Thursday 21 May 2020

Interview with Anna Skinner

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Anna Skinner, a liberated transwoman from New Zealand, passionate cyclist, and happy parent of three. Hello Anna!
Anna: Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you. I love to share my journey so that people may gain a better understanding of what it is to be transgender and also to touch those folk who may be struggling with their gender identity.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Anna: I am a 55-year-old transwoman, born and raised in Auckland, New Zealand. I have been living in Christchurch for the last 22 years which is a beautiful place located on the east coast of the South Island. When I was younger, I dreamt of living as my authentic self but for many reasons it never eventuated to a lot later in my life.
I am passionate and care deeply about people. Adventure in the outdoors has always and continues to play a big part in my life In many ways, it has helped me to cope with a lot of the emotional pressures leading up to coming out and beyond.

Photo by Angela Penn.

Monika: In 2016 your story was covered in one of the documentaries of the All Loading Docs series. Was it your official coming out?
Anna: No, it wasn't. I came out two years prior to the release of the film but being involved in the project gave me a lot of confidence moving forward.
I've always had a voice and it took me to come out to realize the power it can give you as a person. Many amazing things have happened since I came out and I look forward to the future with hope in my heart.
Monika: The short film was titled "Same but Different" and portrayed the bond between your friend Neil and yourself, mountaineering mates for 25 years. You used to travel together, and the film shows your first trip into the wilderness after your coming out. In one article, I read that you were worried about Neil's reaction to your transition more than about your wife's. Is it true?
Anna: I actually told her in 1999 after the first year we had been together. I felt she deserved to know the truth. She was very upset at receiving the news, but we lived with it for many years until I left the marriage in 2013.
In terms of my relationship with Neil, telling him was an entirely different matter. Our friendship was built around what we shared in the backcountry and as two males. I was scared of what his reaction would be, telling him of my true gender. There was a lot at stake and the thought of losing him as my friend was daunting.
Monika: How did your wife take it? Was she utterly surprised?
Anna: She was very surprised and upset. It placed a lot of strain on our relationship and in the end, was the telling factor for us parting ways. What I discovered was the impact that coming out as transgender can have on those closest to you, but ultimately it comes down to being completely honest with yourself as an individual.
Monika: And your children?
Anna: I am so proud of my children and how they have coped with me coming out as a woman. They bore the brunt with my angry outbursts when I was a man living with them as a family. My frustration levels grew and grew as time went on. I told my oldest daughter when she was 11 that I liked to wear women's clothes so she knew from quite an early age.
When I did come out, I explained to them in quite simple terms what it meant to be transgender and even read parts of my psych report to them so they may understand a little more about it. They are 20, 15 and 13 years of age now and are well balanced happy young people. I love them very much.
Monika: Did you have any issues with transitioning at work?
Anna: About 2 months after coming out, I worked for Kiwirail working alongside 8 -10 males in the yard. As I felt more comfortable I presented more and more female. They were pretty good with it and seemed to accept me.

Photo by Angela Penn.

Just before I left in early 2016, one of them an alpha male called me a hybrid. I put him straight immediately. Eventually, the HR dept heard about it and asked me if I wanted to take it further. I declined saying that I preferred an apology, which he did after taking a week of stress leave to think about what he had said.
Since then I have worked for the local district health board within a couple of different areas and for the most part was treated well. I think it had a lot to do with I how carried myself and proved that I was capable of doing the job just like anyone else.
Monika: I wish I could have transitioned earlier myself. Do you have the same regrets? 
Anna: A very good question and one that I have been asked on many an occasion.
There have been many factors determining when I made the decision to come out. When I was younger New Zealand was a lot less tolerant to those that were considered 'different' within society. There were career paths taken throughout my life as a way of counteracting what was going on inside maybe as a way of showing the world that I was a man.
My children are a gift and I wouldn't be without them.
There are no real regrets because everything that has occurred was giving me the strength and courage to face my gender issues. It's something that you cannot force to happen. You have to be ready!
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of HRT?
Anna: Yes, I am very satisfied with the results. I've been on HRT for 5 years now and in that time my body has gone through some significant changes not just physically but mentally also. Overall I feel calmer and at times emotional. It feels nice to be able to feel those emotions that can be quite strong.
Monika: When you started the transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Anna: Georgina Beyer was my main inspiration. She was the first transsexual Member of Parliament in the world. She served under Helen Clark's government as a member of the Labour Party from 1999 to 2008. Georgina advocated for the trans and gay communities with considerable vigor and championed for the less fortunate folks in society. She was bold, outspoken, and sometimes divisive but nonetheless an amazing woman.
Monika: Yes, she is an icon. I read her biography "Georgina Beyer - Change for the better: The story of Georgina Beyer as told to Cathy Casey" (1999). She is the world's first openly transgender mayor, as well as the world's first openly transgender Member of Parliament. Is she still active as a politician?
Anna: In the 2014 election Georgina stood as the Maori candidate for Te TaiTonga representing the Mana party. She had by this time contracted kidney disease which weakened her a lot. She battled through to secure 4th place in the results. In 2017 she underwent a kidney transplant which has her enabled to partake in public engagements after several years of illness.

Photo by Elanie Van Rooyen.

I had the pleasure of meeting her when I first came out. She is very down-to-earth and approachable. Georgina said to me at the end of our conversation that more trans people should be involved in politics, to provide a voice for people, to advocate for the less fortunate, and make other politicians accountable. She will forever be an inspiration for me as I live my journey.
Monika: I also came across the name of Liz Roberts and her biography "First Lady: From Boyhood to Womanhood: The incredible story of New Zealand's sex-change pioneer Liz Roberts" (2016) ...
Anna: Modern-day New Zealand, a small country in the South Pacific, is renowned for its attitude towards social change. I think New Zealanders are resilient and strong and this is evident in the story of Liz Roberts. To come out and go through what she did in the late '60s is truly remarkable, especially when there were unknowns about gender reassignment surgery back then. The trans women, growing up when society was not as forgiving as now, paved the way for other people to muster the courage to live as the gender that they were meant to. She was indeed a pioneer.
Monika: Is the New Zealand Health Service prepared to provide services to the trans community? Is GRS available for those who wish to undergo it?
Anna: Yes. As of last year, there is now a surgeon by the name of Dr. Rita Yang, who can perform vaginoplasty (penile inversion or sigmoid colon technique), metoidioplasty, and phalloplasty. The cap on the maximum GR surgeries per year has been lifted. Funding to the tune of $3 million (NZD) has been allocated for the surgeries.
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Anna: I'm not sure about that, to be honest. Perhaps those that feel passionate enough about being part of such a competition could state their case. Maybe it's for the younger transwomen out there. Anyway, having professional photos taken is a nice way of expressing oneself as a transwoman.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Anna: Funny you mention that. I started to write about my life about 6 months ago. It's a long-winded but enjoyable process. Titled 'Confessions of a Window Dressers Son'. It is a tribute to my father, a window dresser in the 1960s, such a talented creative man with a drive to succeed who put his mark on the world. It is something that my children can have as a written account of my experiences growing up, dealing with gender dysphoria, and how I dealt with it eventually as an adult.
Monika: What do you think in general about transgender news stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers, or books so far?
Anna: Over the years there have been more transgender stories/ films and news clips about the community which has made it more visible to a wider audience.
I did see 'The Danish Girl' which I think was beautifully done. It would be nice to see more trans folk been able to portray transpeople which could add more realism to films, etc.

Photo by Angela Penn.

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?
My perception has been that the trans community as a whole has lagged behind the rest of the rainbow group. Maybe it has been less understood than the other subgroups?
In New Zealand, there isn't really a strong centralized group for instance. It's more fractured with some smaller groups dotted around. I have managed to integrate into society I guess with relative ease which has been a blessing.
Monika: Are you a happy woman now?
Anna: I am so happy as a woman. It has been life's work to get to where I am now. Without the burden of feeling confused, irritable, and constantly frustrated, I can now live my life freely, able to express myself and contribute in a positive way to society.
Monika: What would you recommend to all trans girls and women struggling with gender dysphoria?
Anna: Never feel that you are alone. Reach out, seek help and support from those you love and trust. It can be a daunting prospect.... to come out! But in the end, the happiness felt inside and the sense of self that lies within outweighs anything else.
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 transgender people doing. Our dreams should not end on an operating table; that’s where they begin. Would you agree?
Anna: Yes, wholeheartedly!
Monika: Anna, thank you for this interview.

All the photos: courtesy of Anna Skinner. 
The main photo by Angela Penn.
© 2020 - Monika Kowalska

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