Interview with Erin Dees - Part 2

Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Erin: I arrived in Canada only recently and it's too soon to speak about conditions here. Back in the U.S., trans women of colour are suffering under a wave of violence. They are targeted by transphobia, misogyny, and racism all at once. They are more likely to be deprived of housing and income, multiplying the oppression they face. There is no liberation for trans women until we have liberation for the most vulnerable among us.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colours or trends?
Erin: My fashion style is somewhere between "artsy office professional" and "queer science teacher." I tend to wear maxi dresses and skirts because I'm tall and they're super-comfortable. I'm finally at peace with my body and enjoy wearing outfits that remind me of that peace. I'm not really trendy—I tend to look for styles I can wear for years. For example, faux wrap dresses hold up really well from season to season.

"My fashion style is somewhere between artsy
office professional and queer science teacher."

Monika: Do you often experiment with your makeup?
Erin: I did in the early days. There was so much to learn, so I'd schedule a makeover, take copious notes, and spend months practicing before moving on to the next skill.
Nowadays I have basically three makeup looks. My most minimal-effort look is plain moisturizer with sunblock, a swipe of tinted lip balm, and a dab of cream blush. My regular daily look is tinted CC cream, one shade of lip & cheek cream applied to eyelids/cheeks/lips, and eyeliner. Finally my going-out look involves the whole enchilada of primer, foundation, contour, highlighting, gradient eyeshadow, mascara, and so on.
Monika: By the way, do you like being complimented on your looks?
Erin: If it's coming from a good place, like my wife spontaneously saying something sweet or my friends being appreciative, then yes. If it's coming from a patronizing or objectifying place, then not so much.
Monika: Do you remember your first job interview as a woman?
Erin: I do. I was a little nervous because they had to have known about my most recent book written under my deadname. But no one said a word about my transition, and everyone treated me kindly. Moreover, one of the interviewers from elsewhere in the company was another out trans woman in tech, and it was valuable to her perspective on working there.
Monika: What would you advise to all transwomen looking for employment?
Erin: When looking for a job (especially in the U.S.), I would carefully scan each company's list of benefits to find out how trans-inclusive the healthcare package is. I would also seek out the experience of other women, both cis and trans, who have worked there.
Monika: Are you involved in the life of the local LGBTQ community?
Erin: In my new city, not yet—but as soon as I find communities to connect to, I will. Back in Portland, I attended and occasionally helped facilitate a peer support group for parents of trans kids (in addition to my being trans, I have trans kids too).

"We both feel like my transition saved our marriage. It
forced us to communicate more deeply and more often."

Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Erin: Lynn is everything to me. She's my person. We've known each other for the better part of two decades, have raised three amazing kids together, and have been through so much change. I'm so grateful to be in her life. The past year and a half especially, we've done a lot of work on our relationship and grown even closer. I can't wait to grow old with her. 
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Erin: In a way, that's what I use my Instagram presence for. I write a lot of (comparatively) longer-form posts that push the word limit as I try to articulate what this experience has felt like for me. As far as compiling all these thoughts into a single memoir goes—the writing/curating challenge would be fun, but I doubt I'd ever publish anything. There are already good memoirs out there from the perspective of White, middle-class, able-bodied trans women.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Erin: My next step is to get my family settled into Canada and help my new company grow. Five years from now, I'd like to be helping other engineers succeed in their careers on our hopefully wildly successful team. I'd like to be celebrating our children as our older ones continue to establish their lives, and as our youngest heads off to university.

"Honour your fear, keep your feelings sacred, and
just know that we've all felt that fear too."

Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender women that are afraid of transition?
Erin: Honour your fear, keep your feelings sacred, and just know that we've all felt that fear too. Your fear is doing an important job for you: trying to protect you. I schedule regular "meetings" with my fear where I listen to everything it has to say to me, acknowledge what it's trying to protect me from, and then think of ways to deal with those concerns. (I imagine my fear personified as Kate Bishop, the witty and impulsive west-coast incarnation of Marvel Comics' "Hawkeye" character.)
Instead of thinking about transition as one giant event, it can help to think of lots of tiny steps—all of them optional. For each little step, whether it's changing one thing about your appearance or trying a new pronoun or making a phone call to a therapist, ask yourself, "Will I be happier if I've at least tried this to see if I like it?"
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?
Erin: Learning from others' stories can be helpful when we want to know what to expect from hormones or surgeries. But it's all too easy to start comparing our own body or results to someone else's. It's important to remind ourselves that there's no single approach to transition. Dysphoria is extremely personal, and each trans person's body is different. The only important comparison is, "am I better off making this change than I would be without it?"
I like Ms. Grahame's exhortation to consider transition as a beginning rather than an end. It may be an important goal for us, but it's really unlocking even bigger, more important goals on the horizon.
Monika: Erin, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!
Erin: It's been wonderful to be a part of this. Thank you for the interview, and for featuring the voices of so many wonderful trans people here.


All the photos: courtesy of Erin Dees.
© 2021 - Monika Kowalska

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