Tuesday 18 March 2014

Interview with Grishno

Monika: Today’s interview will be with Grishno, an American video blogger that documents her transition on YouTube. Hello Grishno!
Grishno: Hi Monika. Glad to be here.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Grishno: Sure. My name is Erin Armstrong, but many people know me as Grishno online. I was assigned male at birth, but transitioned from male to female when I was 20. It was not an easy choice to make at the time, and it has cost me a lot, including my relationship with parts of my family, but looking back now, almost 10 years later, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Monika: Why did you decide to share your transition details on YouTube?
Grishno: I first started doing video blogs on YouTube in 2006, only a year or two after the site started. At the time I was living in NYC, where it is really hard to meet new people. I had friends, sure, but none of them were Trans*, and I felt like I was missing that in my life. I decided to make my first video as a way of reaching out to other people like me, and wouldn’t you know it… we’re everywhere.

Monika: At which stage of the transition are you right now?
Grishno: I’m not sure what you would call it… I just identify as a Trans* Woman. I suppose if you had to label me I’d say I’m a post-op trans woman, but I don’t put a lot of stock in labels. Transition, for me, is a journey; a journey that is different for everyone. I’ve been on that journey for nearly 10 years, and I’ve come a long way.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the results of the hormone therapy?
Grishno: OMG YES! We live in an era where so much is possible. In just the last few generations the medical options for Transgender people have exploded. The fact that I can even get on HRT or have a surgical procedure like GRS is absolutely mind-blowing to me.
That being said, I still think there is a long way to go. I would give almost anything to carry a child the way most other women can, and that’s something that just isn’t possible yet. That’s not to say it’s not close. I have no doubt that within the next 50-100 years we’ll see the first Transgender woman giving birth, or the first transgender man fathering a child.
Monika: Could you describe your childhood? When did you feel for the first time that you should not be a boy or man?
Grishno: I grew up in a small Utah town just south of Salt Lake City. It was a nice place to grow up, sure, but it was a terrible place to be different. For as long as I can remember I had always wanted to be a girl. It was a very serious part of my life growing up, but one that I learned to hide early on.

Preparing to speak at a rally in the wake
of the murder of a local Trans woman.

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?
Grishno: Well, I think that is a traumatic time for anyone really. The transition from child to adult is something that is difficult no matter who you are.
Add to that a transition from one gender to another and it’s no surprise that this can be one of the hardest time for Trans people. That being said, I don’t know that it has to do so much with school, as it does with how far into a transition someone is.
For me, the hardest part of my transition was the first year. I was still living in Utah, and ya, I was in college at the time, but the reason it was hard was because I was going through that transition alone. I didn’t know anyone else who was Trans (except online), and that was something that was hard.
At the same time I was also going from being a white, cis-gender male, the most privileged group in our society, to a transgender women, one of the least privileged groups. That transition is jarring, especially if one is oblivious to the privilege they have (which I very much was at the time). The one thing I can say is that things get easier with time.
Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow?
Grishno: When I first came out as Trans I found the book “She’s Not There” by Jenny Boylan, and for a long time she was the person I most looked up to in the Trans community. She’s an amazing woman and, to this day, is an amazing activist and role model, but I’d have to say that my main inspirations now are Janet Mock and Lavern Cox. Transgender Women of Color are among the most marginalized class of people you will find anywhere, and the fact that these two women are out there kicking ass and taking names is amazing!
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Grishno: I had a strange coming-out. I set a goal for myself of transitioning within a month of finding out that it was possible. That meant I didn’t have much time to let everyone know. So what I did was give myself a week (I called it my ‘coming out week’) in which to come out to everyone in my life. Sure, it was hard to do, but at the same time, I felt such a weight being lifted off of me.
One thing I’ll never forget though is that you never know how people are going to react. Some of the people I thought would have a huge problem with it actually ended up being my biggest allies, and some of the people I thought would support me the most ended up cutting me out of their lives as a result. Losing people is hard, and it happens, but in the end if someone is not willing to be your friend/family because of something like this, then they weren’t really your friend/family to begin with. 

Monika: What is your general view on the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Grishno: When I look back at where things were when I came out, and where they are now, it’s like night and day… and that hasn’t really even been that long. I think things are going in a very positive direction, but I think there is a VERY long way to go. 
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?
Grishno: The trend that I see as having the biggest impact is that people aren’t just coming out more and more… they’re coming out younger. When I came out at the age of 20, I remember people telling me how jealous they were that I’d transitioned so early in life, but now kids are transitioning at the age of 5 or 6.
This wouldn’t be possible without the amazing work of activist and advocates who came before us, but it’s also due in large part to the world-shrinking effect of the internet. I didn’t even know that Transgender people existed until I met a Trans woman online.
Now any parents who has a gender non-conforming child can go online and find out exactly what is going on, and figure out ways to handle it. That just didn’t exist when I was growing up.
On top of that, there has been a huge explosion of visibility for Trans people. We are everywhere, and that gives young children who are questioning their gender a new narrative to follow.

I always seek to challenge myself. Pushing my
limits is something I do best.

Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Grishno: Yes, yes and yes!!! I’m a hugely political person, and am very actively trying to change the world. Whether that is calling/writing my congress person, or getting involved in local or state-wide policy decisions that affect Trans people, I truly do believe that it is possible to change the world. The trick is that you actually have to do something. If you don’t speak up then no one will hear you.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colours or trends?
Grishno: Haha, you are asking the wrong girl about this. I’m the type of girl who almost exclusively wears pants, and am more likely to have dirt on my face than makeup.
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Grishno: I think that beauty pageants, whether they’re for trans women only or for ALL women, can be a wonderful thing. I also think that focusing solely on looks and beauty can have a damaging effect. I think it’s important to strike a balance between holding up the beauty found in our communities, and not setting unrealistic expectations.
Monika: Are you involved in the life of your local LGBT community?
Grishno: I’m very involved in my local LGBT community. For the last several years I worked at a local non-profit running an HIV testing program for Transgender Women of Color. Now that I’m back in school I’m involved with the Gay Straight Alliance.
I lead a Gender Diversity Support group at the school, and worked with administrators to install the schools first all-gender restroom. Getting involved and giving back is something that is incredibly important to me. The LGBT (especially the T) community has given so much to me, and I want to pay it forward.

Monika: What would you recommend to transgender women that are afraid of early transition, discrimination and hatred?
Grishno: The one message I think everyone should know going into a transition is that they are not alone. Transition is a hard thing to go through, especially when you’re just starting out, and that’s why it’s so important to find a support network that you can rely on when the going gets tough. Things won’t always be easy, but that’s why we’ve got to stick together and help each other out.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Grishno: Last year I returned to school to finish my BA and pursue and MBA. This is all part of a 5 year plan that I set for myself, that ends with me either running or starting my own non-profit focused on improving the lives of Transgender people everywhere.
It’s so rare to see Trans people, especially Trans women, at the helm of organizations like that, but I think it’s important that our voices are heard at all levels. Beyond that, I hope to one day run for public office here in the California, but would love to take that even further. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll be the first Transgender Congress Woman. Dream big I say!
Monika: Could you say that you are a happy woman now?
Grishno: When I compare my mental state now to where I was 10 years ago it’s astonishing to see how far I’ve come. I struggled for years with depression and anxiety, things I still struggle with from time to time, but they are no longer the every day presence they once were. Life can be hard, no matter how far along you are in your transition, but when I look in the mirror now I love who I see, and that means the world to me.
Monika: Grishno, it was a pleasure to interview you.
Grishno: Thanks a lot! My pleasure!!

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

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