Monday, 6 February 2017

Interview with Christi Brekke

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Christi Brekke, writer, blogger, the author of the biographical book titled “I Want to Be Her” (2016). Hello Christi!
Christi: Hi Monika! Thanks so much for speaking with me. Considering the number of high-profile women you have interviewed in the past, this is a real honor.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Christi: Sure. I’m from the US Pacific Northwest, where I still live today with my long-time wife and cat. I love music, movies and film, reading and writing, and spending as much time as possible pursuing my happiness. Over the past six years, I have lost 150 lbs and conquered several major health issues. Today, I am healthier and happier than ever before.
Monika: Wooow ... we all have weight issues. How did you do it?
Christi: Thanks! In 2011, I weighed 350 lbs. and was diagnosed with type II diabetes, high cholesterol, and liver disease. Gender dysphoria weighed heavily on me, and eating and drinking were my primary self-soothing activities. My doctor told me to lose 100 lbs. in a year or begin making my final arrangements. How did I do it? Diet, calorie restriction, and exercise, plain and simple. I went Vegan immediately, watched my calorie intake, and did more physical activities. The weight dropped but rebounded again because I was still wrestling with my dysphoria.
Once I made the decision to transition, and especially once I started HRT (hormone replacement therapy), the dysphoria went away and so too did my need to self-soothe with food and drink. I'm no longer diabetic and my liver has fully recovered. My weight and health problems were a direct manifestation of my dysphoria... and now that the dysphoria is gone, my health problems are gone. My ultimate goal is 175 lbs. As of right now, I have 30 lbs. to go.
Monika: Why did you decide to write your memoir?
Christi: Therapy. Writing is therapeutic. It’s a means by which I can clear the clutter from my mind and soul, freeing them up for new and better things. Originally, I had no plans to even publish “I Want to Be Her.” I only wrote it for my own sake. I didn’t decide to release it until a friend encouraged me to. I’m so glad I did! I’ve heard from dozens of fellow trans folks and allies over the past year, many of whom share life stories almost identical to mine. It’s been amazing!

Available via Amazon.

Monika: The first edition of the book was titled “I Don't Want to Do Her, I Want to Be Her: A Memoir”…
Christi: That’s correct. Actually, the very, very first title was “I Don’t Want to F*ck Her, I Want to Be Her.” It was a brash title to be sure, and some of the book’s content was just as abrasive. I was still deeply in the throes of my dysphoria when I wrote it, and it showed on the pages.
The book has helped people, and I didn’t want distasteful, offensive rhetoric to obscure the real message of hope and happiness. The new edition, along with the updates, revisions, short stories, and bonus material, is the same narrative – just with less profanity and bitterness.
Monika: Which aspects of your experience can be useful for other transwomen?
Christi: I wish I knew. I don’t think my trans experience is all that common. I’m lucky to still have my spouse, who endured my misery for 20 years and embraced my transition wholeheartedly. I have massive support from friends and family, access to trans healthcare, etc., where so many trans women have few or no such luxuries.
Some of the experiences, though, are universal – such as the first time you go out in public presenting as female or use a ladies’ restroom. For me, the key was confidence – or at least the perception of it. I was terrified the first time I used a public ladies’ room, but I held my head high, smiled, and pretended as though I’d done it a thousand times. After a short while, fear started to subside and the confidence came naturally.
Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? 
Christi: I didn’t even hear the term “transgender” until I was almost forty years old. I lived four decades, basically thinking something was wrong with me. I knew I was a woman inside, but I figured everyone would think me insane so I never told anyone – except my wife. I told her many years ago.
In 2011, when I finally saw a TV program about it, and I fully understood it, I knew immediately that I would transition eventually. But it wasn’t until Caitlyn Jenner came out and sort of opened the door for us that I finally made the decision to come out and begin my own transition at age 44. Thanks, Caitlyn!
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Christi: Initially, Caitlyn was it. But once I started researching, I found other wonderful role models, like Jennifer Finney Boylan, Janet Mock, and Jazz Jennings.
Monika: Are there are any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now?
Christi: Two of the trans women I admire most can be found right here on your blog: Sarah McBride and Kristin Beck. I, along with the rest of the world, got to watch Sarah on TV speak on all our behalves at the Democratic National Convention in 2016 – the first time a trans person has spoken at any US major political party convention.
Kristin Beck is a decorated US veteran who has dedicated her life to advocacy issues for both trans people and veterans alike. Both these women are fearless, highly visible, and have committed their lives to public service – and they do it with such grace, style, and dignity. Sarah, Kristin, you both rock!

Christi and the Love of her Life.

Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Christi: Being a housewife, I didn’t have too many obstacles to overcome. No employer and co-workers to tell. No classmates or teachers.
Like many, I suppose, the hardest thing for me was simply not knowing how my friends and family would react to the news. I don’t have too many friends or relatives, so the ones I do have mean the world to me. I was confident that most, if not all, would support and accept me, but I was still afraid.
Monika: Was your wife supportive on your road to womanhood? Did your transition surprise her?
Christi: "Yes" to the first question, and "no" to the second. I told my wife early on that I had feminine behaviors and desires. I didn't know I was transgender back then. I wasn't familiar with the term. I just knew I had all these girly feelings, thoughts, and tendencies, and I didn't want to keep something so big, that was such a major part of my personality, a secret from her. She embraced my femininity wholeheartedly. She has a very bold and dominant personality by nature. I am rather shy and quiet, so we're a perfect match. When I finally decided to transition, she replied, "Well, it's about time!"
Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBTQ communities. Being the last letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBTQ group?
Christi: Yes and no. I think it’s a little bit of a problem that trans people have been lumped into categories of sexual orientation. We share many of the same hardships, such as discrimination in the workplace and societal ignorance and intolerance in general, but trans people have issues uniquely our own that go unaddressed unless we’re willing to step out from beneath the LGBTQ umbrella and address them.
One great example is our fight for access to public facilities, like restrooms. This is a war that is specific to trans people and must be waged separately and apart from other LGBT battles. So, yes, we can promote much of our cause from within the LGBTQ group, but there are some issues we must tackle independently. 
Monika: What do you think in general about transgender news stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers, or books so far?
Christi: In the US, our news is sensationalized and designed specifically to earn ad dollars, so most of the news stories I see/read deal only with the hardships and horrors of being trans…bigotry, beatings, murders, etc. There’s so much more to being trans than being a target. I wish the media would focus more on the positive aspects of the transgender journey. Thankfully, women like Janet Mock, Sarah McBride, and Kristin Beck give us a strong voice in the media.
In fiction, trans characters are emerging like never before. It’s good to see. I bawled my eyes out watching the first few episodes of Amazon’s Transparent. A program like this, that deals so much with the intimate behind-closed-door realities of being trans, could be off-putting to some viewers. Even I stopped watching after three episodes.
There’s more to being trans than just dealing with the hardships of being trans. I like it when trans characters are woven into non-trans narratives, such as Sophia on Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black. The writers and producers of this show have done a brilliant job of weaving Sophia’s plight into the larger plot – adding to the storyline rather than actually “being” the story.

Then and Now.

Monika: Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Christi: I know for a fact that transgender women can make a difference in politics. Of course, I can always refer to those like Kristin Beck and Sarah McBride who are making a difference at the national level.
But I have also seen many trans women in my own state having huge impacts on public policy and opinion at the state/local level. I write to my state and local legislators whenever some anti-trans bill is threatening to emerge, but those who lobby for us publicly are the real heroines – and they are already making a huge difference in politics.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Christi: Yay, something fun to talk about! In addition to transitioning, I’ve also lost a ton of weight over the last few years so now I can shop for clothes at any department store and find plenty of things that fit me.
I wear tunics with leggings most of the time, especially around the house, but I like to wear jeans and a t-shirt too. In my former life, most of my clothes were black – probably because my soul was blackened by gender dysphoria. But now, everything I wear has color. I’m not much into fashion trends, though. I prefer a more conventional, conservative wardrobe. 
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants? Some activists criticize their values, pointing out that they lead to an obsession with youth and beauty.
Christi: Any type of pageant can lead to obsessions with youth and beauty. I think some, like child beauty pageants, are disgusting. But some of them do good things too – for the contestants as well as their communities. So, if trans women want to participate in pageants, whether specifically trans or not, that’s their choice. I have no personal issue with it. We all want to feel beautiful, and I suppose being in a beauty pageant is an exciting way to do it.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Christi: Well, this is easy. I’ve been married to the same person for twenty years. She loved me for all those years when I was unable to love myself. And when I emerged as her wife, she fully accepted and embraced me. We’ve never been happier as a couple. Without her, I wouldn’t be here today. That’s a fact. Love is not only important in my life…it is my life.

Music got her through difficult times, and
is still a big part of her life.

Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Christi: I always have projects…either in-the-works or in-waiting. My current one is a novel called “Dark Artemis: The Escape.” It’s about a young girl, a musical prodigy, who escapes her father’s abuse and runs away with her girlfriend to chase her dreams of rock stardom. It’s in the final editing stages right now and I hope to have it published later in 2017.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Christi: Firstly, I would assure them that they are real girls and that being trans is a naturally occurring biological phenomenon – like being left-handed, or being blond in a family of brunettes. Society is slowly starting to recognize and accept this.
I would recommend hope above all things. Hope that, soon, trans awareness will reach the point where we don’t have to feel afraid or ashamed to admit we have gender dysphoria and seek help. Hope that such help will one day be more readily available. And hope that all the world will one day embrace our uniqueness and no longer keep us relegated to the fringes of society out of fear and ignorance. The cure is so simple and effective…information and hormones. My hope is that one day, no trans person will have to suffer from gender dysphoria.
Monika: Christi, thank you for the interview!
Christi: Thank you, Monika! Your blog is a wonderful resource and a great place for trans women, or anyone for that matter, to learn about other trans women, find books, connect, etc. Keep up the great work!

All the photos: courtesy of Christi Brekke.
© 2017 - Monika Kowalska

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