Thursday 30 March 2023

Interview with Shauna Wilson

Monika: Australia is the home country of my guest today. Her name is Shauna Wilson, and she is an Australian nurse, transgender activist, and the author of “You Say Different; I Say Individual: My Journey In Finding The Woman Within” (2021). Hello Shauna!
Shauna: Hi Monika, thank you for the invitation to be a part of your blog.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Shauna: I am a 58-year-old trans woman who has been married to the love of my life for the last 7 years. I am a civilian practicing nurse in the military environment and very much looking forward to retirement at the end of next year.
Monika: What inspired you to write your biography?
Shauna: I had been told many times that I had a story to tell. The more I revealed to friends and colleagues the more I was encouraged. Unfortunately, I was my biggest doubter. Firstly I thought who would be interested in reading about me. Secondly, how much was I willing to share, and lastly could I go back and relive the trauma that had shaped me into the woman I am today?
After being invited to be a keynote speaker at the Australian College of Nursing 2018 National Nursing Forum I decided I was comfortable with the idea of putting my life on paper. It took a further two and a half years before I would commence my research. Thanks to being locked down due to COVID in Melbourne, when I was not at work I spent my time at home putting my book chapters and text together.
Monika: Did you keep a diary before? Was it difficult to compile all your recollections and emotions?
Shauna: No, there was no writing anything down prior to commencing my book. It was very difficult to recant my memories onto paper. I had spent so many years attempting to block all the bad memories. I had intentionally locked out the whole of my year 5 schooling. My two years of high school. Anything that held traumatic memories for me.
As I grew up with literally no friends I had to rely on my family to jog my memory of events and occasions that involved our family and then was able to piece together a timeline. The downside of reliving my past has opened some cracks that I am finding difficult to close but these are being addressed with my psychiatrist and psychologist. I think being more in tune with my emotions is allowing me to deal with them now.

"Be happy to slow the journey down,
to soak in those special moments."

Monika: Which aspects of your transition story could be useful for other transgender women?
Shauna: As I did not look at someone else’s journey when I transitioned, it is difficult for me to answer this question. It is such an individual path to be on. If they looked at how I prioritised things that were in my control as to out of it. It has taken you so long to get to where you know who you are that it can take time to get through each stage.
Be happy to slow the journey down, to soak in those special moments. I was never in a rush. I stayed connected with my allies with all the good times and the bad. They don’t want to hear you whining how bad things are all the time. I didn’t keep all the bad moments to myself but I didn’t overload others. They need to see how happy you are becoming. That gives them validation for supporting you.
Monika: By the way, why did you choose Shauna for your name?
Shauna: I knew the whole transition was hard enough for my family and friends to comprehend so I thought by changing the spelling of my dead name and adding the letter ‘a’ on the end would be easier to remember. This eventually worked but I had to put up with Shaun……….a, for some time. Because there is that similarity over the phone I regularly get called Sir. Sometimes I feel I should have chosen a more unmistakable feminine name.
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 coming out?
Shauna: At the end of 2004 I was in the military and was having a very hard time tackling my mental health both personally in my marriage and professionally as a military police officer. I was having some serious suicidal ideation and was not in a good place at all. My wife and I were struggling with my gender confusion and that emotional conflict was getting carried over to my work life. As soon as my discharge came through, my wife told me to leave the family home.
I started my new job the very next day so had not anticipated being thrown out of the house. I spent the next couple of months living in my car whilst trying to present as stable as possible in my new corporate role.
The hardest repercussion of affirming my real gender is that I have lost all contact with my now 20-year-old son. I have not seen him or spoken to him since 2009. My ex totally brainwashed him over the years that I was a monster that if I could track them down, break into the house and kill her and kidnap him.
At the beginning of our separation, my ex had the police serve me with an apprehended violence order accused of threatening to kill and alleged abuse of our young 3-year-old son. Fortunately for me, the magistrate saw through the anger of these allegations and threw them out of court. That single moment nearly pushed me over the edge. How could she make those accusations? How could she hate me that much?
Monika: Was your family surprised by your transition?
Shauna: Most definitely they were surprised. Over the years I had several relationships with women. Sure, they had not worked out but they just put that down to my not having a welcoming personality. In fact, a family friend who I had not seen for over twenty years noticed a remarkable sense of happiness in me when we finally caught up. He said I was never a happy person to be around previously and now it was such a pleasure to associate with.

"Learn to accept and love yourself for
who you are."

Monika: Was there any turning point that was decisive for your transition? A moment when you said “no way”, you cannot continue to live as a man?
Shauna: I would say it would have been the 14th of August 2004. This was the day during a psychiatrist session with Bill when I fully accepted I was female. Due to the suicidal ideation I was having at work and at home, the military sent me to see Bill every week for what turned out to be 27 weekly sessions. Through those sessions I learnt who I was. I learnt why I was having the feelings of Gender Dysphoria and the repercussions of those thoughts.
Even though the acceptance of this realisation would take me further down a dark road, I knew this was the route I had to take. I could no longer live a false life no matter who others saw me as. This was who I was and I had to take this path to find true happiness.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Shauna: It took a while for my brain to finally settle down with the introduction of HRT. My brain became very confused. Overall though I have been very pleased with the effect on my skin and surprisingly my emotions. I was never in touch with my emotions as I was a very cold-hearted individual that refused to show them in case a crack opened up and people found out things I wasn't ready to share. Now I can not sit down to a romantic or sad movie without the waterworks starting.
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?
Shauna: Learn to accept and love yourself for who you are. Be comfortable in your own skin. At the beginning of my transition, I would spend so much time looking in shop windows paranoid that everyone was staring and judging me. In reality, no one gave a hoot about me. They were just getting on with their lives. It was just my paranoia. We become our worst critics.
It is also best to present for someone of your age group. Do not look at younger people and attempt to base your style on them. Whilst at my fittest I could look pretty good as a younger me however, it is not appropriate to present as an early 30s woman when I am 2 years away from 60. The old saying of being mutton dressed up as lamb is so true. You will blend in better with a little thought in your presentation. Remember, less is more.
Monika: I could not say it better! Do you remember the first time you saw a transgender woman on TV or met anyone transgender in person that opened your eyes and allowed you to realize who you are?
Shauna: The first time I saw a transgender woman on television was a black-and-white show about Christine Jorgensen when I was about 15. It was at a time when I was going through puberty and even then was questioning why I enjoyed crossdressing. Hers is a name I have never forgotten.
In reality, I met my first trans woman after I had accepted my gender incongruence. I was searching for a local support network. One of the moderators whose name was Rebecca was a large set pre-op woman with quite feminine features. Her voice was very remarkably feminine. She was never allowed to come up in conversation around my ex as her name was also Rebecca… Awkward. It was through that interaction I realised that I was most definitely making the right choices. Although my psychiatrist helped me accept who I was, it was through Rebecca’s support that I was able to process the changes I was going through.
Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow or followed?
Shauna: That is a good question. I consciously chose not to follow anyone else’s path. I knew this was my journey and the path along it had to be mine. I did not read anyone’s autobiography. I did read a book called ‘True Selves’ which I found extremely helpful. I bought copies for all my family and close friends to read.

"I love how I have styled myself."

Whilst I admired those that traveled before me, 17 years ago there was very little coverage of them in the media. Fast forward to now and they are on television, in movies, and in politics. There is not a week that goes by that I am not reading or seeing articles on transwomen and transmen.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Shauna: I believe Australia is one of the most inclusive countries relating to trans issues. We have been able to change our gender on our birth certificates, passports, and other gender-affirming documentation since at least 2007. Discrimination legislation both Federal and State have been in place to protect trans members of society again for at least two decades. Whilst there have been several members of the LGBTQI+ community holding public offices both federally and state and territorial we are yet to see anyone that identifies as transgender. I am confident that the day will come soon.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Shauna: I love how I have styled myself. Post-transition I really used my height to my advantage. I am 5’11” (173cm) and was working in a corporate environment. I had killer calves and a taught booty so I really loved how I could accentuate both in heels and above-knee skirts. It did not hurt that I was very athletic.
Now that I am living in a warmer climate I am leaning more towards flowing short to mid-length cool dresses. Now that I am older and no longer have those killer curves and calves, the dresses allow me to still feel pretty without being self-conscious of my larger waistline. I love pinks, purples, or reds.


All photos: courtesy of Shauna Wilson and by The Melbourne Portrait Studio.
© 2023 - Monika Kowalska

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