Interview with Venus de Mars - Part 2

Monika: How disappointing!
Venus: Extremely frustrating! Still, I'm glad we stood our ground and eventually won. And I am SO thankful to everyone who believed in us and helped us afford the lawyer. Let me just state here Thank you all! those who donated. Thank you, thank you! 
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in the American society?
Venus: I am absolutely stunned at the progress that has been made over the past few years! Of course there is massive discrimination, but nothing like what was around me when I came out. Back then it was so hard. I believe the trans-community is well on our way to finally having our voices. I think we actually will see the changes happen which we'd only dreamt of just a few short years ago. It's incredible.
Monika: At what age did you transition into woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? 
Venus: I was 28-29 when I first began to admit to myself that I was trans, and begin the road to transition. That was 1988-89. Things were so different back then. I had no direction. No role models. No one. There was a program at the university here for transitioning, but it was very small, and very traditional in its approach. It wasn't anything I was interested in going into.

In the basement greenroom of "Bourbon Theater" in
Lincoln NE, 2014, while on tour with "Laura Jane
Grace & Against Me". Photo by Dan Chick.

I found a doctor on my own through my health care facility by calling and calling and calling until someone finally agreed to talk to me. And I had to advocate for myself every step of the way... I finally was able to establish a hormone plan, and I've been on them since. BUT Lynette and I didn't want to divorce, which was the usual path back then.
I slowed my transition down so she could get her head around it all. Remember, there was no one around us. We were completely alone in what we were attempting to do. Staying together was seen as so unusual.
It was incredibly hard. Emotionally, and physically, every step of the way, but we survived and stayed together.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Venus: No. None. There just weren't any. I eventually discovered the drag queen community, but back then that was also so fractured. There just wasn't anyone.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Venus: Feeling alone. Really. I mean we had each other...but when I'd had a hard day, I just couldn't explain it in a way that my wife could understand. I felt so alone.. but we did what we could to support each other, and eventually we stumbled into others who were also on the path. Eventually we found a kind of support.
Monika: You and your wife were the subject of the 2004 documentary “Venus of Mars. What do you think about transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers or books so far?
Venus: A lot of the work previous to our documentary were more "Trans-people as subject," meaning their own voices weren't really heard. Emily Goldberg, the filmmaker for our documentary, really wanted us to be heard. Our voices. And she didn't go down the sensational route even though she could have. She let us untangle our arguments in private. One big one while on tour out in New York comes to mind. And in doing that, she gained our trust, and we were able to share much more about ourselves than we would have had she jumped in our faces during our arguments. The filming took about 4 years, and we became friends with the filmmaker over that time.
Since then I think the trans-community has really begun be much more vocal in film and books in our own right. We're telling our own stories.
Newspapers used to subjugate anything written about a trans-person under "News of the weird" columns. We were made fun of constantly. Now we're taken seriously. Our community is respected.

Taken in Duluth MN, 2014.
Photo by Paul Whyte.

This is simply all amazing to me. I honestly never imagined I'd see this in my lifetime. I had prepared myself to live on the front lines of the gender-war forever... and now I am actually able to relax often. Just be. Not feel like I'm constantly under attack if I'm found out, or suspect. It is absolutely amazing. Of course I'm speaking of here in America. And in the larger cities...
When we were the subject of the documentary, we dealt with a lot of bias, and the filmmaker captured some of it. Even in places like New York. I don't think that would happen quite as much now... at least I've noticed it's lessened so much since then. STILL, there are still plenty of places who have little or no room for us. Including many places in America... and some which surprise me.
The state of Arizona for example proposed a bill in 2013 that public bathrooms must be used according to birth gender. Trans people who have fully transitioned are still legally bound to use the public bathroom according to their birth gender. It was ridiculous. 
Luckily it got tabled after a ton of protest from the Trans-community there, and has died, it sounds like. And now same-sex marriage is legal in Arizona. So yes, overall I feel like we've made incredible progress. Still, however, you need to be careful. It seems new challenges happen almost every day... at least on a one to one basis. Being out as trans is still a challenge. You need to have eyes on the back of your head.
Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBT communities. Being the last letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBT group?
Venus: We've always been part of the full community. From the beginning, really. But I think we've always been kind of seen as the "Red-Headed Stepchild" of the community. Not really fully accepted. And at times fully rejected by the community. I still see myself as part of the fuller community, and do what I can to support everyone, but I do think, yes... We can break away now. We can stand on our own and fight our own fights. Maybe the full community will finally begin to see how valuable we've always been to the cause. 
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Venus: Absolutely we can make a difference in politics. I know of a number of Trans-people who are in politics and have done incredible advancements for us because of it. They still do. We should all be involved in whatever aspects we can be in politics, Trans or not. But especially Trans I think if we want our progress to continue.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colours or trends?
Venus: Ha! Well, Yes I do!.. Though I tend to lean towards Punk... kind of a fetish/rock, punk style. ... a Joan Jett-like style I guess. I love her look! On occasion I do the dresses, but usually just for more formal events...and then I go towards the Goth look... black for my base color across the board.
Oh and everything has to have a bit of an edge to it. A little black-leather, a few studs...etc. I've just kind of fallen into that style over the years. But I love it all really. Always willing to try different things now and then. But "basic-black-tough-girl-fetish-punk-rock" is my usual starting point.

Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Venus: I couldn't do anything without it really. If it weren't there, I'd be so angry all the time I'd be blinded. Love gives me time to breath. See the goodness all around me. See the possibilities.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Venus: I'm actually writing one now. I started about 5 years ago, and have been collecting up stories for some time. And just now am finally outlining it. But the "coming-out" story has been told so much now, so I'm not sure how it'll come together for me. We'll see. Expect something in a year or so. ;)
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Venus: Well, this is the best time to come out. Also remember that all things are possible.
Monika: Venus, thank you for the interview!
Venus: Thank YOU, Monika!

Main photo credits: Gretchen Baer/Bisbee AZ - during their 2014 PRIDE.
All the photos: courtesy of Venus de Mars.
© 2014 - Monika Kowalska

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