Thursday, 13 April 2017

Interview with Emma Shinn

Monika: Today’s interview will be with Emma Shinn, a transgender woman that documents her transition on Reddit as ScoutSeven. Emma is a retired US Marine Corps officer and now is an award-winning civilian attorney in Denver, Colorado. She is an LGBT activist and a member of the Board of Directors for the Colorado LGBT Bar Association. Hello Emma! 
Emma: Hi, Monika! Thanks for the opportunity to share my story.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Emma: Sure! I am a criminal defense attorney, representing US service members across the globe at courts-martial and administrative separation hearings. I also represent Colorado residents at criminal proceedings in state and federal hearings.
Monika: What is the main agenda of the Colorado LGBT Bar Association?
Emma: The Colorado Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (“LGBT”) Bar Association is a voluntary professional association of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender attorneys, judges, paralegals, and law students and allies who provide an LGBT presence within Colorado’s legal community. We exist to promote the recognition of civil and human rights; promote sensitivity to legal issues faced by the LGBT community; assure the fair and just treatment of members of the LGBT community; provide opportunities for LGBT attorneys, judges, and law students and allies to interact in a professional setting; build alliances with other diversity bar associations and legal organizations, and enhance the practice and professional expertise of lawyers who serve or who are members of the LGBT community. 

Monika: What are the biggest legal challenges for the Colorado transgender community now?
Emma: The legal challenges facing Colorado trans residents are similar to many across the US; however, we have robust anti-discrimination laws surrounding employment, housing, and bathrooms to name a few. The fight for equality is not over, though.
Despite our progress, recent legislation to advance equality has met with stiff opposition in the Colorado Senate, which has a Republican majority. We still face gatekeeping hurdles in changing birth certificates, gaining and maintaining employment commiserate with skills and experience, as well as renewed pushes by social conservatives for discrimination loosely framed as “religious freedom."
Monika: Why did you decide to share your transition details on Reddit?
Emma: Reddit was a huge source of inspiration for me leading up to my transition. Seeing the other people share their stories and the progress they made showed me that transitioning was possible. I figured that, just maybe, I could be an example for another trans person out there.
Monika: I am sure you get many questions from your Reddit fans. What do they ask for? 
Emma: I actually haven’t gotten many questions, mostly support. Some want to know about my military service and how it was being queer & trans on active duty in the Marine Corps. Some want to know how to join since the ban on trans service was lifted, while others want to know about my professional life as an attorney. I’m happy to share my experience so that others’ paths may be just a little easier.

Comparison between the last photo on active duty with
the US Marine Corps (Feb 2014) and now (Feb 2017).

Monika: What was the strangest question that you answered?
Emma: I can’t think of a “strange” question. Everyone has been pretty awesome and supportive.
Monika: At which stage of the transition are you right now?
Emma: I am full-time, legally changed my name and gender marker on everything except my birth certificate.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the results of the hormone therapy?
Emma: I say I’m “a work in progress.” I’m happy with the results so far, but I’m still hopeful for additional feminizing effects. I haven’t decided on FFS yet… we’ll see how the next year or so goes.
Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow?
Emma: Wow… how much space do you have? LOL. I look up to pioneers and community leaders such as Caroline Cossey, Lucy Hicks Anderson, Marsha P. Johnson, the Wachowski sisters, Janet Mock, Jen Richards, Laverne Cox, Dr. Marcy Bowers, Sarah McBride, Angelica Ross, Laura Jane Grace, Kyle Broadus, Jillian Weiss, and Chase Strangio… to list just a few!
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Emma: It was the loss of my marriage and the damage to my relationship with my kids. I’m hopeful that our relationship will get better as they see how much happier I am and able to be more “present” in their lives in a meaningful way.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Emma: Before the last presidential election, I thought it was going well and improving. I’ve seen a backwards slide ever since #45 was elected. South Dakota just passed an anti-LGBT law and many more states have similar bills on the calendar. I think that the struggle for equal rights is more important than ever as “social conservatives” try to roll back the progress our community has made over the past decade.

Fallujah, Iraq after Operation PHANTOM FURY.

I just testified in the Colorado House and Senate in support of the 2017 Birth Certificate Modernization Act. Listening to the opponents' rant and rave about the supposed parade of terribles that would occur is a prime example of the progress necessary and the resistance that backwards-looking social conservatives will try in order to stymie that progress.
Monika: What do you think about transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers, or books so far?
Emma: I think it’s improving. Amazing visual media - like Sense8, HerStory, Transparent, Boy Meets Girl, Glee, and Orange Is the New Black – have made real progress. Much remains in getting trans actors to play trans and cis roles, though. I see print media becoming better in their representations of the humanity of trans people.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Emma: I am very active in both state and federal politics. I’ve volunteered on lobbying events, testified at legislative committee hearings, and work to advance pro-LGBT legislation and cases through the Colorado LGBT Bar Association.
Monika: Are you involved in the life of your local LGBTQ community?
Emma: Absolutely – I co-founded the Colorado Name Change Project to help Colorado residents with their name and gender marker updates. I also work with the Gender Identity Center and the GLBT Community Center of Colorado.
I think it’s vital for those of us able to be visible be out and front in the community so that we can both educate and inspire both those who are still in the closet and the public at large.

October 2015.

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?
Emma: I think we’re becoming more vocal and more visible, but it’s pretty clear (at least to me) that trans folk are different than the rest of the alphabet soup. While there are certainly similarities, gender vs. sexual orientation is distinct. Sexual orientation is who you want to go to bed WITH, whereas gender is who you want to go to bed AS. I don’t see either as a “choice” but the T is often confused with the LGB_Q. When I came out as trans, many asked me if my orientation changed (it didn’t).
Another way I look at it is like two circles in a Venn diagram that don’t necessarily touch since they are independent of each other.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Emma: I do like fashion… My go-to casual look is skinny jeans, a nice blouse, and a pair of over-the-calf leather boots. In court, I wear a nice suit with either pants or a skirt. Since I’m a redhead, I like earth tones. I’m a relative minimalist when it comes to makeup, but I do like to fancy myself up on occasion.
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Emma: It’s not my scene, but I can appreciate why they are valuable to others.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Emma: Wow… that’s a huge question! There are many kinds of love… romantic, platonic, parental, and even vocational… the list goes on. I see love as a vital part of my life and I enjoy sharing my love and passions with others. The importance of love cannot be overstated.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Emma: I have… I enjoy writing and I think that I have a story to share, but setting aside the time and effort to put it on paper is another issue altogether.
Monika: What would you recommend to transgender women that are afraid of transition, discrimination, and hatred?
Emma: So much depends on the individual’s circumstances! What I can say is that transitioning was the best decision I’ve ever made, other than having my two amazing kiddos. Discrimination and hatred are going to exist, regardless but I believe being a visible example of the real normalcy of trans people is important.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Emma: My next step in the transition is gender confirmation surgery in 2018. In the next 7 years, I see myself continuing my advocacy, increasing my representation of trans* individuals in the legal arena, and enjoying life with my friends and family.
Monika: My pen friend Gina Grahame wrote to me once that we should not limit our potential because of how we were born or by what we see other transsexuals and transgender people doing. Our dreams should not end on an operating table; that’s where they begin. Do you agree with this?
Emma: I think our dreams can begin well before an operating table (and may not even include an operating table for some); however, I agree with the overall sentiment. I think “transition” really applies to life in general. All people are in a state of transition – moving from whom they were to the person they want to be and know they are. For transgender folks, our transition may be more visible, but we should all strive for growth and movement towards a better self.
Monika: Emma, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!
Emma: Thanks, Monika!

All the photos: courtesy of Emma Shinn.
© 2017 - Monika Kowalska

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