Friday 31 January 2014

Interview with Deja Nicole Greenlaw

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Deja Nicole Greenlaw, an inspirational American transgender activist, and advocate. Hello Deja!
Deja: Hello Monika!
Monika: Could you say a few words about your activism and yourself?
Deja: I have lobbied in government buildings in Washington DC and Hartford, Connecticut for trans rights but I believe that my biggest and most important activism is being out at work and having many people interact with me.
I deal with many people from several departments in a manufacturing environment and with hundreds of manufacturing plants all over the globe. Anyone who interacts with me can say that they know a transgender person and working with one is not an issue. If someone they know says something negative about transgender people they can refute it because they have the first-hand experience with working with me.
For the majority of the people I work with, I am the first transgender person that they have ever met. A few of them may have had issues with me in the beginning but now they are all very accepting of me.
The same goes for the community that I live in, the stores that I patronize, the doctors and staff that I interact with. They all know a transgender person. By being open and out and about I am helping to change people’s thoughts about transgender people. I believe that is my greatest contribution to activism.
Monika: You came out at the age of 50, proving that it is never too late to fulfill your dreams.
Deja: You are correct, Monika, it's never too late to fulfill your dreams. The only time that it's too late is when you die.
One of my thoughts, when I was 50 years old, was that I was not going to go to my grave without ever even trying to experience my life as a female. I turned 50 in October 2001, just one month after the September 11 attacks on the twin towers and the Pentagon. It was then that I realized that at any time I could be killed by terrorists. I knew that I had to finally move on to find out who I truly was before it was too late.
I dabbled in crossdressing for 6 years until 2007 when I began taking hormones and went full time. It is such a wonderful peace to be able to live my life as a female. Yes, even beginning to find myself at the late age of 50 was well worth it. Twelve years later I am so glad that I finally made my move.

This is Deja at 3 ½ years old.

Monika: Could you describe your childhood? When did you feel for the first time that you should not be a boy or man?
Deja: I do remember trying on my mom's and my sisters' dresses when I was around 7. I would put the dress on, look in the mirror, and think to myself “This just feels right!” I knew that I could never talk about it and it scared me because I knew that I was different from anybody else but it also gave me a great sense of peace.
I just accepted that I had to be male and that I really wanted to be female but I had to keep it quiet. I just accepted that was the way it was. I didn't think that it was possible to change genders back then so I kept it to myself.
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?
Deja: No, all my schooling was done as male. My traumas come from family not accepting me. Being excluded from family is my worst demon.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you follow?
Deja: Very early on, every transwoman that I saw on the internet was my role model, lol. When I actually transitioned, no, by then I had no role models. I was just doing things my own way and I followed no one in particular. By then I figured out that no two paths are the same and that I had to find my own path.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Deja: In the beginning, accepting myself. I was so frightened. It was like a secret life and no one was allowed in, ever. If someone came close to discovering me I would panic and hide. I was deathly afraid of being caught. I started becoming confident in late 2003 so I lived 52 years in constant fear.
When I came out to live full time in late 2007 the hardest thing for me was to deal with family members who would not accept me. Everything else, including work, was relatively easy.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in American society?
Deja: It's getting better. More and more of us are transitioning at work and living openly. These instances make the American society get used to us. We are pioneers but there are sure to be more to follow us.
Yes, there are still plenty of issues facing us and more work definitely needs to be done but there is legislation in the works and things are looking up.

At Boston Pride in 2010 just before the Pride March.

Monika: Is there anyone in the US transgender society whose actions could be compared to what Harvey Milk was doing in the 60s and 70s for gay activism?
Deja: There are lots of great trans people and many wonderful organizations that are helping to push legislation through that will help the trans cause. As far as the Harvey Milk standard, no, I don't think that there is a transgender counterpart.
As far as the famous “You must come out...” phrase of Mr. Milk no one can seem to get this point across to the majority of transpeople.
I myself have tried to encourage transfolk to come out and live openly but so many are just not interested in doing so. Like Harvey, I wish that every person would come out.
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?
Deja: Yes, with the many local and national organizations we are promoting our cause within the LGBT group. Just about all of the LGBT groups are behind us with the usual exception of HRC, the Human Rights Campaign. When I testified for trans rights in Hartford, Connecticut there were many non-trans folks who were there as powerful allies. The non-trans allies actually outnumbered the trans folks probably 3 to 1. There was huge support for us and I was slightly embarrassed that there weren't more trans folk present that day.
I've always preferred working within the LGBT groups because their political structure is already in place and there are already many movers and shakers within these organizations. Some folks want to break away from the LGBT structure and separate from the LGB people but I don't agree with their thinking. I much prefer a larger, stronger united front.
Monika: Could transgenderism be the new frontier for human rights?
Deja: Definitely! Transgendism opens the doors for equality between/among the genders. Any legislation for transgenderism is also legislation for everyone. Transgenderism asks these questions and more; What is a man? What is a woman? Does it really matter? Why shouldn't everyone be equal?

Playing her guitar at work in her cubicle.

Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Deja: I have lobbied in Washington DC three times for trans rights. I have protested at HRC twice for their lack of support for us. I have testified at the legislative building in Hartford, Connecticut for trans rights.
Yes, I believe that transgender women can make a difference in politics. Many already have. Laws have been passed, things are changing, yes, transwomen have and will continue to make a difference in politics.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Deja: Lol, I assume you mean a significant another type of love. This is one area in which I am deficient. I love to be with a man but at this point in my life, I don't necessarily want to live with one. I am fine living by myself and I prefer it, so no, love currently has no importance in my life. On the other hand, love of life, love of nature, and love of learning are very important in my life.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Deja: I like to be comfortable. I am in my early 60s so comfort is always a factor in my outfit choices. I frequently wear black to play down my size but I also like to wear tops that are a little flashy, or jazzy as my mom used to say. In the summertime, it's shorts and sandals for the weekends and tops and skirts for work. You'll never see me in heels. 
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Deja: I'm not a fan. Maybe it's because of my coming of age during the late 1960s and early 1970s when feminism was making a mark on society but I think that any beauty pageants, trans or not, objectify women.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Deja: Actually, several people have asked me if I was planning to write my memoirs. I have thought about it and I may do so when I retire but I doubt that I will ever publish it. I love to write and it would be fun but it would be just for me and maybe a few friends. If anyone would like to read my thoughts I do write a transgender column for "The Rainbow Times", a Boston-based LGBT monthly.

Playing at “The Rainbow Riverfest” with Keri Stebbins.

Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Deja: Lol, my latest project is to try to figure out how I can retire and have insurance that won't cost me an arm and a leg. I am also in the beginning stages of planning my next career of entertaining in local venues playing guitar and singing.
I love to entertain and many folks after hearing me perform ask me where/when they can hear me again. Then there's my book that I could work on but again, that would be just for me and maybe a few friends.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Deja: May I offer several recommendations?
Try as best you can to accept yourself. You need to understand that you are female.
Go to support groups, talk to others in your local community. Learn your local resources. 
Accept that not everyone will accept you. You may very well lose the support of some family members and friends. It will hurt.
Understand that the whole point of transition is to figure out who you are, to take the steps to become who you are, and ultimately to find your gift and contribute to society. 
Don't lock yourself away. This is your life so live it and enjoy it!
Listen to what others have to say about you, do not immediately dismiss what they say because you don't like it. Think about their words. There might be something that you need to hear.
Try to get along with people. Don't dismiss others because your thoughts are different from theirs. Agree to disagree and to respect others' opinions.
Lastly, learn how to smile and use it. It will ease you through many tough situations. Plus your pics are always better when you smile. :)
Monika: Deja, thank you for the interview!
Deja: You're quite welcome, Monika! It was my pleasure!

All the photos: courtesy of Deja Nicole Greenlaw.
© 2014 - Monika Kowalska

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