understand where I see transgender literature. Right now, I don’t see it as a genre of its own. I prefer to call it a literary topic.
The Collection is a great example of this because of the 28 authors and stories, there are many different experiences and styles, and topics. They are held together by the arching topic of transgender and transgender authors otherwise they are a wide variety of trans experiences, and that is what makes them special.
Monika: What is your view on transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films or books so far?
Mikki: In general, I don’t care for most transgender characters or stories. They seem to stop short of what I see as the transgender experience. I hate seeing someone that I may identify with who is weak, deceitful, or just unwilling or able to be who they know they are.
I have one exception and that is the 2012 BBC series “Hit & Miss”. In this series, the main character is a bit of an antihero. She is a contract killer who learns she has a son from before she began her transition. She seeks to continue being who she is without compromising her identity as a transsexual.
Monika: Some critics say that contemporary art does not provide too many opportunities for women to show their talents and stories that are more interesting for the female audience. Would you agree?
Mikki: In this area, I think society provides limited opportunities to highlight female characters as complete entities. They are usually mothers and wives but they are not shown as breadwinners or artists or leaders as often as they could be. Even when they are shown as complete people these characters must also be mothers and wives. To limit, women to the role of the caregiver also limits their opportunities in our greater communities.

First time at school as a female.

Monika: What does it mean to be a transgender writer?
Mikki: Opportunity. I know that sounds simple but it really adds a challenge. There are so many stories yet to be told.
There has not been a great deal of exploration of transgender identities in literature or even pop culture. Stories where being transgender are an element of the character not the entirety of him or her.
It is time to create stories that express successful transitions. I am tired of seeing transgender people as victims. I think that is why “Masks of a Superhero” resonated. Annie is never the victim. She is always a hero even before she understands who she is.
Monika: Are you working on any new book or project?
Mikki: I am in the planning phase of some new work. I recently completed a new version of “Masks of a Superhero” that expands the story. It is a short novella. I hope to one day expand it again into either a novel or graphic novel if I can find an artist willing and able to work with my vision of the characters.
I am looking back into my works in the past and considering either exploring them further or starting new ones. I want to spend the next eight or nine months creating a larger project that may be worth considering sharing with the world.
Monika: There are more and more talented transgender and prolific writers, just to mention: Jan Morris from the United Kingdom, Josephine Emery from Australia, and Aleshia Brevard from the USA as well as the new wave of such writers as Julia Serano, Ryka Aoki, Red Durkin or Imogen Binnie. Do you think that there is a chance for the more prominent status of transgender writers?
Mikki: I am an idealist. I think there is always an opportunity for greater prominence. I have not read all of the authors you mentioned but the ones I have read are immensely talented. I consider them role models as well. With more and more examples of successful transgender people and authors, in the future, more talented people will venture into this arena and thereby gain the visibility to find true success.
Monika: In general what do you think about the situation of transgender women in American society?
Mikki: Again, I am an idealist. I think we still face many challenges but because of the people before us, we now have the discussion and forum to demand fair and equal treatment. It is coming even though we haven’t made it all the way yet.

First time dressed as a woman.

Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman? Was it a difficult process? Did you have any support from your family or friends? Did it have any impact on your job situation?
Mikki: I began transitioning in May of 2011. I was 40 years old. I was extremely lucky. I had fantastic support from my mental health providers, my husband, my friends, and my university. I took it very slowly at first.
I spoke to people who could be allies on campus to ensure my physical safety. I talked to my husband and ensured him that I would only be a better “me” not a different one. I let my friends know so I could gauge who would stand by me and who would run for the hills. None of my friends ran.
The only person I have not come out to as of yet officially is my mother. I love my relationship with her and I fear having to rebuild it. I don’t live near her so I can talk to her without having to hide my identity or revealing it.
My job is that I am a student. I have received nothing but support from my community. I have even learned that I want to be a part of the world around me. Since transitioning, I have begun working with a local service group that helps people. I seek to be a leader and I don’t think this would have happened if I continued to force myself to live as a male.
Monika: At that time of your transition did you have any transgender role models that you could follow? What was your knowledge about transgenderism?
Mikki: Role models? I wish I could say yes. I had read memoirs and met a few people but I really didn’t see myself in any of their experiences. I had to follow my own road. I have found that it is perfectly acceptable to look at others and say: ”I am glad you were there first but I don’t want to do it your way.”
My knowledge was limited but I was always drawn to news stories about transgender topics. I gathered information covertly, so covertly that I didn’t know I was doing it myself. I am now better able to find the information and understand it because I know I am looking for it.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Mikki: Fear. Plain and simple fear. I feared my husband, a gay man, wouldn’t be attracted to me if I transitioned. I worried I couldn’t fit into the world. I still fear losing my relationship with my mother.
So far each time I have faced my fears, I have been proven wrong. People are not as shallow or limited if they are given the opportunity to learn and explore their feelings while I do the same. I am not responsible for how they feel or act. I am only responsible for how I act.

Wedding picture.

Monika: You got married. Marriage is a special event for all women. Did you enjoy being a bride, then party, trying on a wedding dress, and finally your wedding ceremony?
Mikki: I laugh when asked this question. For James and I, we are no different today than we were before the wedding. We have been together for 18 years.
Our relationship isn’t based on whether we are married or not. Marriage has given us a safety net that was unavailable before and that is very comforting and nice. We haven’t had a reception because of delays to the wedding itself. We are still planning a party to share time with the community that we love and they love us in return. My dress is simple and wonderful. My friends are some of the most generous people I have ever seen.
I was more concerned with getting married and the trip to make it happen than buying my dress. My friends wanted me to have a dress and pooled together to make it happened. I bought the dress that two years ago when I first saw it I knew I wanted to get married in it.
Getting my dress was dream come true. The ceremony was simple and quick. We had a church wedding 11 years ago so this was mostly about getting the protections we had been denied previously. Our minister, a transman, used our choice of simple vows. “Do you?” “I do” “Do you?” “I do” “Wonderful” That was our wedding and after our struggles on the road to the wedding it was perfect.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Mikki: My memory sucks so no I wouldn’t write a memoir and I am not sure I could add anything to the discussion.
Monika: Having transitioned yourself, what would you recommend to all transgender women struggling with gender dysphoria?
Mikki: My advice is to just find yourself. Transition is one way to do it but the only limitation is your willingness to seek it out. You don’t need to use my example or anyone else unless that feels authentic to you.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Mikki: My future is wide open. I want to write more, I want to work with my community to make a better world to live in. I want to take what opportunities arrive. I haven’t limited myself up until this point and I don’t plan on doing so now.
Monika: Could you say that you are a happy woman now?
Mikki: This is the happiest that I have ever been. I am the best I have ever been. Thank you for the opportunity to share my experience with your readers.
Monika: Mikki, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Mikki Whitworth.
© 2013 - Monika Kowalska

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