Sunday 21 January 2024

Interview with Teegan Toftely

Monika: Today I am chatting with Teegan Toftely, an American woman who chronicles her transition on social media. Hello Teegan! Thank you for accepting my invitation.
Teegan: It’s my pleasure!
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Teegan: Of course, Monika! My name is Teegan Toftely. I’m a 54-year-old trans woman living in the United States in the Midwest State of Minnesota. I live in the Twin Cities area. It's been my home for a very long time.
I work in the tech industry and have done so for over 20 years. Before that, I was an attorney. After working in a law firm for a few years, I came to find that I just didn't have the passion or the temperament for the work. After quitting the firm, I sent myself adrift for a while. During that time, I discovered that I had a knack for tech, so I took it upon myself to get the skills I needed. In a fairly short amount of time, I was able to earn about the same amount as I was in the law, but I was no longer conflicted.
I think it was at that time when I discovered the value of flexibility and the need to be humble --sometimes life doesn't give you exactly what you were expecting, but with some humility and flexibility, you can often find success where you least expect it.
Monika: What inspired you to share your intimate life moments on social media?
Teegan: I felt that my voice and my experience as a trans woman were not being represented in the media. I felt the mainstream media, and to a lesser extent, social media, were creating a distorted view that colored everyone’s opinion about what it meant to be transgender.
I started out with the idea that if I reached out on social media, I could become a distinct voice in the discussion about transgenderism and the implications of it as it impacts the individual, the people around the individual, and society at large.
I was thinking that maybe there were more people like me out there. I thought it would be great to find more people who felt the same way I did and wanted to create an expanded discussion on transgenderism.
"I felt that my voice and my experience
as a trans woman were not being
represented in the mainstream media."
Monika: Do you get many questions from your social media followers? What do they ask for?
Teegan: I do get questions: I get asked about my history and the procedures I’ve had. I’m often asked about the surgeons I worked with during my transition. Sometimes followers ask about makeup or clothes. I get questions about voice as well.
I always answer questions like these in an earnest and detailed way so that anyone going through transition can see what the process looks like. Likewise, I always try to help if someone needs it. We need to help each other whenever we can!
Monika: We all pay the highest price for fulfilling 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?
Teegan: I think I’m actually quite different in this regard. I recognize that oftentimes, coming out as trans can destroy relationships, but in my case, my family has been mostly supportive. Even those people in my family that don’t really support me, at least tolerate me to the extent that they aren’t hateful or mean, and they do still interact with me.
My immediate family however is very supportive. My work environment has been equally supportive. When I came out to my manager, HR, and my immediate team, they have all been very supportive of me throughout my transition. I'm very grateful for it all.
The most difficult part of coming-out was the thought in my mind that the path I was taking was one direction. You can't go back. I took the process very seriously and I was frankly a bit terrified about going through with it. In the end however, none of the things I was worried about happened.
Monika: Was your family surprised by your transition?
Teegan: Oh yes! I kept that part of me very close to my heart. I grew up in a time and place where the idea of ‘transgender’ was completely alien. My childhood was immersed in an extremely hostile anti-gay and anti-trans environment. I didn’t come out because I knew what the consequences would be if I did.
Even later, it was clear that anyone seeking to transition would only be able to do so successfully if they had an enormous bankroll or a sponsor. I had neither of those things, so I tucked away any notion of transition and tried to live my life without it.
Finally, in my late 40s, there was a sea change in my world that made it ok to seek transition. I did so however with quite a bit of trepidation. I still wasn’t sure what would happen of course, but I could no longer manage hiding. The stress and anxiety of hiding for so long were affecting my health in a serious way by this point. I really needed to start living and start my transition.
At 48 I started HRT.
I came out to my wife and then my children. Everyone was initially blindsided by the announcement. It was not fun, but my family has always been very communicative. We discuss and talk about everything. I think it was the close familial communication that helped the most with holding the family together while I transitioned.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Teegan: It created a much greater effect than I was expecting! Given my age, I figured HRT would be a meaningless gesture. As it turns out, it actually created quite a significant amount of change in my body.
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?
Teegan: That is an interesting question – I don’t think about passing anymore . . . That is, until I do.
Dysphoria drives the need for passing. Dysphoria is something that if you've experienced it, you will try almost anything to rid yourself of it. It creeps into your psyche and thoughts and consumes you. When you transition, you are trying to alleviate the pain, anxiety and discomfort from dysphoria. The surgeries help with it. I know it sounds crazy, but it does work. The surgeries helped tremendously with the self-perception issues I suffered from and I don't regret any of them.

"I came out to my wife and then my children. Everyone
was initially blindsided by the announcement."

Society needs to know that the surgeries trans women undergo are not cosmetic; they are lifesaving and life-changing. I think there is growing awareness of this point, but we're not completely there yet.
With regard to other people judging you: don't worry about them. I don't worry about what other people think of me anymore and you shouldn't either. Worrying about what other people think of you is the sort of sentiment that delayed my transition. Please don't be a prisoner to what you think other people are thinking of you. For the most part, no one cares. For the others that do; mostly they tend to be supportive, so don't worry about it.
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?
Teegan: Yes. The first time I saw a transgender woman was in a magazine article. I read the article; and then read it again, and again, and again. I realized what this person was going through was exactly what was happening to me. I was 11 at the time and it absolutely terrified me. The story was not a happy one and it scared me so much.
Monika: Did you have any transgender sisters around you that supported you during the transition?
Teegan: No. I was alone.
I work at home and I live outside of the city, so in-person interactions are rare for me.
It’s a double-edged sword of sorts –it made my transition easier in that I really didn’t need to come out to anyone until I was ready. The flip-side was that I was all by myself for pretty much all of my transition. Covid deepened that isolation. This isolation created a loneliness that I still feel today.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Teegan: Despite what many would have you believe; it is getting better every day.
Tolerance is growing because people are realizing that trans people are just like everyone else. We have families, we have jobs, we pay our bills and taxes --just like everyone else. People are starting to see that the transgender caricature we’ve been presented by the media is inaccurate and we’re all better for knowing that 'trans' is not what the media portrays. 
 There are issues however. I recognize there is a drive for banning medical treatment for transgender minors in some states. Some of these bans have been successful. I think these reactionary gestures are tremendously destructive and unhelpful. I believe that transgenderism is actually quite rare, but the media is creating an out-sized perception of it, which is driving the hysteria. There are problems in the medical and mental health fields with regard to how transgenderism is handled, but I think outright bans on medical procedures are a huge mistake. Doctors need to be able to make decisions based upon the facts as they are presented. If the person is deemed transgender, and has been accurately assessed as such, and it is deemed that medicalization is necessary, doctors need to be able to make that decision. Without the ability to make that decision, transgender people will be left with nothing but terrible and potentially life-threatening choices.
"I find myself liking fashion
more and more."
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Teegan: I find myself liking fashion more and more --Michael Kors is my current favorite, but I do tend toward more classic looks. I’m older so I don’t want my clothing to mock my age. At the same time, I do want to look good!
In terms of colors, I tend toward a more intense palate rather than pastels. I like deep reds, greens, purples and blues. I like to use tweeds, herringbone and houndstooth patterns in my clothing and I try to incorporate natural materials as much as possible, but when something flashy is necessary, I’ll use a synthetic for that. Flexibility is key!
Monika: Do you often experiment with your makeup?
Teegan: I try to. Lately, I’ve been using old photos (sometimes really old photos) for inspiration. It works! I’ve been discovering new/old looks and frankly it's fun to trot them out. I guess I’m my own trendsetter!
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?
Teegan: My mom was the primary reason for my delayed transition. I didn’t try to copy her at all.
In terms of trying to find a feminine look for myself, I didn't try to emulate any particular woman. I think probably movies and television influenced me the most in finding my femininity. Watching actresses act out femininity I think is probably the best way to figure out what 'feminine' is. The trick I think is to composite all of those feminine moments. Don't use just one movie character! If you do that, all you're doing is copying that character. Lol! No!!
Monika: By the way, do you like being complimented on your looks?
Teegan: Lol! Who doesn’t? I think it’s great to know that people think I look good. I worked hard to get where I am appearance-wise, so unsolicited compliments tell me I have done a good job! I will never be a top model in terms of beauty because of my age, but I’m trying my best to work with what I have.
Monika: Do you remember your first job interview as a woman?
Teegan: Yes, I do remember it. It wasn’t traumatic for me because I was already well transitioned by that point. Covid prevented a lot of movement, but when the restrictions were over, I did venture out. The interviewer knew I was a trans woman, and also knew who I was before transition, so to him, the transformation was mind-blowing. His first word to me was simply "wow"!
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?
Teegan: My team treats me the same, however I do see it in clients. It was really disappointing. I knew many of these people before transition and they treated me very differently afterwards, whether they knew I was trans or not –it was my first experience with hard sexism.
The funniest experience I had (if you want to call it funny) was when I was once asked to transfer a case I was working on to my former self because I was told that my old self ‘had better expertise’ than I did! They didn’t realize I was the same person. For me, it was a sad realization that some people don’t value women for their intelligence, experience, and skill.
Monika: What would you advise to all transwomen looking for employment? 
Teegan: I think honesty is the most important aspect of your working persona. Without that integrity, you won't get far.
The second bit of advice I can offer really doesn't have much to do with being trans, but it is tremendously important; you need to be ready for whatever is put in front of you. Add skills to your skill stack often. Train and re-train to keep your skills sharp. If your industry has certifications, get them. Certifications give potential employers a shorthand way of knowing your skill level. Next, volunteer, but volunteer in a way that develops your skills.
Lastly, network network network!
I think these sorts of things really do make the difference. Good luck!
"Love is immensely important and
it’s one of the hardest parts about
being transgender."
Monika: Are you involved in the life of the local LGBTQ community?
Teegan: Not so much. I live outside of the city core and I’m significantly older than many of the active community members, so oftentimes, there is a bit of a disconnect.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Teegan: Love is immensely important and it’s one of the hardest parts about being transgender. 
Unfortunately, being trans often equates with being alone.
I was very lucky in this regard. My wife and family support me and love me very much. They haven’t deserted me and they understand why I do the things that I do. It has been an invaluable source of strength for me through my transition. I know many trans people do not have this luxury. That’s why I always try to be supportive to whoever asks for my help.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Teegan: I haven’t thought about it. I have written a number of short stories, but I never thought that my life’s story was interesting enough to warrant a longform writeup. Maybe I’ll write a comic book or something. It might be fun to run through a comic book series loosely based on my life.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Teegan: I have bottom surgery left. I am about midway through the hair removal process, but I don’t have any date set for it yet.
It’s an interesting question though. After all of the surgery is done, what does one do? Many trans women in the midst of transition have been dealing with all sorts of physical, interpersonal, and societal issues. What happens when you actually reach your goal? In my case, I will be nearly retired, so I think I’ll just try to enjoy my life.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender women who are afraid of transition?
Teegan: Fear robs you of your life.
I knew I was transgender since I was in elementary school, but I was afraid. I was afraid of my parents, my school, my friends and frankly just random people around me. I created stress, anxiety and depression for myself because I was afraid. The stress and anxiety created health issues that dogged me for decades. After I started transitioning and after I came out, all of those issues just went away.
I spent decades suffering needlessly because I feared what other people would think of me. 
Please please please don’t do that!
If you feel you have gender dysphoria, reach out to a mental health professional. Get the help you need. If transition turns out to be right for you, do it. It will save your life.
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?
Teegan: Absolutely! While the world apparently needs to define us as trans women, that’s only a small part of what each of us is. We are human and we all have the potential to do great things. We are more than our gender or sexuality –do the things that make you happy and fulfill your soul.
Monika: Teegan, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!
Teegan: You’re so welcome, and thank you for having me!

All the photos: courtesy of Teegan Toftely.
© 2024 - Monika Kowalska

1 comment:

  1. that is one smart, articulate and beautiful woman


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