When I moved to NYC fifteen years ago, I was finally able to express myself and start to live as the woman I really am. It's a journey that still has many miles to go, but I'm here to share my thoughts, hopes, dreams and confusion. Also you know, some cute pictures too.
This week I was so excited to be interviewed for the latest edition of transgender author Dharma Kellher's Readers Club newsletter! Check it out here.
Here's the text of it here:
An Interview with Author/Podcaster Faith DaBrooke
I discovered Faith DaBrooke a few month ago when I started listening to The Gender Rebels, a podcast that she produces with her partner Kathleen. According to their website, "The Gender Rebels is a fun, informative weekly question-and-answer podcast that explores life outside the gender binary."
I listen to a LOT of podcasts that deal with being transgender and other related issues and The Gender Rebels is by far one of the best, both in terms of the discussions and the production quality.
What I didn't realize right away was that in addition to being a podcaster, Faith DaBrooke is also an author. I recently finished reading her novel American Transgirl and absolutely loved it. So I contacted Faith and asked her some questions about bring a trans podcaster and author. Here's what she had to say: Dharma: What led you to start The Gender Rebels podcast?
Faith: My partner Kath is a veteran podcaster and she spent years producing a couple different ones including But I Digress and ABC Gotham. As we were both creative people we often discussed the idea of a creative project we could share.
Our first foray into podcasts was one called Fool Me Once about tricks, scams, hustles, woo, and frauds. We did a couple episodes, but as a new podcaster I couldn't quite find the balance between scripted prepared information and natural impromptu conversation. We've shared those episodes with our patrons, but Fool Me Once quickly fizzled.
So, we began discussing other topics, eventually settling on transgender issues. It was something that I knew a great deal about from life experience and from years of research, and having my cis [non-transgender] partner Kath ask questions was natural. The result is The Gender Rebels.
It's been amazing to see the responses we get and the stories we hear from people. We've made new friends via the podcast and it feels almost like a community. It's been great.
Dharma: How did you get into writing?
Faith: Writing is something I've done pretty much my entire life. There have always been amazing stories and adventures happening in my head. There has never been a lack of inspiration or a time when I didn't have multiple story ideas running through my head. My writings have obviously progressed from the short stories ten or twelve year old me wrote to actual adult screenplays and novels. But the writing bug has always been there.
Dharma: Tell us about American Transgirl and what motivated you to write this story?
Faith: American Transgirl is the story of Matt, a kid growing up in suburban Georgia in the 90s. Not only does he deal with gender dysphoria, but he also tries to navigate life at a new school, friends, and crushes on girls. When he meets a new friend, Michelle, he's able to come out of his shell more and the two begin hitting up the local gay bars where Matt can show off his new persona Sarah.
Later, when Matt moves to NYC, he finds the freedom to begin expressing his feminine side more and eventually comes to terms with the fact that he is and always has been transgender. Things get more complicated when she comes out as Sarah and falls for Erin, a struggling artist and lesbian. It's about figuring out who you are, finding love, and finding your home in this world.
The novel actually came into this world first as a short story about a crossdresser coming out to a friend. At the time I was writing it, I was thinking of writing a memoir and decided to combine the two ideas into a single novel.
Dharma: How are you and the main character similar and how are you different?
Faith: As I mentioned, a lot of memoir ended up in the novel. But the character ultimately isn't me. For one thing, I wrote Sarah as non-creative specifically to contrast her with Erin. Plus I've never been a barista, though I have had plenty of low paying jobs in my time.
Dharma: What were some of the challenges you faced in writing this story?
Faith: There were two big challenges in completing the novel. Firstly, I wasn't quite sure how to structure the story. It's told in three books (high school, life in NYC, a romance with Erin), but I didn't really know if it should be structured chronologically, or maybe alternate between past and present. Ultimately, I decided that Erin needed to be introduced early which is why the story starts starts at the end before zooming back in time to the beginning.
The other major challenge was making sure that Erin was written authentically. I'm a trans lesbian, but Erin is a cis lesbian and so I was writing a character without having experienced what life as a cis lesbian is like. Ultimately, I went back and added a couple new chapters during the third or fourth draft to flesh out her character a little more. That made me much happier with the character, though I still worried that cis lesbians might think her unrealistic.
Dharma: What surprised you about writing this story?
Faith: That I was able to fall in love with certain characters. I won't say which, but I had to stop myself from writing extra scenes including them. I would have loved to indulge so I could have more of those characters, but ultimately that detracts from the story. Some characters are meant to be spices and not a main dish.
Dharma: Are you writing a sequel or another story? What other projects are you working on?
Faith: There's no sequel to American Transgirl. Highly, highly astute readers of this and my other novel, Falling in Like, will be able to figure out that there is a connection between the two. It's subtle, but they're in the same world. Really it's because they're both similar in tone; funny, bittersweet, introspective first person narratives about finding your own place in the world and learning to be comfortable in it. At some point I will probably write a third book in that loose "trilogy," but not a direct sequel.
In fact, after two introspective stories, I decided to take a writers' holiday. Right now I'm about a third of the way through my next book, which is a fun YA pulp science fiction adventure book. It's full of space pirates, alien artifacts, starships, gangsters and other good stuff.
Dharma: What are your thoughts on the growing number of trans-inclusive novels. Are they helping or hurting the trans community?
Faith: At the library i picked up the YA novel Dreadnought by April Daniels. I thought it was just a book about a female superhero and I was delighted to see that it actually had a transgender protagonist. That was a great surprise and it was a really fun book. I'd love for more people to be surprised like that.
Dharma: How do you feel about cisgender people writing novels about transgender main characters?
Faith: As I mentioned above, I was nervous writing a cis lesbian character for fear that she would be inauthentic or worse that she would offend actual cis lesbians. Writing a character of color or a disabled character would make me equally nervous. And I would hope any cis author writing a transgender character is equally as nervous.
Certainly I would hate to try and claim that trans characters are off limits to cis authors. To me that's a ludicrous idea. But I would want any cis author doing their homework before they put a trans character to paper. I would also like them to maybe run it by a real transgender person before they make it public. I'd volunteer to be that person.
Trans people are ultimately people, and whether created by a trans or a cis author the goal should be a well rounded, realistic character and not a stereotype.
Dharma: How receptive do you feel cisgender readers are to reading trans-inclusive fiction?
Faith: Hopefully they are. I'd like to think they are. And I'd like to see the day when trans-inclusive stories can feature transgender characters where being trans is not a central plot point. Obviously I'm guilty of breaking this rule myself, but I think once trans characters are just there and normal, we'll start to see more cisgender readers.
Dharma: What do you hope to accomplish with your writing and with your podcasting?
Faith: Mostly it's just to have fun. Honestly, I don't approach any of my creative works with an agenda. But regardless of my intent, it's been amazing to hear from people who have enjoyed both and even found them meaningful and helpful in their own lives. That's not something we set out to do, but it's a wonderful byproduct.
Dharma: What advice do you have for trans people thinking about getting into writing?
Faith: Write! Write! Write! Just get it down on paper. Don't take a class, don't join a group, don't read a book about writing, don't tell your friends about it, just sit down and write. So many people have ideas but never take the time to actually write it out. Don't worry about getting it perfect. You can always edit later.
Also, writing means sharing your deepest emotions. You have to be willing to put yourself out there, to share your soul with the world. My advice would be to not run away from that but to embrace it. Writing should make you a little afraid. But that's good.
Dharma: Speaking of deepest emotions, you really capture Matt/Sarah's fear and insecurities, especially on that first date early in the story? How difficult was it to write?
Faith: That's the wearing your heart on your sleeve that writers have to do. Though I didn't realize it until recently, when I diagnosed with anxiety issues, but it was astounding for me to realize that not everyone spends most of their time worrying about worst case scenarios. So, because of that I often find it easy to express my insecurities and fears through writing.
One of my favorite statements about the writing process comes from Jack Kerouac who said "I have nothing to offer anyone but my own confusion." That's something that I've taken to heart and it's one of the reasons that I enjoy being creative so much. When you hear that song about heartbreak it means something to know that you're not the only person who has ever experienced heartbreak.
It's the same with literature. Authors share themselves so that other people can know they're not alone. It's my hope that someone can read something I've written and see my emotions laid bare and know that someone else has felt the way that they've felt and been through what they're going through.
Dharma: Where can people find you and your work on the web?
3 Generations tells the story of Ray (Dakota Fanning), a sixteen year old transgender man living with his mother (Naomi Watts) and grandmother (Susan Sarandon) in New York City. Despite presenting and living his life as a male, Ray longs to start hormone replacement therapy so that he can truly be who he is. Unfortunately for Ray, the doctor won't prescribe HRT without both parents' approval. In order to get his father's signature on the form, Ray seeks out the dad who has abandoned him and his mother to start a new life with a new family.
As the story unfolds, we get a long look at Ray's everyday life. In this the film presents a fairly realistic depiction of gender dysphoria. We see Ray wishing, longing for the time when he can really live as his true self. He feels the need to fit in and pass. And he loves the idea of people who will only ever know the real him. We are also shown Ray struggle with bullying and violence, both serious issues facing transgender people in the real world.
It was also interesting to see the parent's point of view. In the film, we see a mom that is trying to both cope with her new son's reality while simultaneously mourning her daughter. When I transitioned, it was surprising to me that cis people in my life felt like they were both losing and gaining a person in their life. In my mind I would always be the same person. Still, the mother in 3 Generations is supportive, loving and it's realistic to show that she is able to be supporting and loving while still struggling with the idea of her child's transition.
3 Generation's Ray is one of the most realistic depictions of a transgender character I've yet seen in media. His strong desire to start HRT so that he can live as his true self is handled well and easily relatable for any transgender viewer. The depiction of his dysphoria is quite well done and I couldn't help but smile when (spoiler alert) he is finally able to start HRT and celebrates the important milestone with his family.
Unfortunately, the entire plot hinges on the idea that a kid in New York City is only able to get on hormones if both parents consent. This is an issue in 3 Generations because Ray's father is not in contact with him. In fact the father has moved on and is living in another town with a new family.
This felt rather contrived and ridiculous as there are plenty of single parents with sole custody. For some reason the idea of going to another doctor is never brought up so that Ray is forced into a confrontation with his absent father. It felt highly contrived and these characters deserved a more realistic and natural plot.
Another issue that I had with the film was the grandmother character. She's a lesbian living with her partner in the East Village yet when it comes to transgender people she's downright hostile. Now, I get that some older people are not quite hip with the times, but they literally created a Blue State liberal stereotype of a character then make her act in a way that makes no sense for her background and surroundings. It would have made more sense to have her be straight or to perhaps set the film in another city if the filmmakers wanted that hostility to part of the script. It would have made more sense.
Also, I should say that I am a fan of Dakota Fanning. I especially liked her in Neon Demon where she turned in an amazingly textured performance. So, I was disappointed that she didn't commit to the role by cutting her hair or growing out her brows. Throughout the movie she has perfectly plucked and shaped brows along with a terrible looking short hair wig. It doesn't affect the overall movie but I was disappointed in the actress's choice. And of course that's a separate issue from the possibility of the filmmakers casting an actual transgender man in the role. But that's a whole other discussion.
Ultimately 3 Generations presents some remarkably realistic elements of transgender life, but it's a dull movie with a contrived plot and some unlikable characters. The screenplay could have used another couple of drafts and they could have hired a transgender man to play Ray. But the character of Ray is well-written and realistically portrayed. It's just a shame that he couldn't have been in a better movie.
My head had 2,027 new holes in it, 2,028 if you count the slice that was taken out of the back. Thankfully that one is stitched up and the others are now stuffed full of newly relocated hair follicles. On Monday I had my hair transplant procedure at True & Dorin here in NYC. And while I'm still recovering I thought I would tell a bit about it for others who are maybe considering getting the procedure done.
There was prep to be done beforehand. The week before they gave me a prescription for Ambien, Vicodin, and a topical cream. I had to pick those up before the day of the procedure. There was also a pre-surgery checklist which included things like bringing a baseball hat and a button up shirt. While I do own a baseball hat, I do not actually own a button down shirt. So I brought a hoodie instead, figuring that I would just wear nothing under it. Also, the morning before hand I had to wash my hair with special first aid shampoo. And I had to eat breakfast.
Went in early. My procedure was scheduled for 7:45am. I get why they want to start early, but I didn't like getting up an hour early. Luckily it wasn't too bad and we got there on time. And of course there was paperwork to start! And of course they needed my name and address on every form despite having it on file from the paperwork I filled out on my first visit. Ah well, that's doctors' offices for you.
To begin I got two Valium in a tiny paper cup - just like in the movies. They made me take off my shirt and gave me two paper shirts to wear, one on top of the other. There's a big chair, kind of like a dentist chair. I sat down to get started. First they numb you up, which takes about thirty painful injections on the front and back of your skull, where there's no muscle or anything, just skin and bone. Then they lay you down face first on the chair and cut a strip from the back of your head. I didn't feel it at all, and the Valium was making me feel nice and relaxed.
There was a TV, but it was on a terrible 80s R&B station. Such a lazy genre of music. Just synthesized beats and someone talk/singing over it. Also every song is about sex. I thought about asking if I could change the channel, but I wasn't sure and I didn't want to interrupt. So it was on for a while. I am not a fan of R&B or Soul or whatever it is.
The harvesting took a couple hours, so after it was done we broke for lunch. Since they left me alone in the room, I turned the TV off and put in my headphones. I have much better music, thank you (for those interested I put on Chvrches for part of it and later switched to Dum Dum Girls). They give you about ten lunch options, which I guess they pick up from the local deli. Why they can't just have the deli menu on hand I don't know. It's a deli, can't they just make any sandwich like a normal deli? Ah well, chicken Caesar wrap was on there and it's my go to. Unfortunately, it was mediocre at best. Maybe I should have gone for the chicken parm.
After lunch the doctor came in and drew on me with a marker. This was to be my new hairline. It seemed low, but that's probably because I'm used to my giant five-head. I even looked in my phone for some pictures of me with a lace front for comparison. It seemed okay. And the nice thing was that it wasn't going to just be an arc from ear to ear. He added some irregularities to the line to make it more natural looking. Then I sat down in the chair and the doctor jabbed 2,027 holes in my head (one for each graft they salvaged from the back).
After about an hour of that the doctor left. Two techs came in and spent two or three hours plugging the transplants in. During this you can't move. They give you cushions and all, but you have to stay absolutely still. So they give you another Valium. That put me to sleep. And I actually did a hypnogogic jerk, which they didn't like. For this I tried to watch some Netflix on my phone, but ultimately music was easier so I just closed my eyes and waited for it to be over. It took about three hours, so by the end I was really itching to be done.
There were a couple things before I could leave though. First I had to watch an old DVD about aftercare. They left it on during the last half hour of the procedure which meant that the menu was on a loop. It was still going when they gave me a couple ibuprofen and walked me through the recovery. I wasn't in any pain, which was nice. Kath was there to pick me up and we headed straight home.
Recovery involved quite a few things; every hour I was to spray ATP (adenosine triphosphate) on my transplants. Twice a day I was to put cream on the donor area on the back of my head. For the first three days I had to sleep sitting up, which sounded rough because I am a side or belly sleeper. They also gave me a diaper like pillow cover in case there was bleeding. Also I couldn't bend over at the waist, bump my head, play contact sports, take a shower, or go outside without a hat on.
The next day I had to go back for a check up and cleaning. As instructed, I wore my baseball hat. But, when I took it off in the elevator, Kath noticed that there was blood streaming down my face and onto my coat. Oddly enough I didn't feel any pain at all. When we got up to the doctor's office, they took me right in. Taking off the cap had dislodged one of the transplants, but luckily it was still there and they managed to put in back in. The cleaning was pretty quick and I asked when I would be able to wear a wig again (about a week or ten days). Also I made an appointment to have the stitches taken out. That'll be next Thursday.
For the first day I took Vicodin which made me fairly loopy and kind of mentally slow. On the first night I could finally wash my head. I sat in a tub filled with warm water while Kath poured a shampoo and water mixture over my head. Oh my gosh, the tub water immediately clouded up with reddish-brown blood. All the dried blood on the back was rinsing off. It was gross, but the water felt really nice. They gave me a medical sponge to use to dab water and shampoo on the front where my transplants were. After having the one come out I was super cautious about touching them or anything. I really didn't want to lose another one.
By the second or third day I was off pain killers during the day, though I'm still taking them at night. I have to sleep on my back, which is quite painful since the ear-to-ear cut on the back of my head does not like being put against a pillow. Sleeping has been difficult and I'm looking forward to going back to my regular sleep positions.
The other thing is that I can't take a shower for a week so I am currently feeling good and gross. Seriously gross. Honestly, I really want to take a shower. I've washed in the tub and taken a bath, but it's just not the same. There was one good thing though. A couple days after the surgery I went and got a burrito at Chipotle. I had put zero effort into my appearance. I hadn't shaved, had no makeup, my hair was matted to my face, and I was wearing jeans and hoodie. But I got gendered correctly! I still have no idea how that happened.
Now I'm five days into recovery and I am seriously longing to be pretty again! You have no idea! I used to be able to get pretty every day and it bugs me to see my grimy self in the mirror. Today we went to the library and I wore a little bit of makeup for the first time since last weekend. One of my plans for this weekend is to throw on some music, lights some candles, toss a bath bomb in the tub, and then wash, scrub, and shave until I feel human again. I can't wait to be pretty again. It'll be soon.
And in eight months or so I'll have a good hairline. Then once that grows out, maybe I'll finally have some nice hair and be done with wigs forever! But for now, I'm grimy, in pain, and trying to be patient.
For my entire life I carried a deep and dark secret with me. Even when I was five or six years old, I carried this secret and was terrified of what would happen if it ever got out - if my parents ever discovered how I felt. As I grew into my early teens, my secret tore into me. School was already hell, but if my classmates knew who I really was then my life could legitimately be in danger. Who knows what my parents would have done if they had found out I was transgender. I have always been transgender. Some of my earliest memories are of gender dysphoria. But I could never tell anyone. The idea of ever telling anyone was terrifying. That would bring punishment, ostracizing, rejection by my loved ones and everyone in my life and in my community.
In my evangelical church and school I was taught that I was a terrible person for having these feelings. They were sins. It meant that I was an abomination unto the Lord, worthy only of everlasting pain and torment. So I would pray to the God to take these feelings away. I would bargain with God, offering to be a better person if only He would deliver me from these feelings. Other times I would pray to Him and beg him to turn me into a girl. Then, I would feel guilty about that, and beg for His forgiveness. My gender dysphoria left me wracked with guilt.
Later in life, I would fear what would happen if my friends found out about my transgender feelings. Would they reject me, consider me a freak, make fun of me, and exclude me? What if my employers or coworkers found out? Would I lose my job? If I lost my job would I ever be able to get another job? Would anyone ever want to hire me ever again?
Worst of all was my fear that having transgender thoughts was something that no romantic partner of mine could ever understand. I feared that I was destined to be alone in the world, never able to find love, and endlessly rejected by partners.
None of that was to be the case.
The first person I ever came out to was a friend in high school. Though she was a year under me, she seemed more worldly and adventurous. This was probably because I had a fairly insular upbringing in a seriously conservative and religious family. One day she offered to dress me up as a lark and I enthusiastically went along with it. She didn't reject me. We were still good friends after that. In fact, with her help, I came out to more friends. Eventually I even came out to the girl I was dating.
I've come out to many romantic partners in fact. Some times they've rejected it outright. The old "it's okay if you do it, just don't do it around me. I don't want to see it." Others said they were cool but were secretly bothered by it and let their anger over it fester. It got me dumped a couple times. But, other times, I met people who knew I was harboring transgender inclinations and thought it was cool.
Even when I moved to NYC after college, I was still afraid to come out to friends. My upbringing had left me with a deep sense of shame and fear. I didn't want to be honest about who I was because I thought that everyone would reject me. Slowly, but surely, I came out to my friends. And eventually, when I met my life partner, I came out to her too. Every time I did I feared rejection. But, people always surprised me.
Now that I'm 100% out it feels great because I no longer have to carry that secret with me. There are still remnants, rogue thoughts that leave me riddled with doubts. But my friends, my family, my co-workers, my employer, and most importantly, my partner were accepting of me as who I am.
I've been lucky. I know not everyone's coming out goes so smoothly. I think about Leelah Alcorn and how that so easily could have been me. I could have written her letter, every word of it. It still rips me apart every time I read it. So, I've been lucky.
But I'm glad I finally came out. I still deal with that fear and that shame, but at least I never have to deal with that secret ever again. I love that I have the freedom to just be me.