Interview with Jemma - Part 2


Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Jemma: I'm probably not as active as I should be. I feel like being in a marginalized position put a lot of pressure on us to kind of pick up the fight and try to get ourselves on equal footing. It's hard to add that extra level of effort to whatever it is you're already doing in life. Trying to find a good career, building meaningful relationships, creating financial stability and growth, dealing with the medical and legal expenses we're hit with, etc.
We already have a lot on our plate; but we still have so much to do. So it's definitely important, and I'm so grateful that there are people who have taken the time to help us get to where we are now. I feel like I need to contribute my share to the fight since I've been able to reap the rewards of those before me and those that are politically active now. One of the best things my therapist has helped me with is realizing that it just takes a bunch of small steps to add up to something big.
Monika: Are you involved in the life of your local LGBTQ community?
Jemma: Not really. I've made a few trans friends since I started the transition. Most people just starting out now or within the last few months. I do what I can to help share resources and try to get us involved with doing things. Even if that's just getting out of the house for a bit and having a little fun. I tried some support groups early on in transition, but I just never really clicked with those groups.

Hiking Hinoyama National Parm outside
of Shimonoseki, Japan.

I think it's important for us to look out for each other and help each other out because it really is a rough road to go through transition. Even for someone like me, where I feel like I've been incredibly fortunate to have had as easy as a transition as I have, there are just so many obstacles and and hurdles to get through that we all need as much help and support as we can get. 
Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBTQ communities. Being the last letter in this abbreviation is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBTQ group?
Jemma: I think when the concept of transgender people was starting to get firmly planted years back that it was incredibly helpful to have the company of others who were fighting similar battles for acceptance. It's almost like we've gotten to a point, though, where the T in the acronym doesn't quite fit in with the rest. Not that we're all opposed to each other; but more that our paths for acceptance are starting to diverge quite a bit.
We're starting to realize the difference between gender identity, expression, and sexuality. In a way, it's still nice to have a large community under the same umbrella. I just think that we're naturally drifting away to pilot our own course.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Jemma: I love the idea of fashion! I don't follow it too closely, however. It's like a subject to study to me. I have so much else going on that trying to find time to squeeze in what's trending and what's not is just a little too much for me right now. Also, again, we're such a diverse culture that the popular fashion in my area might be pretty horrendous in a different region.
Thankfully, summertime in the south means that T-shirts and shorts are always a safe bet…because that's the majority of my wardrobe. I'm fairly active outdoors so I prioritize comfort and functionality over style. Give me something breathable with a good range of movement and I'll be happy. I do like to put on something nice and get all dolled up for a nice night out though! Just have to make sure to get makeup that will let your skin breathe and not get super streaky from the sweat.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Jemma: Love is super important to me. Not so much the romantic type, yet, anyway. More like the love of really close friends and family. The people are always there to put a smile on your face or help you out when you might not even know you need help. That's the kind of love that keeps me going.
I've got a few friends who I truly consider my sisters and I would be in pretty rough shape without them in my life. I'd really like to pursue some romantic interest at some point. I'm just not quite there emotionally yet. Maybe one day. Settle down with someone who I would fully consider to be my best friend and partner in life.

Kayaking through the old downtown
industrial district.

Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Jemma: I'm currently writing a book! Or at least working on one. It's not a memoir, more of a novel of different stories revolving around life in the rural southeast. Just a collection of vignettes highlighting how absurd yet normally life's turns can take. There are definitely some transgender elements in it. I don't think I'm nearly a strong enough writer to be able to create this world full of characters I can relate to too without at least having trans issues affect the story in various places.
I'd like to think it's going to end up as something resembling Hunter Thompson's works. Articles and passages filled with metaphors that just kind of highlight things in a perspective that runs parallel to the larger narrative around us and then intersects at odd angles. It's exciting to be able to take the different situations I've experienced living all across the southeast and use them to express a little bit of counter-culture.
Monika: What would you recommend to transgender women that are afraid of transition, discrimination, and hatred?
Jemma: I would tell them that their fear is definitely NOT without merit. The world, in general, is a scary and cruel place, at times. Even for people not going through the transition. It will absolutely chew up and destroy people. If you add dealing with gender issues into it, it's only going to make things harder. But the world is also a great and beautiful place, full of wonder and kindness. It's not always going to be terrible. Yes, we as trans people are going to have more things to work through and against, just to be able to function in society without being total pariahs. Yes, it's going to be insanely easy to sit back and let jealousy over people who don't have our issues and how easy things seem for them. But we're people just like them. We absolutely have the same rights to happiness and love and worth that other people have.
No one, I think, has ever said being transgender would be easy. It's unfair that we feel we have to work that much harder to get to the same level as everyone else, but we are far from the only group of people to have that sentiment. Going through the transition just means that even though we see how hard the road is going to be, that we're still willing to put that work in. I think that's a really special notion. It reminds me of the mindset of the people that founded our country. Life would have been easier if they were able to just accept things as they were; but they knew if they wanted something better, something more in life, they would have to do some difficult things to reach those goals.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Jemma: I'm currently working towards getting all of my legal stuff changed over to my new identity and schedule bottom surgery. I'm mostly completely through with social transition. Working on the install team for a new piece of machinery in the factory I work at. Spilling a lot of digital ink trying to get the stories in my head out in some physical form.

College days at a football game.

I'm hoping that in the near term future, I'll have been able to leverage the experience I have helping to start a new manufacturing facility into a position as a project manager somewhere closer to the city, as well as finishing up some of my creative work and *hopefully* *fingers super extra crossed* being able to shop some of it around for publishing/development.
I'd like to think that I'll be in a position that I'd be able to travel more like I did when I was a student, with a comfortable place to stay with room for my fur babies. AND, have at least hiked half of the Appalachian Trail, if not a total thru-hike. Trying to keep my goals reasonable, haha! 
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?
Jemma: Totally! I tell a friend of mine who is just starting the transition something similar to this all the time. Transition isn't my goal, it’s a step in attaining my goals. It's a part of what makes me…well, me; but it's not the final word on who I am.
I'll always have had my perceptions and ideas shaped by growing up with gender issues and going through the transition. I'd just like to think that my own personal story is more than changing the letter on my ID. More like it's just something that adds context to the person I am and the person I hope to be!
Monika: Jemma, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!
Jemma: Thank you for taking the time to make me feel important! :)

All the photos: courtesy of Jemma.
© 2017 - Monika Kowalska

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