Saturday, 10 July 2021

Interview with Darlene

Monika: Today I have the pleasure and honor of interviewing Darlene, an American woman from Michigan, USA, who works as a transformation coach for software development organizations, who shares her transition story on social media. Hello Darlene! 
Darlene: Hello Monika! Thank you for this opportunity to speak and share my story on your site.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Darlene: Sure! I’m 49 and the proud parent of two daughters, ages 19 & 18. Besides spending time with my kids, I love traveling around the US and Canada, cooking, riding roller coasters, and playing video games. In 2021, I began dating an amazing woman who got me to give mountain biking a try and I am loving that activity too!
Monika: What inspired you to share your intimate life moments via social media?
Darlene: From my earliest days of viewing the trans community on social media, I saw it as an amazing way to connect with others in a similar situation. What we all go through with transition isn’t easy! Irrespective of where we live around the world, our backgrounds, our life interests, or our age differences, we form bonds over this major life event.
Through talking about my life online and sharing feelings along the way, I’ve been able to develop many deep, meaningful friendships. I have even formed friendships thanks to this process from outside of the trans community, which I would have never expected going into this, but being honest about life’s challenges resonates universally.
I’ve been very lucky to be able to meet about a dozen people from social media in person, as well as another 30 or so via video calls, all of which serve to take formerly online-only relationships into the real world. I fully expect many of these friendships will last the rest of my life, and that is almost as big of a reward as the transition itself!

"From my earliest days of viewing the trans community
on social media, I saw it as an amazing way to connect
with others in a similar situation."

Monika: Why did you choose Darlene for your name?
Darlene: DAR are my birth initials. I’ve been using Dar as a name for video game characters for years. When I started to think about a new name for myself, it felt like a natural progression to turn Dar into Darlene. I chose Anjanette as my new middle name, which had been the name my mom picked for me if I had been AFAB. I also like that these choices allow me to keep DAR as my initials.
Monika: Do you get many questions from your followers? What do they ask for?
Darlene: Actually, I rarely get questions besides the “How are you doing?” type of check-ins from friends. My time on social media feels like it’s just me hanging out with my friends.
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?
Darlene: I have been very fortunate that my family fully accepted me and also that my career has not been impacted. I did have my girlfriend of 13 years decide to end our relationship due to my transition, but thankfully we were able to maintain our friendship and we now spend time together as girl friends regularly.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Darlene: I just passed the two years on HRT milestone recently and I’m very pleased with my hormone treatment so far.
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?
Darlene: The most important thing I can say on this topic is to learn to love yourself. Loving yourself allows you to project confidence. That confidence will help way more than any cosmetic surgery, and you’ll find yourself amazed at how it feels to move through the world around you.

"I have been very fortunate that my family fully
accepted me and also that my career has not
been impacted."

Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow or followed?
Darlene: For me, a huge influencer is my daughter. She’s 19 now, but she came out as trans when she was 12 years old. We got her into seeing a child gender therapist right away and were able to get her on hormone blockers soon after. During the process of learning how to be the best possible parent for a trans kid, I realized I was learning a lot about my own childhood as well. Things finally made sense for me to see my own place in the world. But none of it may have ever happened for me without my daughter’s insights into herself and her bravery in coming out. For that, she will always be my #1 role model!
Monika: Do you remember the first time when you saw a transgender woman on TV or met anyone transgender in person?
Darlene: My first time seeing a trans person on TV was probably on some daytime talk show during my teenage years, but that wasn’t something really on my radar back then. Speaking of TV though, seeing Caitlyn Jenner (setting aside what a terrible advocate she has been) and her public coming out also had a major influence. When I was a kid, my parents put her Olympic medal-winning Wheaties Box on a display shelf in our home, as an inspiration.
A couple of years after my daughter came out was when Caitlyn made her announcement. The fact that this person I’d been told to look up to my whole life began to transition in her 60s, really made it seem like a legitimate thing that I could consider during my 40s, instead of it only being something that seemed possible for the younger generation. 
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Darlene: I think it all depends on where you live in the United States, and what race you are also has a major impact, unfortunately. I happen to live in a liberal area in Michigan, but when I traveled around the US as a trans woman to areas that are not so liberal, I still felt safe, due to being white. I don’t think I would have as much of a carefree existence if I were not white. It sickens me knowing that this is the case. I went to several protests and marches since the George Floyd murder, and I continue to support BLM causes.

"Loving yourself allows you to project confidence."

Overall, the country is moving in the right direction but based on how things went for gays and gay marriage, we’re 20-30 years away from trans acceptance. I worry that it will take even longer to overcome systemic racism, which will continue to impact the safety of trans people of color.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Darlene: I enjoy wearing a pretty dress occasionally, but just as important to me is comfort. In the summer I like skirts and sandals with a cute top, and in the winter it’s slacks and sweaters for work. For me, I’m all about my fashion blending in. At 49, I would much prefer to look like a cute and fashionable soccer mom rather than a runway model.
Monika: Do you often experiment with your makeup?
Darlene: Not really. I almost always have nail polish on my fingers and toes and I enjoy lipstick, but I usually skip all other types of makeup. For a fancy night out, I’ll add eyeshadow and mascara, but it’s just department store stuff. I love my jewelry though! It was high on my list of priorities to get my nose pierced, as I’ve always found that to be an attractive feature. I almost always have a cute necklace on too, with complimentary earrings, and a couple of rings on my fingers.
Monika: By the way, do you like being complimented on your looks?
Darlene: Sure! It feels amazing to be at this point in life, and finally, be able to be the cute one. I love it!
Monika: Do you remember your first job interview as a woman?
Darlene: I haven’t experienced this yet.
Monika: What would you advise to all transwomen looking for employment?
Darlene: Be yourself and don’t hesitate to move on if you’re not in a place where you feel comfortable! The right environment is worth so much more than holding on to a job where you’re suffering.

"I went to several protests and marches since
the George Floyd murder and I continue to
support BLM causes."

Monika: Are you involved in the life of the local LGBTQ community?
Darlene: No, not at all. That’s why I value my social media friends so much! Come find me @dar.respite on Instagram.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Darlene: Love plays a fundamental role in my life. First and foremost, I’ve spent the majority of the last 20 years expressing the love that I have for my children. But beyond that, going back to my teenage years, I’ve always been a hopeless romantic. When past relationships haven’t worked out, I’ve tried not to get discouraged, instead of focusing on the future, because I greatly value having a partner at my side, having fun with, and facing life’s challenges.
Thankfully, I’m in a relationship with a wonderful trans woman named Holly who is sweet and gentle and smart and exciting and beautiful! We fit together amazingly well. She knows just how to comfort and reassure me when I’m down, as I try to do for her also. We push each other to accomplish our goals and I look forward to every day with her. Holly checks all the boxes in what I always hoped for in a life partner.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Darlene: I have given this a fair bit of consideration, especially because of the two generations of transitions in my family. I believe there is a genetic component to being transgender, and I’d like to explore that and share the story with others.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Darlene: My next step is to complete my legal name change and update all my other documentation. Within the next couple of years, I will get GCS, so that by 5-7 years, I want my transition to be a distant memory, and by then I’m just living a happy life.

"Love plays a fundamental role in my life."

Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender women that are afraid of transition?
Darlene: It’s not as scary as you think! Go somewhere you can be safe and live as yourself for a couple days to try it out. What you’ll find is that most people either don’t notice or else don’t care. The sooner you can get that experience of being out, the quicker you can build the confidence you need to propel you forward.
Monika: My pen friend Gina Grahame wrote to me once that we should not limit our potential because of how we were born or by what we see other transgender people doing. Our dreams should not end on an operating table; that’s where they begin. Do you agree with this?
Darlene: Yes, I do. While it's true that I plan for future surgery, if my transition steps ended today, I would already be thrilled with my decision. These last two years living authentically have been amazing! This is easily the best decision I’ve ever made.
Monika: Darlene, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!
Darlene: Thank you so much for this opportunity!

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

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