Friday, 28 February 2014

Interview with Donna Rose

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Donna Rose with whom I would like to discuss the role of transgender women in US politics, culture, and society. Donna is an athlete, a writer and educator, and a well-known LGBT advocate and activist. Her 2003 memoir “Wrapped in Blue” continues to educate and inspire. She is the former Executive Director of the LGBT Community Center Coalition of Central Pennsylvania, and a board member for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), and the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC). Hello Donna!
Donna: Hi Monika. I appreciate the opportunity to chat with you today.
Monika: Could you say a few words about your career so far?
Donna: I’m not sure what career you’re asking about. In my “real” career I’m an IT consultant and have been working with Fortune 500 and DoD clients for the better part of the last 35 years. That’s my “career” – it pays my bills, it’s my profession, it’s where I spend half of my time.
In my “other” life I’ve described myself as a reluctant activist. Although I wouldn’t call that a career in the typical sense, at one point advocacy efforts, were as important an element of my life as my career or anything else I did.

Delivering a speech.

Monika: What are the current issues on the transgender advocacy agenda?
Donna: In my opinion, the trans advocacy “agenda” has always been a simple one. Equality. We simply want to be able to live our lives, find happiness, and experience the broad spectrum of human emotions the same as everyone else. It’s that simple.
The list of battlefields where many of us do NOT have equality in this country is as long as it ever was. Violence and harassment. The ability to get and keep a job. Schools, and youth. Healthcare. Communities of worship. Homelessness. The ability to serve in our armed forces. The loss of loved ones, and loneliness. It’s a long, long list that can have devastating consequences on our lives.
The underlying issue is the ongoing stigma of mental illness and perversion that we’ve been struggling with for generations. The only way to make progress across the board is to push the culture change that is necessary to correct these misconceptions. The good news is that we’re making tremendous headway there.
Monika: How do you perceive the attitude of the administration of President Obama towards transgender Americans?
Donna: I’m comfortable that the Obama administration is dedicated to the concept of full LBGT inclusion. They are on board with the fact that Trans Rights are Human Rights, and this is the first president for whom the word “transgender” rolls off his lips regularly and without hesitation. Whether it’s Hate Crimes, military service, workplace protections, or just dedication to common decency he has never faltered.
Monika: American politics is based on the interaction with different interest groups that wish to pursue their specific goals. How successful is the transgender community in this respect? 
Donna: Well, the transgender community – or rather, the transgender “communitIES” – would have little success if left to fend for itself. The thing that provides the leverage of our success is our inclusion under the broader LGBT umbrella. The LGB community is much larger, much more established, has developed many of the relationships necessary to establish political influence, and has provided the important “validation” for inclusion in broader LGBT initiatives.
I realize that some feel that the T has no business under that umbrella but I am not one of those people. That would be to cut off your nose to spite your face. A far more effective approach is to recognize that we’re different and that many of our needs are unique, we’ve got to have a place at the table with bigger, stronger allies when policy and strategy are developed.
The fact that we often DO have that voice, at the highest levels, is indicative of success rather than failure. Is there ground still to cover? Of course. BUT – we are far more active, organized, mobilized, engaged, and vocal today than we were a decade ago and the fact that the passage of an inclusive Federal Hate Crimes act and dedication to an inclusive ENDA demonstrates that success.

Pre-transition life.

Monika: What do you think about transgender stories which have been featured in media, films, books, etc. so far?
Donna: In my opinion, these depictions are a big reason for our successes in political and other broader societal forums.
As I mentioned, I strongly believe that the key element for broader awareness and success is a cultural one, not a political one. Politics rarely outpaces the societal “comfort” that provides the cover to move social agendas. Often, that broader awareness comes through the various media you describe.
For example, I’d argue that a key element to moving our society on gay and lesbian issues was the TV show “Will and Grace”. That said, we have not yet had what I call our “Will and Grace” moment…. we haven’t had the media mainstream media visibility that catapulted their issues, their needs, and their “humanity” to new heights.
Many recent popular media portrayals of trans characters are more realistic than decades-old stereotypes and are far more plentiful. Can things be improved? Of course. But I think the key is to recognize that we’re making progress – in a large part because we’ve stopped being invisible and are much more active in telling our own stories.
Monika: What is your general view on the present situation of transgender women in American society?
Donna: That’s a difficult question to answer because it’s such a broad one. The fact that the most significant single issue many of us deal with when we announce a workplace transition is a struggle to use the appropriate bathroom is indicative of deeper resentments and discomforts.
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?
Donna: Going back to what I’ve said before – I’d argue that some of the high visibility “outings” in recent years have as much or more of an impact on trans “activism” than any trans political activist can or does. People like Chaz Bono force society to recognize that transpeople are everywhere, that we’re more like them than different. We’ve got an army of people quietly getting involved and making a difference in political and activist roles across the country.
At the last Democratic National Conference, there were 7 trans delegates, which speaks volumes to our involvement and our effectiveness. Mara Keisling from NCTE is regularly invited to the White House as the face and the voice of the trans community at those lofty levels. I don’t know that we’ve seen our singular Harvey Milk yet, but I honestly don’t know that we need someone to become a martyr to gain that ground.

During her transition.

Monika: At that time of your transition did you have any transgender role models that you could follow? What was your knowledge about transgenderism?
Donna: One of the things that prevented me from transitioning for a long, long time was NOT having a transgender role model. There were none. When Renee Richards jumped onto headlines across the world in the late 70’s it was a big thing for me.
The advent of the internet and access to what I’d call “success stories” of everyday people with whom I could identify played a huge role in the slow process of self-acceptance that’s necessary to make the huge decisions involved in the transition. There are a number of people who played huge roles in my transition, but will probably never know.
When I found Andrea James’s FFS pages it showed me that there was hope. When I found Beck Allison’s story I found somebody who could articulate her feelings in a way that resonated with me.
When I found Dr. Lynn Conway’s website I found dozens of people who shared their humanity to help others. I owe all those pioneers a huge debt and much of my own activism is my effort to pay their selflessness forward. 
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Donna: Actually, I think there were a couple of things that I’d say were hardest. One was self-acceptance. I had always felt so “normal”, and not having ever met a real-life transperson I had nobody to use as a realistic role model. I had a difficult time seeing past the pejorative stigma that tainted the entire trans experience.
As far as I’m concerned the transition process is more about quality of life and inner peace than it is about body parts or clothes and it took me a long time to accept that transition and happiness were not mutually exclusive.
The other hardest part was coming out to my wife and son. They were the center of my world and I was acutely aware of what would happen if/when I came out. It is that fear that kept me bottled up for decades. There is a quote I like: “Courage isn’t the absence of fear. Rather, it is the recognition that something else is more important than fear.”
At some point, I reached a stage where authenticity and hope were more important than the paralyzing fear I was experiencing. That’s what it took to overcome it and move forward.

CNN Dialogues - Donna Rose. Source: YouTube.

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?
Donna: I hate to be harsh, but I’m a firm believer that transition is the last thing that people need to try, not the first. It’s incredibly difficult, and the reality of life after the transition is often far different than the fantasy world we hope for.
Transition, and often beyond, is very difficult if you’re obsessed with who might know about your history. You’ve got to grow some thick skin before you can move forward. I could say some flowery things like, “it’s what on the inside that counts” or “it doesn’t matter what anyone else things” but those things are of little comfort when confronted by someone who is challenging your gender. It took me quite a while to get past the stares and the snickers but it was something I needed to do to be me.
So, when it comes to advice, I think the best thing I could say is that a key element in all of this is time. It’s easy to dwell in the difficulty of the moment, but time helps overcome discomfort. Be creative finding support, be open to thinking about things in new ways, but most of all – be patient. 
Monika: Have you ever been married? Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Donna: At the time I came out in the late 90’s I had been married to a woman I loved totally and completely for almost 20 years. We had built a wonderful life together – a home, a family, a shared vision of the future, and a bond stronger than death. I would have done anything to protect her from being hurt, and that effort kept me bottled up for a long time.
The most important role in my life at the time was as a “dad” to my son. He was 14 at the time I came out so there was a real risk I’d lose him. He totally retreated away from me for almost a year afterwards but I’m thrilled to say that our relationship is stronger and more fulfilling today than ever.
As for the importance of love – that’s a complicated subject. I love to love. I love to be loved. I’m fortunate to have some very important people in my life that I love and who love me back. But at the center of it all is an element of self-love. Without that – well, nothing good can happen.

In South Carolina.

Monika: What inspired you to write your autobiography titled Wrapped In Blue: A Journey of Discovery (2003)?
Donna: When I started writing I never intended for it to be a book or anything that I’d ever show to anyone else for that matter. My transition was done, my marriage was done, I had moved away to start a new life in a brand new city where nobody knew about my past, and it seemed to be everything that I had asked for.
But I gradually realized that something was missing. I needed closure. So, I started to collect various parts of my diaries and letters I had written to try to make sense of things.
As I did it I realized that I was creating exactly the kind of thing I would have loved to have had in my own life only there was nothing like it.
Monika: Are you going to publish the second part of your memoir?
Donna: I’d like to, but realistically I don’t know. The missing element at the moment isn’t motivation. It’s time. It took me over two years to put everything together for Wrapped In Blue.
I’ve got a very busy and full life, so making the commitment that it would take to do that would be difficult. My main outlets for my ongoing story these days are my website and my blog. They don’t take nearly as much time or energy to share. Whether another book is forthcoming is something I’d like to do, but we’ll see….
Monika: What would you recommend to transgender women that are afraid of transition, discrimination, and hatred?
Donna: I go back to that quotation about Fear. The day any of us gives in to what others would have us be rather than who we dare to be is the day we surrender. My dad used to say, “For those who understand, no explanation is necessary.
For those who do not, none will suffice.” The peace that comes with daring to rebirth yourself is partly a by-product of the difficulty of the journey. Those things you mention are real. They exist, and there’s no getting around that. Be smart. Be aware. Be careful. But, don’t be afraid.
Monika: Could you say that you are a happy woman now?
Donna: Yes. I am very content. My family is closer than we’ve ever been before. I wake up in the morning next to someone I very much love. I’ve got more dear friends than I ever imagined. My career is still going strong. There are more things I want to do in a day than hours to do them in. And I am very much at peace. As far as I’m concerned – that’s what this journey was all about. Finding peace.
Monika: Donna, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Donna Rose.
© 2014 - Monika Kowalska

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Interview with Dana Zircher

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Dana Zircher, an American software design engineer, and actress. Hello Dana!
Dana: Hi Monika, first and foremost I’d like to thank you for asking me to participate in this interview. I’m really impressed with the collection of interviews and information that you’ve accumulated for your website. I think it’s a great asset to our community. Thank you so much for pulling it together. It must be a labor of love!
Monika: Could you say a few words about your career so far?
Dana: I’ve been really fortunate with my professional career, I was always a bit of a techy nerd and decided to pursue a career in electronics. The software was more or less a natural fit and I have been writing software professionally for about 20 years.
I’ve had the pleasure of working on products like Lotus Notes, Groove Workspace, Microsoft Office, SharePoint, and even Windows. It’s been a wonderfully challenging and rewarding career so far and I’ve had the opportunity to work with and learn from so many brilliant industry leaders.
I also love performing, it offers me rewards that are hard to quantify with words. When I was younger, I played different instruments with several local bands, studied music theory in college, and was even fortunate enough to work with some regional roads acts for a short while.
It was always important to me to keep my love of performance as much a part of my day-to-day as possible, that’s not always so simple when you’re working on enterprise software products.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Interview with Amber Taylor

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Amber Taylor, a charismatic leader, lead singer/guitarist and current business manager of the Atlanta-based band The Sexual Side Effects. Hello Amber!
Amber: Howdy!
Monika: The Sexual Side Effects is quite a unique name for the band. When asked about the origin on the name, you said that you were the sexual side effect. What did you mean?
Amber: Sex, in the context of gender is what I meant. I put a twist in the gender department. The band - which I am the primary writer and sole member through the years - has gone through many players and names as time has gone by.
It started as The Amber Taylor Band, then Amber Taylor and the Trashy Trio and eventually morphed into Amber Taylor and the Sexual Side Effects. Over the last couple of years it became simply “The Sexual Side Effects”.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Interview with Virginia Stephenson

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Virginia Stephenson, an American transgender activist, pastor, writer, spiritual practitioner, Director of the Transgender Spiritual Council, co-author of “Can Christians Be Saved: A Mystical Path to Oneness” and "Your Heart Is My Home". Hello Virginia!
Virginia: Thank you Monika, it is a pleasure to talk with you!
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Virginia: yes, I spend most of my time trying to build bridges of understanding, love and trust between people. We have all grown up in a culture which supports the “us and them” mentality, which builds walls between people and groups. I have found spiritual ways that we can connect with each other that will enrich our own lives and those around us.
I do this through writing: my second book is being published this year, and through leading a heart circle in the Oneness community weekly, and through participating in organizations like the trans-Spirit Council The Council seeks to support trans groups around the nation, specifically transgender youth.
Monika: Why is God so merciless towards transgender people, placing their minds in the opposite gender bodies?
Virginia: That is the perspective that many of us have at some point in our discovery that we are transgender. I hope that as we walk our journey, that we are able to see it as being more of a blessing than a curse.
God, Spirit, Creator can be seen as an ally and a lover, not as a punisher. I know that as a result of my crossing gender, that I learned much about myself and my world, and discovered talents and abilities and gifts that I can give back to those around me.

Virginia smiling.

Monika: In one of my previous interviews, Lisa Salazar indicated that transgender persons are said to be some of the least likely to become involved in religious institutions (like church) since most have been rejected and judged by their Christian families, friends and faith communities. Would you agree?
Virginia: Yes, Lisa is right, especially in speaking of traditional conservative religious institutions. That is why many trans folk look outside of traditional institutions for spiritual involvement.
We may participate in native religion, or pagan ritual, or Eastern philosophy, or in deep meditative spaces. Churches, after all, are only one of the many ways to God. I have found that the true “means” for us all to know God, is in our own hearts.
Monika: What is the general attitude of the Christian religion to the transgender phenomenon?
Virginia: Suspicion, persecution, rejection, and resistance. Isn’t it a shame that the Christian Church so deeply fights people that are “different” and tries to make everyone conform to their idea of holiness or some such thing.
Again, I am speaking of the fundamental churches, who seem to have a vendetta against LGBT persons, under the guise of “God’s will”. Many of the more liberal churches are “open and affirming” for LGBT persons.
Monika: Is there any reference to transgenderism in the Bible?
Virginia: There are no direct references, but there are many stories in which it could be inferred. For example, eunuchs in the Bible refer to gender variant persons, so many of these stories could be about transpeople. Strong women who occupied traditional male roles, such as Deborah, could have been today’s version of transmen.
According to much research, transgender persons were sought after in ancient days as healers, shamans, mediators, priests and priestesses and were honored in their ability to “walk between the worlds”. We need to reclaim those ancient traditions and roles.

Virginia thinking.

Monika: Some time ago you were introduced to Mahayana Buddism and Zen. What is their attitude towards the transgender phenomenon?
Virginia: It all depends on the local temples, but just look at the representations of Avalokitesvara and Guanyin. This was the same person, but represented as a feminine man or as a woman.
Most of the temples recognize women and men to be equal in all respects and allows them to serve in all capacities. This would be true of all genders. Buddhism is more of a way to think… or not think, and a way to live one’s life. In this way it is not a religion but a WAY.
Monika: You developed your spiritual practices as a Oneness Blessing Giver and created a ritual for transition and healing for transpersons, based upon the ancient myth "The Descent of Inanna." Could you say a few words about it?
Virginia: In the ancient texts a transgender person rescued Inanna from the Underworld. As Joseph Campbell said, myth serves to teach us about ourselves and our place in the world. The ritual I created is an exciting play where we can actually feel some of those lessons and places in our hearts. 
The ritual becomes an initiation into feeling the suffering of the world and stepping into a place of power to help and serve others with love. We are able to feel the suffering of all transgender persons, and ritualistically step out of the place of suffering into accepting and living life.
Monika: In 2009 you became a director of the Transgender Spiritual Council. What are the goals of that organization? 
Virginia: Leeza Edwards, Wren Walker Robbins and I and our advisory members, have the intention of seeing the world transition from patriarchal control to a partnership between all genders, nationalities, and ethnicities. To that end we seek to spiritually support all transgender groups, especially the youth in those groups. We present a 2-3 day “convening” where we teach from native, Buddhist, pagan and Christian sources, to build community, understanding, trust, and love between all of us.
In past convenings, we have done activities such as nature walks, writing workshops, trans rituals, feasting together, and deep listening and heart space talking. We have been greatly encouraged and impressed with the personal strength and commitment of our trans youth!

Dressed up at the ball.

Monika: At what age did you transition into woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? Did you have any support from your family or friends?
Virginia: I transitioned in 2001, and even though I lost my job because of it, I had a remarkable support system of friends and family who walked with me through it all. My 2 children have always been my greatest supporters, and me theirs too!
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you could follow?
Virginia: Eva Hayward, Nancy Nangeroni, Wren Robbins, Penn Baker, and many others.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Virginia: Fear. I had never faced fears like that. Fear of losing friends and family, fear of losing my job, fear of losing my life! But it was through that experience that I discovered what the Buddhists meant about losing “attachments”, and I experienced a new found freedom when I lost my fears and accepted things as they were. It was a spiritual awakening for me, and a journey that I cherish to this day.
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?
Virginia: Well, we try. But fortunately our LGB allies have stood by us and supported our cause, too. Keep in mind that we are bringing notice to ourselves to gain rights of equality, which when we receive them, will enable us to recede into the mainstream to live lives like everyone else. I see us as about halfway up the slope to the pinnacle of full equality, so we can then start the journey down to be like everyone else.
As a long time participant in our political struggles, the help of gays and lesbians has been important to our achievement of the rights we have. I know that we can all cite examples when we have not been helped by certain organizations, but I can cite many allies that have stood up for us.

Monika: What is your general view on the present situation of transgender women in the American society?
Virginia: Isn’t it amazing how the transmen have come into the political and social arenas of activism and are being so effective. Years ago, there were very few transmen involved, and now there are more transmen than transwomen involved in my city.
In fact, the out, active and visible transwomen are now young persons, and some of the older transwomen like myself are finding other causes and just living our lives. I think a main issue for transwomen are the expectations of people that we all “pass”, and this expectation holds us back from acceptance of our individual gender places and spaces.
Monika: Could transgenderism be the new frontier for human rights?
Virginia: Honey, I have been fighting this issue for almost 20 years, I feel like I am past the frontier. But I understand the issue is still new for some…. like Republicans??
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Virginia: I was the main trans lobbyist during the 2003 NM legislative session where we became the first state to have a non-discrimination Act AND a hate crimes law pass with gender identity in BOTH bills. I believe the transgender women can play any part they choose in politics, but know this. It is a lot of work and we still have to earn our way into places of power by supporting a party or a group faithfully for a period of time.

With her son Josh.

Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Virginia: Love is all there is. I try to practice unconditional love for myself, and then out of that wonderful place, to love others unconditionally too.
Love for self means that we love ourselves WITH the parts that we may want to change. Many of us wait until we think we are perfect to love ourselves, and very few of us reach that place. The key is to practice love for self NOW.
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Virginia: I have never seen one myself. Again, while I think they may support some unfortunate stereotypes, I certainly support and love those trans persons who want to participate and wish them the very best in their lives.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Virginia: My first book “Can Christians be Saved: a mystical path to Oneness” had many of my personal stories in it. I preferred to write a spiritual book with supporting personal stories, rather than a formal autobiography.
My second book, being published this year with my co-author, Buck Rhodes, is about the steps to finding the Authentic Self.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Virginia: Find a good experienced counselor. Do a lot of research…you will find there is NO one way to transition or to be who you truly are. “Full” transition is not “better” than crossdressing. Each path is different and there is no hierarchy that is relevant.
Find who you truly are and be that person. Your own personal goals and path is first for yourself, and then so you can effectively help others and the world. Journey to find that place where you totally accept yourself just as you are.
Monika: Virginia, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Virginia Stephenson.
© 2014 - Monika Kowalska

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Interview with Shawna Virago

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Shawna Virago, an American singer/songwriter, writer, and Artistic Director of the San Francisco Transgender Film Festival. She was one of the first American openly transgender women to perform and tour nationally, and performing as an out transwoman from the early 1990’s. Her song “Objectified,” was recognized as one of the nation’s top Transgender Anthems whereas her last full-length album ‘Heaven Sent Delinquent’ was featured in many national publications and year-end best-of lists. Her work appears in Gender Outlaws: Next Generation and in the anthologies Trans/Love: Radical Sex, Love and Relationships Beyond the Gender Binary, Take Me There, and Transnational Queer Underground.Hello Shawna!
Shawna: Hello Monika. Thank’s for interviewin’ me.
Monika: When did you decide that you would like to be an artist?
Shawna: I’ve wanted to be a songwriter and musician for as long as I can remember, since I was very young. Music for me has always been magic and I’ve been drawn to it my entire life.
Monika: Your 2012 debut album “Objectified” was a tribute to the power of women and their fight with the patriarchal system. Are you a feminist?
Shawna: I believe we need to raise our voices for the rights of women, including of course transgender women. The second you transition you are experiencing female socialization and all the discrimination that goes along with it. I used to love reading ‘Transisters: The Journal Transgender Feminism”. I especially looked forward to reading the letters section, which were full of fantastic bickering.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Interview with Morgan M Page

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Morgan M Page, a Canadian transfeminist activist, artist, film director, writer, founder and curator of Trans Women’s Arts Toronto, and recipient multiple awards, including two SF MOTHA awards and the LGBT Youthline’s Outstanding Contribution to Community Empowerment Award. Her performance and video art has shown in galleries and festivals around the world, including NEMAF New Media Arts Festival (Seoul, South Korea, 2013) and the Adelaide Street Gallery (Melbourne, Australia, 2014). Hello Morgan!
Morgan: Hey there.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Morgan: Sure, I’m a performance + video artist, activist, writer, and Santera in Toronto. I’ve been an activist for sex workers’ rights for about eight years now. I travel throughout Canada and the United States, lecturing and performing, and my video art has been screened in Canada, Hong Kong, and South Korea.
Monika: You describe yourself as a transfeminist. What does transfeminism espouse? 
Morgan: To me, transfeminism is a political movement around the equitable treatment of all people. And it means looking at things intersectionally – that people receive both privilege and oppression on multiple fronts, such as race, class, and gender, and that these issues need to be addressed.
I think for me transfeminism centres the experiences of trans people, particularly trans women. So, issues that affect us, such as access to health care, the criminalization of sex work and HIV non-disclosure, racism, treatment of prisoners, and immigration policy are at the forefront of all discussions.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Interview with Nicole TS

Monika: Today’s interview will be with Nicole TS, a young video blogger that documents her transition on YouTube. Hello Nicole!
Nicole: Hi Monika! Thank you for inviting me for this interview.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Nicole: I moved from the Philippines to the UK in 2010. I was a registered nurse in the Philippines and I am currently looking for a placement to give me a PIN to practice in the UK.
In my spare time, I am an avid badminton player and currently playing for my county, Dorset. I am the second transsexual person to have ever been allowed to compete as a woman by the governing body in England.
Monika: Why did you decide to share your transition details on YouTube?
Nicole: Many of my friends, particularly those online, wanted to see in pictures my transition from male to female. I decided to collect various photos and create a video out of them and post it on YouTube so I could share with everybody.
To my astonishment, I had a lot of interest and compliments from fabulously supportive people around the world. In response to this, I decided to post further videos to share my story, entertain, inspire and help others.

Her Before and After picture.

Monika: At which stage of the transition are you right now?
Nicole: I am currently part way through my transition. I started taking hormones in 2011 on and off. In 2012 I proceeded taking them regularly. In 2013 I then had breast augmentation surgery. I still have further to go though.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the results of the hormone therapy?
Nicole: Although the hormones take a long time to have a dramatic effect, I am pleased with what they have done so far in softening my skin, feminizing my features and improving my hair where I want it.
Like most transsexuals though, I am never fully satisfied with my appearance and will continue to take hormones and seek greater femininity.
Monika: Could you describe your childhood? When did you feel for the first time that you should not be a boy or man?
Nicole: I am the eldest child in the family and the only son. My parents never accepted me as a gay son. I was beaten by my parents when they saw me making friends with other gay people or transsexuals. I knew at that time that I was different somehow because I preferred socialising with girls, particularly my cousins. With my female friends I sometimes played games with them dressing as a girl.
The feeling of being a girl at that time felt quite natural to me. I still remained as a gay boy though as I knew that my parents would not accept me as a girl, let alone a gay, so I didn’t have the courage to come out to them. Gradually through academic achievement, they came to accept my sexuality as a gay guy but I knew at the time they would still not accept me as a transsexual.
Monika: For most of 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?
Nicole: In the Philippines, transgender people are quite accepted but still a substantial proportion of people view them as a second class citizen. Transsexuals are often picked-on, bullied, ridiculed and generally discriminated against. The country is generally quite devoutly Catholic and this plays a major part in peoples’ views. Any norms against the Church are considered wrong, such as transgender and same-sex relationship.
When I was in the Philippines though, I had not transitioned because of this and to respect the wishes of my parents. As a gay guy though, I never suffered unduly outside of home because I was taught by my father to be strong and stand up for myself. Once I moved to the UK, I found that attitudes were profoundly different. The gay community is strong and not only widely accepted but even respected. The society is also a lot more multi-cultural with less influence from religion.

Nicole and her Partner on their first date.

As I explored the LGBT community, I made many friends who were transsexual, many of whom were likewise Filipino. This gave me much more confidence to come out. When I did come out, I was in college at the time but surrounded by those who cared, understood and accepted me.
I therefore did not face the same issues as many do. My parents were still my biggest concern but they accepted me as they saw my success and were proud of what I had achieved. Despite some tears being shed, they realised that inside I was still their loving child at heart and had a strength to set my own destiny.
Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow?
Nicole: There are so many to choose from! On YouTube, I am a fan of Princess Joules and Gigi Gorgeous. I particularly like seeing transgender people talk about and do things that are not directly associated to their transition.
By doing so, it shows that they are interesting unique people just like all of us. Like many from the Philippines, I adore beauty pageants. There have been several TS who have had great achievements in these pageants and two that I look up to are Maki Eve Mercedes and Bee Urgello who are also LGBT advocates and helping make the world a better place for people like us.
My greatest role-model though is my best friend Camile, who I call my adopted mother. Not only is she a beautiful post-op, my parents know her personally. They saw through her, that a transsexual could also be a success in their chosen field, as she became a registered nurse in the USA. She unknowingly helped me come out to them and for that has my gratitude.

Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Nicole: I have already mentioned my struggles with my parents and this was one of the most difficult obstacles with coming out. Aside from this, I faced some challenges with my sport, badminton. I craved to compete but under the rules of the game, could only do so as a man, unless I got an ethics panel to approve me to play as a woman.
At this time, I was already living life as a woman and most of my fellow badminton players had no idea of my gender. I had great difficulty in turning down offers of competition and partnership. This meant I often had to make excuses and lie. Eventually, my coach discovered my sexuality through my YouTube channel.
Since then, he has been very supportive though, accepted me and kept my gender confidential. Badminton England then confirmed that they would allow me to play as a woman after a series of lengthy panel meetings and discussions with my doctor. Since their decision, I have been competing in the leagues, have entered tournaments and have built up a good rapport with my teammates.

Nicole on her wedding day, May 20,2013.

Monika: What is your general view on the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Nicole: As I stated earlier, there are some significant differences between the UK and Philippines. In both countries there is good and bad things. In the Philippines, transgender women are more overt and hence there are more role-models.
In the UK there are much better anti-discrimination laws and civil partnerships. Both countries are on a slow journey to becoming better but there is a long way to go.
I feel that it will be some time to wait until transsexuals are viewed in the same way as heterosexual majority. Until then, we will still have to endure being labelled and singled-out in a negative manner.
Monika: We are witnessing more and more transgender ladies coming out. Unlike in the previous years some of them have status of celebrities or are really well-known, just to mention Lana Wachowski in film-directing, Jenna Talackova in modelling, Kate Bornstein in academic life, Laura Jane Grace in music or Candis Cayne in acting. Do you witness the same trend in your country?
Nicole: As a pageant enthusiast, I have witnessed in the Philippines an active interest of transsexuals joining pageants both local and international. After Kevin Balot won Miss International Queen 2012, a lot of transsexuals were inspired to follow her footsteps. Kevin Balot is now an international model and a local celebrity.
There are other prolific trans celebrities in the Philippines. Vice Ganda hosts many popular TV shows and was in the highest grossing movie of all time in the country. She is a personal favourite of mine. Many transsexuals like her are comedians or singers and are therefore seen by many.
In the UK, I look up to Kate Craig-Wood who is a successful entrepreneur and business leader. She has through her business achievements has had many television and radio appearances. She also became the first woman to tandem skydive past Everest. Unlike the Philippines, the trend in the UK is for transsexuals like her to come in to notoriety ‘under the radar’.

Her day to day make-up.

Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Nicole: Although passionate and supportive of people in my position, I wouldn’t consider myself a very political person. I do tend to speak out online when something grabs my heart such as an LGBT person being hurt or mistreated.
Politics may be slow in the UK and often boring to me but I am confident it is moving in the right direction for the LGBT community in the long term. We are even lucky enough to have had some transgender politicians such as Sarah Brown and Jenny Bailey.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colours or trends?
Nicole: As I have grown in self-confidence, my interest in fashion has grown. It is exciting building my new wardrobe. I have recently been renewing much of what I wear as I have lost weight from my sporting life. I really like buying alluring and revealing feminine clothing such as skimpy dresses. In day to day life I seldom wear them though.
More often than not, I wear more casual ‘street fashion’ such as skinny jeans and sexy tops. I really like some of the designers such as Herve Leger bandage dresses, Gucci jewellery and Kurt Geiger shoes. I have a small collection of such items like my beloved Dior & Gucci flat shoes and my Louis Vuitton & Gucci handbags. I can’t really afford these though so many have to wait on my shopping list!
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Nicole: By now you could guess that I love watching beauty pageants of all sorts and transgender ones are no exception! I even visited Ms TS Philippines UK to support some of my friends who were taking part.
I believe that such pageants not only show the public that transgender people can be very beautiful but they can also act as an aspiration and achievement for some transgender people. Simply to take part in one would be a huge achievement and honour for me as it would show that I have the confidence to present myself and be judged. I have therefore set participating in one as a personal goal.
Monika: Are you involved in the life of your local LGBT community?
Nicole: Locally I am not so involved and lead a regular life as a normal person with few who suspect me as anything but a woman. I do however get involved in Pride and LGBT badminton events. I also when available try to support my friend who runs a regular transgender film event at the Cinema Museum in London.

Her first make-up as a Transgirl, done by her friend.

Monika: What would you recommend to transgender women that are afraid of early transition, discrimination and hatred?
Nicole: Transitioning from male to female is not at all easy and the decision should not be taken lightly. I have received a lot of questions about this through YouTube from people who both young and old, from many countries around the world and who are in a range of social situations.
My personal advice to all of them is to take some time to breath and then establish a support network of like-minded people who have been through the journey already. This can be done online through forums or through local support groups, preferably making some good friends through the process.
I believe that no one person can fully give you the advice and support you need and therefore getting collective support and range of views is invaluable in helping you make decisions and tackle the challenges you face. It was undoubtedly my transsexual friends, supporters and loving partner that helped me the most. That is why I feel like I want to help give back to others who are in the early stages of going through the same journey.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Nicole: My main goals are to pursue a career in nursing and my badminton where I play competitively for my county. Both of these are my passions. In the future, I also would like to adopt a child and give it a loving upbringing it may not otherwise have. This I feel would really complete me as a person.
Monika: Could you say that you are a happy woman now?
Nicole: In many respects yes as I have a lot to be thankful for. I have a loving family, a dedicated and supportive husband, many friends and a fairly stable life. That isn’t to say that like most people I am without stress.
Much of this though is what most people face and thankfully most of the big issues of transition are behind me. In getting this far though, I want to act as a support others going through their transition and act as a role-model. 
Monika: Nicole, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!

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

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Interview with Taylore

Monika: Today’s interview will be with Taylore (aka moonfire1777), a video blogger that documents her transition on YouTube. Hello Taylore!
Taylore: Hello Monika! It’s a pleasure to take part in this interview.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Taylore: Well, I’m 26 years old, and in addition to being an active Video Vlogger, I am a graduate student. I’m currently pursing a Master of Arts in Teaching degree (M.A.T.) through a Transition to Teaching program at my university.
I have a Bachelor of Arts degree in History with minors in Mathematics and Language Arts, and my ultimate career aspiration is to teach mathematics at the high school level.
I have been transitioning since the summer of 2008, and I underwent Sexual Reassignment Surgery in 2009.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Interview with Jacquie Grant MNZM

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Jacquie Grant MNZM, a proud naturalized New Zealander of many talents, Sex Worker, Merchant Sailor, Drag Club owner, Restaurateur, Dairy Farmer, Small Zoo owner, District Councilor, Foster Mother, Sock Knitting Machine Museum owner and businesswoman. Hello Jacquie!
Hello Monika! Nice to hear from you and to read some of the stories of our sisters from around the world.
Monika: Your story could be a perfect movie scenario. In 1964 you had to run away to New Zealand to avoid imprisonment for dressing as female…
Jacquie: Yes, I along with some friends left the country of our birth Australia to escape the oppressive political regime that would see Trans and Gay people outside of the legal system and would go out of its way to harass and victimize people who by birth were different.
In post war Australia, it was illegal for a “male” person to dress as the opposite sex except in some strictly controlled circumstances, for example on private property or performers in clubs who change after performances.
The only option for those of us with little talent as performers and who felt the compelling need to express who we were had to fall back on street work something that was dangerous for those of us who came out so early for me. It was 1958 and I was 14 years old suffered from what is now known as ADHD.
After being imprisoned several times as I said a group of us came to New Zealand where the law was far kinder to Trans people which gave us the freedom we craved.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Interview with Kelly Summers

Monika: Today’s interview will be with Kelly Summers, an American video blogger from Alaska that documents her transition on YouTube. Hello Kelly!
Kelly: Hello Monika.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Kelly: I am a 51 year old male to female transsexual who transitioned to full time three years ago. I used to live in California, but now live with my wife in Alaska. We married in Seattle 01-19-2013 as Alaska is not a same sex marriage approved state.
Monika: Why did you decide to share your transition details on YouTube?
Kelly: I wanted to share my story to show that it is not to late to transition later in life, and hopefully inspire that last bit confidence needed by so many on the edge of transition.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Interview with Jade Porchett

Monika: Today’s interview will be with Jade Porchett, a video blogger and pageant queen that documents her transition on YouTube. Hello Jade!
Jade: Hi Monika! Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to share my story and thoughts with the world!
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Jade: I am a pre op transsexual woman currently working as a Showgirl and Visual Merchandiser for Hallmark and Proactiv! I reside in Jonesboro, AR with my two kitties and best friend! I am also a pageant competitor and thriving YouTube blogger as well!
Monika: Why did you decide to share your transition details on YouTube?
Jade: Being a motivation and inspiration to others is very important to me! I felt by documenting my transition, that it would not only help out those individuals struggling with coming to terms with themselves, but it would also better educate those that aren’t familiar with transsexuals, their struggles, and their complete stories! I knew by doing so that I would be able to touch and inspire someone!

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Interview with Eden Lane

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Eden Lane, a television journalist and producer, homemaker, wife, and mother, the only American broadcast journalist that is known to be transgender, 2011 Denver Post Ovation Award Winner, the host of Colorado Public Television's "In Focus with Eden Lane," a weekly interview program about arts and culture. Hello Eden!
Eden: Hello Monika!
Monika: You are an incredibly hard-working woman. You are a wife, mother, housewife, television journalist, and producer. How do you cope with so many obligations?
Eden: For me, it’s impossible to take it all in at once. The old adage, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time”, is a great reminder. My electronic devices can help me stay on track for deadlines and family events, but I also have learned that I can’t excel in all areas at the same time; at least not without the support of my family.

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