Monday, 6 April 2015

Interview with Olivia Sessions

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Olivia Sessions, a British record producer, videographer and occasional YouTube video blogger. Hello Olivia!
Olivia: Hey Monika!
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Olivia: Well ’m a record producer, IT manager, geek, gamer, lover of all things Japan, meditation practising, Wiccan who just so happens to also be trans. My full name is Olivia Florence Isabelle Sessions. I chose Olivia (Or Liv as I prefer), as a nod to my birth name which was Oliver for a few days before being changed to Tim, and Florence Isabelle as it was my granny’s name, she was an amazing and incredibly strong woman, who I wanted to honour in some small way.
Monika: Why did you decide to share your transition details on YouTube?
Olivia: I’ve never really shared that much on YouTube prior to or during the main part of my transition, there’s a lot of people that have, and I think they’re amazing for doing so… I found them very inspiring during the early days. What I have shared though are videos of my voice recovery following VFS surgery in Seoul Korea…
I felt really quite strongly that it was the right thing to do, as voice feminisation surgery has always had a really bad reputation despite some huge advances in the field over the past couple of years. Having VFS has changed my life and given me so much more confidence, and I only found out about the new procedure by randomly stumbling over a couple of incredible before/after videos on YouTube.
I booked the surgery and trip to Korea a week after seeing them. Since sharing my post op voice videos, I’ve had so many lovely messages from girls that have said they only found out about the surgery because of me, and that it had also changed their lives. That’s why I decided to share them, and I’m very glad that I did. :) 
Monika: Being beautiful always produces a lot of girl power and empowerment. Do you often use it?
Olivia: You think I’m beautiful? Lol, thanks :) I don’t really know… I certainly don’t strut around boobs held high singing ‘Independent Women’! I’ve only ever wanted to pass and be treated as a girl by society, if I’ve turned out pretty… then, bonus! It’s true though… the better you think you look the more confidence you have. It’s about your own perception of yourself though, not anyone else’s… no matter how beautiful or otherwise they say you are. It’s all in your mind, I guess.
Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? 
Olivia: Erm.. well I must have been 33 when I came out to my wife, family and friends, I started HRT when I was 34 and had my first round of FFS at 35… since then I’ve been under the knife another 5 times… I’m 37 now and done with surgery, at least for now…
It was certainly an expensive and frustrating process. My whole transition has been privately funded, I did start to go down the NHS route, but it was so so slow and infuriating that I gave up. I’m very lucky I’ve been able to fund this myself, I feel awful for the girls that have to crawl through the public roadmap, spending months and months waiting for appointments and jumping through hoops. I also think it’s atrocious that only GRS is paid for publicly…
Yes GRS is an important step mentally to take for most of us, it helps you feel a LOT more congruent with yourself, but it doesn’t really help you pass or integrate as your true self. I mean… who walks down the road with their vagina out to reinforce people’s perception of their gender?
FFS and breast augmentation is an absolute must for most of us to pass… I really hope it’s offered on the NHS one day, there’s not a hope in hell that hormones would have been enough for me! Even privately the gaps between consultations were too long, the wait for surgery was too long and the recovery from surgery takes too long! Once I decided to transition I pushed and pushed to get through the physical stuff as quickly as I possibly could.
I found the social aspects of transition a lot harder to deal with…
Courtesy of Olivia Sessions.
I was always fairly confident prior to transition, playing in large clubs and hanging out in VIP rooms with world renowned artists. Transition sucked a HUGE amount of confidence away from me… I guess when you strip away a persona that you’ve been used to portraying for most of your life, you’re left having to rediscover how to interact socially from square one…
Transition can quite often be pretty all consuming for someone going through it, it’s kind of like being a new mother in some ways, you can become so focused and one dimensional that all you have to talk about is the single subject of transition, and you let a lot of your interests and things that made you you slide…
It’s really tough to let go of, I guess in some ways it’s a comfort thing, that makes you feel interesting and a bit special. Moving on is hard, but I think important that you realise when it’s time to do so, and you reengage with all the things that made you happy before, stop being trans and start living as the woman you are. 
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Olivia: Not specifically… there were certainly some very beautiful girls that I followed online, that made me very jealous. I’ve always been more inspired more by girls that just got out there no matter how they looked… It can take a very brave person to put on a dress and leave the safety of their house!
When I started dressing female, I had to be hideously drunk before I had the courage to go out, this took a long time to get over… It took a fair amount of surgery to get myself to the point that I was comfortable wandering around in public. Some of the trans girls that for medical, financial or situational reasons cannot start HRT or undergo surgery, but are still true to themselves and don’t give a fuck what other people think are true heroes in my mind… Not that that’s any excuse for stubble, blue eye shadow, bright red lips and a tight mini when popping down to the shops first thing in the morning for a pint of milk!
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Olivia: My coming out was pretty random, to be honest… I had been gradually sinking into deeper and deeper depression in my early 30’s. Things finally came to a head when bridesmaid dress shopping with my wife and sister in law for her upcoming wedding. It was silly really, but seeing girls trying on beautiful dresses all day and then having to go suit shopping was more than I could bare, it really was the last straw that pushed me from hideously depressed to suicidal. :(
Over the next week or so, I struggled to keep myself from ending it all, it got very very close. I just couldn’t tell anyone for fear of losing everything, but mainly my wife, who I’ve been with since I was 16, I’ve always loved her more than life itself. In the end, it was my best friend at work that saved me… I had gotten to the point where I could barely function in the office, and people had certainly noticed.
She began a campaign of merciless questioning on Skype to find out what was wrong, I owe my life to the fact that she did not give up… in the end she was like “Right, how about we play a guessing game, and if I guess it correctly you have to say yes… agreed?” I agreed as I thought there was NO way she’d get it… Her second question was “You were born in the wrong body weren’t you!” Typing Y E S was one of the hardest things I have ever ever ever had to do… I pressed enter and the largest weight left me and I spent a good couple of hours crying.
After that, I knew there was no way on earth that I could have someone else know this and not my wife… And I figured that I could always kill myself later if things went badly. I owed her the truth. She was remarkable then… saying “I married you and not your gender, I love you, we’ll get through this” I mean… obviously I cried again! Telling friends was pretty stressful but without exception they were and have remained amazing throughout my transition, even ones that I was sure wouldn’t be able to deal with it, people can really surprise you.
Family was a lot more problematic… my mum was instantly amazing, it took dad longer to get used to it, he said that it felt the same as when he lost his dad… although things got a lot better really quickly when he realised that I was exactly the same person, just a lot happier. My wife’s family caused me and my wife a huge amount of stress and heartache when we finally told them… Being asked questions such as “so why did you marry our daughter” and “have you spoken to God about this” did not help… nor did the assumption that my wife couldn’t possibly be happy, she was in denial and that I was extremely selfish to take her happiness and future away…
Things got better over time, but it caused a rift that I’m not sure will ever be healed. That aside, me and my wife became closer and closer, a lot more so than we ever had been before, it was like a massive wall that we didn’t even realise was between us, slowly dissolved. On the whole though, I think I’ve been truly blessed with the amount of support and love I’ve been shown! :) 
Monika: Transgender ladies are subject to the terrible test whether they pass as a woman or they do not. You are a lovely lady yourself but what advice you would give to ladies with the fear of not passing as a woman?
Olivia: hmmm… that’s a really tough question. Half the time I don’t think I pass myself… despite peoples constantly telling me I do… that’s dysphoria for you. Sadly we’re in a community that’s fairly short on honesty., I guess it’s a lot easier to say to someone “Of course you pass babes, you look stunning!” than “I think you look great, but I’m not sure you’re going to pass while you still have such a large Adam’s apple and beard…” Giving false compliments to people never helps… and just gives false hope.
It’s an unfortunate truth that most girls after a certain age need an amount of surgery (FFS/VFS/GRS/BA/LHR etc..) to pass. The sad thing is though… that even after you’ve gone through all of this, and to the rest of the world you pass, dysphoria can convince you that you don’t. It’s so important to work on the inside as well as the outside… it took a long time for me to realise that surgery couldn’t fix everything. I think a lot of us wait for something magical to happen and click in our brain that says, now you’re a woman… of course this never happens because you are and have always been a woman… Getting to grips with that is a journey in itself!
Monika: Could transgenderism be the new frontier for human rights?
Olivia: In some ways I guess so… not a day seems to go by recently without an article appearing about transgender toilet use, HRT therapy being used to help trans children, outrage about public money being spent on gender reassignment etc… I’ve had to stop reading the comments on a lot of these articles… there’s still a HUGE amount of ignorance out there, but compared to 10 years ago, certainly here in the UK, there’s been a tremendous amount of progress.
Courtesy of Olivia Sessions.
There’s still a long way to go though. In other countries where hideous persecution of trans people exists due to prejudice, lack of education, misinterpretation of religious scripture (usually due to prejudice and lack of education) where which toilet you use is the least of your worries… where just coming out could mean your death… yes sexuality and gender could very well be a new frontier for human rights.
Monika: What do you think about transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers or books so far?
Olivia: Generally speaking, it’s a shocking portrayal of bad stereotypes… where most trans characters are played by cis gendered actors, with dodgy makeup on. Or the characters only exist to be the butt of a joke. There’s a long way to go…
Monika: Have you recently read or watched any interesting book or event/film about transgenderism?
Olivia: not transgenderism specifically no… but I recently supported a kickstarter called ‘Gaming in Colour’ a full length documentary exploring the queer gaming community, gamer culture and events, and the rise of LGBTQ themes in video games. It was really well made and will be available soon on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, PlayStation, Xbox and other platforms… Can’t wait to see more like it!
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?
Olivia: There’s such an overlap between them all; I like the solidarity that is displayed in these groups and the support we can give each other. However, it sometimes feels like we are included because of the general public impression that sexuality and gender are intrinsically linked… whilst this isn't the case, I believe we’re a lot stronger included than not.
Monika: Is there anyone in the contemporary society whose actions could be compared to what Harvey Milk was doing in the USA in the 60s and 70s for the gay activism?
Olivia: There’s a lot of inspirational people out there breaking down stereotypes and doing their best to counter ignorance… not just the people who are in the media spotlight but all those trans people that go out and disprove the preconceived idea of trans by just being themselves. 
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Olivia: Well I’ve certainly lobbied on gay rights, and same sex marriage… not only was it the right thing to do, but it was very important for me to be able to remain in my 16 year marriage when I finally get my gender recognition certificate. Before recent same sex marriage laws, we would had to have our marriage dissolved before I could be recognised as a woman legally… Of course trans women can make a difference, in the same way any other person can make a difference… we are no less able than anyone else.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colours or trends?
Olivia: I love fashion :) I obviously went through the seemingly obligatory Barbie phase shortly after I came out, that led my wife to say “Olivia, that is NOT age appropriate!” every 5 minutes… but I slowly got to grips with that. I love mixing it up, going for pretty one day, edgy the next., and of course I love getting glammed up for an big evening out :) I don’t really follow trends that closely… I just wear what I like and what suits me. Brand wise I LOVE All Saints and Ted Baker.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Olivia: It’s the most important thing in my life, my wife is everything to me, she’s my soul mate and rock. She’s been with me and supported me through everything, I honestly could not have got through this without her! She’s amazing. 
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Olivia: Haha, yes of course! You don’t go through transition without some amazing and hysterical stories to tell… I mean… if something ridiculous could have happened in a situation then it was guaranteed to happen to me. From opening the front door to a gas man while forgetting I was wearing a wedding dress (don’t ask) to getting trapped at work in the men’s toilet (before I came out to many) with my arms above my head in a dress that’s zip had broken (I had ordered it and just couldn’t wait to get home to try it on….). I had to text a girlfriend to come and help me out of it discreetly… It would be a real waste if I didn’t commit these things to print in one form or another.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Olivia: So much going on… I’m doing a lot of work in the studio right now, writing a new album and working on a lot of remix projects. I’m also in the process of creating a meditation app with a friend :)
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Olivia: There are some amazingly effective therapies out there for dysphoria… NLP in particular can be life changing for many. Don’t just suffer in silence, Get help! We’ll spend tens of thousands on physical surgery… why are we so reluctant in so many cases to spend a compatibly tiny amount of money to help fix the insides… Get help, don’t suffer needlessly would be my advice!
Monika: Olivia, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Olivia Sessions.
Done on 6 April 2015
© 2015 - Monika 

1 comment:

  1. So proud of you Liv, thanks for sharing so honestly. Becs.x


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