Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Interview with Denise Chanterelle DuBois

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Denise Chanterelle DuBois, an American actress, environmentalist, and a businesswoman from Portland, Oregon, the author of the biographical memoir book titled “Self-Made Woman” (2017). Hello Denise! 
Denise: Hi Monika and thank you so much for interviewing me today! I really appreciate it.
Monika: You present yourself as a “fortune's favorite daughter”. Could you say a few words about yourself?
Denise: In my memoir, I write about so many close calls I had with death, and yet survived basically unharmed. I had huge drug & alcohol problems in “my other life” as I like to call it, and rightfully should either be dead from overdosing, or in a nursing home with no brain left, yet here I am still standing and grateful for that. Indeed, I am “fortune’s favorite daughter.”
Monika: Apart from your successful businesswoman career, you can boast an acting career. IMDb lists your two roles: Margaret le Plage in “The Auteur” (2008) and Sunshine the Barfly in “Rid of Me” (2011). Could you elaborate more on these roles?
Denise: Both of those movies won awards at the Tribeca Film Festival in NY. After I transitioned to Denise, my life opened like a flower for me. At a party I met the writer and director of the comedy “The Auteur” and we became friends. When auditions came around sometime later, I was invited to audition for the role of Margaret le Plage who was president of Arturo Domingo’s, (main character in the movie), fan club. Arturo was an over-the-hill porn director, who made really bad porn, but was still enthusiastically invited to Portland, to be honored at the “Northwest Porn Festival.” That movie traveled the globe and I went along for the ride. It was a great experience for me.
“Rid of Me,” a dark comedy about a middle-class couple whose marriage crumbles into chaos was also at Tribeca. I met Robert De Niro, Tina Fey, Sigourney Weaver, Steve Martin in NY during the film festival. I was cast as Sunshine the Barfly and had a drunken scene in the middle of the movie with the main character.
Monika: Do you like acting? Do you have some favorite actresses?
Denise: I’ve always been drawn to acting like a moth to a streetlight. I did quite a bit of stage acting earlier in life, in my other life, in very masculine roles. Jigger Cragin in “Carousel” and Buffalo Bill Cody in “Annie Get Your Gun” to name just a few. I just like the creative spontaneity of acting and theater was my game. Being cast in movies was an abrupt departure from what I’d done before, but found that experience just as enriching and rewarding as stage acting. Favorite actresses include; Laverne Cox, Uma Thurman, Glen Close, Meryl Streep to name just a few who come to mind.
Monika: Your biographical book titled “Self-Made Woman” was published this August. Why did you decide to write your autobiography?
Denise: I hesitated for a number of years before deciding to pen it. I was afraid to step out into the public eye and tell the brutally honest, no holds barred, the story of my life. After transitioning in November of 2003, just one month shy of my 50th birthday, all I wanted to do was melt back into society. But, as time drifted by and I became acutely aware of the struggle going on all around me in society that was color blind to the transgender movement to be accepted, how could I just sit back and do nothing? No, my story had to be told.

Available on Amazon.

Monika: Your book is very honest. You describe your life as overshadowed by abuse, alcoholism, drugs, and gender identity crisis. Which aspects of your experience can be useful for other trans women?
Denise: I ran away from my true self for decades and I numbed myself with all the substances you just mentioned in an effort to forget. In the end, my true self caught up with myself. Your shadow in the sun is always with you! 
Remember that is my sage advice, and spare yourself the agony of what I endured. Accept yourself sooner than later, and your life will become better. You deserve this for the both of you, inside you! Take care of yourself, learn to accept and love yourself, and share your joy with humanity. 
Monika: We all pay the highest price for the fulfillment of our dreams to be ourselves. As a result, many of us lose our families, friends, jobs, and social positions. Did you pay such a high price as well? What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Denise: I lost my wife of 15 years who I loved dearly, but fortunately we had no children. My mother struggled with my transition from the get-go, and I have her in the opening chapter of the book. My mother was trying to come around when she suddenly passed 5 years ago. I had to create a new family of friends which are supportive and loving towards me, and for that, I’m very grateful.
Another difficult phase I experienced was job discrimination. I had real trouble finding employment in my fields even with a great resume. I write about that in my book when I was living in Manhattan, and what happened to me there.
Monika: You transitioned into a woman at 50. Have you ever regretted doing this so late in your life?
Denise: Sometimes I do, other times I just shrug my shoulders and fell back on that old axiom “better late than never.” I’m just so happy being Denise these past 14 years that it really doesn’t matter that much to me. It’s all about finally achieving balance within my brain and my body. Such contentment!
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Denise: There really weren’t that many role models back then, and it all seemed kind of dated to me, as compared to the explosion of media exposure in what’s going on these days. Today’s media exposure on transgender issues is remarkable and I’m so glad to witness this. So no, I didn’t have any role models to speak of, but when I had my gender-affirming surgery in Bangkok, Thailand, I met some incredible women who have served as role models for me ever since. 
Monika: Are there are any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now?
Denise: Yes. Actress, Laverne Cox, author Nichol Maines, and trans activists, authors, and actresses, Calpernia Addams and Andrea James.
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?
Denise: Change is constant and it never ceases. Yes, we are making progress and mostly it’s in baby steps with occasional tracking backwards, but in the end, we will get there. What does “get there” mean? The day is coming and I hope within my remaining years that I can witness it, where it will no longer matter if you are trans, gay, lesbian, bisexual, or questioning, and society will simply accept you for being a contributing member, without any conditions or discrimination whatsoever. Happy days when we reach that milestone.
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?
Denise: Outside of a very few, I’ve seen tremendous support for the trans community in promoting our causes from our sisters and brothers within the rainbow coalition. So, I would turn that question around and ask what we can do to help support everything the rainbow stands for to help their particular causes. We are all in this together, must remain united, for this cultural divide, being promoted and encouraged by some in this country with disinformation and inaccuracies, is far from over.

Monika: What is your view on transgender news stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers, or books so far?
Denise: I’ll take it and I am grateful to have the exposure. As I’ve crept into the public eye it’s become painfully clear to me over the lack of education and understanding, (through no fault of their own), about trans people that prevails in the cisgender community within this country. Basic questions that I get and take for granted over my transition from 14 years ago are being asked, and it’s important for me to slow down, respect those questions, answer them slowly, so I can do my part to help. I’m so impressed and happy by the recent media concentration on trans issues these past several years as this helps in my opinion, to break the ice up, let the sunshine in, and educate, so we can move forward and make our society all that it can be as a united people.
Monika: Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Denise: Oh Monika don’t temp me! I’ve given great thought to entering politics because I feel as an elected trans woman to public office, I could make a huge difference in educating. We need more of this and I’m not getting any younger, so if I do elect to go political, it needs to be soon.
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?☺
Denise: Yes. I never thought I’d live to see a person of color become president of the country and that happened. I hope to still be around when the day comes that a transgender person becomes president of this county and let’s not rule out one of our trans brothers being in that mix. Trans men get much less media coverage than the other way around. I know many trans men and have great respect for all of them. They’ve gone through so much pain and suffering too, and seem so forgotten. It breaks my heart.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion brands, colors, or trends?
Denise: I love shopping for affordable west coast design dresses, specifically with a Pacific Northwest slant. I have a favorite dress shop here in Portland and like to buy on the backend of the season so I can catch closeout sales to wear for the next year. I love shoes, accessories, and lingerie. My winter taste is toward nice coats, scarves, hats, winter dresses, and boots. One thing about winter is you can get away with a bad hair day by simply wearing your hat and I do skip pedicures more often in the winter because who sees your toes? I’ve always been light in the make-up department of my life. I have nice skin with a darker tone so can get away with it and I am blessed with long eyelashes. I do wear lipstick in many different colors all the time, and my hair is plentiful and runs on automatic pilot. I have no grey or white hair yet and sometimes wonder why at my age, but not complaining! I love the wax salon and get that done on a regular basis, including brazilians. I just love the way my soft skin feels after a waxing session.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Denise: Loving humanity is the greatest love one can have and learning to love yourself and how to forgive others will go a long way to help get you there. It’s one thing to love a significant other in your life which of course is healthy, but quite another to love humanity for all its faults and perceived wrongs that may have been perpetrated against you or others that you love. This is what I mean by forgiving. We must learn to forgive and love each other unconditionally. If we can find this path towards each other, the power of the universe will open before us.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Denise: Yes. I’ve begun writing my second book. It’s what happened to me after “Self-Made Woman” ends in 2004. So much has happened since then and I can assure you Monika, that it will be just as much a page-turner as my current book is. The journey continues!
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls and women struggling with gender dysphoria?
Denise: Don’t despair. Things will and do get better. Remember who you are, where you came from, and let your inner strength guide you. It’s there! Think of yourself as a raft out at sea in a great storm that in the end you will endure and survive. Look to the bright future that awaits you when the storm is over, the rainbow comes out, and life begins anew for you because each and every one of us is special, as is all of humanity, even those who have lost their way in rejection and hate towards others. Remember to forgive them too. Don’t let hate rule your heart for that’s what they want.
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?
Denise: Dreams never end, and never should. Always follow your dreams. That is your birthright and gift of being alive. Follow your dreams wherever they may lead you and enjoy the short time we are on this planet. Remember, our Earth has done over 4 billion orbits around the sun! If we’re very lucky, we get 100 orbits. We will always be children to Mother Earth.
Monika: Denise, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Denise Chanterelle DuBois.
© 2017 - Monika Kowalska

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