Saturday 10 June 2017

Interview with Shemiyia O'Bannon-Sweeney

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Shemiyia O'Bannon-Sweeney, an inspirational young woman originally from Louisville, Kentucky, who now resides in the Greater New York area. Hello Shemiyia!
Shemiyia: Well Hello There!
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Shemiyia: Wow. Well, I like to refer to myself as "The Jacqueline of all trades"! I am a very busy bee! First and foremost I am the wife to my amazing husband of 2 years, Bobby. I have been a medical professional for the past 13 years, I now work for a very big hospital organization here in New Jersey that prides itself on its advocacy with the LGBT Community.
My mom Sheila O'Bannon and I are working on some projects together, one being the continuation of the theater portion of "The Prodigal" the stage play written by her, as we are also moving forward with some options for screenplay version of it, which over the past year or so has prompted me into acting classes to further progress one of my passions.

Dr. Drew's show with Mom Sheila (Left).

Among some other things I am working on, I would have to say the thing right now I am most inspired by and proud of is a joint venture I have pursued with a team of Medical Doctors in Mexico which is The "Mexico Transgender Center"!
Monika: Your experience as a transwoman made headlines in 2015 when you appeared in Dr. Drew's show titled “Love thy neighbor: Transgender in the church.” Did you like the show? What did you expect before the show?
Shemiyia: Well, being in a room full of passionate Transgender individuals, walking into it, I definitely expected a lot of strong opinions, but what I was overwhelmed by was the feeling of Love! And I feel like there were a lot of people there who were not used to that feeling, and there was a full embrace and acceptance of each other, something all of us there living in this sometimes complicated and not so understanding world needed to feel! And the embrace, treatment, and welcome we received from Dr. Drew and his staff were just beyond incredible!
That day we were given the chance to decrease the lack of knowledge for some, and for others to tell our stories to someone at home watching us who desperately needed to see someone they could relate to, it was amazing and well put together. It actually brought my Husband's family and me together. I came away from that experience with some great new friends.
Monika: What do you think in general about transgender news stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers, or books so far?
Shemiyia: As a Trans Woman of color, I can say that with the positive direction that Trans visibility is taking in these current days and times, It is still very underwhelming for me.

(L to R) Sheila (Mom), Shemiyia, Rodney (Brother).

Of course, we have Laverne Cox who is admirable, beautiful, driven, and oh so talented, and now we have up and coming Amiyah Scott who is part of the main cast on the Fox hit series by Empire's Lee Daniels "Star", we are still looked at as being the lesser. 
Caitlyn Jenner who I commend and embrace for finally taking the steps in her life to live with authenticity, she was put on a pedestal and made to be the transgender community's saving grace.
When there were plenty of Transgender women, a lot of them of color such as Monica Roberts, Janet Mock, Cherno Biko, Angelica Ross, Madison Hinton who have been on the front lines clawing, fighting, and scratching for Our rights, for Our visibility for years, all now in the shadow of Someone who just found the courage to live their truth. That's a problem. 
Monika: You got married in 2015. I was looking at your wedding photos. You looked so beautiful …
Shemiyia: Thank you very much! I could not have asked for a better day, a better setting, better surroundings, or a better man to share that moment with!
Monika: What did you feel when dressed like a beautiful princess you could marry the man you love?
Shemiyia: I felt like, how did I even get here to this moment? You look at yourself in the mirror thinking Wow! I finally get to be the girl I've watched in so many movies! To marry a man with the confidence enough to stand beside me and with me for the rest of our lives with no concern for anyone else's thoughts or opinions, how many people end up that lucky? Oh, and how crazy could he be to want to marry me?!! Lol.

Our Wedding in Cabo, MX with Husband Bobby in 2015.

Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman yourself? Was it a difficult process?
Shemiyia: I felt like a girl for as far back as I can remember. We're talking 4 years old. I went through a lot of tough moments growing up, because the more I started to visibly and physically show signs of revealing my true self, there was an internal struggle because of the way I was raised at church and with deep-rooted Christian values, that it took for me to attempt to take my own life at the age of 15 to wake up and realize YOU HAVE TO BE YOU! So my transition begin slowly from there and progressed to by the time I was out of my teen years into adulthood, I was officially living authentically on a full-time basis!
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Shemiyia: Well, I would say not at first, but luckily the right people were watching and waiting from the sidelines and swooped in at just the right time to guide me in the right directions! I'd say between them double-teaming me with my mom, I ended up pretty good!
Monika: Are there are any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now? 
Shemiyia: I have such admiration and respect for every Transgender woman because I feel like we are the strongest and most amazing people this universe has to offer! We can overcome and become anything!

"I have been a Medical Professional
for the past 13 years."

Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Shemiyia: Fear. Fear of God. Fear of disappointment. Fear of non-acceptance. Fear of judgment. Fear of violence and ridicule. Fear of Loneliness. Fear for my future. 
Monika: Recently I have read one article stating that transgender people in the USA struggle with some of the lowest rates of acceptance, even within the LGBT community. In addition, only 2 percent of transgender Americans can boast a full-time job and benefits…
Shemiyia: And honestly that sounds accurate. If you look anything outside of the Norm, no one is jumping through hoops to give you a job. Maybe in San Francisco, Los Angeles, or NYC, but transgender people are people, and we come from everywhere. I was born in Waterloo, Iowa.
I have been told that I fit the category of being "Passable" whatever that means, so I'm fortunate that it has been relatively easy for me to maintain my position in the healthcare industry, but it is not like that for everyone, and that's why so many transgender people turn to illegal and illicit activities like drugs and prostitution.
For some, it is the only way to eat, survive, and even transition. It's sad, but it's true because there is such a limited amount of individuals who are willing to accept that transgender individuals deserve the opportunity to exist in the same world they do, work the same jobs they do, receive the same benefits, and opportunities they do.
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?
Shemiyia: Yes and No. I feel like we are more of the neglected stepchild of the LGBTQ Family, and I feel like that plays a part in the recent increased visibility in the transgender community, because we were tired of existing in the shadows. Tired of being the Taboo.

Mardi Gras '17 in NOLA.

Monika: Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Shemiyia: I have always connected Politicians with being Bullies. That's what they do. They bully people into seeing things their way and getting things their way. And I believe Trans individuals to be the opposite of that. So I try to avoid the political conversation, while still standing behind my community. Certain people are meant to fight certain battles, and vice versa, but Know that I support my transgender sisters and brothers who are out there on the front lines fighting for the ability to be equal with the rest of the world 100%.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Shemiyia: Oh Gosh, Well my number one thing is that I always have to match! And I'm obsessed for some reason with barely wearing anything twice. But I'm not s person who is into labels and stuff really. I'm just Your everyday Fashionista who can make a dress from TJ Maxx and a pair of shoes from Payless look like they cost a couple of thousand! It's not what you wear, it's how you wear it!
Monika: You are a beautiful woman. Being beautiful always produces a lot of girl power and empowerment. Do you often use it?
Shemiyia: LOL, I'd say once upon a time, yes, but then again I've always been a pretty humble southern girl with a shy twist because there was a time when I was not always this confident and secure with myself.
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Shemiyia: I feel like it's a way for girls like us to embrace our journey by beauty! Why not celebrate the beauty of a transgender woman? Cisgender women have been doing it for years!

NYC Promo Shoot.

Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Shemiyia: Well, fortunately, I have my mom to thank for that one as she already did and made it into a stage play! But I am working on a little something myself, but it's more in the fictional romance genre!
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Shemiyia: While I have several sources of love in my life from family and friends, there's nothing like having one special person in your life that their one job, one duty, one desire, and one wish in life is to love you. That type of love isn't even explainable. I feel like no one person especially a transgender person should ever be deprived of that. Everyone should have the chance to experience that one great love!
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Shemiyia: Well I do have my hands stirring a number of pots right now, but I ask people to be supportive and on the lookout for "The Prodigal" and also for The Mexico Transgender Center, With Dr. Ivan Aguilar (Trained by Dr. Marci Bowers) & Dr. Carlos Mendez based in Guadalajara, they specialize in every Transgender procedure you could think of M2F, as well as F2M. I am the US Surgical Coordinator. And keep a lookout for me, because the best is yet to come!

"That One Great Love!"

Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Shemiyia: Seek the proper resources to aid in your process. Have a strong support system, even if that support system consists of one person. Don't take shortcuts. Be the leader in your own journey, and most of all know that there's nothing wrong with you. 
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?
Shemiyia: I do, but I believe that your dreams begin when you look in the mirror and truly see yourself for the first time!
Monika: Shemiyia, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Shemiyia O'Bannon-Sweeney.
© 2017 - Monika Kowalska

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