Saturday 13 January 2018

Interview with Cathy Serino

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Cathy Serino, a disabled transgender veteran, and activist from Missouri, USA. Hello Cathy!
Cathy: Hello Monika. It’s a pleasure to speak with you.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself? I have read that you have three lovely three granddaughters!
Cathy: Yes. I have five children and actually, at this point, I have 4 grandchildren. 3 girls and 1 boy with the newest arrival being in August 2017. My grandchildren are my special angels and everything I do is to hopefully allow them to grow up in a society that is about love and acceptance and not the hate and discrimination that has been present throughout my life.
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?
Cathy: Hmm, wow I am a part of a lot of initiatives, thou I think the biggest thing I have personally started is a program here in central Missouri to offer financial assistance to transgender people to obtain the legal documentation that is consistent with their gender identities such as legal name changes, updated gender markers, and birth certificates. There is no better feeling than to see the reaction of trans people when they walk out of a county courthouse with a court order showing their correct name on it.

Being proud of who I am as a Transgender Woman.
Photo by Yuting Jiang.

Monika: In 2015, Carla Combs launched a campaign to raise awareness about the plight of transgender people in the U.S. military.
Her t-shirt with “I fought for your right to hate me” became viral on Facebook immediately. What is your personal view on the rights of transgender veterans?
Cathy: Carla is a fantastic advocate and a friend of mine and those words on those shirts sum it up perfectly.
As being a veteran myself, I served to protect ALL our freedoms and not just the part of the freedoms that the religious right approves of. Being Transgender NEVER affected my ability to fire a weapon or to care for injured soldiers. Transgender people deserve to be able to openly serve in our armed forces as equals.
Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? 
Cathy: I came out and transitioned on July 132010 at the age of 42 after a major suicide attempt. When I came out I didn’t play around with it and basically jumped into the deep end of the pool and told everyone at once. It was very difficult and lost a lot of friends and family but don’t regret for one second doing it.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Cathy: during the first 5 years of my transition I traveled that road alone as there were very few trans people in the media at that time and I personally never met another trans person till the Summer of 2015.
The one person though whose coming out influenced me the most was Caitlyn Jenner in the spring of 2015. For someone that famous to take that major leap and put herself out there like that really inspired me to start being vocal about myself and not to just blend in like I had done prior to that.

Supporting LGBTQ Rights at the GLAAD Media Awards
on 04/01/2017.

Monika: Are there are any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now?
Cathy: Yes, there are. Janet Mock, Jennifer Boylan, and Laverne Cox. They are 3 beautiful human beings who have done so much over the years to further transgender awareness and to fight for equality.
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? 
Cathy: Yes, I did from day one and continue to this day pay for my decision to start living as my authentic self. I think the highest price I paid thou all this thou was losing my 2 sons. They both disowned me almost instantly when they found out and it hurt me immensely then and still does to this day. I have also been discriminated against in every single aspect of my life since coming out.
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?
Cathy: For every case of a transgender person thriving in life there are another 100 cases of transgender people being knocked down and kept down by the current social climate. I love it when I see a trans person who has succeeded in life as it shows that it is possible BUT currently so much of that depends on luck and being at the right place at the right time with the right message.

Enjoying every day of life living authentically.

Monika: On the other hand, the restroom war is raging on and transgender women are killed on the streets…
Cathy: The war on people just being able to use the bathroom to perform a bodily function that all living things do still rages on. Here in Missouri, the Missouri legislature has just started the 2018 legislative session 1 week ago and there have already been filed 4 ANTI-LGBTQ bills with 2 of them being bathroom bills.
These types of bills also tie directly into the growing number of transgender murders across the country as whenever our elected officials try to push these hateful bills, regardless if they pass or not it sends a message to the general public that the government looks at LGBTQ citizens as second class citizens which emboldens the public to strike out against us.
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?
Cathy: The T In LGBTQ is an intricate part of the whole community as Transgender people as a whole fit into every letter of the alphabet soup with some trans being Lesbian, Gay, Bi, and queer and every other definition out there.
Monika: What do you think in general about transgender news stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers, or books so far?
Cathy: Transgender representation has come a long way over that last decade in a big part from the work that organizations like GLAAD to push for a more accurate representation of not just trans people but for all LGBTQ people. In the old days, transgender representation was almost always in a negative light with trans people being vilified in films and relegated to shows such as the “Jerry Springer show”.
Monika: Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Cathy: Yes, I do. I am constantly lobbying both at the Missouri state capitol and in Washington DC along with working alongside ALL the major equality organizations across the county. I feel the only way we will ever get equality if for ALL trans people to stand up and let our elected officials what we go through on a daily basis in this county.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Cathy: Yes, I have thought about it as it would really show how old school people like myself grew up in an age without the internet and access to knowledge were able to navigate life. Plus what I think people would find interesting is how I was able to rise from being raised as a male and got thru 2 marriages and a major suicide attempt with nothing to show for my life other than the birth of my children to where I am now as a major voice in the national movement for LGBTQ equality.

Standing up for women's rights at a White
House Summit in Washington DC 06/14/2016.

Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Cathy: Love is very important to me thou it has eluded me for a very long time as there is a major stigma still in place in society for people who want to date transgender people. I actually feel like I am double cursed as being a public figure along with being transgender scares off almost 99% of available people who are also looking for love.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Cathy: I am just now getting back to 100% after facing a 6-month cancer battle, so I have had very little time to focus on new projects, though I am looking to expand my name change assistance program this year to cover the entire state of Missouri and not just a 75-mile radius of where I am based. 
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Cathy: The biggest bit of advice I can give to people struggling with gender dysphoria and coming out is to, take the plunge and just do it! If there is any regret I have in my life it was that I didn’t transition at a younger age. There is no better feeling than to get that load of denial and lies off your shoulders and to be able to wake up every morning knowing that you will go through the day as your authentic self.
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?
Cathy: Yes I do. Having surgery, though being important to a lot of trans people, is not the end of the road. You have to be happy with who you are each day and not care what others think or feel about you. Surgery is only 1 step of a multi-step journey and isn’t for everyone as we all are unique individuals with unique hopes and dreams.
Monika: Cathy, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Cathy Serino.
© 2018 - Monika Kowalska

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