Saturday, 11 February 2017

Interview with Monica P Mulholland


Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Monica P Mulholland, a writer and transgender activist living in New Zealand. She is president elect of Queenstown Rotary Club, the co-author of the book titled “ME!: The gift of being Transgender” (2016), available only on Amazon as a Kindle book. Hello Monika!
Monica: Hi Monika, I am deeply honoured to be nominated to be included in your Heroines page. I think it is extremely important for TG people to have role models. Role models have an important part to play in helping reduce the terrible suicide rates that plague our community. Thank you so much for doing this work!
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Monica: I am a late bloomer. I am soon to be 60 and started my societal transition a year ago. I do not regret it in the slightest. The general consensus is that I am a much happier and outgoing person since I started living as my true self. It is never too late to be yourself.
Monika: “ME!: The gift of being Transgender” was written by 7 authors, including Andrea James and yourself. What triggered this project?
Monica: What triggered it was my musings on the fact that 41% of TG people attempt suicide, that is not they just think about suicide, that is they actually do something about carrying it out! That got me thinking about why TG people do this and, in a blinding flash of the obvious, it struck me that it was because that TG people and their friends and family, saw being TG as a curse. I wondered about this and thought that there must be some positive aspects to being TG and that if people were able to focus on the positives then they would be less likely to be abandoned by their friends and family... and as a consequence, less likely to commit suicide.
The book available via Amazon.
Monika: Most of us, if not all, would like to be born as cisgender women rather than going through the unbearable pain of transition. However, the title of the book suggests that we are “gifted of being transgender” …
Monica: In searching to switch the emphasis away from transgender being a curse that we were born with, I sought out the gift that might be hidden in our affliction. I felt that accentuating the positive was the better road out of the depression and associated suicide. It is for us all to find our own gift in it and celebrate that. 
Personally, I think our gift is that of knowing who we truly are, that is the goal of so many spiritual and psychological practices. We are well along the road already!
Monika: The book covers different stories of transwomen. Is it possible to find a common theme in their life experiences?
Monica: I guess the most common theme and, perhaps, the only theme is that all transitions and stories are different. Other than knowing that we were different at an early age, the path taken to our goal of being ourselves is different. However, it requires similar approaches: courage, the ability to really be ourselves and follow our own north star, the ability to pick ourselves up after being knocked down, the importance of not taking oneself too seriously, and the ability to have a sense of humour about the situation we find ourselves in.
Monika: All proceeds from the book go to Trans Lifeline; the suicide hotline in New Zealand. Could you say a few words about this initiative?
Monica: Lifeline is one of the suicide hotlines in New Zealand and very supportive of the LGBTQ community. It recently lost its government funding and relies, now, on public donations. As my book is about reversing the suicide trends amongst TG people, I felt that the right thing to do with the proceeds of the book was to donate it to Lifeline to help them continue the fight for life and acceptance.  
Monika: You have written on Amazon that you are a level 2 teacher in the Art of Feminine Presence. Could you elaborate more on this art?
Monica: It struck me that, in our community, there was far too much focus on the hardware of being a woman. I called it “The Vag is not the badge” syndrome. This was the sexist stereotype that the feminists had warned us about... that there is more to a woman than a vagina, and yet so many in the TG community were following this line. 
To me if the software is good it can run on any hardware: the same is not true about hardware. That is to say, that if you walk, talk and look like a duck, you are a duck, what is between your legs is immaterial. The only person who sees what is between your legs is you intimate lover or your doctor! For me, good software is voice, deportment, dress and the feminine spirit i.e. having a feminine operating system instead of a male one.
At The Art of Feminine Presence in Japan.
Having worked all that out, I sought out practices that would put me in touch with my femininity. This is what The Art of Feminine Presence was designed for. That is, the work and business environment is very male in its culture and expectations. 
Many women, who do well in business, lose touch with their feminine (this does not mean frilly dresses and being coy and deferential!) essence. This can lead to all kinds of problems for these women as their hardware is designed to run on a different kind of software and they are trying to force an alien software onto their hardware.
The practices of The Art of Feminine Presence are designed to put you in touch with your Yin energy (that is not to say that you cannot or should not use your Yang energy when the situation warrants it... we all have Yin and Yang and knowing when to use each is the key) and ensuring that you mostly operate from that. This sounded like exactly what I needed. Having been culturally raised as a male, I knew that my software was wrong and that I needed a different operating system. This is what I found in The Art of Feminine Presence, and I got a bunch of loving and supportive cisgender sisters as a bonus!! I would recommend it to all who aspire to live full time as a woman. 
Monika: Did you manage to put the Art into practice and everyday reality?
Monica: Yes, I did, very much so... and it helped me greatly. Basically it means rather than operating from the head, with its monkey mind of distractions and fears; the better place to operate from is the womb space. This helps keep me centered and not triggered in any situation. Before this I was always scanning the crowd when presenting as a woman for people’s reaction and assuming any reaction was a negative one.
Now, as I am centred and “home” whenever I see somebody looking at me I assume that they are being supportive and positive. So, now, rather than cowering I give them a big smile. For a better life, I have found, that the thing to do is to design out the stress! :) People react to how you see yourself, confidence is a huge part of passing, if that is what you want to do.
Monika: At what age did you transition into woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? 
Monica: I have always been a woman, and at aged 59 I decided to stop pretending otherwise. Surprisingly, for me at any rate it was not difficult. I came from a white middle class privileged background and live in a very liberal town. My wife had known about my condition since I was 19. I decided that if privileged people like me and (not that I am putting myself in the same category... but people of certain backgrounds etc) Caitlin Jenner did not do our piece to make transgender normal, then we we were doing a disservice to humanity and to those less fortunate than us. I was totally accepted by most of my friends and family. Those who knew me the longest, were the ones who found it hardest to get to grips with.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed? 
Monica: Not particularly, I was very conscious of Jennifer Boylan’s situation; both because I had met her and because she was married, as I was. Caitlin Jenner’s coming out helped me a lot I felt as it brought TG into the mainstream and so I did not have so much explaining to do.
Before and after image…..taken by Don Hajicek.
Nobody takes photos of women like Don.
Monika: Caitlin Jenner seems to have divided the transgender community. Her supporters regard her as a transgender icon whereas her opponents disagree totally on the way she promotes the transgender cause...
Monica: I have zero interest in Jenner’s politics and how she presents the cause etc. We all know how distorting the media can be… who knows what she really does. It is not my place to judge her based on third hand facts. I would point you back to what Brenee Brown says in her TED talk about the critics of people who put themselves out there. What I can say is that I am extremely thankful to her for taking the risk and coming out. Love her or hate her, she made life much easier for me and I appreciate her for that.
Monika: Are there are any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now?
Monica: Jennifer Boylan is certainly one. She kept her marriage together and set a pattern for me and others to follow. I love Orange is the New Black and really admire Laverne Cox. Janet Mock is also somebody I admire. In general, anybody who puts themselves out there and is happy to tell people that they are TG has my admiration. Unless there are extenuating circumstances; I think that the time for being stealth is past, but I realise that this is not feasible for all.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Monica: The hardest thing for me was telling my friends and family and waiting for the response. Also, telling my local Rotary Club - of which I have been a member for over 10 years and waiting for the response was nerve wracking. Most of my friends and family have made the transition with me; and my Rotary Club have voted me President for this coming year. I feel that my mantras: go hard or go home and making transgender normal have really helped me push the barriers of what I would have done if left to my own devices, and it has always worked out for the best.
Monika: What is your view on SRS, FFS and other feminisation surgeries?
Monica: My view on surgery, I guess, is a bit different. As regards SRS, I don’t think it is anybody’s business apart from my own and that of my intimate partner. Hence, I never answer questions regarding SRS, it is something totally personal. As regards facial surgery, I have changed my mind about it. I went to see one of the top facial surgeons and he told me that he would need to work on my face for 7 hours. He is a top class surgeon and I have no doubt that I would have looked stunning afterwards. But, I got to thinking, that this is setting a stylised form of beauty that we are all supposed to conform to and that this is not good for either cisgender women or transgender woman.
At the Rotary Christmas Party with her wife in
the background and the current President of my right.
So, on a personal level I have an ethical issue with it. I have no wish to impose my ethics on others (just as I am vegetarian, I do not think that everybody should be vegetarian just because of my ethics) and it is up to everybody to make up their own mind on the issue and do what is best for them. In keeping with my mantra of “making transgender normal” I will not have facial surgery. People need to get used to how TG women look. I may non surgically contour my face to get me from “Hmmmm, that is a guy” to “I am not sure if it is a woman”.... but that is to get me within the range of how normal women look. This will help me stop frightening the children and the horses by how I look! There are only so many steps one can take at any one time.
Monika: Well, I would argue that we are prisoners of the social perception of how a woman should look like. We have to PASS as women. Otherwise we are excluded and ostracized. You have been blessed with the feminine looks but many of us would not pass as women without undergoing FFS. Therefore such a surgery remains the only option ...
Monica: Yes, we are subject to social perception… but I am not sure I agree about prisoners. There is a saying by George Bernard Shaw: “ Reasonable people adapt themselves to their environment, unreasonable people try and adapt the environment to them. Hence, all change comes from unreasonable people”.
I guess we all have to look at ourselves, our situation and our abilities and ask if we want to perpetuate the existing situation or try and change it. If we come down on the side of change the present situation because it is unjust or whatever; then we have to ask ourselves if change is best achieved through revolution or evolution. I think it is a huge step to expect society to go where it is now to accepting a “guy in a dress”. Whatever the wrongs or rights of the situation; society is still pretty binary as regards gender. I do not think that we have to pass as women to be accepted. I think we have to fall within the range of women to be accepted. At least, that has been my experience. People who try and try honestly to conform to the norm seem to be accepted.
I agree that I look acceptable within the range. I do not hide the fact that I am TG. I am quite open about it. It helps people accept me as a woman that I fit within the wide acceptable boundaries. I think society is ready for this and the more of us that go that way the more the envelope will be pushed. I have no doubt that there will come a time when a lumberjack in a dress is accepted as woman; but it will not be in my lifetime. I am prepared to sit at the boundary and help evolve society’s thinking in that way.
If you saw pictures of me from 10 years ago with a full beard and wild eyes, you would not think I was blessed. The truth is that I have worked hard at getting myself within the accepted boundaries. I have had laser and electrolysis on my beard, I have been taking care of my skin for years before I came out. I have had fillers and Botox on my face to get me within the comfort zone of what society will accept. Yes, there is a threshold and you have to get over that threshold to be accepted as a woman, TG woman whatever. That threshold will move as we start to fill this space. Society changes but it changes slowly and only changes from the combined push of us all at the edge.
Monika: What do you think in general about transgender news stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers or books so far?
Monica: Up until recently, TGs have been portrayed very negatively in the media; and this, in no small way, has contributed to the suicide rate and to seeing being TG as a curse. It is only through coming out (if it is safe to do so) and showing ourselves that we can change the image. That is why role models are so important. One of my coming out mantras has been “making transgender normal” and the more people I can meet and show that, despite being TG, I am a normal and fairly well adjusted person, that we can change the image. Following that mantra I take every opportunity to publicise the TG issue and to put myself out there in front of people. I never apologize for not being a cisgender woman. The Art of Feminine Presence helped me greatly to get to this point.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colours or trends?
Monica: I am very privileged to have been schooled by Ginger Burr of Total Image Consultants. This was another major piece of software for me. She really helped me discover my colours and styles and this has made a tremendous difference to how I am accepted socially. Most of my wardrobe is Johnny Boden, and Kettlewell.
I love dresses, so much so that I recently set myself the challenge of wearing a dress every day for a month (not the same one, I hasten to add, lol!). It is just so easy to reach out for the leisure wear or the jeans. I like to dress things up with different jewellery and scarves. I really enjoy the creativity of putting an outfit together. My other mantra is “go hard or go home” and so I go out or my way to be as feminine as I can be (that is not “frilly feminine”, but rather reflecting the femininity I see in the women around me on a daily basis, but with my own creative twists). I see Monica as my work of art I suppose.

Another before and after photo by Don Hajicek.

Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Monica: Love is very important in my life, both the love of my friends and the love of my wife. My wife is an amazing woman, she (after some initial trepidation) has been fully supportive of my transition and is one of my biggest supporters in the TG cause. We have been together since our first date in 1976. When I knew that she was “the one” I told her about my secret. That was an enormous risk for me as she knew my family and some of her relations were friends of mine. We lived in a small town in Ireland and if this had got out, my life would have been hell... in more ways than one! :)
She has stood by me through thick and thin and she has an amazing ability that when life gives her lemons, not only does she make lemonade, she goes further and makes gin and tonic! She lights me up! 
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Monica: The thing about dysphoria is that everybody’s dysphoria is different. I can only comment on what helped me come to terms with it. This worked for me, it may well work for some others; but it is far from being a prescription that will help everybody. I would suggest that a person struggling with dysphoria should look at how it was tackled by others and experiment to see which parts might work for them.
My revelations were: we are not genetic women we are transgender women, comparing ourselves to genetic woman is a recipe for depression and negative self worth. I accept the fact that I am a transgender woman and I strive to be the best transgender woman that I can be. This has taken a huge weight off my shoulders and set me on a positive path instead of a negative one. Brenee Brown, in her TED talks on vulnerability and shame, helped me greatly in this respect.
At the Art of Feminine Presence in Austin.
My other great revelation was this: if I was an American who wanted to learn Japanese say, then going to Japan and hanging around with other Americans who wanted to learn Japanese is not the best strategy. Total immersion was the only approach that seemed sensible for me. Hence I spent a lot of time with genetic women, on online courses and in real life. The Art of Feminine Presence was the best thing that I ever did. It immersed me with kind and supportive genetic women which helped build my confidence and put me in touch with my femininity at a much deeper level than I could have done by myself.
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?
Monica: Yes, I do. Like I said earlier “The Vag is not the badge”. There is so much more to being a woman than being the owner of a vagina! I think, in the face of the horrendous suicide figures, we have an ethical duty to do all we can to make being transgender a normal and everyday part of life. Having something bigger than yourself, all the spiritual gurus agree, is a great way out of the many self centric traps that people can fall into from time to time.
Monika: Monica, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Monica P Mulholland.
Done on 11 February 2017
© 2017 - Monika 

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