Tuesday 12 August 2014

Interview with Nicole Bray

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Nicole Bray, an inspirational transgender woman from the USA, the main character of the documentary “Untitled Documentary – Nicole’s Story”. Hello Nicole!
Nicole: Hello, Monika! Thank you so much for taking the time to interview me to learn more about my story and about the documentary I am producing.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Nicole: Sure! I am an independent filmmaker currently focusing on documenting my unique life story on film. I observed that my sense of humor is my greatest asset in making my way through the transition. Furthermore, I really enjoy traveling and wish that I had endless funds to do so. Additionally, when I’m not filming movies, I love to watch them encompassing a range of genres. I’m also an avid researcher and spend a great deal of time educating myself about particular topics.
By the way, the title of the documentary, “Untitled Documentary – Nicole’s Story” is temporary. Once we have acquired a Director/Producer/Writer team, we will determine a fitting title for the documentary.
Monika: What will be the main message of “Untitled Documentary – Nicole’s Story”? 
Nicole: The main message that “Untitled Documentary – Nicole’s Story” will convey is that the transition journey can be positive and filled with hope. The intent of the documentary is to reduce the fear that society at large holds toward Transgender people and their transition journey. If Transgender individuals’ friends and families view this documentary, it is hoped that their eyes will be opened to how Transgender people are just like everyone else—they have thoughts, feelings, dreams, and goals, but they also struggle with a biological condition that needs to be remedied.
Many other individuals in this world also struggle with biological conditions. The only difference is what type of biological condition. Each condition needs to be addressed per the recommended treatment. The positivity and the hope will be outlined via my transition story, which overall has been pretty smooth, and is a story that will give Transgender people, their friends, and their families hope that their journey could be similar.

Filming her documentary.

Monika: What inspired you to document your transition story?
Nicole: In early 2012, no longer could I bury my gender dysphoria. For years, the gender dysphoria feelings ebbed and flowed and, when it was at its worst, I found ways to suppress it by investing my time in anything that would occupy my mind, including performing magic, playing video games, and researching on the Internet. However, while these methods worked for years, gender dysphoria eventually broke through and I could not ignore it any longer. The frequency with which I researched Transgender increased as I wanted to hear other Transgender individuals’ coming out stories.
I wanted to know the likelihood of me losing my wife and family. Losing everyone and everything important to me was one of my biggest fears but I was at the point where I was willing to risk losing everything in order to finally be authentic. Unfortunately, nearly every story I read was one of loss, where their marriages ended, parents disowned them, friends abandoned them, and they also lost their jobs and homes. Reading these stories frightened me and my depression substantially increased. I knew that I desperately needed to transition but I couldn’t bear to lose my wife.
When I came out to my wife, I was extremely nervous about what her response would be but I knew that it was now or never. I was elated when she told me that she wanted to remain by my side, support me through my transition, and remain married.
Furthermore, my family (parents and siblings) was accepting and supportive when I came out to them as well. It was at these pivotal moments that I was inspired to put together a documentary outlining my transition journey. My plan was and still is, to give other Transgender people hope that it is possible to have your closest support network remain in your lives. I was horrified when I read the devastating stories of Transgender individuals losing their loved ones when they came out. Learning of these stories put me in a really dark place to the point where I considered suicide and became increasingly depressed and moody.


If I had learned from others’ stories that it was possible to keep family and friends in your life, my mood wouldn’t have dropped as far as it did for months and months. I would like to give others the hope that I didn’t have. There are too many sad stories out there and I would like to portray a positive one.
Not only will this help Transgender people, but it is also hoped that my story will help their families and friends see that relationships with the Transgender individual can survive if they stick around long enough to experience the journey. Furthermore, it would be great if it helps to change the perspectives of society about transgender people. 
Monika: Which aspects of your biography could be used by other transgender women? 
Nicole: I believe that nearly every aspect of my biography could be used by other transgender women. They may have to adapt portions of my journey to meet their personal experiences, but all aspects could be beneficial. A Transgender woman could use everything from how I came out to my family to how I researched and chose my doctors for surgery.
Plus, I plan to outline the information that I wish were available to me during my transition. While I found resources on my own, it sure would have been helpful to have this information at my fingertips. Having this information available to others will help ease the tremendous confusion that comes with making very personal decisions as one carves out their transition journey.
Monika: When will you finalize the documentary?
Nicole: The finalization of the documentary is a way down the road. Currently, we are in the pre-production stages of the documentary. Next, we will engage in the production stages of the documentary, including filming around the time of the surgery, including post-op recovery. Production will also include interviews with family members and friends. Finally, we will engage in the post-production of the documentary, which includes editing. Therefore, it will be at least a year or so before the documentary is finalized. 
Monika: At the time of your transition did you have any transgender role models that you could follow?
Nicole: I didn’t have any specific Transgender role models, but I did consider anyone who came out as Transgender before me or transitioned before me to be a role model. I read many Transgender individuals’ blogs and stories on Transgender forums and many of these increased my confidence to continue on my own transition journey.

Lori and Nicole.

Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Nicole: The hardest thing about coming out was the incessant worry over whether or not I would lose my marriage and family. I could only guess what their responses would be. As indicated earlier, I read nothing but doom and gloom in terms of coming out to family and friends.
In fact, I read that only 20% of marriages survive the transition. I find myself to be quite fortunate in that, not only has my marriage survived but also the majority of my friends and family accept me for who I am. Furthermore, I’ve acquired new friends in the process!
Monika: A few months 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? 
Nicole: I have not seen this movie yet, but I feel as if the general media, including Hollywood, still has a long way to go with accurately portraying Transgender individuals’ stories. Nevertheless, there is a vast improvement in the frequency of presenting positive role models instead of stigmatizing the population via the extraordinarily horrific stories. The latter still occurs, unfortunately, which continues to add to society’s negative views. It is hoped that the recent positive exposure of Transgender people is just the beginning of increased understanding and acceptance of this population.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in American society?
Nicole: It is interesting to note the increase in people coming out as being Transgender in the past few years. With more Transgender role models speaking out and taking on leadership roles, I believe that the younger generation will have an easier time coming out to family and friends due to the growing visibility.
I think it’s great that there is more awareness of Transgender women in American society and I hope that it is sparking curiosity in people to learn more about what being transgender means. Again, I think there is a long way to go to achieve complete understanding and acceptance but awareness is moving in the right direction.

Consultation for her GCS.
First time meeting Dr. McGinn.

Monika: Could transgenderism be the new frontier for human rights?
Nicole: Absolutely. The fight for human rights for Transgender people is already underway. You are starting to see more protections for Transgender people in federal careers, primary and secondary schools implementing gender-neutral bathrooms, and some universities developing policies for housing and providing insurance coverage.
This is a great start, but for every positive change, protection, or right, there seem to be five stories of a Transgender person being discriminated against or being beaten. This needs to change and it can’t change fast enough.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Nicole: Currently, I am not active in politics and have not participated in any lobbying campaigns. However, I do believe Transgender women can make a significant difference in politics. As indicated earlier, Transgender women have all the same abilities and talents as Cisgender women--and Cisgender men for that matter--meaning that Transgender women have important ideas to contribute to creating positive change in the world regarding Transgender issues and other political issues.
While I may not be active in politics, I am utilizing my film-making talents to produce a perspective-changing documentary displaying Transgender people in an affirmative light in order to create awareness, understanding, and positive visibility.
Monika: Is there anyone in the transgender society whose actions could be compared to what Harvey Milk was doing in the USA in the 60s and 70s for gay activism?
Nicole: Laverne Cox and Janet Mock immediately come to mind when I think of positive activists for the Transgender community. Both are willing to speak out about their life stories, educate others about Transgender, and positively and confidently represent Transgender individuals. I have a lot of respect for these two women. Their presence in the community is helping society to see that Transgender women are to be respected, not feared.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Nicole: Love is present in my life in so many ways and I am forever grateful for it! First and foremost is the love of my life and my wife, Lori. I couldn’t have made it through the transition without her by my side. When I came out to Lori as being Transgender, I really didn’t know what to expect.
At the same time, I must admit that I was amazed when, not only did Lori want to remain married to me, but also she asked what she needed to do to support me through the transition. While this was what I wanted most in the world, I couldn’t believe it was actually true! Even more exciting is that we continue to be happily married today and she has not wavered in her support for me for a second.
Our marriage is stronger than ever and our love continues to grow every day! I am also thrilled to have the support of my family and friends. It is great to see the number of new friends that I’ve made throughout the transition.

Girls' day out.

Monika: Being beautiful always produces a lot of girl power and empowerment. Do you often use it?
Nicole: Girl power and empowerment are gained when a person recognizes their inner beauty. Inner beauty encompasses so many things—intelligence, self-esteem, self-confidence, recognition of talents and interests, to name just a few. Once an individual identifies and believes in these characteristics, they are not only beautiful on the inside, but also exude beauty on the outside.
Inner beauty is what allows a person to carry themselves confidently, smile brightly, make intent eye contact, and convey interesting ideas. Outer beauty is of course a person’s physical characteristics. Without inner beauty, a person cannot be beautiful on the outside for very long.
All of that being said, absolutely, you can bet that I use my inner beauty which produces female empowerment. This helps me to develop strong relationships, increase trust, and accomplish tasks. Beauty is a wonderful thing!
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Nicole: I must say that I am a bit of a “fashionista”! Truly, I always had a flair for women’s fashion even before I came out as Transgender. I knew which styles looked really good and which trends were hip. Currently, I dress in a wide variety of looks, which I choose based on my mood and events that I attend. I prefer bright, flashy colors, I love to accessorize, and I feel my best in outfits that are ultra-femme and classy. Keeping up with fashion trends is an interest of mine.
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Nicole: I know that Transgender beauty pageants take place, but truthfully, I don’t know a lot about them. I believe that all beauty pageants can send a positive message about the multiple levels of beauty. Yes, beauty pageants do tend to emphasize outer beauty, but many pageants also focus on highlighting women’s viewpoints on political issues, accentuating their talents, and emphasizing poise and confidence.
Furthermore, Transgender pageants can help to raise awareness that Transgender individuals are out there in the community making a difference. Furthermore, pageants can open up opportunities that otherwise might not be available to those who participate — i.e. earning scholarships.
Monika: Are you working on any other new projects now?
Nicole: At this point, my primary focus is on completing the documentary. Once the documentary is complete, most of my efforts will go into marketing the documentary to various distribution channels. Furthermore, the documentary will be introduced to families of Transgender people who are just beginning their coming out process and transition journey so they may gain an increased understanding of what they might experience along the way. Finally, it is my hope to give presentations of my story across the country.
Monika: My pen-friend Gina Grahame wrote to me once that we should not limit our potential because of how we were born or by what we see other transsexuals and transgender people doing. Our dreams should not end on an operating table; that’s where they begin. Would you agree?
Nicole: My dreams began the very day that I admitted to myself that I am Transgender. At that very moment, there was no turning back and that is a good thing. The denial was gone; it was time to claim my life as Nicole and achieve those dreams that seemed so out of reach!
My time on the operating table and the journey to get there is just a small part of the rest of my life! The greatest dream of my entire life was just to live authentically--to be me--and to express myself without fear of being “found out”. My life will only flourish from there as I set forth to make a change in the world by documenting my story on film and sharing it with others.
Monika: Nicole, thank you for the interview!
Nicole: Thank you so much, Monika, for taking the time to interview me. It was my pleasure!

All the photos: courtesy of Nicole Bray.
© 2014 - Monika Kowalska

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