Sunday 25 July 2021

Interview with Juliana

Monika: Today I have the pleasure and honor of interviewing Juliana, an American Mom, geek girl, musician, guitar player, and transgender woman that shares her transition story on social media. Hello Juliana!
Juliana: Hey Monika! Thank you for thinking of me. No one's ever asked to interview me like this before, I'm a bit nervous. :)
Monika: Haha, do not worry, I am sure you will be OK. Could you say a few words about yourself?
Juliana: I grew up as a shy, quiet only-child in the suburbs of Long Island, NY. My mother had a background in art, and my father played guitar, both of which heavily influenced my childhood years. The guitar became my outlet for self-expression, which led me to play in bands starting around 6th grade. I was always the kid who would teach anyone that wanted to learn, which is a trait that I still have today. As computers became more of a household item in the very early 90's I immersed myself in them, and by my junior year in high school, I was doing tech support part-time at a major news company.
In 2003 I married my best friend and shortly after we decided to take the plunge and move 500 miles south to North Carolina. We bought a house and moved without much in the way of employment or even connections set up in the area. Shortly after we had our first and only child. Today I own a small web development company where most of my time is spent problem-solving for a handful of clients.
Monika: Why did you choose Juliana for your name?
Juliana: People usually assume, incorrectly, that I chose my name because of one of my favorite musicians, Juliana Hatfield, but really I had chosen it before I had heard of her. Originally, had I been born a cis girl, my mother told me my name was going to be Christine. I thought about that a lot in the what-if scenario, but it never really felt like it would fit me.
That said, I never really felt that my deadname fit either, for obvious reasons. In grade school, I was asked to do a family history project, during which I met and interviewed anyone in my family over 50 who had stories to share. One uncle had kept amazing records, and from that, I found that my Great-Great-Grandmother was named Juliana. I fell in love with the name and knew immediately that it was to be mine. A year or so later when I heard Juliana Hatfield's music, it solidified everything for me.

"I actually began my transition at 29, in secret with no
therapist and mail order hormones."

Monika: What inspired you to share your intimate life moments via social media?
Juliana: I was always a very private person. If you look back on my social media far enough, there are limited posts and most of them were very generic. When I started to transition I was just about to turn 40, and most of what I found online was the younger generation.
It was also just after Trump had taken office, and there seemed to be a growing misunderstanding of trans people. Everywhere I looked, I was the first trans person someone was meeting. I started openly talking about who I was, how I felt, how long I had felt that way, and the kicker to a lot of those people was because of my age, they couldn't tell me I didn't know better. I had a unique platform to help educate people who otherwise would write off trans people, so I used it.
Monika: Do you get many questions from your followers? What do they ask for?
Juliana: I honestly don't get too many questions. I tend to be the go-to person for my cis friends who want to help their non-yet-out eggs (friends, family, kids). A few of those have turned into friendships, but most tend to be awkward where the cis person is almost more willing to push their friend forward than then a friend is ready for. However, I have made a few really great friends from this, so I can't complain.
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?
Juliana: I did indeed, though I'm still trying to make the most of it. I actually began my transition at 29, in secret with no therapist and mail order hormones. My son was 2 years old at the time. After about 9 months when people were starting to notice changes (did you lose weight?) I had to tell my wife. The discussion ended in either me stopping or leaving. After growing up with separated parents from age 4, I decided my son took priority and I stopped.
As 40 approached I got more depressed about not transitioning, that I decided to do it right. Having a therapist and a supportive doctor helped, knowing what I was potentially walking into and the changes to come. When I told my wife this time the conversation went better. We both knew more about trans people, we even knew trans people. While things were never the same after that conversation, 3.5 years later our marriage is ending, but we're still the closest of friends. My son (12 at the time) was and is my biggest supporter, which really makes you feel like you've done a good job as a parent. I lost a few "friends", but I've made so many more friends since coming out.

"I lost a few "friends", but I've made so
many more friends since coming out."

Monika: Were your parents surprised by your transition? Did they accept it?
Juliana: Both of my parents had passed by the time I officially came out. I do remember having conversations with my mother somewhere around 5 years old that I would much rather be a girl.
At that time, in the early '80s, trans people were still very much an unknown, and while I know my mother meant the best for me, suddenly the men around me in my life were now trying to make sure I wouldn't grow up to be a sissy. I learned at an early age it was better to hide my feelings than share them openly because of that. I did tell my mother before she passed in 2014, but she was probably a bit too sick to understand, she just smiled at me and squeezed my hand. I know had she not been sick, she would have done everything she could to have supported me at that point.
In life, it was Mom and I against the world. My father and I grew apart over the years. He passed earlier, and while I know he would have accepted me, I don't think the jokes would have ever stopped. I both regret and am relieved not really being able to outright tell them.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Juliana: Hormones have been a lifesaver honestly. While the physical effects have been amazing, and I still can't believe that's my reflection I see in the mirror, I believe the best effects were my mental wellbeing. I've always been a calm and quiet person, but once I started with estrogen, I felt a different level of connection with my mind and body. It was like things just started to make sense. Sure I can cry at the drop of a hat now, but that's a welcome change from before where I really almost never cried.
I never let myself fully feel life before, and I never really smiled. That's probably the biggest change, smiling. And it's something almost everyone who knew me before notices and points out. I think my mother would have been pleased most with my newfound smile, she always wanted me to when I was growing up, and it always felt forced. It's certainly not forced 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?
Juliana: A lot of our self-image comes from our own attitudes. Some people will pass to the point of being able to go stealth, and while that's great for them (I hate you all! :P ) most people will have to rely on how they present themselves. The further I've gone along this journey, and the more trans people I've met, I've learned it's less about looks and more about confidence. When you start to feel right in your own skin, it starts to add to that confidence.
Everyone starts out with questions and concerns... will this be the right move, how will people treat me, will I ever pass? But you learn with time that your friends love you for you, and allowing yourself to truly be out there, without walls makes a huge difference in self-worth. I think a lot of times people try too hard, and that shows just as much as a lack of confidence shows. You shouldn't have to try, you should just be.

"When you start to feel right in your own skin,
it starts to add to that confidence."

Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow or followed?
Juliana: I follow a lot of people, but I think all transgender people are role models. I love that we're seeing more trans people in movie and TV roles so we're more visible, but there's also something to be said about everyone else, all the non-famous trans people just being themselves in public.
Monika: Do you remember the first time when you saw a transgender woman on TV or met anyone transgender in person?
Juliana: I grew up in the '80s, which meant seeing trans people on daytime TV all the time. It was honestly a really confusing time to be questioning yourself. The world seemed OK with calling those who were out "It" or "he-she" and outside of being the butt of jokes and as sex workers, you didn't see anyone living out in everyday life.
I honestly don't remember the first time I met another trans person in real life, and now I've met so many wonderful people it wouldn't really matter anyway. I'm glad we've been able to move on from the stigmas of the '80s though, they were so much of what held me back at the time.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Juliana: So I live in the United States of America, in North Carolina - where we became pretty much center stage with the bathroom bill a few years back. I personally have never had any issues out in public, but I live just outside of Raleigh which is a fairly progressive city. The worst I've really been subjected to have been whispers, looks, and some righteous religious people. I don't think I've ever felt threatened, but I live a pretty sheltered life.
I think we are making some major strides here right now, even considering how many anti-transgender bills have been brought up this year alone. There are still some steep walls to climb though. Anyone willing to disown their own children because they're trans will probably never see us in a positive light, but others I find really just need to meet us in real life and understand we're not what right-wing media paints us as, we're really just people. 
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Juliana: I never thought I would like fashion. I mean I always appreciated when someone put together an outfit or a look, but I didn't think it would be for me. Now however I do find that I pay much more attention. A lot of the time I need to do some imagining though, you seldom find models with the same body build. That being said, I've tried on a lot of things and bought way more clothing in a few years than I had the rest of my life combined.
It's not easy to find a fashion sense at 40 when you've never paid much attention before. I'm usually drawn to purples and pinks, black and white, or bright expressive colors. I think most of my "look" started when I found out I needed to wear glasses again. I decided to buy the frames I wanted back in the '90s when I wore glasses all the time (Lasik is a wonderful thing.) So I bought a pair of Lisa Loeb glasses in blue and purple. They were my first real step into coming out fashion-wise.

"A lot of our self-image comes from our own attitudes."

Monika: Do you often experiment with your makeup?
Juliana: I tried, I really did. I almost never wear makeup. I absolutely hate foundation. I've tried regular stuff, and "good" stuff, but it always feels wrong. On a dressy day, you might find me wearing lipstick, maybe some light eye makeup, but most likely it's just my naked face. I'm a big believer in natural looks, although I find it amazing what some people can do with makeup. Maybe one day I'll get someone to teach me, but don't expect any miracles.


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

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