Monday 28 April 2014

Interview with Leslie Regier

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor 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 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 humor 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 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 freer 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 from 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 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 a 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 a female. That is the basis of the title of my book. Transition quickly followed, and I was living as a 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.


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

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