Sunday, 5 October 2014

Interview with Kathryn Camfield

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Kathryn Camfield, a blogger, writer, former radio announcer, and transgender ally from Reno NV. Hello Kathryn! 
Kathryn: Hi Monika, and thanks for your interest in me.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Kathryn: A few words? I laugh because my wife Cindy would be saying “be careful what you wish for.” Anyhow, I’m a transgender ally. An experienced cross dresser since 1957, I have lived and worked as a woman, on and off, since 1998. I reside in Reno NV with my wife, Cindy. I was a radio announcer for about 34 years in Ohio, Michigan, Texas and Florida. In addition, I have written four published books and I taught people how to write books, on America Online, for 7 years. I have played guitar, bass guitar and djembe (a hand drum) and have worked on a various computers since 1986.
Since I came out in 1998, I have worked as a woman. First, (1998-2005) as office manager and workshop coordinator for Mark Allison Acting Workshops in Pasadena, California. Secondly, (2005-2013) Supervisor of store operations for Las Vegas HQ, a chain of souvenir shops in four Las Vegas casinos (Tropicana, MGM Grand, New York New York, Excalibur).
We moved to Reno NV in March 2013. Cindy is a nanny, caring for four babies for three different families. I am semi-retired writing my books from my home office and occasionally teaching other seniors like myself how to ballroom dance. (I used to teach at Fred Astaire studios in the 80s.)
Monika: You have been living and working as a woman, on and off, since 1998. Have you ever considered living as a full-time woman?
Kathryn: I spent five months in 2011 discussing that with Sandi, my VA psychologist, and we finally decided that I have been a cross dreamer (one who dreams of being a woman) but that I am not actually a trans woman. We decided since I have a supportive wife, have successfully lived and worked as a woman, and because I cannot afford either hormones or the operation and am now 68 years old, I should just let well enough alone. Going through the physical transition, at this age, would really not improve my life more than it is, so I am channeling my efforts into supporting the trans women who KNOW they are women trapped in… well, you know.
Monika: In the 70s you enlisted in the US Navy but you were booted for dressing in women’s clothes...
Kathryn: Yeah, horrible isn’t it? (Yes, I am being sarcastic.) I had been dressing on weekends from 1957, through high school and college, to 1969 when I enlisted to avoid being drafted and sent to Southeast Asia. Luckily, I was sent to Southwest Texas, instead. 
In the Navy, I learned to really write, and I edited the weekly base newspaper. My experience in college radio gave me the opportunity to work off-base, nights, at radio station KSIX in Corpus Christie (40 miles from Kingsville). Then, in 1971, I had the only run-in with the law I have ever had.
I had secretly acquired some women’s clothes which I wore during my 7pm to midnight radio job, since no one was ever there. One night, I kept the clothes on while I drove home to Kingsville. I checked my post office box, and came out the door to what looked like the entire Kingsville Police Department, guns drawn and lights flashing. I guess no one had ever gone into the Kingsville Post Office at one in the morning. They did their best to embarrass me while waiting for the Shore Patrol to pick me up. Fingerprinted me. Took pictures of me. Inventoried my clothes. Called in other officers to see me.
Back on the base, the Patrol let me sleep on a bench in the waiting room until the staff psychologist showed up. He asked me if I was gay. I said, “No.” He asked me if I had ever attempted to have sex with other men. I said, “Yuck. Never.” He looked through his Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Then he enquired again if I was gay. I said, “Not only do I not love men, I hate men.”
Three weeks later, I was drummed out of the U.S. Navy with an Honorable Discharge under “general conditions.” That meant, in the event of war, I’ll be a hostage. No actually, it meant I could never enlist again.

Cindy and Kathy Camfield backstage after
appearance on TV show To Tell the Truth, 2000.

Monika: In an effort to become a man, you got married three times ...
Kathryn: It’s true. I was married in Lansing, Michigan in 1972: I was 25 and I told her about my cross dressing. She thought my dressing as a woman was fun. After we were married, not so much. She sought a real man. She found him. We agreed to an amicable divorce and I moved to Sarasota FL in 1975.
For the next nine years, I worked as creative director of an advertising agency, dressed on weekends, and dated a bunch of different girls, not becoming close to any of them because I didn’t want to share my deep, dark secret.
Suddenly, May 15, 1984, my dear Aunt Audrey, died from a brain aneurysm rupture. Just like that, the only woman I had ever loved, the sweet lady who had raised me in the absence of my mother from the time I was eleven, was irreversibly gone.
Monika: It must have been a terrible blow!
Kathryn: Yes, I went into a yearlong decline. I gave my female clothes to Goodwill. I swore this time I would shake my horrible abnormality for good. Ridiculously, I decided it was my fault that Audrey died. If I had not wanted to be a woman, she’d still be alive. At this point in my life, I couldn’t figure out who I really was or how I had become so screwed up. I was consumed with guilt. I took a friend’s gun in order to kill myself. However, I was too scared to do it. I began to think that the only way to combat my desire to be a woman was to force myself to be a normal man. Then, at this crucial, confused, desperate time in my life I made a most significant, nearly overwhelming mistake.
I got married again.
I decided not to tell my second wife about my horrible secret and for a few years, I tried to be a man. But, after a six month long bout with lymph node cancer and a successful five hour operation in 1986, I had become acquainted with my own mortality. I made some choices that my wife did not accept.
I decided to start writing books and I began working midnight to six at a local automated radio station, just for the money. This simply demonstrated what we already knew; our marriage was in name only. We were two people living in a house with five cats and a mortgage. Two people who rarely saw each other.
I hid my clothes and dressed at the radio station, because no one was ever there. (Sound familiar?) Occasionally, I’d dress at home when she was not around. But after 12 years of marriage, she finally caught me. Although she absolutely refused to discuss the problem, she decided that I was sick and depraved. She divorced me but kept the house and our five cats.
Monika: What did you do then?
Kathryn: Well, I was fifty-two years old consumed by my desire to be a woman but still wanting to love a woman and have a life. Twice divorced with no family and precious few friends. One thing that had kept me going was that, since 1993, I had been working for the America Online Campus. Two early evenings a week, I had been teaching students whom I had never met, in states I had never visited, how to write their first novel. Three of my own novels had been published in 1990, which is what had attracted AOL.
We did the classes via the early form of chat rooms and with text libraries and e-mail. My classes had become very popular. When I stopped teaching in the winter of 2000, AOL told me that I had taught 4,735 students in seven years. Notably, the novels I had written featured a female main character (protagonist) named Veronica Slate. Interviewers asked, "Why did you choose to write from a woman's viewpoint?" I told them that I like women. In fact, I love women. What I did not have the courage to say was that “I wanted to be a woman.” But writing the Veronica Slate novels from the viewpoint of a woman kept me sane.
Monika: The situation changed when you met Cindy. 
Kathryn: Yes, indeed. In 1997, I established a long-distance relationship with a California middle school English teacher who was taking my writing classes. Soon we struck up what became a year-long daily e-mail correspondence. Cindy Petersen had recently divorced her husband after 25 years, because he carried on an extended affair with a girl half her age. Cindy found out about it by opening the phone bill. Her two children were grown; one a high school assistant principal, the other a nurse. We both had no siblings, both had no dads (her dad had died young), we both loved old movies, reading books and were both Virgos, just a two years and two days apart, I was born on August 27, 1946 and Cindy born on August 29, 1948.
After a year of daily emails and late night chat room sessions, we finally met in person in February 1998, when Cindy flew to Florida to see me teach at a writer’s conference. Inside of 24 hours, we both knew we had finally found our soul mates. I was as sure as the day is long that this was my last chance at happiness. Thirty days later, I drove my purple Saturn, packed with some meagre possessions and my computer, across the country. We moved in together in Pasadena, and I did something I never thought I would ever do again.
Because of the deceitful nature of our exes we had agreed when we got together that we would have no secrets, that we would tell each other everything. I admitted that I had wanted to be a woman my whole life. As one would anticipate, she asked me if I felt I was a woman trapped in a man’s body. I said, no. All I really wanted was to dress like a woman without having to hide.
Kathryn Camfield
Transgender Ally in Reno,
Monika: How did Cindy react to your feminine side?
Kathryn: As my Danish friends called it, I was a cross dreamer. Since Cindy is a Danish-American, she immediately got it. Clever girl that Cindy is, she researched transgender topics on the internet, joined an online support group for transgender wives and bought me a dress. I could scarcely believe it. Someone finally got me and apparently loved me in spite of myself. Actually, as Cindy told me, “Many of the things I love about you are what some people would consider feminine traits; your consideration, your warmth and the fact that you are not competitive or mean.”
“I love that I can talk to you about anything, that you actually care about what I think, that you are gentle and kind. You make me feel beautiful and adored. Besides being in love, we are good friends, as well.” As if she needed to, she concluded, “I love you exactly as you are.” We’ve been together for sixteen years.
Monika: You are a writer. Could you elaborate on your writing, including your new non-fiction book “Your Gender: Your Choice! which will be published in paperback in 2015?
Kathryn: Writing under a pseudonym (Lary Crews), I wrote 3 published mystery novels. The first two, Kill Cue and Extreme Close-up were republished and are still available in trade paperback from Amazon. My 3rd novel, Option To Die, is out of print. I wrote a nonfiction book on writing called Novel Secrets, also out of print but occasionally found on eBay.
My second non-fiction book, Your Gender: Your Choice! will be out in paperback in early 2015. It’s main reason for existing is best expressed by the subtitle: “For the first time in your life, finally be who you really are.” Cindy had always told me that I should tell other cross dressers not to be ashamed of who they are.
Using my life story as a matrix I explain to everyone under the “transgender umbrella” how they can fight for their rights, how they can be proud of the unique individuals they are and how they can learn to be happy not matter what gender they are. I’ll also get into information about how others can be transgender allies like myself. 
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in the American society?
Kathryn: Right now, I’m watching the rest of the world begin to understand the trans community that has become my home, and it is incredibly exciting. Time magazine called this the "new civil rights frontier." After all, the cultural Right Wing has largely lost the argument against homosexuality. Those who argue against gay marriage and gay adoption are increasingly at odds with social norms, and the pseudo-religious homophobia that was common, sounds more and more bigoted.
However, the Right Wing still feels the need to police gender. If they can no longer call gay people sinful and expect to be taken seriously, someone else has to be the scapegoat, the "other" against which "normality" is defined. Guess who is the new target? Yep, us. The time is here when everyone who believes in equality and social justice must decide where they stand on the issue of trans rights, whether that be the right to equal opportunities at work, or simply the right to walk down the street dressed in a way that makes you comfortable. If we believe in social justice, we must support our own trans community as it makes its way proudly into the mainstream.
Monika: Do you have any transgender role models that you follow?
Kathryn: The role models I follow are varied. Top on the list is Kimi Cole, President at Nevada Stonewall Democratic Caucus and a founding member of the Transgender Allies Group (TAG) here in Reno. Cole, 59, transitioned five years ago and she is a real mover and shaker in the trans world.
Also TAG President Brock Maylath is a wonderful man who accepted me with open arms and immediately put me to work speaking at our annual open house this week. Of the folks who are role models but whom I don’t see every week are Eddie Izzard, the famous “executive transvestite” comedian and actor and Kristin Beck, the ex-Seal whose documentary was on CNN recently.
Monika: What is the hardest thing about your coming out?
Kathryn: Coming out was remarkably easy for me in 1998 because of Cindy’s support. Perhaps because of my “secret” I have never been good at making friends so there were few people to be told about my new status. I have no children and Cindy has two grown children who are lost in their own world and only tangentially interested in their stepdad.
My mother and step-father, who are now divorced, do not speak to me at all and haven’t since 1998. I have no other family. The only difficult thing for my coming out as a cross dresser living as a woman is my perceived feeling that trans women look down on me because I am ONLY a cross dresser. That’s one reason the book I am writing is so important to me; I want them to know that I am tirelessly on their side.
Monika: What do you think about transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers or books so far?
Kathryn: I cringe every time someone like Venus Van Dam, the transgender prostitute, shows up on Sons of Anarchy. It’s enough that Venus is played by a man but his “breasts body suit” makes him even more ridiculous. Although transgender characters have appeared in such films as The World According to Garp, Second Serve, Boys Don’t Cry, Normal and Transamerica it was not until the TV show Dirty Sexy Money in 2007 that a real transgender actress played a transgender character; Candis Cayne as Carmelita. Now of course, transgender actress Laverne Cox plays Sophia; a transgender inmate in Orange Is The New Black.
Although some trans people are upset that cisgender man Jeffrey Tambor plays Mort who is transitioning to Maura on Transparent, I do not agree. He is perfect for the part of a cisgender man who becomes a trans woman because he is a cisgender man and a great actor.
Tambor will likely make America understand trans women much more readily than the glamorous Laverne Cox has. Most trans women who come out later in life are not as sexy and hot as Cox is. Unlike Cox, most of us are not, without effort, conventionally beautiful.


All the photos: courtesy of Kathryn Camfield.
© 2014 - Monika Kowalska

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