Tuesday 23 February 2021

Interview with Ashley-Marie Eden

Monika: Today I am meeting Ashley-Marie Eden, an Australian illustrator, writer, musician, engineer, poet, and thinker. Hello Ashley-Marie!
Ashley-Marie: Hi Monika!
Monika: How are you holding up in the crazy pandemic times?
Ashley-Marie: Fairly well all things considered. I work for a fantastic company in the defense and aerospace industry, and in an 'essential services role' so they looked after us very well and made arrangements for us all to work from home over a secure network. 
Personally, at first, I found the sudden change from a busy city office working life to one of almost total isolation quite difficult, especially because I live alone as well, but we adapt and move forward as best we can I guess.
Monika: Ashley-Marie is not a common name. Why did you choose it?
Ashley-Marie: Hmmm, to be honest, I can't really tell you. Everyone just calls me Ash of course but as to why or where it came from I don't recall.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Ashley-Marie: Well, I'm male to female transgender and I transitioned successfully full time 7 years ago. Even though I've known this all my life, it wasn't as accepted when I was first diagnosed with "Gender Identity Disorder" some 30 years ago. So many of my generation transitioned quite late in life out of necessity.
Gender transition is a difficult, expensive, and often traumatic process for many people. Personally, I have been quite lucky and very successful in my gender transition; however, I have enormous compassion for those who are still struggling with the medical, surgical, and social aspects of the transition process. So on Facebook, I manage a support network for transitioning transgender women and offer the kind of support and information that I was fortunate to be provided when I was changing my own life.
Other than that, I'm 58 years old now and live in sunny Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. I live in a lovely part of Brisbane close to the city and have a pretty little flat that I love very much. I have a lovely neighbor named Liz, who is right next door and has become my bestie, so we go to the pub together occasionally and have a lot of fun. In addition, I have a boyfriend called Bill, who is very cute and an absolute sweetheart and makes me very happy. Also, I have one daughter (Emily), who is 21 now but lives in Adelaide South Australia, so she's grown up and quite independent.
Professionally, as I mentioned earlier I work as a technical illustrator, which is a highly specialized and technical field of work and has to do with the creation and publication of technical documentation and which I've done now for over twenty years. But in my spare time, I play guitar and have fronted several bands over the years, though my band days are all but over now.
I also write poetry and contribute regularly to several groups on Facebook and I’m currently working on illustrating a children's storybook (which is something quite new and exciting!).
Monika: Do you get many questions from your followers? What do they ask for?
Ashley-Marie: Well I do get a lot of comments and feedback from my readers but having said that I tend to publish my poetry under three main and distinct categories. Firstly I have a dedicated FB page called "Valentine Poetry" where I record my work chronologically as it comes into being. Then I belong to several dedicated poetry groups on Facebook that encourage sharing of one's original work where I post work covering general and varied subjects about day-to-day life. Then thirdly, I belong to a number of Transgender support groups on FB that address a variety of trans-related issues where I tend to post my transgender, transition, and post-transition related work.
"When I first attempted transition 32 years ago
there was no Facebook or Internet and very
little information."
So I tend to get different types of comments and feedback depending on the group and the readership. For example, the general Poetry group members tend to show their appreciation for rhythm, rhyme, structure flow, and meter, etc. However because my transgender-related material tends to be far more personal and specific in its subject matter, the comments I receive from my transgender readers tend to be far more personal and express appreciation for the content and how closely they relate to my experiences. I think they also appreciate the fact that my work gives voice to issues that are rarely spoken of but are nonetheless very close to all of our hearts.
I find writing poetry very therapeutic. It helps me to order my thoughts and make sense of the world and stuff I might be struggling with, and hopefully, find some degree of understanding and closure. So I tend to write primarily for myself, but I post that very personal work in the hope that my readers might recognize their own lives and journeys within those lines and verses, and find expression for stuff they struggle to express themselves.
It's amazing how it touches so many hearts and reminds us that none of us are alone, and in fact that we have so much in common. That brings me so much joy, which is why I think I am more passionate about reaching my transgender readers than any others.
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?
Ashley-Marie: Oh my goodness! That's a subject that is loaded with emotion for each and every one of us because indeed most of us do pay a high price, and in my case, I felt that I was living a lie and was suffering terrible dysphoria and inner conflict. So I finally came out and transitioned full time nearly eight years ago when I turned 50 and my desire to stop running and embrace an authentic and transparent existence became stronger than my fear of what other people might think. Now in such a situation, there are bound to be costs and casualties. Fortunately for me personally I was single (long since divorced) and my daughter had reached an age where I felt that I had fulfilled my responsibility as her dad enough to look to my own life and dreams. So my family commitments were virtually nil and in fact, I received a lot of support from friends and acquaintances.
Monika: How did your family react to your transition?
Ashley-Marie: My daughter Emily did not cope well with my transition and she hasn't spoken to me since. We were very close as her mum and I had raised her 50/50 from a small child. So that has been extremely difficult and disturbing and something I had to learn to live with the hard way. Now that's not to say that one day we won't be reunited, it's my hope and my dream and my prayer that one day she will learn to accept me for who I really am and we can share each other's lives once more. So for me, that was the hardest thing about coming out. Many, many tears.
Other than that, I used to love playing in the band but when I transitioned I felt uncomfortable with my singing voice suddenly (you know, I didn't want to look like a girl and sing like a guy). So my involvement in music suffered as a result, but that's something that I had to accept. But since then I have become more comfortable with my voice as time has gone on, plus voice training has helped and I am having vocal surgery in May this year to permanently raise the pitch of my voice into the female range, which should help also so I'm looking forward to that.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Ashley-Marie: Yes. Hormone replacement therapy is very effective in so many ways, however, it was feminizing facial surgery and breast augmentation surgery that really made the biggest difference and took my transition to a whole new level. So I'm definitely an advocate for Feminising Facial Surgery and have a wonderful and highly skilled plastic surgeon (Dr. Rossi of Buenos Aires, Argentina) to whom I owe a lifetime of gratitude because he literally changed my life overnight (but that's a whole other story I guess).
Monika: Why did you do it in Argentina? You did not want to do it in Australia or Thailand where usually all ladies go to?
Ashley-Marie: Well after a solid year of research I determined that Australian surgeons did not have the kind of experience in this kind of surgery that some overseas surgeons do. Naturally, I looked into Thailand and others but when I found Dr. Rossi I knew he was the right choice for me. His prices were within my budget and he has many great reviews and amazing before and after patient photos so my choice was clear. And I’m very happy with his work and would recommend him in a heartbeat to anyone seeking this very specialized type of surgery.
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?
Ashley-Marie: Gosh, good questions! Ok, unless you’re extremely fortunate or you transition very early, like before you reach puberty, the whole passing and stealth thing (in my opinion) is pretty much a myth... a myth however that I think many of us use pre-transition to help allay some of our fears of discovery and rejection by all those we know and love. I think this is a natural tendency as prior to our social transition many of us harbor these irrational fears that have kept us bound in secrecy and struggling with crippling internal conflict for most of our adult lives. 
Having said that, however, once we transition we usually discover to our amazement that the people around us are either supportive or don't really care one way or the other. It’s my opinion that people aren’t stupid and most can tell fairly soon after meeting us that we are transgender, regardless of our appearance. However, it’s been my experience, both socially and professionally that if we take ourselves seriously and present well and with confidence, others will take us seriously too.
Monika: Did FFS change the way in which you were perceived?
Ashley-Marie: I will just say that I noticed a big difference in how I am perceived and treated by others. Whether that was because I suddenly presented with more confidence or my facial surgery changed the way others see me, I'm not sure. I think it's both of the above. As well as improving our appearance aesthetically, Feminizing Facial Surgery, when done correctly, removes the “male gender markers” from our facial features and bone structure that results from a lifetime of testosterone exposure.
Things like the typical male brow ridge and deep-set eyes that result, the thicker lower jaw and chin contour that change the dimensions of the lower face, and the heavier set nose that typifies the male facial structure. Things that no amount of makeup can ever hide and that tend to create visual contradictions in the minds of those we are meeting and interacting with. So FFS reverses that testosterone-induced disfigurement and creates a natural attractive feminine appearance that people find relatable and reassuring. This applies to both men and women we meet and interact with on a daily basis.
So I am a huge advocate for FFS and even though I am all too aware of the challenges involved in achieving this, such as the cost, for example, I believe that most of us are capable and creative individuals and can literally achieve anything we set our minds too if we want it badly enough. So achieving a successful transition doesn’t necessarily mean achieving complete stealth. Success in my opinion is defined by how happy we are.

"Sadly however my daughter Emily did not cope well
with my transition and she hasn't spoken to me since."

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?
Ashley-Marie: OK, I think such decisions are deeply personal so all I can offer is my opinion. Certainly, there are many different approaches to FFS and many degrees of treatment, so to say that there’s a third option as you describe it I think is probably not realistic, simply because there are so many options and procedures available and so many variations in people's facial features.
Personally, I wanted “the works” so to speak. I didn't want to go through all that and then regret not having done this or that. So I had what I term “full FFS”, which involves a number of procedures that are designed to complement each other and create an overall female appearance. I don't believe that any level of FFS can erase who we are completely or remove our character so to speak. In most cases, we aim for a result that we would expect to see in our sister for example, so the “maleness” is gone but we still recognize ourselves as do others.
Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow or followed?
Ashley-Marie: Yes, one lady in particular called Cate who was a high-ranking officer in the Australian Army before her transition and has achieved a great deal of success since, both in and out of the limelight as it were. She impressed me so much because her transition was so publicly visible and yet so successful.
Monika: Cate McGregor? Yes, she is great! Do you remember the first time when you saw a transgender woman on TV or met anyone transgender in person?
Ashley-Marie: Not really. When I first attempted transition 32 years ago there was no Facebook or Internet and very little information. I didn’t know any other transgender person so I had no support whatsoever, which contributed to my failure in my first transition attempt and going back to a miserable double life filled with fear, dysphoria, and constant internal conflict.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Ashley-Marie: Goodness, the answer to that question literally spans decades. In Australia 30 years ago our society was just as primitive, ignorant, and bigoted and indeed just as violent toward anyone who was a bit different, as anywhere else in the world.
But fortunately, that situation has changed dramatically. I think in the last 30 - 40 years many of the “asshole bogan elements” of society have literally died out and the newer younger generations have come up and replaced them with more and more liberal, free-thinking open-minded young Australians. To the point where these days it's almost cool to be different in some way... or it’s certainly cool to know someone who is. I know that when I came out 8 years ago I experienced very little if any negative reactions from others (apart from my daughter that is). In fact to the contrary, people seem to embrace me in a very positive way and I know other Aussie t-girls who will agree. For example, when I was reassigned to the management function at work over a year ago, the girls on the floor took me out to lunch the first day and made me feel so welcome... and in fact, I became best friends with one of the girls to this day. And on my birthday I came into work and they had decorated my desk and my booth with flowers and "Happy Birthday" tape and a card and... I was so touched it made me cry - in a good way. So much so that I wrote this poem:

My Birthday

Birthday, fun day, number one day
All my friends are so much fun day
Flowers, luncheon, happy wishes
Blowing candles, birthday kisses

Days like this make life worth while
Makes me happy, makes me smile
All my troubles fade from view
On days like this I share with you

Count my age or count it not
Some years cold and some years hot
Regardless what the future brings
Sports cars, diamonds, precious things

When each year burns down and ends
All I want is my dear friends
Each one of you inside my heart
And pray to God we never part

Love Ash (November 2019)

That's not to say that discrimination doesn't exist in Australia, I'm sure it does in isolated pockets but it hasn't been my experience. But I think I explained my theory about this in an answer to an earlier question... about presenting well with confidence and the impact that FFS had on my day-to-day experience and personal relationships.


All the photos: courtesy of Ashley-Marie Eden.
© 2021 - Monika Kowalska

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