Friday 21 November 2014

Interview with Katie Leone

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Katie Leone, an American writer, former stock broker, teacher, preacher, and wrestling champion. Hello Katie!
Katie: Hi, Monika. Thanks for inviting me over, it’s a real treat and an honor.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Katie: I’m a very simple woman. I enjoy keeping to myself for the most part. I love writing stories and try to promote transgender equality through fiction. Most of the time I’m with my f2m boyfriend Felix and we spend time talking and laughing. Hopefully there will be a wedding in the near future. 
Monika: You are the author of 25 transgender fiction novels. When you create transgender characters in your books or projects, do you include any autobiographical elements in their lives or stories?
Katie: It is hard not to include part of yourself in your characters or they wind up coming up flat. A lot of the characters in my books are usually a part of me whether good or bad. We all have those sides of us that we wish we didn’t and I use that to create some of my evil characters. Fiction is a great place to let those demons out because at least you can see it for what it is and address the issues.
Some of other characters are based on people I know. In some books it’s more prevalent than others. Wrestling Against Myself the main character Tony was based on who I was in high school; as was Courtney. On the outside I was the big, tough, in control, ultra fundamentalist Christian, but at the same time I knew of my transgender nature and was scared that it would get out. There were some elements from my life in God Bless the Child as well, though I probably embellished to the nth degree on the severity.
Monika: Is there anything like transgender literature (as a new genre or category)?
Katie: Right now there is no such thing as transgender fiction in the eyes of Amazon and Barnes and Nobel, and I think that is unfortunate. They tend to lump everything in as either biography or erotica and that’s a shame.
Though I do have a few adult themed titles under the pseudonym Abigail Tudai, I have done my best to write a lot of works that bypass the sexual nature of being transgender. I’m not saying that there isn’t a sexual component to being transgender, there is a sexual part of just being human, but I think mainstream society thinks that being transgender is all about sex and I try to show them that isn’t the way.
Unfortunately, Mainstream audiences likewise assume all transgender literature is sexual in nature and a search on Amazon can see why that belief still exists. It isn’t until transgender fiction without erotica is accepted as its own category that the general public will know that there is something that explains the phenomena without being inundated with sexual content.

via Amazon

Monika: Probably your most popular novels are the God Bless the Child series. What are the common themes of your novels?
Katie: One of the main themes that runs through the God Bless the Child series in acceptance. In the Title book of the series, we waited for Chase to accept that his then foster child had gender issues. Being the macho cop that he was, he had to break past his preconceived notions of what biological gender determined and see that gender was more than anatomy.
In Growing Up Jenny, it was about members of the community, especially Skeeter, who began the book as an antagonist and by the end became an ally. He too had to get past the bigotry that gender is determined by anatomy. In Finding Jenny, the book is about how Jenny accepted who she was and how she held onto that despite people trying to destroy her own self-image. 
Monika: In “Wrestling Against Myself” and “The Transsexual and the Cross” you focus on the interactions between Christianity and transsexuality. What is the general attitude of the Christian religion to the transgender phenomenon?
Katie: Christianity, as a religious institution, has been divided on the issue. There are some great churches that have started the open and affirming movement in America that welcome the LGBT community with no issues. However, there are some that claim to be Christian that espouses hatred towards anything that is outside their idea of right and wholesome. They do not realize that they are not modelling Jesus, which is what a Christian is supposed to aim for, but is modelling the Pharisees that Jesus preached against. 
Christianity, as a belief system, has no issue with people being transgender. Being transgender in and of itself is not a sin. Being transgender is a state of being, and sin is an action. It often makes me cringe when people refer to being transgender as being a sin, and that comes from inside the transgender community. If a person thinks they need to ask for forgiveness for being trans, they need to evaluate the situation.
I am transgender, just like I am left-handed and blue-eyed, they are traits that are out of my control and the best I can do is to accommodate my life around my circumstances. That being said, I think I find it harder to adjust to being left-handed than I do being transgender.
Monika: Is there any reference to transgenderism in the Bible? If yes, how is this reference interpreted?
Katie: There are some verses in Deuteronomy that can be taken out of context to speak against cross-dressing. The popular verse to bring up is Deuteronomy 22:5 which says a woman shouldn’t wear that which pertains to a man and a man shouldn’t wear that which pertains to a woman. Upon further research, the verses talk more about civic duty than it is clothing. I don’t know why people fail to realize that back in 3500 B.C. when the book of Deuteronomy was written, men and women both wore robes that were strikingly similar.
Though not directly related to transgenderism, Jesus said “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?: If I shouldn’t worry about what I wear, I think others shouldn’t worry about what I am wearing too. The body is more than what is on the outside, and that includes our anatomy. 
The other verse I like to quote is Psalm 139:14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. God made me the way that I am and He has a purpose for that, which includes me being Transgender. If God made me this way, who am I to argue.

via Amazon

Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in the American society?
Katie: In everything I think there are some good and some bad. I think things are getting better, but there is still such a long way to go. Yes, there are laws being enacted to promote equality and to protect transgender people, but there is still a large segment of society that has a wrong view of what being transgender is.
When you hear the jokes on the radio or the hurtful comments on the street as you walk by people who refer to you as a freak, that shows you that we aren’t there quite yet. It will take some time and some work and that work will primarily have to come from the transgender community. It probably going to take a generation or two to wipe out the bigotry, but if we don’t start the work now, it’s only going to delay progress for future generations.
Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? 
Katie: I was 37. The most difficult part was allowing myself to break through the barrier. A lot of people were not surprised and were pretty supportive, and that took me off guard. As a former world class wrestler, I thought I created a macho image for my male fa├žade, but many people saw right through that. I was fortunate to have a lot of wonderful friends around me for support and encouragement.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Katie: Not so much that I followed, but people who had transitioned before gave me hope that I too could survive the journey. One of the people who had been vital on my Journey has been Joyce Melton, who runs one of the biggest transgender fictions websites around, Big Closet. She friended me very early on in my journey, well before I even began to think of transitioning, when I was living vicariously through fiction. She transitioned in the 70s when things weren’t nearly as friendly as they are now. If she could do it then, I certainly could do it now.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Katie: The hardest thing for me was lowering my defenses and letting the world see the real me. Most of my life had been spent in the ultra-masculine world of wrestling and around the religious right, both groups have a history of intolerance towards the LGBT community and I learned to toe the gender line. I find it funny that the religious right preaches integrity, but I had little by living the lie that I was male. Though I am still a bit reserved about the way I go about life, I at least now present the truth and let the chips fall where they may.
Monika: What do you think about transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers or books so far?
Katie: I think that film and media are starting to get away from portraying transgender characters as caricatures or fodder for jokes. I would like to see more films were the transgender character is the lead, but those are few and far between. I think we’ve come a long way from ‘Tootsie’, and I look forward to seeing more accurate portrayals of transgender characters and having them have more depth than in the past.
Monika: Have you recently read or watched any interesting book or event/film about transgenderism?
Katie: I watched Lady Valor when it was on CNN. I think Kristin Beck could be an effective spokeswomen for the transgender community because she has such a wonderful pedigree being a former Navy Seal. I am also wondering who is waiting in the wings. It is very difficult for some to put into words what they are feeling and to get that message across, but I think it is coming.

via Amazon

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?
Katie: With being lumped together, we have greater numbers and that matters to policy makers, so that is important. However, I think the plight of the transgender person living in transition is vastly different from the out homosexual. Sexual orientation is something you can keep under wraps, but transitioning is all-encompassing and hard to hide.
Recently in Tampa a teacher announced their plans to transition and it was front-page news, you don’t see that happen with a person who is LGB. I think it would be wise to promote some of our causes separately because they don’t affect the LGB community at all. Issues like bathroom privileges and changing gender markers are our own battles and we need to present it as such.
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?
Katie: There are some. Kathy Baldock just published a book “Walking the bridgeless canyon” and actively speaks in churches on behalf of the LGBT community. Kristin Beck is fighting the good fight for transgender inclusion in the military. Laverne Cox is showing that transgender women can play women's roles on TV and in film. There are a lot of different avenues that are getting covered and the more positive exposure mainstream society gets of the transgender community, the better.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Katie: I have decided a long time ago to not take my fight to the political arena but to the masses directly. There are many who are better playing political games than I am. I feel I am better explaining what being transgender is to the masses and showing them that we are normal regular people just as they are. I am trying to start being more actively public, and have had several public speaking engagements in the past. As I get more stable financially through my writing, I will be able to take on a larger public role. 
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Katie: Love is what makes life worth living. Without love there is no reason to get out of bed. But love comes in many forms. First of all, I remind myself of the love God has for me and that I am his daughter. There is also my boyfriend Felix, who brings a lot of joy and laughter in my life, and hopefully a diamond ring will soon follow.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Katie: I have thought of such and even have the title picked out. My life has been a series of calamities that will require me to have a bigger support system in place when I write it. If someone is familiar with my work, they would understand that some of the things I write about I know from experience. One day I will muster up the courage to face those past demons and lay them to rest on paper and hope they stay there forever.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Katie: I just finished writing a biography of a transgender undercover narcotics officer who had GRS and I am currently writing the sequel to unreachable.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Katie: Be true to yourself first and foremost. The other thing is to learn to love yourself for who you truly are. Love is infectious, the more you love yourself, the more others will love you. Being transgender is not a game or a hobby, it is a state of being. Accept yourself for who you are and cut yourself some slack. We all falter, that’s what makes life so fascinating. If you are going to fail, fail wonderfully. Thanks for having me.
Monika: Katie, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Katie Leone.
© 2014 - Monika Kowalska

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