Sunday 8 December 2013

Interview with Louise Hannon

Monika: Today’s interview is with Louise Hannon, a transgender advocate, activist, photographer, and former business development manager from Arbour Hill, north Dublin in Ireland. She was the first transgender person in Ireland to take a case against her employer on gender discrimination grounds and win the case in 2011. It was possible thanks to the Irish Employment Equality Act, which prohibits discrimination in the workplace. Hello Louise!
Louise: Hello Monika!
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Louise: I've been asked this kind of question before, but how do you describe yourself? Probably other people would describe me much better. I'm passionate about equality and justice where I see something which I feel is wrong. Be that economically or physically wrong in my eyes. I tend to confront injustice. I was very much the same all my life but it's only in recent times that I have been able financially and in my private life to have had the spare time to do what I do.
Monika: How did you start taking photos?
Louise: I was given a box brownie made by Kodak when I was eight years old. It was a simple camera in the shape of a box and was brown. Later ones became more of a gunmetal color. I used to take photos of my dogs and the odd cat that my mother kept at home on the farm. I wanted to do fashion and photography in my teens but the family (I am an only child) wouldn't hear a word of it. They might have accepted the photography but the fashion for a boy was a big no-no.

Meeting President Higgins with TENI and
FLAC (Free Legal Aid Centre).

Monika: What kind of photos do you take i.e. nature, portraits?
Louise: I do a variety of work from fashion to glamour to events and some portraiture. I prefer the glamour and fashion side as it allows me to be more creative.
I do work, which earns me a living but can be much more boring. I get bored easily and have always been that way. It has got me into trouble now and then as well..:).
Monika: Have you got any new projects in the pipeline?
Louise: I'm working on some glamour magazine shots right now and I'm hoping that that will lead to more work in that area.
I'm also writing an autobiography about my turbulent life and the mountains I've had to climb to get to this point in my life. The national television station in Ireland TV3 is making a documentary about me and three others, which is to be aired in the Spring of 2014.
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?
Louise: I made the decision some 15 years ago after struggling with my gender identity since childhood. I could not go on living a lie. It was too much of a struggle for me to live in the gender that I was born into but had no affiliation towards.
I finally transitioned in 2007 in March so it will be 7 years next year. Family support was negligible. My parents are dead and my children gave me no support. While they have no issue with my life now, they do not have any long-term contact with me either. All my non-family were very supportive. 
Monika: At that time of your transition did you have any transgender role models from Ireland or anywhere that you could follow?
Louise: No there was no one in Ireland. In recent times Dr. Lydia Foy has been a strong role model in the way that she has withstood the establishment to fight for her rights. But we only knew of Lydia's struggle in the years around 2006/7. When I took the decision there was no one... I set up a Yahoo group[ in 2001 which for a long time was a focus for those seeking information and then in 2007, I joined the TENI committee. In the early 2000s, there was little information.

Reception for Anna Grodzka @ Dublin Pride.

Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Louise: Having to take the decision to take my employer to court for constructive dismissal in January 2008. That took a lot of strength.
Monika: Transgender ladies are subject to the terrible test whether they pass as a woman or they do not. You are a lovely woman yourself but how about other transgender ladies that have to struggle every day to pass? What would you recommend to them?
Louise: Society is very cruel towards those who are in any way different. I'm lucky in that I'm small and fine-boned and have really never had any issues around being recognized as other than female. But there are those who do struggle because the genes did not treat them well to be female when born as a male.
The only thing I can say is that you just have to be yourself. Treat others with respect and dignity and behave with dignity yourself and people will see the good in you and warm to you. There is no point in taking offense at remarks being made against you or any abuse that you receive.
After all, it is the abusive people who have the problem, not you. So I just ignore stuff like that and get on with my life. There are more important things than being worried about what people call you or say to others. Life is too short to worry about. My father told me a long time ago..” you die if you die if you don't worry... so why worry”. It's been the best advice I was ever given.
Monika: What is your general view on the present situation of transgender women in Irish society?
Louise: Irish trans women are becoming more and more accepted. I'm involved with the Irish Labour party and have never once had any issues around being a spokeswoman on trans rights and I chair the LGBT section along with our TD John Lyons (Member of Parliament).  TENI have done great work in getting the message out there and raising the issues.
The media after a bad start have now, for the most part, realized that how they portray trans people very much reflects on how society treats trans people, and the press, in particular, have become much more accepting and that has spread throughout Irish society. There are still villages and towns where there is transphobia and that's particularly difficult in our education system at the second level... but again things are improving greatly.

From a charity event recently with my good
friend Alan Mulvaney.

Monika: What is your view on transgender stories which have been featured in the Irish media so far?
Louise: Irish media have become much more accepting. 
Monika: What are the current issues on the transgender agenda in Ireland?
Louise: Gender recognition is the issue and as we are the last in Europe we have the chance to get things right.
Lowering the age limit for recognition from 18 to 16 is currently a hot topic. I got a motion passed last week at the Labour Party Conference mandating the party to work toward this and other goals to get the GRA as good as we can get it.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Louise: I'm very active in Politics. Unfortunately, I'm on the wrong side of 50. If I was younger I'd be in the thick of it, even much more than I am. Last year another trans woman and I spoke at the Labour conference on a motion. We were the first trans women to speak at any political conference in Ireland and the media never picked up on it or commented. I'm in our parliament every week virtually.
Our LGBT section is 10 years old next Tuesday and I've been asked to speak to the room. We were to have our Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore speak and I was tasked to introduce him. He's gone off to South Africa for the Mandela funeral so it will be another high-ranking government minister, which for me is a great honor.
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?
Louise: In Ireland, we have strong support for trans rights from the LGB movement. 
Monika: Have you ever been married? Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Louise: I was married for 22 years and have two grown-up children, both married and I have 4 grandchildren. Love is important to me but Irish men tend to treat Irish women both trans and natal quite badly.. we are seen as dogs' bodies to cook, clean, and be sexual objects tied to the kitchen sink...
Things are changing but the attitude of the Catholic church in Ireland had messed up a lot of heads particularly around the issue of sex and relationships. Looking for a good Irish man to treat you well is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

With my good friend Emer Costello MEP and Adam Long
at Dublin Pride.

Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Louise: I love fashion. I try to keep up with trends as best my finances will allow. Because of the work I do I tend to have to look as well as I can. I try and dress for my age without looking like mutton dressed as a lamb. The occasional shorter skirt but not all the time. 
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Louise: I have no issue with them. Many of my Filipino friends in Ireland are involved and I have worked at many of them professionally.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Louise: I have seven chapters written and hope with my ghostwriter to have them published in the autumn of 2014.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Louise: Happy retired enjoying live sedately or as sedately as my activities allow me :) 
Monika: Could you say that you are a happy woman now?
Louise: I'm the way I should have been born and I've never been happier. Love in my life would complete it.
Monika: Louise, it was a pleasure to interview you.
Loise: Thanks a lot! I hope that is of use to you and perhaps you could send me the blog when you have it written. Take care! Louise

All the photos: courtesy of Louise Hannon.
© 2013 - Monika Kowalska

No comments:

Post a Comment

Search This Blog