Thursday 10 June 2021

Interview with Kara

Monika: Today I am going to host Kara, a young comedian, transgender activist, and social media influencer from Los Angeles, California. You can find her on Instagram @karageous. Hello Kara!
Kara: Hello, Monika! Thank you so much for this wonderful opportunity. I look forward to sharing with you my journey. 
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Kara: Gladly! I am a queer, trans, Taiwanese-American activist. I graduated from UCLA in 2016 and am originally from Sugar Land, Texas. When I'm not doing comedy or motivational speaking, I work full-time serving homeless LGBTQ youth.
Monika: What inspired you to share your intimate life moments via social media?
Kara: I endeavor to be the hero I didn't have growing up. As a queer kid living in Texas, I never felt seen. There was a stark lack of visibility, and no one was telling my story. Social media gave me a platform to amplify my voice. There are so many misconceptions about the trans community - a fear that stems from a lack of education or exposure.
For many people, I am the first out trans person that they've ever encountered. Not all trans people are activists, but it's a role I gladly take on with full frontal honesty. If at the end of my life I can know that I've touched at least one person's heart, then I'll know that it was all worth it. Those moments when people share that I gave them the confidence to come out and live authentically are the most rewarding of all. However, I share not for the reward - the rewards are simply a product of my sharing. Sharing is caring.

"I endeavor to be the hero I didn't have
growing up."

Monika: Do you get many questions from your followers? What do they ask for?
Kara: If by "questions" you mean "propositions from male admirers", then yes! For the sake of keeping this family friendly, I won't share what they ask for, hahaha. In all seriousness, the majority of the messages I receive are from men. Oftentimes, they will read one of my interviews or listen to my podcast as an "in". And hey, if thinking they have a better shot at striking up a conversation with me (it definitely helps, wink wink) is what gets them to ultimately hear the good word, I'm all for it. I think it's the people who are attracted to girls like us who would benefit the most from learning about our community beyond admiring us as objects of desire.
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: I burned a lot of bridges prior to my transition. I remember the night before I came out publicly as trans on my social media, I manually went through each individual Facebook friend and decided whether I wanted to keep them in my life. I wasn't coming from a place of shame, rather self-preservation. I didn't feel the need to share such a personal piece of my life to those I didn't deem worthy. In a lot of ways, the person I was in Texas ceased to exist. It's bizarre visiting home, recognizing people from my childhood who no longer recognize me. It's like living in the Matrix - in a state of being perpetually forgotten. Sometimes I wonder how things would have been if I had given those people a chance. However, I try my best to not live my life with regret, and I stand by my decision because every decision led me to where I am today.
"I stand by my decision
because every decision led
me to where I am today."
As my transition has progressed, it's been surreal seeing my place in society shift rapidly and with that, a loss of privilege. The privilege of feeling comfortable walking alone at night. The privilege of being listened to. I was absolutely flabbergasted the first time a man reiterated a point I had made moments ago, only for it to be acknowledged as his idea.
I've also observed the spaces once for me that no longer welcome me. Queer spaces in West Hollywood that were once my stomping grounds as a gay man where I'm now perceived as an ally hanging with her best gays impeding upon queer spaces. No one prepared me for what was to come after you transition. Enter Kara.
Monika: Was your mother surprised by your transition?
Kara: What an interesting question! They usually ask about the dad, haha. Oh goodness, my mother, bless her heart. Sweetest woman in the world. I spent much of my childhood suppressing myself just to survive. I grew up getting death threats, yet I never told anyone. I kept silent because I believed I deserved it - when no one has told you otherwise, what else are you going to believe? 
I thought my truth would make my mom love me less. Coming out to my mom was such a loaded sandwich. She was learning about a history of trauma she was never made aware of along with a new identity she had never known me as. Needless to say, she cried - she felt like she had failed as a mother in protecting me. Nevertheless, boy, girl, I was her child and she loved me, she declared.
Denial runs deep in any culture but especially in Asian cultures. No amount of my childhood love for Sailor Moon or musical theater was going to sway her from the notion that "there were no signs". I don't blame her - I had turned her world upside down. People come up with the darnedest theories when they're trying to make sense of things with what limited understanding they have. She turned to science - maybe I had a hormonal imbalance? Was I actually born intersex? I grew up in a Christian household, so while she acknowledges that I identify as a woman, we don't see eye to eye on body modification.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Kara: My transition followed a pretty unorthodox path. I was living full-time as a woman for years prior to beginning hormones. Many people assume I've been on hormones this entire time. I was pretty resistant to beginning hormone treatment for many years, largely because I didn't feel the need. I was always fairly passable, so I didn't feel a sense of urgency. I wore this as a badge of pride, I really wanted to emulate that you don't need to medically transition in order to be trans. The longer I tooted that horn, the more pressure I placed upon myself and the more guilt I felt for potentially wanting to begin hormones. 
Ultimately, I had to face the facts. I was assigned male at birth, and my body wasn't going to feminize by itself - that's just science. I am very satisfied with the effects. I'm on a dosage that makes sense for me. I finally feel at home in my body. My breasts aren't burgeoning, yet I have curves in all the right places. My skin is silky smooth, my complexion clear as day. Everyone's transition looks different, you just have to find what works for you - with a medical professional, of course.
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: There definitely is this intense pressure to pass in society. In an ideal world, people of all genders and gender expressions should be accepted, but we are far from that day. There shouldn't be a need or pressure to assimilate into society or adhere to cisnormative ideals. The grass is greener on the other side depending on which side of the fence you're on. Those who don't pass want to blend in, those who blend in fear being found out.

"My transition followed a pretty unorthodox path.
I was living full-time as a woman for years prior
to beginning hormones."

I still have a visceral reaction anytime I am clocked, or perceived as trans. The discomfort comes from within and can be all consuming. This internal shame stems from a place of internal transphobia, or feeling as if there is something wrong with being perceived as trans. I have accepted that being trans is a cross I will always bear, and it's one I now carry proudly. The reality is that I am who I am, and I am pretty damn great.
Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow or followed?
I followed Gigi Gorgeous and PrincessJoules as they documented their transition on YouTube during a time when there weren't that many trans influencers. I think Addison Rose Vincent @breakthebinary, a nonbinary activist, is a wonderful advocate for our community. I also follow @quinoahpowersalad and @kingbarkly. And of course you can follow me along on my journey @karageous on Instagram!
Monika: Do you remember the first time when you saw a transgender woman on TV or met anyone transgender in person?
Kara: The first time I saw a transgender person in the media was Jazz Jennings when I was in grade school. I had no idea what being trans meant back in the day let alone that I myself would one day identify as trans. I feel like it has only been in recent years that the visibility and awareness of the trans community has truly exploded.
Being trans once meant identifying within a binary or adhering to a specific medical regimen, and it has since become so much more than that. There is a beauty and richness to the diversity of the trans community.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Kara: I think the amount of resources and services available to the transgender community in the United States is abysmal. For transgender people, access to housing, healthcare, protections from hate crimes, public accommodations, or even if your identity is legally recognized varies on a state by state basis. This says nothing about transgender people and says everything about how American society treats the transgender community. We are not born into this world as lesser.
"I love to express myself
through fashion."
In 2021, at least 27 trans or gender non-conforming people have been killed in the US - and those are only the ones that are known or reported. How can we be expected to survive and thrive without a roof over our head, when we don't know where our next paycheck is coming from, or when the government policies which restroom we're allowed to pee in?
Trans people in the United States are not treated with the same dignity or respect as their cisgender counterparts. While the reality of trans people in America fares better than other parts of the world, we should not settle with simply being allowed to exist in a society that tells us that we should not. Existence is resistance.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors or trends?
Kara: I love to express myself through fashion. I usually opt for form-fitting formal pieces with some edgy or sexy element, like studs, chains, peekaboos, or slits - oh my! My wardrobe used to be very monochromatic in black, white, and gray, but I have become more open to color in recent years, particularly mauves, lavenders, and beiges. For everyday wear, I like to wear loose and free-flowing. I really value comfort. I used to have a really big shopping problem, and I still to this day find "new" pieces in my closet with the tags still on. It's fun to mix and match new outfits with what you already have, so let your imagination run wild.
Monika: Do you often experiment with your makeup?
Kara: Honestly, no. I wish I were more adventurous with my makeup choices, but I've found what works for me. I applaud those who know how to paint for the gods. It's unfortunate that even the amount of makeup a person wears can affect whether they are perceived as cis or trans. I salute those who don the armor of bold lips and eyeshadow. Express yourself!


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

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