Thursday 25 May 2023

Interview with Barbara Marie Minney

Monika: I am very excited by the fact that Barbara Marie Minney has accepted my invitation and she is my guest today. Barbara is a transgender woman, award-winning poet, writer, speaker, and quiet activist. She is a retired attorney and a seventh-generation Appalachian. Now based in Tallmadge, Ohio, her first collection of poetry entitled “If There’s No Heaven” was the winner of the 2020 Poetry Is Life Book Award and the Akron Beacon Journal Best Northeast Ohio Books 2020. She is also the author of the "Poetic Memoir Chapbook Challenge" (2021). Hello Barbara!
Barbara: Hello, Monika! Thank you so very much for this opportunity to be interviewed by you. I have been looking forward to it since you first contacted me.
Monika: Is it difficult to be a poet in the 21st century?
Barbara: Being a poet in today’s world can be very difficult and frustrating, but it can also be very rewarding. Unless you are one of the top echelon poets like Rita Dove or Joy Harjo, you are pretty much on your own insofar as publication, promotion, and obtaining recognition is concerned. This time last year, I felt that maybe I was on the verge of a major breakthrough when I signed a publishing contract with a company located in Chicago. However, those hopes were dashed when the contract was canceled about a month and a half before the manuscript was due to be delivered. That was devastating. I was left with a manuscript but no publisher.
Only small publishers are interested in your work if you are not a well-known poet, but I have been very lucky to have made some contacts in the publishing world. My poems have been published frequently in anthologies, and recently some of my poems were translated into Spanish. I have had two publishers express an interest in publishing separate chapbooks this year, so in the end, the cancellation of my publishing contract probably will turn out for the best. However, I am always looking for ways to take my poetry to the next level. I consider it a kind of ministry.
Monika: Well said!
Barbara: Also, when you suffer from depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem like I have most of my life, you do not always recognize your own self-worth and the effect and impact that your work has on others. Early on, my work seemed to be more popular with the cisgender community than the LGBTQ+ community, and to a large extent, that is still the case. The audience at my readings is almost entirely made up of cisgender people. I think that speaks to the universal themes that permeate my work, even though I am writing from the viewpoint of a transgender woman.
I have always identified myself as a transgender woman even at my very first readings. However, I frequently struggled with the question of whether I should run away from, or embrace being identified as a queer poet and writer. I wondered if the success that I have had as a writer and poet is because I am somewhat of a novelty as a transgender woman who happens to write poetry and essays, or because I am a truly talented writer. I answered this question for myself in an essay entitled “I am a transgender poet. Not just a poet. And that label is important” that was published in The Buckeye Flame, which is Ohio’s weekly LGBTQ+ publication. I conclude the essay by saying, “If the label transgender or queer writer or poet limits me, then so be it. That is who I am.”

"If There's No Heaven" was the winner of the 2020 Poetry Is
Life Book Award. Available via barbaramarieminney.

Monika: You started writing poems almost 40 years ago and you stopped doing them.
Barbara: That is correct. I wrote poetry and short stories in the 1970s for my college literary magazine, and I did win some awards. I even had a poetry reading. For a brief time, I considered pursuing a career as a writer. However, after college, I stuck with the plan that I had formulated in third grade when I read a book about Abraham Lincoln. I attended law school and embarked on a thirty-six-year career as a high-profile attorney in my area of practice. During that time, I did not write another word, except for three legal books that I co-authored. The work was stressful and all-consuming, and I was able to walk away at the age of sixty.
When I retired in 2014, it took me a very long time to adjust. I was dealing with the illness and eventual death of my father, and I turned back to writing as an outlet. I first wrote an erotic novel, which the publisher liked, but wanted me to add another six thousand words. That is when I realized that my genre is poetry, and I began writing my first book, which was autobiographical in nature. It chronicled my first two years living as a woman after transitioning at the age of sixty-three. Writing helped me process the changes that I was going through both physically and mentally.
Monika: I interviewed many ladies from our trans community and if they decided to publish their memoirs, most of them did not choose poetry to share their transition stories.
Barbara: As I said, poetry has always been my genre going back to when I was a freshman in college. I did not think of my book as a memoir until very recently, but that is exactly what it is. My second book is actually called the “Poetic Memoir Chapbook Challenge.” As Hemingway suggested, I write about what I know. I may be naive, but I rarely hold anything back in my writing. My main themes are being a transgender woman and being a seventh-generation Appalachian. I try to make my poetry accessible, and it has been described as personal, raw, emotional, and authentic. I share my story through my poetry and try to portray a positive image as a transgender woman, but at the same time, I do not hesitate to share my struggles as well as my triumphs.
Monika: Did you have a happy childhood?
Barbara: This is a very hard question for me to answer. I will just say that I did not have an unhappy childhood. Unlike a lot of transgender individuals, I do not remember feeling at a young age like I was in the wrong body or the wrong gender. I did typical boy things like play sports and go fishing, and I was very interested in music. I played in school bands through my sophomore year in college and had a little group in high school modeled after Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.
I did spend a lot of time alone either reading or making up games with my baseball cards, and I enjoyed interacting with the neighborhood girls. I was groomed to be successful in academics and a career. I learned to be very goal oriented and a perfectionist, and that probably led to a lot of unhappiness throughout my life.
"I have always identified myself as a
transgender woman even at my very
first readings."
Monika: You can boast a successful attorney career.
Barbara: Yes, I was very lucky in my career. I started as an assistant prosecuting attorney and became a partner in two different law firms. However, my work was very challenging and demanding. I represented public school district boards of education, which was often very high profile, and the clients were very challenging.
I remember very little about the thirty-six years that I practiced law, except for the work itself. It was pretty much all that I thought about. I still have dreams about various phases of my career. I did indeed rise to the very top of my chosen specialty and often spoke on a state-wide and national level, but it also took a toll on my mental and physical health. 
Monika: Given my own experience as well as that of many girls and women that I interviewed, I wonder whether we should be called ‘runners’ instead of transwomen. We run, run, and run away from our feminine self until it catches up with us. The only difference is how long we can run away. Was it the same in your case?
Barbara: This is a very perceptive and important question, and the answer is yes. I repressed my true gender identity for over sixty years. I had no idea who I really was until I found a counselor who literally saved my life, or at least, helped me find it.
I experimented with crossdressing in my teens and went through many periods of obtaining clothes and magazines about gender issues. Then I would purge and eventually start over again. Eventually, when my wife was out of town, I went on a personal odyssey. I “met” another crossdresser online who lived near us, and we had a lengthy conversation. When I returned home, I had a conversation with my wife and told her that I could no longer suppress my feminine side.
That same week, my wife and I happened to meet my new crossdresser friend and her wife at an event, and they invited us to a monthly girls' night out that was held in a gay bar nearby. The first time I attended, I looked hideous by the way. That was our first real exposure, and I think that my wife was comforted by the fact that there were other spouses and significant others that she could talk and relate to. We began doing research and reading books and other materials and attending support groups. That was really the beginning of my journey to living as the woman that I now know I was always meant to be.
Monika: You describe yourself as a Christian of conservative leaning, which “has caused you to be shunned by the trans community”.
Barbara: I try very hard to avoid talking about politics. I have always been right of center politically, but my beliefs are evolving. I am more of a libertarian. I transitioned late in life when most of my core values had become ingrained. It is not so easy to trade in a viewpoint accumulated over a lifetime for a way of thinking that you are told you should have by the more vocal and activist members of the new community that you have suddenly become a part of. I think that the fact that there are indeed many more conservative leaning members of the LGBTQ+ community is an indication that trans people aren’t just an interest group. We’re complicated, multi-faceted people.
Monika: Did religion help you to tackle dysphoria?
Barbara: I do not necessarily like the word “religion.” I much prefer the word “community.” I would not say that finding a spiritual community helped me tackle dysphoria, but it certainly helped. However, I would most definitely say that the community that we ultimately found did help me accept myself and recognize my self-worth.
I have always been a spiritual person and did a lot of exploring of alternative spiritual practices and beliefs. However, I rejected organized religion for almost thirty years. It was about three years ago that my wife and I started to explore the possibility of once again becoming a part of a church community, but it took us some time to find the right fit. I have always considered myself to be a Christian, and I am an administrator of the Transgender Christian Facebook Group.
"I definitely lost friends,
acquaintances, and social
standing when I transitioned."
Our first attempt at finding a spiritual community was a failure, so we started another search. That led us to the Harmony Springs Christian Church, which is affiliated with the Disciples of Christ. We became members after attending for a year online during the pandemic. Our church is for spiritual refugees, who have given up on church. It is radically inclusive. My wife and I both have leadership positions in the church, and I have spoken and read my poetry during several church services. I was even re-baptized as Barbara in a service that was totally structured around celebrating me. The pastors and members of the congregation have been extremely welcoming, supportive, and encouraging, and it is something that we really need in our lives right 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?
Barbara: My transition was very public. I agreed to be interviewed in the local newspaper about my experiences with gender counseling. It was a big multi-page article that included two pictures of me. I received two kinds of comments about the article – how brave I was and how much leg I was showing in the pictures.
I definitely lost friends, acquaintances, and social standing when I transitioned. We were no longer able to participate in some of the groups to which we had belonged. I had already retired from my position as an attorney when I transitioned. However, I was still doing some consulting work, and I was removed from the firm’s website. Both of my parents were already deceased. I have one brother who I have not seen for almost five years.
Monika: Why did you choose Barbara and Marie for your names?
Barbara: The name Barbara was chosen for me. During my crossdressing period, we occasionally got together with another crossdresser and her wife. It was the wife that dressed me up one evening and said that I looked like a Barbara. I really liked the name and stuck with it when I transitioned. I think that it is elegant, classy and age appropriate. And, it has to be “Barbara” not “Barb.” I have always liked the name “Marie,” because it sounds French. I am somewhat of a Francophile, so I used that as my middle name.
Monika: Was your family surprised by your transition?
Barbara: I waited until my parents were both deceased before I transitioned, so they never knew Barbara. I really have no idea how they would have reacted, but I don’t think my father especially would have been too accepting. I really have no other family, except one brother and some cousins that I have not seen for years. My brother saw Barbara one time when my wife and I renewed our vows and remarried as two women. That was almost five years ago.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Barbara: I am not sure that I will ever be totally satisfied with the way that I look. I am my own worst critic and can always find some fault when I look at myself in the mirror. I want to look as feminine as I possibly can, and I will always have some dysphoria related to certain parts of my body. Having said that, I would say that I am mostly satisfied with the effects of the hormones.
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?
Barbara: This is a very hard question to answer, because to my knowledge, I have never had any trouble passing in public. In my opinion, there are two facets to this question. The first is how we perceive ourselves. Do we perceive ourselves as feminine enough to blend in, and do we exude poise and confidence when we are out in public? In my case, this most certainly took some time to develop. Also, have we taken steps to diminish anything that may give us away? The second facet is, of course, how others perceive us. Common gender cues that are used when first meeting someone include hair length, clothing, makeup, speech patterns and voice, pronouns, names, jewelry, and accessories. These are the things that I believe that we need to concentrate on in order to make ourselves as passable as possible, if that is indeed the goal.
"I waited until my parents were both
deceased before I transitioned,
so they never knew Barbara."
Monika: 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?
Barbara: I am probably going to give away my age, but I am old enough to remember Christine Jorgensen and the publicity surrounding her. I also remember watching transgender women on the Phil Donahue Show, which was quite popular when I was growing up, since it originated in Dayton, Ohio, where I attended law school. I was drawn to any talk or other show that was going to feature transgender women; although I did not understand what it meant at the time.
Monika: Did you have any transgender sisters around you that supported you during the transition?
Barbara: Yes, I did. Even before I fully transitioned, I began attending a weekly Friday night dinner with other transgender women. For a time, I received a lot of support and encouragement from these transgender women, and they became very close friends. However, eventually, it all blew up, and I was no longer invited. I also received support from my crossdresser friend and her wife, who I still stay in touch with.
After I transitioned, the support just drifted away, and I no longer have any really close transgender friends. However, most of the time, I am readily accepted by cisgender women and others, so now support from trans friends is not really needed. I have found that society has required me to make a choice to socialize in the transgender world or primarily in the cisgender world, but not both. Because I have a wife who supports me and the tools to be a very attractive and interesting woman, people are often drawn to me. I have had to leave some old relationships behind, but I have found many times that new people that I meet are very accepting.


All photos: courtesy of Barbara Marie Minney.
© 2023 - Monika Kowalska

1 comment:

  1. This is deeply sad. Ms. Minney had to wait until members of her family died or cut off contact to transition. The people who respected her when she presented male no longer do… and yet she believes that trans “activists” take things too far. As a libertarian, doesn’t she believe that people should allowed the freedom to express themselves however they wish? As an attorney, doesn’t she know that the law is performative, that you can become a woman in the eyes of the law by the Court saying it is so? As a Christian, why doesn’t she has sympathy for the plight of her trans brothers and sisters, those who are poor, who can’t afford expensive medical treatment out of pocket, who live in places where rhetoric about “trans activists” stirs up hate and results in violence against them? Ms. Minney has lived a deeply privileged life; it is through the work of people who have given up everything, fought on the front lines, talked to our parents and friends, lived in dangerous neighborhoods, protested in the streets, and pushed the policies that allow us to exist as ourselves in court and in the street that Ms. Minney has had the extraordinary privilege to transition at all. In these extraordinary times, the mindset of people like Ms. Minney must change. What can we do to ensure that no one else has to go through the pain of living life as someone else? What can we do to ensure that every trans person has the absolute right to be accepted, to live their lives in peace, so that they can be as privileged as she is, and live their lives holding on to political beliefs that directly endanger our community’s right to exist while being rich enough to not be impacted by them. Like Ms. Jenner, Ms. Minney climbs on the backs of our community’s elders and stomps on the rest of us from her dais of privilege.


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