Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Interview with Natalie Colleen Gates

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Natalie Colleen Gates, an American writer, blogger, the author of Straight Boy/Queer Girl: A Memoir. Hello Natalie! 
Natalie: Hi Monika!
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Natalie: Oh my God, I'm so bad at things like that. You'd think being a blogger and having just written a memoir I'd be better at it. I don't know: I'm 32. I live with my dog Victoria Elizabeth in Richmond, Virginia.
Monika: Why did you decide to write your autobiography “Straight Boy/Queer Girl: A Memoir“ (2014)?
Natalie: To make money [laughing] at first. I've been blogging for a long time and people for the most part like my writing I thought I should take some of the energy I put into blogging and write a book. As I got into the project I realized it was important because I was writing the trans* memoir I wish existed before I transitioned.
All the memoirs I've read start with the trans* person in the present after they've transitioned. I didn't want to do that. I wanted to share my experience of thinking I might transition but not being sure about it. I really wanted to share with my readers how I came to the conclusion that I needed to transition.
I also wanted to share how what I was going through as a closeted trans* person was similar and how it was different from other closeted people's experiences.

Monika: Which aspects of your experience can be useful for other transwomen?
Natalie: I hope that maybe some trans* woman who isn't sure about transitioning will read my memoir and realize that she needs to. I think that I've always experienced myself as female (and a lesbian) even when I didn't realize it.
I've come to the conclusion that being a trans* woman isn't about being a man who wants to become a woman, but about having always been a girl and wanting the same things other women want.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in the American society?
Natalie: I think it is improving, especially with these new trans* icons like Janet Mock, and Laverne Cox, but still I think we have a long way to go. I chose to be out as a trans* person and because of that some people don't consider me part of the group when I'm hanging out with other lesbians.
People still don't think I'm a “real” woman. And then when it comes to trying to date anyone... there's still a lot of social pressure, and hold ups people deal with about dating a trans* woman.

Monika: At what age did you transition into woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? 
Natalie: That's a tough question to answer. In some respects I was always becoming a woman. I guess I went through two years of “pre-transition” from 25 to 27 and finally transitioned at 27. Being a woman came so naturally to me that transitioning wasn't really hard.
Having been someone who all her life every instinct she had was always wrong to suddenly have all my instincts and feelings come across as normal was something really incredible.
The problems I had during transition, I think were all separate from transition, other people's prejudices, and the result of mistakes I made because I tried to be a guy for so long. 
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Natalie: During my pre-transition I looked up to a lot of women on YouTube - Grishno was one of them. I also liked the channel “Trannystar Galactica”. After I started living full time as a woman I stopped following other people's stories. I would say that Kate Bornstein, and Jennifer Finny Boylan are two public figures I really look up to.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Natalie: Getting the courage to do it. Once I was out it wasn't really that difficult to deal with the consequences. It is sometimes hard to face people who knew me as a boy, and I have lost some family members because of my transition. But really I think the most difficult part is getting the courage to come out in the first place. Everything else has been easy to deal with.
Monika: You were trying to collect some funds for GRS via gofundme.com. Was the campaign successful?
Natalie: No. It's really hard to get people to donate to anything. A lot of people still think that Gender Confirmation Surgery isn't medically necessary, even though it is.

Support Natalie's GRS via gofundme.com.

Monika: Could transgenderism be the new frontier for human rights?
Natalie: I think transgender rights are really pressing right now. I think it's really important that more trans* people tell their stories and that we push for things that are important like healthcare, and being taken seriously. I think that transgender rights probably will be one of the biggest issues over the next twenty years or so.
Monika: What do you think about transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers or books so far?
Natalie: Every once in a while I find one that is treated sensitively. I really like that movie Breakfast on Pluto. It is insulting that trans* women are almost always played by men, or that the media almost always tells our story as “born a man,” or “formerly a man.” (I was never a man) I think pioneers like Laverne Cox, and bloggers are starting to change things.
Monika: Have you recently read or watched any interesting book or event/film about transgenderism?
Natalie: My most recent tran* book that I read was A Queer and Pleasant Danger by Kate Bornstein. It made me panicky, actually—I have some PTSD from having lived as a man. I think Gender Outlaw and Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation were much more influential on my thinking though.

Driving a car.

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?
Natalie: I think we do need a separate transgender movement. We really are left behind in the LGBT community and I've found that LGB people have as difficult or sometimes more difficult time accepting trans* people than straight people.
On the other hand, I think LGB people have the potential to be our greatest allies and I think it is really important that trans* people continue to engage with that movement.
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 the gay activism?
Natalie: I'm sure there are, but I'm not really aware of them. I think I've heard of a mayor or two who were openly transgender. I think we're a long way from being able to elect a trans* person to congress or to the Presidency.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Natalie: I absolutely think trans* women can make a difference in politics. I vote, and I voice my opinion. Recently I made a video for Equality Virginia (the LGBT lobbying group in Virginia) to help make trans* people and causes more visible, and I also street canvassed to help HRC try to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. I'm not personally involved in any candidate's campaign.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colours or trends?
Natalie: I have fun with fashion. I tend to like really mod looking outfits with straight lines and bold colors. I tend to choose aquas, pinks, and purples most often. Recently, I've been enjoying wearing jeans and t-shirts again. I really like wearing a guy's t-shirt and not looking at all like a guy.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Natalie: I would like to find a life partner more than just about anything else. I'm not very lucky in that regard though.

Monika: You are also a blogger
Natalie: Yes. I blog because I have stuff that I just need to let out from time to time. It's easier for me to write about the things I'm thinking about sometimes rather than just talk about them.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Natalie: I mean to start a sequel to Straight Boy/Queer Girl soon. I've been dragging my feet on it though. Writing Straight Boy/Queer Girl was really emotionally difficult for me and the sequel will take a lot also. I didn't leave much out of my book, or shy away from things that are difficult for me to think of. Right now, I'm working on organizing a TG Prom for trans* people and allies this spring. I organized it last year also.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Natalie: Try to accept yourself. Transitioning isn't about becoming a man or becoming a woman it's about being comfortable with yourself, even if you end up being somewhere between genders.
Monika: Natalie, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Natalie Colleen Gates.
© 2014 - Monika Kowalska

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