Interview with Claire-Renee Kohner - Part 2

Monika: What do you think in general about transgender news stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers, or books so far?
Claire-Renee: I really haven’t seen any positive portrayals of trans people in any media. You may have a break-out character like in Sense 8, but overall, Hollywood still has cishet males playing transwomen, and anytime there’s news about a trans person, it’s usually because they were murdered.
Monika: Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Claire-Renee: Yes, as I mentioned above, I participated at the city level by testifying at some controversial hearings, however, I also wrote the Minnesota version of the “Trans Panic” law that they have in California. With the help of a local organization, we lobbied the bill-to-be and had quite a few legislators on board, unfortunately, it never hit the floor because we had (and still have) a Republican House, so it never saw the light of day. Once our state’s DFL regains control of the House and Senate, I plan to reintroduce it.
I also have a bill written called ‘The Respect After Death Act’ that met the same fate.
Monika: Do you think that in our lifetime we could live to see the day when a transgender lady could become the President of the USA? Or the First Lady at least? :)
Claire-Renee: No and Nope. We can’t even use the bathroom without cisgender people having an epic tantrum, but the good news is that there are so many trans women running for local and national offices that our future in politics is getting brighter.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion brands, colors, or trends?
Claire-Renee: I love love love fashion, but then again, I always have even before transitioning. What I’m wearing really defines who I am, however, since I’m from Minnesota – the land of 10,000 solid colors – my color choices tend to lean towards dark colors with white accents, lots of stripes and polka dots, a fair amount of dystopian wear and as more than one person has stated, punker girl meets glam.
I’m importing a lot of my clothes from overseas because I can’t find the styles I want here, but I own quite a bit of Moschino, Rag & Bone, Lip Service, Tripp, INC, ANGVNS, Heavy Red, and Manibee. My accessories are Betsy Johnson, Agashi is my go-to for harnesses and if I’m feeling fun or overly Minneapolisy, a cute outfit from Forever 21 always puts me in a good mood. I love black tights with a skater skirt that seems to get the boys’ attention. 
Fashion for trans and queer folks can be tough because we don’t usually fit into the binary clothes created by designers, so for the last six months I’ve been researching the cost of designing and manufacturing my own fashion line called 404Girl™ that would be aimed towards us fashion-forward queers…but that’s another story.

Being glamorous.

Monika: I have read somewhere that cisgender women were liberated thanks to the development of contraceptive pills whereas transgender women are free now thanks to the development of cosmetic surgery, so they are no longer prisoners of passing or non-passing syndrome …
Claire-Renee: “According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, transgender people are four times as likely to have a household income under $10,000 and twice as likely to be unemployed as the typical person in the U.S.” – The Williams Institute.
Based on these numbers, very few transfolks are able to even afford FFS [let alone GCS], so it’s difficult to be liberated when you don’t have the funds to liberate yourself.
I think liberation comes in accepting yourself for who you are; sadly you can point back to me as a hypocrite who has had multiple surgeries and possess passing privilege, so it’s a difficult question to answer.
Everyone is a prisoner of something. 
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Claire-Renee: Overall, I intensely dislike beauty pageants. There is something overtly patriarchal about a bunch of male judges’ actually judging women based on their looks, talents, and intelligence and then parading them around as “winners” to our rape culture. 
Pageants simply uphold an impossibly high standard of beauty created by the media and also present women as nothing more than a pretty face to be bought and sold by the corporate advertising machine.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Claire-Renee: I’ve started a book several times, but the direction of it never seems to head where I want it to go; It’s a work in progress and now I’m leaning more towards a fictional story, based on my life, but embellished to the point of the reader not knowing if what they are reading is fact or fiction when in reality, it will be both. I would want the reader to think, “did that really happen?”
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Claire-Renee: This is a difficult question to answer because I have never had parental support and as a result, have a difficult time making connections [friendship, romantic, long-term] with other people. My parents haven’t spoken to me for the greater part of 20 years, so never having that attachment has thrown a wrench in my ability to create, make or even sustain loving relationships. 
 Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Claire-Renee: New projects – or my never-ending creativity - seems to be my kryptonite because I’m constantly coming up with new ideas. Besides continuing to work towards a media platform geared towards the trans community, as I mentioned earlier, I’m in the sourcing phase of a clothing line and I’m looking at starting my MBA. All of this while working full time and being a mom to my three wonderful kids.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Claire-Renee: Reach out for help because you are not alone. I realize that seems like a cliché and when you are suffering from dysphoria, everything seems dark, useless, and a pointless dead-end; I think the whole ‘It Gets Better’ project doesn’t really relate to the trans community because it glosses over our unique needs and focuses more on the LG community.
That said, resources like the Trans Lifeline have actually saved lives by being staffed by trans folks who understand what you are going through and can identify with our lived experiences; sometimes reaching out is the hardest thing to do, but as I’ve said before, “maybe we are the lucky ones for being trans.”
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 transsexuals and transgender people doing. Our dreams should not end on an operating table; that’s where they begin. Do you agree with this?
Claire-Renee: I don’t think anyone should ever deliberately limit their potential based on how they were born. The only thing I can do is compare my current self to my past self and decide if what I am today is what I want or where I want to go; and honestly, it is.
I know this sounds redundant, but we all have the potential to be what we want to be, however, some of that can be limited by privilege. Sure I’m transgender, but I’m also white and passable and that gives me a huge upper hand in life. I was successful in my pre-transition self and I’m successful in my post-transition life, but I’ll never forget that I’m one of the lucky ones. When it comes to your dreams, go big or go home. It’s your life, live it.
Monika: Claire-Renee, thank you for the interview!
Claire-Renee: Thanks Monika for taking the time to interview me!!

All the photos: courtesy of Claire-Renee Kohner.
© 2017 - Monika Kowalska

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