Monday 12 February 2024

Interview with Hazel Krebs

Monika: Hazel Krebs, a proud American transgender woman and a mother of two incredible kids, is my lovely guest today. Hazel is a writer, speaker, and transadvocate. She is the author of “Enthusiastically Me“ (2024), a book about her journey towards womanhood. Hello Hazel! Thank you for accepting my invitation.
Hazel: Thank you, Monika! I am ecstatic for this opportunity!
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Hazel: Sure! My name is Hazel, and I am unapologetically me! Recently, I published a book that discusses the hardships I faced after growing up in a world that didn’t know the real me.
In the beginning, I was assigned male at birth in Omaha, Nebraska. I grew up in what I consider a fairly typical midwestern situation, characterized by traditional expectations, which influenced me into adulthood. I went to college, found someone I eventually married, then had two kids. I adore my kids and co-parent, from whom I have since separated. These are the three most important people in my life.
Eventually, my work took us to the Kansas City metro area, where through a series of trials and tribulations, I found myself as Hazel. I have changed so much in recent years, for which I am endlessly grateful.
Monika: You are an Omaha girl. Did you have a happy childhood in Nebraska?
Hazel: Yes! I am an Omaha girl! Happy is not a word I would use to describe my childhood. I will first say that I always had enough to eat, or never worried about my housing situation, so it could have been worse.
That said, I grew up in a very traditional environment, where being straight and cisgender was the expectation, as being queer was misunderstood at best, ridiculed at worst. I grew up going to church, where hate towards same-sex marriage was openly discussed, leading me to shelter my feelings inside a box in my head. Those thoughts tormented me for as long as I could remember, manifesting into substance abuse problems by age 15.
"I was quiet and shy, whereas now I am
extremely outgoing and extroverted."
Monika: You found a corporate job, got married, had kids, and started pursuing the traditional American Dream. And what went wrong?
Hazel: That dream was never really mine, to begin with. I bought into the expectations of others as if those were mine, yet my heart was never in it. My need to cope brought me to alcohol, where I became progressively worse. In my book, I talk about how bad it was getting, eventually leading to hitting rock bottom, which included being fired from a job. At that point, I started pursuing the life I wanted to live.
Monika: What did you feel when you completed “Enthusiastically Me“ (2024)? Which aspects of your transition could be interesting for the book’s readers?
Hazel: The first chapter is probably the most interesting since it is a story most people did not know. I put a warning in the first chapter because I was in a very depressed place on a day I wanted to be my last. I won’t go further, as I put a content warning on that chapter, but I do go deep into my thoughts, which I wrote in a journal at the time.
Back then, I was quiet and shy, whereas now I am extremely outgoing and extroverted. Most people who know me only know me after I transitioned, so telling this story is totally contradictory to who I am now. It took me years before I told anyone what happened that day; although, now everyone who reads my book will know it.
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?
Hazel: I’ve certainly lost friends, and my family situation is not really settled. I have left a job that became uncomfortable after I came out, but mostly I have been worried about places to work because of who I am. My workplace was the last place I came out since I was unsure of the response.
Monika: Why did you choose Hazel for your name?
Hazel: I feel as if the name Hazel chose me! When I started looking for a name, it was more of a hypothetical idea, rather than truly a destination for me. One evening, I started contemplating criteria for names while looking through lists, similar to how I searched for possible names for my own children. I reached a list of classic names, when I came across Hazel, at which point I knew instantly this was my name.
Immediately, I was overwhelmed with excitement, quickly followed by fear, as I began to contemplate what would happen if I transitioned to Hazel.
Monika: Was your family surprised by your transition?
Hazel: Not really. I came out as gay in 2018, which is what ended my marriage. After that time, I started feminizing my look, including wearing makeup and nail polish. My book starts around when I came out as gay, since shortly after coming out as gay, I started questioning my gender. It took me several years to realize who I was, but by that time I was already pretty feminine.
Available via Amazon.
Additionally, we were always an inclusive home, then before I actually told my kids, I talked to them more about what transgender is. There are so many books out there geared towards kids of all ages, so I checked those out from the library. By the time I told my kids, they had a pretty good level of acceptance of transgender, so when I told them they said “Is that it?”
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Hazel: I love hormones! I socially transitioned first, so everyone knew me as Hazel when I began hormones. At first, it was a bit of an emotional roller coaster, but once it settled, I loved how hormones made me feel, as well as how I started to look. I see pictures from back when I started, and I can see how much has changed after more than two years.
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?
Hazel: I encourage everyone, trans or cis, to find the look and style in which they feel most comfortable. It’s mostly about our own feelings, so we should keep those in focus. There will always be people who support us and others who don’t, no matter what we do, so it’s important to remain focused on how we feel.
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?
Hazel: When I was a teenager, the internet became available inside our homes, which allowed me to explore my sexual and gender identity on my own. I kept all those thoughts hidden until I identified as gay, leading me to find the queer community. It was seeing others at that point that helped me visualize who I am in them.
Monika: Did you have any transgender sisters around you that supported you during the transition?
Hazel: The trans community in Kansas City is incredible and super connected across the metro. Unfortunately, it was out of necessity due to the anti-trans legislation in this area, but from rallying together, I have built so many connections and deep friendships!
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Hazel: It’s pretty miserable, particularly in certain areas. There are well-funded groups organizing across many states pushing legislation through. Overall, it’s creating hostile areas, leaving many trans women vulnerable. We have cities and states passing protections, which is wonderful, but I know many trans people are unable to find safety. My heart breaks knowing how many are susceptible to hostility.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Hazel: I adore fashion, particularly early on as I was discovering my style. In the beginning, I was finding whatever I could, but as I felt more comfortable being out, I discovered my love for bright colors and dresses. Last I counted, I had over 50 dresses in my closet, almost all were bought second-hand.
"Before I transitioned, I couldn’t stand
attention, yet now I admit I love it!"
Monika: Do you often experiment with your makeup?
Hazel: I started makeup before I transitioned, when I began using eye shadow. I started adding one thing at a time until I transitioned. Before I was fully out, I was having makeover nights with girlfriends and my daughter. It was so much fun, and I was able to learn so much!!
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?
Hazel: This is such a fascinating question! In most groups, I am among the most feminine women, which I love. I remember finding women whose style I liked, then emulated what they wore. I don’t really feel like I am trying to be a woman that doesn’t exist, because I simply try to be me. I take those characteristics I like and make them mine.
Monika: By the way, do you like being complimented on your looks?
Hazel: Hehe, I love it! My hair is pink and blue, which gets a lot of attention, which I love. Before I transitioned, I couldn’t stand attention, yet now I admit I love it!
Monika: Do you remember your first job interview as a woman?
Hazel: I do! It was for an internal job change, so people knew me already, but it was in a male-dominated industry, so it was pretty intimidating.
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?
Hazel: Oh for sure! I think it’s more about being a woman, since I see it happening to other women too. Another thing that happened was my assertiveness was perceived differently. I was considered bossy or worse, rather than a good leader like a man would be.
Monika: What would you advise to all transwomen looking for employment?
Hazel: Be your own advocate! The company may seem supportive, but they can turn quickly. Make sure to communicate your expectations clearly, rather than relying on someone else to stand up for you. Also, don’t forget we cannot choose our coworkers, so you may be forced to work with someone who is blatantly anti-trans outside of work. We should not be expected to accommodate those people without expecting the same accommodations in return.
Monika: Are you involved in the life of the local LGBTQ community?
Hazel: Absolutely!! I have spoken on panels and given speeches. Also, I do interviews in the media when I can. I love using my voice! I know others cannot or choose not to, which is okay. I like being in front, knowing so many people are supporting me.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Hazel: The importance of love has shifted after I had surgery. What I uncovered was how much anxiety existed because of my body. I am in a relationship now, which I didn’t think was possible not that long ago! I can see myself being with only one romantic partner.
Love for my friends is so real! I love them all!! I am not afraid to say it either! 
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Hazel: I am considering running for office! We will see how the political landscape shakes out, regardless I will be advocating for my community. There’s a very good chance I will write another book! It was such a fun endeavor, so I will probably start again soon.
"I am considering running for office!"
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender women who are afraid of transition?
Hazel: I know it’s scary, but the joy I have felt is beyond my most wonderful expectations. I love who I am. I love how I look. It’s remarkable. It’s also a process, so do what you can as you can. I remember telling my first friend my name, and that friend was the only person who knew for a couple of months.
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?
Hazel: I love that! Recently, I was afraid of the response my book could get. I started telling myself, “Why not me?” as I looked into the mirror. Why can’t I be the person who changes the world? Or simply why can’t I be the person who finds happiness? It’s all within our reach if we don’t stand in our own way. 
Monika: Hazel, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!
Hazel: Thank you, Monika! This was so much fun!

All the photos: courtesy of Hazel Krebs.
© 2024 - Monika Kowalska

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