Interview with Sheila Newsom - Part 2

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?
Sheila: That is something that each individual has to answer. However, I share with many a sadness toward the cultural Weltanschauung in which we have to live up to some standard of beauty or form in order “to pass”. It is patriarchal and pejorative, but it is a reality. I realize that I have lived into this sort of ethos and that it may seem to be paradoxical. But, I think each of us has a form, and image that we are given, and to live into that truth is the best we can do.
For me, it was to be the most feminine persona I could imagine. But, there are other transgender women who do not want that sort of exterior. That becomes the issue: who defines the normative? At this point in time, it is a cultural perspective that is defined by inherently misogynistic inertia. Younger generations seem much less attached to this type of world view. However, I have been given the gifts of resources and time/space to honor my own vision of myself. I am extremely lucky and cannot say anything more. I have been lucky to be able to live this path in the way I have.
Monika: Do you remember the first time you saw a transgender woman on TV or met anyone transgender in person?
Sheila: Yes, my medical school had a program that was run by the department of psychiatry that helped transgender women to transition. This was in the early 1980s and transgender was a pathology as defined in the DSM-3. But, I remember as a medical student interviewing these women and feeling deeply compassionate about their commitment to this. Most had faced enormous pressure to abandon who and what they knew themselves to be. I also remember the films of Pedro Almodóvar coming out in the early 2000’s that detailed the interior lives of transgender women. Finally, it was hard to not see Caitlyn Jenner’s very public transition.
"I have been given the gifts of
resources and time/space to
honor my own vision of myself."
Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow or followed?
Sheila: I loved the treatment of Lili Elbe and her partner in The Danish Woman. It showed the anguish of the movement in clear terms. I also have followed, although not closely, Laverne Cox and Laura Jane Grace. Also, I have become good friends with Fiona Dawson, one of the directors of Transmilitary who is not transgender, but through whom I have met some of the heroic women in the film.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Sheila: I am alarmed at the entrenchment of a conservative agenda that seems intent on making transgender a political issue. Many politicians seem to use transgender issues as bait to galvanize voters. The demonization and characterization of an inaccurate stereotype do nothing to lessen hostility and aggression toward transgender women. We have regressed in this area, and depending on the next presidential election results, stand to drift further away from a democracy in which gender expression is an inviolable right.
Monika: You published your book titled "A Calling from the Bones" in 2018. What inspired you to write it?
Sheila: I sat down to write this book just after leaving my family home. I wanted to explore, in a series of vignettes, the pressure points in my journey that I felt had led up to my decision to transition. It was a way of healing and of explicating how I saw things as I moved through the experiences. The core of the writing is around the transgender process, but there are thirty vignettes and illustrations that cover all aspects of a broad life. That means stories about my childhood, education, military career, medical work, and life as an alpha-male not fully awake to her own becoming.
I also used a nom de plume, Sheila Grace, MD, as we were just at the beginning of my transition and my relationship with my wife and children was still full of combustion. It is an interesting read, but one that I will want to go back to at some point and to dive into the undercurrent of psychic forces that were moving through me all my life. I have a better understanding of that now after the master's training in Depth Psychology. But, in sum, it is available on Kindle and an interesting read.
Monika: Which aspects of your story could be helpful for other transgender women?
Sheila: First, it speaks to coming to terms with gender issues early on in life. I had coffee with a dear friend this last week and she was telling me how her child, identified since birth as a cis-gender male, has begun to wear dresses to school. She detailed how she and the family had supported him/her from the start and how the school had also helped in this early exploration. It warmed my heart; and I am making plans to visit the family soon to sit down with this young human and to ask how I can help in the process. This brought to light the cultural shift that has been taking place in many parts of the country and world that allows for such exploration. Giving our youth the permission to express and to question the rigid boundaries of gender and sexual preference is a narrative I want to continue to voice to the world.
Available via Amazon.
Second, it is never too late to transition. I started HRT at 64 and went through FFS at 68. In many ways, I feel like a teenager. However, late in life movements like this have many sharp edges. As a parent, spouse, sibling, and physician, I carried psychic overlays from others that were projected onto who they thought I was. To radically change my persona and the deep parts of my being was horribly difficult for those around me. It engendered a great deal of guilt that I have continued to have to address. What I always come back to in telling others about the journey is this: I transitioned because I did not want to commit suicide. The dysphoria that I experienced was profound and the suicidality was in many ways higher than if I had tried to do it earlier because of the guilt that I felt about how this would affect my family. It argues for mental health professionals like me, who have some insight and who know some of the tools that could be helpful, to freely offer their experience, strength, and hope to the world.
Third, suicidality is frequently a part of our process. There are many reasons for this, but the numbers suggest that nearly half of us attempt suicide and nearly all transgender men and women think about it at some point. It is important to help educate our communities about the danger of forceful suppression of the transgender transition at any point in the life journey.
Monika: Are you involved in the life of the local LGBTQ community?
Sheila: I am not as active as I intend to be. Early in transition, I had entre with my volunteer work at Kind Clinic, which is an incredible resource of free health care for the LGBTQ community in Austin and San Antonio. I volunteered to help with the gender clinic and learned from the outside looking in. I then was a full-time student and, although separated from my wife, still married, so I have had limited social exposure for the last two years.
I have probably been most supportive in regard to the LGBTQ community at West Point as I have spoken there and have donated money. I am friends with the person in charge of diversity for the Corps and want to continue to help where I can. I also look forward to beginning to date, if that presents itself, as I think that open doors to the community that are otherwise shut.
Monika: You are also the founder of FindingMetis, a concierge ketamine service that offers a potentially healing and transformative psychedelic experience. Could you say a few words about this service?
Sheila: Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic that was developed during the Viet Nam War era to provide a safe form of sedation for soldiers wounded on the battlefield. It does not suppress cardiac nor respiratory system function and was an excellent agent for use in this setting. Years later, it was noted that the medication could help improve severe depression and assist with the complexities of metal health issues surrounding PTSD. By 2010, there was a growing body of medical literature showing the safety and efficacy of this drug for a variety of difficult to treat mental health conditions. Unfortunately, this was countered by a media reputation gained in the late 1980s when it had become notorious as a party drug. This inertia has persisted.
However, I know how effective it can be. I suffered from suicidal ideation and my physician/therapist recommended a trial of ketamine. In a single session, it effectively took away suicide as a considered option. I then began to study the drug’s history and reviewed much of the medical literature. I discovered that there are numerous clinics now offering IV ketamine, but there are very few that offer a personalized experience stewarded by a physician in the setting of one’s home. That’s when the idea of Finding Metis came to me.

Metis, the Greek goddess of wisdom is our brand of ketamine, and we create a very specific ritual to maximize its effects. Psychology and quantum mechanics tell us that we, as individuals, are energetic fields of probability. That means that there is an energy exchange present in all healing practices. Shamans have known this for millennia; and, in current medical terms, the transference and countertransference between physician and patient can create a psychic container that is very powerful. If, just prior to administration, the potent nature and healing capacity of the medication are brought to consciousness by words and/or prayer by the healer, then even a willingness of the patient to believe in the process is sufficient to augur healing.
This means that after a thorough medical and mental health screening, then a step-by-step discussion of the process, and after consent is given, then a plan is made to the home of the client. There an intramuscular dose, between 1-1.5 mg/kg is administered in the buttocks or thigh. This dose, much lower than that for general anesthesia, reliably constellates an individualized psychedelic experience that augurs healing in some fashion. The disassociation typically lasts 45 minutes to an hour, during which time the physician attends at the bedside. This process is repeated three times within a week. In scores of cases, I can attest that ketamine/Metis when used in this manner and as the part of a very sacred ritual has significant healing capacity.
Monika: So it is true that you overcame suicidal ideation through ketamine therapy...
Sheila: I am not certain that “overcame” is the correct verb. First, it implies that suicidality was vanquished like a foe, which is not true. Its compulsive character was, however, effectively dissipated and that felt like a miracle. After one injection, suicidal ideation vanished. However, it has episodically returned but its compulsive nature has remained at bay. That means that although the thought has returned, the urge to act out seems to have gone.
Second, suicidal ideation is an individualized and complex phenomenon that is a mixture of many components and involves many neurological pathways. There is a review article from 2019 covering multiple studies that supports the claim that ketamine does reduce suicidal ideation. However, the exact neurological pathways and psychic effects are not known. But, again, I will stress that I have seen it now in multiple patients and that compulsion to kill oneself may be taken away by ketamine.
"This life, this becoming, is
one beautiful movement."
Third, studies need to be done, especially ones involving the transgender population in which suicide is such a prevalent process. Fourth, very few physicians are interested in taking on the potential liability and risk that comes from working in this terrain. But, as a transgender woman, I am confident that if a family member was going through transition, suffered incapacitating dysphoria, and was nearing suicide that I would not hesitate to use this method. I know it can be lifesaving.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender women that are afraid of late transition?
Sheila: First, assemble a good team. Finding a good therapist who can help in transition is terribly important. Also, a physician who understands the specific needs of the transgender woman is vital.
Second, try to include family in the narrative. Although there may be lots of resistance, I found, to my surprise, that there were family members who wanted to understand and to help. This IS a family process, and even when we are cut out of the herd there are dynamics that resonate deeply and that need exploration. Avoidance is not a good strategy.
Third, I suggest finding a good mentor who has gone through the drama. A shoulder to cry on and a deep relationship with someone who understands the trajectory is so very valuable.
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 hospital table; that’s where they begin. Do you agree with this?
Sheila: Yes, and I would expand that to envision an understanding of “transgendering” as a life-long journey and a sacred calling. In many ways, the dreams and images in those dreams live us forward until we can begin to decipher what they tell us. James Hillman said, “I am already revealed... Revelation already given with existence - not a task.“ To me, that means that this life, this becoming, is one beautiful movement. With all its twists and turns is a journey involving our soul.
Monika: Sheila, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!
Sheila: Monika, I have read several of your wonderful interviews. You are so gifted. Thank you for honoring me by including me in this incredible group.


All the photos: courtesy of Sheila Grace Newsom.
© 2022 - Monika Kowalska

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