Monday, 4 April 2022

Interview with Eris


Monika: Today I have invited Eris, an American cosplayer from Seattle and transgender woman that documents her transition on social media. Hello Eris!
Eris: Hiya Monika! It’s great to talk with you.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Eris: Of course! So my name is Eris, exactly like the Greek goddess of chaos and discord (which, if you ask my mother, is quite a fitting name).
I’m a 30-year-old cosplayer, avid anime watcher, and video game player, specializing in Japanese role-playing games. Basically, a big nerd. I was born and raised in New York and just moved across the country to Seattle last year. You can always catch me at the nearest anime convention in some new cosplay.
Monika: What inspired you to share your intimate life moments on social media?
Eris: So I was born in 1991, about two years after the Internet became a thing. The Internet and I basically grew up together as siblings, so I’ve always been online. Social media is great because you can find other people who are into the same hobbies as you very easily.
As a member of the LGBT community, I also love how social media can give a community to people with specific lived experiences, who may not be able to find it in their hometown. It only felt natural to share my journey online so people could possibly take inspiration from my experience, the same way I took inspiration from those that came before me.
Monika: Why did you choose Eris for your name?
Eris: I’ve learned that when it comes to how trans people name themselves, we often have about 3 different ways of going about it. Some people just choose a completely new name, some folks use the ‘opposite’ gendered form of their birth name, and some people choose a name that has a small resemblance to their birth name, which is what I did. I chose that route because, unlike some trans people, I never really felt like I was trapped in the wrong body. I more felt like I’ve been two different iterations of the same person in this one lifetime.
I often compare my transition to a caterpillar, that one day will turn into a butterfly. Caterpillars aren’t ever in the wrong body, each form they take is purposeful in their destiny is to become a butterfly, and I think that’s beautiful.
"I often compare my transition
to a caterpillar, that one day
will turn into a butterfly."
My birth name started with the letter ‘E’ and was four letters as well, and I wanted to pay homage to the person I once was. The child I used to be. I went through so much pain and trauma, and it ultimately made me as strong as I am now, so it didn’t feel right to completely erase all traces of that person. This is why I also call it a ‘birth’ name as opposed to a ‘dead’ name. That child is not dead. They are always with me, taking residence in the deepest part of my heart, like a guardian angel of some sort, watching me from above, and hopefully being proud of me for becoming the super heroine they needed when they were younger.
Monika: Do you get many questions from your social media followers? What do they ask for?
Eris: I do! I get a wide range of questions from trans people in all different stages of their transition, from those who are discovering that they are struggling with their gender identity, to people that have completed all their transition goals. I also get a lot of fellow nerds who like to talk about our favorite games or anime. Even though my social media pages are more so dedicated to nerdy stuff, I always try to message back people who need advice about how to navigate the world as a trans person.
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?
Eris: I certainly paid a price. I grew up in a very strict religious household. Part of the reason I didn’t come out until I was 25 was that I was afraid of what my parents would say or do. Luckily I always had a great group of friends who always supported me and loved me regardless of what I was going through. They became my chosen family. Even if I had no one though, I don’t think it would have stopped me from becoming who I always was destined to be. I’d rather be alone, but whole, than surrounded by people who loved a broken version of me.
Monika: Was your family surprised by your transition?
Eris: My family was absolutely surprised, as I expected them to be. Luckily I wasn’t stepping into unfamiliar territory though. I, like a lot of trans women, identified as a gay male way before fully understanding who I really was. So my coming out as trans was the second time I had to come out. Both times were met with a mix of support from my three sisters and cousins, and disappointment from my parents and older relatives.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Eris: Absolutely. The first year I started hormones, I actually kept it a secret from everyone. I was still trying to figure out if I was making a mistake or not, so I didn’t want to socially transition until I knew that I would be satisfied with the results. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I had just made the best decision I would ever make for myself.
The hardest part is the waiting game. No one is given a high dose of hormones from the jump because you need to monitor how your body will react to the hormones and check blood levels over the course of at least a year. So, it can be difficult to accept the gradual changes after you do all the work to finally make the decision to live your truth, then your body needs another 6 months to a year to catch up to where you are mentally.
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?
Eris: You just described me perfectly, Monika. I was one of those prisoners and I didn’t overcome it until I had cosmetic surgery. I can sit here and say we should all just love ourselves for who we are, but in truth, I’ve spent almost $200,000 in surgeries to look the way I do. I learned to love myself the hard way.
"My body dysmorphia was so bad
that I never opened myself up to
trying to find love."
My body dysmorphia was so bad that I never opened myself up to trying to find love, or really be seen by anyone until I felt like I “passed”. I hid away in my room and used video games as a form of escapism until I could afford surgeries. In a way, I felt like once I passed, no one would care that I was trans, and I would be seen the same way as cis women. Then I had my fall from grace moment.
I entered the dating scene after I had all my cosmetic procedures, and while I got attention from men for being beautiful, they still very much saw me as trans, and therefore never saw me as anything more serious than just a one-night stand. That’s when I think I really started my journey to loving myself.
I see myself in so many new trans girls and I sympathize with them. I think the key is not comparing yourself to other trans girls who transitioned before you, or to cis women, in general.
Remember that this journey is yours and if you don’t love yourself, no one else will fill that void. Transition from the inside out, not the outside in.
Monika: How did you decide which surgeons to choose?
Eris: During the early stages of my transition, video blogging, or vlogging on YouTube was very popular. There were a couple of transgender women who would upload videos on their medical transition, including pre-operative interviews with the surgeons they were going to. I knew early on what to look for and what questions to ask surgeons from those videos. Location was very important to me. I didn’t want to travel too far from home and definitely wanted to stay in the country, so from there it was really just a Google search and a visit to whichever surgeons I chose.
Monika: Do you remember the first time you saw a transgender woman on TV or met anyone transgender in person?
Eris: Growing up in the ’90s, I only ever saw transgender women on T.V in about three different circumstances. They were either on the news as murder victims, in movies as psychotic killers or on the ‘Jerry Springer’ show as crazy guests who were hiding their identities from their lovers. I never thought a trans woman could be the cashier at a grocery store or a librarian.
The reality TV of the early 2000s definitely was a little better. It showed transgender women in shared spaces with cis people for once, which was a step up, I guess, but they were now either the butt of a joke in sitcoms or on documentaries looking like some sort of science experiment.
The first time I saw trans women as regular people, was online when trans women got to tell their own stories. It’s amazing how the media can sway people's perceptions of groups of people. I think the turning point for me was in 2008 when I saw Laverne Cox on the VH1 show entitled “I Want to Work for Diddy” and then the next year in 2009, I saw Leiomy Maldonado on MTV’s “Americas Best Dance Crew” and Katelynn Cusanelli on MTV’s “Real World: Brooklyn”. Seeing those women showed me that being trans was first, obtainable, and second, what I was. I was a freshman in college by that time and up until then always identified as a gay male.
Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow or followed?
Eris: At the beginning of my transition, when my main goal was passing and being “hot”, I followed a lot of the affluent trans girls who were a part of the ballroom culture in NYC. Now that I have completed my physical transition goals, the women I look up to are the ones fighting for transgender rights.
"I love looking desirable yet
unobtainable when I go out."
As I’ve gotten older, I have definitely become more politically involved in the rights of people like myself. I try to educate myself on the misconceptions that people may have about trans people, and then try to dispel them by having good faith conversations in online spaces and in person. It’s funny and endearing that now, transgender girls who are just starting out their journeys are following me and messaging me for advice. It’s really a full circle moment.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Eris: In America. we’ve come so far, yet we have so far to go. There’s a lot of support for transgender individuals in America, and it seems like the younger generations seem to care less about how people choose to live their lives. There are still certain parts of the country where it can be unsafe to be transgender. Just this month, states like Texas, Idaho, and Florida have tried to pass laws making it difficult for people to access transgender health care or learn about what ‘transgender’ means in educational spaces. It’s really heartbreaking to hear considering how far we’ve come, and sometimes it feels like a never-ending battle. I’m filled with hope, though, seeing that we are still fighting the fight, and we’re not going anywhere, no matter how long it may take.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Eris: I love fashion. Believe it or not, when I’m at home gaming I’m usually wearing a 3XL hoodie and thigh-high socks, but I love looking desirable yet unobtainable when I go out. I get a lot of inspiration from other women on Instagram. I follow a lot of fashion runway model accounts to see where the trends are going.
Monika: Do you often experiment with your makeup?
Eris: I use to. When I started my transition I loved makeup. It was how I expressed myself before I could afford clothes or surgery. I remember maxing out a credit card when I was 19 just on makeup alone. I have since found my “signature look” which is pretty simple and I stick to that for every day. Cosplay has definitely opened a lot of creative doors for me when it comes to makeup. My crazy makeup looks definitely are done when I’m in cosplay, which is a lot of the time. I’ve even recently done full body paint for cosplay before which was very fun.
Monika: By the way, do you like being complimented on your looks?
Eris: I do. I think after living almost 25 years without any validation it’s very refreshing to see that the work I’ve done to love and accept myself is paying off. It does seem kind of shallow to like to receive comments about your looks, but for me, it’s so much more than a look. I went through quite a journey to get to where I am, so I really appreciate it when people can see that radiating from the inside out.
Monika: Do you remember your first job interview as a woman?
Eris: It was a coffee shop in NY. They were known to be super inclusive, so I honestly wasn’t worried that much. As I imagined, I was never asked about my transition at all. My pronouns were correctly used all throughout the interview and I got the job. All the other employees were very accepting and I never felt any discomfort working there.
Monika: What would you advise to all transwomen looking for employment?
Eris: I would look into past employee reviews on Glassdoor or Indeed. Whenever I’m job searching I always like to see what other employees have to say about the company. There are also some companies that are known for being inclusive and accepting of the LGBT community. It also doesn’t hurt to ask the interviewer questions in the interview that pertain to the company's missions and values, not just on a customer level, but an employee level. Any company that values its LGBT workers won’t be afraid to say it.
"Love has become more important to
me, especially as I get older."
Monika: Are you involved in the life of the local LGBTQ community?
Eris: I’m lucky to live in one of the most liberal cities in America. The LGBTQ community never runs out of places to go to find support or other people like them. I tend to devote a lot more of my time to the online LGBTQ community, helping people that may not live in a place where they have somewhere to go. I can only do so much through online mediums, but sometimes people just need someone to talk to or need to hear other people's perspectives that have already gone through what they’re currently going through. I definitely look forward to seeing how I can help my local LGBTQ community in the future though.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Eris: Love has become more important to me, especially as I get older. I always closed myself off to the idea of finding love because I felt like as a closeted pre-operative trans woman, I was unlovable. I believe a lot of trans women may have similar feelings. I really wanted to complete my surgical transition before I started dating so I would have less explaining to do to potential partners. That’s not to say there weren’t people who were interested in me during all parts of my transition, but I always wanted to enter my potential relationship feeling 100% comfortable with my body and who I was. I’m finally at that place now and am definitely open to finding love in the future.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Eris: I honestly have. If I were to write a memoir it would be aimed at trans women and girls who are at the beginning of their journeys. As I stated before, I aim to be the hero I needed when I was younger. I believe trans people need positive media that shows us in the best light because as we’ve talked about, media plays a huge role in how the world views us. We still live in a time where most people don’t even personally know a transgender person, so I think it’s important for our stories to get told. More importantly, we need to be the ones in charge of telling our stories.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Eris: I want to grow my cosplay library and streaming channel. I’m fortunate to have completed my transition journey so now I feel like I can finally take the time to work on myself and the things I like to do. I would really like to have a family of my own. I see myself settling down with someone and having a child or two. I love children and have always wanted to be a mother.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender women that are afraid of transition?
Eris: I would encourage them to think about where that fear comes from. If there’s something we want to do, we should do it. It’s really that simple. You know when people ask you what would you do with your life if money weren’t a factor? and the answers are often lavish and seemingly unobtainable? That’s how I would pose the question to trans women who have reservations about transitioning. Would you transition if it were free and there was no backlash from anyone at all? I’m certain the answers would be yes for a lot of people.
"My life is mine. Your life is yours.
Take it."
Some people just take more time to accept the fact that we only have this one life, and I’ve heard many testimonies from a lot of people that start their transition once they can no longer take hiding who they really are anymore. I think that turning point just happens at different times for everyone, and there isn’t a right way or time to start transitioning. I use to envision what my life would look like if I did things the way my parents wanted, and what I saw was an unhappy and unfulfilling future. My life is mine. Your life is yours. Take it.
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?
Eris: I totally understand and support that some trans people just want to assimilate into this “cis” world and not really worry about any trans-related stuff afterward, while also understanding that trans people need to always be visible and proud. I’ve always said the human species needs to understand that not everyone on this planet earth is the same, and that’s alright. I want to see visible trans people in TV, movies, media, books, politics, education, fashion, even the gaming and cosplay world need better representation. That all starts with us daring to dream past the operating table, so I agree with Gina.
Monika: Eris, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!
Eris: The pleasure was mine, Monika. I had an absolute blast. If you want to see more of my cosplay, my username is @erisvu on all social media. :)

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

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