Interview with Gina Grahame - Part 2

Monika: And how about the prices?
Gina: In economic theory, competition is supposed to bring prices down and push the quality up. Yet in the case of trans-related surgery, prices are higher than ever and climbing every year, and surgeons the world over have waiting lists. I’ve heard stories of people selling their homes or closing their 401k to get the $50,000 needed for some surgeries. And the flip-side of this growth is the number of people who openly regret their surgery seems to be growing larger as well.
As to specific advice, I would simply say to examine what’s truly in your heart and not let the cheering sections online and at conferences sway you one way or another. This is your life; your one shot in this world. Live it the way you – and only you – need to.
Monika: At that time of your transition did you have any transgender role models that you could follow? What was your knowledge about transgenderism?
Gina: I didn’t have any transgender or transsexual role models nor was I part of an LGBT group or community prior to transition. I wouldn’t have known if/where one existed in my hometown at that time and don’t recall hearing the word ‘transgender’ until the last decade or so.

I think I was 13 when I heard, or more accurately saw, the word ‘transsexual’ for the first time. It was in a magazine while seated next to my mom in the optometrist's office. The story was of a woman in her early 20’s who'd undergone surgery and was now studying for a nursing degree. I was so enthralled that I secretly tore the article out and read it over and over in my room.
In my twenties, the only references I recall were the occasional tabloid stories on Roberta Close and Caroline ‘Tula’ Cossey. They were - are – remarkable, stunning women, and their stories showed me what was possible.
My therapist asked me early on ‘so you’re a woman – What kind of woman will you be?.. What will you stand for?.. Who is the woman around you and in history you admire and why?..’. I was floored. I’d been so focused on the medical part of the transition that I hadn’t given proper thought as to who I truly wanted to be.
Monika: So were there any women that you admired?
Gina: Role models that quickly emerged include Eleanor Roosevelt, Hillary Clinton, Katherine Hepburn, Mary Tyler Moore, Dolly Parton, Nora Ephron, the American Suffragettes, and my favorite at the time was Dixie Carter’s character of ‘Julia Sugarbaker’ on the tv show ‘Designing Women’. She was strong, opinionated, proud, compassionate, and beautiful. Everything I aspired to be. 
About ten years later I met my first role model who also happened to be transsexual, Aleshia Brevard. I consider her a role model not because she’s transsexual, but because she succeeded in realizing so many of her dreams in spite of it. I was introduced to Aleshia through the pages of her first memoir and then we met personally a short time later. We just clicked with each other and have been close ever since. She was, is, and will always be a role model for me and someone I lovingly consider as ‘my other mother’.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Gina: Seeing the impact my coming out had on my Dad. He and I were always so close and making him proud was something I placed a high value on. Summoning the courage to look him in the face and say ‘Dad, I’m transsexual’ took months of preparation with my therapist. I knew my revelation would be robbing him of the many dreams he had for me, but seeing his initial reaction was absolutely devastating. He’d always been the rock of the family and it seemed I had broken him with just three little words.

It took many years to rebuild our relationship and I’m happy to say we’ve done that. My being female finally clicked for him and my Mom when they visited me and my then-boyfriend, David, in Florida some seven years into transition and four years post-surgery.
Funny side note; during their visit the four of us went out to dinner. David – who knew my gender history – was determined to impress my parents. On the way out of the restaurant, my Mom held me back a bit as David and my Dad walked ahead. “He’s a very nice man.” Mom said, “but he’s not for you.” I couldn’t help but laugh at her passing judgment on my dating life. Time quickly proved she was right. David was a nice man, but he was not the right man for me. Mother really did know best.
I’m sure there are times when my parents miss the boy and young man they gave birth to and raised, but they have become more wonderful and supportive of the woman I am than I ever imagined possible. This is why I tell young sisters and brothers to not take the initial negative reaction of loved ones to heart.
A friend of mine said a common phrase in the gay community is “it often takes us 30 years to accept who we are, yet we expect our family to get there in 30 minutes”. The same certainly holds true for the trans community. We must allow people the right to their feelings and whatever time they need to process.

With her ex-boyfriend in Florida.

Monika: Have you ever been married? Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Gina: I have not. I thought about it prior to surgery, but I knew it would have been a mistake and didn’t want to potentially ruin someone else’s life because of what I knew deep-down to be inevitable.
Since the transition I’ve been asked to marry once, had it alluded to twice, and was even asked to “just spend our lives together”. None of those relationships stood the test of time for one reason or another.
Still, love is very important to me, as it should be for everyone. And while I’m not dating anyone special now, I maintain the belief I will find the right person and marry one day.
A few years ago I visited a good ol’ fashioned Tarot Card and Palm Reader while in New Orleans who said “I see two great loves in your life. And you’ve already had one.” I will always be the optimist.
What I’m looking for in a partner has also matured. The most handsome guy in the room may catch my eye, but it’s going to take a great deal more to catch my heart or even have me shaving my legs for a date. Pretty faces and toned bodies fade; a genuine heart and warm sense of humor are eternal.
Monika: What do you enjoy most in being a woman?
Gina: The emotional answer is I most enjoy not having to think about it. I love the natural congruity of my mind, body, and soul. I also cherish the emotional depth of friendships I have with a core group of girlfriends. That’s what I observed in women and was most jealous of before my transition. On a lighter note, I love getting dressed up for a night out. Picking out a great dress and doing my hair and makeup is one of the best feelings in the world.
A special night out.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Gina: I believe all women can make a huge difference and encourage their participation at every level, regardless if they are transsexual, transgender, or cis.
I follow the goings-on of national politics, LGBT and otherwise, though I have no interest in becoming personally involved. Politics as I see it is just a battle of egos, ideology, and partisan rhetoric; a lace where measurable results are seemingly irrelevant. While I love to debate and am good at it, I am intrinsically a problem solver with a GSD degree. That’s my acronym for ‘Gets Stuff Done’. It's why I went into business; that's a world where actions truly do speak louder than words.
Monika: Some time ago you acted in your own show called “Miss Understood”. Have you got any plans for the follow-up of the show?
Gina: You saw that did you?... I enjoyed writing and performing the ‘Miss Understood’ monologue as part of the show 'Trans Sister Tales' and am definitely interested in doing more with an audience. I have some ideas, but they’re not fully formed so I’ll keep them to myself for the time being.
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Gina: I’ve never actually seen one. On one hand, any pageant that rewards and encourages people to be their individual best is a good thing and something I would support.
On the other hand, I prefer to see transsexual women competing alongside ciswomen as that is reflective of the world we live in. That’s why I am so proud of and impressed with Jenna Talackova. I would rather finish Top 20 in an all-encompassing beauty pageant than be crowned queen of a transgender pageant. But that’s just me.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Gina: I love fashion and had my own line for three seasons in the mid-’90s. I’m a unique blend of Detroit, Tennessee, San Francisco, and Italy, so my outfits vary a great deal depending on my mood. In general, I prefer the classics, such as a black, Donna Karan sheath dress.
You’re also just as likely to find me in a pair of great jeans, cowboy boots, and leather jacket walking thru the city. Being 6’ 1” tall, long A-line skirts and dresses also work well.
From Aleshia, I’ve learned that ‘drapey is better than form-fitting’ as I’m no longer 30. My color palette in clothes includes a lot of black, teals, rust, deep blues, greens, fawn-like browns, and off-white. Makeup color choices vary with the outfit and season. I limit trendy to nail color; it’s inexpensive and a great way to stay current.
As for quirky, there are two things: first, I absolutely adore hats. Newsies, cowboy, and especially the wide-brimmed styles are reminiscent of the great starlets of the 1930s and ’40s. I have quite a collection including some vintage Italian hats from the early ’60s. Secondly, I have an affinity for retro – from the structured look of Joan on Mad Men to the flowing tops with bell-bottom pants of the early ’70s. I’ve incorporated certain pieces reminiscent of those styles into my wardrobe and just love the look.

Vintage hat from Italy, circa 1962.

Monika: Are you involved in the life of your local LGBT community?
Gina: Not really. My local activity has been focused on TEEI, The Transgender Economic Empowerment Initiative, and mentoring where I can. I've been an advocate for TEEI, The Trevor Project, and GLSEN (among other non-LGBT causes) for a number of years and have reached a point in life where I’m tired of being essentially just a check writer. I'm interested in becoming personally active in just one or two causes. I’ve not yet decided what those will be or the role(s) I would like to play, but I’m working on it.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself? 
Gina: No. I love to write, but don’t feel I’ve accomplished nearly enough in my post-transitional life as of yet to warrant such a thing. No offense to anyone, but I’ve seen too many autobiographies by individuals whose only noted achievement seems to be having undergone gender transition, and for me, that’s just not enough.
Monika: Could you say that you are a happy woman now?
Gina: Yes, incredibly so! I’ve accomplished more than I ever dreamed possible and am just getting started!
Monika: Gina, thank you for the interview!
Gina: Thank you, Monika. It’s been a pleasure.

All the photos: courtesy of Gina Grahame.
© 2013 - Monika Kowalska

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