Saturday 9 May 2015

Interview with Nicola Jane Chase

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Nicola Jane Chase, a British writer from near Liverpool, who currently lives in New York. A former globe-trotting DJ and radio personality, she is the author of “Tea and Transition” (2015). Hello Nicola! 
Nicola: Hey Monika!
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Nicola: That's always hard! But I'd say I am a supremely content New York woman with a transgender history.
Monika: Why did you decide to write your autobiography?
Nicola: In fact, it started out as a journal, a diary, I didn’t set out to write a book. It was relatively early in my transition and I realized that I was having experiences and going through events that had never happened before and may not happen again. Starting hormones, the first therapy session,  and so on.
After a few months, I thought, hmmm, maybe this could become a book! Then I started to view my writing in a different light and made a point of noting experiences as they happened. Even if they were just a few notes that I could elaborate on later.

"Tea and Transition" & TeaAndTransition

Monika: Which aspects of your experience can be useful for other transwomen?
Nicola: I'd like to think that the main one is to never give up communication, even when you think there is no point. That's a moral for anyone of course, not just for trans people. In my case, this was the relationship with my Mum. When I first told her that I was trans, she was devastated and thought the world was over.
But we never gave up and we always kept a dialogue going. Sometimes it was truly hard, and at other times we both ended up in tears, but we got there in the end. Now our relationship is better than it ever was.
Monika: Your story is beefed up with the legendary British sense of humor…
Nicola: Beefed up?! I'm vegetarian so those words offend me! I'm kidding of course! Well, I think the best way to tell a story like mine is with a sense of humor. And there really were very many funny and unexpected moments in my transition and so by telling of those I hope it helps get the message across that not all transgender stories are sad or depressing.
Monika: You have traveled all over the world: the Middle East, China, Hong Kong, the USA …
Nicola: Honestly, I think travel is addictive for me. If I don't get to exercise my passport every few months then I get restless! I live in New York City these days which I adore, but I still like to visit Asia when I can and also back to the UK as well. But in my 20s and 30s, I worked as a club DJ working in different countries around the world, yes.
My first overseas DJ gig was at a five-star hotel just by the pyramids in Egypt! It seems like a different life now, but as I was a man back then, maybe it really was a different life.
Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman yourself? Did you have any support from your family or friends?
Nicola: I was a late starter! I was in my 40s when I started to transition, but I didn't feel the conflict until that time. When I did, I think my life experience helped guide me through the process. Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like to transition in my 20s but I really hadn't felt the ‘calling’ back then. Whether I was transgender at that time but didn't realize it or if I became trans later in life, I really don't know, but it really doesn't matter to me. I am transgender now and I have accepted that.
As far as support goes, that really was a vital aspect of my transition. To have friends openly accept me as a woman when before they had known me as a man, was so wonderful and put me very much at ease. Even small things like going to the washroom together or complimenting me on a shade of lipstick or color of the dress were hugely validating. Of course, it wasn't all plain sailing and I lost one life-long friend who couldn't accept me as a woman. But overall I was quite surprised at the level of acceptance I had from old family friends. I assume that they could see a new life in me as a woman. That’s what I saw in me for sure.

Promo photo for her book.

Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Nicola: I really don't think I did. I was simply following my own path rather than being guided by someone else.
Monika: Are there are any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now?
Nicola: It's hard not to respect EVERY transgender woman! All of us have needed to address something in ourselves that we hadn't expected. Consequently, we are all survivors.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Nicola: I'm never sure what I think about that term, “coming out.” I know it's the obvious one to use, but like so many matters trans, we need to update the vocabulary! But the hard aspects for me were especially in the early days when I felt like a 'she' but I was called 'he'. Unkind comments on the street or sniggers on the subway were never easy either, but we all have to deal with this sort of bigotry.
Likewise being called 'he' on the phone was always so depressing. I've done a lot of work on my voice since and so that audible mismatch happens much more rarely, but I still have to be on my guard to sound like the woman that I am.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in New York?
Nicola: You might think that being the global melting pot that it is, there is no discrimination in this city, but there is. Things are improving legally, in the workplace, and in society, but we still haven't reached the point of universal acceptance. It also concerns me what it must be like being trans in some of the more old-fashioned places in the United States. There must be so many more hurdles to overcome there.
Monika: What is your general view on transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers, or books so far?
Nicola: It is good to see trans people and issues gaining a greater presence in the media but I'd like to see more trans people just being who they are within film and TV, without having to be prefaced as “the transgender actress”. There's still a long way to go before we get to that point.
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?
Nicola: Great question! In fact, I have reservations about the “T” being attached to “LGB”. The first three letters refer to sexuality, the “T” refers to gender. While I accept that it helps if “T” is grouped with something, I feel the association of gender with terms that describe sexuality confuses the public perception of what being trans is all about. Again, we need to update the vocabulary!

Tea in her kitchen.

Monika: Is there anyone in American society whose actions could be compared to what Harvey Milk was doing in the USA in the 60s and 70s for gay activism?
Nicola: Wow, that's another terrific question – you are on fire Monika! But to answer your question, no, I don't think there is. There again, society has moved on since then and I hope that the American is rather more open-minded than it was back then.
Recently here in the US we had former athlete and member of the Kardashian household, Bruce Jenner, give a major interview to mainstream American TV about being transgender. It will be interesting to see how that affects public perceptions in the future.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Nicola: As a Brit living in the US I have very limited political lobbying potential! I would rather spread the word through my book, talking to the media, and giving interviews like this. I feel that is the best way to use my voice.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Nicola: Dating as a transgender woman is particularly hard as many guys don't see us as completely female. The irony is that I am more femme than many genetic/cis women that I know! But I'm confident that the right man is right around the corner.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Nicola: I like style more than I follow fashion. Designer fashion and stars of the runway do not interest me. In my early days of transitioning I probably wore clothes that were too small or too tight, but these days I am far more aware of what works well on me - and what doesn't! But being an adoptive New Yorker I concentrate on shades of black in the winter months then brighter colors from spring onwards. I love dressing up in a fancy cocktail dress for going out in the city, but I'm equally happy slumming it in jeans too. 
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Nicola: Now that my book - “Tea and Transition”- is out, I am promoting it as much as I can which is taking up most of my time. But my aim is to work on TV documentaries and possibly some films as well. The future really is an open book!
Monika: What would you say to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria? 
Nicola: You are not alone. You are not weird. You are YOU. It is OK to be confused or conflicted or not sure of everything as you find your path. Talk about it with people who have experience and don't be afraid if you don't have all the answers. Maybe you will transition in some way, maybe you will not – the end game is not the same for everyone. Be honest to yourself, and the rest of the world will follow.
Monika: Nicola, thank you for the interview!
Nicola: Thank YOU, Monika! For talking with me and for your fantastic website! 

More about Nicola and her book: 
All the photos: Courtesy of Nicola Jane Chase.
© 2015 - Monika Kowalska

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