Monday, 28 April 2014

Interview with Leslie Regier

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Leslie Regier, the author of "Unchaining My Truth: Taking Flight on the Wings of a Dream", published by her business, Violet Angel. Hello Leslie!
Leslie: Hi Monika. It is also my pleasure to meet you and have this opportunity to be interviewed. You have presented a professional series of these interviews, and I am privileged to be among them.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Leslie: It's difficult to know where to start. I am a person with so many facets, so many interests, so many passions in life. Some might call me a renaissance woman. I think perhaps at the core I am someone with a strong desire to learn, experience, play, share, and teach throughout my life.
Monika: Why did you decide to write your autobiography?
Leslie: I've always enjoyed writing in one form or another. The desire has varied at different times, but when I went through my gender transition I felt strongly compelled to share my experiences in a way that would openly reach more people. It was not only an outlet for me, but I also felt it would be helpful for others to learn from my experiences and my unusual journey, whether they are transgendered or not.
My transition involved things I felt were interesting from a social perspective. There were also humorous events that occurred. I've never taken myself too seriously, and I can find the humor in many areas of life. These are things that anyone can learn from and enjoy.
Of course, serious events occurred also, and I describe those in my book. I discuss relationships with friends and people I've loved—and lost. Again, anyone can learn from my experiences—honesty vs. hiding, communication vs. silence, etc.
Some content is particular to transgendered persons, such as breaking the news to friends and coworkers, developing one's sense of self-expression, and so on. Other topics include personal growth that most anyone can relate to.
Relaxing at home.
Monika: The book radiates with a sense of humour and many positive feelings …
Leslie: Thank you. That is part of what I wanted to get across. Let's enjoy life as best we can in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in. I know that everyone's experiences are different, and many of our transgendered sisters and brothers have some very difficult times. Others have a smooth transition.
It is not always predictable, and we cannot control the feelings of those around us. I believe, however, that to do the best we can for ourselves and other transgendered people, we must be positive and have a sense of humor.
I am convinced that this approach made things go easier for me than if I had been defensive or angry. My book is meant to extend and share this perspective via the written word.
Monika: Which parts of your autobiography could be of special interest to other transgender ladies?
Leslie: I think other transgendered ladies might be especially interested in how I handled telling others of my need to express myself as female, ultimately to go through a full transition, and how I was treated during and afterward. This is a big concern that most of us have, and we deal with it in different ways.
I think they might also be interested in the practical aspects of changing one's gender expression, such as dealing with an employer or changing accounts and identification.
Perhaps most important of all is that I show that it can be done—that a person can go through this change. For many years I did not believe this would be possible, but it was. And to those out there who say they cannot do it, I say yes you can. You can make this so.
Before I began my transition—even during a period of suppression in my teens and early twenties—it was meaningful and inspiring for me to read or see reports about others who had done this before me. That made it a real possibility, rather than a far out fantasy, even if it felt unlikely early in my exploration of self. Maybe I can be the inspiration for someone else, as others before me inspired me.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Leslie: I see it improving. It is not perfect, but transgendered people continue to gain acceptance both socially and legally. I must admit that since I have gone back to the university for a new degree I have not been able to keep up with as much transgender news as a few years ago, but I still read articles and hear things from others.
Legally speaking, laws to protect transgendered people in different ways are being enacted in different states and localities. This includes employment, restroom use, business contracts, et cetera.
Riding the tram back to the hotel after shopping
during the Wave-Gotik-Treffen, Leipzig, Germany.
Socially, I can say that I have witnessed a growth in non-judgmental acknowledgment by people in general if and when the subject comes up. I've seen a greater respect for transgendered individuals, and fewer people shy away from having transgendered friends.
I know that very last thing I said might sound a little silly, but people have their insecurities. Fortunately, it seems to be decreasing with respect to transgendered people, as it has with gays and lesbians.
Acceptance does tend to vary by region, and the United States is quite large with many different regional cultures and attitudes. In some areas, negative-minded people may feel more free to express their dislike of us, but on the positive side we are seeing so much more open acceptance than negativity.
Monika: Could transgenderism be the new frontier for human rights?
Leslie: Absolutely! Transgenderism, along with gay marriage—marriage freedom, that is—is a new frontier.
Transgenderism has always been here in one form or another, but I think that as a frontier we are seeing a much greater exploration by individuals, rights groups, and governments in the past few years. The topic is being addressed on a much larger scale than before.
One way in particular that I see this new frontier is in reports of children with gender dysphoria finding support by their parents and various school districts or states. I wish I had felt comfortable sharing my feelings as a child, but even if I had, I doubt I would have found that type of support simply because trangenderism was largely unknown or misunderstood at that time. Nowadays it is more commonly acknowledged and accepted, and we are stepping into a new time of being our true selves.
I know that with an early start, if I had transitioned before going out into the world, my own my life would have been better and much more personally productive. It makes me happy to know that younger people are having a better opportunity now to do just that.
Monika: A few weeks ago Jared Leto received his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in "Dallas Buyers Club" as transgender Rayon. What do you think about transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers or books so far?
Leslie: I missed that film and will have to check it out! Nevertheless, I have seen film characters who were transgendered, and I think it's wonderful to see them. They represent reality. They represent a part of the audience, a part of society. This is a good thing when done in an honest way.
I've seen a variety of newspaper articles approaching the topic from different perspectives, and they have been supportive or at least non-judgmental with regard to the people involved. This is positive, and it is not something I noticed more than ten or fifteen years ago.
I see very little television, and the books I read mainly cover science and history, so I cannot address those media.
Though not recent, I think that the British film “Different for Girls” did a very nice job of showing a transgendered character finding friendship and love. It is a film with the necessary cinematic drama and plot, but the character was portrayed very well by Steven Mackintosh.
Posing with an octopus at my employer's holiday
dinner  held at the city aquarium.
Although offhand I do not have my own example to add to yours of Jared Leto, seeing a transgendered character in a supporting role that is not the focus of the film or TV show is something that is very important. We are a part of life, even if we are not the center of the plot.
To illustrate what I'm saying, compare with us the lesbian couple in the French film “Tell No One” (Ne le dis à personne), played by Kristin Scott Thomas and Marina Hands. The fact that they are lesbians has no bearing on the story. They simply exist as normal functioning characters, just as we exist in society. Including LGBT characters adds an additional human touch to a film.
Actually, one transgender character—a very unconventional transgender character—who I found fascinating was portrayed in the book and film Orlando. I mention this film in my book. I feel that the film, as fantastic and fictitious as it is, shows that a person is a person, and that gender, or any change thereof, is far less important than what is in the heart.
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?
Leslie: After childhood exploration I suppressed my feelings, but by my early twenties I was getting restless as my needs forced their way to the surface. Finally, at age twenty-eight, I broke my imaginary chains and began my adult exploration of myself as female. That is the basis of the title of my book. Transition quickly followed, and I was living as female by age thirty.
Yes, I was fortunate to have support from family and friends. I was unsure of whether or not I'd get support from coworkers, but that worked out well also. With the various support, it was not as difficult as it might otherwise have been. I think most important was that I had my mother's support, and she gave that to me. She wanted me to do what was best for me, whatever it entailed.
Of course, I detail all of this in my book—the support, the decisions, and much more. And I would say that the decisions themselves were the most difficult part. I had to explore and admit to myself what I truly wanted, what I needed for internal peace. I had to make good decisions about permanent physical changes. These things were the most difficult part of the process.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you could follow?
Leslie: My role models were the transgendered persons within my support groups. I didn't have any role models at a celebrity level or anything like that, but in the support groups I had the opportunity to explore and develop myself as others did the same. I discuss this in my book when I was first introduced to a social-support group and when I later gave talks with others at various colleges and universities.
Listening to Music at Heidnischesdorf,
Wave-Gotik-Treffen, Leipzig, Germany.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Leslie: By far the hardest thing for me was initiating the coming out in the first place. Out of fear, I suppressed it throughout my teens and into early adulthood, as I mentioned earlier, but it had to come out one way or another. In retrospect, I realized that it eventually would have come out, whether I wanted it to or not. The difficult part was letting go of my initial fear.
Prior to that, I wasn't even sure what was happening with my feelings. My need to come out was adversely affecting other areas of my life, primarily my love life—the relationship I was in. When I finally came out to myself openly, after a painful separation in my relationship, I was able to come out to others. After that it was easy to explore myself and enter into my transition.
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?
Leslie: I do believe we can promote our own cause, inside or outside of the larger group. We are grouped together for various reasons, but as transgendered persons we ourselves may be straight, gay, lesbian or bisexual. That is something that some people outside the group may have difficulty understanding.
I should note that we are seeing more letters added as other individuals wish to be recognized as outside the majority of gender, sexuality, and sexual identity. I have recently seen Intersexed, Queer, and Questioning added to the series, but I don't know how widespread that usage is at this time.
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 the gay activism?
Leslie: I am not personally aware of any one person currently, and this goes back to what I said earlier about going back to the university for my Masters Degree. In keeping busy with my engineering studies, I simply cannot keep up with everything transgender-related these days. Your question encourages me, however, to catch up on reading the transgender-related newsletters that I receive.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Leslie: I am not active in politics, but I feel that by being out and setting a positive example for others, that I am making a difference.
I think trangendered women can make a difference in politics. Naturally, as people, they have the same ability as anyone else to effect change. As transgendered, they can serve as the role models you asked about earlier and they have the opportunity to bring another perspective into discussions regarding rights, policy, and law. Hmmm, maybe I should get into politics.
My Watcher Angel outfit for a Halloween.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Leslie: Love is very important to me, and it comes in different forms. The obvious ones are the love one has for a romantic partner and the love one has for other people in general—family, friends, neighbors, people we don't know, fellow human beings, and so on. I feel a lot of love for others, but I think you are referring to the former: romantic partner love.
I have not yet found romantic love, but I have a strong desire to find that someone to share my life with, to hold close, travel with, et cetera, and I keep my eyes open for this person. As happens with so many other people in this world, I have had mismatched connections. The persons I have expressed interest in have not been interested in me, and conversely, those who have been interested in me I have not felt that certain chemistry for. One day there will a match, and I look forward to that day.
An interesting aspect about love that I write about in my book is that after my transition I found myself in love with a male friend. Unfortunately, it could go nowhere because he was not available, but falling in love with him taught me a valuable lesson. The experience showed me that when it comes to love, what's most important is what is in the heart, not what type of body that person occupies. Before that realization my interests were limited to women only. Now I seek my love in whichever gender he or she takes.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colours or trends?
Leslie: I do enjoy fashion—but not the mainstream styles that most people think of. I don't even know what's popular among the masses these days. I identify as Goth, and although my typical daily wear consists of pullover tops layered with a sleeveless shirt worn like a vest over black or brightly-colored jeans—or occasionally a skirt—I wear nicer outfits when I have time to dress up.
If I'm going out to the club or to an event of some sort, my usual choice would be a Goth-fashionable top over a skirt and boots—all in black. For parties I have sometimes put cyber locks or dread falls in my hair, and that's a lot of fun. It takes more effort though, so I don't usually get that fancy. Once I complete my Masters degree and have more time to dress up, however, watch out!
I should also mention that I have enjoyed sewing ever since I was a child, and there have been times that I have modified store-bought clothing to suit my style by adjusting hemlines or adding decorative trim. I have also made and designed my own clothing to express my own sense of fashion. 
In summary, I would say I enjoy black with some colors mixed in, and I would rather appear unique than to follow popular trends. Interestingly, I refuse to wear standard blue jeans. Even when I was living as a male I seldom wore a pair of blue jeans.
Still-frame from a video at target
shooting league.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Leslie: My next step? That is an interesting question. I suppose the primary next step is to finish my university degree. Once I complete that step I will be free to start a new career and to go out and enjoy the world more. I will have more time for myself and to meet my love, if we don't meet by chance sooner.
In the next 5-7 years I see myself in a new career based on my mechanical engineering studies. Whether I am working for a company or operating my own business, I do not know yet. I see myself writing more, and I see myself enjoying life with someone I love.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Leslie: The most important thing I would say is be careful, but do not be afraid. Let it out, and do not allow it to hold you back. My fear held me back for too long. The result was unnecessarily broken hearts and disruption in life.
When I finally stopped suppressing my gender dysphoria and let it out, my life changed for the better in more ways than I could have anticipated. If we are gender dysphoric and we are to follow this path, I really think that the earlier we get on this path, the better things are for everyone.
Beyond that, I would say to someone: Take the time to explore yourself and your relationships. If you were raised as one gender but move toward a different gender, allow yourself the opportunity to develop that new gender as your true self.
When I entered into my transition, it was in some ways like a second childhood. I explored fashions, colors, new friendships as a female, and new ways of interacting with others. By getting a late start, I felt a little awkward on occasion, but eventually I found my style and way of expressing myself. In my case, the way I interact with others is essentially the same as early in the process, but the style I express is much different from when I began my transition.
Monika: Leslie, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Leslie Regier.
Done on 28 April 2014
© 2014 - Monika Kowalska

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