Today, I’m interviewing a wonderful, talented person named Zoe. I met her on twitter through a mutual friend. I must admit, when I first started humorously replying to her tweets in my wacky weird ways, she wasn’t sure about me. So I made a concerted effort to behave, because I really didn’t want her to unfollow me. I loved reading her tweets.
When I recently sent out a tweet stating I wanted to interview real people about their lives, I was thrilled and honored when Zoe agreed to an interview. From her tweets, I’d already determined her life had been tough growing up, but I had no idea how hard and how far she’d come until I interviewed her. This is a story not just about surviving, but changing one's life into one of thriving.
Because Zoe is in a good place now and didn’t want to re-live her former hell, we agreed she’d provide a brief overview of her past, and then we’d focus on the positive: how she pulled herself out of the darkness to become the fabulous woman she is now.
I give you Zoe’s story.
Liza: With a very broad brush, can you describe your early years?
Zoe: I’m originally from Texas. I had a difficult childhood due to being trans. I'm a survivor of bullying, and of many forms of abuse; physical, sexual, and neglectful. As a result of this dark childhood, I was also an abusive person, and wasn't able to find the strength to change until I was 28.
Liza: Can you explain what you mean by ‘trans’?
Zoe: I'm transsexual with bigender tendencies, though I identify more strongly as a woman than as a man. I'm also bisexual. Viva diversity!
Liza: Was there some specific event that made you decide to change?
Zoe: No, there was always a desire to live as I preferred, but after years of bullying, I was afraid to be anything but a caricature. So there wasn't any one thing that made me feel I needed to change. It was more the sum of my parts than a singular sentiment.
Liza: What made change possible at this point?
Zoe: Actually, I blew up my life pretty spectacularly and lost all of my friends, and my health went into a rapid decline. At that point, I realized I had nothing left to lose, and no one left to seek approval from. So I kinda rose from the ashes of my old life, still the same person, but being more honest about who I was.
Liza: Can you share some the hurdles in accomplishing your gender change?
Zoe: I had to get the help of a gender therapist, who in turn sent a letter to a Thai surgeon approving my reassignment surgery. In the US, there's an additional step of having a psychiatrist back up the therapist's findings, but I was able to get by with only one letter and a consultation with my surgeon. There's a requirement of being on hormones for the surgery, and I was on hormones for two full years using online overseas pharmacies.
Liza: Did you incur any problems during the process?
Zoe: For a gender change, one is supposed to go to court and get a court order to change the name and gender. For me, this meeting went extremely well because the US passport office marked me down as a female based on the photo I sent, even though I marked an M on my application. Because my passport was already changed, the judge awarded me a gender change even though I hadn't had surgery yet. So by the time I got to Thailand for my surgery, I'd already been legally recognized as female in the State of Texas for six month pre-op.
Liza: Did you have any frustration over the length of time it takes?
Zoe: I actually had a very fast transition, all told, but the actual process at the time felt painfully slow. I think that's consistent for most trans folks. We all want the changes to hurry up and be noticeable enough that we get put in the right group instead of having to insist where we belong. But even there, I was very fortunate for being so slight and high-voiced. My therapist first asked when I wanted to start testosterone, because she thought I was an FtM transsexual, and she was floored to learn I was using my normal voice.
Around the same time, I went to shop for panties at a Victoria's Secret for the first time, and I apologized for being there. I said, "I'm sorry, I just want to find some underwear that will fit me." And the sales woman said, don't worry dear, lots of girls your age have yet to develop their curves." I decided not to mention that I was 28, and I spent the rest of my visit smiling from ear to ear. So, yeah, the process took a long time, and it was agonizing. But looking back, I know I had a very easy time with transition.
Liza: How did life improve through the long transition?
Zoe: One year into my transition. I met my future husband online, and we had an old fashioned nine month courtship before I agreed to move to Italy. I got married in a palace in Milan, and even after eight years of marriage, I still feel extremely lucky to find someone who loves me unconditionally. I'm often told it's very romantic how hubby and I dated online using webcams, and I'm told I should write our story. Oddly enough, I never have, because I think our story is kind of bland.
Liza: When you first met your wonderful husband, did he know of your trans gender?
Zoe: Hubby knew from the start due to where he met me, a transgender support forum open to all people. Hubby first noticed me because I'd written a short story, a remake of Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher. I used almost the same protagonist, but the friend's sickly sister was trans, and at the end of the story, she committed suicide by castration. Hubby emailed me to make sure I wasn't suicidal. (I wasn't, just depressed.)
After that, we spent almost two months emailing jokes, comic, and recipes to each other. Then the tone of the emails become more flirting, and Luciano confessed to having feelings for me. We exchanged photos, and then I got a cheap web camera, and we began chatting every day. I'd make lunch at the right time to eat dinner with him, or we would both download the same movie, and watch it together while using IM chat to send our comments back and forth during our digital dates. And then there were the constant emails, nine months worth of romance from afar long before we ever met. Which I find amazing, because I always did want an old fashioned romance, and long after I'd given up hope, I got it. And then I got married in the same palace as Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. Which was kind of awesome.
Liza: I understand you were diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when you were 19. Did this make your transition harder?
Zoe: There weren't any extra issue that MS made transition more complicated. But MS just makes life harder. Some days, even sitting up straight is draining, and I frequently have to drop for fatigue induced comas. I sometimes call them naps, but I don't have dreams or get much restful sleep during these crashes. I just shut down and lose the ability to function. If I don't drop and let myself recover, I get mood swings, or I get so physically tired that I shake or get muscle spasms in my back that feel a bit like a heart attack.
MS is pretty nasty stuff, and totally random, so I never know when it's going to hit me, or what symptoms I'll have this time. I can lose my sense of taste or smell, or lose both at the same time, and sometimes my left eye stops focusing properly and starts rapidly shifting from blurry to clear. And then there's the days where I space out and lose connection with reality. Then I just kind of stare all day and wish my brain would reboot faster.
Liza: And still you manage to be a prolific writer.
Zoe: In 2003, I received a contract offer from ST Literary Agency for my comedy novel, Waiting for a Miracle. Their search for a publisher went on for two years without success, so I pulled my book with them and began editing with intentions to self-publish. At the same time I also began writing The Lesser of Two Evils, which ended up being the first book I self-published. It is thus far my most popular novel, and has sold roughly 1,000 copies over the years.
In the years since, I've released 37 titles, with most being fusions of fantasy, horror, and sci-fi. I write a lot, and during 2013, I've got books scheduled for almost every month of the year. So, it should be pretty busy for me.
Liza: Had you escaped Hell before you began to write comedy or did it come to you even in your days of darkness?
Zoe: Comedy was my survival instinct kicking in. I resorted to self-deprecating humor because you can't really insult a bully and get away. But you can make a bully laugh and forget that he wanted to beat your face in. Then after a while, it just became my coping mechanism. I couldn't cry, because everyone teased me, so I would make a morbid joke to ease my nerves.
It wasn't always funny to others, though. Like the time I got scared in a glass elevator and started chanting, "Still a fatal fall from here. If the cable snaps and the brakes fail, it's still a fatal fall from here." Which made the other people in the elevator give me a wide berth, exactly what I needed to breathe.
Liza: Can you name 3 fabulous moments from your new life?
Zoe: One was coming out of surgery and making the doctors laugh by saying, "Don't worry, I've done this a thousand times." I did parade princess waves while they rolled me out of OR, going, "Byyyye! Wrist wrist, elbow elbow." Killed 'em. Not a dry eye in the house. (I also made my doctor and nurses laugh when, while removing a very large tube from my lower bits, I screamed, "me-ow!")
Two was my first introduction to my husband's acquaintance in Italy, when I would first hear the words "bella figa" from the mouth of an old woman. Over the next two years, almost every time my husband introduced me to folks, I was called Bella or Bella Figa. I suppose this is one reason why I identify with Bella in Twilight, because I had the same nickname. Also, I get that whole being seen as pretty by others, but not really believing it myself. (And having everyone love me even though I didn't feel worthy of it.)
Anywho, three was the second night of my arrival in Italy. Which, you have to appreciate was before I had surgery. But as first times go, it was intense, healing, and deeply romantic. Which is why I'd even rank it over my totally awesome wedding.
Liza: As someone who has successfully changed their life, any advice for those stuck in a situation that’s making them miserable?
Zoe: The first thing that anyone stuck in a bad situation has to do is stop thinking of how others will judge them and just be honest. The hardest part in facing our fears is, "what will others thinks of me?" That line of thought becomes a prison, and it can hold us for years before someone comes along and lets us in on the joke. And the joke is, there are no locks on our prisons. We can get up and walk out at any time.
Zoe E. W.
A life of light Prevails
Forget reincarnation; I'll be living my new life now.