Tuesday 1 June 2021

Interview with Rebecca Finn

Monika: Today I am going to interview Rebecca Finn, a Latin American and European web developer and transgender woman that shares her transition story on social media. Hello Rebecca!
Rebecca: Hello Monika!
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Rebecca: Hi, I'm Rebecca Finn, an openly transgender woman who works as a web developer living in Europe. I really really love coffee, enjoy movies and comics (and movies about comics too), and collect video game consoles and 80s toys (with a penchant for bootlegs).
Monika: What inspired you to share your intimate life moments via social media?
Rebecca: I actually can't remember exactly when, it kinda just happened. I had already moved away from my country and had struggled to find the courage to talk to close friends and allow myself to be me in public. I tried to find myself again and again, until I finally felt at ease. By then I was already posting as much as I could in social media, hosting makeup streams on Instagram and sharing daily photos. People were following me, commenting how they felt at ease and liked to see a friendly smile every morning. So I kept going.
Monika: How did you choose your name?
Rebecca: I knew it had to be a name that started with R (same as my deadname) because I didn't want to change my signature. I spent so much time looking at name inspiration sites... I was between Rebecca and another one and decided because of its meaning ("to bind", "to secure") and because it wasn't shared with anyone else in the close family.
Monika: Do you get many questions from your social media followers? What do they ask for?
Rebecca: Not as many nowadays. There was a time when people would frequently ask about many things. Not all questions were appropriate or had good intentions. But there's also questions seeking help. Many members of our community ask: "Sister, how can I...?” The questions go from those I may be able to offer some insight, like how to begin talking to their parents, friends and family, or about issues stopping them from accepting themselves, to those where I'm not actually the right person to speak to, like medical or psychological advice.

"I was born in a very dangerous country, where the
aftermath of a civil war left us with a violent society."

I'm not qualified to give advice in those aspects, so I will always let them know that and instead point them in the right direction to whom they should be going for answers. There are lots of regions around the world where religion and politics seem to have formed a barrier that cuts access to vital information. One has to be thankful that there were pioneers on the web, as it now provides a lot of helpful and positive information.
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?
Rebecca: My own experience is very different from most. I was born in a very dangerous country, where the aftermath of a civil war left us with a violent society and opened up the doors to gangs and narcotraffic. Sooner or later, everyone is affected by it and in my case, I was extorted. With a death threat looming, I migrated to Europe. (I'm European from my dad's side). So because of this, I had already lost it all before I started transitioning. Except for my brother and some cousins, all my family and friends were far away. Also, my entire professional network, colleagues and clients, and my previous experience became meaningless...
I had to begin again from basically zero and ten years behind everyone else. I had to postpone even thinking about transitioning. I had to focus on building up a professional career. Once I thought I could start though, I was mysteriously let go one week later after announcing it to HR of where I was working at the time. This delayed making my transition public. But when the next place I worked at started "downsizing", I decided to speed things up to avoid having to wait even more.
Monika: And?
Rebecca: One Thursday I talked to management, on Friday I announced it to the company during an all hands meeting, and on Monday I went in sporting a beautiful blouse and a neat fringe. I was able to be me and express myself as I see fit. This was perhaps the most difficult part of my transition. I went from "wait, it's still not prudent" to "you'll have to do it now". In less than 24 hours.
Opening up abruptly and exposing myself required me to work against a lot of anxiety and fears instilled by years and years of wearing a "male disguise" to protect myself. It all worked out in the end.

"Terms like "passing", "stealth" and others alike seem
to push an agenda that excludes so many people."

I had the privilege of being able to transition at work without major repercussions, even if not with some people clearly showing their biases, though that's on them. I've switched workplaces twice since and, thankfully; everyone has received me with total openness and acceptance.
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?
Rebecca: True story: just a couple of days ago I was told that my "natural femininity" was amazing and that I became a beautiful woman. I find this kind of talk truly problematic. I am, first and foremost, me.
We are taught by society that we should do this or that in order to get their acceptance, only to be told later that we shouldn't have "mutilated" ourselves. We need to unlearn that. We are who we say we are regardless of opinions from third parties that will never accept us. Like, for an example: once I found out I am a woman, I was a woman. Even in my early 20s, sporting a full beard and dealing with being in denial, I was a beautiful young woman. 
Terms like "passing", "stealth" and others alike seem to push an agenda that excludes so many people and provides this unreasonable unreachable "image" that we should theoretically all aspire to (physically, behaviorally, mentally...).
What does it mean to be feminine? Bodybuilders and ballerinas, politicians to poets, cooks or firefighters... Should any of them be considered any more or less "feminine" because of what they wear, their body types, who they love, or any other part of who they are? If we were to believe in the "strong binary" then we would be leaving out from being natural all the people in between the "two genders" and everyone else who's outside of the binary.
Monika: It is complicated, isn't it?
Rebecca: The way I see it, gender is a couple of tiny boxes (the same kind that we use to try to understand the Universe around us) and some people insist on reducing and forcing everything to fit inside of them. Well, as it turns out, and science shows us, that those boxes simply don't exist. One doesn't, then, become a woman. There's no actual box to fit in. Thus, there's no required road or path or checkbox list anywhere to be one... Not really. What there is, though, is a long road for us coming to terms with who we are as individuals. But to make things easier for the next generations, we must fight to change society so that this internal struggle for our own acceptance is easier.
Some men have vaginas, some women have penises, and we should all deal with it! Is hormone replacement therapy a must? Only if you want to. Do you have to talk a certain way? Behave and sit and walk according to...? Only if you feel like it.

"Transgender men are men; transgender women
are women and everyone in between and outside
of the binary is valid too."

Monika: There is no single pattern.
Rebecca: Exactly! Is gender reaffirming surgery a necessity? Yes, for those who actually want it, it is! But not everyone wants the same things and that's OK. It is equally bad to be denied access to life saving health services as it would be to be obligated into changes you don't want to have... Or you can't afford (something which in itself is yet an inequality that we should work on to solve too).
If we were to push this idea of "having necessary steps to be" then we would be leaving out all the people who cannot or will not take them. Transgender men are men; transgender women are women and everyone in between and outside of the binary is valid too. Identity can't be diagnosed.
Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow or followed?
Rebecca: In no particular order:
- A lady I used to follow on YouTube for her voice lessons. She also gave us an insight into someone living an everyday life as herself. She's since retired from the Internet and I hope she's really happy.
- Lady V (@ladyvixion) a woman who is so unapologetically herself that filled me with determination to be as free as her.
- Carla Lewis (@manicsquirrel). While many will remember her for that iconic t-shirt with the message "I fought for your right to hate me", to me she's the fierce lady I already admired that one day thanked me for being visible.
- Abigail Thorn (@PhilosophyTube) if you haven't already, you should watch her videos. She's a great communicator and performer, sure, but the depth of the concepts she explains, and how she breaks them down... Absolutely amazing.
- Darlie Brewster - A master animator and artist whose work has been part of our childhoods. She's a fierce warrior against inequality and absolute joy as a person.
Monika: Do you remember the first time when you saw a transgender woman on TV or met anyone transgender in person?
Rebecca: I remember I read a paragraph in a scientific magazine article that explored topics about the brain. A two line paragraph and the photo of 3 ladies was enough to make 10 years old me feel better about myself.
Most TV depictions of the 80's and 90's were not kind to us. I actually don't know (on a personal level) any other transgender person in person. I've met with some in the laundromat perhaps, mostly keeping to themselves. I think it speaks volumes that for many, like for an example friends and acquaintances, I am the first transgender person they've known.
Things are changing, though. Before the pandemic, while having coffee with a friend and her daughter at a coffee shop, I was approached by a young woman and their group of friends. They asked me if I was transgender and said they wanted to thank me for being visible and "open up the path". Their friends were also young, most of them non-binary or transgender. I of course thanked them back, for being so proudly themselves.

"Transgender women are brutally murdered and
police reports and even the press will misgender them."

Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Rebecca: While there are laws against discrimination here, it still exists. Most of the transgender people you'll see have found no other means to sustain themselves and survive than sex work. Things back in the country I was born in are even worse. From draconian laws that can be used to incarcerate you for being yourself, to a jail system that sends people to jail depending on how they were assigned at birth, to a society where bigotry runs rampant endorsed by religious and/or political conservatives.
Transgender women are brutally murdered and police reports and even the press will misgender them. This is why visibility, information and demonstrations matter. Information and education about diversity will dispel the disinformation that's been repeated for so long. It's a matter of survival for many! There's lots of work to do to make this into a society that's safe for all of us, as humans and equals. Thankfully, lots of people are working together for this ideal.


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

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