Thursday 31 March 2016

Interview with Elaine Walquist

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Elaine Walquist, an American advocate for the LGBT community, former model, retired high school teacher, vlogger, table tennis, and chess champion. Hello Elaine!
Elaine: Hi, Monika! Thanks for inviting me.
Monika: You are a lady of so many talents! Could you say a few words about yourself?
Elaine: I have a wide range of interests and I’ve experimented with different fun activities. I learned table tennis after high school and I was terrible at first. I kept at it and after joining leagues, clubs, training camps, and personal instruction; I ranked in the top 20 women in the U.S. as well as a four-time state champion. I love foreign languages and I wanted to share that love with others so I became a teacher for 20 years and Foreign Language Department Chair at my high school.

Monika: Your retirement in 2012 seems to have been a revival in your life. Since then you have become active in transgender advocacy…
Elaine: I want to give back to the trans community. I’m the Community Education Manager for Transactive Gender Center in Portland, OR. Helping pre-teen trans kids is a passion of mine because it’s so important to reach them when they are young.
Monika: You took an active part against the introduction of a bill to ban Transgender teenagers from having gender reassignment surgery in Oregon. You even wanted to educate some members of the Oregon House of Representatives about it...
Elaine: A member of the Oregon House of Representatives mentioned he had never knowingly met a transgender person although he was introducing a bill to limit our rights under Oregon law. I contacted his office and visited with him for an hour discussing what it means to live your life as a transgender woman.

Modeling portfolio 1980. One of the better shots.

Monika: How do you perceive the attitude of the administration of President Obama towards transgender Americans?
Elaine: I am very proud of our President for being the first President to mention the word “transgender” in his 2015 State of the Union address. I think he supports us openly and in staff positions.
Monika: Is there any difference in the way the Republicans and Democrats address the needs and rights of the transgender community?
Elaine: I do not think the vast majority of Republicans support any trans rights. They think being “politically correct” means minorities are getting special privileges and not equal protection under the law.
Monika: American politics is based on the interaction with different interest groups that wish to pursue their specific goals. How successful is the transgender community in this respect?
Elaine: I think the trans movement is behind where the rest of the LGBQ community is. We have some catching up to do. We are roughly where the Gay Rights Movement was in the 1980s. 
Monika: Your life story could be a perfect movie scenario. Your transition started unexpectedly not in Michigan but in Australia …
Elaine: In Australia, I decided to seek help at a gender clinic in Melbourne because I couldn’t live my life anymore as a boy.
Monika: When you came back to the US, did you already decide to live full time as a woman? 
Elaine: Yes. I entered a gender identity program affiliated with my university’s medical school. I had some great doctors that I owe so much to. My SRS was in January 1980.

With her parents in 1979.

Monika: At the time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed? How difficult it was to transition in the pre-Internet era?
Elaine: No, characters like Klinger in M*A*S*H* were all played for laughs and Renee Richards was not someone I could relate to. The only information I found was in medical dictionaries in the public library, and they were hard to find.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Elaine: Telling my parents was very difficult. It was three hours of confessions and crying. 
Monika: Right after your SRS, you flourished not only as a woman but you were also a successful model. Given your stunning beauty and intelligence, do you regard your modeling career as a success?
Elaine: I was offered a modeling contract but I wanted a steady income so I never signed with an agency. Thank you for the kind words.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in American society?
Elaine: I am really pleased that trans women are becoming known in America. I especially am proud to see that kids under the age of 12 years are able to live their life like people from my generation weren’t able to. I think that trans women, in particular, will be respected when, for example, straight men are not ridiculed for dating and marrying trans women, but instead it is calmly accepted.

Her favorite photo; age 28.

Monika: Is the transgender cause 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?
Elaine: I think it is often confused with sexual orientation. We need to educate more people that it is a gender identity issue.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Elaine: In order to remain a teacher in a public high school, I remained in stealth for my entire career, and having a same-sex relationship would have cost me my job. There were no out teachers at my school in rural Michigan. I would not have been hired and, if they had found out I was trans, I would have been terminated immediately.
Monika: What do you think about transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers, or books so far?
Elaine: I will be glad when the characters are seen as important for reasons other than the sensationalism of having someone trans in the plot.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Elaine: No, there are plenty of great books written already, such as “I am Jazz” for children.

Another good photo from the modeling portfolio.

Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Elaine: I am being featured this week in an Oregonian newspaper article about the daily lives of trans people. My YouTube website, Essence of Elaine, is used to give a more mature perspective of being trans.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Elaine: Talk with your guidance counselor or trusted teacher; talk with your parents if you are able; use YouTube and the internet to get information. Enlist these people to get into a gender identity program. Be careful and be smart about it.
Monika: Elaine, thank you for the interview!
Elaine: Thanks so much! The honor is mine!

All the photos: courtesy of Elaine Walquist.
© 2016 - Monika Kowalska

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