Wednesday 14 June 2017

Interview with Ana

Monika: Today’s interview will be with Ana, a transgender woman that documents her transition on as MontanaPython1993. She describes herself as a writer and role-playing hobbyist. Hello Ana! 
Ana: Hello Monika! 
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Ana: For me, summing myself up is a bit of a chore, but I’ll try. I’m in the sticks of Washington state, I do a lot of reading and one of my favorite past times is tabletop role-playing games. I am actually quite invested in world-building for my own settings to use for Dungeons and Dragons.
I’m also a bit of a writer, in the process of regaining my momentum following a long and drawn-out writer’s block. I am also sort of between unemployment and not-very-stable employment. For this interview, I’m probably going to end up with long responses to questions.
Monika: Why did you decide to share your transition details on Reddit?
Ana: I had gone through a good long stint of being excited for the results I have gotten just by making a transition in my general appearance. The first time I made a contribution to the sub I wasn’t even on hormones but within the first year and a half, I already felt sort of like a different person. I did another timeline that went into Imgur (which was a lot better than using MS Paint) but then I got fearful of the possible comments and removed it. I am not a huge fan of the timeline, it was an eyesore, but I was pretty happy to share how my transition fared.
All of the women I’ve seen share on the subreddit great outcomes, no matter the stage, because they are continuing to transition, and oftentimes, hormones combined even with just the slightest modification to how you might do your hair or even your mannerisms make quite the difference. I’ve since cut my hair so it looks a lot different than the most recent picture with me having straight bangs. It’s short, and honestly, not having long hair is a little liberating. I’m definitely going to document it in a future post to Reddit. And, without the use of Microsoft paint.
Monika: What was the strangest question that you answered?
Ana: I still get the “are you getting THE surgery at some point” question, most times with people I’m pretty intimate friends with. Usually, I’m certain they come from a caring place but from strangers, it feels highly invasive.
Monika: At which stage of the transition are you right now?
Ana: The weird middle stage, as I’d like to call it. And I only call it that because I am seven months (at the time of this interview) on my regimen and spiro being the weird drug that it is, will be nice to let go of when I can get the necessary surgery for it. Not entirely sure what that will be, yet.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the results of the hormone therapy?
Ana: I’m pleased. I get the most thrill reading my blood test results. Watching which numbers fell and which numbers went up, testosterone and estradiol specifically, gave me a lot of encouragement.
Another thing I’m really pleased with was not having to take a whole lot of spiro or estradiol to get my levels to the ideal area. My testosterone was also fairly low, starting out.
Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow?
Ana: As a rule, I don’t really have any role models, but I do have a few people I very much honor either for how they represent themselves as trans individuals or by what they put out into the world.
I really like the writers, the webcomic authors, and the actors and actresses that are trans. Jamie Clayton who was in the now-canceled Sense8 has been amazing with making a contribution to the really low amount of instances where a trans woman represents the role of a trans woman themselves, rather than a cisgender man doing the role.
Another person I really honor is Jocelyn Samara who writes Rain, which is a webcomic detailing the lives of a trans teen and several others within the LGBTQIA+ spectrum.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Ana: I can’t say coming out was exactly hard. It’s not like I specifically don’t have anything to fear about coming out, but to the people I wished to come out, it went sort of second nature. When I was 15 I came out to my parents as bisexual (long before transition mind you) so I guess I just bit the bullet.

Showing off my inner nerd.

At 15 it was harder, being that I was in high school. I guess I didn’t really fear coming out as trans, more so feared bottling it up or living in stealth and fearing the risk of someone “detecting” me, that I just went with it.
Some of the friends I lost during the transition were very hard losses. But I have since gotten past it. I have a good number of supportive people, and that’s all I personally need.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Ana: Better than some countries, but still much worse than numerous others. In my neck of the woods, it hasn’t posed a really huge issue at all. But that is a more personal thing.
As a whole, our situation is one of uncertainty. We have people working to try to repress the gay and trans community in general, and it seems like those very people are calling for the witch hunt of trans people. Some things are getting better. We have an increasing number of people who are becoming sympathetic and ultimately supportive of trans issues, but we have a long ways to go.
Monika: What is your view on transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers, or books so far?
Ana: Overall, the representation for us is not great. Film and television are pretty much littered with many instances of cis men playing the roles of trans women and their producers/directors making awful excuses for them. We are fraught with trans roles that are often just boiled down to a sex worker or some other role that doesn’t do us wonders, it’s often something humiliating like a mentally unhinged ex-baseball player.
There are a few good takeaways. I enjoyed the short web series Her Story. I enjoyed the character of Nomi Marks in Sense8. Degrassi had a trans boy named Adam Torres. Though Adam was played by a cis woman (a fact I don’t take lightly at all), his character was quite good, his overall personality was something to relate to. I hope that when/if Degrassi has another trans character since it’s an ongoing show even now, they pick someone who is trans to play the part. Not killing them off within the show just because the actor/actress wanted to do other stuff/their contract ran out, what-have-you would be nice too. We are starting to get more works that allow us to represent ourselves, so we need to work on having more of that, ultimately phasing out cis people playing roles meant for us.. But then, sometimes, we take two steps back.
I wasn’t really pleased with Laverne Cox’s decision of portraying the self-described “sweet transvestite” and rebooting Rocky Horror Picture Show. It wasn't even a reinvention, it was a copy, with a really bad reinvention of the soundtrack. And it was like a reminder that the humiliation of trans people in the film isn’t done and over. Kinda felt a sense of being cheated, that this was partially orchestrated by one of the more influential trans people in the film.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Ana: I vote, but other than that I have little involvement. Right now I’m looking to join a party and do some work writing articles for their website. The short answer to the second question would be an emphatic yes. The long answer is a drawn-out philosophical one.
In summation, I don’t think, with the debasement of US and Western politics combined with the generally worsened economic conditions, that anyone can make a truly lasting and positive difference. But are trans women capable of effecting change? Certainly.
Monika: Are you involved in the life of your local LGBTQ community?
Ana: Not entirely. There is a support group that meets across the bridge from me, I think a once-a-month deal, but I am sort of a shut-in, I haven’t met with them at all. Another unfortunate thing, we either don’t have very many trans people, or the ones who are here are in stealth. I do have a couple of trans friends I go to the houses of and chat and play video games with, but that’s about it.
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?
Ana: The important thing to do is ensure to lift up the conditions for all of us. Gay, bisexual, asexual, and queer individuals are still undermined and even treated poorly by their local communities but we are also seeing this, arguably twofold, with the transgender and intersex communities. On one hand, I know for certain we are able to promote our cause within the group.
However, I find it trivial to be pressured to promote our cause so that we are consistently promoted like the rest of the abbreviation, just for the sake of the abbreviation itself. Honestly, I thought for a while the intersection of the LGBTQ+ community was a well-established thing but sometimes, LGB individuals don’t do too much better at recognizing us and/or our cause. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad for the abbreviation to be broken up. Maybe, trans, queer, and intersex communities need to have their own abbreviation, but does that really get us anywhere?
We really do need to advance our struggle against the conditions being posed against us and getting caught up with something such as an abbreviation of a community (which we are changing all of the time) is not really part of that. If we are to have an abbreviation for communities of people whose issues are in dire need to be promoted, then I’d think we should include all others who face what has been wrought by the status quo. That being the sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist and ultimately, classist aspects of society.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Ana: I am sort of under a rock when it comes to fashion and its trends! My mind is still stuck in 2007 and for some reason, I still think trends from a decade ago are still alive and strong.
Honestly, I sort of just buy whatever I can find at Ross or my local thrift store. It works out rather nicely because they have lots of vintage or otherwise old clothes in good condition that I really take to. I tend to mix this up with an overall goth-influenced bend. You know, plenty of black, a fair amount of darker shades of various colors. But don’t let that fool you, I have a few bright clothes I really like to wear.
In general, the liking for black clothes made with lace, velvet, or leather is sort of a habit I have kept since my teen years.
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Ana: Like fashion trends, I’m pretty out of it. Beauty pageants, in general, sort of bore me and I don’t think the societal fixation on beauty is really healthy. As such there probably is already pressure for models to get into the body type the pageant administration demands. It’s probably not much different with trans beauty pageants and honestly, unless if these pageants are orchestrated by trans people themselves, I’m sure the transgender contestants are not well treated.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Ana: I’m a little biased since I am in a relationship with someone I very much care for and love. I do suppose that over the course of my life I have a little more mature and sometimes bleak look on love. Romantic love is still pretty important to me, there will always be a part of me that will long for it. But just as important, if not more, is the love from family and your own inner circle.

After nine arduous years, I can
finally apply black lipstick.

Finally, it’s important to love oneself. I’ve come closer and closer over time to doing just that. On romantic love, however, I guess I’m just not a forever and always type. I will be biased towards hoping a romantic relationship lasting, but to me, a romantic relationship is just one of many ways to have a bond with another human. That may not be as syrupy but it’s as real as we are going to get with romance, and the description still does it justice. 
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Ana: I’m going to have to! My memory of my life is fading and even if for the sake of just nostalgia I’m going to need to write a memoir or autobiography. Even if I don’t publish it, It’s important to write it. I want to keep remembering the things I experienced throughout my life. I’ll do it even just for the sake of recalling an old yet familiar smell or a certain design of a school or other type of building I remember from childhood or adolescence.
The only thing keeping this intact is the memory lane type of dreams I’ve been having. I didn’t get to experience a lot of the 90s, for instance, but the part I did experience, I wish I remembered better. This is kind of imaginative, but if there is ever an invention that accurately recollects old memories and sends them back to you so that you remember them vividly once more, I am definitely using it, it’s second-best to the present-to-past time machine, and it would be a great help to do a memoir.
Monika: What would you recommend to transgender women that are afraid of transition, discrimination, and hatred?
Ana: I don’t want to sound like an idealist, because we have a difficult hand we are dealt that can’t be solved with idealism. I’d say, do what you feel is best and go at your own pace. The odds are certainly stacked against you and you are going to have many hardships. Those said hardships can be cruel, unfair, and could be a mere discomfort or even a huge danger, but it is not worth running from transition once you realize your gender identity.
The saddest hardship is the internalized one some gay and trans people have when they repress their sexuality or gender, try to “cure” themselves, or try to live as a heterosexual or cis person even at the cost of their mental and emotional health. When it comes to deciding between being an out trans person or in stealth, know that you are your best judge when it comes to you deciding what is best for your situation.
For me, living in stealth was scary because I always fear someone reading me as a cis woman then (wrongfully I’ll add) thinking they have been cheated or lied to about my trans status. This was the scariest thing compared to coming out.
However, I’m not out of the frying pan at all, being that I’m trans, and you might find that you just can’t be out because of your situation. Pick the poison, and bite the bullet. If you feel like you are entering a risky situation but find it necessary to go to regardless, bring friends, Bring a brother or sister, and bring a cell phone. No matter what, there is a large community of trans people around the world who are concerned for our collective health and even your own.
Many in the trans community if not all take great pains in seeing any trans person on those grim body count lists. No matter who you are and no matter if I know you or not, I want you alive and well. The good news will always be in that you are almost entirely ensured to find a community or inner circle of your own that will become your friends and even your family. My best advice is to live as an empowered individual, live with self-determination, and if you have hobbies or passions, stick to them, and cling stronger to them. Make the contributions you wish to make within society, too! 
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Ana: I’m trying to get out of the sticks where I live. There are few jobs, I have to go all the way to the city three hours away to my endocrinologist and health care for people on insurance is not great. I also want to go somewhere where there is a university. I’ve been wanting to go back to school ever since getting my GED, I feel community college is the fresh start I need and the thought of moving on to university excites me. I want to study the sciences.
I'm not sure if I want to be a pharmacologist at this point or an astrophysicist, but my goal is to absorb as much knowledge as I can and maybe learn three languages. In the next 5-7 years I see myself in the works of my education. Beyond that, I certainly hope to be an all-powerful sorceress or a mad scientist by the end of my life, but I don’t have very realistic expectations.
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?
Ana: Certainly! I’m a huge believer in one’s self-determination, and I definitely don't think anyone’s story ends once they have all their surgeries completed, whichever ones they pursue that is. We are all individuals with stories of our lives to tell and they continue as we live our lives.
Our transition is best described as a chapter or set of chapters or a whole act within a book. All the other chapters? It’s the other things that are about us that describe us as more than a trans person, that describes us as human beings with their own unique set of ideals and aspirations. Most people who aren’t trans must realize that there is more to us than our plans regarding the transition or our upbringing.
Monika: Ana, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!
Ana: Not a problem! This interview was well worth sitting down for.

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

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