Thursday, 30 October 2014

Interview with Abby Grace Hughes

Monika: Today’s interview will be with Abby Grace Hughes, known to friends and family as Abby-Grace. She is a video blogger that documents her transition on YouTube and on her blog. Hello Abby!
Abby: Hello Monika, thank you for this privilege. So much has happened in my life. From coming out at around 6, struggling through puberty and school. Touring the UK in my Rock band in the 80s and early 90s. Transitioning in my early 20s to turning away to have children.
Three gender dysphoria caused nervous breakdowns putting me into psychiatric help. Coming out. Starting hormones. Changing name. Being beaten up for being trans. Life threatened. Had people arrested. I falsely had the police called out on me. Falsely tricked and lied about. Ran away from the UK to the States. Got stuck in Germany during my connecting flight because of a slight error on my Visa which cost an extra $800. 2 years RLE now as good as complete. Finding work here and processing my Visa. Then I’m off to college if I can.
I think I am now better equipped to help people having gone through it all, so there was a reason.

Monika: Your life could be a good movie scenario ...
Abby: Well, I am a 47-year-old transsexual and intersexed woman. I have been living full time as Abby-Grace since January 2013, finally coming out after a life of depression and two serious nervous breakdowns through gender dysphoria.
I am from Manchester in the UK but live in the US. On my YouTube Vlogs and on my blogsite I try to create less of a personal Vlog as most do and more tackling important issues such as transphobia, trans*youth and educating against ignorance and prejudice.
More to do with our condition and giving useful practical advice to other transsexuals and their families. Some have suggested that maybe I have not been in transition long enough for such a position as this, however my response to that has to be to remind them that although i may have been taking hormones for less than three years, I have in fact been a female all of my life, as well as having to deal with trans issues for just as long!
Coming out to my mum and dad at only six years old means that in reality I have a wealth of experience in regards to the pain, panic, depression, anxiety and the prison that this condition has been. I originally started hormonal transition and a partial coming out at 22 years old but backtracked through my desire of needing to have children and not wanting to lose my partner.
From that moment on life proved to be very mentally destructive for me because of Awful levels of Gender Dysphoria, until I had little choice but to resume transition and deal with this and other medical gender issues.
Monika: Why did you decide to share your transition details on YouTube?
Abby: Well, once I did finally come out, I went on YouTube and the internet generally to find some answers. Not just regarding my conditions but also to better understand medical procedures and pathways of care within the UK Health System.
However, I found that the important questions were not being answered. Sure you could watch transition time lines or keep an eye on the development of your favourite transsexual; even learn how to plump up your bust with a push-up bra; but if you needed some serious help or answers to your questions regarding these conditions, or just some help in finding the correct medical, emotional or supportive facilities they quite simply were just not there!
Most Vloggers seemed a little self-absorbed, happy with finally being free, which is okay, but being aware of how painful and scary coming out and this condition was, I wanted to help, and wanted there to be something up on there when people searched for help and answers. So I’ve focused more on these things both socially and at times radically too!
Monika: At which stage of the transition are you right now?
Abby: Well, I had actually started transition at 22 although we didn’t call it that then, so I had a tiny bit of a head start and although I only went full time in January 2013, I had already been on hormones since April 2012, so I’m pretty well on now.
I was being treated, had all my letters of diagnosis and referral and was fully funded for surgery and HRT in the UK before fleeing home and so continuing my transition with clinicians here in the States. I’m now approaching surgery in 2015 and so am wonderfully close to clearing the final hurdle that has held me back from peace and wholeness all my life.
Can you see my eyes?
Monika: Are you satisfied with the results of the hormone therapy?
Abby: Yes very satisfied thankfully and have been really fortunate, which in part is through some pre-existing gender conditions but nevertheless I am so relieved and grateful. I had pointed out in one of my very early Vlogs that gender sufferers starting hormone treatment later in life can usually expect diminished results, which can be true. However, I’m so happy that I’ve developed just fine, yay!
I have cleared away any facial hair and my breasts are approaching a 36D. Because of my condition I never did have very much body hair to deal with, but what I did have is now at normal female levels through HRT. The few stubborn bits I did have I have lasered off; such as a few stubborn hairs on the legs etc.
Actually, my biggest battle has oddly been my knees! lol. HRT got rid of any leg hair super quickly but the hair on my knees although turning more fine kept up the fight against me! I had such a battle even with the laser! If I had left the hair to grow it would have looked as if I was growing watercress on my knees lol.
I never really had much body hair and virtually zero underarm hair but lasering my face was a real killer pain and a hell, so be prepared for that one! I documented the whole experience here on the online trans*women's magazine I produce.
Monika: Could you describe your childhood? When did you feel for the first time that you should not be a boy or indeed a man?
Abby: Okay, in all honesty, there was never a time I felt like a boy, not even for a day nor an hour in my life. That’s because my gender never ever was. I could however see my body was male! So begins the agony and confusion!
Once I got to 6 and a half and after no small degree of pressure from mom and dad concerning my effeminate/gentle nature and play I finally admitted how I felt, crying out to mom; “I’m not a boy! I hate boys things and I hate my willy!” (Penis). Or words super close to this!
I was promptly taken to the doctors where mom explained her fears and relayed what had been said and how I had been acting as a child. The doctor all but told mom off or laughed at her, saying she was being silly and that I’d grow out of it. Mom said I was so gentle she thought I was an angel sent down and that she was not meant to keep me. The doctor laughed at her again I’m told and promptly told her she needed to tough me up a little and get my father and brother to give me more attention. It didn’t help and it sure didn’t work!!
Monika: In the majority of transgender girls' stories, their most traumatic time is the time spent at school, college or university when they had to face lots of discrimination. Was it the same in your case?
Abby: Yes sadly, but it could have been worse! My brother was the ‘cock of the school’ which meant nobody tackled him and so they also learned pretty quick not to bother with me much either! I was picked on in reception and junior school more for playing with the girls too much and for playing with girls' toys during in-class play hour.
Ready for a beach.
In high school, even with the proxy protection on my brother, in some ways it was still bad. I had been placed in an all-boys school with very Victorian boarding school type attitudes and teaching methods. Promoting lots of tough love, bossy hard teaching methods and plenty of seriously bad punishments being dished out.
I mean I was so ridiculously shy that you’d think it would be an almost impossibility that I’d ever be in a position to get beaten by the teachers. I got caned 4 times and beaten many more with tennis shoes, cricket bats and six of the best on my bottom or hands with a huge T’square! Reason? To shy! Not being involved enough and being soft!
As you can imagine all this clashed with me tremendously and I would make any excuse to not attend school, it all did little to help my Dysphoria and all during a time when I was already struggling with puberty issues too. However, thankfully, at the start of my third year of attendance the school went mixed-sex and I felt almost rescued. Not only could I now have some new girl friends, but even the teaching methods softened and physical punishment all but stopped!
Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow?
Abby: Oooh yes, well I admire several actually and have written about a few of them in particular on both my blog and magazine. Laverne Cox is a wonderful inspiration to me, as is Andreja Pejic, Paris Lees, Janet Mock, Jackie Green and others.
I admire, am proud of and look-up too those true authentic gender nonconforming role models that not only live soberly in our world but who also live genuinely and authentically too. Who recognise that to some degree they have been given an opportunity and don’t shy away from the advantage and obligation they’ve been given. Those who take time out to make a difference for other gender nonconforming people, by educating an extremely misinformed and prejudice world away from the current destructive cliches that plague gender variant people every day. Something which not only proved to be the cause and reason for my own hiding for so many years but did likewise to so many during past generations too.
Things are very slowly starting to change, yet resistance to these changes is increasingly high and as a result so is the danger and threat too at the moment!

Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Abby: Wow, now there’s a question and a half hehehe! Actually I did not literally come out! I went back to my doctors practice during my third and by far most destructive nervous breakdown to find a little support and maybe get some anti-depressants to help get me through and cope with the Gender Dysphoria (which I had not discussed with them).
Yet instead of simply throwing pills at me which was their usual method (and frankly one which suited my hiding), a new doctor at the practice had decided to look into why I had such a long history of panic and depression with seemingly no answers or resolution as to why.
Unbeknownst to me whilst digging around in my past she had discovered the old medical record from when I was six years old and had been taken to the doctors by my mom with gender personality issues. She turned the computer screen around to show me the record entry and asked if it was this which had been part of the cause of my troubles all these years? I broke down crying and she sat with me for well over an hour (I bet whoever had the next appointment loved me! lol). What followed was over a year of physical tests and psychological assessments! So as you can see, I was kind of brought out rather than came out.
Nevertheless, the hardest part, and the reason why I had never come out in the first place was the potential fear and the shame I would go through. I nevertheless did not expect the world of suffering and trouble which was soon to follow and which surpassed even my worst expectations during all those hiding years!
Monika: What is your general view on the present situation of transgender women in British society?
Abby: Well, I would say that within the West and not just in Britain research into the causes of transsexuality, transgender and intersexed conditions has discovered and uncovered so much over the last decade that not only does it all serve to vindicate genuine gender sufferers but is also slowly but rightfully forcing legislation to change too. 
Trans*rights and trans*visibility seem to be the burning topics of the moment and dare I say ‘at last’ too; but with that comes a period of unprecedented resistance by some also! Medical and scientific facts mean little to such people, neither sadly do equal rights for living. So although in a legislative manner things have been steadily looking up for trans*people, allowing us to be more transparent and on paper at least offering seemingly more protection; the reality is somewhat different!
Coming out of the shadows is a good thing, as light reveals who we really are and that we are not who the world thought us to be and shows we are actually no threat. We are claiming what I feel most of us deserve, which is our place within society; to simply be able to move, love and live freely without fear of danger!
Sadly though, it seems that this is a great threat to some people's security and so is resulting in a tenfold increase in violent transgender murders and attacks! I think we are in a transitional period where we can eventually truly be free and open, but this freedom, as is usually the case will not settle down or be established seemingly without first being baptized in trans*blood! So it is a difficult time, yes, but one which I hope will eventually be a wonderful time ahead too!

Glamour shot.

Monika: We are witnessing more and more transgender ladies coming out. Unlike in the previous years, some of them have the status of celebrities or are really well-known, just to mention Lana Wachowski in film-directing, Jenna Talackova in modelling, Kate Bornstein in academic life, Laura Jane Grace in music or Candis Cayne in acting. Do you think we will have more and more such women?
Abby: Yes I think so. We live in a celebrity-driven age that wants sensationalism and at the moment there is no greater sensationalistic movement than the new transparency of transgender women.
The media have always loved to hate us and to viciously offer transgender women up for slaughter by how they have presented and chosen to report on us. Historically the media's methods of presenting transsexual women to the world differ little from how in the old days' evil circus owners would place freaks in glass boxes and cages to be stared at, very much like the bearded lady for instance!
Yet something surprisingly good is beginning to emerge, which the media did not intend! As many of our pretty or successful transgender women and men get the opportunity to not only share their stories on the media but also to show the world how ‘ordinary’ and ‘kind’ they actually are, hate is beginning to turn into compassion and sensationalistic ‘freak viewing’ is turning into real interest and deserved admiration! So I say may it continue!
The battle now is extending this reportage trend over to the ordinary transgender women within society, who are still receiving very deliberate, manipulative and destructive reportage styles from the media, which drives the hate and the danger on! It is here that change needs to come but I feel that what is happening within the attitudes of the population towards trans*celebrity will begin to trickle down and hopefully force media to change their methods and foul tactics!


All the photos: courtesy of Abby Grace Hughes.
© 2014 - Monika Kowalska

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