Monday, 12 January 2015

Interview with Antonia Stevens

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Antonia Stevens, an Icelandic-born transgender woman from Canada. Hello Antonia!
Antonia: Hey, it’s a pleasure to meet you and I’m honored to be a part of the Heroine series!
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Antonia: I’m 35 years old, currently living in Toronto, Canada. I’m a huge nerd and have always been but I also enjoy nature and the outdoors. I love sailing, cycling, hiking, canoeing, and kayaking. On the flip side, I love working on open-source software and hardware so I guess it balances out. I work in IT security so I and my colleagues help companies defend against hackers by finding the problems before the hackers do.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in Canadian society?
Antonia: It’s much better than I thought it would be when I started my journey, I guess my expectations were set back in ’93 when I first heard of the term transgender and started identifying myself as trans. I honestly expected to lose everything, job, family, and friends but so far I’ve not lost anything but gained so much.

Prototyping custom ergonomic keyboard.

Most Canadians are quite polite and have a “live and let be” attitude to life and I think this helps, I certainly get treated with respect and smiles where ever I go, if anything people are more polite now than before.
As to the legal system, it’s pretty good but we need to improve it a bit, currently, the transgender discrimination laws have not been passed on a national level but only by a couple of provinces, we’re working on it though.
When it comes to GRS surgery it’s covered by the health care system even if the waitlists are long, HRT can be started using informed consent and name/gender marker changes don’t require any surgeries or other such nonsense in most places.
Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? 
Antonia: I started the process at 34, it was honestly much easier than I thought but I think the hardest moments were coming out to my partner and family. Transitioning is not an easy process by any measure but like with everything you keep working at it and improving yourself and you get better. I think I was also lucky with my work environment and social acceptance, my coworkers have been really great at supporting me and I was able to go full time before even starting hormones.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Antonia: I had a couple of girls that I looked up to and inspired me; they also showed me that this was possible. In no particular order: Sona Avedian, Melissa Carmen, and Hannah Warg. Their videos and blogs are what gave me the confidence to go ahead and come out.

Fully functional ErgoDox ergonomic keyboard with
gelatin keyboard layout.

Monika: Are there are any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now?
Antonia: There are many transgender women I look up to, the first one has to be the person which caused me to find out about transgender people, Anna Kristjansdottir, who was at the time the only transgender woman in Iceland and she was strong and gave all of us hope.
Kristin Beck is another woman that is breaking down barriers and I also really respect Lana Wachowski a lot. There are so many people in this community that I admire that I could probably write a list with a hundred names but I think those are the ones that stand out for me.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Antonia: Telling my partner that things needed to change and that it might break our relationship. Explaining to someone that you love and love you back that you have to do something which will hurt them and might very well end your relationship is not something I would wish on anyone. 
Monika: What do you think about transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers, or books so far?
Antonia: I think historically we’ve been quite poorly represented but things are getting better. I really like Orange Is the New Black, not just because of Laverne Cox but because her character is strong and used to be a firefighter, it’s breaking down preconceptions and stereotypes. Many in our community have amazing backgrounds and are brave, selfless, and caring. I want people to see our community as I’ve come to know it, exceptionally talented people filled with kindness and love.

My dear friend Alicia and I have some
fun at El Convento Rico.

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?
Antonia: I think our voice is getting stronger because most rights and social battles have already been fought and won for the LGB, the LGBT community has a lot of resources and some of those resources are now being used to promote T rights.
We are different from the LGB but many of our agendas are common and it makes sense from a logistical point to work together even if sometimes we step on each other’s toes.
Monika: Is there anyone in the Canadian/Icelandic transgender society whose actions could be compared to what Harvey Milk was doing in the USA in the 60s and 70s for gay activism?
Antonia: Not exactly as Harvey was doing, we have some heroes of activism, here in Canada Amanda Ryan and Sophia Cassivi have battled tirelessly to get transgender equality laws passed on a national level, in Toronto we also have many that are politically active and I’m very happy to see younger non-binary people starting to become politically active. In Iceland, Anna Kristjansdottir has worked tirelessly for many years. Unfortunately, I don’t know of any trans politicians but this could surely change in the coming years.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Antonia: I’m fairly active in local politics here in Toronto, I’m proud to be a member of the Toronto Trans Alliance, Xpressions, and Gender Mosaic in Ottawa, and through these participate and lobby.
Personally, I think my time and efforts are best spent educating people so I try to represent the community as best I can to gather allies and supporters. I think transgender women can make a huge difference and a very positive impact on politics.
We have a unique perspective across the gender gap and into minorities, we also know the healthcare system pretty well and unlike many other people that never met anyone outside their social circles, we get to meet trans people from all walks of life, listen to their story and understand what other people’s lives are like.

Plain me heading out to the monthly Queer
Slow Dance here in Toronto​.

Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Antonia: I really like fashion and dressing well. In my daily life, I cycle from home to downtown and back which limits what I can wear to work (especially in the wintertime). On a typical day, I’d wear activewear, exercise leggings, an exercise top, and a lulu lemon jacket/hoodie, we are very casual at work.
For business meetings, something a bit more formal, a nice woolen dress with a cardigan, a power dress or a nice skirt and blouse. For a night out with the girls a nice dress, length depends on the venue.
As a practical girl black always works and is low maintenance, for something a bit more special white, red, blue, primary colors are my thing. I also love asymmetry so dresses with one shoulder strap, or patterns are a favorite of mine.
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants? Some activists criticize the concept of such pageants, pointing out that they lead to the obsession with youth and beauty.
Antonia: We live in a society obsessed with youth and beauty, if this is something people want to compete in by all means they should. I don’t really see any need for trans-specific pageants, just compete with everyone else if you want to. Personally, I don’t think I would ever sign up for one of these pageants but to each their own.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Antonia: Love is the most beautiful thing in the world but can also cause more sadness than anything else in the world. I’ve only been in love once in my life but I think love is one of those things that the harder people look and the more they are in love with the idea of being in love the less likely they are to find it.
I hope to love again in my life but I’ll just keep on doing my thing because I think when you do what you like and have fun you also maximize the chances of meeting someone you like and likes you.

Xpressions Christmas Gala with my
friends Luna Maria (right) & Arden (left).

Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Antonia: I’ve thought of it briefly, my family has encouraged me but I feel like so many have told their story already that mine would be redundant, perhaps one day I will, and in case I do write something my friends and I found a name for it: “The journey from Mars to Venus”.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Antonia: Tons of things, too many as usual but nothing trans-specific. I keep working on my open-source keyboard designs for ergonomic keyboards and software for it.
I also designed a new keyboard layout to allow me to type in any language with a Latin-based character set because I got fed up with switching when I write in multiple languages. 
Other than that just open source software, the kind of things that get incorporated into everyday software we all use but you never see, I dabble in everything but most of my current projects can be found on my Github account.
One day I’ll get back to my boat and but for now, the most important project is myself, being happy and enjoying life.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Antonia: I think the most important thing is to accept yourself, once you have explored your real feelings and emotions and gotten past all the masks and lies that we tell ourselves you can start to ask yourself what you want.

What happens when you get the idea to build a sailboat
and sail around the world, you build one and the tools
to make it.

Once you know what you want you can decide how to get there or if the cost is too high. There is no silver bullet, we are all different and gender is not black and white, from my perspective it’s mostly grey.
For some of us the path is transitioning, for some it’s GRS but others choose to live in their assigned gender, yet others identify as non-binary or their gender fluctuates.
Find your own path to happiness.
Monika: Antonia, thank you for the interview!
Antonia: Thanks for having me. 

All the photos: courtesy of Antonia Stevens.
© 2015 - Monika Kowalska

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