Monday 3 July 2017

Interview with Faye Seidler

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Faye Seidler, an inspirational American transactivist, educator, and writer from Fargo, North Dakota.
Faye: Hi! :)
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Faye: I’m a trans activist, writer, and nerd with a strong belief in a better future. My work primarily focuses on my experiences, humor, and research, all of which seek to create positive change for the transgender community.
Monika: I saw your short story in The New York Times series titled “Transgender Today.” Why did you decide to come out to the general public?
Faye: I saw a serious lack of visibility in our community and that most people were getting their information about trans people from stereotypes they saw on television. I also saw a medical network that told trans people to blend in, deny, or hide their identity. I saw a tremendous amount of erasure for what it meant to be trans and the identity itself controlled and enforced as a stereotypical binary by the medical industry.
I knew that to overcome that, we had to be open. That those of us that could safely take those risks and had to show the population we were real, authentic, and diverse. That trans women could prefer jeans to dresses, that trans men could enjoy cute things without subverting their identity, and that gender was more complicated than a politically defined binary focused on genitals or arbitrary social roles!
Monika: You are the champion of a myriad of causes that touch on transgender rights. Could you name some of the most successful initiatives that you took part in?
Faye: The North Dakota Safe Zone Project researched and developed a system for any pride center to develop safe zone training for their state. It looked at and researched effective ways to write grants, to organizes the structure and ways to communicate to organizations. Even though I felt the project was successful and we did produce a project report with our findings, I had incredible difficulty getting anyone to care about it.
I’ve been working with the greater North Dakota to get an anti-discrimination measure passed, but our incredibly red state has been resistant to hearing us.
In tandem with all of that, I’ve been giving transgender cultural competency training to local businesses. This includes banks, rape and abuse crisis centers, and police departments. It’s something that I draw a lot of energy from and enjoy doing immensely.

The Marshmallow Challenge via YouTube.

Monika: You had the courage to testify in front of the house of representatives of North Dakota and try to bring change…
Faye: It was disheartening to see more than 30 people from different social, economic, racial, and religious backgrounds stand up to demand anti-discrimination protection. We saw more than 4 hours of testimony for why we needed it. I spoke at length to them, I wrote up a document dispelling all the myths I expect the opposite to spout. And I then, later, heard the head of the committee declare that he heard no reports of discrimination, that it did not occur in our state and we did not need pro-active protection for it.
It was after that, that I realized no change would come to this state until we imposed consequences for their decision to ignore and erase our experiences. I wrote a widely viewed article on the reasons we have to leave North Dakota, as a message to tell them the costs of their position. That every year they will lose more and more students to more progressive states, that they’ve significantly lowered their hiring pool, and people are less and less likely to want to move here.
Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? 
Faye: If we’re talking medically, I started hormones at 25. The identity itself was something I constantly fought and denied for much of my life. I didn’t think it was possible to be anything other than what I was assigned at birth. I grew up in a different time, where the word transgender didn’t exist in my area. Everyone who I told about my feelings and confusion, looked at me like I was crazy or severely mentally disturbed.
I started to take this to heart and assume I was broken. To this degree, I tried to ignore the feelings and just get on with my life. I had hoped it would go away, like so many of us do, but as a medical condition, the feeling of dysphoria only got stronger. The shame I felt at feeling like I was a woman when everyone said I wasn’t, magnified over time until I tried killing myself. That wasn’t the turning point, but afterwards I started trying to improve my life and that included talking to a trans woman for the first time. I talked about my experience and feelings and shame and they reciprocated. They showed me for the first time that it was okay to feel like I did, that it made sense, and that I was allowed to feel it.
They helped me out finding a therapist and from there an endo - in that regard it was incredibly difficult, but I’d also consider myself lucky for finding a mentor. Someone who I would eventually model myself after and create a mentor program to help others like I was helped.

Cosplaying Gurren Lagann.

Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Faye: Not in terms of transitioning specifically, but Julia Serano shaped my entire research and understanding of what it means to be trans in her book Whipping Girl. I took half a page of notes for every page I read and thirsted for the knowledge like someone who’d run a marathon without any water.
My mentor I met online was really helpful in explaining everything to me in terms of timetables and healthy dosages. I also found a significant other, who was a trans woman further along in her transition, who had helped me a lot with respecting and understanding myself and my body. So, I don’t know if followed is the correct word, but there were several people who lifted me up to places I could have never reached alone.
Monika: Are there are any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now?
Faye: Like in the answer before, Julia Serano, but also Janet Mock and Laverne Cox. More recently Jamie Clayton with her work in sense8 and of course The Wachowskis sisters in general. There is also Mara Keisling of the National Center for Transgender Equality.
In general, though I have a high appreciation and respect for any trans woman living their own and being their authentic self. Since I know that struggle, I can always see the beauty of the person who fights against it and strives towards happiness. I especially admire the youth who are coming out today and fighting their own battles to be accepted in schools. 
Monika: We all pay the highest price for the fulfillment of our dreams to be ourselves. As a result, many trans women lose their families, friends, jobs, and social positions. Did you pay such a high price as well? What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Faye: I was preemptive in this endeavor. I made sure to surround myself with people who didn’t like me because I didn’t like me. I had no real emotional support prior to transitioning and no real friends or family to be able to reject me. I worked a nothing cooking job and mostly lurked online invisible to others. That was how I coped with the dysphoria, by not being anything.
I never knew I was consciously doing that until transitioning and discovering how awesome it was to be seen for the first time. To have friends I knew would be there for me if I needed them. As a mentor, like this question, implies, I do warn people transitioning that they should expect to lose one person. My life was set up so I had nothing left to lose first.
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 contemporary society? Are we just scratching the surface or the change is really happening?
Faye: It is something that is ever-increasing in acceptability, especially as visibly increases. In America, only 16 percent of individuals personally know someone who is trans. That means the vast majority of people are getting biased information from the media. But, that number has doubled in the last five years, so in another five years, it should be 32 percent or thereabout. The more people that personally know someone is trans, the more likely we are to be humanized as what we are - human. We each share different life experiences, talents, personalities, hopes, and dreams. We’re complicated but also simple in the way most humans are. We need jobs, we want to do well, most of us want a family, and to leave someone of ourselves behind.
Understanding this of trans people is understanding the label doesn’t make them different or less capable. As we become more familiar with the identity, we become less awkward around bathroom usage, because it just doesn’t matter. Pronouns become less of a battle and allowing name change becomes more formal.

Presenting Community Award to Gender Therapist.

I think every year we will see more success stories and more trans people doing well and thriving. We’ll also see more murders and discrimination lawsuits because we still have growing pains. But now we have better health care, more aware doctors, companies that actually seek us out, and companies that make sure everyone is respected. 
I don’t have an answer to this, after all of those words, that’s just some perspective. 
Monika: On the other hand, the restroom war is raging on and transgender women are killed on the streets…
Faye: I touched on this in my last question and as these issues continue it is hard for trans people to see a future. It is hard to thrive when one doesn’t feel safe. It’s not going to stop very soon, we have 22 states who don’t want anti-discrimination bills. We have a religiously-motivated party in the united states that gets re-elected by throwing trans people under the bus. We have a department of education leader saying schools don’t have to protect the lgbtq+ community.
None of that will stop anytime soon and every year we’ll read the names and remember those we’ve lost. But we keep fighting for everyone who is still here, we keep fighting to make sure that number approaches zero. We fight and create safe spaces to allow our culture and our people to thrive when everyone else wants us to fail, to shut up, or to not exist. We’re a badass group of the most resilient people you’ll ever meet because comparing to gender dysphoria and our internal battles, oppression can’t win.
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?
Faye: I think so! The thing to understand is LGBTQ+ individuals are a minority that each experienced a specific kind of sex discrimination. It can be really hard at times when the transgender community is thrown under the bus or drag queens use our slurs as the common language. But I don’t think we have the numbers, power, or voice to make institutional change without being part of a larger group. For every bad story we hear of an LGB leader being transphobic, we see organizations put effort into making sure they have trans leaders.
I think this will get better over time, I know the history of being thrown under the bus. I know of the plethora of times they sacrificed gender identity as a bargaining chip to gain sexual orientation rights. I know it hasn’t always been pretty and that the stonewall movie featured a white gay cis dude leading the birth of our movement. But I also know, the way forward is through unity. It is through creating action plans that involve a thriving and accepting culture. If we can’t fix the drama and infighting that happens within our own community, what chance do we have to change the hearts and minds of those outside of it?


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

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