Thursday 15 June 2017

Interview with Holly

Monika: Today’s interview will be with Holly, a transgender woman that documents her transition on as mikah_rowan. Hello Holly!
Holly: Hello Monika and thank you for this opportunity to share a bit about myself and my experiences.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Holly: Okay, so I was born in 1962 in Connecticut, the USA, not too far from New York City. My father died when I was only six months old, and my mother remarried before I can even remember. I had a brother six years older than me and a sister three years older. I realized that I was transgender at a very early age, even though to me, it had no name yet.
As soon as I was aware of being a human being and seeing the differences between boys and girls, men and women, I knew that I was a girl and that I would grow up to be a woman. But something was wrong. My mom kept dressing me in little boys' clothes and giving me boys' toys to play with. I would take my boys' clothing off and go to my sister's dresser and put on her clothes.
At first, everyone was amused by this, but when I kept persisting, my mother started “correcting’ my behavior. It got to the point when I was being spanked by my step-dad, and his kids started to tease me and even started beating me up.
So at an early age, I started to learn that I had to keep my true self secret from everybody. I tried hard to be a boy but it was like a war inside me, the girl inside fighting against the boy that everyone wanted and expected me to be. This had a lasting and negative effect on my whole life. One of my step-brothers leaked my dressing up to the neighborhood boys, and I lived in a tough neighborhood, so I was the target of bullies in school, on the playground, and anywhere I was seen. I started to constantly live in fear and I hated school - not because I hated learning, which I love, but because it was a very scary place for me to be.
Monika: Did you feel the same when you were growing older?
Holly: As I got older, I decided not to go to college because of my school issues and started working in restaurants, and to this day I still work in that business. I tried to be what everyone wanted me to be, and I am attracted to girls, so I got married twice, both miserable failures. I know this sounds strange, but sex became an issue with every girl I was ever with. When I would get involved with a girl, falling in love would push the gender disorder from my mind, and for a few months, everything seemed fine. But after that initial glow wore off, the GID would come raging back stronger than before, and sex was awkward and difficult for me. I wanted to be the other person, not me.
In the end, after my second divorce, I gave up and decided not to get involved anymore. In summary, the untreated gender dysphoria made every day of my life a living hell, and I could not escape even in my dreams.
Monika: Why did you decide to share your transition details on Reddit?
Holly: I am a writer at heart, and Reddit was an anonymous outlet where I could share anything I wanted without fear. 
Monika: I am sure you get many questions from your Reddit audience. What do they ask for?
Holly: I get a lot of questions about how to deal with religious parents or how to tell a girlfriend. Since I started getting surgery, I get a lot of questions relating to the specific surgeries, the cost, the pain, the recovery time, etc.
Monika: What was the strangest question that you answered?
Holly: Someone asked me if I could freeze some sperm and get myself pregnant after my gender reassignment. I responded by saying “that’s not how this works - that’s not how any of this works…”

Left, 2009. Right, 2017. Hormones and surgery, amazing!

Monika: At which stage of the transition are you right now?
Holly: I have had two facial surgeries which have changed my life. The first was a rhinoplasty. My surgeon does the facial feminization in steps to see how each stage heals to determine how to proceed with the next one.
In my second surgery, I had several things done; forehead contouring, eyebrow lift, fat grafting into my cheeks, contouring of the chin bone, a tracheal shave, liposuction of the neck and under the jaw, upper lip life, and fat grafting in the lips.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the results of the hormone therapy?
Holly: I started at a later age than is recommended, so I wasn’t happy with my breast growth, but it did wonders for my complexion and body hair growth. I hardly have to shave my legs anymore and I used to shave almost every day.
But the mental and emotional effects of estrogen were dramatic. Getting the testosterone out of my blood was the best thing I ever did for my mental health. My brain and my chemistry were now in agreement, and peace broke out. I started thinking more clearly now that the fog of internal war lifted.
Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow? 
Holly: Laverne Cox maybe, because I am an aspiring actress, but instead of looking for inspiration, I try to live my life in a way that can be an inspiration to others.
A lot of people that first learn that I am trans bring up Caitlyn Jenner. To be nice, I will only say that I am not a fan of hers at all. I don’t think that she did anything to shed light on the trials of the average transgender person, and turned the issue into reality TV fodder.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Holly: Getting over the lifetime of being labeled a tranny, a queen, a crossdresser, of being morally deficient. These things were so ingrained in me that I projected this attitude on those around me. Two days ago, I finally came out to my boss at work, and he was like “we got your back. Behind you 100%” and that was like a giant stone lifted off my shoulders.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Holly: It depends. Racism is a big problem on its own in the U.S., never mind being a transgender minority. Black transwomen are forced into sex work and are regularly the victims of violence and even murdered, and the killers often get sympathy because somehow the uneducated public thinks that trans-women are somehow trying to “trick” straight men into having gay sex. If you are a person of means or have good insurance, then it is a lot easier. But in a society that judges people on looks, many transwomen who can't afford hair removal or cosmetic surgery are shunned or made objects of ridicule. 
In my own case, I decided to transition in a slow steady manner, and I have had a generally good experience. My medical team is at Yale Hospital in New Haven, one of the best hospitals in the world. I have been treated with compassion and respect there.
Monika: What do you think about transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers, or books so far?
Holly: Most get it wrong. Trans characters are portrayed as one-dimensional, overly concerned with sex, and cartoonish. Laverne Cox’s character is good, but then she is in a prison situation, not out and about in society. It’s a different world, and I am waiting for an honest and sensitive portrayal that is not a comedy or sex thriller.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Holly: I am not active yet, but plan to be once my surgeries are done. I would even consider running for office because God knows that we need some sanity in U.S. politics these days.
Monika: Are you involved in the life of your local LGBTQ community?
Holly: I never considered myself to be part of a community. It seems to me that the T is an almost unwelcome letter at the end of LGB. Most gay and lesbian people don’t identify with trans persons, and vice-versa. While I do feel compelled to help trans sisters and brothers in need, for myself, I just want to be able to blend in and that’s what my transition is about.

May 19th, 2017 - The day my bandages
came off and my new life began.

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?
Holly: I do not think so, the issues are much too different. Trans persons are at a place where gays and lesbians were about 40 years ago, making ourselves visible and standing up for ourselves in the face of overwhelming prejudice. Even gays and lesbians never had to go to court to fight for the right to use a bathroom!
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Holly: I used to think that I would be a tomboy when my outward appearance started changing, but I was wrong. I love fashion now and have a lot of catching up to do. I love wearing short dresses and skirts because I have always taken care of my legs, and they are in great shape - and I love to show them off. I like blues and bright reds, anything to attract attention now. I am tall, so I wear low heels, pumps, and wedges, or flats.
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Holly: I have always felt ambiguous about them for women in general, but I can see the allure to attractive women to participate. They will anger any feminist, especially the swimsuit competition which is all about visual sexiness.
As a trans feminist, I have mixed feelings. But I have spent years reforming my body from a 260 lb couch potato of a guy to a sleek 155 lb feminine appearance and I am dying to get into a pageant because, in the back of my mind, it has always been a fantasy of mine. I remember watching pageants when I was a child wishing so hard that I was one of the eye candy girls up there. Even at my age, I look really good. People always take me for being in my early 30’s now, and when my surgeries are done, I will actively seek out modeling and pageants.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Holly: Relationships have always been problematic for me. I have built an icy cold iron enclosure around my heart, and once my transition is complete and I feel completely comfortable in my new skin and new role, I will seek out relationships again.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Holly: Yes, I keep a journal and will turn this into a book soon.
Monika: What would you recommend to transgender women that are afraid of transition, discrimination, and hatred?
Holly: Think about how you will feel on your deathbed looking back upon years of regret that you never did anything to make the situation better. In my own case, I am a cancer survivor. When you are face to face with death and beat it, every other scary situation becomes easier to deal with. But just think to yourself that life is very short and ask yourself if you want to be miserable during your time here because of the fear of thought in another person's mind. And because those thoughts can sometimes be dangerous and even deadly, when you do make the choice to transition, keep yourself out of situations that can be dangerous.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Holly: My next step is to keep marching on with my surgeries. When that is finished, then the real transition begins. The spiritual, mental, and emotional journey is never quite completed. Every day when we wake up, we are a bit different than the person that we were when we went to sleep. I plan to make some kind of splash now that I am unhindered by the burdens of dysphoria. 
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?
Holly: I think I answered some of this in my previous answer. When you are done with surgery, that is the real beginning. Blossom! Be yourself! Let your true beauty shine through! You have an opportunity afforded to you by modern medical procedures that the preceding generations of trans persons dreamed about, so don’t waste this opportunity. 
Monika: Holly, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!
Holly: Thank you for the opportunity to share!

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

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