Friday, 21 March 2014

Interview with Beth Horner

Monika: Today’s interview will be with Beth Horner, an American living in greater LA. She works in the bicycle industry and has won some design awards in the past, written 2 technical books, played music in a local band and has traveled extensively to Europe, Asia and South America for work and pleasure. Hello Beth!
Beth: Hi Monika and thanks for what you’re doing. There are lots of transwomen leading normal, interesting and successful lives. This is important for all people to know.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Beth: I was born in Afghanistan where my Dad was a USA diplomat. My Mom was Dutch and during my childhood we traveled a lot, living in many different countries. I must have been about 5 when I put on my Mom’s dress, in Greece, in private, and had an awakening. I revisited that theme many times over the years and dreamt, “if only I could have been born female”, or that there could be some magical intervention to make it happen. Basically the feeling was of inner peace and that things would be better compared to the estrangement I felt.
I had a fairly conventional upbringing, outside of the rootlessness of moving every few years, and never feeling connected to any location, or of having long term friends – always an outsider.
Finally when I was 19 I made a surprising connection to bicycles quite by accident, and over time it came to define the professional course of my life. Basically I became immersed in its lore, mystery, and science and over time industry people helped propel my career by believing in my work.
I ended up in design and international business and moved in this universe fluidly. I lived to work, I did not work to live -- chief reason being that it filled a void in my life, sadly enough, and ‘defined’ me as I had no inner compass as to who I really was or how to get there.
In the desert, Sept 2013.
That defining process took many years. I had to see that something was dysfunctional, own up to the situation and then work to change things from the inside out, opposite to how I’d approached things before using outward validation. 
Meanwhile I kept the career going while the marriage and relationship to my daughter crumbled in the quicksand it was built on. I kept involved with music as a creative outlet to balance myself during all the turmoil to keep my sanity.
The big final push came at the end of 2011. I could not stand living between 2 genders anymore as the old life became a hated mask preventing true expression. I had to put it all on the line and roll the dice for real, and to put in practice all the training and rehearsal for 24/7 and transition to the one remaining area, my work environment.
I have to say I was terrified and it was only my own survival and inner pain that pushed me to confront the possibility of abject failure in a key area of life.
Monika: You transitioned on the job. What was the reaction of your co-workers? 
Beth: I was in South America getting FFS when my “coming out” letter was distributed by management along with management’s own letter affirming a clear policy of non-discrimination and support for me and workplace diversity.
Basically management was very cool and understanding. It turned out the president had known a transperson from his old high school and that his wife was a MFT, a marriage and family counselor, so he had exposure and informed thinking. We worked out my transition timetable, the needed statements, and policies in advance and then gave the coworkers a few weeks to get mentally adjusted before my return.
Very quickly they got used to it and the positive helpful attitude I’d always had ensured that they would still like me and value our work together. I was not asking them to do anything except to be professionals so we kept it at that level. The same happened with our vendors, I was quickly accepted.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Beth: Honestly the hardest part was internal. I had had no positive role models to guide me on this as a kid and was totally polluted by the media portrayals and the bad stories. Being a guy with guy privilege is supposed to be ideal, and I had certainly tried that, so what was wrong with me?
While I had heard of Christine Jorgensen or Rene Richards, they seemed to be from another planet, and maybe delusional. Please remember much of my social conditioning was in the pre-internet age. In therapy I was diagnosed with transphobia, it was the last thing I wanted to do, or so I believed. I was convinced I’d be ridiculed, shunned, loss my job, and lose any remaining dignity.
It took a lot of internal education and then finding suitable role models and inspiration to move forward and get past the way I thought I was supposed to be, as taught by society.

Las Vegas, Sept 2013.

Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Beth: I would say the years 2006-2011 were my coming of age. I read every book I could by Kate Bornstein, Jennifer Finney Boylan, Helen Boyd, Alice Novak, Christine Beatty and more more, spent a lot of time on the internet gathering information telling me that just maybe I was not crazy, going to self-actualization group therapy, individual therapy, immersed myself in the “scene” going out more and more, made friends and connections and even had some love interests. It was a lot to process.
Many of my heroines were local girls who were either pretty, or brave, or simply pushing boundaries that I was terrified of. Many are completely unknown yet ones who figuratively took me under their wings and showed me kindness, encouraged me, or taught me things. There were a ton of baby steps to overcome my jitters.
Another huge boost was the trangender band I was in. Working on something together as a team and all us being TG was very exciting. We had real camaraderie and it was inspiring. I could feel strength building and more assurance.
In terms of the bigger picture all the writers I mention were inspirational and people like Andrea James, Lynn Conway and many more showed me that we can be successful and that this life is fine. I enjoyed reading their stories for filling in the blanks of my personal knowledge.
Monika: What is your general view on transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers or books so far?
Beth: I have seen glimmers of light in the dark and ignorance. Transamerica is a sympathetic portrayal. Also now some true trans actresses are getting roles here-and-there in the USA.
I have seen many movies like "Ma Vie en Rose", "Breakfast on Pluto", etc. The books and documentaries are more real portrayals and help put a human face on this often misunderstood phenomenon, something rare yet not unusual.
On the other hand there are still too many sensational and ignorant accounts in the news, and in the movie industry there are still too many cliché roles.
Overall I think there has been forward progress, but that it takes time to change attitudes and mindsets. 
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in the American society?
Beth: I’m happy to see healthcare finally including trans people at last -- thanks to Obamacare. I’m glad to have the vice president say that trans rights, “are the civil rights issue of our generation”. I’m glad the counts and laws are recognizing trans rights and protections in more and more states.
Maybe I’ve been blessed and lucky but the situation is getting better, yet at the same time I know many are still not having an easy time finding work, love or support. I know things were much worse before. I do not feel marginalized; I have a full life, and hope this becomes more commonplace for all.

March 2013.

Monika: Could transgenderism be the new frontier for human rights?
Beth: Yes. It should be protected and nurtured, legally, morally and in practice with the support by all human rights organizations around the world and other enlightened people and companies. 
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?
Beth: Humans are biologically programmed to recognize someone as a suitable partner within seconds, and of course that includes categorizing them as male or female. We can not turn off the biological mating programs inherent in our brains. We have to work with it in the background always.
For sure almost everyone will go through a period of “looking like a guy in a dress”, and if a bunch of you go out together it’s even more difficult to avoid that recognition. Overall most people want to get along and if you behave and are friendly there is no problem.
For reference the first times I fully dressed from 2006 on I could see it was going to be hard. I was stared at a few times early on, and was easy to spot. I found nothing bad ever happened to me – but I was careful and in the early days I went to trans friendly places and practiced there.
Passing is a lot of things. The first goal is to not be noticed, to be invisible in a sea of faces. Dress correctly for the occasion, like a natal woman, and accessorize the same way. Attitude and voice are also important.
I knew I was getting close after a few years when in androgynous mode I was called Ms once from the front and many times from the backside. When this happened I knew FFS would move me into the middle of the female norm no matter what I wore, and without makeup.
Work with what you have and work to aid your success. Hormones can help the body and face, beard removal is a must, and FFS is obviously a big help as well. Be brave and go out and work out on all these things depending on your budget – and don’t forget the voice! If you still feel like an ugly duckling go to less critical trans friendly places.
Over time your skill will improve and appearance will improve. Remember you are doing this for yourself. I have met hardcore transwomen 24/7 who will never blend perfectly, yet by the power of their conviction, they are still following the path and glad for it and getting recognized for their actions positively even by strangers.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Beth: I am an introvert, I am not a persuader, yet I admire and support their work and sign petitions and support financially where I can. There are some transgenders in politics at the local level, and I think it is a good thing and will help shape the future for us all.

Nov 2012 with her honey, SLC.

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?
Beth: We have to do so separately and in the broader alliance as well. Separately as our numbers and voice is unique, and together as we share some common goals and a united voice makes sense there. 
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Beth: Sure. It starts with self-love and self-respect, things I was missing. I tried loving others, clinging on to them, etc., but it did not work as I could not really feel or appreciate their love and respect for me, as I felt I was not worthy. My ‘love’ back was hollow and partial.
Finally I have found self-love by ‘owning’ who I am and living truthfully. My current girlfriend and I have an honest relationship with mutual respect and support. She would stay whether or not I had transitioned, it was the inner me she loved. I also love her as she is.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colours or trends?
Beth: I like tight jeans and tops for daily wear with athletic shoes or sandals. In the hot summer I will wear shorts and skirts too. I do own club wear, high heels and so on but frankly the occasions to use them are very infrequent now that I have a strong home life.
I do dress up on special occasions. I like red, purple, black, blue, multicolor designs and animal prints especially leopard, etc., for those nights dancing. I have skirts and dresses of various types, but the jeans get the most use!
Transition means passing through many clothing phases until you reach some natural balance. Feminine, comfortable and practical are my major focus unless I’m making a fashion statement on a night out.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Beth: Sure I have. I have written bits of my story in letters, on the web, etc., but know such a book straight from the heart would take a long time and much discipline and reflective thought. So far I have collected bits of what I previously written to jump-start the process, but I feel no rush and have other things I prefer working on currently.

March 2014.

Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Beth: I’m playing some music on my guitar at home again. I had to take some time off to remember why I played and what I want to do musically.
I would love to be in another band, or record, or refine my skills with a collaborator. One song I put on and there are others I have not (yet) posted.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls, struggling with gender dysphoria?
Beth: Seek help and explore all your issues. This issue does not go away but intensifies if put off. You owe it to yourself to see what it is and to enjoy life. If you are like me you have to work on other issues also that are holding you back from implementing this one.
Other girls can help in many ways and there are professionals who can help you through the process as well. I NEVER thought transition was possible for me, but staying frozen was making me miserable. As soon as you can taste the freedom even for some hours, it is intoxicating and pushes you along.
If you end up transitioning, or even if you don’t, or live somewhere in between your life will still be transformed and free from many burdens. Just be yourself. No one else can be you and if they are truly your friend they will accept you and appreciate that you did this with a lot of thought and hard work to improve your life from your core!
Personally I have to say life is better now. Sure I have problems and worry, but not like before with all the inner confusion. I can hardly remember my past gender and the agony.
Monika: Beth, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Beth Horner.
© 2014 - Monika Kowalska

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