Monday 4 March 2024

Interview with Alicia Jane Ryder

Monika: Alicia Jane Ryder, an American trans activist and former US Government official, is my lovely guest today. Hello Alicia! Thank you for accepting my invitation.
Alicia: Hello Monika! Thank you for having me.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Alicia: I am a 71-year-old transgender woman, completely transitioned through surgeries, 7 sessions, 57 hours total. Retired from Government service after 51 years total, 26 for the feds and the balance for the state of Oregon.
Monika: What inspired you to be an LGBT advocate?
Alicia: I and my wife are both transgender. Together for 25 years married one day after it became legal.
Monika: How did you meet your wife? Was it love at first sight?
Alicia: We were both working on social issues and got a committee assignment together.
Monika: Do you get many questions or requests for help from the transgender community? What do they ask for?
Alicia: I work with the community through a group I started called the "Portland Oregon Transgender Service Providers Index". Kind of a funny acronym POTSPI and the shortcut to the Facebook group is available here. It's all free and we are up to 2500 people who joined from all over the country hoping to move here.
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 coming out?
Alicia: Most of my biological family is dead. My one sister talked to me just a few times in 50 years. She is a lot older than me and lives in San Diego.
Monika: Why did you choose Alicia for your name?
Alicia: Basically when parents in the 1950's were going to have a child and because ultrasound didn't exist yet they chose a male name and a female name. I used my female name they had for me. I found out from my aunt who was still living what it was.
Monika: Was your family surprised by your transition?
Alicia: Only my one sister is left alive and she was, yes but she is totally not supportive (she is 13 years older).
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Alicia: Yes and all the surgery I had... the total bill to date with all the hormones and surgeries is $240000.00. I had the best surgeon in the USA. Dr. Toby Meltzer Scottsdale Arizona. The man is a genius and an artist.
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?
Alicia: I, for some reason, seem to pass well enough that no one has ever questioned me. I find it remarkable because to me I am extremely flawed. For the longest time, I thought it was just because every person around me was just being extremely kind. I guess after all these years either I am the luckiest girl on the block or I really do pass.

"I make no secret about who I am."

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?
Alicia: Unfortunately no. It was more of a slow accumulation of experiences. Like so many transgender women I thought the best I could expect was to just be as convincing as I could get but it would always not be quite enough.
Monika: Did you have any transgender sisters around you that supported you during the transition?
Alicia: My wife is also transgender and we have been together for two decades. She is Kleinfelders 47XXY and passes completely. We have an excellent relationship and she is always supportive. And of course, all the incredible friends I have locally and online. We have dinners periodically at restaurants around town. I am very social and make friends easily. The people in my local Walmart all know me and we get along great. It's a small town in the shadow of Mt. St. Helens (you know the one that blew up in 1980).
You may think that small-town life is not conducive to being transgender but there are quite a few of us in our little town of 5000 people. I make no secret about who I am, my car is conspicuous as I have the back window covered in rainbows and human rights stickers. Everyone knows me in town. From time to time, someone will stop at a stop light, roll down the window, and say Thank You for supporting the community. We are a family and we need to support each other. I am not afraid considering my history and training. Life will be life if you are afraid or not, so don’t be or you deny yourself the happiness life can give!
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Alicia: I feel we have been turned into scapegoats for the politics of the religious right wing of the Republican party so they can focus on people who hate to gather votes to grab power. They frame us as evil with some bazaar agenda. Basically, we are the "Jews" like 1939 Europe. So we must be organized into a cohesive political voting block. There are enough of us in the USA to make a significant difference in the outcome of the election in November. Vote blue like your life depended on it because it just may!
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Alicia: I have an entire bedroom as a closet... steel clothes poles along all the walls. OK I admit it I collect too many dresses, leggings and outfits and accessories. It takes up an entire bedroom. I basically have a boutique... Ok, it's an addiction but I was denied my entire life so I am making up for lost time, after all I started at age 65. I love to make my own fashion statements.
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?
Alicia: Actually I am more of a trendsetter. I try to work outfits based on prominent women in the news and on TV. I watch the morning news from LA because women have the best outfits.
Monika: By the way, do you like being complimented on your looks?
Alicia: Of course... I love a good compliment, what woman doesn't? One thing I believe... don’t believe the magazine articles about what not to wear or what makes you look old. Magazines and their fashion rules are so 1990’s. Watch the kids and do what they do. It's “fashion chaos”. Forget about rules, do what you want and be creative. Colors and types of clothes are your choice.

"We have been turned into scapegoats
for the politics of the religious right
wing of the Republican party."

Monika: Do you remember your first job interview as a woman?
Alicia: Actually I never had one. I was working for Trimet, the transit agency in Portland Oregon for 31 years when I declared to HR that I was transitioning. Then I moved the HR department to create training in transgender sensitivity classes to benefit all transgender employees and customers. 1800 employees were trained and now 5 years later the agency has 31 transgender employees. I sued the health insurance and now it covers all transgender medical and surgeries.
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?
Alicia: I was in operations and because I trained literally everyone in the department it was a little difficult for them to do that. Besides, my previous employer gave me the skills to mold the group. I was in charge of a quasi-military group and understood how to lead people. Basically "I don't take anything from anyone" And they know it. Learn to be assertive, if need be take classes in how to be assertive without being rude. Learn how women use their power, it's different from how men do it. Women have a kind of magic that transcends men’s power.
Monika: What would you advise to all trans women looking for employment?
Alicia: Government agencies are some of the best. In the US Blue states obviously are best. Larger cities with mixed populations as well.
Monika: Are you involved in the life of the local LGBTQ community?
Alicia: I suppose you could say that... I started the group in Portland "The Portland Oregon Transgender Service Providers Index" (on Facebook) has over 2500 members and is growing every day. I help as many people personally as I can. It is a mission of love. My wife is involved with the Transgender community at her employer, the largest teaching hospital on the West Coast of the United States.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Alicia: My wife, of course, she is my rock. I also love our community like family. I have some incredible friends. One friend is a psychologist, a doctor. We work together on projects, currently videos and a website. She is a remarkable woman - Dr Alexis Ungerer, Masters in Psychology, PhD in Human Sexuality, PhD is Education and a PhD in Philosophy. Also Dr. Alexys Hillman MD, ND, OD. She is also responsible for producing videos we work on. This is episode one.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Alicia: I will someday start with chapter 10 and go forward .. the reason is because chapters one through 9 would be far too redacted to make any sense. 26 years working for the federal government in some rather dark adventures. Besides I like not being in prison for violating my N.D.A.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender women who are afraid of transition?
Alicia: Simple thing. You only live once but if you do it right once is enough and it's never too late to start. Never give up as long as you have breath. If I had a dollar for every time I failed in life I would be richer than I am. Besides, you learn from failure. I tried twice before failing, learned, adjusted my plan, and tried again. That is the main thing here. Planning! 
Take a tip from military strategy. If you do simulations and look for the pitfalls and work on correcting them. I used a huge chalkboard and bulletin board (I know old school, but it's easier to see the overall picture while working on the research on your computer, it's how the military does it in the most important conclusion rooms in the Pentagon). Every day I built myself a newsletter of what I needed to accomplish that day that week. It's a fun exercise and anything you don’t accomplish the previous week gets printed larger and bolder the next week. This may sound like busy work but it keeps you moving forward.

"You only live once but if you do it
right once is enough."

Monika: Does it really work?
Alicia: I had all my surgeries in 2.5 years so I know it works. I used Google Calendar and made a 3 and a 5-year plan giving myself somewhat arbitrary dates of completion for each phase. Ironically in the end I realized I came with a month of every goal date when I was done, based on the 5 year plan. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t hit a projected date, remember it's a guide. Keep it as real as possible.
Monika: How did you plan it?
Alicia: I had Vaginoplasty first, the insurance company paid for it and as a result was hooked into knowing I was serious. So many times it's the last surgery and the insurance company will fight you harder and harder as the costs accumulate so get the big one out of the way first. The complete set of fights and success would literally take up an entire book. 
WPATH requires two psychologists letters from 2 psychologists, I got three from three. They will try to challenge at least one of your letters so a backup is a good idea since they do the challenge just before surgery you off the track so they can avoid paying for the surgery. 
Monika: In many cases, the insurance companies would still try to object to paying.
Alicia: Since my employer's insurance tried to get out of paying I did an unexpected end run on them and sued at the first resistance. It was a shock to them and I won. It cost them everything and so much more than if they had just paid for everything in the first place. The settlement gave me 100% of all medical costs plus a check to me for $37000 for my expenses. It was nice to have for the plane flights, car rentals, and Condo rentals for all the trips to Scottsdale Arizona. Remember like I said this is like a military exercise and as such you need to be prepared to fight, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain!
The other thing the resistance from the insurance cost them is they had to cover all transgender medical and surgeries giving every employee the same advantage as I had. My lawyer joined a group that lobbied the state legislator and this case became part of it. On July 13th, 2023 Governor Tina Kotex signed the bill making it law in Oregon. Now everyone with any insurance has coverage including OHP the Oregon Health Plan the insurance for those without any other coverage. If you need to transition and can get here Oregon is the transgender Sanctuary and the place to be for the United States. If you want to find work or housing join the Portland Index on Facebook. NEVER GIVE UP AND YOU CAN DO MIRACLES!
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?
Alicia: We are magical creatures as Humans. Look at all we can do. Seriously if you try hard enough and never quit you can literally do anything. Heck, we made it to the moon and will extend our kind to the stars. Humanity can do anything... We can do anything!
Monika: Alicia, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!
Alicia: Thank You for the opportunity and I would just like to say if you are in a "Red '' state where some politicians are trying to take your rights away consider the Pacific Northwest. It's a sanctuary where the laws are written to protect and help us. If you need help, join us.

All the photos: courtesy of Alicia Jane Ryder.
© 2024 - Monika Kowalska

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