Friday, 12 May 2017

Interview with Galen

Monika: Today’s interview will be with Galen, a transgender woman. She runs the website Trans Substantiation, where she discusses trans issues and philosophy and documents her reflections on transition. She has also documented her transition on as asthepenguinflies. Hello Galen!
Galen: Hello!
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Galen: In short, I’m a 29-year-old trans woman. I originally came out at 17, before going promptly back into the closet and resuming the binge/purge depression/repression cycle that a lot of trans folks are familiar with. I finally came out to my wife and started transition steps in late December of 2015. I write a lot about various trans-related topics on my website, Trans Substantiation, which started as a personal blog to help me process things, and has since gone on to become a place where I attempt to engage people in in-depth conversations related to gender and the philosophical issues surrounding gender.
Monika: Why did you decide to share your transition details on Reddit?
Galen: Reddit was very useful for me early in my transition. When I was too scared to go out of the house dressed the way I wanted to dress, it served as a way to interact with other trans people, and learn from them. /r/transtimelines in particular was inspirational in the sense that it helped show me that it wasn’t too late for me to transition and be read consistently as female. So, after a year of medical transition, I felt it was important to try to contribute to the community that helped me in the hopes that my sharing might help others in some way.
Monika: At which stage of the transition are you right now?
Galen: As I mentioned, I’ve been medically transitioning for over a year. I have been full-time for about 7 months. I’m largely just living my life these days.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the results of the hormone therapy?
Galen: I started to transition at age 29, so I knew going into things that I was unlikely to get the same results as a lot of younger girls get. As a result, I have been pleasantly surprised by the changes I have experienced.

Galen and her son Kellan, right before bedtime.

My goal has never been to be “pretty” per se—my primary goal in medically transitioning was to feel at home in my body and be read as female by others. I feel like HRT has helped with those things a lot. However, I’d be lying if I said I don’t occasionally kick myself for not pushing harder and starting medical transition when I first came out at age 17.
Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow?
Galen: Oh, the usual. I’m a big fan of Against Me! and Laura Jane Grace. I also follow Jen Richards and Laverne Cox. I read a lot of Julia Serano’s work as well.
I tend to skew toward the more political, philosophical, intellectual side of things and don’t have much interest in following trans people who seem most concerned with fashion, etc.—it’s just not my thing. Chances are if they’re on YouTube or Tumblr, I have no clue who they are, and have little interest in finding out.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Galen: Honestly, the hardest part has been overcoming my own fears. Everything else has been relatively easy—once I decided that any person who had a problem with my being trans wasn’t worth my time, it got a lot easier.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Galen: The United States is definitely ahead of the curve on trans issues in multiple regards, but we’re behind in others. I think trans people are largely being used as a red herring to distract people from more pressing issues in their lives. Certain politicians turn us into “boogeymen” in an attempt to distract their constituents from the fact that they aren’t doing anything.
Monika: What do you think about transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers, or books so far?
Galen: I think we’re improving a lot as a society, particularly when trans people are involved in the creation and telling of the stories. If we’re going to make progress, more trans people need to be involved in the creation and telling of stories involving trans characters.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Galen: I am less active than I’d like to be. A lot of my focus has been on writing about the philosophical and political issues surrounding the trans community. This has left me with less time to devote to direct action sorts of work.
I do think trans people in general, not just trans women, need to get more involved in running for political office. The women’s rights movement as a whole has made great strides as more and more women have gotten involved in the political process—trans people would do well to pursue similar strategies and build coalitions with other oppressed groups to ensure our voices are heard. 
Monika: Are you involved in the life of your local LGBTQ community?
Galen: I occasionally attend local trans support groups, and actually used to facilitate one. I’m also a club member of the Trans National Women’s Cycling Team—an all-trans woman national cycling team.

Galen and her new cyclocross bike.

I’d like to be more involved in the local LGBTQ community, but don’t honestly feel all that welcome in LGB spaces and groups, in part because I’m trans, and in part, because I’m married and have a child. I tend to have different ideas of “fun things to do” than a lot of the people my age in the community. I haven’t been to a club in a decade, and have zero interest in going to one—whether LGBTQ-oriented or not. I’d rather hang out with friends at the park, or have friends over for dinner/drinks and board games. 
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?
Galen: I think so. I think there are very strong reasons for the LGBTQ community being considered and represented as a whole. For one thing, there’s some crossover in the constituent groups. I am both trans, and a lesbian. I have a direct, personal interest in the entire community making strides.
I hope that some of the more short-sighted members of the community, who might see trans issues as “holding back” the community as a whole, will come to understand how much we all have in common and why we are natural allies in the face of societal oppression that impacts *all* gender and sexual minorities. When one of the groups makes strides, the rest benefit.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Galen: I enjoy fashion, but would not consider myself a fashionista by any means. I prefer a nice pair of jeans, a band or pop culture shirt, and a hoodie. Basically, the same things I wore before transition, but with a tighter fit and different cut. I tend to aim at a “post-punk” vibe. I have also added in a variety of simple skirts and dresses that I like to wear every now and then—maybe once or twice a week. I’m big on shoes, but not dress shoes—I wear Chuck Taylors every day. In fact, I do not currently own any dress shoes.
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Galen: I’m not a huge fan of beauty pageants in general. I think they reinforce unhealthy messages about what women should look like and the value that women have in society. In the trans context, pageants often push those same unhealthy messages along with the idea that trans women ought to conform to cisnormative definitions of beauty. This idea can be incredibly discouraging for trans women who are transitioning later in life.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Galen: I have been lucky in that I have had incredibly supportive friends and family. My wife has been particularly important to me. She supported me before, and during the transition, and she continues to support me now that most of the “big” things in my transition have been accomplished. Her love and support have gotten me through some hard times, and I’m proud to say we’re now closer than ever.
Also, my son was born this last year, and getting to be his “momma” has been life-changing. I live for his smiles—no matter how I’m feeling about myself, or my transition, his laugh, and smile are a constant reminder of how lucky I have been in life.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Galen: I’m not currently planning on writing a memoir. I’m much more focused on writing about the philosophical and theoretical issues surrounding gender. And as of now, I do all of that on my website.

Galen with her wife and son out and about.

Monika: What would you recommend to transgender women that are afraid of transition, discrimination, and hatred?
Galen: Wow, that’s a big one.
Transition is a thing that should be pursued at your own pace. The only person who knows what you need is you. A good counselor or therapist (research whether they are well-versed in trans issues first!) is incredibly helpful in scaffolding the process of figuring out what you need. Ultimately, the biggest thing is to try, if at all possible, to surround yourself with supportive people and other people dealing with similar issues.
As far as discrimination goes, if you’re at risk of violence or discrimination in your current location, see if you can’t move to a more accepting one. Make sure you know your rights and get connected with local advocacy groups. There is power in numbers. Draw on your support network. 
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Galen: I’m just enjoying my life these days. While I don’t think of my transition as “over” per se, it’s not a thing that I devote a lot of time and energy to. I’m much more preoccupied with enjoying my life than I am with planning for the future. I hope to continue to write and contribute to conversations around trans issues and philosophy in whatever way I can—even if only a few people ever read it.
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?
Galen: I agree with the first part—our circumstances at birth should not limit where we go in life. And, I agree that people should find their own path and not limit themselves to what other trans people think is appropriate, etc. However, I don’t agree that a trans person’s dreams start on an operating table.
Surgery and medical transition as a whole is an intensely personal decision and one can have and pursue their dreams with or without those interventions. Feeling at home in your gender and body is the ultimate goal of transition, and what that looks like is up to the individual. Ultimately, our gender constitutes a very small (though important) portion of who we are as people. So, one should never see the transition as either the start or end of their dreams—it’s just another landmark on the road to self-actualization.
Monika: Galen, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!
Galen: Thank you! It was fun!

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

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