Sunday 22 March 2015

Interview with Valerie Lyn Brooks

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Valerie Lyn Brooks, a former US Navy Gunner, photographer, historian, and veteran advocate. Hello Valerie!
Valerie: Good Morning, Monika. It’s a pleasure to be interviewed.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Valerie: I am a Navy veteran, photographer, historian, veteran advocate and currently work in the field of Disaster Recovery.
Monika: At which stage of the transition are you right now?
Valerie: Actually, I am hitting my 1-year mark on HRT on April 2nd, 2015.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the results of the hormone therapy?
Valerie: Yes, I am. It feels like a slow process, but in hindsight, the transition has been nothing short of good to me. I can see the growth and changes in just one year. As subtle as they may seem, where there is pain, there is growth.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Valerie: I thought the hardest thing about me coming out was that I thought my family and friends wouldn’t accept me. However, that was not the case. I am fortunate enough to have a family that loves me unconditionally.
Monika: What do you think about the general situation of transgender women in American society?
Valerie: I think it’s getting more mainstream. Although, we still run into some problems with lawmakers who feel it’s more important to author bills to make it an illegal offense for transgender women to use the women’s bathroom. I also think of how high the suicide and homicide rates are among transgender women.
Monika: Are there are any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now?
Valerie: Of course! One person that comes to mind is Senior Chief Kristin Beck. Not only do I respect her service in the Navy, but I admire the courageous and tiring work she does. She has been crucial in stirring conversation among members of the military community. I highly believe the only sensible solution is to allow transgender people into the military if their wish is to serve.
I look around and I am even more inspired by the fact that women like a tennis player, Dr. Renée Richards, and now MMA fighter Fallon Fox are just a couple who have been breaking down the barriers for transgender athletes. One thing all these brave women all share is service.

Valerie as a US Navy Gunner.

Monika: What do you think about transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers, or books so far?
Valerie: I loved the film, Transamerica, even if it wasn’t played by a transwoman. Laverne Cox is fabulous and full of class in Orange Is The New Black in her role as Sophia Burset. I would love to see more transgender folks get hired to play these parts.
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?
Valerie: As much as I believe there is strength in unity, I also believe goals within the LGBT movement have also shifted. I still feel the transgender community has been long behind in achieving the acceptance of society as the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual movements have. I identify as both a lesbian and transgender.
Sometimes I hear from lesbian ciswomen who ignorantly say that “They don’t date men in dresses.” It can be hurtful coming from those under the same LGBT umbrella (Also considering we don’t always wear dresses, so I find that statement preposterous.) I often have to explain to them the differences between a cross-dresser, transvestite, and a transgender woman. 
Monika: Is there anyone in the American transgender society whose actions could be compared to what Harvey Milk was doing in the USA in the 60s and 70s for gay activism?
Valerie: Dr. Jamison Green, President of WPATH. There are also many others and organizations that are fighting for LGBT rights and proper healthcare.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Valerie: These days, my politics have no party affiliations. They do however represent the Veteran community. I have worked with many veteran service organizations over the years and understand that veterans, whether they are part of the LGBT community or not, need to be represented and taken care of in this country.
The suicide rate among veterans is an average of 22 a day. I think transgender women have already made a difference by engaging in public dialogue. We are marching forward to be heard.
Monika: It might be a tough question for a former soldier… Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Valerie: I do love fashion. I am also an artist, so for me, fashion represents the unique character of the individual’s being. A statement of sorts that says, “This is me!” I have always loved black, blue’s, and lately pink’s. I adore leopard prints. I accessorize with necklaces that have a skeleton key. I believe the skeleton key represents a part of the past and technology that is no longer common and is unique in this day and age.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Valerie: Love is important. I also believe that it’s what inspires us to wake up and feel motivated to continue to live. Whether it’s the love of another, a passion, or experiences, and as humans, it’s a shared longing.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Valerie: Honestly, I never thought about writing one. Come to think about this now, I would definitely have an interesting story to tell.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Valerie: I am currently working on putting together a photography project with a fellow veteran. We came up with the idea of photographing LGBT veterans. Simply put, it’s about service.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Valerie: Be true to yourself! Life is too short to be unhappy and we do hold the power to change things.
Monika: Valerie, thank you for the interview!
Valerie: Thank you, Monika! It was an honor and a pleasure!

All the photos: courtesy of Valerie Lyn Brooks.
© 2015 - Monika Kowalska

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