Sunday, 6 August 2017

Interview with Kristen Aaquist

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Kristen Aaquist, an American legal secretary from Reno, Nevada. Hello Kristen!
Kristen: Hello Monika and thank you.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Kristen: I’m a mother of two. I have a cat. I enjoy running, beading, watching movies, and playing video games.
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?
Kristen: As I’ve gotten more comfortable being myself, I have found myself wanting to be more outspoken and try to help educate the public about the trans community, which includes humanizing us to the rest of society. By telling our stories, we can show everyone that we are truly just like everyone else.
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? 
Kristen: I think the hardest thing about coming out was taking the chance at losing family and friends. In some cases, I got really lucky. My parents, my brother, and my kids have stayed by my side. Most of my friends have as well. Unfortunately, my spouse couldn’t cope with the changes and neither could her kids, so we divorced and I don’t really have contact with them anymore.
My job was always relatively safe, as the laws in my state protect employees from gender identity discrimination. Still, every time I came out to someone new, I was taking a chance that a person I valued in my life would no longer be there. It’s always hard to start that conversation because you never know how someone will react. I’ve had people who I viewed as being very conservative and religious be totally accepting and I’ve lost people who were always very open-minded and liberal. Coming out is a very stressful time.
Monika: At the time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Kristen: No. In the beginning, I didn’t even really know what transgender meant. Coming to that realization was a shock and a relief, but I didn’t really look for people and what they had done. I was more focused on what I could do about that nagging distress that I finally had an answer for.

Janet Mock's memoir.

Monika: Are there are any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now?
Kristen: There are some. Laverne Cox in particular. I got the chance to hear her speak in my town and she is incredible! Janet Mock and everything she’s been through is quite an inspiration. Jazz Jennings as well. I watched some of her shows and she has a wonderful family behind her. There are others that I admire for what they have done, but those are the names that come to me most readily.
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?
Kristen: Change is starting to happen, but it’s nowhere near where it should be. Most of the country still lacks basic protections for trans people. How can we expect trans people to ever be successful in a society when we can be fired for no other reason than we exist? Or denied housing and medical care? Or even basic survival in a world where trans women of color are still being murdered at an alarming rate. The stubborn ignorance throughout this country and the rest of the world is very disheartening.
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?
Kristen: In some cases, yes, but in others, no. There are some in the LGB community that want to shed the T because of the increased backlash that they see happening right now. They seem to believe that they could further their own needs much more easily if they aren’t dealing with the gender issues at the same time. Others are more welcoming and appreciative of the efforts of trans people over the years in furthering the fight for gay rights. However, trans people are going to have a much easier time getting the necessary protections if we have allies boosting our message.
Monika: What do you think in general about transgender news stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers, or books so far?
Kristen: I think we are finally getting positive portrayals of trans people in some cases. Our stories aren’t always put out as stereotypes anymore. While those still exist and we are still far too often being played as plot devices or villains, we are getting actual, solid characters in some areas. Laverne Cox on Orange Is the New Black and some of her other projects, Sense8’s Nomi Marks and Ricky Jones in Boy Meets Girl all show a more complete human being rather than existing just to have a trans character being transgender.
Monika: Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Kristen: Sort of and yes. I actually advocate with a local group that was active in lobbying during our past legislative session. While I was not able to be personally involved, the Transgender Allies Group was very active and helped pass very beneficial laws in our state this year, adding further protections for trans people. By carefully fostering positive relationships with our legislators and helping them understand the humanity of trans people and why we need what we do, we have been able to build allies within the Nevada Legislature.
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? :)
Kristen: It’s possible, but I think we have a lot of work to do before a trans candidate would be appealing to a large enough part of society, or at least the candidate’s trans status to not be considered detrimental.

"Change is starting to happen, but it’s
nowhere near where it should be.
Most of the country still lacks basic
protections for trans people."

Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion brands, colors, or trends?
Kristen: I’m not really into fashion. I wear what I find comfortable. Typically that’s shorts and tanks for the hot days and jeans/shirts in the cold. I’ll break out dresses when I feel like it as well, but I’m not overly picky about my clothes.
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Kristen: Same thing I think about other beauty pageants: not my thing at all. They come off as focusing on superficial characteristics with a side note of talent and thought. I have nothing against those that participate and sometimes they can use that position to advocate for change, but it seems most of the focus is on what they look like.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Kristen: Yeah, but I lack the drive and interest to focus on it.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Kristen: Romantically very little. I’m not looking to date anyone in the near future. It’s better that way. I wouldn’t be here without the supportive love of my family, especially my children though. They are everything to me.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Kristen: Not really. I’m focusing on expanding what the Transgender Allies Group can offer to medical and behavioral health professionals in a couple ways and our ongoing efforts to provide education to the general public on various trans issues. I also work with the local PFLAG group to provide support to anyone connected to the LGBTQ community. 
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Kristen: Find people who support you. Don’t compare yourself to other people and think you are failing at something for not looking or sounding like someone else. The most important thing you can do is to be yourself and be the best you that you can be. It’s not always going to be easy, but it can be the best thing you ever do for yourself.
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?
Kristen: I would agree with a modification. We should not hold it against ourselves that we are trans and maybe aren’t in the same place as other people. However, our dreams, our options, and our potential shouldn’t be focused on the operating table at all. Each person is worthy of and deserves dignity and respect. Period. Transition options are there to help you be more comfortable within yourself and should not be the basis of worth or potential.
Monika: Kristen, thank you for the interview!

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

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