Sunday 31 August 2014

Interview with Kristine Holt

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Kristine Holt, a transgender activist from the USA, speaker, author, lawyer, graduate of Temple University School of Law, a former judicial clerk at the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, successful litigant in civil-rights cases. Hello Kristine!
Kristine: Hello!
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Kristine: Sure. I’m a parent, a grandparent, a spouse, an attorney, and a musician. I lean far-left on most political and social issues – a throw-back radical hippy freak, if you will. I transitioned in 1992 when there were just enough of us out and about to make people uncomfortable. I’ve had a fun and sometimes frightening life, and I hope to be around for a while longer.
Monika: Your motto is “a member of the community, serving the community.” It is so inspirational that a successful lawyer like yourself would like to share so much with others …
Kristine: Service is a give-and-take thing: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” Everyone has something to contribute, and everyone has needs. That’s what builds a community.
Monika: You deal with many legal cases of the LGBT community. What are the most frequent cases as regards the transgender community?
Kristine: I used to do discrimination cases in the past, but find the overall demand for that much less now than 15 years ago. With changes in TG protection under Title VII and same-sex marriage in PA and NJ, much of my work in the LGBT community now resembles that of the rest of society.
Monika: I remember your photo from Transsexual Women's Successes by Lynn Conway. It has been the first webpage showing that transgender women can live a successful life…
Kristine: “Success” is how you define it, just like any other label. I tend to reject labels put on me by others (unless they’re flattering :)). By others' standards, I may have been successful and unsuccessful in cycles, but in my mind, if I’m free to be responsible for myself, that’s a success.
Monika: How much has your life changed since then?
Kristine: I’ve grown older . . . and that’s a good thing!

Laying down the groove.

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?
Kristine: Thirty-five years old. I entered recovery and had to resolve underlying issues. It was difficult; I found myself long-term unemployed and homeless for a while. Some friends were supportive, some family members were supportive. I had originally made an attempt about a dozen years earlier, but the support, information and social attitude were not there at the time. You can only get so much help from mail-order pamphlets distributed by the Erickson Foundation.
When I finally did the transition in 1992, I was fired from my job. That started a period of activism that eventually brought me to where I am today. One thing my employer gave me was plenty of time on my hands, which I used to educate myself in legal process. I acted as my own attorney bringing administrative complaints under any process I could find. I learned at least enough about lawyering to be dangerous! I had initial successes but as the political climate changed in 1994, there were setbacks.
Still, it was kind of satisfying to see myself named as a co-defendant along with the cabinet Secretary of Labor in an administrative appeal. The process took seven years, through the state and federal courts, and came down to a settlement in 1999. By that time, I had graduated from law school, been barred, and was working for a state appellate judge.
Also during this time, but prior to entering law school in 1995, I threw my hat into the political ring and ran as a candidate for County Commissioner where I lived. The reason was that the agency I had been fired from was a non-profit consortium of several counties, with the Board composed of Commissioners from each county. I ran in the Democratic primary and placed a solid fourth in a field of seven – besting the incumbent. I learned that justice doesn’t always come in the courtroom.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Kristine: Not at the time of my transition, but from before then, yes. I’ve been a musician since my teens, sometimes professionally. In the 60s and 70s, I’d been aware of celebrities like Holly Woodlawn and Candy Darling, but they didn’t seem to be people I aspired to be like.
Then I read the interview with Wendy Carlos in Playboy in 1979, and I felt an affinity with her. At that point, I knew this was something I could do, and more importantly, something I would do.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Kristine: Rejection, of course. Rejection in its many forms. Unemployment, disruption of relationships, poverty. I’ve been fortunate that overt violence was not an element of my transition.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in American society?
Kristine: It’s changing for the better. This isn’t 1980, or even 1992. We’re not being summarily dismissed from our jobs and society as readily as in the past. But many of us are not still being integrated into society as seamlessly as we could hope, and that’s the real goal, isn’t it?
Monika: Could transgenderism be the new frontier for human rights?
Kristine: Time magazine believes so. From a legal standpoint, I believe the issue is settled, but from an enforcement position, there is much more work to be done.
Monika: What do you think about transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers, or books so far?
Kristine: As a rule, I try to avoid the popular media crap being foisted on the public. It’s still the freakish attitude that sells newspapers, magazines, books, movies, and television time to the general public. Exotic, neurotic, and erotic. The critically acclaimed Dallas Buyers Club – “Rayon”? Gimme a break! There are some documentaries out there that have social relevance, but they really tend to be just the same story in a different body.

Hugging a tree.

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?
Kristine: I believe that the general public links being transgender with differing sexual orientations, mainly because of the drag phenomenon, so activism along with the gay community is good for public awareness and relations. I think there is a disconnect legally, though. I sometimes question the need to delineate “gender identity” within ENDA.
In 1997, I wrote a law review article outlining an approach to transgender discrimination protection based on Title VII. “Reevaluating Holloway: Title VII, Equal Protection, and the Evolution of a Transgender Jurisprudence”, 70 Temp. L.Rev. 283 (1997). I’m happy to see that 16 years later, the EEOC officially recognized that discrimination on the basis of gender identity is sex discrimination.
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?
Kristine: I don’t know that there were many in the political mainstream, but there are several that come to mind as early activists in general: Sister Mary Elizabeth, who worked on and wrote about transsexual issues; Merissa Sherrill Lynn, who founded and edited Tapestry magazine; maybe even Virginia Prince, who founded the Tri-Ess organization and coined the term “transgender.”
There are others in the past 20+ years who made their contributions: Phyllis Frye, Dallas Denny, Riki Wilchins, Davina Anne Gabriel, Jessica Xavier, and a whole host of others who’ve left their mark on our community. These were pretty heady people in pretty heady times.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Kristine: Well, I outlined a little bit of my political activity when talking about my transition, but the issues at stake went far beyond my own problems. Do we make a difference in politics? I made a difference in my little backwoods county, for a while. It’s a continuous process though, because however high you can elevate an issue, the gravity of apathy will always drag it down.
One thing I did as a TG activist after I moved to Philadelphia was organize the 2nd Annual Transgender Employment Day rally in the city. As part of that, I obtained a proclamation from Mayor Ed Rendell (later Governor of Pennsylvania) declaring September 2, 1996, Transgender Employment Day in Philadelphia. It was a nice feel-good event. I was also on the board of the original incarnation of the Transgender Health Action Coalition.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Kristine: Love and respect – for oneself, family, and others -- are very important to me. Sometimes that’s what gets me out of bed in the morning. And sometimes keeps me there. ;-)
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Kristine: People have told me in the past that I should write a book, but my life is just so boring now that the ending would be too dull.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Kristine: I have an acoustic band I’m working with now, and my spouse has opened a restaurant. Professionally, though, I’ve been narrowing my practice to the realm of predatory lending and corporate overreaching, as it affects individuals and families. In other words – Bankruptcy practice.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Kristine: There was a popular saying when I was younger, “if it feels good, do it!” But in this matter, it must feel good in your soul.
Monika: Kristine, thank you for the interview!

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

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