Friday 15 April 2022

Interview with Alexis James

Monika: Today I have invited Alexis James, an American science nerd, environmentalist, and transgender woman that documents her transition on social media. Hello Alexis!
Alexis: Hi, it's nice meeting you, Monika!
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Alexis: As recently as my early 30s I lived as a very heteronormative cis male. I was also raised Evangelical and was very devoted. I read my Bible daily from high school until just before I left the church, went on four mission trips, and towards the end of my time as an Evangelical I was even thinking about full-time mission work.
The mission work plan was really just a last-ditch effort to bury my gender dysphoria, and every life decision I made up until my early 30s was done in part to bury gender dysphoria. When it was apparent my gender dysphoria could not be buried and the claims of the Evangelicals were just factually incorrect (which could merit a separate interview) I decided to transition. I moved across the country to pursue a life I want and learn who Alexis really is.
Removing the facade of masculinity has allowed me to find someone with much more life, personality, empathy, and passion than I realized or thought possible. I have been able to engage in interests that I never knew I had before, and every day has been a time of discovery.
Monika: What inspired you to share your intimate life moments on social media?
Alexis: I was inspired by other trans women on YouTube and social media who helped me understand that the negative stereotypes about us have no basis in reality. I think it is important for us to tell our stories because as we see with the sports bans, bathroom bills, etc. it is very easy for people to fabricate stories about us and those fabrications will never be accurate or positive. I trusted the "wisdom" of the elders and consequently used to believe these fabrications while living in a perpetual state of suicidal depression until my early 30s.
Kids especially need to know that they deserve to be themselves, they deserve to have friends, and they deserve to live their lives. I am hoping my presence online is helpful for at least some of these trans kids, their parents, their other relatives, and anyone else who may have an influence over their lives.

"Removing the facade of masculinity has allowed
me  to find someone with much more life,
personality, empathy, and passion than I realized
or thought possible."

Monika: Why did you choose Alexis for your name?
Alexis: My post-transition name is actually somewhat of a play on my previous "boy" name. One of the bittersweet things about transitioning in my 30s is that I lived a very substantial time of my life as a hetero cis male, and I played the part very well. When you force yourself to play a role long enough, some elements of that role will stick with you forever.
I am sure that I would have been a much more "girly girl" if I could have transitioned when I was younger and not spent so many years continually forcing myself into a masculine presentation. But that's not what happened though, and the name was a way to embrace the person I am rather than the person I might have been under different circumstances.
Monika: Do you get many questions from your social media followers? What do they ask for?
Alexis: Well, on social media most of my questions are just coming from men looking for sex so I just ignore them. Sometimes I do get questions from trans women who are a bit earlier in their transition. They will ask questions about HRT or advice for surgery.
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?
Alexis: I moved across the country before living as myself full-time. As far as I know, only my mother, brother, and a few others know. My mother is too embarrassed to tell very many people in the family. My brother has been accepting from the first day and that has been very helpful for me. I made sure to not tell my extended family because most of them absolutely despise LGBTQ+ people, considering us to represent the apex of evil.
When I was young I used to find ways to gauge how risky it would be to transition. I would do things like finding ways to bring details from history or the news about Nazi Germany or ISIS killing gay people, and it was easy to do this since my family loved talking about politics. But rather than show empathy towards gay people, they would express new respect for Nazi Germany and ISIS. If that was their attitude towards gay people I was never going to tell them about gender dysphoria, and I never did.
"I like myself now and always smile
when I see myself in the mirror."
It took a while for my mom to accept me. She has always been super conservative but was not as extreme as some family members are. Our relationship was about to disappear forever because of my transition and my last attempt to keep it going was to write her a very raw, honest, and unedited letter about myself.
The letter answered many questions she used to ask me and many of my personal characteristics and decisions that just never made sense to her. The answer to all these questions she had about me since childhood was gender dysphoria. We have been able to talk since then and we might actually communicate better now than before the transition since I'm not filtering everything I say.
Monika: Was your family surprised by your transition?
Alexis: Completely! The few who do know said I was the last person on earth they ever believed would transition. I worked very hard to use misdirection; closely watching my emotions, mannerisms, expressions, actions, reactions, impulses, and body language. I was always afraid that any "non-masculine" display would make people suspicious. Having my gender dysphoria exposed was my biggest fear until I started living full-time.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Alexis: Definitely! When I was younger I used to absolutely hate getting my picture taken. This was always confusing to people since I was handsome as a guy. At least handsome is what they called me. Whenever I looked at my pictures or in the mirror I never saw a handsome guy but a potentially pretty girl. I like myself now and always smile when I see myself in the mirror.
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?
Alexis: This is kind of challenging since society teaches women to obsess over their appearance and I am still navigating this myself. This might be a bit cliche, but perhaps the best thing is to just find people who love you as you. I think it is also important to remember that you're doing this to be you.
Monika: Do you remember the first time you saw a transgender woman on TV or met anyone transgender in person?
Alexis: Yes! I was in middle school or early high school when I noticed my mother was watching an episode of Oprah. Oprah had two trans women and one teenage trans boy as guests on her show. This episode left me in jaw-dropping disbelief since until that day I had been completely convinced I was the only person in the history of the world who had gender dysphoria. I didn't say anything to my mother because she was beyond disgusted at Oprah's guests. I have rarely seen her so repulsed by something.
The first time I met someone transgender in person was about 6 months before HRT and 18 months before coming out full-time. I found this group of trans women online and I traveled to meet them in person in a city that was a three-hour drive away from me at the time. I went to meet them with a change of clothes, makeup, and a wig; and presented myself in public as Alexis for the first time. I would not have done this in my own city at first.
Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow or followed?
Alexis: There have been several trans women whose stories and visibility have been inspiring. The most notable have been Kayla Ward, Carmen Carerra, Julie Vu, Abby Parmelee, Sonique, Hunter Schafer, Andreja Pejic, and Chelsea Manning. Their stories are all different but really resonated with me for different reasons.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Alexis: The situation for us is both exciting and concerning. We have more visibility and support than at any time in the history of the US, but anti-trans legislation is also being pushed more frequently than ever before. I know the Christian Nationalists well enough to know that they will never stop pushing anti-trans legislation.
"My fashion has evolved since
It is important to remember that challenging tradition means you are held to a higher standard. It is therefore important to stay visible and to keep telling our stories whether it is through popular media, YouTube, social media, or blogs like this. We also must stand in solidarity with each other and with others who have not been treated well by society. A commitment to logic, empathy, altruism, and collaboration is how we keep our future exciting.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Alexis: My fashion sense has evolved since transitioning. Early in transition, I dressed cute but my look definitely imitated the girls I had known at church. As the transition progressed I got a side shave and tattoos; and my typical outfit has been Converse sneakers, tight jeans, and tank tops or halter tops. I love wearing red, blue, green, pink and black.
I recently finished a graduate degree so I have not really invested as much in fashion as I would like. I am also a bit of an environmentalist and the process of modern consumer culture and manufacturing does a lot of damage to the environment. I do really like vintage-style dresses from the early 20th century and one of my personal goals is to learn how to sew and make my own vintage-style clothes someday. Until then I will probably spend most of my time shopping at thrift stores.
Monika: Do you often experiment with your makeup?
Alexis: I don't do it as often as I would like because of the environmentalist and personal budgeting challenges referenced in the fashion question. It definitely takes some discipline to shop for makeup because there is a part of me that just wants to try everything. It's truly amazing how much you can change your look just by choosing a different outfit and makeup.
Monika: By the way, do you like being complimented on your looks?
Alexis: Always!
Monika: Do you remember your first job interview as a woman?
Alexis: Oh definitely since I was so nervous. Not only was I trans but I had blue side shaved hair. I was concerned not only with being "clocked" but being seen as not serious because of the hairstyle. But the interviewers were really cool and were not bothered by my style at all. This was a job in Corvallis which is a college town in Oregon. Several of my coworkers at the company had visible tattoos and I was already very "passable" by this point. I am not sure if being passable helped me but it could have. I never told anyone I worked with directly that I was trans.
Monika: What would you advise to all transwomen looking for employment?
Alexis: Be ready to lose your male privilege. You will need to work harder and present confidence more than you would as a man. Be confident but not too confident; there is a delicate balance you will need to find as a woman. If possible, the best thing you can do is to connect with a cis woman friend who has experience in human resources. They not only know what hiring managers want but they have had to navigate the world of male privilege.
Monika: Are you involved in the life of the local LGBTQ+ community?
Alexis: Yes, I spent two years in a college town and I am approaching one year in Portland so I have had several opportunities to connect with the local LGBTQ+ community. I have been to many LGBTQ+ hangouts and actually performed in a few drag shows before COVID. I have been lucky to spend the first few years of being my true self around people who allow me to be my true self. There are so many interesting people in the LGBTQ+ community.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Alexis: It's not quite as important as it used to be when I was Evangelical. Evangelicals obsess over marriage since it provides so much social esteem within the church and it's the only way they can have sex. Single Evangelicals are some of the most miserable people I've met in my life. I took the importance of marriage a step further since I thought having a wife and children would keep my mind too busy to have thoughts of gender dysphoria. Leaving the church also meant I was not judged so strictly as a person based on my relationship status.

"I took the importance of marriage a step further
since I thought having a wife and children would
keep my mind too busy to have thoughts of
gender dysphoria."

I have also been in the midst of switching careers since leaving the church and transitioning so much more of my focus has been on working than love. I do hope to marry a cool lesbian someday and adopt a young trans girl; give her the opportunity to be herself. I know there are lots of LGBTQ+ kids who are not loved by their parents because they are more honest with themselves and everyone else than I was when I was younger.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Alexis: Yes, I have thought a significant deal about publishing a memoir about myself. Were I to publish a memoir, mine would probably be more about my experiences in the Evangelical Church than gender dysphoria itself.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Alexis: Having recently finished graduate school I am looking for a full-time job. I went back to school to switch careers to something I'm more passionate about so it has been very challenging. If I were to publish a memoir, as you asked about in the previous question, that would also be done in the next few years. Buying a house with a small environmental footprint, learning to grow my own food and sewing my own clothes are additional personal goals within the next five years; driven mainly by my desire to live more environmentally conscious.
I am also hoping to get into weightlifting again. When I was younger I often lifted weights as a way to look more masculine and suppress my gender dysphoria, so I have neglected strength training for a few years. Since leaving my former Evangelical bubble I have learned that the act of strengthening one's body is not necessarily confined to masculine men, and it is something I want to start doing more of.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender women that are afraid of transition?
Alexis: The first thing I would do is reach out to a therapist who has expertise in gender dysphoria. Therapists offer a safe space to process and navigate the transition. Be completely honest, open, and transparent with your therapist so they can give you better avenues for transition. No two trans women are the same and all of us have other specific things going on in our lives, so it is important for you and your therapist to be aware of those things.
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?
Alexis: I think that is very relevant for trans women. It is easy to only define ourselves by our gender identity because that's how American society has defined us traditionally. Your gender identity and your choice to transition are simply two pieces of a complex puzzle that makes you the person that you are.
Monika: Alexis, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!
Alexis: Thank you, Monika!

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

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