Interview with Basilia Loren - Part 2

Monika: And your sister? Was she sympathetic?
Basilia: My sister, my only sister, Cecilia Salazar (In my book, I had to change her name to, 'Celina Santiago, because she threatened to sue me if I used her real name). At first, my sister and I got along really well with each other. But, there were times when we didn’t. That’s because my sister always had a wishy-washy personality, passive aggressive attitude that would keep you walking on eggshells. Mama already had so many of us living with her, so we were starting to get on each other's nerves.
If you knew my sister, you would know that she bitched all the time, about everything. I really didn’t know what was going on but my sister kept bitching at me for some stupid reason or another. As time went by she was starting to get on my nerves so badly, you could cut the tension with a knife.
Then the day came when Cecilia and I got into a nasty argument. We were cussing each other out for some stupid reason, maybe just to vent. It got so bad that I ended up storming to my room and slamming the door. I dove into my bed and started sobbing so badly. My sister went storming outside to the backyard, cussing and yelling. “That fucking bitch! I’m going to kick her fucking ass!” she yells! It got so bad, Mama called my brother Peter to come over and talk to both of us.
Monika; Did he manage to settle the dispute?
Basilia: Yes, Peter was always the peacemaker of the family, trying to put everything into perspective. I heard Peter’s car when he pulled up into the driveway. Cecilia was outside sitting behind the little shed in the backyard when Peter arrived. The first thing Peter did was talk to Mama while she was in the front yard. After he spoke to Mama he went to the backyard to talk to my sister. After Peter spoke to her, he came into the house and straight to my room to talk to me. He knew I was angry, so he first calmed me down. Then he started telling me that Cecilia was really depressed because she doesn’t have a place of her own. What he told me next was something that surprised me because I never thought about it. While I was listening I felt really puzzled because it never crossed my mind. Peter was telling me, “You know what Basilia? I just spoke with Cecilia and she was telling me that she’s having trouble accepting you as a sister. She’s not used to having a sister in the family because she was used to being the only one. Which kind of makes a whole lot of sense.
Thirty Something.
"In other words, you have to see her point of view. All these years she’s been our only sister and we gave her all the attention for being our only sister. All of a sudden we have another sister which is you, and now you’re getting most of the attention. In other words, she’s a little jealous of you right now and she’s taking it hard. Please do me a favor and just give her time to adjust. Cecilia’s going to need time before she’ll start accepting you.”
Monika: He was right. It happens quite often.
Basilia: That’s when I looked straight into Peter eyes and told him, “You know what? I never thought about it that way. Now that you mention it, I can understand why Cecilia feels the way she does. Thank you Peter for telling me because it would have never crossed my mind. I just thought she wanted to start trouble with me for being here.” Then Peter suggested, “You and Cecilia should talk about everything while I’m still here so there won’t be any misunderstanding.” I told Peter, “I don’t have a problem talking to Cecilia as long as she doesn’t have a problem talking to me.” That’s when we both headed towards the shed in the backyard where Cecilia was sitting. “I’m sorry for arguing with you. I just didn’t understand what was going on.” I explained. “Yeah, I can’t help it. I’m used to being the only girl in our family. Then all of a sudden you come back to mama’s house looking like Miss America getting all the fucking attention. I didn’t know how to handle it, that’s why I kept bitching at you.” she said. That’s when I burst out laughing because of the way she said it, then we both started laughing. After we spoke and squared it all out, we embraced. Slowly but surely Cecilia and I started acting like sisters instead of acting like enemies which was a great relief.
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?
Basilia: That’s a good question I must say. Let me be clear, passing is overrated because it doesn’t define who you are or how you deeply feel. It’s the beauty within that’s more important than exterior beauty that we all hope to have. But exterior beauty can be wiped out in a blink of an eye, but internal beauty can last a lifetime. It’s not just passing as far as looks are concerned, it can also be our voice and body structure at the beginning of the transition.
All I can say about that is through my experiences at the beginning of my transition. First, you got to give the hormone medication time to work with you. During the first few months of my transition, I started getting to know myself again as Basilia by sitting in front of the mirror and practicing my body gestures, my laughter, and the way I spoke because I didn’t want my voice to be monotone, that itself could be a difficult task. I practiced so much in front of the mirror while in my room, that one day my mother came to my room and told me I needed to get out of the room, or I’m going to see the devil! That’s when I knew I had to take a break!
As far as my physique, I would wear clothes that would feminize and accentuate my body. I would work on my make-up, applying it in different ways, my hair I would try different hairstyles. Because in time you’ll start to feel more comfortable and confident. I would learn from other women as well as how to present and carry myself.
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?
Basilia: I can vividly remember the first time I saw a transgender woman on TV. It happened when I was still attending elementary school. It was late evening while I was watching TV when suddenly I came across a documentary about Christine Jorgensen, an “Ex-GI becomes Blonde Beauty!” It did not just allow me to realize who I am but to finally know that there’s a name to how I truly feel. “That’s what I am! I’m a transsexual! It can be done, I can become a girl!” I said to myself. But, my goodness, why does it have to be called, “TRANSSEXUAL!” sounds like a name from a horror movie!
Signing my book with a personal message
to one of my friends.
Monika: Did you have any transgender sisters around you that supported you during the transition?
Basilia: To answer your question, I can say only briefly! My social worker at Stanford University referred me to a transgender sister name Gina who lived nearby that was beginning her transition as well. When I met her, I also met her friend name Tina and Tina’s boyfriend named Terrence that were staying with her, and she was a few years into her transition. They were both from Norfolk, Virginia.
The transgender sister I was referred to was transferred to San Jose working for PG&E. She ended up being a two face liar talking behind my back. She told her friend that I will never pass as a female, and that hurt my feelings badly. Her friend comforted me and told me that I had to learn to get thick skin because going through transition is going to be a difficult journey. That’s why her friend moved back to Virginia. This was the first time I ever heard about electrolysis. They both told me about electrolysis treatments and how painful the treatment was, and she didn’t lie about that! I hated going through electrolysis treatments!
Monika: Haha, I guess nobody likes electrolysis treatments! I hated them too, That is why I am so jealous that now teenagers can take advantage of puberty blockers. What is your view on this?
Basilia: I feel the same as you about the advantages teenagers have! But again, I’m glad that they do have those advantages of information at their fingertips per se, and not having to deal with the disadvantages and lack of information back in the day.
By the time I began electrolysis treatments, I was 25 years old and I have been shaving my mustache forever it seems. This is why I had scars on my upper lip, and that troubled me through the years. I guess it’s just my imagination that has always haunted me when looking at my reflection.
Monika: You told me that during your transition you never went to see a therapist. How come...?
Basilia: Yes. It was on or about April in 1983, when I was a Merchant teller. I was really going through a do-or-die situation because I did everything I could, trying to find the information I needed to start my journey. That I literally broke down at my workstation, uncontrollably shaking and crying. I told my supervisor, Lynn, that we needed to talk. After our serious conversation about my truth, at my job with First Interstate Bank, my supervisor at the time found help for me within the human resources department at headquarters based in San Francisco, California.
I was referred to see a psychologist. I visited the psychologist only twice. Because during the last visit, I told him that I felt female as far as I can remember. There was no need to prolong my visits, as I was ready for the next step. This is when the psychologist referred me to Stanford University for my medical and psychological evaluation. During my medical evaluation, Dr. Laub did tests on me, but when he examined me physically, he went to his charts and asked me, "How long have you been taking female hormones?" I was completely puzzled! "Doctor, I never took female hormones!" I replied. "Are you sure?" He questioned. "Yes Doctor I'm sure, that's why I'm here!"
With Marci Bowers, our trans-sister and
one of the most notable GRS surgeons.
Monika: He must have been surprised.
Basilia: He was stunned, then he examined my private parts again. Then he went back to his clipboard and started writing, then turned to me. He says, "This is odd, I never came across a case like this before! Your female hormones are over dominating your male hormones. This is why you're feeling the way you're feeling. If you don't mind, I would like for you to speak to my medical panel." I told them I would.
When I spoke to his medical panel of five or six. One of the panel members told me Doctor Laub told them that this was the first time he witnessed such a case. Then she asked if I would be interested in participating in a medical survey, in exchange they would supply me with female hormones. I paused and told them that I would rather not.
Monika: Hmmm, why not?
Basilia: At that point, everything was new to me and I definitely did not want to feel like a guinea pig, per see. Besides, I felt like this is a journey I needed to do on my own. The medical panel asked me to think about their proposition and I told them I would. I never did, and that was one of my biggest regrets! Because I would have had my journey in regard to development as a transsexual documented at Stanford University.
After I completed my medical and psychological evaluation, I took it from there! I know who I am and know what I was up against, so I ran with it and the rest is history, as would say!
Monika: You had your gender reassignment surgery 15 years earlier than me. When I was in a hospital in Thailand, it was full of other girls and women waiting for the operation. And I was amazed to see so many girls like me, from so many different countries and continents. In your times, there were so few of you…
Basilia: I have to agree with you, Monika. There were a few women waiting for their operation, back in 1993. (I almost had my reassignment surgery in 1985, But unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way, I ended up having to wait for 8 long years. So close but yet so far! It just wasn’t the right time. But that’s another story!)
Anyway, as far as other women waiting for their operation, if I can recall correctly, there were about three or four. I know one of the women was scheduled for Labiaplasty because she already had her reassignment surgery. You see, Dr. Biber did those two surgeries separately. I always say to my sisters, “When I had my surgery, it was the era of Ford or Toyota, but nowadays it’s the era of Mercedes or Rolls-Royce! That’s my analogy as far as the way surgery is performed back in the day, to how it’s done nowadays. if you know what I mean. Reassignment Surgeries have advanced quite well throughout the years!
Monika: Putting the pain aside, what did you feel after the operation? Completeness? Euphoria? Happiness? My friend used to say that it was like a switch from black and white to colored photos.
Basilia: After the operation and being drugged up with Demerol, I felt like I was in La La Land! Let me rephrase that, I felt like the icing was put on this cupcake! Fulfilled, knowing that what’s between my ears is finally matching what’s between my legs!
Answering these questions has me going through memory lane! It’s refreshing actually, remembering things that happened before during my hospital stay and after my surgery that I would like to share with you. You see Monika, before all of this took place (I didn’t know about any other places to go for reassignment surgery, only Stanford University in California that will cost over $15,000 at the time and Trinidad, Colorado that cost $8,000).

Working on my book.

I remember Mama and I were inside the car and I was about to get out of the car to tell my Boss at work, that I was getting ready to go to the hospital (You see, my Doctor that Dr. Laub referred me to start HRT written a letter that I had to have abdominal surgery, in order to legally allow me to have a medical leave of absence, meaning I will get paid my normal salary while on medical leave. Pretty wise thing for my HRT Doctor to do, right?) Before I got out of the car, my mother abruptly looked at me and said, “Can I go with you to Colorado, when you go to have your surgery?” I was stunned! I felt my jaw slowly dropping! 
Monika: So nice of her. I wish my mother had been with me.
Basilia: I never thought of asking my mother to go with me. Because, mentally, you feel it’s a journey that you must take on your own. “Mama, you want to go with me?” I pleasantly and softly replied. “Yes, I want to go with you!” she answered.
YES MAMA! YES, I WANT YOU TO GO WITH ME!” I joyfully said out loud. My Mama shocked the shit out of me when she asked. It was one of the most special moments of my life! In addition, during my hospital stay, my boyfriend who became my second husband, sent me a bouquet of flowers with a note saying, IT’S A GIRL!” Well, one day a nurse along with a few interns came into the room. Before they left, one intern noticed the bouquet and the note. She smiled and asked, “Did you have a baby girl?” “You can say that!” I replied. She said, “Well, congratulations!” “Thank you!” I replied. I knew the baby girl was ME!
I thought that was so cute. Monika, I don’t know if anyone else that has been through surgery ever experienced what I experienced. Let me explain, one day while driving, a reality check hit me like a ton of bricks, for only a split second! I had a severe anxiety attack. I mean, living with a male part for so long, I guess that was how my mental status getting adjusted to my physical status per se. That was the only time I ever experienced something like that.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Basilia: Our LGBTQ+ community is under attack, especially the transgender people, sad to say! This is the time when we as transgender people need each other to come together to make sure mainstream society, especially those that came up with these off-the-wall rhetoric and ridiculous state and federal government laws! We will fight to the fullest to make sure our Civil Rights as transgender/LGBTQ+ people will not be easily taken from our community! This is what transgender people in our country are up against at this moment of crisis, again sad to say!
Taking a break, during Lobby Days.
I am checking out the view inside
the White House, Washington DC.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Basilia: Yes, I do like fashion. But being a truck driver, I dress casual. I wear comfortable shoes, leggings and tang tops or t-shirts during summer. Balloon jackets or sweaters during winter. As far as events I enjoy wearing Jackets and blazers with matching pants or skirts. For special occasions, I enjoy wearing formal wear or designer business suits with low heel sandals or low-heel pumps. I used to enjoy wearing fashionable high heel shoes but since I have been driving a truck all these years, I can’t wear them for very long without hurting my feet! I love dressing in a variety of colors, but I enjoy wearing silver or gold and black for special occasions.
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?
Basilia: What I would do is study women on television shows, my straight (I’m still trying to get used to saying, ‘cis’! I’m just a ghetto girl, raised in the ghetto part of Stockton, called Boggs Tract! You can take the girl out of the ghetto, but you can’t take the ghetto out of the girl! Especially, an old-school ghetto girl like me!) female friends and my female co-workers, their walk, their attitude when helping clients, their laugh, and their all-around personalities, while at work. Because they’re all different and I picked out the best parts of their personalities and mix them with mine in order to create my own unique personality!
Don’t get me wrong, I will always be myself, but in different situations, I used different personalities that I studied. I would do that in my room in front of a mirror if that makes any sense. This question about other straight women, friends, or relatives, I’m a little sensitive about, because I got sick and tired of hearing, “You’re slouching! You’re not supposed to sit like that! Women don’t stand like that! You’re crossing your legs wrong, that looks too masculine! Stand straight, chest out, shoulders back! Monika, I got sick and tired of being dictated to and scrutinized.


All the photos: courtesy of Basilia Loren.
© 2023 - Monika Kowalska

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