Sunday, 25 May 2014

Interview with Katie Sprinkle

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Katie Sprinkle, an American lawyer, former public defender, the founder of the Law Office of Katie Sprinkle. Hello Katie! 
Katie: Thank you for having me.
Monika: You can boast over 20 years of legal experience. Could you say a few words about your professional career?
Katie: I began my career in the private sector working for a couple of different law firms. I did that for about three years before starting to work for the Dallas County Public Defender’s Office. I was an assistant public defender in Dallas County for 14 years. I left Dallas County in 2011 to go to Burnet County to help set up and start a brand new Public Defender Office. I left Burnet County in the summer of 2013 to start my own practice. I had originally planned to start my own practice a couple of years ago but delayed doing so in order to complete my transition.
Monika: A year ago you opened your own firm Law Office of Katie Sprinkle. What services do your office provide?
Katie: I handle criminal defense cases, name and gender marker changes, wills and probate, and some family law.
Monika: Do you provide any specific services to transgender clients?
Katie: I do name and gender marker changes as well as some family law for transgender clients. I also volunteer at the Resource Center of Dallas’ G.E.A.R. Program which is an advocacy group for the transgender community.
Monika: What are the biggest challenges for transgender Americans from the legal point of view?
Katie: Name Changes with a Gender Marker Correction. So many states including mine, Texas, are not transgender-friendly. The states such as Texas block our efforts to obtain proper identification despite knowing that it opens us up to job discrimination, harassment, embarrassment, and hate crimes.
There are a few Judges in Texas who are willing to give us the Court Orders we need to change our names and correct our gender markers, but they are few and far between. I want to help people obtain the name changes and gender marker corrections and be the focal point for information regarding these matters. Job discrimination is another area where the law is failing the transgender community.
There has been some movement in this area with the Macy vs B.A.T.F. which held that transgender discrimination is sex discrimination so even without specific laws enacted to protect us from job discrimination, we can still fight it on the basis of sex discrimination. We still have a very long way to go in this area as well, but there have been positive steps.

Speaking at a G.E.A.R. Mixer on the Legal
Aspect of Name and Gender Changes.

Monika: You decided to offer pro bono services, holding a free monthly legal clinic for Resource Center’s transgender GEAR program in Dallas. What are the most frequent cases that you deal with there?
Katie: Most people come in with questions about name and gender marker changes. I have had some family law issues, job discrimination issues as well as some criminal law issues. I have set up a couple of non-profit corporations for a couple of people who were starting their own non-profits.
Monika: At the time of your transition did you have any transgender role models that you could follow?
Katie: Not really. I have had a number of transgender friends over the years and so I was able to watch them and learn from them. I didn’t have a single role model to follow so I sought the help of a good therapist and a support group as well as making many friends in the transgender community with who I could gain insight into the process.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Katie: Fear! Without question, the fear of losing anyone and everyone that means something to you is the single hardest thing to overcome when coming out. I heard so many horror stories of people who had been rejected by employers, family, and friends. Of course, one of the hardest people to come out to was myself and once I did that, then I opened up to a few friends. It did get a bit easier.
I finally came out to my family which was the scariest thing that I had ever done. I have been extremely fortunate that I have been accepted by my family and friends. I have had a few acquaintances who had turned away, but the people who truly mean something to me have stayed with me thru my transition.
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?
Katie: I think this is a complicated issue. We need to have the self-confidence to be ourselves regardless of our looks, but it is the hardest thing in the world to do. I think that we get so caught up on “passing” that no one really knows what it truly means. I have been presenting part-time as me for almost twenty years. There were times that I looked better than other times. There were times that I got read and times when I didn’t. Here are a couple of thoughts based upon my own transition, but also twenty years of presenting part-time before I transitioned.
First, I think we need to understand what passing means. It does not mean that if someone studies you for long periods of time that they won’t figure it out because they will. It means that you can walk into a room and people can give you the customary glance and then proceed back with whatever they were doing. I think there are things that we can do to help ourselves with passing. Things such as dressing appropriately for the circumstances, in other words, don’t wear a mini dress with 5-inch heels to Sunday brunch.
Transwomen are no different from cis-women, we take our cue from other women in what to wear or not wear, and learning these cues can be extremely helpful. Learn to walk, sit, stand, and have more feminine mannerisms. I know some very beautiful transwomen who walk, sit, or stand like a truck driver. There is a belief that cisgender women do not have to do this, but that is not true. Cis-women learned all of this as teenagers so part of this game of “passing" is just learning the rules of fashion, and presentation that cis-women learned as teenagers. These are things that we can change which will help us “pass” and give us greater confidence when we present to the world.

Second, I think that focusing on passing is a fool's errand. In the end, it boils down to going out and living your life on your terms or hiding in the shadows because you live in fear. I overcame my fear of not passing simply by going out and presenting to the world as me. I had to learn some very hard lessons which I stated above, but as I mastered those my confidence grew.
As my confidence grew, I developed the attitude that I just didn’t care what happens if someone read me. I was always safe and aware of my surroundings as any woman should be, but if someone figured out that I was transgender, I didn’t care. I had an incident in 2012 at a Department Store in Austin where I went to purchase some clothing and the clerk noticed the male name on my credit card which prompted her to ask for my ID. I showed her my male ID which surprised her so she called a manager.
With the manager on the phone and a line forming behind me, she very loudly spoke into the phone, “It is dressed as a woman, but its ID says male”. If this incident had happened twenty years earlier, I would have been so mortified that I would have gone home and hidden for who knows how long. However, by this stage in my life, I had learned to roll with the punches. I asked to speak with a manager, I logged a very stern complaint, which ultimately made its way to the district manager who called and personally apologized to me. What got me thru this incident as well as other incidents was my experience of presenting as me.
Third, I think that the steps that transwomen can take to help them over this hurdle of passing is first learning the female socialization steps I stated earlier. Those are all issues that can be corrected and worked thru. The next step is meeting with other transgender people. Start with safe environments such as support group meetings, therapy sessions, and even gay clubs. I use to explore the gay clubs as a male just to get the lay of the land and then go back as me. These things can help you build confidence.

Lambda Weekly 2016 08 21 with Katie Sprinkle,
Leslie McMurray, Patti and David Taffet.
TwoHatsPublishing. Source: YouTube.

Push your boundaries. I dressed at home, then would go check the mail while dressed before building up to doing errands. I was careful not to be noticed too much but gained valuable experience. Eventually, it helped me find a support group where we often went in a group to a local restaurant after the meeting then maybe to a gay club to dance or take in a drag show. It's a journey that we take and with each step, we get closer to where we want to be. Don’t let fear dictate your life. Eventually, you will overcome that fear and present the real you to the world and you will lay the beast of “passing” to rest. 
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? 
Katie: It is a mixed bag. I think that the portrayal of transgender people in various forms of media and pop culture casts us in a negative light. However, the gay community went thru this as did the African American community and Latino community. We will overcome this as did the other minority groups. What I am hoping to see very soon is a good transgender character that audiences will love as we found in Will and Grace.
I think the characters of Will and Jack showed two different types of people who just happened to be gay. I think that pop culture will help the transgender community in the same way. We are not there yet, but I think that we are a short distance from seeing that. I think that seeing more transgender actresses play transgender characters will be helpful. I think there are a number of transgender actresses who could have performed the Jared Leto role.
I would also like to see the media, particularly interview shows focus on better role models. The main people that we see on these shows are models and actresses, but we are doctors, lawyers, engineers, and parents. People need to know that we are no different from them which will help us eliminate ignorance. We will still face tremendous bigotry, but with more and more allies, we will overcome the bigots like so many before us.

Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Katie: I am not as active as I would like to be. I occasionally attend a Democratic Party function mainly because it helps me stay in touch with so many local political leaders. I am mainly interested in getting the legal system to be more open and helpful to the transgender community. Many local judges will call me whenever they have someone in their court with a transgender issue which is exactly what I want.
My belief is that if they are comfortable enough to call that encountering a transgender person will not be an issue. We are very blessed in Dallas County right now, because the bulk of the Judiciary at the county level want to be fair to the transgender community. If I can help that, then I will do so.
Monika: Is there anyone in the contemporary transgender society whose actions could be compared to what Harvey Milk was doing in the 60s and 70s for gay activism?
Katie: I don’t know that I would say that there is someone who would be on the level of a Harvey Milk. I am a great admirer of Harvey Milk so it may be that I have the bar set pretty high, but I don’t know that there is anyone out there who is taking the dramatic risks that he took. I think that we are still searching for that one person who will become our spokesperson.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Katie: I think love is important in everyone’s life. Being transgender can cause havoc in our personal lives and make dating and relationships far more complicated. I avoided relationships altogether for many years because dealing with a relationship while sorting thru my gender issues proved to be too much for me.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Katie: I do like fashion although you might not notice. I wear a lot of business attire for court. I try to dress up my suits with very feminine blouses. I try not to sacrifice comfort for cute, but I have done so.
I love Coral and Rose colors. I don’t wear skirts as often as I thought I might, but I think that finding a balance in your wardrobe is important. My wardrobe fits my needs to be comfortable while expressing my femininity. Of course, I am not afraid to sports shorts, a t-shirt, and flip-flops.

Lambda Weekly 2014.07.27 with Leslie McMurry,
Katie Sprinkle, Larone & David Taffet.
TwoHatsPublishing. Source: YouTube.

Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Katie: I have considered writing my memoirs. I am very fortunate that I have kept a journal for over twenty years so it will be a daunting project to go back over that many years of material and condense it into my story, but that is a great problem to have when considering taking on such a project.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Katie: My main focus right now has been to get my law practice established and get my legal clinic going. I would like to improve the way the court system treats transgender clients as well as help transgender people find a voice. 
Monika: Having transitioned yourself, what would you recommend to all transgender women struggling with gender dysphoria?
Katie: The first thing is to find a good therapist with experience working with transgender clients. This could be extremely difficult depending upon where they live. The next thing would be to find a support group. Again, this could be difficult to do depending upon where you live. I know someone who drives from Oklahoma City to Dallas to attend support groups and socialize with other transgender people.
Find social events that you can attend to get to know other transgender people. So many people rely on just socializing online, but that will only get you so far. They will need to get out of the house. Again, do so with caution and take slow steps, but eventually, you will find your confidence.
Monika: Katie, thank you for the interview!

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

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