Saturday 28 January 2023

Interview with Niya

Monika: Today I have invited Niya, an American transgender woman who documents her transition on social media. Hello Niya!
Niya: Hi Monika, thank you so much for inviting me to do this!
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Niya: My name is Niya and I'm a 26-year-old transgender woman. I started my transition at 18 and here I am now I guess.
Monika: What inspired you to share your intimate life moments on social media?
Niya: I'm pretty much an open book, but I like to share a lot of myself on social media because it's not only good to show others the progress you can make, but to also keep track of it yourself. Transitioning can be a very daunting task, and I think seeing others succeed in their transition can drive you to do the same in yours.
Monika: Why did you choose Niya for your name?
Niya: Funny enough I actually didn’t fully choose my female name, a co-worker did. We were trying to come up with a new name for me shortly after I had come out at work since I didn’t have one yet. She took the letters from my deadname, Ian, and rearranged them into Nia. I wanted it to be a little more unique so I added the Y and came up with Niya. I like the combination so much that that was the name I stuck with and I’ve loved it ever since. It really feels like it fits me well.
Monika: Do you get many questions from your social media followers? What do they ask for?
Niya: I don't usually get a whole lot of questions. The main ones I get are usually just about what surgeries I've had and how long I've been on hormones. To answer those too, I've had FFS, BA, and have been on hormones for about 6 years now.
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?
Niya: While I did lose some of those things, I would definitely say I was much more fortunate than most trans people. Since I came out in high school, at 18, most of my friends were guys. I lost touch with all of them, or had a falling out with, about 2 years after coming out. I'm not entirely sure if I was partially to blame for this, or if they were, but I've never held any kind of resentment about it. Being transgender is difficult for some people to fully grasp, and to add on being a teenager riddled with all kinds of hormones doesn't make it easier for anyone at that time in their life to understand.
As far as jobs and social positions go I worked with all women at the time when I came out, so as I'm sure you're aware women tend to be much more accepting than men. I was accepted almost instantly at my job as just another one of the girls which really helped with the beginnings of my transition and easing into it.
I would say the hardest part was coming out to my family. My parents are divorced, so I grew up with my single mother; however, she was not accepting at first. My father, who before I came out to, came out as gay himself, was also not accepting at first. My mother at the time felt that my masculinity is what my younger sister looked up to, and my father thought I was gay too. My mother and I did not talk for a month after I came out, and my father and I struggled to keep our relationship at all. Just like anything else though, time heals most things.
My mother and I came to an understanding after my sister showed immense support to me coming out, and we started talking again. My mother also helped get me on hormones right away so I owe her a lot since I was very overwhelmed after coming out, and didn't know where to start. My father also came around and we have an even stronger relationship now than we did when I was male. The rest of my immediate family never really seemed to mind either, it just took a while for them to get used to the new name and pronouns.
Monika: Was your family surprised by your transition?
Niya: I would say yes and no to this. When I first came out, they thought of it as a complete surprise. I had always shown interest in women, I had done predominantly male activities, and tried my best to be a "man". After coming out though, my secret life, and thoughts I kept to myself, slowly unraveled to them. As they did, we all put the pieces together that I did a very good job of hiding who I really was. I started to tell them how I really felt. I was deathly afraid of women, despite wanting to be one, as funny as that sounds.
"I would say the hardest part
was coming out to my family."
I never liked it when one would show any interest in me as it scared me, thinking about having to behave more as a man. The male activities I was usually forced into I didn't enjoy, such as sports, drinking, etc. As a kid I had always liked playing dress up with my female cousins, I knew more about the Barbie dream house than my sister did, I was adamant about being a princess one year for Halloween, etc. It was all of these little moments that I and my family had both sort of brushed under the rug as me just being "different", that eventually all started to make sense as to why I needed to transition.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Niya: I definitely am. It's given me soft skin, less body hair, a rounder face, breast growth, and wider hips. These are all things that have made me so much more comfortable in my own skin. I fit my clothes the way I want to, and while hormones don't help everything for everyone, in my case it's helped my dysphoria immensely.
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?
Niya: I feel that the best way to cope with being judged based on passing and not passing is to just ignore the concept entirely. Don't get me wrong, it's important to pass in order to live a semblance of a "normal" life where strangers, family, and friends don't judge and stare at us, but we also shouldn't put it in such high regards to the point where it dictates our lives.
For some trans people, I've seen it control what goals they have, where they allow themselves to go, and so on. It ruins some people's lives, this focus on an unobtainable beauty standard. Cis or trans, women are women, we will always be judged by others for our looks solely based on being women alone. I think the more important feature we as women all have to work with is who we are inside. Even though many of our exteriors don't radiate the femininity we feel inside, the best thing we can do is to exude that in any other way we possibly can through our actions and words.
Monika: Do you remember the first time you saw a transgender woman on TV or met anyone transgender in person?
Niya: While not on TV, the first trans woman I had ever seen online was Kim Petras. This was way before she became a famous pop singer, back when transitioning was still very much somewhat taboo especially for someone her age. She had done an interview with the "This Morning Show" and before that I had never really thought of transitioning as even being possible.
Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow or followed?
Niya: I would have to say Kim Petras is still someone I follow somewhat closely. I think she lives the perfect life between being herself and representing the trans community, but also not making being trans her entire identity. Most of the other trans women I used to follow on social media have either lowered their online presence or have stopped posting entirely. 
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Niya: I think it's a difficult one. If I'm being honest, I feel like being transgender was safer in 2015 when I first came out than it is now. Back then it wasn't a hot-button issue and fewer people knew about it. It was taboo, yes, but people didn't fully understand it so it wasn't being put under a microscope the way it is today. I do hold some resentment towards people like Caitlyn Jenner for not only making being transgender seem "trendy", but also blasting us all over stations like Fox.
I feel like most of the time, nowadays, we are viewed as men playing dress up, people that have their feelings easily hurt, sexual predators, or lawsuits waiting to happen. While there might be some like that, most of us I feel just want to live nice normal lives. Hold down a decent job, have a loving relationship, get married, start a family, and fade into the background of society like everyone else. Not all of us want to be martyrs.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Niya: I am very much into fashion you could say, something I do as a side hustle is buy and resell limited edition clothing and sneakers. My main focus is usually high-end fashion and streetwear. Items from brands like Louis Vuitton, Jordan, Supreme, etc. I think it's amazing to express yourself through fashion. I myself usually keep the outfits pretty basic and like to stick to the color black mostly, but where I have fun is with accessories.
I feel like you can make something so basic like all black pop with the right accessories, whether that be the right shoes, jewelry, purse, hat, hair ties, etc. I also usually try to stick to what's currently popular on the west coast. Being east coast myself, I feel that we tend to be the last in the country to get trends. The west coast is great to look to for fashion since states like California are a melting pot for all different types of fashion and they usually tend to get it right before anywhere else.
Monika: Do you often experiment with your makeup?
Niya: I used to when I was just starting my transition. I used to bake, and wear pounds of makeup. I feel like half of this at the time was to conceal my beard shadow, while the other half was to pass better before I had FFS. Nowadays I like to keep it very basic, no pounds of foundation, no crazy contouring, no crazy eyeliner wings, just some mascara, lip gloss, eyeshadow, and blush. I feel most beautiful when it's completely natural looking.
Monika: By the way, do you like being complimented on your looks?
Niya: I mean, doesn't every woman? Lol, in all seriousness though, I do enjoy it to an extent. While I've worked extremely hard to get to where I am, I also try not to forget where I've come from. I try not to let anything anyone comments on get to my head because just like any other woman I've gone through many changes in my life. Looks really aren't everything.
Monika: Do you remember your first job interview as a woman?
Niya: Yes I do actually, it was for Target of all places. At the time I was in between jobs and needed something very quickly. Target was very heavy on promoting their diversity hiring which made them very appealing. While I only had the job for 2 weeks before moving onto something different, it was the first time I had ever had an interview as a trans woman. It was extremely daunting and nerve-wracking being a completely different gender and being visibly trans and applying for this job, as small as it was. It was the first time I had to be honest with an employer.
"I think our main focus should
always be on our dreams."
Monika: What would you advise to all transwomen looking for employment?
Niya: Do not limit yourself, and be honest with the interviewer. Most of the time the places we want to apply to we don't because we don't think we'll get the job because of our situation, this simply isn't true. Most employers, especially nowadays, are looking for hardworking and driven individuals. They do not care what shape or form that comes in. If you can do the job just as good as anyone else, chances are they will have no problem hiring you. If you feel like it's important for them to know that you're trans, just be honest with your interviewer/employer. Most people today look at honesty as a very strong characteristic.
Monika: Are you involved in the life of the local LGBTQ community?
Niya: I am not sadly. Where I live we don't really have one, and the closest one to me is about an hour away. I've basically grown up through online LGBTQ+ communities. 
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Niya: I believe love is important, especially when going through something as daunting as a gender transition. Love comes from many places, your friends and family, your significant other, and most importantly yourself. I feel like most of us ignore that last one too much. We all need to learn to love ourselves because at the end of the day all we have are ourselves. I am extremely fortunate to have love coming from so many places, whether it be my parents, my sister, my boyfriend, and so many others I can't even think of right now.
The hardest one for me; however, was myself. I think learning takes some time, especially with how much some of us are distraught by our own transitions and comparing ourselves to others that have made it much further. It's one of the most important things I feel that can help you move onto the things that really matter in life. Having that self-love will give you the confidence to lead a more successful and fulfilling life, in my opinion, than looking for it from someone else.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Niya: I've never thought about writing a book about myself. I don't feel like my life is interesting enough that someone would want to read a book about all my experiences. I feel like there are definitely other trans women that should have their stories told when compared to my vanilla life.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Niya: The next steps I have for myself are to hopefully go back to school this year and have vocal feminization surgery. As much as I love my voice, it is something that brings me a great amount of dysphoria. I would also like to go back to school for business/IT as I've been running my own for about 5 years now and would love to be a product manager specifically working in fraud. I'd hopefully like to see myself running my own consulting firm, in 5-7 years from now teaching others how to counteract fraud and payment processor abuse.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender women that are afraid of transition?
Niya: I would probably have two big pieces of advice for them. First, make sure you think long and hard about this journey you are about to embark on. It is not an easy one in the slightest. In the beginning, you will feel very much alone, you will go through things no one ever imagines going through, and you will cry a lot. It will be extremely hard, and may even feel like it's not worth it at all; however, once you get on the other side, things are completely different.
You will gradually start to find yourself again, you will start to feel happy with the changes, and your past life will seem like a bad nightmare that has been fully corrected into a wonderful dream. Just like everything else, it only gets better with time and practice. Second, make sure to love yourself. If you don't, no one else will. Looking for that self-confidence and self-love in other places can be dangerous and is something I feel like our community struggles with quite a bit. Having that right from the start can make the process of easing into your new life much less shocking.
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?
Niya: I don't think I'd fully agree with that. I feel like our dreams should start the minute we decide to transition in the first place. That's really the base of where we begin to see the rest of our lives. What kind of family do you want to start, what kind of job will you pursue, and how do you want to be seen? These are all big questions we ask ourselves when first starting. Just like anything else they change over time, but I don't think they should be limited to whether or not we receive certain surgeries.
I think our main focus should always be on our dreams and the surgeries we receive should complement our lives along the way. While I do understand for some their lives don't start until they have fully transitioned, I don't think putting our lives on pause like that is healthy in this day and age where everything is go go go. As someone who did just that, I feel like I missed out on a lot that I could've been doing trying to make my transition perfect before going back out into the world full-time as a woman.
Monika: Niya, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!

All the photos: courtesy of Niya.
© 2023 - Monika Kowalska

No comments:

Post a Comment