Saturday 24 February 2024

Interview with Bernadette Wagenblast

Monika: Bernadette Wagenblast, also known as The Voice of the Subway, is an American transportation journalist, radio personality, and voice-over artist. She is the founder and editor of the Transportation Communications Newsletter and the voice of various transportation facilities in New York City, such as the AirTrain and the Subway. She was active in her college’s radio station, WSOU, where she served as the news director and station manager. She also appeared on several New York City radio stations over five years, including WINS and WABC. She later joined the New York City Department of Transportation, where she helped to establish the city’s first transportation communications center. Hello Bernadette! Thank you for accepting my invitation.
Bernadette: Thank you for the invitation, Monika!
Monika: Your voice is known to all the New Yorkers using the Subway. Is it easy to live with the voice that is so ubiquitous in New York?
Bernadette: I’m thankful for that voice. I’ve done more with it than I ever imagined and because of it I now have a platform to share my story. I hope by sharing my narrative more people will have a greater understanding of those of us who are trans. I’m putting a face to being trans for something that is part of many New Yorker’s daily lives.
Monika: You seem to be a woman of many talents. Could you say a few words about yourself?
Bernadette: I don’t consider myself to be especially talented but I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been able to use the skills I’ve been given in a very public way. It all began as a child with a love of radio. I hoped to someday work on the air and I tried to develop a voice that I thought would work in broadcasting. Only a year after graduating college I was fortunate to have been hired by a new company that would be doing traffic reports on radio stations in New York City and the surrounding suburbs. That job introduced me to the world of transportation, where I spent most of my career. I was able to apply the communication skills I used as a broadcaster in transportation and that led to being hired as the voice for some of the transportation facilities in the region.
Monika: The news about the coming out of The Voice of the Subway became viral and suddenly you were exposed to the public media outside of New York. How did you manage the ups and downs of being in the limelight?
Bernadette: Being a journalist I’m comfortable speaking to reporters. I understand what they’re trying to do and I’m usually able to give them what they want. I’ve been surprised at the amount of media interest my story has generated but I’m thankful it’s gained international attention because it’s important for trans visibility to increase around the world.
Monika: Have you been satisfied with how the media covered your transition story?
Bernadette: I’ve been very pleased with the coverage. There are always going to be mistakes but I think they’ve been minimal. There were a few outlets that wrote stories about me without even reaching out to me and, not surprisingly, they had the most misinformation.
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?
Bernadette: There have been strains in my family life. That’s understandable because they are the people most affected by the changes I’ve experienced. In other aspects of my life, the support has been wonderful from most friends and colleagues. I think my age (67) has helped with that. I already had a successful career and built a good reputation professionally. In that respect, there was less for me to lose than someone who is just starting to build their career.
"I’ve been very pleased with
the coverage."
Monika: Why did you choose Bernadette for your name?
Bernadette: I considered different names. As a youngster, I envisioned myself as a Nancy. As an adult, I thought Becky might work since it’s somewhat similar to Bernie, the name I’ve used throughout my life. I decided that one feminine version of Bernie is Bernadette. I liked the sound of that name and it allowed me to continue being called Bernie. It was one less adjustment people had to make as they related to me.
Monika: Was your family surprised by your transition?
Bernadette: I don’t think so. I shared with all of them, before I planned my transition, that I am trans. It was sharing that I am trans that was most emotional for me. My transition was slow and deliberate so they saw the steps I was taking in that direction and probably could guess that it eventually would end with me socially transitioning.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Bernadette: Yes. I wasn’t sure what to expect but the changes it’s brought to me physically and emotionally were profound, including some that were unexpected.
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?
Bernadette: For me what’s helped is just appreciating how far I’ve come. I think, in many cases, once we resolve to socially transition we’ve accepted that there are going to be challenges, including how others see us. What’s helped is seeing all those who support me. Few aspects of life are always on a consistently upward trend. There are problems and disappointments along the way, but those problems give me something to work on to improve. I try to focus on what I can improve and how to go about that rather than being upset with those things that haven’t gone as well as I’d like. To date, I haven’t had any cosmetic surgeries outside of laser hair removal on my face and neck. All of us have positive and negative physical features, including cis folks. Try to take advantage of those things that work for you by emphasizing them.
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?
Bernadette: I think the first time I was aware of a transgender person was when I saw a paperback autobiography by Christine Jorgensen, one of the first trans women to capture America’s attention. As a young teenager, I spoke with a teacher in a nearby town who had transitioned. She was the first person I ever knowingly spoke to who was trans. Both women helped me see that I wasn’t the only person who felt uncomfortable in the gender they were assigned.
Monika: Did you have any transgender sisters around you that supported you during the transition?
Bernadette: Oh, yes! Many came from a support group I joined about a decade ago. First, I was able to watch how they navigated their transitions and then I was able to turn to them for advice as I considered my own transition and then actually began the process.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Bernadette: I’m upset and disappointed by what I’ve seen happening in conservative areas of the United States. I think much of this is because trans people are seen as an easy target and it’s possible to prey on people’s fears by creating or exaggerating threats that don’t exist. I hope it’s a temporary situation and it’s a reason why I feel trans visibility is so important. People need to see examples of trans folks living their lives and to realize we are no different from them in most ways.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Bernadette: I’m still trying to figure out my fashion sense and what looks good on me. When the weather is warm, I so enjoy going out in a dress or skirt. That was something I dreamed of all my life and now I get to finally do it. During the winter, and especially on a day such as today when we had snow, I tend to be more practical and wear something that keeps me warm and is easier to get around in.

"My clients have been very supportive but it’s still an area
where I’m trying to figure out the best approach."

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?
Bernadette: I was very aware of that before I socially transitioned and tried to avoid doing that. I also tried to dress in a way I felt was appropriate for my age. I want to blend in with other women and I look at what they wear to help me decide how I’m going to dress. I also realize that I’m taller than the average woman (177.8 cm) so I take that into consideration with my clothing choices.
Monika: Do you remember your first job interview as a woman?
Bernadette: I’m semi-retired so I haven’t had any job interviews as a woman and don’t expect I will. However, I do have some unique challenges. My “guy voice” still sounds, to me, better than the female voice I’m trying to develop. I host a couple of transportation podcasts for clients and for most of the first year I used that male voice on the podcasts. In November, one of my clients asked me to do some in-person interviews at a conference. Since I was wearing a dress I knew I couldn’t easily do the interviews in my guy voice and transitioned to using my female voice. My clients have been very supportive but it’s still an area where I’m trying to figure out the best approach.
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?
Bernadette: I haven’t experienced that. In part, it’s because I work remotely and not in an office. I think it’s also because I have 40+ years experience in my career and what I offer my clients is a skill set they don’t have. I’ve heard of the experiences of enough other women, though, to believe that some men do not show the same respect to female colleagues that they do to male co-workers.
Monika: What would you advise to all transwomen looking for employment?
Bernadette: The advice I would offer isn’t necessarily different for trans women than it would be for young cis people. I think the first thing you need to do is a self-evaluation. Figure out what you enjoy doing, what you’re good at, and what makes you unique. Once you have a good idea of the answers, market yourself based on that. No matter what you do, there are likely going to be people who do it better than you, but rather than trying to compete with them on that basis alone, see how you can stand out from the crowd. I would say this is something you can and should do even in a job you may currently have. It’s easier to show those you work with what makes you special than it is to show that to someone who only knows you through a resume.
Monika: Are you involved in the life of the local LGBTQ community?
Bernadette: Yes, in a few different ways. I’m one of the facilitators of my support group. I’m also part of an inclusivity group in my hometown. I’ve tried to be involved in the local LGBTQ community by sharing my story with other trans folks. While I only transitioned a little over a year ago, I think my age has given me life experiences that can apply to the LGBTQ community as well as to younger people in general.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Bernadette: Love is a difficult topic that I’m still trying to figure out in my new situation. There are so many different aspects of love. I think it starts with self love. If we don’t love ourselves, it’s difficult for us to love others and for them to love us. At the moment I don’t have romantic love. Having a good romantic relationship takes a lot of energy and, right now, I need to put that energy into navigating this new life.
"Getting to live the life you imagine is far
greater than just the problems you might
experience once you transition."
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Bernadette: Some people have suggested that and I’ve thought about it a little, but I’m giving more consideration to being a verbal storyteller. Speaking is what I’ve done throughout my career and it’s what I’m most comfortable doing. I’m not yet sure how that will work but I hope I can make it happen.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender women who are afraid of transition?
Bernadette: First, almost all of us who have transitioned have had fear. Realize that being afraid isn’t unique. Understand that it’s going to be awkward at times and accept that. Have supporters, both cis and trans, around you. Being able to talk with them when you’re afraid is a great help. Getting to live the life you imagine is far greater than just the problems you might experience once you transition. In that first year, I was nervous any time I did something for the first time. I came to see that most of what I feared never materialized and just the opposite happened. I had a wonderful experience.
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?
Bernadette: Yes, I do. I think dreaming is one of the most exciting parts of living! I always want to imagine some new experience, challenge or accomplishment that awaits. It’s what makes getting up each morning something to look forward to rather than something to dread.
Monika: Bernadette, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!
Bernadette: You’re welcome, Monika! I thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you and your readers. I hope I provided some worthwhile information.

All the photos: courtesy of Bernadette Wagenblast.
© 2024 - Monika Kowalska


  1. Dear Monika, it has been such a joy to discover your incomparably lovely blog this morning. Each and every one of the wonderfully admirable women featured, like Bernadette, above, has a story both honest and inspirational. And I confess, I have already shed a happy tear or two reading them. Many thanks to you all ~x~


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