Tuesday 30 May 2023

Interview with Dana Paige

Monika: Today I have invited Dana Paige, an American lady that documents her transition on social media. Hello Dana! Thank you for accepting my invitation. 
Dana: Thank you for asking!
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Dana: Sure. I'm a 63 yrs old Trans Woman. I started my transition during the middle of the Covid shutdown in 2020. In some ways, that seclusion was helpful to me in my transition. I moved rather quickly, because within my first year of transition and starting HRT, I had multiple gender confirming surgeries. Yep, it was fast. For me it was like, the minute I knew my truth I thought to myself “I’m 60 years old and not getting any younger”, so I just took that leap of faith. That first year was very difficult as I think it is for most of us.
For me, my specific results and renewed sense of myself were totally worth the time, pain, and money… but going through that “eye of the needle” is humbling, to say the least.
Anyway, since then I have been posting about myself and my journey on Social Media sites like Reddit etc. and developed a following of people who are inspired to take the leap and/or to keep going at a later age as I did… and they give me a sense of purpose in return.
Monika: What inspired you to share your intimate life moments on social media?
Dana: I don’t know… maybe I am looking for community or connection to others who share my experience. However, in many ways, it feels completely natural and has given me a greater sense of purpose in life to “play my experience forward” and try to make that same difference that so many amazing Trans women, like the women you interview, have made on me. That part of it feels completely natural…almost like a calling.
You know the truth of it is that I’m very proud of my transition. I know so many who feel this exact same way. So sharing on Socials is my pride and gratitude being outwardly expressed and I’m passionate about helping others navigate themselves and I know that the message and my journey is clearly heard and felt when it comes from someone who has traveled down the same road.
Monika: Do you get many questions from your social media followers? What do they ask for?
Dana: I get questions daily and I’m happy to answer as many as I can get to. It just becomes harder when you're trying to juggle family, work, and social media.
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?
Dana: I was/am super lucky in that regard, being that I’ve always been my own boss, and my work is largely conducted online and over Zoom, etc. So, work wasn’t really affected at all. Luckily I was and still am married to my soulmate, best friend, business partner, and now bestie GF. However, when I first met my wife, she met this entrepreneur-type business guy, and we had a lot of success in various businesses, traveled the world, and were kinda that perfect couple for nearly 20 years when I first came out to her.

"It’s like a fish living in water trying to walk on
land. It’s possible, but not without a ton of
effort, both emotionally, financially and physically."

Anyway, being responsible for causing her the very real grief, pain and emotional upheaval of losing her husband and a life as she knew is the greatest price I pay. However, I also believe that we all have to choose ourselves in order to survive once we discover our truth. And in my case, my being the reason and the cause of hurting the one person in the world I love the most, that was unbearably painful. I told her that I was committed to the vision of us collectively looking back after 5 years and knowing that my transition was the most important decision I ever took.
I’d say that the biggest vacuum in the entire transition process is how our transition can affect the ones we love the most. These people are our spouses, parents, siblings, cousins, friends, etc… the exact people whom you need the love and support of the most during transition. Many people transitioning become so inwards focused (because it requires that) that we have no idea how to navigate our loved ones.
It takes a lot of time, resources, and perseverance to transition, and it’s very hard to focus on the mountain you climb and also be cognizant on how to bring our families along emotionally. Because this journey is so incredibly difficult, it’s like a fish learning to walk on land. It’s possible, but not without a ton of effort emotionally, financially, and physically. 
Monika: Why did you choose Dana for your name?
Dana: So few people I know really ever consider changing or totally replacing their given name. Because I was transitioning, keeping my given name was NOT an option! Haha. I also never really liked my last name either, so given that my journey was this wholesale change to my real self, I changed everything. The process is a bit strange because when I made this decision, I was still firmly presenting as male. So… the exercise of trying on female names felt odd. Looking into the mirror and calling myself “Sally” for example was an awkward process. So my approach was to simply pick names I always liked and make a master list. I mixed and matched names I loved and finally landed on a name I love. Best news was that I liked them all equally so I can have this kind of fluidity with my name. So, Dana kinda won the day. It’s not all that common, yet simple and easy and I like that. 
Monika: Was your family surprised by your transition?
Dana: Absolutely everyone. Mic drop. Including myself really. However, my family for the most part has been super supportive and that support is critical for anyone transitioning. Without acceptance and love, transitioning is nearly impossible from an emotional perspective. All of my parents had passed when I came out, so I never had to confront that discussion with them. I’m not so sure that they would have understood, especially my father.
"My family for the most part has been
super supportive and that support
is critical for anyone transitioning."
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Dana: The thing about hormones is that the psychical effects take a very LONG time to really work their magic. And, from my experience, the older you are when you start HRT (hormones), the harder it is to see the physical effects, because you’ve had testosterone pushing hard and make their mark on your body for years and the body's ability to counterbalance that effect can sometimes seem almost non-existent. Over time, like years and years, you can see the effects of hormones, but for me, it’s been like watching grass grow. That is why older trans women opt for surgeries. The surgeries get you passing and living life normally much more quickly.
I’ll say this, however, hormones on an emotional level were a game-changer for me almost immediately. Within weeks of starting HRT I felt internally balanced, calm, happy, and at peace. I knew then I was on the right track for me. So, all in all… transitioning with HRT was critical for me, and overall hormones are the fundamental foundation of my transition. Super satisfied! Yes.
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?
Dana: I think it’s tough for everyone. I’m very lucky because I always had very feminine features, so passing seemed to be easier for me in the beginning. After surgeries I now pass as a cis female, however, I realize this isn’t possible for so many trans women. Here's why I think this is so difficult for us. Because we are trying to align our physical selves with our mental and emotional selves within cultures that don’t support it. A huge part of transitioning is being able to engage and plug into your culture and society as your true gender. The rub is that if everyone is engaging you as your past identity because we physically are for some reason being perceived that way, it feels confusing to others. So, what they inherently see as us, and what we inherently feel we are, are two identities skew opposite from each other. You can’t really blame a society for doing and thinking what they always have done and thought anymore then society can’t put any blame or energy on the trans community for showing up in a way that is different from what they expect. So it is a paradox.
Passing is showing up to one's society or culture in a way that is easily identifiable. When we don’t pass it creates this deep conflict or emotional wound within ourselves because we only want to be seen and treated as our real Selves that is clear to us, but sometimes not to others. I think a critical piece of transitioning is for us to realize that if we desire to pass, we have to embrace our gender and ourselves by ultimately being happy with the journey and realize that one's own happiness is a choice. When you understand that, you always have the power within to choose happiness, fear, sadness, or joy, then regardless of your circumstances you can and will prevail and pass to the person that matters the most. you.
Monika: For me, FFS was a life-changing operation that allowed me to tackle my gender dysphoria. I am just curious about your own experiences. When we contemplate facial feminization surgery we always face two options: to undergo extremely deep changes to be feminine and beautiful or light changes to be feminine but preserve something from our character. Is there any third option?
Dana: FFS was life-changing for me. I was in the camp of “just do whatever you need to do” regarding my FFS procedures. My directive to my surgeon was that I just didn’t want to be just feminine but beautiful (or as much was possible). It’s why I chose the surgeon I did. I’m super happy with my results. I’m not sure where that third option would be?
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?
Dana: Not really. I really never had any role models. I do remember Lilly Wachowski and of course, Catlin transitioning but they never impacted my understanding of myself.
"Hormones emotionally are a game
changer for all of us almost immediately."
Monika: Did you have any transgender sisters around you that supported you during the transition?
Dana: Yes. I became very friendly with several trans women whom I am still very close to this day. They truly are my sisters and family.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Dana: Yes, everyday now. It’s bad. The conservative political party is using trans kids as a way into legislating all trans people out of our right to live and exist. You can see it so clearly in Florida where identifying oneself as trans is now as a rallying point for their hatred. It’s bigotry, hatred, and fear, personified. This is exactly the same energetics as racism or Natziism (that if left unchecked) can lead to systematic genocide.
Trans people in the US now live in fear of their government, of rouge actors of sanctioned racism, of healthcare being withheld and being marginalized out of society. That obviously has been a part of our culture, for example, the KKK, etc. However, I believe that our past leaders, especially Trump's legacy will be the normalization and sanctioning of hate and fear for his own enrichment. It’s allowed bullies and genuinely bad people to become heroes and role models. For some weird reason, trans women have suddenly found themselves with targets painted on their backs.? It's all powered by the US election cycle. Once the 2024 presidential election is resolved, things will probably cool off, however the damage will have been done.
Monika: Do you often experiment with your makeup?
Dana: Sometimes, but I just don’t have the time. I figured out basically one or two all-around looks and run with them. I’m sure I’ll continue to change it up, however for now (at 63) I’m sticking with what seems to be working for me.
Monika: I remember copying my sister and mother first, and later other women, trying to look 100% feminine, and my cis female friends used to joke that I try to be a woman that does not exist in reality. Did you experience the same?
Dana: Not really. I do however take a lot… almost an obsessive amount of pictures of myself. Finally, after 60 years, I love looking in the mirror. So, I’m making up for lost time I guess! I also post a bit on social media, so I actually have a destination for these photos to live outside of my phone….. So it doesn’t feel too crazy ladylike!
Monika: By the way, do you like being complimented on your looks?
Dana: Sure. Doesn’t everyone? It’s emotionally very affirming for me to receive that type of attention. I get a lot of affirmation on social media sites, however, it’s always the in-person stuff that means the most to me, even if it’s only looks and glances.
Monika: When I came out at work, my male co-workers treated me in a way as if the transition lowered my IQ. Did you experience the same? Do you think it happens because we are women or because we are transgender? Or both? 
Dana: Love this question. Definitely, I totally get this experience, and yes… guys don’t have a clue that this happens because it is so “baked” into the culture. It’s like the water to the fish that they swim in… so, for me it’s 99% presenting as a woman. I say presenting specifically because it’s the “womanness” that men see that sets up this experience. It also plays into many of the nicer aspects of being a woman, like having doors opened for you or that protective instinct that treats you with care and concern.
The biggest abusers for me have been some doctors and their staff. I think with them, it was about 75% womanness and 25% my transness. However, nowadays, it’s definitely that old school thinking that women are more vulnerable and less threatening and it’s a macho kind of attitude.

"I love looking in the mirror after 59 years
of not liking my reflection too much."

There is also an element now of being hunted or being prey. It happens to me whenever sexuality is being triggered in men. It’s the conquest and caveman thinking. In my experience, Men NEVER feel that type of vulnerability, of being sized up and evaluated. As a man, I never experienced being sized up by women or men. Men live in a way that is in many ways, invisible in comparison to how women experience everyday life.


All photos: courtesy of Dana Paige.
© 2023 - Monika Kowalska

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