Tuesday 23 September 2014

Interview with Jennifer Chavez

Monika: It is my pleasure and honor to interview Jennifer Michelle Chavez a transgender activist and master auto technician from the USA. Hello Jennifer!
Jennifer: Hello Monika and thank you for the opportunity to speak with you!
Monika: Could you please say a few words about yourself?
Jennifer: I would be happy too! I am a 57-year-old woman who made the decision to transition 5 years ago! I finally found the courage to face my condition after 52 years and a whole lifetime of stress and turmoil! I knew I was different as early as 4 years of age, and as I grew I learned more about it and what it was called.
I tried to transition when I was a teenager and moved away to Los Angeles from my native Texas, but was thwarted by the many obstacles I encountered. My only regret at this point is that I wish I could have done it back then, but I would not have the greatest gift a person can have and that is my son Cody!
Monika: In 2011 you made headlines when you claimed unemployment discrimination as a Transsexual woman. What was your argument?
Jennifer: Well the story is long and convoluted but I will try to shorten it up. It started with the employer who I was working for at the time, while they seemed supportive of my initial disclosure about wanting to transition, I quickly learned the owner who was not on site did not like the prospect of me transitioning at work.
They set me up for failure and due to a very hostile work environment that had been created, I inadvertently fell asleep in a car while on the clock. I had not been sleeping and I failed. I was terminated the next day. I then went to the Georgia Dept. of Labor to apply for unemployment insurance where I was initially denied. But after a hearing, they made the decision that I should not have been terminated for such a minor first offence and was granted unemployment. 
During the subsequent 4 months, the company appealed the decision and the Dept. of Labor without explanation reversed their decision and demanded repayment of 5k in the funds that had been paid to me. This began a long ordeal of communications where the DOL ignored my pleas, my evidence and even my name change until they realized they could not pursue me legally for repayment using my old name! I had legally changed it 9 months prior!
To date, they have garnished over $3400 and are still trying to collect under threats of another $2600! This was the first story that was told on the local news here in Atlanta in 2011! Apparently, they got away with this behavior because I am Transsexual.

Ready for a night out on the town!

Monika: Did you manage to win in court?
Jennifer: There are two court cases involved, a Federal one for the Civil Rights issues and a State of Georgia one for the issues regarding the DOL. The state issues are up in the air at this stage, and I am trying to avoid them since the state cannot be held accountable and all of the evidence will never be heard.
I have been ruined financially and am barely surviving as it is, the last thing I need is to lose my home over this! The Federal case has been going on for 2 years now, we recently lost a major decision called Summary Judgement due to politics and bias by the Republican judge who adjudicated the case. We are looking to appeal to a higher court, my attorney is exploring the options and consulting with others to gauge the best way to pursue this appeal.
Monika: What should be done to prevent the discrimination of Transgender women at work?
Jennifer: The laws must be changed! That is my main objective and where I channel much of my energy along with many others who have the same goals! There are now many national organizations whose focus is directly related to lobbying Congress both local, state, and Federal who are doing everything they can to get the laws changed! There is progress, but it is at a snail's pace!
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of Transgender women in American society?
Jennifer: There is a huge call for education for American society, same as the rest of the world! "Fear is the mind-killer!" The fact that so much is unknown about our condition along with religious views are our main obstacles. Each of us can be an Ambassador for the community and it behooves each and every one of us to present well, conduct our selves appropriately and speak to as many individuals and groups in an effort to spread our message! The more open minds that allow us to speak, the better for the community as a whole!
Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman yourself? Was it a difficult process?
Jennifer: When I began my physical transformation I was 51 years old, I was very fortunate to be able to complete the process from 0 to SRS in 11 months! When I made the decision I did not have any idea that it would work out like it did, but as I said, I was very blessed. The hardest part for me was telling my son, he and I had always been extraordinarily close and I was terrified to tell him along with the rest of my family.
As a matter of fact, the issues with my son were what led up to our appearance on the Dr. Oz show here in 2012! What a great experience and opportunity it was! Many families told me later that we helped them and their families cope with their transitions from what they saw on that episode! That made me very happy!
Monika: At the time of your transition, did you have any Transgender role models that you followed?
Jennifer: Oh my gosh yes! During the 51 years where I had never disclosed a single word to another human being on this planet, I was keeping up with the community! I devoured every morsel of information I could find whether it was magazines, movies, TV appearances you name it!
But there were so many idols, I could never create a list long enough! I was sooo envious! I wished, prayed, yelled, screamed, cried, begged you name it to God to please allow me to become the woman I knew I always was! But due to the inspiration of all of these women, I finally realized it was not going to happen until I stopped wishing and started doing! What is even beyond cool now, is I am friends on social media with many of these same idols and speak with them regularly!
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Jennifer: Overcoming the guilt and the shame that I had, My first therapist's greatest gift to me was her getting me to understand that I had nothing to feel guilty and have shame about! I had done nothing wrong! That single lesson, did more to move me forward and gave me the strength to face the road ahead!

Her red sexy car! She loves fast cars!

Monika: What do you think about Transgender stories and or characters which have been featured In films, newspapers, or books so far?
Jennifer: Wonderful! For every bit of positive exposure in any media, it does a world of good for all of us! We are making advances across the board where we are portrayed in a positive light! What really helps is that the old exploitive methods that used to dominate in media are mostly gone!
Now we have well-spoken, intelligent, compassionate and kind people speaking for us! Society can now see that in many ways we are just like them! They are understanding that this is just a medical condition and that those of us who suffer from this are good people at heart! Can't ask for more than that!
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?
Jennifer: Absolutely yes! We are populated with so many brilliant, educated, and well-spoken individuals throughout our community how could we not? It seems to me that for the most part, one of the characteristics that we share is not only the drive and ambition to accomplish anything, is our ability to communicate with society! I mean there are some of us lobbying Congress every day! Working in the upper echelon of the government at every level! Have served honorable and continue to serve in the military with distinction! There is nothing we cannot do!
Monika: Is there anyone in the U.S. Transgender society whose actions could be compared to what Harvey Milk was doing in the 60s and 70s for gay activism?
Of course, there is! From Christine Jorgensen, to Silvia Riviera, Mara Keisling, Meghan Stabler, my attorney Jillian Weiss and so many more! Apologies to all those not mentioned, but that honors list is long! Each and every one of us is capable of doing grand accomplishments and have! The contributions are across the board! I can only hope that my endeavors will help the community in the long run and help to change law! That is my goal!
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think Transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Jennifer: Yes, I am very aware of the issues. I consider myself an Independent voter as I lean Liberal on social issues and Conservative on the economy. Since most of my energy is devoted to Trans issues and ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which has been languishing in Congress since 1994.
I have lobbied, participated in protests, written to my representatives and generally done anything and everything I can to make politicians aware of what our issues are and how they affect society in general by leaving us behind in the equation. And yes we can and have made a huge difference in the advances we have already accomplished to date in many states and Federally!
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs colors or trends?
Jennifer: I love fashion! I would love to wear higher-end clothes! I lean towards casual attire that is appropriate for a woman of my age. In the work that I do, I have to change into a nasty uniform to perform my duties and work around men all day. I have very little opportunity to wear feminine clothes other than back and forth to work and on weekends.
On top of all of that, like I said, due to the employment discrimination I still face, I can't get a decent job anymore, so finances are very tight. A roof over my head and transportation are of paramount importance! Not to mention that eating thing, I kinda like that too! So nothing to brag about in the fashion arena!

With her handsome son.

Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Jennifer: Ha! What is that? I have given up on that. I doubt I will ever be in a relationship again during this lifetime! I have the love of my son and other family but beyond that no.
I have been with men before and that was pretty awesome, but I decided that women better soot my fancy but I have put forth zero effort in finding anybody who might have any interest in me. Besides, I have medical issues I would not want to impose on anybody!
Monika: Many Transgender ladies write their memoirs, have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Jennifer: If I ever get through all of the legal processes I am dealing with, I would love to write about all of it! The stupidity from the many government agencies that have aggravated an already bad situation has been astounding! No one should ever be subjected to the mistakes that have compounded the seriousness of what I have faced! It almost seems like a conspiracy to me that these agencies do what they have done and are not held accountable all the while virtually ruining me in almost every aspect! I went from being a solidly middle-class, tax-paying, law-abiding citizen born and raised here to having to live underground to survive! These bastards have not beaten me yet, but they are giving it all they got! I think it would be a great story!
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
No, nothing more than what I have already stated. I have my hands full now! I hope to one day offer more to the community when this is all over!
Monika: What would you recommend to all Transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Jennifer: First of all, understand that you have a medical condition that you were born with. Second, you are not doing anything wrong by expressing who you are! You need to seek out professionals who are familiar with the condition and can give you the kind of advice and help that lets you understand the condition from all aspects. It will not go away, if it does then most likely you are not truly Transgender.
If you can find a support group of others you are comfortable with, seek them out and talk with them. you will find out you are not alone! Lastly, I wish you the best in however you choose to pursue your self-identity. It can be a tough road, but it can also be the most rewarding and amazing journey you will ever take in your life!
Monika: Jennifer, thank you for the interview.
Jennifer: Thank you Monika for giving me this forum to tell you some of my story!

All the photos: courtesy of Jennifer Chavez.
© 2014 - Monika Kowalska

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