Monday 1 February 2021

Interview with Kara Norwood

Monika: Today’s interview will be with Kara Norwood, an American transgender activist that documents her transition on Hello Kara!
Kara: Hello Monika. It is my pleasure to meet you and I look forward to this interview and where it takes us.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Kara: I will do my best to keep it brief. I am a multifaceted woman with a very dynamic background. In my life I have been a tattoo artist, soldier, physics research assistant, motorcycle enthusiast, speed demon, IT Director, entrepreneur a few times over, a son and a daughter, a father as well as a mother.
Now most recently I have become the godmother to a close friend's daughter. I do have plans for more things in the future presuming I live long enough. I think a life span of 250 years would do just fine.
Monika: Why did you decide to share your transition details on social media?
Kara: I decided to share my transition, in part because I saw others doing the same and they were being given positive feedback by people who didn’t even know them. I found this to be touching. In my current situation, I can use all the support I can get. My life is a little bit more crazy than normal these days, so any good will that comes my way I am extremely grateful for... even if it’s just a thumbs-up approval on some social media site.
Monika: Do you get many questions from your Reddit readers? What do they ask for?
Kara: Well I don’t really get that many questions at all. I mostly get comments and supportive statements. 
Monika: What was the strangest question that you answered? :)
Kara: Not really a question but one time I was accused of not being the same person in the photographs in a before and after timeline post. One of the readers noticed a tattoo on my right ankle that was visible in both photographs. I had not even noticed that myself. That quickly put to rest any rumors of me faking my transition pictures.
One time I was actually accused of being a totally different person than I was putting in the photo timeline. In a way, they weren’t wrong every time I look at a picture of myself pre-transition the man there looks like a complete stranger. If anyone was fake, he was. I look upon that phase of my life as being the life of my dearly departed fraternal twin brother who had a lot of problems.
In a recent conversation with my ex-wife, she had mentioned that I was no longer like that person that she married... that I was much different and that I had changed significantly for the better. I’m beginning to look at August 27 as my birthday of sorts.
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?
Kara: Like many of us I have lost relationships and opportunities but I am gaining others in return.
My biggest fear was losing my father. He’s 80 years old now and when I came out to him in August 2019 I was terrified that he would never speak with me again. Having lost my mother almost 4 years ago, he is the only surviving parent I have. I have no siblings and my children and I are estranged for other reasons, which I will not go into. He lives over four hours away from me so I decided to call him. It was very anti-climatic. I informed him that his only son was actually his daughter, and he said to me, “You don’t have to worry about losing me. I am so liberal I think Bernie Sanders is too conservative.“
"I decided to share my transition, in
part because I saw others doing the
same and they were being given
positive feedback by people
who didn’t even know them."
My wife, at the time, and I had been together since around 2003, and were growing apart. My struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder contributed significantly to the failure of that marriage. My coming out was just the final thing that ended our relationship as husband and wife. She had always been an ally to the LGBTQ community so I can say with 100% certainty that she is not transphobic and I am glad to say that we do remain very good friends.
She has gifted me with many items that helped with my transition, including some clothing, Estée Lauder products, etc. She even returned some jewelry to me that my mother once gave her for me to wear now. I do miss her being my spouse but she has to go a different direction with her life and so do I with mine. We speak on a regular basis and most recently she has been asking me my opinion on this new man she is seeing.
Socially, it’s hard to gauge that because I came out right before COVID-19 hit the scene. I’ve always been somewhat of a recluse. I was active in Freemasonry as a Master Mason as well as having served as Worshipful Master of my Masonic Lodge before coming out. The retention of my social connections there has been about 50%. I no longer attend Lodge even though I consider myself to still be a Mason as well as many other brother Masons think the same. The lessons learned can never be taken away.
Monika: And your biggest challenge?
Kara: The hardest thing I experienced was that at the time I was coming out a young friend of mine was also in the process of coming out. When he finally came out to his family he lost them all together for the most part. They still talk but it’s a very sterile relationship. Since then I have assumed the role of his mother.
Having identified as a pansexual male before my realizations, I was supportive of the LGBT community long before I came out. I heard about families being destroyed by a family member coming out as transgender but it never hits so close to home with me. The idea that a mother and father will reject their own child simply for them being who they are both saddens and infuriates me. I find myself compelled to try to do something about it.
In a strange way, I am quite fortunate to be disabled. I live on disability and I did not have to worry about the stresses of coming out in the workplace. I’m glad I didn’t have to face that particular hurdle. 
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Kara: So far I have been satisfied for the most part. I’m disappointed with breast development so far but I admittedly can be impatient about some things. Additionally, I have not yet begun progesterone. I am awaiting results from a recent hormone level test to see if my doctor will be adding it to my treatment plan soon.
The first thing I noticed was that I no longer have the emotional range of a teaspoon. With this, I am very satisfied. I find myself crying at things I’ve never cried at before, including multiple scenes in the Penny Marshall movie, “A League Of Their Own“. It’s a 1992 movie about the All American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) that was in existence from 1943 to 1954. If you haven’t seen it it’s definitely worth the watch.
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?
Kara: I’m not really sure how to answer this. I’ve been coping with it by being antisocial for the most part. I don’t dress in anything outlandish, and I do my best to blend in and look as much like a cis woman as much as I possibly can. I don’t wear any “trans pride“ clothing or accessories. I just try to be me and not draw any undue attention to myself. I do have a transgender unicorn sticker on the back of my car but I also have a sticker that reads “You’ve just been passed by a girl” but that’s as far as I go in the outlandish category.
I’ve been working very hard on my voice therapy and while not yet perfect it is getting better every day. I have passed on the phone and at a drive-through on more than one occasion but I’m not yet satisfied with the way I sound. I plan on getting some professional assistance with that soon. I found that my attitude has a lot more to do with it than anything. I know I’m a woman. Being such, I act accordingly as a woman. I find myself sounding an awful lot like my mother as each day passes. Recently during a rather intense discussion, my father called me by my mother’s name and she’s been gone for almost 4 years now.
Monika: Could you say a few words about your mother? Did she know about your feminine side?
Kara: Yes, she knew but I don’t think she knew exactly how far down the rabbit hole went in this situation. I would get in trouble for trading my G.I. Joe’s for selections from a neighborhood girl’s Barbie collection without her permission. This happened in more than one neighborhood and in more than one state. From time to time when the urge would hit I would try on my mother’s clothing when she was not at the house and I was left to my own devices.
One time when I was about 14 years old she found out that I had been wearing some of her best clothing. A designer suit of some sort I don’t remember who actually made it. She was not so much upset at the fact that I tried it on but that I didn’t do a very good job putting it back on the hanger. She did compliment my good taste in fashion and occasionally she would ask my opinion on certain items of clothing she was considering buying when we were out shopping.
This practice continued into her later years when I would visit her in North Carolina. I was getting mixed signals from her. She would indirectly acknowledge my feminine side while overtly saying that I wasn’t quite masculine enough or that I need to be more aggressive in certain situations. I wish we could’ve cleared this up before she died.
Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow or followed?
Kara: Being older I have memories of Christine Jorgensen. I was always fascinated with her and actually had the pleasure of meeting her before she passed away. She was a wonderful lady.
More recently I became deeply engrossed in Steph Sanjati’s journey and followed it all the way until she stopped publishing YouTube videos. Despite her being around the same age as my own children I found her to be inspirational.
I’ve been quite fortunate to be friends with an intersexed transwoman who has become very important to me. Her name is Kristi and she has been great personal assistance during my transition. Although she is younger than I am, we have shared similar experiences with our military careers and have leaned upon each other for the past few years for mutual support. She’s one of the very few people I still socialize with who knew me pre-transition.
Monika: Do you remember the first time when you saw a transgender woman on TV or met anyone transgender in person?
Kara: I had the pleasure of briefly meeting Christine Jorgensen. My mother was a semi-professional jazz vocalist when I was young, and she knew lots of people in the entertainment industry. One day we happened to see her at some function. I don’t remember what it was. I was not even eight years old then. I remember she was very nice and very elegant. Quite the inspiration for any woman trans or cis.
"I think the day soon is coming
where we will no longer be
perceived as freaks of nature
and insane criminals like we
were in Silence of the Lambs."
I’ve always been inspired by Wendy Carlos as well. Her musical compositions are quite interesting. As a former aspiring musician, I always held her in high esteem.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Kara: I think that things are a lot better now than they have been in the past but there is still room for improvement. As trans women are recognized and employed in the entertainment industry and elsewhere, people get used to the idea that we are actually here and that we are not going away. We have trans women who are politicians, artists, etc. Before I die I would like to see one of us run for president. I think the day soon is coming where we will no longer be perceived as freaks of nature and insane criminals like we were in ‘Silence of the Lambs’.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Kara: I enjoy many things about fashion. I like having much more to choose from than I did before. I prefer skirts, blouses, and dresses in various colors. I like Peasant skirts especially. I’m also putting together a few different outfits with a Steampunk twist.
The thing that I find irritating is the lack of availability of shoes that will fit my feet. I really like a lot of the shoe styles that I see but even before I transitioned my feet were abnormally large. They have shrunk a little bit during HRT and weight loss but I am still frustrated beyond belief about the lack of availability of cute shoes in larger sizes. I’ve jokingly told my friends that I wish that there was such a thing as foot reduction surgery. There is no reason my feet need to be as wide as they are. I like the water but I’m not a fish, and I don’t need flippers permanently attached.
I have been fortunate enough to find some resources that are used by drag queens. They have shoes that will fit but unfortunately, some of the designs are over the top and don’t work well with my particular style. I don’t need 5-inch platforms to go down to the grocery store :-) 
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Kara: I'm not a fan of any beauty pageants. I think they lead to the objectification of women as a whole and sets standards that some women will never be able to achieve; possibly damaging their mental health. I understand that many pageants have scholarships, which they provide as prizes, but that only benefits one person. There are other ways to build self-esteem and fuel a competitive spirit rather than having a woman display herself like a piece of meat in a butcher’s market. This is just my opinion and I believe that these women have the right to do this if they wish but I don’t have to like it or support it.
Monika: By the way, do you like being complimented on your looks?
Kara: Before my transition I never considered myself to be attractive. I always just thought I was average…even boring. People would say then that I was a handsome man and that’s the last thing I wanted to hear.
Now I get flirted with by men everywhere I go. Cisgendered men have tried to pick me up in the produce section at the local grocery store on more than one occasion. Someone telling me that I’m a beautiful woman makes me blush and smile even though I have yet to convince myself that what they are saying is true.. I do have self-esteem issues but I am working on them. I can look in the mirror and smile knowing that I am not unpleasant to look at. The estrogen is doing its job very well. I just had to wait on my doctor to approve progesterone and then hope over that over time it will do as good or better than the estrogen has so far.
Monika: Do you remember your first job interview as a woman?
Kara: I have not had that experience. I am a disabled veteran with complex PTSD, and I had a complete mental breakdown around 2014. I’ve not been able to work since, and I make it on my VA disability pension and Social Security disability. I have done volunteer work from time to time and of course, being interviewed for that is much simpler. Most of the time they just want a warm body to do something for free and they don’t care who it is. Still, I wish I could go to work because I do miss it. I never thought I would hear myself say that :-)
Monika: What would you advise to all transwomen looking for employment?
Kara: Be prepared for a pay cut and a lot of mansplaining. If you have the entrepreneurial spirit you might want to consider opening up your own business, so you won’t have to worry about the idiocy of coworkers so much not to mention the hurdles of human resources.
Whatever you do, don’t give in to any desires to revert to your previous self. Even if you were not confident, fake it. Pseudo-confidence is perceived as real confidence by most people and the next thing you know you are actually feeling true confidence in yourself and your abilities. Never give up on yourself or your dreams and don’t settle for a job for which you know you are overqualified.


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

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