Saturday 24 April 2021

Interview with Ritz Scarlet Arbuckle

Monika: Today I am going to interview Ritz Scarlet Arbuckle, an American video games and sound design specialist from Seattle that shares her transition story on social media. Hello Ritz!
Ritz: Hi Monika, thanks for inviting me!
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Ritz: Sure! I'm a 28-year-old musician, gamer, and streamer! Gaming and music have always been my passions so I combined them and got a Bachelor's of Art in Music and Sound Design with a focus on video games. I play double bass and bass guitar, along with a smidge of keyboard and singing.
After coming out I've started considering myself something of a fashionista! Fashion is easily up there alongside games and music for me now that I am comfortable exploring the aesthetics I've admired for so long! I'm presently on a hiatus from my sound work to be at Starbucks, as their transgender benefits are one of the very best in the country and it's a wonderfully progressive company to work for. I also stream games on Twitch on the side.
Monika: Ritz is not a common name. Why did you choose it?
Ritz: I actually really like my name's origin; it fit perfectly for what I wanted! My deadname is obscenely common so I knew I wanted something unique. I also preferred it would start with "R" as I'm still fond of the letter. I had been strongly considering going with Scarlet but my only attachment is that it is my favorite female name.
I ended up debating names for a few weeks before recalling the name Ritz. Ritz Malheur is a character from a Gameboy Advanced game made in 2003 called Final Fantasy Tactics Advanced. She's beautiful, strong-willed, and a very unique character who acts as your rival throughout the game. Over the course of the adventure Ritz even ends up overcoming her own sort of identity crisis! Talking with my therapist I recalled that she was my earliest memory of "I wish I could be her." When I remembered her that was it, I knew my name.
Monika: What inspired you to share your intimate life moments on social media?
Ritz: Prior to coming out I was really reclusive, even on social media. The very first step in accepting myself as trans was throwing out all of my doubts and inhibition. I'm someone who will spend forever reasoning through all the things that can go wrong and never moving forward. I think I would have transitioned years sooner if I could have gotten past this mental block.

"My transition has been about
the euphoria of living as a woman."

In any case, when I was able to make those first steps I found myself supported by very nearly every person in my life. That gave me the courage to really go for it and pursue what is for me the most appealing part of the transition: women's fashion. The longer I was transitioning the more confident I felt in my aesthetic and I wanted to share it with people. My posts ended up getting consistently praised quite highly, granting me that euphoria we all crave haha.
The praise increases my confidence and builds me back up when I'm down, enabling me to keep pushing forward. Of course, I also try my best to give back to the community that's helped me so much. My strength and passion is in fashion so I try to give advice when it's desired. I want to inspire people, not just for my own euphoria, but to help those on their own journeys.
Monika: This is not the first time I can hear about the great transgender benefits at Starbucks. Can we elaborate more on them in case some girls are interested?
Ritz: Absolutely! First off, as far as I know, this unique coverage currently only applies to stores in the US and is not overseen by a parent company such as a grocery or department store. Employees (partners) at those locations utilize their parent store's benefits. You get benefits at Starbucks by averaging 20 hours a week across 3 months. A partner signs up for one of a pretty traditional assortment of insurance packages. Then you request coverage for transgender needs or procedures as you like. If the insurance you chose grants you the coverage, you will follow their standards for that benefit.
Most packages will cover bottom surgery, FtM top surgery, HRT, and therapy. That means you'll probably have co-pays, deductibles, and all that jazz for these things. Now here's where it gets interesting! For most everything else you might request, you'll submit a claim and it will be denied. This includes most traditionally labeled "cosmetic" procedures such as MtF top surgery, facial surgeries, body contouring, laser/electrolysis hair removal, and voice therapy. For any of these that are denied, Starbucks will submit a new claim to supplementary insurance that they have partnered with just for transgender benefits. If approved, your request is covered IN FULL.
Additionally, Starbucks has representatives known as Starbucks Advocates, one of whom will be assigned to you and will help you every step of the way. They'll answer questions, find providers in your network, handle insurance, and provide weekly updates on your claims, at no charge to you! Gosh, that's a lot, they're amazing!
Monika: Do you get many questions from your followers? What do they ask for?
Ritz: Not necessarily. I don't have a page that people would follow and send me questions so most of the response is on me posting selfies. And most of those responses are simply compliments. But when questions do come up it's usually where did I find a particular article of clothing or what product am I using. I do my best to answer, usually providing direct links to the item!
Sometimes I'll post timeline photos showing myself now vs. pre-HRT, hoping to inspire, and people will ask about my medication. I'll tell them what I take but not how much and always tell them to refer to their doctor.
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?
Ritz: I have been extremely fortunate; out of every person in my life, the only one that isn't 100% supportive is my father, and I expected that. Honestly, he handles it much better than I ever hoped but that still isn't well. Again though, I expected it so I wouldn't say it was that hard. Even the public has been fantastic. From the early ugly stages of my transition to now I've only ever had one negative comment from someone in person regarding my being transgender.

"The praise increases my confidence and
builds me back up when I'm down."

I think the hardest thing for me has just been letting go of my doubts as I mentioned before. I am extremely self-critical and wary of what others think of me. I had to throw that away and keep it away from the moment I decided I would transition until I had made significant progress. And wow, did I hit the ground running! I started dressing feminine 3 months before I started HRT and I made the swap almost overnight. I see my early transition pictures and I cringe; looking back I don't know how I did it. But we all start somewhere and you have to trust the process.
Monika: You did not mention your mother. Was she surprised by your transition? Did she accept it?
Ritz: My mother has always been completely supportive of me. When I first came out her only concerns were if it was best for me and if things were safe. She was disappointed in herself at first for not seeing any signs that I was trans growing up, but I don't feel like I left any signs. Most boys are trained not to show femininity. My love of women's fashion, trying on my sister's clothes, playing as a girl in games - those sorts of things aren't things you try to let society know about, and if they find out you make excuses for it.
Beyond that, she was concerned that I was going a little too fast at first. But that was a very conscious decision for me; I knew I had to jump in or I'd hesitate. For her, suddenly her son was becoming a woman. For me, I'd been dreaming about it for years and it couldn't come soon enough. 
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Ritz: I am definitely very satisfied. The scary part about starting is not knowing the result. I was a decent-looking cis-het white guy from a middle-class family; I had all the privileges in the world. Risking those things for the unknown was incredibly difficult. I'm actually going through that again right now with FFS. I feel like I had a very fortunate starting place though.
My metabolism has kept me skinny and most of my features were already decently feminine once I lost the body hair. I love all the changes that I've had though! Softer skin is amazing and I always hated my body hair. Loss of strength and muscle mass is weirdly satisfying as well. Fat redistribution to my face, breasts, and butt has certainly occurred. I'd be lying if I said I didn't want more, but I've already gotten more than I'd dared hope at the start and I still have years of changes to go.
The effects on libido and sexual capability can be frustrating but I'm also happy to not have libido interfering with daily life anymore. 
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?
Ritz: I don't think I'm a good person to help others with coping. My transition hasn't been filled with dysphoria and difficulty with the people in my life. I could have lived as a man, I didn't hate myself, but life would have been grey.
My transition has been about the euphoria of living as a woman and the color it brings to my life. Instead of coping with not passing, I've been ecstatic at my progress and looking forward to the next step of my journey, because it is attainable. For the first 8 months I turned off the part of my brain that cared what others thought and I couldn't really tell you how I did it. But since then it's been nothing but a pleasure. I do believe I have been very fortunate to transition in a progressive place, with an incredible support network, and a body that has taken to transition well.

"I absolutely love fashion!"

Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow or followed?
Ritz: I didn't start out with any role models. I didn't really have any exposure to transgender people until I was around 20. Until then I assumed anyone, who looked like they were dressing outside of their assigned gender, were in drag or crossdressers. Not a very inclusive way of thinking but I didn't know any better.
After coming out myself I still don't really have any role models other than my peers. I've never been on top of pop culture or politics or anything like that. I've also been terrible with names all my life so I don't remember people or go out of my way to learn about them, even the names of singers in my favorite bands! No, I stick closer to home, finding role models in real people I can interact with.
Monika: Do you remember the first time when you saw a transgender woman on TV or met anyone transgender in person?
Ritz: I definitely don't remember the first trans person I would have seen on TV. I wouldn't have recognized them as trans. I also haven't watched much TV at all since graduating high school a decade ago.
The first trans person I ever interacted with, knowing they were trans, was among my second batch of college roommates. I actually shared a room with a trans man who was very early on in his transition. I found it awkward at first but I've always been an accepting person so they really just became like any other person to me very quickly. The pronouns weren't difficult to handle at all and we never really discussed trans stuff. Being my earliest interaction with a trans person, and him being FtM, I never really connected the dots back to myself.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Ritz: I think trans women, just like all other minorities, have a lot of inequality that needs to be addressed in the United States. It's difficult for me to talk about because of how different various parts of the country are politically and religiously. I am probably in the best part of the country to be queer in. Like I said before, I haven't really had any issues on my own. 
Additionally, I'm quite uninformed in day-to-day media. I know that I can't handle the stress of worrying about the world when I'm busy remaking myself, so I try to keep my head down. Because of this, my own trans experience is all I feel comfortable making a statement on, and for me, the experience has been much better than I ever expected.


All the photos: courtesy of Ritz Scarlet Arbuckle.
© 2021 - Monika Kowalska

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