Thursday 1 February 2018

Interview with Lannie Rose

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Elaine Rhodes, a.k.a., Lannie Rose, an American computer engineer, and writer, a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley and Santa Clara University. In her day, she was a regular contributor to the e-zine Transgender Forum, a member of the Triangle Speaker Bureau, the author of “How To Change Your Sex: A Lighthearted Look at the Hardest Thing You'll Ever Do” (2004), “LANNIE! My Journey from Man to Woman” (2007), and “Everything Nice: A Late-Onset Coming-of-Age Story” (2009). Hello Lannie!
 Lannie: Hi Monika! Your website is an impressive body of work, as well as being nicely designed, and I say this as one web designer to another. I am happy to become part of it! 
Monika: Before we get started, could you please explain your name? Are you Elaine, or Lannie, or what?
Lannie: Yeah, uh, well, it’s like this: Early in the Internet days, in the late 1990s, there was a lot of fear about people online tracking you down and murdering you in your sleep, so nobody used their real names. Nobody actually got murdered in their sleep, by the way. 
Anyway, I became Lannie Rose at that time, and it stuck. When it came time to legally change my name, I went from Edward Rhodes to Elaine Rhodes, keeping the same initials, you know?
Nowadays most people know me as Lannie, which I explain as a diminutive of Elaine, though that can just be confusing because of the pronunciation. It is Lannie like your fannie, or your granny!
Monika: All right then. Moving along… For most of my audience, you are known as a writer. However, you can boast a brilliant professional career as a computer engineer.
Lannie: “Brilliant,” huh? Lynn Conway, she’s brilliant. Me, I’m just another worker in the Silicon Valley mines. I spent most of my career doing hardware engineering: chips, ASICs, boards, systems.

Glamour shot.

When I transitioned at age 45, my hardware engineering skills declined precipitously — at least so it seemed, from how I was treated. Whether that was because I was now a woman, or they just thought of me as a crazy trans person, I don’t know. But I was sick and tired of hardware engineering anyway, and the surface-mount parts got too small for my aging, clumsy hands to handle, so I was happy to end that phase of my career.
I worked my way into software via a detour through technical writing and product management. I’ve been writing Web applications for the last 10 years and it’s a blast. For the last few years, I’ve been able to work from the comfort of my couch in my living room, in my beautiful home in the Santa Cruz redwoods in northern California.
Monika: It is amazing to see so many talented transgender women working for the IT business, just to mention: Lynn Conway, Jessica Bussert, Danielle Hallett, Kate Craig-Wood, Rebecca Heineman, Megan Wallent, or yourself…
Lannie: Thanks, but again, just a worker in the mines… I am grateful for the middle-class white male privilege that made growing this career fairly easy. Well, not so grateful for the “male” part, but aware and grateful for all the benefit I got from it. I feel bad for so many of my trans sisters who remain unemployed or struggle financially. 
Monika: It has been nine years since you wrote “Everything Nice: A Late-Onset Coming-of-Age Story”. Are you working on any new projects now?
Lannie: No new projects. I pretty much shot my wad with three and a half memoirs – I milked my life for all it’s worth! I would love to write fiction but I guess I just don’t have the imagination for it, and I’m too lazy to research and write serious non-fiction. It’s kind of fun to have this chance with you to milk my story one more time!
Monika: Your first book “How To Change Your Sex: A Lighthearted Look at the Hardest Thing You'll Ever Do” (2004) was one of the very first books that portrayed transition in a humorous and “lighthearted” way …
Lannie: Heck, I had a blast transitioning, as you know if you’ve read my books. I squeezed all my adolescent-girl partying into a single year, so when I wrote the book as I neared the end of my transition, it felt very natural to approach it lightheartedly.
Besides, being trans is not “The Worst Problem in the World,” as I discuss in a chapter of that title. A lot of people have to deal with much worse, as I see things. For that matter, one young trans person scoffed at the title of the book and told me, “Being trans is easy – learning to surf is hard!” 

Available via Amazon.

Monika: “LANNIE! My Journey from Man to Woman” (2007) was slightly different. More focus on your personal experience.
Lannie: Yes, when all was said and done, I noticed a pattern of personal growth through my books. “How To Change Your Sex” is all about the process and very little about me because my self-esteem was too low to believe anyone would be interested in my life. Then with “Lannie,” I had the nerve and self-esteem to write about me – but only me as a girl.
Finally, a while after I completed transitioning, the whole arc of my life started to make sense, and I put it all into “Everything Nice: A Late-Onset Coming of Age Story.” By the way, you can download all my books and podcasts for free from my website
Monika: You said “three and a half memoirs.” What is half about?
Lannie: Okay. When I first started transitioning – when I first started taking my cross-dressing seriously – I had a lot of ideas and feelings bubbling up, as you do. I began writing up a bunch of little essays and stories that I posted on my website. It would have been a blog if there had been blogs back in those days.
Later, when I did my SRS, I had been laid off my job so I took a year off to recuperate and work on myself. AA and so on, you know. As I had time on my hands, it occurred to me to compile all my little essays into a book. So I did that. I titled it “Dirty Panties … and other thrilling tales of my sex change,” after the name of one of the chapters, and I shopped it around to publishers. Turns out I should have shopped “How To Change Your Sex” because I got close to 100 rejection letters, a few of which expressed interest in “How to Change.” Eventually, a publisher picked up the manuscript. It turned out to be a rip-off scam vanity press, but that’s another story.
Anyway, the publisher’s editor persuaded me to heavily revise the manuscript, making it a lot more of a linear narrative, and also to add some pre-transition biographical content. And they gave it that lame-o title, “Lannie…” Sheesh, who the hell is Lannie? Why would anyone be interested in that? The publisher did get me one legitimate book review. The reviewer thought it read like a teenage girl’s diary. I of course took that as a great compliment!, but it was meant negatively.
I think they sold very few copies, but it’s hard to tell, because the publisher prefers not to send authors their residuals. Oh well, live and learn. I also have to admit that the field of books by older, well-off, white trans women had been getting pretty crowded, and the zeitgeist was changing – for the better – to more interest in young people transitioning, and trans people of color and poverty.
In any case, I’m convinced that “Dirty Panties” in its original form and title would have done better, but we’ll never know. By the way, you can get “Dirty Panties” from the website, but not “Lannie” because the publisher holds its copyright. To get back to the original question, I figure “Dirty Panties” counts as only half a book because it shares so much material with “Lannie.”

Available via Amazon.

Monika: Which aspects of your experience can be useful for other transwomen?
Lannie: As with most transition stories, the most useful thing is just seeing that it is doable and that it can and usually does have a happy ending. In fact, it’s really the same as every human story: The lesson is that you can discover your true self and honor her.
Monika: Would you explain what you mean by your true self? Everybody uses that phrase, but nobody defines it.
Lannie: I know what you mean. When I first read wonderful Millie Brown’s wonderful “True Selves: Understanding Transsexualism--For Families, Friends, Coworkers, and Helping Professionals,” I was pre-pre-transition and I had no idea what it meant. I wondered, how can I be anything other than my true self? The answer is, I was not being my true self, I was being someone who I thought I was supposed to be, based on the values and expectations of others.
Your true self is who you would be if you felt completely free from outside influences, and you could choose to live however you like and everybody would automatically support your choices. Of course, real life never works that way, but it is an important thought experiment to figure out who you really are, and then you can make whatever compromises are necessary for real life, while honoring your true self in your soul, and doing your best to actualize her in reality.
Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? 
Lannie: I was late-onset, late transitioning, which is to say that I had no idea and very few clues that I was transgender until my mid-forties. I began living full-time as a woman at age 47. Was it difficult? Hell yes! But also scary, exciting, fun, remarkable, and ultimately essential.
As I mentioned at the end of “How To Change Your Sex,” how could a lazy person like me accomplish all that? The answer is that one day at a time, always focusing only on the next step, the journey not the destination. Heck, I wasn’t sure what the destination was until I got there. By the way, I am 62 now – but it’s a young 62. I always say that you get back 10 years when you transition. Ha!

Available via Amazon.

Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Lannie: My serious crossdressing days were in the late 90s when the Internet meant AOL. My early role models were the photos of cross-dressers and trans women I found through AOL. Later, when I discovered and got up the nerve to join the trans community, which was centered around Carla’s shop in San Jose, I met the famous and generous Jamie Faye Fenton, who became my role model and pal, and party-partner. She was the perfect spirit guide for me.
Monika: Are there are any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now?
Lannie: All of them! Especially the very young transitioners like Jazz Jennings, and trans people of color, like Laverne Cox. People in the trans community – trans women and men, crossdressers, allies – are just the greatest people in the world. It is an honor and privilege to call them my community.


All the photos: courtesy of Lannie Rose.
© 2018 - Monika Kowalska

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