Sunday 19 February 2017

Interview with Michelle Raine

Monika: Today’s interview will be with Michelle Raine, a Canadian video blogger that documents her transition on YouTube. Hello Michelle!
Michelle: Hello Monika, I think what you are doing with these interviews is very inspiring and a fantastic idea for bridging the gaps between all of our personal stories.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Michelle: I am an actress working on my bachelor of arts degree with a major in theater, in Nova Scotia, Canada. I also happen to be a transgender woman who is pretty early in her transition. I have been documenting moments in my transition on my YouTube channel.
Monika: Why did you decide to share your transition details on YouTube?
Michelle: Well, honestly, my initial decision was simply because I am selfish. I am busy with my degree, shows, approaching a Summer with three productions that I am producing, and more...
So I have not really been an active member of the transgender community. This was a way for me to communicate with other transgender folks, reach out for support and give moral support to those who need it.

Michelle and her Mom.

At the beginning of my transition, even before, YouTube was an amazing source of information straight from women just like me! It was a great feeling to know that I wasn’t alone.
Where most of the YouTubers seem to be in competition with each other I think the transgender YouTubers are among the most supportive if up and coming newbies.
Monika: I am sure you get many questions from your YouTube fans. What do they ask for?
Michelle: Many people ask me how I knew I was transgender, how to get hormones or other important questions that many transgender folks who are just coming out NEED to know. There is a severe lack of resources and information available to the public, something that I hope will change.
Monika: What was the strangest question that you answered?
Michelle: One of the strangest questions or "tips" that I was given around the time that I made my coming out video was from a transgender woman who asked me if I was sure that I had dysphoria. She said that Dysphoria is not something I should wish for and that I better make sure with my therapist before moving forward medically.
As a newly out person, I felt like people who I was supposed to have something in common with were policing how valid my personal circumstances were and ultimately discouraging me in the beginning phases of my transition. I have also been asked if I was still single and if I would give people my phone number. 
Monika: Do you write scenarios for your videos or do you just improvise?
Michelle: I tried writing scripts for a few of my videos and even though I'm an actress who attempts to bring words off pages and to tell truthful honest stories, it is very difficult for me to do. I prefer to speak from the heart on my channel and I hope that people see that.
Monika: At which stage of the transition are you right now?
Michelle: If we are talking about the stages of my physical transition, Let's say still extremely early. If we are talking about the stage at which I am mentally in my transition; well, I am getting happier and happier while maintaining strong morals and values for myself. I experience less dysphoria now than I did last year and that is all that truly matters.

Sunbathing Selfie.

Monika: Are you satisfied with the results of the hormone therapy?
Michelle: I am truly, truly satisfied. I could pick apart a bunch of little things but why bother. Hormones have changed my mind and body so much in a way that my soul is cozy more so now than it was before.
If I was to pick one thing that I still want to change it would be facial hair. Unfortunately, I don't have the money for laser hair removal or electrolysis at the moment and it continues to be a very dysphoric part of my body.
Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow?
Michelle: A friend and ally of mine recently recommended that I listen to Janet Mock's autobiography. I've been busy the last few weeks but I've managed to listen up to chapter 11 somehow while doing my makeup and hair. She is an incredible woman and I strongly recommend checking out her book.
As a kid though, I had no role models in the trans community, but I recently met a writer from the show Train 48, which was a Canadian television show on one of our local channels. This writer had written a character of a trans woman who I found completely amazing when I was a young teenager wishing to find someone else just like me to talk to. 
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Michelle: The most difficult thing was that I was going to have to do it so publicly. I have met many people and have a large extended family. That and being an actress who would be in several shows for my honors assignment, people would see me in the stages of my transition. An actor doesn't get sick days and they don't get to hide from criticism.
I knew that if it would be public anyway and there would be no possibility for me to ever be "stealth" I would at least document it through videos and blogs instead of having others make speculations about my experience.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Michelle: In Canada, there are still many changes to be made. Canadians often believe that Canada is exempt from hateful ideologies and it is this ignorance that covers all of the problematic experiences that transgender folk share.
We are so close to the United States and often I hear fellow Canadians say, and I am guilty of this as well:"at least we aren't American" but the truth is the US and their President Donald Trump have an insane impact on Canada.
Monika: What do you think about transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers, or books so far?
Michelle: I really enjoyed the book "George" by Alex Gino, of course, I've watched Jamie Clayton in Sense 8 and Laverne Cox in OITNB but I am hoping for a popularized concept like a television series, to feature a bad-ass trans girl. ***
To any film producers, Netflix... Wink wink: My dream role is a tough superhero chick in black leather with fushia color accents fighting crime with a strong emphasis on destroying gender norms and beating down the patriarchy.

Five Petal Rose Festival in Czesky Krumlov.

Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Michelle: I do think so. Unfortunately, I was never a highly political person and I don't engage with enough activism.
I was the Vice-Chairperson of a PRIDE committee a few years before I began my transition. Having to do activism with so much push-back on every angle was exhausting and I really respect those who can muscle through all of the nonsense that is thrown their way.
Monika: Are you involved in the life of your local LGBTQ community?
Michelle: I am really not anymore. The majority of my friends are cisgender. Some are gay, bi, lesbian, queer - and I don't think any of us would say we are in the LGBTQ community. We are really just a part of the theatre community, which is for the most part a welcoming and accepting community.
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?
Michelle: Like I said I went from being active as a Vice-Chairperson on a PRIDE committee to not being in the community at all. A part of this is because as I went to PRIDE one year I felt so dysphoric and felt like I had all of the privileges that I had within that community ripped away from me as I began my transition.

Funny Girl.

I will probably get in big trouble for saying this, but the LGBTQ community is often a fairly misogynistic, patriarchal community and I couldn't be a permanent part of what they do. I do appreciate some of the things they do but I just can't be around the problematic circumstances the community is currently in.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Michelle: Before I transitioned I had this big idea of how I would have the most fashionable clothing and I would always look 10 out of 10.
Now I have slowly realized that I don't care much for shimorts and I only wear dresses on occasions. I'm a very jeans and t-shirt kind of girl and I'm okay with a pair of jean shorts and a bikini top in the summer. In Canada I think I would be called a "country girl" though I do live in a city... ha 
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Michelle: I wouldn't participate in one at this time in my life and I think I would rather focus my energy on more artistic endeavors... like a play about beauty pageants? I guess...
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Michelle: LOVE! Honesty! Loyalty! They are all synonymous to me. If you are honest and loyal to me chances are I will love you as a friend, family member, business partner, or significant other. I think it is so important to try to love yourselves, and the world around us.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Michelle: Yes I have. I don't know how to write a book but I know how to write a mediocre play, ha. So currently I am working on a diary and a one-woman show. If that transforms into a book one day I would be very pleased.

Strawberry Fairytale in Prague.

Monika: What would you recommend to transgender women that are afraid of early transition, discrimination, and hatred?
Michelle: Set goals for yourself about the woman you want to become that are not focused on your outer exterior. I know, easier said than done.
But it is true. If I wasn't working towards my degree, or the next performance, or the next script I write, or the next place I want to travel to, etc., then I don't think I could maintain my happiness throughout the past year and a half.
So I would say be honest with yourself about who you are and who you want to be. You can be a beautiful woman and still have a pointless life. Do you want to be a female playwright? CEO of a company? A waiter at a diner? a singer? the possibilities are endless and there are NO GOOD REASONS NOT TO FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS!
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Michelle: Oh gosh. My next step is laser hair removal and then on to surgeries. I would love to find someone to share my life with and I have thought a lot recently about becoming a mother one day... but no due dates or marriage proposals thus far so I will just keep working hard... oh and if you are reading this Netflix: I am available for shooting before the 5 years is up. Wink.
Monika: Michelle, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!
Michelle: It was my pleasure! I really enjoy talking about myself, kidding... kind of.
Thanks again for this experience I feel ready to take on the world after answering your questions - Ellen Degeneres here I come! Wink wink.

All the photos: courtesy of Michelle Raine.
© 2017 - Monika Kowalska

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