Wednesday, 2 March 2022

Interview with Alex

Monika: Today I have the pleasure and honor of interviewing Alex, a transgender woman from New Zealand who shares her transition story on social media. Hello Alex!
Alex: Hi Monika, thank you for having me!
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Alex: For much of my life I never really saw myself fitting in anywhere, never really saw a future for myself. I went through the first 25 or so years of my life doing the things I thought I was supposed to: playing sports in school, going to university, getting a job in the city.
It was at the suggestion of a family friend that I look into doing an MBA (Masters in Business Administration), and I was lucky enough to be accepted at the University of Cambridge in the UK. My classmates on the program came from all walks of life, from nations all over the world, wealthy backgrounds, and humble ones, with aspirations of changing the world in their own ways - really inspiring people.
Making friends with people that had overcome all manner of obstacles, in their careers, with their health and in personal lives, opened my eyes to the challenges in my own life that I had been ignoring. Accepting that I was transgender was terrifying at first, but with the support of those around me, my life finally feels like it has direction!
Monika: What inspired you to share your intimate life moments via social media? 
Alex: I am actually quite a private person! In the same way, I keep my personal life and work life separated, I keep my day-to-day life separate from my transition. However, when I was taking the first steps towards transition two years ago I found the stories and achievements of those that came before me so so important. They showed me that accepting that I am transgender wasn't something to be mourned, it was an opportunity to make myself happy. I share moments from my life because I know that there are people that are at the start of their own journey and are afraid, if I can provide advice, offer support, or give some hope then I must.

"I share moments from my life because I know that there are
people that are at the start of their own journey and are afraid."

Monika: Do you get many questions from your social media followers? What do they ask for?
Alex: In the trans community I mainly share updates from my transition, specifically regarding my hair. One of my biggest sources of dysphoria was my hair loss (I even committed to sharing my head for life because my balding had progressed so much) and I know it is for many transwomen, so sharing how I regrew my hair with them is important for me.
Re-growing hair is woefully under-researched, but I was luckily able to connect with a few professionals that had studied hair loss in transwomen and have been sharing what I have learned. Many people message me privately asking for advice and I always try to give them as much time as I can. I also need my own support and post to more personal accounts with updates from my day-to-day life.
I have recently started a new job in the Netherlands and thanks to travel restrictions have not been able to see my family in several years. Staying connected with those I love with these personal accounts has been a source of strength when my own has wavered.
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?
Alex: Coming out was a terrifying experience, I had a lot of internalized transphobia that I projected onto those around me. I was afraid of how my family, my friends, and my colleagues would react. And, for me, coming out to someone now is still as scary as it was the first time. I did notice a subtle shift in people's behaviors, which in part led to me wanting to start a new job in a new country where no one knew the old me.
But, without a doubt the hardest thing was coming out to myself, it was very much an epiphany of realization. All of a sudden I understood that I was trans, I could see my pattern of thoughts and behaviors so clearly that I had no doubt that I was trans, but I was completely unprepared. I knew I was trans, and that I needed to change, but had no idea of where to begin - the enormity of what transitioning could entail was daunting. 
Monika: Was your family surprised by your transition? Did they accept it easily?
Alex: They were very surprised, expressed doubts, and questioned what I was saying. I could look back at my life to that point and see all the signs, but for them, it seemed to come out of nowhere. I could remember conversations I had with them about gender as a child in vivid detail, but my parents had no recollection because they dismissed my questions as a child's curiosity and had forgotten about them years ago. They wanted me to seek counseling and carefully consider my options, but I had an urgent and desperate need to transition so I started taking hormones without their knowledge. One day on the phone my Dad commented that I seemed so much happier recently and I told him that I was taking hormones. Seeing the positive impact it was having on me was the evidence my parents needed to know that transitioning was the right thing for me.
"Coming out was a
terrifying experience."
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Alex: It is easy to get caught up in the physical changes of hormone treatment, but without a doubt, the mental impact they have had is just as important. Taking hormones made it feel like a fog had lifted - food tasted better, spending time with people was easier, and I looked forward to the next day.
When I started hormone treatment I was looking for a way to eliminate my dysphoria, however over time my dysphoria began to fade and I began experiencing moments of euphoria. I hadn't realized that I could feel good about who I was. I suppose you could say I went from a glass half empty mentality to a glass half full!
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?
Alex: Language requires that we classify and categorize things in order to be able to communicate and understand each other. And unfortunately, we tend to have binary schools of thought: is it hot or cold, up or down, black or white? But life is shades of grey and nothing exists at the extremes, no one is the embodiment of masculinity or femininity, and many cis people struggle with not feeling like enough of a man or woman. Accepting that parts of my personality and appearance will always be a mix of traits associated with men and women has helped me stop striving for goals that could easily become unhealthy obsessions.
Monika: Do you remember the first time you saw a transgender woman on TV or met anyone transgender in person?
Alex: Unfortunately, my first memories of seeing trans women on the TV were in CSI-style crime shows of the early 2000s where they were the victims. They were presented as oddities or as deceiving those around them by not revealing their identity. They made me feel scared about what being transgender meant and how it could impact my life.
Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow or followed?
Alex: Yes and no! I love hearing about people's stories, I have never met any two trans people that have the same background or same transition goals. Everyone is unique and learning about the different challenges and successes that people have encountered has opened my eyes to the diversity of humans. So although there is no one person that I can point to, the community as a whole has been a role model that I have learned from.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Alex: Unfortunately transgender people are at the center of a moral panic in many countries, and although New Zealand recently banned conversion therapy things are far from perfect. Access to mental health support should be easier, access to gender-affirming treatment should be easier, and services should be covered by insurance or the public health system. I feel many transgender women are gatekept by the scarcity and cost of what, in my opinion, is essential care.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Alex: Exploring new trends and styles can be appealing but also a little scary. There have been a lot of times that outfits don't look good or simply don't fit, and it is easy to get discouraged, especially if it triggers dysphoria. But, just because something doesn't fit doesn't mean there is something wrong with you; something I learned from cis girl friends of mine confided that they have cried in changing rooms many times. I try to stick with colors and styles that compliment my body; I am tall, so day-to-day, I wear high-waisted jeans and crop tops that make my legs look extra long. When choosing something colorful I nearly always go for green, it goes well with my skin tone and hair color.
Monika: Do you often experiment with your makeup?
Alex: Less often than I would like, I have found a routine that works well for my everyday look and can be easily modified for special occasions. I wasn’t confident with makeup for a long time, transitioning as an I felt like I was decades behind and was scared of making novice mistakes in a professional environment. In the end, I bit the bullet and signed up for a lesson, and I haven’t looked back. They taught me all the basics as well as helped me understand what makeup works with my skin type and bone structure, all the skills I needed to get started.

"I have recently started a new job in the Netherlands."

Monika: By the way, do you like being complimented on your looks?
Alex: Having invested so much time, effort, and money into my transition it is nice to receive compliments and know that results are showing. A big gift of transitioning has been able to enjoy my own appearance, to be able to look in the mirror and smile at my reflection. It took a long time to achieve though, and I had to trust that I was making progress even when it didn’t feel like it.
Monika: Do you remember your first job interview as a woman?
Alex: Yes, it’s a bit of a funny story actually! I was very early into my transition and was still working on my voice, growing out my hair, and building my wardrobe - I looked androgynous at best. But it was my best and I wasn’t going to be embarrassed. I went through the rounds of interviews and got a call back from the recruiter telling me “they think you’re the right guy”. I had to laugh, I thanked them and told them I was the right girl for the job!
Monika: What would you advise to all transwomen looking for employment?
Alex: That’s a really tough question, I think the best general advice I can give is to consider the maturity of the organization. Large established companies are more likely to have LGBT communities and established processes for taking medical leave which younger smaller companies might not have. However, small companies can be more flexible and adaptable, allowing you to make changes to the culture there. Depending on your situation and personality you may prefer and thrive more in one than the other.
Monika: Are you involved in the life of the local LGBTQ community?
Alex: Not yet, having recently moved I am still putting down roots. I hope to get involved soon and have friends to enjoy Pride Day with later this year. 
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Alex: Love is something I have struggled with, especially romantic love. For much of my life, I didn’t feel deserving of love, I felt too full of flaws to consider that other people could love me. Now that I am proud of who I am and trying to unlearn the behaviors that I developed and open up.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Alex: Perhaps one day, I think the best stories have a message - something to reflect on. At the moment I am not sure what lessons from my life are ready to be shared, too many of the chapters are still being lived! On a serious note, I would also have to think about what audience I would want to write for, a trans audience to share advice and perspective with, or a cis audience to give some insight into life as a trans person.
"I would like to make new
friends at work and socialize
more in my new hometown."
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Alex: Having recently moved country, changed jobs, and tried so many small things for the first time I want to take a break. I would like to make new friends at work and socialize more in my new hometown. But, in a few years' time, I would like to move again, perhaps to Toronto or Melbourne, both are cities I have deeply enjoyed visiting.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender women that are afraid of transition?
Alex: There will never be a good time to transition, there will always be a reason not to. Delaying plans is fine, but don’t fall into the trap of waiting for the perfect time. I would say that someone afraid of transitioning should consider themselves in ten years, would that future self have wanted to wait or would they have been happy to start sooner?
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?
Alex: I like the idea that surgery, which many people view to be one of the final steps in their transition, is not the end of a journey but rather the beginning of one. But I don’t think we should see surgery as an essential step in transition, many people are unable or don’t want surgery. Personally, I celebrated every moment I could, even if it was as small as e-mailing to make an appointment for a referral. Transitioning is a long process that can consume a lot of energy, recognising that even the smallest of steps moved me closer to my goals helped keep me driven.
Monika: Alex, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!

All the photos: courtesy of Alex.
© 2022 - Monika Kowalska

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