Friday, 16 June 2017

Interview with Meredith Guest

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Meredith Guest, a teacher, writer, and author of the memoir titled “Son, I Like Your Dress” (2015). Hello Meredith! 
Meredith: Greetings, Monika.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Meredith: Well, I think of myself as a rather unremarkable person who finds great pleasure in doing rather ordinary things. I’m a writer who loves to write, but you’re not likely ever to see my work on the New York Times bestseller list – and that’s okay.
I’m an educator who feels passionately about education, though no one’s beating down my door to get my ideas. I’m a parent, and now a grandparent, who loves her children and grandchild. I love this beautiful planet and grieve what we have done to it. And I also happen to be transgender.
Monika: Why did you decide to write your autobiography? 
Meredith: I had written a novel, a children’s book, and a screenplay with no success getting any of them published. My friends kept encouraging me to write a memoir, but I resisted. Writing lies was fun; the truth hurt. Finally, in hopes I could find an agent and a publisher for a memoir, I began. As I suspected, it was painful, brutally so at times, but it also helped me realize I had a story worth telling and a voice worth hearing.

Meredith's biography via Amazon.

Monika: Which aspects of your experience can be useful for other transwomen?
Meredith: Different people will take different things away from my story. The truth is we’re all – cisgender and trans – struggling to find, embrace and express our true selves. It’s not about “coming out.” It’s about living our truths. It’s about becoming the most authentic version of me I can. That’s the feminine Hero’s Journey, and it’s not easy for anyone.
There are always obstacles; there is always resistance, often from those closest to us. Becoming our true selves always takes courage, always requires risks, regardless of who we are. And having a good sense of humor – especially about yourself – helps a lot.
Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? 
Meredith: I was almost 50 when I transitioned, and it was a brutal process. For one thing, we never transition alone. There are always other people who get dragged along whether they like it or not: parents, friends, siblings, spouses, partners, children. My children were 14 and 16 when I transitioned, and watching what is required of them, what it cost them, was terribly painful.
I also had a lot of illusions about what my life would be like once I transitioned, illusions that proved to have little relation to reality. But disillusionment is not always a bad thing. Having those illusions dissed, while painful, was ultimately necessary and good.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Meredith: Not really. I knew very few other transpeople. Of course, I had read stories of others, but the circumstances of those I knew and those I knew about were so different from my own circumstances, that they offered only minimal guidance.
Monika: Are there are any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now?
Meredith: The people I most respect and admire (and envy) are transgirls, the ones who are coming out as children. Navigating the trials and tribulations of childhood – especially school – are hard enough. Doing it as a transchild, especially a transgirl, is daunting.

Meredith (aka Hank) at about age 12.

Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Meredith: In addition to the pain it caused others, I lost the work I loved. I had been a very successful and much-admired teacher of young children when I was still in the closet pretending to be a man, but when I came out, my career as a teacher of young children came to an ignominious end. That was a terrible loss, one I at times still grieve. 
Monika: You are quite open about your faith and how it affected your life. Is there a key point to that aspect of your life that you would like to share?
Meredith: The turning point in my life was the moment I realized God loved me just as I was. Regardless of all the hateful rhetoric coming from some churches, I knew God had created me in His image, and that I was loved. I was under no illusions about how others would react and feel about me if they knew, but with God I was good, and that made a huge difference for me.
That was the ground I stood on when I finally decided to come out, the rock I built a new life on, and while I have railed, and screamed, and cried, and whined, and bitched about my life to God, and anyone else who would listen, I never doubted God’s love for me. My faith has been an incredible resource for me.
Monika: Why is God so merciless towards transgender people, placing their minds in the opposite gender bodies?
Meredith: Why there is suffering in the world is a topic on which volumes have been written by people far smarter than I. In the words of Fredrich Nietzsche: “To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.” Our work, our call if you will, is to find meaning in the suffering that invariably comes to those whose brains and bodies are fundamentally at odds with one another. The question ultimately is not: Why did this happen to me? The question is: What must I do to be worthy of this suffering?
The answer to that question is to become the most authentic version of my true self I can. Then my suffering becomes, not a curse, but a blessing, a blessing I receive and a blessing I give.
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?
Meredith: As I said in the book, the transgender community owes an enormous debt of gratitude to the gay and lesbian community who have so generously adopted our cause as their own and allowed us to reap where they have sown and to share in the spoils of victory few of us fought to win.

Meredith’s stellar impersonation of a man.

To stand on our own, to be able to promote our own cause, we’ve got to first come out of our closets and be visible. That’s especially true for those of us who live in places where it is reasonably safe to do so.
Monika: What do you think in general about transgender news stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers, or books so far?
Meredith: Media representations of trans people are like media representations of women and minorities: too often skewed and stereotyped. You almost never see transwomen like me depicted in the media, women who are not young, rich, famous, or sexy. The media is the media. For all the good it might do – and it has and does do some good – it has far more power than it deserves.
Monika: Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Meredith: Absolutely transwomen can make a difference in politics! I bet some already are, and we just don’t know it. Laws and attitudes have changed dramatically since I first came out. Though I am no longer a teacher, now I substitute teach in grades 2-12. That means hundreds of children a year get to see and know a real live transsexual, one who is not young, rich, famous, or sexy, but one who is open, honest, capable, and funny. I think this makes a difference. I think this is how change happens.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Meredith: I’m a denim girl. When I first came out I tried to be a lacy, femmie, frilly girl, but it just wasn’t me. I wear denim skirts and cowboy boots with sensible tops. Then again, I’m not young anymore, so I dress sensibly, though I definitely prefer skirts to pants, unless I’m hiking or gardening or riding a horse. After all, not all girls are that into fashion.

Going out on patrol for the park service.

Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Meredith: I’m no fan of beauty pageants of any sort. They confuse beauty with glamour. Some of the most beautiful people I know are not physically attractive. Beauty comes from within; glamour is superficial. When the two come together, that’s lovely, and let’s face it, that’s what we all long for, but that’s not what beauty pageants are about.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Meredith: I am extremely blessed to have lots of love in my life, especially the love of my partner and two grown children. When I came out, I lost friends, and I lost some family members, but over the years those relationships have been more than replaced by the love and friendship of others. It took time; it wasn’t always easy, but everyone needs to find – and to create – love in their lives.
That said, don’t confuse love with sex. Sex is great, especially within the context of love, but don’t think that if some man finds you sexually desirable, that means he loves you or that you have arrived as a woman. That’s bad thinking and can get you into serious trouble. You’ll be a lucky girl if you find friends who won’t let you get away with that kind of thinking. Or who refuses to participate when you decide to throw yourself a pity party because some jerk was mean to you. They’ll also tell you the painful truth you don’t want to hear, like, That outfit doesn’t work on you; or, you’re thirsty.
When you dress like a thirteen-year-old, you look foolish; or, Wearing gobs of make-up doesn’t make you look pretty. It makes it look like you’re trying too hard. Most of all, they’ll communicate in word and deed: Just be you. That’s the person I love.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Meredith: I’m always into something. Sometimes the things I’m involved in have to do with trans issues; a lot of times they don’t. I make sure my life is not circumscribed by my being transgender.

Loving the great outdoors.

Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Meredith: Realize and accept that it’s not going to go away; there’s no way to get around it or away from it. Even in the best of all possible worlds, we will still have to deal with dysphoria when it comes to our gender. That’s just the nature of the beast. But the beast can be our enemy or our ally. It can kill us or it can make us stronger. The choice is ours. 
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?
Meredith: Absolutely! Surgery and other medical interventions can be valuable aides, and I wish they were more available and affordable, but becoming the truest version of ourselves we can is a spiritual journey; it comes from within. To think a surgeon’s knife is the key to your happiness is a dangerous mistake, one that will lead to much needless suffering and despair.
Monika: Meredith, thank you for the interview!
Meredith: My pleasure. Great questions.

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

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