Saturday 4 April 2015

Interview with Terri Jay

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Terri Jay, an American beauty pageant queen, model, and transgender activist. Hello Terri!
Terri: Hi Monika! I am honored to meet you and wanted to thank you for your time and interest to interview me.
Monika: You look fantastic, Terri!
Terri: Thank you very much.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Terri: Yes, my name is Terri Jay, I am 46 years old and I am a proud Native American Indian transwoman, and I am also a member of the Navajo/Zuni Tribes from the state of New Mexico. I am currently single and am in the dating scene, looking for love with a respectful male partner.
I am very proud to share that I have a fabulous rewarding career as a Certified Addictions Specialist, working in the area of Non-Profit Organization at APAIT (Asian Pacific Aids Intervention Team) Health-Center, located in Los Angeles, California, and working with transwomen of color community who suffer from surrounding Addictions and Homelessness.
I am grateful to have obtained my Education from UCLA, as I graduated in 2001 as a transwoman. I was born and raised on the Navajo Reservation in the state of New Mexico from birth to age 18. During my years in high school, I experienced continuing education in History of Journalism and Government History in New Jersey, New York, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. I moved to Los Angeles after graduating high school to attend the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising but did not complete my schooling there.
Recently, in 2012-2013, I have also experienced living in the State of West Virginia but clearly made my decision to move back to Los Angeles as LA is my home. I have made my complete transition from male to female at age 18 and have lived my life as a woman for the past 27 years.

Awarded "Connie Norman Advocacy"
from APAIT's Quest Pageant December 2012.

I am connected to my native cultural beliefs on a daily basis with prayers complete with sage smudging. I enjoy spending time with close friends and making new friends for a lifetime. I enjoy having lovely dinners, and enjoy traveling for fun or just for scenic drives throughout the day.
Monika: When did you decide that you would like to be a pageant queen?
Terri: I was personally invited to participate in APAIT’s Quest Pageant in December of 2012 by a mentor/role model, Maria Roman, who is a Counselor at APAIT and reigning Crown winner of Miss Universe, Miss California Panache, and many other pageant winnings. I have participated in APAIT’s Quest, and have given my 100% determination of participation.
However, I did not win the crown; instead, I was awarded APAIT’s “Connie Norman Advocacy Award,” for my community commitment and involvement as a Peer Advocate with the Red Circle Project as a Health Educator. During that time, I provided HIV/AIDS Education and Prevention at community events such as Pow-Wow and other health fairs. For my involvement as an Alcohol/Drug Counselor, I worked with the LGBT Community from 2000-2012. During these 12 collective years, I worked at Alcohol/Drug Treatment Programs such as Social Model, Therapeutic Community, and Outpatient Programs.
Today, I continue my work as a Substance Abuse Counselor with APAIT. Three years later, after the QUEST pageant in 2012, I was approached and invited again by Maria Roman to participate in the California Panache Pageant that was held this past weekend in San Jose, CA. on March 20th and 21st. I accepted her offer, and participated in it with my best performance, and was later crowned the “MISS CALIFORNIA ANILU GODDESS 2015” along with winning 5 other trophies, in 5 different categories, including best in Q&A, Talent Presentation, Showgirl showcase, Wow Wear, and Couture Runway.
Monika: Do you remember your first beauty pageant?
Terri: Yes. I do remember it, as it was my first beauty pageant of the “Quest Pageant” sponsored by APAIT Health-Center in Los Angeles. This pageant occurred in December of 2012 and I was awarded the “Connie Norman Advocacy Award” for my advocacy work. I have never been part of any pageant before; so on top of this being my first pageant, I had fears of being onstage.
As I met all the TransWomen pageant contestants, I became more comfortable with them during our three-day event. I certainly put all my energy and focus on interviewing judges, practicing dance routines, and practicing stage presentations. When the actual Quest Pageant began, I wasn’t nervous; I had a great time and was comfortable with the stage presence. My very first Quest Pageant was an overall success; a fun and memorable experience of a lifetime.
Monika: Could you say a few words more about your best pageants and modeling events? 
Terri: For me, participating in beauty pageants is an exciting moment to showcase gowns with sparkling pieces of jewelry while posing for cameras. Participating in pageants allows me to be determined and motivated. It also reassures great character-building, in the sense of having fun personas and getting out of my comfort zone. I do not model but I do love posing for uncountable selfies, and enjoy photobombing others’ selfies too.

Quick selfie with the CROWN March 21, 2015.

Monika: Being beautiful always produces a lot of girl power and empowerment. Do you often use it?
Terri: As a Native TransWoman, I am beautiful on the inside. I am hopeful that my inner beauty transcends power and empowerment to others, with the message that being a transwoman means more than being sexually objectified by society.
Being a TransWoman comes not only with beauty, but with knowledge in different levels of dignity, pride, respect, confidence, independence, education, and compassion for all.
Monika: You are also involved in transgender rights activism …
Terri: I involve myself in the trans community by taking part in Trans Rally/Marches, particularly in areas to spread the message to stop the murders of Transwomen around the country and around the world. This message is about Justice, Dignity, and Power. I am actively involved with marches/rallies with the Trans Latina Coalition, managed by the great, Bambi Salcedo. This involvement is important for me to be physically visible and to stand up with Trans Community.
Monika: At the time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you could follow?
Terri: When I made my full-time transition at the age of 18, I had my first known transsexual role model, Caroline Cossey, who had acted in the James Bond movie: For Your Eyes Only. She was the only well-known, visible, transsexual I’ve known before the age of 18. However, other than that, I didn’t have and know of any other transsexual role models.
Monika: Are there are any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now?
Terri: Since 2012, and to this day, I have two highly admired and respected role models in my life; they are motivators with great charisma and great careers, full of life accomplishments. These two role models are Maria Roman, a Counselor for APAIT in Los Angeles, and Bambi Salcedo, CEO for the Trans Latina Coalition of Los Angeles. Both Bambi and Maria have given me the strength to work hard and to go for my goals in life.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Terri: The hardest thing about coming out was transitioning in one step to Los Angeles, from the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico. I say it’s the hardest because I could not transition while living on the Navajo reservation due to the misunderstanding or unacceptance within the Navajo community.
However, once I made my transition, it was just as if I was born fully as a woman. This transition was a comfortable decision in 1987, as I had truly found myself in Los Angeles. I do not regret any part of this transition because as a child, I knew that I was born different and felt that I was meant to be a girl.
Transitioning on the Navajo reservation wasn’t safe for me before the age of 18, and Los Angeles made my transition complete. I truly believe that I wouldn’t have survived on the Navajo reservation, especially with the strong stigma and discrimination exhibited on the Navajo reservation to this day.
Monika: What do you think about transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers, or books so far?
Terri: I am appreciative that Transgender Folks are becoming evident and discussed in transgender stories. This goes to show that we, as transgenders, are capable to have professions in acting, singing, and much more. I am honored to be a part of the Trans Community as a working professional woman. These stories and/or characters are just the tip of the iceberg to who we really are: your mother, father, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, relatives and friends, and co-workers.

Contestant at the APAIT's Quest Pageant December 2012.

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?
Terri: I would like to advocate that the T in the LGBT is a tie to the transgender community, for the individuals and folks who have worked hard to be visible in society.
However, unlike the first three letters, the T represents a community that was more recently founded and brought upon to the eyes of society. The first three letters in LGBT focus on sexual orientation, while the T in LGBT focuses on gender identity. All differences aside, I can say that the LGBT community is working extremely hard to support each other 100%.
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?
Terri: There have been countless unsung Transgender women who have been visibly strong in advocating and fighting for trans rights during the 60s and 70s. However, due to discrimination and fear for the trans communities, they have been kept under the rug. Unfortunately, some trans have lost their lives because of their fight for trans rights. 
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Terri: To be honest, I am not involved in any form or fashion in politics, as I am very biased to take both sides easily. And yes, transgender women can make a difference in politics; there are many Transgender Political Individuals who are currently in political office, advocating and representing to bring solutions.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Terri: I have loved fashion to be kept updated in the past during my younger years. Today, as I’ve grown more mature, I see newly updated fashion couture, and for now, that is good enough for me - to see, but not wear the continually updated fashion. My style of fashion is more laid-back casual. An exception would be wearing lovely gowns to events or professional attire to work or conferences.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Terri: The importance of love is important to me, and is the main element in life in every human being. As a Transgender Woman, love is much stronger, combined with passion, compassion, respect, understanding, and intimacy with a partner. I am currently single - which is my personal decision - as I am busy with work and other personal journeys I have yet to achieve. (However, I am sending out my request for availability and I am looking to date hahaha, anyone out there?)

Crowned Title Winner for the 'MISS
held in San Jose, Ca. March 21, 2015.

Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Terri: For the past 15 years, I have thought about writing about my life story that could make an impact on others about my journey as a Native American Indian Transgender Woman from reservation to urban life. I just don’t have any contact with anyone who can begin my process.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Terri: As a title winner for the newly crowned, “Miss California Anilu GODDESS 2015” I am going forward in planning out my few social fundraisings in the community to advocate and to promote the California Panache Pageant. The next big project I am looking forward to is my next Pageant in Nationals, either in Maui, Seattle, or Vegas.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Terri: To all the younger generational transgender girls who are struggling with gender dysphoria, it is about learning to ask for help and being honest with your gender dysphoria when talking to your parents, counselor, doctors, or therapist. Asking for help is the most important element that can, and will save your life to become the best girl you will live to be in life. Being transgender is about having confidence, being respectful, being free, being honest, and just being you - happy!
Monika: Terri, thank you for the interview!
Terri: And thank you very much indeed for the interview!

All the photos: Courtesy of Terri Jay.
© 2015 - Monika Kowalska

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