Wednesday 1 April 2015

Interview with Joanne Borden

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Joanne Borden, a transgender activist from the USA, former industrial engineering consultant, president of two engineering societies, and happy father and grandfather. Hello Joanne!
Joanne: Hello Monika.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Joanne: When talking about myself it is rarely just a few words because I’m my favorite topic! In 89 years, anyone would have a lengthy biography so I have a great deal to say about myself. Briefly, I am a transgender woman who was always a happy person. As a friend once said, “You were always a happy person but now (after “coming out”) you are always happy!” I credit that to being a realist.
Monika: You are the author of "Transgender Complete: A Virtual Handbook" (2013 & 2015). What inspired you to produce that publication?
Joanne: I started to study the subject of transgenderism because I wanted to know what relentlessly drove me to need to be a woman. Why couldn’t I stop that desire that was undesirable in other’s eyes? I was able to stop smoking cigarettes—a nicotine addiction and physical habit repeated over 40 light-ups and 400 puffs a day, every day for nearly 50 years, and a habit I still feel I would enjoy. However, it was impossible to drive the woman in me out-of-me. Simply put, I needed to know what made me a transgender person. 

When I started my research, I never even heard the word transgender. I was a widow, retired, and lived alone so my research was a full-time job. I worked at it virtually 7 days a week and 10 hours per day for 4 years. I even explored female-to-male people because I felt their life parallels male-to-female life and could provide additional insight regarding the subject.
I studied the transgender issue in every possible facet of life—from immigration to sports. I soon realized I nearly had enough material for a book. At that time, I honestly felt I could help others by providing transgender people and their loved ones with what I had learned so I spent another year writing the book. It now carries a 2015 copyright after being updated to January 2015.
Monika: Which aspects of your experience can be useful for other transwomen?
Joanne: I feel is it most important to first accept yourself. If your desire to be the other sex doesn’t leave you by maturity, it would be rare indeed to not have a need to express your transgenderism for the rest of your life.
Second, accept your circumstances. I know transgender women who have a very strong need to express their true selves and just as strong a sense of responsibility regarding their commitment to their families.
Most of these transgender people suffer from conflict unless they accommodate both “lives.” They must find a way to accommodate all their needs. Devote the necessary time to your family obligations but figure out a way to schedule time for the man or woman inside.

A monologue titled "Abomination" presented
on November 18, 2012.
Long Island Transgender Day of Remembrance
held at the Wantagh Memorial Congregational
Church,  Wantagh, New York.

Monika: You performed in The Vagina Monologues. What is so appealing in that play? 
Joanne: I am a ham! I love performing! I am a past Vice President of my local League of Women Voters because I am also an activist regarding women’s rights. I feel sexism is the root cause of transphobia.
Monika: In addition, you present your own monologues…
Joanne: Again, I love performing. I present my monologues at any chance I am given. I am proud of winning The Best Story Teller Award at New York City’s Fresh Fruit Festival (2012).
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in American society?
Joanne: I have seen an improvement in the public’s acceptance of transgender people; however, I will not be happy until we have a public understanding transgenderism. I will know that is the case when a transgender woman can walk down the street without drawing attention - especially laughter—even though her appearance has obviously been affected by testosterone.
Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? 
Joanne: I was 79 years old the first time I appeared in public as a woman and 84 when I totally transitioned. It was less difficult than many women experience: I was retired—no job to lose, I was a widow—no wife complications, and I had grown children with their own families—no responsibility for others.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Joanne: No.
Monika: Are there any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now?
Joanne: Diane Schroer who fought for her employment after transitioning and Renee Richards who fought to compete in tennis as a woman. They both relentlessly fought for their rights in court and won! 
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Joanne: The most difficult was telling my son. After that, telling my daughter was almost as difficult.
Monika: Could transgenderism be the new frontier for human rights?
Joanne: It most definitely is the new frontier. However, the fight for human rights has been in the wrong direction ever since the United States Constitution was adopted. Why does every group fight its own battle for equality? The effort should have always been for a universal human rights law!

Monika: What do you think about transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers, or books so far?
Joanne: Things are improving! I remember the implied joke when Milton Berle appeared on stage in “drag.” He didn’t say or do anything and the audience laughed out of their seat at the sight of a man in women’s clothes. Flip Wilson did the same thing when he also implied dressing as a woman was evil. He stuck a dagger in my soul when he referred to his red dress and said, “The devil made me do it!”
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?
Joanne: We have no choice! Wherever I go to my local League of Women Voters, synagogues, churches, legislatures, and almost any place I look sexual orientation is mentioned alone. As a result, we need to fight the same battle all over again to include the T.
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?
Joanne: I don’t think so. There is not anyone high profile transgender political martyr to my knowledge. There are many activists with a few starting an open political career. Hopefully, the killing of transgender people will end!
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Joanne: I am active in my county and state fight for transgender people’s equal protection under the law. I have also done work to include transgender sensitivity training in our Police Academy, active police officers, and recognition in other appropriate local services. I am not the only transgender person making progress toward equality in the last decade. Transgender women are first beginning to openly participate in politics and will certainly make a difference.

Long Island Transgender Advocacy Coalition Rally in front
of the Nassau County Legislature Building, Mineola,
New York,  June 22, 2014.

Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Joanne: I intensely loved and still love my departed wife plus my daughter, son, and grandchildren who refer to me as Papa Joanne. If your question referred to “romance,” is not important to me at this point in life.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Joanne: No.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Joanne: In my life as an author I have written "Transgender Complete, A Virtual Handbook" and "The Transgender Monologues, Gender, Sexuality, and LGBT Life". I am now working on my third book, Identical Treatment in the Machine of the Law, The Quest for Transgender Civil Rights scheduled for 2015. All my books are e-books and published by Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Joanne: Stop! Stop the struggle! You are as normal as anyone and most likely more normal than most people. Your gender does not agree with your sex organs and that is the way God intended it. When faced with a lack of acceptance remember, any doctrine that espouses hatred cannot be of God!
Monika: Joanne, thank you for the interview.
Joanne: Thank you for asking!

All the photos: Courtesy of Joanne Borden.
© 2015 - Monika Kowalska

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