Friday 30 June 2017

Interview with Ella Marques

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Ella Marques, a Portuguese-American writer living in Boca Raton, Florida, the author of the biographical book titled “I was born a boy, from Venus. It’s time to be yourself” (2017). Hello Ella!
Ella: Hi Monika, Thank you very much for the interview, and for thinking about me. I like your blog very much.
Monika: You describe yourself as an “international” woman. Could you say a few words about yourself?
Ella: Sure. I was born in Portugal, at the age of 14 I went to an international boarding school in Switzerland, and since then I have lived, worked, and visited many countries. I lived in London, Paris, Fortaleza, a city in the Northeast of Brazil. Lived over 30 years in various cities in Switzerland and moved to the USA 6 year ago.
Earlier and for a period of two years, I traveled almost every week in Poland. I had some business in Łódź and came regularly to your country. You have a great culture.
I traveled the world, meaning, many countries on all the continents, and I speak seven languages, including some words of Polish.
I find it very interesting to talk to people around the world and understand different cultures as well as the differences between them. I enjoy the different foods, mentalities, art, and music.

Ella’s first dress.

I came to the conclusion that one can find how advanced a country is, by looking at the respect that is given to Women and what are the local LGBTQ rights. Usually, countries that are not so advanced, treat women badly and are very violent to LGBTQ people.
Monika: Why did you decide to write your autobiography?
Ella: It was a big step for me, to decide to share my most intimate moments and times with the rest of the world.
Sometimes I find it very interesting that I am getting famous for what I tried to hide all my life. I wrote my book for three reasons.
The first reason is to tell all people that are not transgender that, what we go through is not an option, it is real and does not go away. Please do not forget that still over 40% of transgender people attempt to commit suicide in the USA. It is painful to read those headlines every time, and I often wonder if things could have been different with just a little more community support.
But I tried to share my story in a way that is interesting and not boring. Transgender people are positive, we are great people that deserve to be admired and accepted as we are. I am always very surprised to see that most people have actually never met a transgender person in their life, and sometimes they have the Idea that all trans people are something like a weird Drag Queen. Well, some of us are. But they deserve your respect and acceptance too.
The second reason is to tell Transgender people that there is a way to live the way you feel is your real self. Be courageous, work on your self-esteem and confidence. 
The third reason, and most of all I would like to tell parents of transgender kids that acceptance is key for their development, they deserve to be themselves from the beginning and not be loaded with guilt all their life.
Monika: Which aspects of your experience can be useful for other transwomen?
Ella: To be transgender is not a phase, I tried to “cure” myself all my life from it, but you can only be cured of sickness and not from what you really are. Understand and embrace your feelings. Work hard to adapt to your real gender, it is not an easy way. The older you are the most difficult it is to be passable. Mostly be self-confident and positive, those are the factors that you need, to conquer the world and get support.
One very important point, look for support from a specialist to determine if you are transgender, gender fluid, or something else. Find yourself before you make any conclusions.

Available via Amazon.

Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman yourself? Was it a difficult process?
Ella: I was 59 as I transitioned. It was a difficult process in the beginning until I was diagnosed with gender dysphoria. Once I started HRT my feelings started to stabilize and I was feeling good and positive. I still had to do a lot of work on myself to look better and increase my self-confidence, but somehow things were more clear.
There are still a lot of issues and things that one has to think about. One of the most important on is income and money, how to survive, even in the USA, there is a lot of discrimination against transgender people like us, even if in the last years the acceptance has improved.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Ella: Sure, here in the USA there are quite a lot of shows about transgender people. Caitlyn Jenner, Jazz Jennings Laverne Cox, Candice Cayne are some examples of transgender woman that are very famous.
And of course transgender men like Chaz Bono. Other famous people like Dr. Marci Bowers, the astonishing Gigi Gorgeous; all are famous role models that are very present in today’s US society and are admired for their courage and work.
There are many other role models that I know and heard about, many less famous transgender people, that are very important for our community.
Monika: Are there are any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now?
Ella: Sure, not only the women that I mentioned above but some of my companions and friends as well. Some that transitioned 20 years ago, some are still in the process. I met some extraordinary transgender people that are very active and positive for our community are not famous nor have a lot of money but they are essential supporters for transgender issues. The list in the USA is very extensive, and continuously being increased.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Ella: To understand oneself, conquer any guilt that one has and of course, develop self-confidence and learn to be at ease with yourself. I remember in the beginning I always thought everybody was looking and criticizing me, when I came to a supermarket, I was feeling like there were sirens that started blowing with the words “Transgender coming”. Well not really, it was my guilt and my fears that were playing crazy.

18 years old Fernando.

Then many of the external factors such as to get the gender Dysphoria confirmation letter, and of course your papers with a new name and gender tag. I had to wait over 8 months to have the change in my birth certificate.
The cost of transition can be quite high, surgeries are expensive and one needs to have very good doctors. In the USA transgender surgeries have become very profitable, so many universities and hospitals are proposing them. Sometimes the experience of these surgeons on transgender people is very limited, it is difficult to find the right surgeon, one that you can trust.
Monika: The transgender community is said to be thriving now. As Laverne Cox announced, “Trans is beautiful.” Teenage girls become models and dancers, talented ladies become writers, singers, and actresses. Those ladies with an interest in politics, science, and business become successful politicians, academics, and businesswomen. What do you think in general about the present situation of transgender women in American society? Are we just scratching the surface or the change is really happening?
Ella: The change is really happening, in small steps. Acceptance is here in some states like California, Florida, New York, and others, and in these places, I believe that transgender people can have regular lives. May companies are diverse and accept transgender rights. Increasingly many companies such as Disney, Siemens, ABB, numerous banks, computer companies, and entertainment companies are fully diverse and have statements telling they accept transgender people. Many even have special HR departments for LGBTQ.
I know many people that transitioned on the job and were fully accepted. Even with quite exceptional stories, one of my friends works for a leading bank in the USA. As she transitioned the bank made a special lunch and invited all her customers. All the customers met her feminine self for the first time. One customer said he could not work with a transgender, so the responsible of the bank asked him to change banks, they could not have his account anymore.
The positive and good stories are multiplying, but still, in some cases, transgender people lose jobs because they came out at work, not all companies are diverse. We still have a long way to go. I have heard many companies say, they adopt the rules of the state where they are, but states like North Carolina are clearly against us.
One just should be aware that in some companies, it is only done for marketing reasons, they accept transgender people but in reality, they do not have any transgender onboard or only one in a minor position. A transgender friendliness rating system for companies should be put in place.
I was just recently with a group of transgender leading activists in Florida and we were commenting on the work in many companies for transgender people. Well, the acceptance at all levels is not there yet, and we were comparing transgender at work as the great women in the film “Hidden Faces”. That is how many companies treat us, and we accept it because it is better than nothing.

Just before transition.

Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBTQ communities. Being the penultimate letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBTQ group?
Ella: The acceptance of transgender people within the LGBTQ community can be an issue, and I have heard many times such quotes as. “Well, the T is not really representative of the LGBTQ community because here we deal with Gender and not sexual orientation.” Or “we accepted the T because they had nowhere else to go.” So some transgender people think that we should be separated and have our own community group.
It is an important issue that in many LGBTQ support groups and centers there are no T people on the board of directors or not in representative quantities. Many of these communities are dominated by gay men for gay people. Often is the number of lesbian women very small as well.
Another issue is that transgender people that finished their transition sometimes are not activists for the community anymore.
I believe that LGBTQ stands for diversity and we have to be a little loud and conquer our rights within and outside the LGBTQ movement. And we will always have special transgender-oriented groups because we have different needs.


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

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