Friday, 11 March 2016

Interview with Debbie Ballard

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Debbie Ballard, an American IT architect consultant, writer, the author of the biographical books titled “Debbie's Secret Life: LGBT in Stealth” (2013), and “Living in Stealth: Undercover (2015)”. Debbie was also a leader in the commercialization of the Internet (1992-1996), Linux and Open Source (1996-2004), Globalization (2004-2013). Hello Debbie!
Debbie: Hi Monika, it’s a pleasure to be able to participate.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Debbie: I’m a transgender woman. I knew that I was a girl inside by the time I was 2 years old, several times during my life I reached out for help, and because of laws and restrictions on the medical profession, I was forced to keep my gender Dysphoria a secret. I started to transition in 1988 and was about to start HRT when I was faced with the choice of giving up transition or never seeing my children again. Shortly after my daughter graduated from college, in 2009, I began to transition again. I went full-time in 2013 and have been living as a female ever since.
Monika: Why did you decide to write your autobiography?
Debbie: Both of my books are mostly autobiographical. My first book, “Debbie’s Secret Life” was based on notes from 12 step inventories over the previous 30+ years. This book was mainly to help other people understand what it was like to grow up transgender and what it was like to try to transition. It was a nice first effort, but much like many other transgender autobiographies.
The second book “Living in Stealth: Undercover” was intended to really focus on what happens to transgender girls who do NOT get help with the transition. I grew up in a time when the “treatment” for transgender girls was not transitioning, but rather an attempt at forced brain-washing that included shock therapy and aversion therapy – described in a great deal in “A Clockwork Orange”. I had seen too many conservatives who had no clue what it was to be transgender. I wanted to write a book that was addressed to parents, teachers, counselors, therapists, doctors, and political leaders.
This was a book intended to show people that most transgender girls are not Olympic athletes, they are not even Alpha males. Transgender girls have brains and biology that are different from cisgender men. Undercover describes the experience of knowing you are a girl and having to keep it a secret, like a spy working undercover, like a Jew living in Nazi Europe.
Monika: Which aspects of your experience can be useful for other transwomen?
Debbie: If I can do anything, I want to give transgender women hope, courage, and strength. We know too well the fear. When we are younger, there is the fear of being bullied by not just one or two boys, but a dozen or more at a time. Later, we fear losing friends, lovers, girlfriends, or boyfriends. Many of us go on to get married and live in fear of losing wives, children, property, and careers.
In my books, I point out these fears, confronting them head-on, but I also show the wondrous life that opens up when we finally have the courage to be our True Selves.
My greatest regret is that I had to wait 50 years to transition. I would like to spare others that regret.

via Amazon

Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman yourself? Was it a difficult process?
Debbie: By the time I was 3 years old, most of my friends were girls, and I preferred the friendship and company of girls to boys. When I was 6, we traded clothes with each other and the girl whose house we were playing in got very upset. She rushed me into the bathroom, stripped me, called me evil and an abomination, she put me in my boy’s clothes, and sent me home. She then called the school, the PTA, and through the phone tree, got to the school board, the principal, and the teacher. After that, I was forbidden to play with girls during school hours.
I was forced to play with boys, and nearly every time, the result was beatings, injuries, bruises, and often even hospitalizations. Dressing up was my only chance to feel “Right”, and I did it often. By the time I was 10, I fit my mom’s clothes and was a very pretty girl. But because of the laws and medical profession standards of the time, I had to keep it a secret.
In other areas, my parents were very supportive of my transgender nature. I learned to cook, crochet, knit, sew, do housework, including laundry, ironing, and cleaning. My dad frequently said, “You’ll marry a rich doctor or lawyer and be a wonderful housewife”.
I went to a women’s college, one of 25 men in a college with over 800 women. I loved being “one of the girls”. Ironically, they saw that I was a girl inside, but when they gave me a magazine of transvestite men with hairy legs and flat chests in hose and dresses, I found it disgusting. I knew how to be a pretty woman, but no one saw that.
I started transitioning in 2009, shortly after returning from a business trip to Saudi Arabia. I went to Sweden and started to develop my female public persona. By the time I got back to the United States, I had set up e-mail and Facebook accounts as Debbie Lawrence.
When my dad was about to die, he asked me to come out to Colorado. His first conversation was “If I can’t give you anything else, I want to give you this – Be yourself, even if that means being Debbie”. I almost broke down right then. Later, he saw me with my long hair, light make-up, and thought I was my mother, coming from heaven to take him home. He told me he loved his beautiful oldest daughter. A few months later, I was starting HRT.
Monika: It is amazing to see so many talented transgender women working for the IT business, just to mention: Lynn Conway, Jessica Bussert, Danielle Hallett, Kate Craig-Wood, Rebecca Heineman, Megan Wallent, or yourself…
Debbie: When you are transgender and left-handed, you have to learn many different ways of learning, many different views of the world, and many different methods of misdirection and perception of others. Many of us have extremely high IQs.
The IT industry is an area where gender is not considered relevant. In fact, women in IT are appreciated. When you aren’t allowed to play with girls and playing with boys is dangerous, you have a lot of time to yourself. Mom encouraged my feminine interests, but dad also wanted to encourage my interest in technology. I had a Chemistry set at 8, my first Crystal Radio at 9, I’d learned Morse Code by 10, had a ham radio license by 11, a general class license by 12, and was reading and doing math at the College level by the time I was 13.
Unfortunately, I was also lacking social skills. Sheldon Cooper from Big Bang Theory is very much like me when I was 13. My mother insisted that I spend more time with children my own age (instead of adults). I joined a friend’s church youth group but quickly got kicked out because I got into a biblical argument with the Youth pastor (and was winning).
I developed an interest in music, theater, performing arts, and stagecraft. I enjoyed performing, but I also enjoyed directing and managing. Over time, I developed the skills and thinking necessary to manage and coordinate very diverse teams, both in skills and culture. Ironically, my perceptions from growing up as a girl in a boy’s world made this even easier.
During and after college, I paid the bills by doing technical sales, electronic parts, CB Radios, Stereos, VCRs, Video Games, and Computers. A customer gave me my first programming job. I started with smaller companies, often working shoulder to shoulder with PhDs from MIT on some cutting-edge technologies.
When IBM called, I was very excited because I knew they had a strong diversity program. I had even heard that they covered HRT and SRS. I have been grateful to be able to work for a company that encouraged me to switch to full-time as Debbie as soon as I was ready.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Debbie: Several. I had seen adult films of Sulka and Shannon as well as reading books about Christine Jorgensen. I have also read some autobiographies including a number of books on Kindle. I have been active in several transgender support groups both online and offline, as well as several Facebook groups. Seeing other women going through transition, seeing the results of HRT, and hearing about SRS have given me the courage and strength to continue with my own transition.

via Amazon

Monika: Are there are any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now?
Debbie: I am a big fan of Katie Leone (Leanard), I love her books and they almost always leave me moved touched, and inspired. I also love the books by Karin Bishop, who also touches my soul with her books. I hope someday to be as good a writer as these women.
I don’t know if Maddie Bell is transgender or not, but I love the Gaby series. It seems like the story has taken forever to evolve, but I can’t wait to read the next installment.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Debbie: Overcoming my own fears. I had always thought that I had kept my secret pretty well. I was afraid that if people knew, I’d get bullied again, I’d get thrown out of college, my girlfriend or wife would leave me, I’d lose my job, I’d lose my home, I’d lose my kids.
In 1977, I hit bottom. I had turned to drugs and alcohol and ended up in a psychiatric ward. I tried to commit suicide (again), this time by swallowing glass shards, and ground glass and not telling anybody for 4 days. When I told them I was a girl inside, they told me I couldn’t talk about that ever again. I don’t ever want to go to that place again.
Once I came out, I found out that my “big secret” wasn’t that much of a secret. At my high school and college reunions, nearly everybody said “It’s about time!”. Everybody knew there was a girl inside. They were afraid to talk to me about it because they were afraid I would reject them if they did.
The hardest part about coming out was when I had to abort my first transition. I had lost over 100 lbs, I was healthier than I had ever been, I had some great relationships, I had friends, I had a great job, and I had some wonderful kids.
Aborting transition was a horrible idea. I doubled my weight, I had a heart attack and a stroke, I struggled with work and relationships, and I didn’t see my kids face-to-face for 5 years. I should never have aborted the 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?
Debbie: There are so many things we have in common with the LGBT community. Long before boys who were ACTUALLY homosexual were being persecuted for being gay, everybody assumed I was gay because I was so feminine. In elementary school, they called me “Sissy”, in JR High, they called me “Fairy” and “Queer”. In high school, many boys who actually were gay asked me for dates. I introduced them to each other and enjoyed their protection (one was a full-back on the football team).
Most of the gay men assumed that I was just gay and was femme. When asked “Are you gay”, I would honestly say “Yes, I’m a lesbian”. I’m bisexual by preference, enjoying certain types of men. I had a crush on David Cassidy and Davy Jones of the Monkeys, but in practice, I have preferred lesbian activities with women. I was never well endowed and did not like it when men or women tried to seduce me as a boy. It seemed rough, crude, even painful. In an earlier version of “Debbie’s Secret Life”, I tried to discuss some of the sexual issues, but the feedback was “There are some secrets Debbie should have kept”. Perhaps I will put this in a different book.
The important thing is that those outside the LGBT community tend to treat us as one group. The right-wing conservatives, homophobes, and transphobes are often rather ignorant about the different distinctions between the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender communities. Transgender women are often assumed to be Drag Queens like Rue Paul. While some Drag Queens are transgender women, only a very small percentage of transgender women are Drag Queens (dressing up as overly feminine women for entertainment purposes).
There are so many things we have in common. The bullying, the harassment, the violence, the high suicide rates, the fear of coming out, the lies, the deceit, the isolation, the fear of, and actual, rejection by family, friends, love interests, communities, and employers.
Keep in mind that transgender women can have the same range of sexual preferences as normal people. There are transgender women who like men and consider themselves heterosexual. Other transgender women are attracted to women and consider themselves lesbian. Many of us are bisexual, attracted to some men and some women. Many of us are attracted to partners who exhibit transgender traits, for example, women who are more “Butch” or men who are more “Femme”. As a transgender woman, many of my lovers were bisexual and considered me the best of both worlds.


All the photos: courtesy of Debbie Ballard.
© 2016 - Monika Kowalska

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