Monday, 9 December 2013

Interview with Michelle Hendley

Monika: Today I am meeting Michelle Hendley, an American young actress and video blogger that documents her transition on YouTube, known for her role as Ricky in the film Boy Meets Girl, directed by Eric Schaeffer. Hello Michelle!
Michelle: Hello Monika!
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Michelle: Hmm, well I am 22 years old, I live in Missouri (USA) and I am a cosmetology student.
Monika: Why did you decide to share your transition details on YouTube? 
Michelle: When I first started my channel a couple years ago, I really didn’t know what I wanted to say on YouTube. For a while, I just made little updates about my life, and around that time I had my “gender realization.”
I watched many other transwomen on YouTube telling their own stories, and I saw how much they helped other girls who were too scared to start being themselves (including myself). I decided I wanted to be a part of the online trans community, and share my own experiences with transition.

January 2012 (3 months on HRT).

Monika: At which stage of the transition are you right now?
Michelle: Well I live full time as a woman, and have for the past year and a half I’d say. I’ve been on hormones for almost 2 years now, and I am pre-operative.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the results of the hormone therapy?
Michelle: Oh my God, yes! Beyond just the physical changes, probably the greatest part of hormone therapy has been the chemical ones! It’s as though my brain and my body are operating in sync for the first time (or as close as they have ever been). The way I describe it to people is like my mind was fuzzy and out of focus (like a radio or old TV), and with hormones, it has all become a clearer picture.
Monika: Could you describe your childhood? When did you feel for the first time that you should not be a boy or man?
Michelle: I had a fantastic childhood. My parents have always been very supportive of me, and I was able to be myself for the most part. I didn’t realize just how different I was until my teenage years when people were referring to me as a “young man.”
I was okay with being called a “boy,” but a “man?” It seemed just…too masculine. Puberty was terrifying too. I was afraid I was going to wake up one day looking like my dad! Eventually, I came to understand myself completely off the male scale, and now I identify as a girl.
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?
Michelle: I would say so. I was bullied and teased quite a bit throughout grade school and started avoiding as much social interaction as possible in middle school. A good friend of mine and I kind of joined forces and learned how to combat the teasing with our own gay witty comebacks, and that really helped me get through some of those tougher years. I will say though, I was never beaten up or abused. I had it pretty good compared to many other transwomen out there.

Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow?
Michelle: Anyone is who is able to be themselves with utmost confidence and grace are my role models. I will say though, Jaime Clayton, Carmen Carrera, and Candis Cayne are three women I’d LOVE to have dinner with.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Michelle: I was definitely afraid of not being able to pass. I’m pretty sure every transgender person worries about that. However, I was most afraid of how my extended family was going to receive the news. I was going to transition whether I had their blessing or not, but it was still very scary to think they may not be okay with it. In the end, they all still loved me and supported my decision.

January 2012 (3 months on HRT).

Monika: What is your general view on the present situation of transgender women in American society?
Michelle: I think our place is improving. Transgender awareness is growing; there are more trans people appearing in television and film, there are more conversations about gender and gender equality. I feel that this is a great time to be transgender and to take part in educating the general public about our place in society.
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?
Michelle: I hope so! It’s so empowering to see these people coming out of the woodwork with unique stories and experiences that I believe everyone needs to hear.
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?
Michelle: That’s a tough question. I think we would all like to believe that this could be possible even today, but that probably isn’t the case. I believe it will take at least one cis woman in office before America would accept a transgender woman in that position, but who am I to say?
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Michelle: I LOVE fashion – especially makeup. I’m not sure if I have 100% found my own personal sense of style, but it has definitely improved over the years. I love black. I love black with just subtle hints of color or tones. Even gray scales are beautiful to me. I’m also really big into classic styles of clothing and pieces that can withstand the constantly changing fashion world. I ADORE chic Parisian girls. They have a tousled, simple, but very forward aesthetic that I strive to achieve.

Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Michelle: They’re fabulous. I’d love to attend one someday.
Monika: Are you involved in the life of your local LGBT community?
Michelle: I’m not especially involved with LGBT politics in my community, but I do love supporting local drag performers at their state competitions. I think events like that still help bring attention to our community.
Monika: Do you intend to get married and have a family? Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Michelle: It is something I have thought more and more about as I get older. I think I would very much love to raise a family, but not until I have fulfilled my own goals and aspirations.
Ultimately, beyond a flourishing career and an established identity, I would like to find true love. For now, dating is unrealistic where I live, and I hope to get out into the world and meet a variety of people. I’m a very passionate and expressive person, so love – specifically romantic love – is very important to me.

Recent photo.

Monika: What would you recommend to transgender women that are afraid of early transition, discrimination and hatred?
Michelle: Early transition is a bit of a balancing act. You have to decide what comes first: you, or other people. It’s selfish to believe that you are the most important person in this world, but it is just as wrong to suppress yourself for everyone else’s benefit. My suggestion is to remain as true and real with yourself as possible.
Gender can be a very limiting and complicated aspect of any person, but as long as you stay true to yourself it can just be another factor of what makes you YOU.
Understand your own limitations, and don’t be afraid to move forward in your life. People will come and go, but it’s YOU who you have to live with forever. Also, get a cute pair of shoes, girl.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Michelle: Right now I’m just finishing up cosmetology school, and hoping to move out to New York City to pursue acting within the next year. Recently, I starred in an upcoming film called ‘Boy Meets Girl’ about a transgender girl named Ricky directed by Eric Schaeffer. I encourage everyone to check this film out.

I’m really hoping it will reach out to people and speak some truths about the trans experience. If this film does well, I can only imagine where I might be in 5-7 years. I would love to be a spokesperson for the transgender community and help spread the word. If worse comes to worst, I hope to make makeup my profession.
Monika: Could you say that you are a happy woman now?
Michelle: I am very happy and very excited about my future. Everything kind of feels up in the air and like it could all change at any moment, but I have a feeling that is part of the fun of being young!
Monika: Michelle, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!
Michelle: Thank you so much! I really appreciate this opportunity!

All the photos: courtesy of Michelle Hendley
© 2013 - Monika Kowalska

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