Thursday, January 2, 2014

Transcend Project Interview: Thomas

If you have been following the progress of Transcend, my art project honoring the journeys of trans individuals, and wondered  why there have not been any posts about it in the past few months; it was put momentarily on hold while I addressed some unrelated issues. I am now picking up where I left off.  Here is the latest interview.
You might be somewhat familiar with Thomas. Often referred to as "The Pregnant Man" he made countless worldwide headlines, appeared on high profile television shows, authored an acclaimed book and continues to speak publicly in an effort to open minds and promote equality.

What was the name given to you by your parents? What is your chosen name?

My parents named me Tracy Lehuanani Lagondino. In actuality, my father was responsible for all three of my names. As no surprise, I was given his surname. My middle name means "beautiful Lehua flower" in Hawaiian. And it took three pushes for my mom to birth me: uno, dos, TRES. So, "Tracy" stuck. My chosen name is Thomas Trace Beatie. Beatie was my mother's maiden name. She died when I was 12. When I transitioned in my early 20's, I decided to honor her life by taking her family name. I kept Trace, a familiar form of Tracy, as my middle name partly because I like it and partly to make it easier on the people in my life who could not yet call me Thomas. The name "Thomas" picked me. Like transitioning, it was just one of those things I was sure of.

When/How did you first know you were trans? How did this realization make you feel?

If you mean, when did I first realize I was female-bodied with a male mind and identity...I would have to say I always knew this to be the case. There was never NOT a time when I did not feel like me. It would be kind of like asking the question--when did you first realize you existed? When I was a kid, I was very much a tomboy. Come to think of it, my body didn't look stereotypically female at all. I had broad shoulders and short hair and tanned skin from endless hours of outdoor play. My friends and family knew me as female because that's the way I was raised, but oftentimes strangers addressed me as a boy. I emulated my father, so doing karate and being good at math were things I gravitated toward. As a child, looking and feeling the way I did was a non-event because I knew no other way and no one told me otherwise until the 6th grade. When I hit puberty, I realized that my body was changing in a way I did not like. Catching a football started to hurt, I remember one day, I went to catch a ball and my nipples were so sensitive, they felt like I had brushed against stinging nettle. I saw my female friends around me changing much quicker and drastically than me. I was mortified. I didn't want to look like them. I didn't want big boobies and curves. It wasn't until college did I realize I could modify my outward appearance to mirror how I felt on the inside. I was very excited to discover this and that's when my physical transition began.

How would you describe your childhood/life before your transition?

I was a happy, curious and active child. I wasn't shy to express my opinions. My mother bought and read a book called The Strong-willed Child. I still remember seeing it on the bookshelf. Only later did I realize she had this book because of me. I'm guessing I might have given her a hard time as a kid (I'm sorry, Mom). If she could only see me now, she'd know that I have three mini-me's, rightfully so, and am wanting to borrow her book. Before losing my mom, I felt supported completely and embraced by her parental love. My father was a disciplinarian and hard to be emotionally close to. When it was just the three of us left; my father, my little brother and me, pour family dynamic changed and we all sort of drifted apart. I ceased having a carefree, stable and outgoing childhood. I focused on academics, introspection and journaling. I felt alone. My belief was that I had to be successful and independent because I couldn't rely on anyone else caring for my future but me.

Who were some of your role models then? Now?

Obviously, my mother was one of my role models. She was graceful and loving and kind. She was also smart and prudent and responsible. She taught me the basics...the Golden Rule and to enjoy the little things in life. She had a love for others, especially children. This, she very much passed on to me. My mother is still my role model and always will be. One of my other role models is Superman. I would like to fly and have muscles like him.

Who did you first tell? What was their reaction?

I expressed my feelings to my first girlfriend, Christine. She already knew I was boyish and was probably attracted to that very trait. I told her I wanted to have chest reconstruction--to have my boobs removed. She didn't react how I expected or wanted her to. She was afraid of what I would look like and what I would become. She feared it would change our relationship and worried for me going through such an altering surgery. She didn't quite understand why I couldn't stay looking female. After all, she identified as a lesbian and me transitioning to male would change our dynamic. Our relationship did not survive. We remained close friends and she later embraced my male identity.

Do you have any fears or concerns about "passing"?

In the beginning of my transition, especially prior to hormone therapy, I did feel self-conscious about my voice. There were situations where people perceived me as a male, but then I'd open my mouth and I could see confusion on their faces. Once I had been on testosterone for long enough and gender ambiguity dissolved away, I no longer had issues of people perceiving me as female. Today is a very different story. Because my story of pregnancy has made it to the general public, I am recognized as "The Pregnant Man". Instantly, people know about my history as a female. As much as I look male today, this fact does not dissuade many from still seeing me as female, so in their eyes, I will never "pass". The feeling I get from people like this is palpable. It's a judging, oftentimes disgusted attitude. Not everyone is this obvious though. Others, when knowing about my history, are curious and ask questions. I am always happy to answer. However, even with those not aiming to judge, I find that they too, slip and call me female pronouns. For those people not recognizing me from the media, I am always treated like any other man. It's a strange life I live and since giving up my anonymity, I never truly know how people see me. I very much prefer just being the guy next door.

Have you experienced any unkindness (or worse) from strangers in the community as a result of being identified as a trans individual?

A very quick and honest answer to this question is "Yes!". The media was very cruel to me and my family. Hosts like Greg Gutfeld and his panel from Fox TV's Red Eye should have been fired for the way they spoke about my identity as a trans individual. Some surprising celebrities were pretty harsh too. Blogs and comments on articles of me were merciless. I got a few death threats and the FBI had to monitor my safety. Sadly, I have to say that the worst of it came from the GLBT community itself. I had many trans people telling me that they hate me and would kill themselves if they were me. The last 6 years have been a huge eye-opening experience. There is bias and misunderstanding from all groups of people, no matter how marginalized.

What is your profession?

I own Define Normal  clothing company. I also work in management for an international nutritional supplement company. I do writing contributions when time permits and am working on a second book. I also speak publicly, mostly abroad, but am expanding to US colleges and universities.

If applicable, can you describe your experience transitioning in the workplace?

I transitioned at my own company, Define Normal. I was the boss, so I didn't fear losing my job. I did worry about business relationships I had with vendors and clients. For the most part, my business was negatively unaffected. In fact, I don't know if this is a coincidence or not, but it tripled my revenue 3 years in a row after I transitioned. I think this had to do with the fact that screen printing is a male-dominated field and I most likely got more respect as a man than as a woman doing the same job. It's sad, but true.

Seems a bit silly to ask this, due to your public appearances, but does your family know? If so, what are their attitudes toward your transition?

My family does know. They've know for 15 years. My father was not very supportive. He comes from a traditional Asian upbringing. Boys were preferred, but not if it meant having your daughter become one. He's older now: 75. He still can not call me by my legal name, Thomas. He also has a very hard time using male pronouns, but I can hear in his voice he wants to be closer. I want this too. My brothers have no contact with me. I'd like to think that time can heal all wounds, but perhaps I just need to be okay with the way things are. I still love them, but I can't change the way my family feels or thinks about me. I have to just continue living my life. My new life is the family I've created and I need for them to know how much I unconditionally love them.

Are you dating/partnered? How did you meet?

I used to be married. Wait a second, I still am. The State of Arizona won't let me get divorced from Nancy because I wasn't sterilized and therefore, according to a judge in AZ, our marriage must have been same-sex (AZ doesn't validate same-sex marriage-- and neither did Hawaii, the state we were legally married in as husband and wife). It's been 2 years and we've been fighting a court battle to get a divorce. It's now gone to the Court of Appeals. I'm not sure when it will get resolved, if ever. But if we are unsuccessful with the Court of Appeals, it will be taken to the Supreme Court on the constitutional issue of the right to reproduce. I al in a new relationship now.
Her name is Amber. I love her dearly. She is the one. She used to be the director of the daycare where I took my 3 children-- I know it sounds scandalous, but it's not. I moved them out of the daycare, we started a relationship and now we all live together as a family, including one of Amber' older daughters who's now 17.

Is her family supportive?

Amber's mother and step-father are amazing and they support us. When Amber first told her mom, she thought Amber was joking though. It seemed too random and strange that her daughter hooked up with that guy in the media who gave birth 3 times. She got over that pretty quickly and sees me as an addition to the family. I love her parents.
Amber's ex-husband and his family are a little different though. In the beginning, I was Satan...clearly a freak. They were embarrassed of Amber and wanted her to change her name back to her maiden name. I think things have gotten a little better, but I think I'm still misunderstood and have koodies.

What has been the most difficult time of transitioning?

Other people-- having people accept you as you want to be seen and treated. It really is a personal journey and, oftentimes, a difficult and long journey, encompassing mind, heart and body. You have to be strong and certain and whole with yourself to endure the confusion and negativity and judgment from others. Some people are lucky to have supportive families and friends. Others are not as lucky. I think, though, the more people come out and share their stories, the more accepting we'll be as a society.

What are some of your life goals?

To live, love and be happy. I want to see my babies thrive and grow into good, loving people, having families of their own one day. I would also feel fulfilled if my personal story can help inspire others to realize their own potentials and identities.

What would you most like the world to know about you?

That I'm human. I have flesh and heart and tears like everyone else. I am a man who had a dream to have a family and went after that dream.

What would you tell someone just realizing they are trans?

Find peace within yourself and move confidently in that direction.

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