Tuesday 21 April 2015

Interview with Jessica O’Donnell

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Jessica O’Donnell formerly known as Jessica Cummings. She is an American transgender activist, video blogger, former co-host of Transition Radio. Hello Jessica!
Jessica: Hi Monika! Thank you for providing me with this opportunity to be a part of such a positive outlet for our community. I am truly honored to be included in this!
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Jessica: Sure! I am a 40-year-old transgender woman who like others has struggled with my gender and identity my entire life. When I started daycare and through 1st grade, I thought I was a girl but learned very quickly that if I wanted to be accepted by others I had to act like a boy.
At the age of 7 is when I secretly gave myself the name Jessica and carried that with me my entire life. It took me many many years to finally accept my destiny and embark on this journey into living my life authentically. It was not until I took that step did I realize the true meaning of life and happiness for me.
I am a very positive outgoing woman that is truly living her dream. I think that my best quality above all is my personality and outlook on life as I am now a bubbly, well-balanced, genuinely happy, and optimistic woman with a sense of strength, humor, and perseverance.
Monika: You hit the headlines in November 2013 when the American media covered your marriage with Mark Angelo Cummings. Were you satisfied with the way the media covered the story of “the same sex marriage”?
Jessica: I willingly put myself out there in the public eye, and media very early on in my transition to show the world that it is a tedious process we go through and not exactly something we choose but rather something that is chosen for us. I was actually really pleased with the way the American Media and UK Media covered my transition and relationship with Mark.
I personally would not consider a transgender female embarking on a relationship with a male (genetic or trans) to be a “ same sex marriage” or a “gay marriage” as it truly is not. I am no longer a male so being in a relationship with a man from my perspective is a totally heterosexual marriage or relationship in every way. I believe this because love and marriage and relationships are not and should not be based on gender, nationality, or one's religious beliefs, it is about love for another person, monogamy, commitment, and sharing your life with that one special person.
Monika: What do you think in general about transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers, or books so far?
Jessica: My thoughts in general about transgender topics, stories, and characters featured in the mainstream media are usually for the most part exaggerated in many ways just as everything is. I mean, after all, it's media, right?
I believe that the mainstream should use authentic transgender people to play the roles of a transgender person. I think they actually sensationalize us and a lot of times. We are the front line of satire and comedy, merely used for ratings and a laugh, and for this reason, they do not use authentic trans people, to my best guess.

Jessica's simple life.

However, if you really stop and think about it no one or nothing is safe from satire and comedy not even the President of the United States. The world loves satire and comedy probably more so than documentaries and dramas because it sells.
In my eyes, publicity is publicity whether it is good or bad, whether it has a serious heartfelt storyline or is satirical in nature and spun in a comical way. Either way, it is actually still telling the world that we do exist, maybe not in the way most of us would like to be portrayed but none the less it is visibility and nationwide exposure.
The best form of advocating for a community or cause is visibility, and more visibility will eventually lead to more acceptance and understanding from society. It's about appealing to the masses. There are many different genres of music, books, stories, and movies. I believe the more genres we are visible and portrayed in the better our odds become. If we try to stick to only one genre, then we lose visibility in the other genres, lowering our odds of achieving our goals, not only for ourselves presently but also for those that will come after us in the future. 
Monika: With your husband, you co-hosted Transition Radio, a prominent and very successful interactive television talk show for the LGBTQA community. Why did you decide to leave the project? 
Jessica: I would like to clarify and emphasize EX Husband LOL!!!! Yes, I am the co-founder and previous Co-Host of Transition Radio and Transition Radio Television. 
Initially, it was created to shine a more positive light on the LGBTQA community and it was my vision from the start of my transition to help others, so starting a radio show with a transgender couple seemed to be a great way to do so. When I told Mark of my vision, we worked together to build it and we did build it. I feel it was very successful in the beginning; the sky seemed the limit for positive media exposure for the transgender community.
I started losing interest in the show when my vision of helping others started diminishing, and Mark started using the show as a means of self-promotion. My dreams and vision of Transition Radio were not to promote Mark and me but to promote the community and their achievements in the movement, not our music, not our media exposure, and not what we have done for the community but what others have done for the community and those that were brave enough to step out of the shadows wanting their voices to be heard and their stories to be told through their eyes from their lips.
I left Mark for many different reasons, which also meant leaving the show. Even though our life and relationship were very public I feel it would be inappropriate to go into detail here today as to why I left him and everything behind. I will say publicly that he is not the same man today I met in 2012. Publicity and living your life in the public eye tends to change people but I refuse to ever let it change me.
Monika: Have you been working on any new projects since then?
Jessica: Yes Yes Yes! I am currently in the process of a really great project and that is going solo and starting my own radio show entitled Trans Life Radio, and there is a Facebook community page and a website with more information regarding the show, which I hope to get started this year. More details and info are available on our Trans Life Radio Facebook page and website.
Monika: What is the present situation of transgender women in American society? 
Jessica: This is a very tough question!! I can not speak for everyone but only from my own experience living as a Transgender Woman in American Society today. It is not easy by any means as we all know. We are still looked down upon in society but it has gotten better. Those of us living our lives authentically have worked substantially hard at removing the sexual stigmatism that comes along with being transgender.
Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? 
Jessica: I actually spent my entire life living a double life as a guy in public but behind closed doors, I was living as Jessica. I started my physical transition at the age of 36 and my only regret is that I did not start sooner. I actually tried to find out information on surgery and hormones at the age of 18. Unfortunately, two things prevented me from moving forward then.
The first was the standards of care, which required you to live in your target gender for 1-3 years while being followed by a psychotherapist before you could even be considered a candidate for HRT.
Secondly, I had created a pretty good reputation as a guy and felt as though it was not the right time nor could I come out then as I am sure I would not have made it here today. My transition started out very difficult I lost pretty much everything. I worked very hard for many years to gain but I can say in all that I lost I have gained so much more. This journey has helped me realize all the mistakes I made in my previous life as a guy and has helped me become a better more well-rounded woman today.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Jessica: The questions just keep getting tougher LOL!!! Actually, believe it or not, my role models were not transgender at all. My role models have always been genetic women and those women that I idolized were: Lita Ford, Cameron Diaz, Michelle Pfeiffer, Marylin Monroe, and of course Madonna.
Jessica's simple life.
However, the three transgender people that gave me hope and inspiration were: Candis Cayne, Calpernia Adams, and a transman named Buck Angel. Those three individuals were a very big inspiration and their stories helped me realize that it was possible to achieve your dreams and live life as who you really are.
The recipe for success is to never give up no matter what. I followed that recipe and here I am today somewhere I never thought was possible. I am now living my dream.
Monika: Are there are any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now?
Jessica: There are many Transgender Women I admire and respect now and think that they have made a huge difference in the movement. There are too many to list but the one woman I admire and respect the most is Calpernia Addams. After I saw her story I was amazed at how she remained so positive through all that she endured in her life. I also really hold a lot of admiration and respect for Candy Darling who lived her life as a successful woman in the 60s and 70s.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Jessica: I think the hardest part of the transition is the coming out part. My coming out went a lot smoother than I thought it would. Yes, there were those that were OK with it and others well let's just say not so OK with it.
I think the hardest part of my coming out was the fact it took me so long to finally accept myself and the fact I was transgender. That being said I felt that I finally accepted myself for who I was and expected everyone else to accept it not realizing they needed time to understand what I was going through. Having those expectations actually angered those closest to me and pushed them away.
I came out and started the transition in my career, which was a very masculine-driven career but was totally accepted and helped by my superiors and co-workers, for which I was very grateful. I would consider myself one of those women who started their transition later in life and I just have to say that it really is never too late to transition.
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?
Jessica: I believe the LGB has done a lot for the T as with everything understanding and acceptance take time. They accepted us and provided us with a safe haven of non-judgment and a place to feel comfortable to grow. I think that we in some ways hurt the cause by attacking the wrong people for all of the wrong reasons.
It seems the trans community is more interested in standing up against words rather than actions against us. We can’t change the effect words have on us but we can change the actions people use against us to further marginalize us.
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 gay activism?
Jessica: Yes, there are many in the community working towards these same goals but just like the transition is not an overnight gratification neither is advocacy for the cause. As with any cause equal rights and civil rights take a long time to achieve change. Great example Harvey Milk started fighting for the rights of gay and lesbian people in the 60s and 70s but the change for their equal and civil rights did not really come about till years later.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Jessica: I am not one who really gets involved in politics because it is way too opinion-based. I also believe politics is based largely on popularity and not a necessity. I feel that politicians do not really have our best interests at heart that they are merely in it for their own personal and financial gain. However just like politics that is just my opinion LOL!!!
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Jessica: Of course!! I love fashion however I am a very simple girl and not high maintenance at all. My fashion sense is very simple if it's comfortable WEAR IT!! LOL!!!
I have adopted a sort of Biker Chic style. I don't believe I always have to wear Prada or have expensive name-brand accessories to be a fashionable girl. I am not one to follow what's trending as I consider myself a rebel. After all, I have worked my whole life to get out of one stereotypical box in which I tried drastically to fit into and I can honestly say I will not spend the rest of my life in another.
I have found that simplicity works well for me. It actually makes me more well-rounded and down to earth and helps me blend into society as a woman rather than stand out.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Jessica: Oh wow THE L WORD!!! OK, well I think that Love is a very important part of life and is something that is all too often taken for granted. Love is something the world could learn more about and carries with it many different meanings. I would have to say Love is one of the most important things and a virtue of life that keeps the world turning. If there was more love in the world I believe the world would be a much better place for us all.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Jessica: Yes, I have thought about it many times. Though I am a procrastinator due to the rapid evolution of technology LOL!!! I don’t cry over yesterday or make myself nuts wondering what will come tomorrow. I believe that is what causes so many undo stress and anguish. I have learned to live only for today and in doing so I have eliminated a lot of negativity in my life and learned how to turn a negative into a positive.
I believe that a book or memoirs are just a way to keep bringing up the past. I do however strongly believe that these stories help and can be very inspirational to others having trouble coming out or taking the steps to transition.
I also think that with the advancement of technology with YouTube and social media as well as blogs that books will soon be obsolete, and I feel that utilizing the newer technology to inspire and help others is a better way to go than going through all the expense and time to publish a book.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Jessica: I would recommend to all transgender girls that are struggling with gender dysphoria and transition to take the very first step and find a therapist that specializes in helping transgender people. A therapist is a gateway to transition.
I would also recommend that they don’t try to transition overnight because it will never happen; it takes time so take baby steps and do it slowly. Start growing your hair long make a promise to yourself not to cut it short. Get both ears pierced. Start hormones if you so desire, start living androgynous and others will question drop subtle hints about your gender issues. When it is time to come out to the world as you then you will know when the time is right.
I have a saying that I came up with and that is “Instead of making excuses why you should not transition, start looking for all the reasons you should.” ~Jessica L. O’Donnell~
Monika: Jessica, thank you for the interview!
Jessica: Thank you again so much for having me!!

All the photos: Courtesy of Jessica O’Donnell.
© 2015 - Monika Kowalska

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