Saturday, 16 January 2021

Interview with Jolene

Monika: Today’s interview will be with Jolene, an American transgender woman that documents her transition on social media. Hello Jolene!
Jolene: Hello Monika! Thank you for reaching out to me.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Jolene: Certainly. I'm 34 years old, living in western Nebraska. I began my transition in private at the end of 2019 and started HRT in March of 2020. I came out publicly in June and I've been living my truth out and proud ever since!
Monika: Jolene is such a nice name. How come you chose this particular name?
Jolene: It was actually the name of my first D&D character many years ago. Most people think it’s because of the Dolly Parton song but I had actually never heard the song until after I’d chosen it. I don’t know how I missed it but I did!
Monika: Why did you decide to share your transition details on social media?
Jolene: There are two main reasons why. Currently, I serve on the board of a non-profit, the Panhandle Equality Council, working with the schools and community at large to make sure that there is a queer presence so younger folks are aware they're not alone. I use social media in largely the same regard. I want to make sure that questioning eggs or baby trans can see that they can be the person they know they truly are inside.

"Yeah, I did pay that price. Upon initially coming out I did lose
a number of friends and family right away."

The second reason is much vainer. I really like being told I'm pretty, haha, and social media is great for a little boost of dopamine.
Monika: Do you get many questions from your Reddit readers? What do they ask for? 
Jolene: I do. Reddit users are quite the inquisitive lot! There are often questions about the effects of HRT and the specifics of dosages; the different changes that I've had; how it changes specific aspects they're concerned about; most commonly I have questions about my breasts.
Monika: Haha, looking at your Reddit photos, I am not surprised! :) Do you agree that the most crucial thing for the development of our breasts is the fact whether our mothers were well endowed in this respect?
Jolene: Absolutely, genetics play a huge role in our development! I think the standard rule is to expect to end up around one cup smaller than your closest blood relation. The women in my family are all fairly well endowed so my genes are certainly a big helper there!
Monika: Are you under a special hormone regimen? Your transformation from a bearded man into a good-looking lady is amazing.
Jolene: I am! I’m following the hormone regimen from Dr. William Powers, he’s been working with the transgender community for years and has an excellent alternative to WPATH. I’m on estradiol valerate monotherapy giving myself injections every 5 days and daily progesterone supplements that are administered rectally.
According to Dr. Powers, the absorption of the hormones is significantly more pronounced that way as opposed to when taken orally.
Monika: What was the strangest question that you answered? :)
Jolene: Okay, so, one change from HRT is how it changes the way you smell. Your body odor and pheromones become feminine with the rest of you. The strangest question was regarding the smell of my genitals and how it changed. Normally I skip those sorts of questions since they're often from chasers but this was a genuine question from a young woman concerned about her own changes who wanted to make sure they were "normal."
Monika: We all pay the highest price for the fulfillment of our dreams to be ourselves. As a result, we 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?
Jolene: Oof, asking the big questions now. Yeah, I did pay that price. Upon initially coming out I did lose a number of friends and family right away. I kind of expected it from my family as they're Southern Baptist and very religious. Some friends and family were initially supportive but as time went on I heard less and less from them until they stopped responding entirely. My partner at the time left me as they had fallen in love with a man, not a woman.

"Trans people are often described as butterflies
metamorphizing from the caterpillar of our AGAB
into our true beautiful selves. But that process
isn't painless."

Speaking of Baptists, I'm not a religious woman, but there's a sermon from Rev. B.W. Smith, 'You've got what you wanted, but lost what you had.' It's about the Garden of Eden and the loss of all that was had because Eve wanted knowledge. The line was used in The Princess and the Frog as well, a wonderful movie. The world tries to tell us that we have to stay in the garden of our cis-heteronormative lives. Never to bite into that queer apple and learn the truth about ourselves. Don't change. Don't Grow. Don't move on. That apple is worth it, though. Living as yourself. Being true to yourself. It's worth the pain and loss.
Trans people are often described as butterflies metamorphizing from the caterpillar of our AGAB into our true beautiful selves. But that process isn't painless. Inside the cocoon, the caterpillar is dissolved into a goop, within the analogy I suppose you could call it a gender-fluid ;) and it's from that goop that the butterfly is built. Yes, it hurts, but we do it because it's worth it. I would bite that apple again in a heartbeat.
Monika: We are said to be prisoners of passing or non-passing syndrome. Although cosmetic surgeries help to overcome it, we will always be judged accordingly. How can we cope with this?
Jolene: That's a hard question. The easy answer is to ignore it and remember passing shouldn't be the goal. The goal is to be happy with who you are. But life isn't easy. It's hard because society will judge us whether we pass or not and it's extra hard because most of society's hate lands on those that can't pass at all. That's not even addressing the judgment we feel internally dealing with dysphoria. I really hope that someday the easy answer will be the only one.
Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow or followed?
Jolene: There are! Katelyn Burns was one of my first online role models, her journey has been a huge inspiration. Magdalene Visaggio has probably been my biggest, though. I have obsessively read through her work and collected a number of her books. Beyond them, I follow dozens of trans women and trans men online because they are a constant source of inspiration for me.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Jolene: We're hurting right now in the US. While we gained some protections as part of our now inclusion in civil rights protections of employment and housing by the supreme court, we also lost nondiscrimination protections in medical care and insurance. Still, we're fighting every day for our young trans siblings to have a better future.
Monika: Do you remember your first job interview as a woman?
Jolene: Yeah, it was pretty recently actually. I’d had the same job for about 8 years which I then lost shortly after coming out. It was very different for me because I was used to an immense amount of privilege, as a white, straight-passing, cis-looking, “male”. This time I was interviewing via zoom, with all my pride flags hanging on the walls behind me. It was a whole different animal! It went well though.

"The world tries to tell us that we have to stay in the garden of
our cis-heteronormative lives. Never to bite into that queer apple
and learn the truth about ourselves. Don't change. Don't Grow.
Don't move on. That apple is worth it, though."

Monika: What would you advise to all transwomen looking for employment? Is it worth mentioning that we are transgender?
Jolene: Be confident. Not just in your skills but in your identity. The best thing about a new job is that no one knows who you were previously. Outing yourself is very much on a case-by-case basis. I know trans women who have the goal of being cis passing and never acknowledging their transition publicly. I know others who really lean into their transness, eschewing any potential cis-passing. Both are valid so I would say that it’s up to the person. I would say to be sure you know your coworkers well enough first in order to minimize the kind of hell you’ll go through.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Jolene: Are sweater vests still in fashion? Because that is totally my style, haha. It's one of the only clothing things I brought over from my past. I rarely get a chance to dress up with the lockdowns but when I do I tend to wear simple styles. A blouse and jeans or leggings, the occasional skirt. I love wearing purple though, that's my favorite.
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Jolene: I think they provide a good avenue for trans women to express themselves. I would never compete in one myself because the tenuous grasp of my self-worth would not survive the attempt, haha! But I'm happy to support the women who choose to participate for their own enjoyment and fulfillment!
Monika: Are you involved in the life of the local LGBTQ community?
Jolene: I am! The local community is small but we're pretty close-knit. With the nonprofit I mentioned earlier, we organize the local Pride celebration and put together social activities for the community. It's a really fulfilling part of my life.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Jolene: Love is what lifts us up. It's a much-splendored thing. All we need is love! Love is the core of my life and being, whether it's the love I feel for my partner or for my cat, Jarvey, or the love I hold for myself.

"Be ready for the worst, but be aware that living
your truth will be infinitely better than living a lie.
True happiness is worth the pain."

My partner fills me with love in our every interaction and I endeavor to do the same for them. It's funny, because, throughout the first phase of my life, I thought I understood what love was but I had no idea. It wasn't until I started being my true self and began to really feel love for myself that I understood how deep and powerful love truly is.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Jolene: I have but I'm not sure how many people would read it. What I'd likely write would be a sort of 'how to be a girl' book with personal anecdotes rather than a normal autobiography.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Jolene: Right now I'm just letting the hormones do their thing. I know it can take years for them to fully take effect so before I make the decision for FFS I want to wait.
In the next 5-7 years I would like to get FFS if needed, but I'm undecided for other surgeries. I got my name changed already so now I just have to work on that gender marker!
Monika: When we contemplate a facial feminization surgery we always face two options: to undergo extremely deep changes to be feminine and beautiful or light changes to be feminine but preserve something from our character. Is there any third option?
Jolene: I don’t know, that first option sounds pretty good to me! Seriously though, I know there are people happy with their looks already so surgery isn’t needed at all. I’ve considered the third option of therapy to help me change what I view as feminine and beautiful so that I won’t have such issues with my face but I think that only goes so far.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender women that are afraid of transition?
Jolene: Find a support network who you know are trans-friendly because the sad truth is that the people you're afraid of finding out likely won't be there when they do. Some of your fears are founded and you will have pain you have to go through. You'll lose friends and family. I wish it wasn't true and that you'll have a perfect transition, truly I do, but it's unlikely. Be ready for the worst, but be aware that living your truth will be infinitely better than living a lie. True happiness is worth the pain.
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. Do you agree with this?
Jolene: I really love that mentality, that we should see the transition, not as an ending of what was but a beginning of what will be. You don't walk from the starting point, you walk towards the destination.
Monika: Jolene, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!
Jolene: Thank you, Monika! It was nice to talk with you. I feel so special that you reached out to me! I love your other interviews and I hope you continue your work!

All the photos: courtesy of Jolene.
© 2021 - Monika Kowalska

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