Friday, 24 September 2021

Interview with Tiffany Ryan

Monika: Today I am going to introduce to you Tiffany Ryan, a talented woman from New York that happens to be a comedian and stand-up artist. Hello Tiffany!
Tiffany: Hi Monika -- it's great to connect with you!
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself? 
Tiffany: Like you said, I am a stand-up comedian. I am a parent to two puppies, Gretchen Wieners and Chauncey. I also work as an event planner and personal assistant. I've been trying my hand at acting recently as well. I was born in New Jersey and raised in Las Vegas. I'm currently living in New York City, so I was very excited for comedy clubs to open up when it's safe, so I can get back on stage.
Monika: You are not the first trans comedian that I interview. I am very happy to list you among Natasha Muse, Julia Scotti, Alison Grillo, Maryanne Marttini, and other talented ladies. It seems that our community can boast a surprisingly high percentage of ladies with a sense of humor... :)
Tiffany: Yes, and so many more -- Robin Tran is my current favorite! We're a talented community. I feel like humor was a defense mechanism I developed when I was growing up as an outsider in school and I'm thrilled that I get to use that talent to entertain people.
Monika: Do you often tell transgender jokes while performing stand-up comedies?
Tiffany: I do, but not exclusively. I like to use my stage time to talk about my experiences through the lens of a transgender woman -- I hope it helps raise awareness about some of the things I have gone through and make people laugh.

"I feel like humor was a defense mechanism
I developed when I was growing up as an outsider in school."

Monika: You have tried acting recently. What kind of project was this?
Tiffany: I was cast in a digital series pilot that's being shopped around. It was really exciting to get on the other side of the camera and learn so much about an industry I've only watched.
Monika: Is there any particular artist, film director, or actress that you are eager to draw inspiration from?
Tiffany: So many. I get so inspired by strong women. I'd love to be able to give a performance like Viola Davis or Meryl Streep. I love how Hannah Gadsby performs comedy that makes you question things, but in such a funny way. I am so inspired when Janet Mock creates such authentic and relatable stories.
Monika: Did the transition change you as an artist?
Tiffany: Absolutely! I've always loved to be the center of attention, but I was too uncomfortable in my skin to put myself out there on stage or in production. Then I transitioned and I saw being on stage as a way for me to gain some confidence in my everyday life and ended up falling in love with having a microphone in my hand!
Monika: Why did you choose Tiffany for your name?
Tiffany: Oh gosh... I named myself after my dog. Her original name was Tiffany and I would borrow it for when I would go out in my feminine mode and it just stuck. When I decided to transition, I changed her name to Gretchen Wieners, then started calling myself Tiffany full-time a few months later.

"I get so inspired by strong women."

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? 
Tiffany: I feel very fortunate to be surrounded by supportive people when I came out. Most of my friends were very supportive and those were not weeded themselves out. I work at a foundation that prioritizes social issues and my boss is amazingly supportive of my transition. My family struggled to understand at first, but they love me and have put in work to make me feel comfortable. The hardest thing was learning how to feel comfortable in my own skin.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Tiffany: Yeah, I am much happier being on HRT for some time. I remember when I first started, the changes felt so slow, but comparing pictures of myself to weeks or months before, I would see a huge difference! Emotionally, physically, mentally, it was like the fog that had been hanging over my life was lifting. If I could go back in time, the only thing I'd change is starting sooner.
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?
Tiffany: That is the question, isn't it? I wonder if we would feel that much pressure if the world accepted us for who we are... I feel like this is why representation matters so much. I saw a poll recently that said approximately 20% of Americans say they personally know someone who is transgender. That means like 80% only know of the media portrayal of transgender people. I feel like it takes a lot of self-love and strength to put yourself out there and dispel the negative stereotypes that are so often put on our community.

"The hardest thing was learning how to feel
comfortable in my own skin."

Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow or followed?
Tiffany: When I was younger, I remember being really interested in learning about Amanda Lepore. Then I saw Candis Cayne on Dirty Sexy Money and I wanted to be just like her. I followed Carmen Carrera through her transition and was really interested in the entire process. Then I read Janet Mock's book, Redefining Realness and so much of it resonated with me.
For each of them, I was so jealous that they were able to live as a woman, and I didn't think it was possible for me... that was one of the reasons I realized that I was trans. I spoke with one of my friends and they were.
Monika: Do you remember the first time when you saw a transgender woman on TV or met anyone transgender in person?
Tiffany: The first time I saw a transgender person on television was on a daytime television show. I think the segment was called Holiday Beauties or Men Dressed as Cuties or something along that line. They might have been Drag Queens, but I was fascinated and really wanted to be like them. After that, I remember seeing Candis Cayne on television in person.
My second therapist for my gender transition was Transgender. She was really helpful in getting me comfortable with my journey, I really wanted someone to definitively say Yes or No to my questioning it, but she helped me realize that Yes, I am transgender on my own.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Tiffany: I feel like transgender issues get weaponized by the politicians and our existence is stigmatized because of it. I would like to see less anger or people worried that transgender people existing would somehow take away from their experiences. There is a lot of work to be done in terms of housing discrimination, workplace discrimination, harassment, legal gender recognition, access to healthcare, and much more. I hope that things are improving. I think that if there was more awareness and accurate representations of transgender people, our experiences would improve.

"I feel like transgender issues get weaponized
by the politicians and our existence is stigmatized because of it."

Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Tiffany: I was just talking to my friends about this! When I'm on stage, I like to wear something that sparkles or something eye-catching. It's usually a jumpsuit because they look so put together. In everyday life, I'm either in sweatpants or a dress.
Monika: Do you often experiment with your makeup?
Tiffany: When I'm at home, I'll play with different makeup styles. When I go out, I have pretty much one look that I adjust as I learn new things, but it's pretty much the same basic template. It's buildable though, and transfers from night to day.
Monika: By the way, do you like being complimented on your looks?
Tiffany: It depends on the compliment, I guess. Sometimes I do feel awkward receiving genuine compliments, but I think that's an issue to take up in therapy.
Monika: Do you remember your first job interview as a woman?
Tiffany: Yeah, I was so nervous -- it was a quick turnaround so I didn't have time to find an outfit I wore a black dress and a black blazer with leggings underneath and forgot to get new shoes. The only "professional" looking shoes I had were stilettos, so I ended up towering over my interviewer. I had a few friends at the company that referred me, so that helped me feel more relaxed.
Monika: What would you advise to all transwomen looking for employment?
Tiffany: There are so many factors that go into why it's difficult to find a job and I can only perform well in a job when I'm comfortable in the environment. For me, that meant researching how inclusive the company is before applying, disclosing my trans status during the interview with HR, and dressing in a way that makes me feel authentically myself. Everybody is different, but I think it's important to do things that will make you feel secure in yourself and in your identity.

"Romance has been an area that I've got to
do some work in."

Monika: Are you involved in the life of the local LGBTQ community?
Tiffany: I just moved like two weeks ago to a new state, so, not yet. But I am looking to be more involved!
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Tiffany: I think that I have platonic love that is very important in my life, not romantic love. Romance has been an area that I've got to do some work in, but I have a wonderful group of friends and family who are very supportive and loving. I feel fortunate in that regard.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Tiffany: I do a lot of writing for my comedy and could see myself piecing some stories together for a book. I feel like I have a lot more living to do before it would be an interesting read.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Tiffany: My next steps are to continue to audition and perform on stage. I can see my life progressing and so many directions over the future.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender women that are afraid of transition?
Tiffany: To trust their instincts and do what feels natural and right to them. There is no set way to transition, it's deeply personal. Reach out to those who have gone before you, ask questions, but do what feels right to you.

"There is no set way to transition,
it's deeply personal."

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?
Tiffany: I do agree with it! I think our dreams could avoid the operating table altogether and we can still have limitless potential.
Monika: Tiffany, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!
Tiffany: YOU were absolutely amazing. Thank you for your questions and amazing follow-up.

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

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