Sunday 20 August 2017

Interview with Jaime Erin Fivecoat

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Jaime Erin Fivecoat, a retired American benefits manager from Taylors, South Carolina. Hello Jaime!
Jaime: Hi Monika, Thank you for the opportunity to tell my story to you. What an honor to be included with such a great group of women.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Jaime: I guess one way to describe myself is that I am an optimistic volunteer advocate. I volunteer for four organizations. I’m a Board Member of The Obesity Action Coalition (OAC), which is a patient advocacy organization for the treatment of obesity, Secretary of Upstate Pride SC (UPSC) for the LGBTQ+ community, I facilitate two SMART Recovery meetings for dealing with any form of addiction, and work on projects with Gender Benders a local Trans Support Group.
I feel deeply that we are all equal and I do what I can to fight for the rights of those that are marginalized, discriminated against, or are victims of any form of stigma. I am fortunate to have a loving wife and to be a mom to three dogs. Karen and I have been married for 43 years.
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?
Jaime: There were two reasons that I wrote the NYT post. First is that I believe strongly, having learned from my advocacy work on obesity, that the best way for the world to see the real person is through our personal stories. Being out there telling our stories can be powerful.

One of my selfies.

Secondly, I wanted to acknowledge my thanks to those who came before me to pave the way. My experience of transitioning was much more positive than many had experienced in the past. Because of their strength, my path was safer and more accepted.
Monika: You transitioned into a woman in your 60s. Have you ever regretted doing this so late in your life?
Jaime: I feel it is important to look forward rather than backward. I am thankful for my earlier experiences and life as they provided me with the strength, mental preparedness, and financial resources to smoothly transition in a relatively short period of time.
I had been “micro transitioning” (dealing with body hair, letting my hair get longer, dealing with alcohol addiction, presenting more androgynously) for years before I went full time and fully transitioned. If I had transitioned earlier I know that things would have been very different. I am living a very good life now. So regretting the past would be a waste of cognitive energy and time.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Jaime: Over the years I admired anyone who had the strength to transition. As I started transitioning I found hope in Jenny Boylan’s book, and friends online, but I found most of my role models among cis women who also became a big part of my support group.
Two groups of transwomen that gave me the most inspiration and sense that it was possible to transition, were the Trans Beauty Network (TBN) and the TBN Support group which evolved from TBN. Tammy who organized the groups and the other women in the groups helped me and I helped them. Together we helped each other find our own personal paths to and through the transition. Transitioning is such an individual and varied process that what works for one may not work so well for others. Thus, getting ideas and hearing the stories from a trusted group of ladies was very helpful.
Monika: Many of us 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? 
Jaime: I was blessed with an exceptionally positive transition.
I was fortunate in that I did not lose family relationships over my transition except that my 90-year mother does not even try to use the right pronouns. I also did not lose friends at work, few at Church, and few if any in my volunteer organizations. I did learn quickly that I was no longer in the “Boys’ Club”, losing the white male privilege I had received earlier in life.
The greatest positive exception I experienced was the maintaining of our marriage. My transition wasn’t a bed of roses. I had some post-surgical medical complications following my GRS that took two years and 5 surgeries to repair. I fought hard and ended up suing my employer to get the medical plan changed to cover Transgender related medical expenses. I won, but at great personal costs. I lost a few friends, but very few. I gained more real friends than I ever had before.

With Karen.

I like to think that what helped to minimize the losses was a well-planned transition process, a great counselor, a very supportive wife, and a willingness to be open about my transition. 
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?
Jaime: I think we can be in society however we want to be, blinding in or being open. In the USA it is (in spite of the party in power now) a much safer place to exist. I think we are in a slow but effective social paradigm change with positive change occurring for most marginalized groups. We have a long way to go, so we can’t give up the fight and we need to align with other groups fighting for the same full rights.
But, we have more than scratched the surface as change is really happening. I’m sitting in a Starbucks right now in South Carolina (the middle of the ultra-conservative Christian bible belt) and a gay couple just kissed hello. This would not have happened 10 years ago without one of them being physically or verbally attacked. Through UPSC we are getting more and more requests to partner with organizations (like our hospitals) to help them do a better job with the LGBTQ community, we hold pride events weekly now and are working hard to bring the whole LGBTQ community together. And it is working, but we have much more to 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?
Jaime: Yes, the transgender community can promote itself within the whole community as long as we realize we in the broader community have more in common than differences. We have to work to make that happen, we need to be involved and let our presence be known. This is one reason why I volunteer for Upstate Pride.
In the last year under a total change of leadership, we have emphasized intersectionality engaging and supporting other organizations and movements that are LGBTQ-related or allies. We have expanded our presence through social and advocacy activities in our local area. We have started two peer-led mental health-related support groups to respond to a gap identified by the professional addiction and mental health community. And, we have expanded our availability to speak at various functions. As an example, in the past month, I have presented at an Equality Rally (the first large LGBT+ event in downtown Greenville), and at two classes of students working on their Master’s Degree In Clinical Counseling.
So yes, we can promote our cause, but we must get out there and do it. No one is going to just do it for us.

The Senate Office Building where we were advocating
for the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act

Monika: What do you think in general about transgender news stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers, or books so far?
Jaime: Many of the news and fictional stories have helped our exposure and have educated many folks. I am disappointed that more of the main trans characters in the fictional stories are still being cast with cis males or females.
I feel most of the stories help our cause and some are very powerful and are able to improve the public’s opinion of us.
Monika: Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Jaime: I do lobby and since transitioning I have been a part of a number of visits to Congressional or Senatorial offices in Washington DC to advocate for my causes. I have also participated in marches, rallies, and advocacy training opportunities. These are all avenues to change or support the change that is already in process. In all cases, I found our representatives positive. My last full-fledged lobbying event was with a team to try to convince one of our Senators to co-sponsor the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act. In this case, I was the patient advocate having had a successful treatment. The fact I was trans did not change how I was received and in my follow-up letter, I was able to also lobby for trans issues.
Monika: Do you think that in our lifetime we could live to see the day when a transgender lady could become the President of the USA? Or the First Lady at least? :)
Jaime: I doubt it. We can’t even get a cis woman voted in. The conservative right has too firm of a hold on our political processes here at this time. 
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion brands, colors, or trends?
Jaime: I am not a fashionista, but I want to look nice at a reasonable cost. I love purples, corals, and pinks in my primary pallet and I love to wear the beaded jewelry my wife makes (I make some myself but not as artistic as Karen). I do most of my shopping at outlet malls and buy most of my clothes on sale. I like skirts, sweaters, jeans, and the occasional dress. I dress similar to most of the women I associate with and blend in well. When it comes to looking nice, hair is vital. No matter what I wear I try to be sure my hair looks great.

Karen and I again.

Monika: I have read somewhere that cisgender women were liberated thanks to the development of contraceptive pills whereas transgender women are free now thanks to the development of cosmetic surgery, so they are no longer prisoners of passing or non-passing syndrome …
Jaime: I can truly say is that I loved the results of my surgeries, but with that in mind part of the societal change that is needed is to appreciate and acknowledge the full spectrum of the gender continuum. Most trans folks I know cannot afford all of the surgery they need or want and some don’t even want it. Those that are gender non-binary really struggle with the concepts of passing. When full acceptance and acknowledgment occurs the concept of passing should no longer be needed.
For those of us who identify at the polar ends of the continuum, the full range of surgeries is very powerful for getting our bodies congruent to our minds. This is more important than passing, though passing is a wonderful end result. I have no problems blending in with any group of women and I truly appreciate the skill of my surgeon to help get me there. Surgery is freeing from a self-acceptance standpoint, and that is more important than the ability to pass.
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Jaime: There are girls who love to participate in events like that and those that like to be entertained by that format. So, while I would not participate in one, I think they are great for those that do like them.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Jaime: It has crossed my mind but writing is not my strong point. I get my story out through presentations and discussions.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Jaime: There is nothing more important to me than the love and bond between Karen and me. Getting love and giving it is vital. Another vital aspect of love is self-love. Loving who we become and are when we transition is a gift we give ourselves. Before I transitioned, and my mind and body became congruent, I hated myself. Now I have found a true core joy, I smile when I look into the mirror, I love others deeper, and I am happy in ways I never was before.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Jaime: I am preparing to speak at two conventions. One in August for the OAC and another in September on a panel discussion at the Philadelphia Transgender Health Conference. I’m expanding my speaking to students working on their Master’s degree, and working on a project with the OAC to expand our volunteer structure nationally. Other projects include working at the UPSC booths for various Pride events, supporting events to bring the local LGBTQ community together, and expanding relationships with local hospitals to improve their service to the LGBTQ community. 
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Jaime: It is hard for me to make any general recommendations as each of our journeys are different. Thus, the root cause of the dysphoria varies.


From my personal experience, I can say that the best thing I did for myself was the surgeries which truly helped me feel congruent. One other important thing I do for myself to drown out dysphoric thoughts is to be sure I have good hair. I take after my mom in that category and we both have horrible natural hair. I augment mine (and deal with a really bad bald spot) with a hairpiece. I have it custom-made, with natural hair and customized color. It is taped on so that it not only looks natural, but it is on 24/7 no matter what my activity. I spend a lot each year on it but it is worth every penny.
I have also learned that having a good counselor and/or support group helps with self-affirmation and self-compassion. Two very important elements in overcoming dysphoria. Our dysphoria tends to spring from our thoughts and fears so learning techniques and tools to help us with those is important. A good CBT-based counselor can do wonders.
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?
Jaime: Interesting comment by your friend and I agree we should never limit our potential for any reason except to care for ourselves. As I have mentioned above the operating table is a wonderful tool for us, but having surgery is not the end of anything, but hopefully, a process that helps free us to be more than we have ever been. More fulfilled, happier, more loving, and truer to our personal values and desires.
Monika: Jaime, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Jaime Erin Fivecoat.
© 2017 - Monika Kowalska

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