Thursday, 3 April 2014

Interview with Kenna Henderson

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Kenna Henderson, an American writer, ghostwriter, editor, and the author of the book titled "I'm Not The Man I Used To Be" (2012). Hello Kenna!
Kenna: Hello! I’m very flattered that you would consider me for an interview. I see all the lovely ladies you have talked with and wonder “What on Earth am I doing here?”.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Kenna: I’m sure you’ve heard the term “late bloomer”. I was born in 1941, knew without a doubt by age six that I was transgender, and I kept it secret for more than five decades. I don’t remember how I learned it was something to be ashamed of, but I had no relatable examples in the media and no one I could talk to.
It was only in 1994, when I gained access to the internet, that I began to understand what I was dealing with and realized that there were a lot of other people like me. From that point on, I began to evolve. It took another ten years or so for me to know and accept exactly where I fit on the gender spectrum - and find peace.
Monika: Why did you decide to write your autobiography “I'm Not The Man I Used To Be“?
Kenna: Monika, I’m a lazy person. I don’t mind admitting that. So I never would have written the book without having nearly three years of a journal to start with. When I decided to do my own “real-life test”, I began to document the experience and the thoughts it provoked in a blog I called “Another Self”. That was an invaluable resource, and it gave me the impetus to tell the rest of my story. I’m not sure why I did it or even if it was a conscious decision.
For some reason, I felt it was necessary. The process brought back some painful memories, but in the end, writing the book was cathartic. And I’m very happy that it has served as an inspiration for so many people. I don’t think I’m particularly interesting, but we all have a story to tell and we never know when something we write may help another person.

Courtesy of Kenna Henderson.

Monika: Which aspects of your experience can be useful for other transwomen?
Kenna: The world has changed so much for the better. Anyone coming out now has resources and sources of support that were not available to those of us who were young all those years ago. So the best thing I can recommend is not to suffer in silence like I did. 
As you know, gender dysphoria doesn’t go away. It only becomes stronger if you don’t resolve it, and the result is all too often tragic. You have to be yourself. In fact, it’s your birthright.
As far as we know, you get only one chance here on Earth. Accept who you are, be proud, and live your life to its fullest potential.
Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman yourself? Did you have any support from your family or friends?
Kenna: It was a slow and incremental revelation. I came out to my wife in 1995, my daughter in 2008, my son in 2013, and everyone else after that. I won’t go into the various reasons for that odd scenario, but everything was and is fine and I got all the support I could have wanted.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Kenna: I’ve always gone my own way, Monika. That’s not to say that I don’t greatly admire those who laid the groundwork for me and for others. I didn’t have the courage simply to step out and be myself like so many others do.
I’m a very careful and self-analytical person, so it took a lot of time and research for me to overcome all the logical reasons that transition wouldn’t be a good idea. As we all know, logic plays no part at all in this – but I still had to follow that thought process and then learn to let go and give in to what my heart was telling me.

"I'm Not The Man I Used To Be" (2012)

Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Kenna: Considering the hardships so many others have endured, I’m ashamed to say that I really haven’t had a problem. Had I done it earlier, the answer would have been different.
There were no issues with family, friends, relationships, employment, or housing – none of the things that transgender people typically find so difficult to deal with. I might easily have lost my wife, but luckily she’s the kind of person who sees past the superficial and understands that I’m the same person whether I identify as female or as male.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in American society?
Kenna: I like what I’m seeing in terms of visibility. Whereas before the stories were mostly of a sensational nature, now we read of transgender women who are simply leading “normal” lives.
That’s the key to acceptance, I believe. It’s a matter of educating the public to understand that we’re really no different from anyone else, except for our gender self-identity issue. I’ve found that the vast majority of people are open-minded and will accept us once they learn what it means to be transgender.
Monika: Could transgenderism be the new frontier for human rights?
Kenna: It could be. There’s anecdotal evidence in America that the groups and individuals who were so up in arms about gay and lesbian rights realize they have lost that battle and are now turning their guns on transgender-related issues. But they’re a dying breed anyway.
As transgender people feel freer to go public, the average person will be much more likely to discover them among friends, family, and co-workers. At that point, it becomes much harder to think of us as a monolithic group that’s far out of the mainstream. When you can put a face on it, there’s greater understanding.
Monika: What is your general view on transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers, or books so far?
Kenna: The ones I have seen recently, which are relatively few, seem more true-to-life. I’ve never been a fan of silly crossdressing films and television shows, although I can see some humor in our situation.
For me, Dustin Hoffman in “Tootsie” was a departure in that there was some depth to the character and it wasn’t played entirely for laughs. “Transamerica” and “Dallas Buyers Club” handled the subject well, I think. And I enjoyed Adrian Pasdar’s sensitive portrayal of a crossdresser in the lesser-known 1992 movie “Just Like A Woman” also.
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?
Kenna: As one of the founding members of a local LGBT group, I can tell you that I’ve encountered nothing but enthusiastic support from gay and lesbian members. All we really have in common is being outside of the mainstream and subject to discrimination.
Our struggles are similar in that regard. The sexual preference issue is a huge divide between us, but who talks about that all the time anyway? In my group, we’re friends – and that fact trumps everything else.

Courtesy of Kenna Henderson.

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?
Kenna: I don’t know of any other person, but there are plenty now on the front lines of the struggle who are worthy of our praise and thanks. I go back to when I first began to learn about the subject and the names Virginia Prince, Kate Bornstein, and Dallas Denny come to mind as pioneers who made a huge difference in their respective areas.
I admire those who went public when it was most difficult to do so and triumphed in spite of the hardships – people such as the iconic Christine Jorgensen, Wendy Carlos, and Renee Richards.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Kenna: I don’t consider myself to be an activist. In fact, I’m a very private person. What I do, though, is take advantage of opportunities for outreach. I’ve spoken to groups and realize the importance of being a visible example of someone who is essentially “normal”, albeit transgender. I make myself available as a mentor for young transgender individuals and serve as one of the forum moderators on a large support website. And I do whatever else I can to provide information and perspective, such as writing articles and maintaining the “Transgender Truth” Facebook page.
It’s becoming far more common to see transgender people as candidates for public office at the local level, and we read of some who transition on the job. So, yes… they are making a difference by putting themselves in the spotlight and being judged (one would hope) on performance rather than gender presentation.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Kenna: I’m very fortunate to have been married for nearly 24 years to my best friend. Telling you what she means to me would take far more time than you have allocated for this interview.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Kenna: I am such a slob, Monika. Sorry – that’s the unvarnished truth. Being a writer, I have the luxury of working at home and not making the effort to dress well most of the time.
But when I have the opportunity to look nice, I wear tasteful and appropriate clothing that’s mostly in subdued colors or even black. I’m blessed with good genes and don’t look anywhere near my real age, but I do dress conservatively.

Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Kenna: There are no next steps for me. I’ve arrived. I’m doing just what I want to do and am very content. As long as I can stay healthy and energetic, I’ll keep trying to get the message out and serving as an example of the immutable fact that things do get better if you stick with them long enough.
Five or seven years from now, if I’m still around, you’ll find me much the same as I am now – just older. I’ll always write, I imagine. In addition to my transgender-related projects, I have published a couple of humor fiction books under the pseudonym “Clay Reston”, along with about 130 songs. And I do ghostwriting, editing and other related things for others as the opportunities arise.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Kenna: Don’t give up. Never, ever give up. Things don’t stay the same. You’ll be a different person every few years of your life. What seems to be an insurmountable difficulty now will be just a memory soon.
Don’t let anyone tell you that being transgender is your imagination, wrong, a perversion, a sin, a sickness, or anything else. That’s their way of trying to fit you into one of the very few boxes in their zone of comfort. It has nothing whatsoever to do with you or who you really are. You’re the world’s leading expert on yourself. It’s your life. Live it!
Monika: Kenna, thank you for the interview!
Kenna: It was a great pleasure. Thank you for the opportunity.

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

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