Wednesday, 4 August 2021

Interview with Aeri Gosselin

Monika: Today I have the pleasure and honor of interviewing Aeri Gosselin, an American scientist and transgender woman that shares her transition story on social media. Hello Aeri!
Aeri: Hi Monika! Thank you so much for the introduction and for taking the time to chat with me!
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Aeri: I am a 27 year old transgender American, raised in Vermont. When I wasn’t in school or skiing I was generally eating fresh maple syrup on snow from a horse trough. I have just completed a five-year Ph.D. program in inorganic chemistry where I studied a class of porous materials known as porous coordination cages.
And most recently I’ve moved to Berkeley CA to begin a career as a synthetic chemist making materials to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. When I am not in the lab I enjoy spending time in nature, reading, painting, and caring for my plants!
Monika: What inspired you to share your intimate life moments via social media?
Aeri: As is common with a lot of people from my generation, 90s kids, I started out with MySpace, graduated to Facebook, and eventually became active on Instagram. It became part of life, how you stayed connected to new friends you meet from across your country and the world. Up until my transition, I mostly shared pictures of my science, sunsets, and nature. I think what was important for me in deciding whether or not to make my transition open for the public to see were two factors.
One, social media was a great tool for me to come out to a lot of people with minimal effort, friends, cousins, etc who I do not normally keep in touch with on a regular basis but it felt important for them to know.
Second, bringing visibility to the act of transitioning itself, the beauty that comes with that self-awakening, and the journey that begins anew when you can be your authentic self. I think it is incredibly important for those transitioning or those thinking they may be on a similar path to see as many others like them as possible.

"The most difficult part of coming out for me
was my own anxiety surrounding the ordeal."

Monika: Why did you choose Aeri for your name?
Aeri: I had explored different variations of the name Aeri for some time, using it in place of my old name on unimportant documents/sheets. I think what originally brought me to the name was a good friend of mine having the name Ari, pronounced the same way (Air-ee) and always loving her name. With the intensity and anxiety that can often surround coming out, as it surely did for me, I actually wanted to make my name easier for those who knew me to get accustomed to. Aeri is not so far off from my old name and I thought the resemblance might make it easier initially for my friends and family.
Additionally, the spelling and closeness to my old name made it still feel very personal and connected to who I was then and am now, it made a name of my own while still honoring where I had come from. With that, there are just so many names it would have taken me forever to choose a completely new name!
Monika: Do you get many questions from your followers? What do they ask for?
Aeri: I have not received any questions from my followers so far!
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?
Aeri: The most difficult part of coming out for me was my own anxiety surrounding the ordeal. The first time I had come out to those close to me in person was at the dinner table, when the conversation lulled I began by saying “I am not sure how someone normally brings this up…so I guess this is me bringing it up.” I was extraordinarily fortunate to have a supportive base of family and friends. I reached out to multiple close daily members/friends by phone and received nothing but support and un-ending love…it made the process a lot easier and made coming out to a wider audience on social media much less intimidating.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Aeri: So far yes! From multiple standpoints, HRT has made me feel more genuinely myself. In the beginning, as I began estrogen I noticed a lot more of my feelings/emotions were able to easily come to the surface. I remember driving home from grad school one day and seeing two squirrels playing and immediately bawling at how adorable it was. I am able to experience and process emotions and the waves of those emotions much easier than I was ever able to before. And of course, some of the physical changes brought on by HRT have really helped my gender dysphoria surrounding my body and I am excited to continue to see those changes develop over time.

"I was extraordinarily fortunate to have a
supportive base of family and friends."

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?
Aeri: This can be an extremely difficult thing to deal with. For me, going out into public for fear of any visceral reactions to my person is one of my greatest anxieties. And of course, it does not help that we live in a society where even cis-gendered bodies are controlled and regulated by our society. You really can’t catch a break.
I think one of the most important coping mechanisms here is learning a deep sense of self-love (easier said than done I know) and a change in the way society views beauty surrounding gender (so much easier said than done). But with that power of self-actualization and self-love, I think it becomes a lot easier to be free of the stigma of needing to pass in public and can help keep your head high when the snide comments come flying our way.
Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow or followed?
Aeri: One of my first role models, as I was coming out, was Sarah McBride, now a state senator in Delaware. She is making really excellent strides in policy in Delaware and even before becoming a senator she was a fierce advocate for trans rights and equality. I still look up to her and her message a lot.
Monika: Do you remember the first time when you saw a transgender woman on TV or met anyone transgender in person?
Aeri: I think my first experience with anyone portraying a transgender woman on TV was Sean Young in Ace Ventura. I remember absolutely loving the movie and actually at the time could not figure out why everyone was so grossed out by having kissed the same woman. It was until years later rewatching the film I realized the transphobia behind it. My first experience with a transgender woman in person was in college, my calculus teacher actually. She was an incredible educator and without her personal help, I most certainly would not have passed the class.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Aeri: In the United States, the present situation is a complete mixed bag. On the one hand, you have really incredible people like Sarah McBride and Rachel Levine making history. The positive visibility of transgender women is certainly growing outside of politics as well. On the other hand, just recently a number of states having been attacking transgender youth, banning their ability to play in school sports. The amount of ignorance leading to violence toward transgendered women and all gender-nonconforming individuals is still despicably high. It is really disheartening.

"The amount of ignorance leading to violence
toward transgendered women and all gender
nonconforming individuals is still despicably high."

Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Aeri: Love fashion, have I explored it enough? Absolutely not. I was always into dresses, even when presenting male I would try to find ways to wear “acceptable” dresses. Given the freedom of choice, I have now it has been a lot more gratifying. I also really enjoy rompers and other one-piece outfits and am a particular fan when any of my outfits contain usable pockets. Since transitioning my closet has become a lot more colorful, but I am still a huge fan of any and all things black.
Monika: Do you often experiment with your makeup?
Aeri: Sure! I was fortunate enough to be living with a former Mary Kay employee so she was able to give me a lot of tips and tricks for applying makeup. I think my biggest teacher has still been all the wonderful ladies of YouTube though. I love applying eyeliner with different shadows, usually in the purple/red regime, and finishing off with a bold lip in maroon or black.
Monika: By the way, do you like being complimented on your looks?
Aeri: From the right audience and with the proper intention, yes absolutely. It can be extremely gratifying and euphoric to be complimented on my looks as a woman.
Monika: Do you remember your first job interview as a woman?
Aeri: I do, it was only a few short months ago for a job under the umbrella of the BASF Corporation, and also happened to be my first ever job interview. I remember being incredibly nervous as it was a panel interview with members of the management team, asking behavioral-based workplace questions as well as ones related to the specific job. While I did not get that specific job, it was a terrific experience and definitely boosted my confidence for becoming a part of the workforce.
Monika: What would you advise to all transwomen looking for employment?
Aeri: My biggest piece of advice would be preparation. For myself, practicing interview questions that I found online took away a lot of stress and helped me feel more confident in the answers I would be able to give interviewers. I made lists of my own skills, antidotes from relevant experiences I have had, really becoming an advocate for myself despite my internal lack of confidence. I also paid particular attention to what companies' policies were on LGBTQ employees/applicants and applied to jobs that were upfront about their workplace inclusivity.

"On a multitude of levels, love is what
has kept me going all of these years."

Monika: Are you involved in the life of the local LGBTQ community?
Aeri: Currently I am not locally involved, I have just moved across the country and began a new job. But as I settle into my new environment I plan to become very active in my new local LGTQ community in as many ways as I possibly can, I am so excited!!
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Aeri: On a multitude of levels, love is what has kept me going all of these years. Coming from a small town I was raised in a very loving community, I would be nowhere without the endless support and guidance of my friends, their parents, and my own family. Of course, the common saying comes to mind “there is nothing like the love of a mother” and in my case, that is entirely true. My mom's unending love for me has gotten me through a lot of very difficult times.
One of the more difficult aspects of love, that I think a lot of LGBTQ folks deal with, is self-love. I know I am not alone in saying loving myself was extremely hard to come by until I started learning to live my own authentic truth and there is still a lot of growing for me to do there as well. But love is truly endless, there is no limit to love, and I try to give it out as much as possible to those who are close to me, as kindness to those on the street, and deeper love to those close to my heart.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Aeri: I have given it a little thought, yes. I know I love reading memoirs and other books from trans women, having their perspective really helps me put a lot of words to feelings I could not previously describe. I think for that reason alone is good enough for me to want to publish such a book, the collection of my many scribblings over the years might actually help someone else in need who was once like myself. To the transgender ladies out, please please keep telling the world your stories.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Aeri: Right now I am focused on getting into a new and healthy routine in my new job and local environment. The second part is a bit harder to answer! Graduate school was a real tunnel and often felt unachievable, as such looking further into the future was not a luxury I afforded myself. Now that I have landed on my feet I hope to become more active in the trans/LGTBQ community and hopefully still playing an active role as a materials science toward the mitigation and reversal of climate change!

"The world needs to have the authentic you
in it, and you deserve to be your authentic
self in this world!"

Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender women that are afraid of transition?
Aeri: To be brave and take that step. It can be a very difficult and scary road, but in my experience, as I am sure I share with many others, living as my authentic self and coming out as trans has brought me more happiness than a lifetime of self-denial and “fitting in”. The world needs to have the authentic you in it, and you deserve to be your authentic self in this world!
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?
Aeri: Oh absolutely. It can be really hard to not compare ourselves to those whose shoes we are not in, especially with how social media is today. What's most important is being true to yourself, recognizing your own self-worth and beauty as a human, and following your dreams to the edge of the map.
Monika: Aeri, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!
Aeri: Thank you so much, Monika, the pleasure was all mine.
Marie: Thank you it was a pleasure and honor to be interviewed. You're welcome!

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

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