Friday 1 April 2022

Interview with Lauren Robison

Monika: Today I am talking to Lauren Robison, an American retired IBM-er, former car racing champion, and transgender woman that documents her transition on social media. Hello Lauren!
Lauren: Thanks so much, Monika! One quick correction, I never was a champion driving the race car. The best I ever did was to finish in 4th place for the season, missing third place by one point. I'm still frustrated by that! What I am most happy about, regarding my experience racing with the Sports Car Club of America, is that I did it. I have loved the sound and the smell of a racetrack for years and years so having the chance to live a dream of mine and see it become reality was really quite special.
After my transition, I had very much lost my sense of community. I needed a new start for my new life with an entirely new set of people. I used to fly full-size airplanes before getting married, so I thought that was perhaps a viable option, but I found myself with nothing to do on a summer weekend, so I took the chance to drive, in my sportscar, out to Summit Point Motorsports Park in West Virginia. Needless to say, I was enthralled with the sights and the sounds, but I was even more excited by the friendly people. This was a place where I could build a new life so I made the leap and volunteered to help. I, an unknown tall woman was welcomed with open arms.
Monika: How did you start racing?
Lauren: I began by working as a race official, a pit marshal, for a couple of years while taking classes in my own car on how to do high-performance driving. I got better at it and as I improved, the lure of actual competition increased. I plopped some money down on a 7-year-old car that had been raced in a professional series that had disbanded and that next year started my race schools to get my competition license. While I might not have been the best race car driver, my other job as a race official was taking off.
I worked as many races, including endurance races, as I could and, as I gained experience, I also gained in stature, becoming the chief of pit marshals at Summit Point as well as working as such at other racetracks such as Watkins Glen in New York. In 2005 I was named the "Yokohama Advan Worker of the Year" for the entire USA. I'm very proud of that but what I am most proud of is finding my community. I built a new life and found an extended family of friends that 22 years later is still going strong.
Monika: Your life is rich not only in racing events.
Lauren: It's hard to sum up almost 72 years of living in a few words but I will be as brief as possible. I was born in a small town in upstate NY to two wonderful parents. I really hit the lottery with them. My Dad was a small-town lawyer and my mom was a stay-at-home Mom. Through a stroke of luck, my father was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives where he served until retiring 20 years later. My life up until that point was mainly surrounded by famous politicians and leaders.
On the inside, however, I was in turmoil. Around the age of 6 to 8 or so, I began to understand or realize I was different. I liked pretending I was a butterfly or an angel. I didn't like shoving and pushing. I began to fall asleep every night hoping to be changed into a girl magically by some unknown fairy. I did get some quarters for losing teeth but no magical change. The problem with growing up in the '50s, '60s, and '70s is that there was no information to be found. Why did I feel like this? Why did I crossdress? Do others feel this way? What is it called? What am I? I never found answers despite multiple trips to local libraries.

"In 2005 I was named the "Yokohama Advan
Worker of the Year" for the entire USA."

Monika: It must have been difficult to search for books.
Lauren: Modern-day Google search is far more effective at finding subjects than the Dewey Decimal System of cataloging books. Not finding anything I just floated along doing the "guy thing" the best that I could and crossdressing when possible. In 1976 I married the love of my life. She was a very shy woman who now says that I felt like her best girlfriend. We went on to have 3 wonderful boys, now men, and for a while, everything worked in our marriage. However, over time, our roles changed in the family. She became a dad and I the mother. We both began to withdraw from each other.
Around this time the Internet was born, and I began trying to find out more about my problem. I discovered that I wasn't alone and that, in truth, there were millions like me. I learned that I didn't need a fairy to make my change but that I, alone, could do it myself. My situation was, in short, a choice between a marriage that neither my wife nor I was happy in or splitting with both of us potentially finding happiness. Looking back now, years later, it was the right choice for both of us. I began my transition to female with all its inherent ups and downs and now, 26 years later, my family is what my ex-wife and I call, "the most functional dysfunctional family ever".
Monika: What inspired you to share your intimate life moments on social media?
Lauren: For many years I lived a life of being in the closet. I didn't tell anyone I was transgendered and in so doing this my community was all cisgender people. I had lost touch with my transgender community almost totally. I had forgotten dysphoria aside from minor moments when I saw myself in pictures or videos. I hated pictures of me. I always have. One spring day last year I was driving to meet some friends in Gettysburg PA to fly our fixed-wing FPV long-range drone aircraft. It was a pretty "blue sky" day after a year of Covid and I was newly fully vaccinated. I felt free so I did something I never did and that was to take a selfie. I was horrified seeing myself, seeing "the guy" I had been trying to escape from, staring back at me. It threw me into a huge tailspin, and I didn't know how to fix myself.
Once again, I turned to the Internet and in so doing I found that things had really changed in 2 decades. Social media had exploded and along with that explosion there were multiple influencers and creators. Most were talking about HRT, tucking, and things like that but that didn't fit me as I had transitioned 25 years earlier. I did find one woman, Ashley Adamson, who seemed to talk directly to me. Her message of being a warrior in your life and writing your own future hit home with me. I made the decision to change my looks with FFS, which got rid of that "guy" I saw in the mirror.
Monika: Ashley Adamson focuses on the spiritual aspects of transition.
Lauren: I began working with Ashley and I found out that given my experiences in my transition and life I had a knack for helping people through the tough times they are going through and even more, I found that helping them was unbelievably personally rewarding. It feels so good to have someone say that I had changed their life forever. I liked counseling people. I could actually feel the euphoria they felt when posting a selfie and when the woman in them begins to emerge I feel so proud of them.
So, what inspires me to share my intimate moments is the people that those moments might be most helped by hearing what worked and didn't work for me. I also absolutely love hearing people's stories and by sharing mine I get to hear theirs. I really love and believe in the people following me. They, along with my family and friends, are my rock.
Monika: Why did you choose Lauren for your name?
Lauren: This is going to make you laugh but it leads to a really wonderful gem of a story. My name, had I been born female, would have been Veronica with a nickname of Roni according to my mom. It didn't feel like it fit. Then I heard the name Tisa which was the name of a local dog. Nope... Not doing that. Haha! Then I remembered a girl named Laurie who sat behind me in high school. I always liked her and, you know, wanted to be her and envied her. So Lauren was born.

"I really love and believe in the people
following me."

Now, here is the cool story. I was named after my father. I was a "Junior". I felt bad about changing my name like I was disrespecting a man I loved. After my father passed away my mother found a diary that my grandfather had kept and there was an entry from just before my father was born and it listed the names he would be given depending on gender. Yes, Lauren would have been his name if he had been a female and so, in a sense, I am still named after him. That warms my heart.
Monika: Do you get many questions from your social media followers? What do they ask for?
Lauren: I don't get asked many questions because the way my Discord server is set up allows the members to pose questions to the group as a whole which fosters discussion not just from myself but from peers. Many of the people are in different stages of transition and are a great resource in and of themselves. I don't want this to be about me, I want it to be all about making their lives better, making their lives easier. The main thing I want to convey to them is that they can get through transition and life does get normal again. If I can do it they can too because I'm nothing special. I think just by being somewhat of a unicorn, an older transwoman who seems rare, then just seeing me answers their main question of "Is this really possible?".
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?
Lauren: I did. Unfortunately... I lost the love of my life, my wife. I also lost my best friend and a few other friends that over time just floated away. I hate losing people. It hurts me badly inside.
My wife and I, as I said earlier, had slowly drifted apart because I was not particularly good at the role of husband and father. I was better at being the comforter with our children and being a disciplinarian was not a role my wife wanted. It was not what nature had designed her for and, unfortunately for our marriage, it was not what I had been designed for either. She also was not bisexual in the least. What she was though was an ally and being so, we were able together to co-parent our 3 children through what was a trying time for them as they were teenagers at the time.
Now today, 26 years later, she and I are best friends, and our children are successful and happy in their lives. My youngest at the time said he felt like he had two moms. That warmed my heart so much hearing that. My best friend at the time was a different story. After explaining to him what was going on with me on the phone one night he said, "Well... I guess we will have to be phone friends only from now on". It was the last time I ever heard from him.
Monika: Was your family surprised by your transition?
Lauren: Blindsided is the better word. I never got caught crossdressing and never told anyone what was going on inside of me. The feminine traits that make up who I am are not overtly feminine. Compassion, empathy, and a sense of relationship and what binds us together are not easily recognizable. The abundance of feelings that roiled inside of me and occasionally overflowed was kept hidden. Looking back now, my ex says that what made me different from the guys she dated is that I felt more like a best girlfriend.
My mother and my brother believed that my issue was caused by my marriage falling apart and not instead that my issue was what had made that marriage crumble. My mother only used my given name and birth gender until the day she died. I didn't push it. I knew she loved me no matter what and I in return loved her no matter what. There was one time when I think she saw me. It was a warm summer evening just before night fell. We were saying goodbye after a visit to her house and as she was saying something she paused momentarily and stared at me. "What?", I said. She blinked and said, "Nothing... It's just that for a second there you almost looked pretty". She saw the elusive "her".
"One of the things I find most interesting
about sharing my transition on social media
is hearing others share their stories."
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Lauren: Oh yes!! Estrogen is slow but 27 years of bathing and basting my body in it have done its job. I have a picture of me 2 years before HRT complete with Porn Stache and one from this past year and the difference is pretty stark! People say the pictures give them hope. I like that it does. I also kind of won the lottery with breast growth but I think my results are an outlier and not a normal result. I'll take it though!
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?
Lauren: By being visible I believe. When I transitioned, I went stealth as back in my day being trans was dangerous. I knew someone who was killed in a bus robbery in Baltimore. When asked why he killed "that woman" the robber stated, "That weren't no woman". It was tragic. I also knew of someone who was harassed in her neighborhood. Going stealth was a safety thing for me but it also meant that there were thousands of people over the years who didn't realize they had met a transgender individual. Things are so different nowadays, so much more open and the public perception of transgender individuals is changing for the better. It's not perfect yet but it's improving.
I myself have decided to become more visible as well. Today, on Twitter, I saw a comment about a female politician and the tweet was positing that she was really a guy. I responded by telling the poster that he may have believed that he was being cleverly funny but in fact his "joke" felt to me, a transwoman, derogatory, and a slur. It's not much but that person now realizes that we exist. Maybe the next time he will think instead of perpetuating the stereotype. It's important that the cisgender world understand we are just people trying to go through life the best we can.
Monika: Do you remember the first time you saw a transgender woman on TV or met anyone transgender in person?
Lauren: I do!!! On TV it was professional tennis player Renee Richards. I read everything I could about her. How did she do this? Was this possible? I also read, and heard, the transphobic comments and tried to imagine the stress she must have been under. How could she endure such a level of vitriol and how did it feel to be stared at like you were a Martian? Could I go through what she was having to contend with? How would it feel to have a different body like she now had? As for the first transgender person in real life it was at my first group meeting in Baltimore. God, I was so nervous meeting others like myself for the first time plus being out and about on the streets as my real self for one of the first times. I was so envious of the others that were there who were farther along than I was. Would I ever, ever get there too? It was all pretty magical, to be honest.
Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow or followed?
Lauren: I am still friends with my mentor Kristin and my friend Dustin from 1996 when we were all in an AOL chat room together. We stay in touch through Facebook. Back in my day, there really wasn't any way to follow anyone since the internet was in its infancy. There are several that I follow now and one in particular that I consistently follow because I love her philosophy of being a warrior in your transition and writing your own narrative in life. Her name is Ashley Adamson. I am lucky to count her as a friend and as a co-collaborator when I managed her Discord server for trans-support. Since then, I have opened my own Discord server, "The Enclave", for those going through the transition. It's small so it feels more freeing and intimate to talk and share thoughts and the people on the server are just wonderful people. I really love them and care for them. I think they think of me as Mom!
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Lauren: One of the things I find most interesting about sharing my transition on social media is hearing others share their stories. I absolutely love hearing people's stories which is why I love your blog, Monika! On my Discord server, we have people from France, Germany, the UK, Canada, and Mexico. The systems that are set up in each country are so different! Germany has reams of paperwork and courts as does France. The UK has waitlists. In comparison, transition in the USA seems a lot more navigable than in other countries especially with "informed consent" which eliminates a lot of gatekeeping.
The downside is that we, as a community, have become a hot point for the culture wars that roil across the US. In my state of Maryland, things are pretty good but travel to the state of North Carolina and you face laws regarding bathrooms and which one you are to use. It also depends on what party is in control of the state and federal governments. Under Trump, he had his Justice Department in courts arguing that being transgender meant you could be fired from your job or rejected for housing. Why? I just don't understand. We are all just humans just trying to live the best and happiest life we possibly can. Why us?


All photos: courtesy of Lauren Robison.
© 2022 - Monika Kowalska

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