This week, as promised, I bring you the interview I had with Ris. I felt it time she made a personal appearance in the blog, as she’s already shown up a couple times.
Molly: First off, can you introduce yourself, tell us a little about yourself?
Ris: My name is Marissa. I’m 31, and I’m a transgirl. I’m a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, the host of the Inciting Incident Podcast, and a published author. I have a very unique backstory, personality, and moral composition, and I make that the primary focus of my social commentary. Regardless of my identity, I’ve always had a perspective that was considered abstract and maybe even a bit surreal. My brain processes the world differently than most people, so I’ve always been a bit of an anomaly. Even at your wedding for instance, I could tell that most of the people there were wondering who the strange person was, and considering the non-traditional wedding format it was already, that’s saying something. (I loved it, by the way, don’t think I’m putting it down!)
M: I think a lot of people are confused with people saying they’re transgender and think they’re “just gay” but trying to fit in with society. Can you explain the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation?
R: It’s a common misconception that being transgender is equated with being gay or bisexual. The easiest way to think of it is inward and outward. Sexual identity is to whom you’re attracted outwardly. Gender identity is how you feel on the inside. Gender identity can cross over to sexuality, but it inherently has nothing to do with it, and vice versa. That’s part of the reason people thought I was gay for a long time. Even then, when I had support when that was the presumed thought, it didn’t fit for what I was. I just didn’t have access to the information I do now, so a lot of time went where I knew I was something, but didn’t have the words to describe the feelings.
M: When did you first notice that you were different and didn’t fit within society’s cookie-cutter expectations?
R: It’s hard to think of a time where I wasn’t keenly aware that I was different for one reason or another. Even as a small child, I was far more interested in reading and learning to type than I was in whatever kids were into. Sure, I had some of the cliché kids’ interests of the early 90’s, but not enough of them to not be the “weird one.” It didn’t help that in first grade, they put me on independent study, so I spent a good amount of elementary school separate from everyone else and getting different assignments. I was never treated as one of the group in any capacity, so to find a time where I was considered normal or cookie-cutter is extremely difficult. My parents used to say I was “4 going on 40” because of how I acted and spoke. Never really wore off, I suppose.
M: I saw on your Facebook that you tried coming out a couple of years ago, but that didn’t go well. What happened?
R: Quite bluntly, I was sexually assaulted twice within a short amount of time. It’s hard to answer that question without explaining just how strong I was coming into being truly myself, and to counter with just how much it crushed me to retreat. I’d found one safe space and spent a great deal of time there until I was roofied by a guy who wouldn’t stop touching me, even after I said no. Then I was attacked in my own bedroom as well. There were already so few spaces that I felt safe enough to let my true self out, and when both of those were violated so harshly, I retreated into myself and became numb for a very long time. It’s hard to believe that a mere short time ago, I couldn’t even cry when I walked into a room and unexpectedly saw my deceased grandfather when now I cry if a baby caribou gets caught by wolves on Planet Earth.
M: How has this time been different?
R: I didn’t rush it. When I first started taking baby steps, I became so confident that I did other things long before I was ready. I made myself vulnerable unintentionally because it felt so good to let out nearly 30 years of flamboyance and restricted femininity, but not being socialized as a girl had its consequences. I didn’t protect myself or learn to filter emotions, building up callouses to keep everything from feeling so harsh and raw. This time, I went almost agonizingly slow, because I did it on my terms and nobody else’s. I also saw a great deal more support this time around, especially from places I didn’t expect it.
M: Your husband is also transgender, but when you got married, you weren’t openly out. When did you both feel comfortable coming out to the other? How has that affected your relationship?
R: There were points where my spouse’s family accused him of just trying to fill a role to make me happy. He knew about me pretty early in our relationship. Actually, now that I think about it, he knew about me before out relationship. Each of us went through a period where we tried to hang on to our assigned gender of birth by claiming to be genderfluid, but when we stopped lying to ourselves to make others happy, our natural dynamic came through. We may not have been “out” to everyone at that wedding, as we played parts to satisfy members of the family not in the know, but if you take a second look, you might catch the subtlety. I wore white, I came out last, I planned everything… There were plenty there who knew the truth. As for how it affected us? It didn’t. I fell in love with who he was, not his gender. We’re weird together. He’s one of the few people who knows my triggers and weaknesses, as well as what I need simply by body language or a facial expression. We have a level of intimacy between us that I’ve never experienced, and I think it’s because of that that we’ve never even had a fight in three years. Our connection is deeper than I knew was possible.
M: You’re not a short woman. Has your height made your transition more difficult? What advice can you offer those who are trying to come out or identify themselves?
R: My height is the biggest reason I took so long in the first place. Not only am I tall, but I’m a former professional wrestler who wears loud colors. I stand out no matter what I’m wearing. I used to feel like every eye was on me as they passed by, judging or laughing at me. It was completely irrational. But then, that one day on Locust Walk with Pastor Carl, I had the epiphany where, all at once, I stopped giving a single fuck about what anyone had to say about it. I’ve come out to over 500 people in the two months since that incident. The best advice I can offer anyone is to go at your own pace. Do it when you feel safe. Stay in the closet as long or as little as you need to. It’s about you, nobody else. You do it when you’re ready and not a moment sooner. You’re valid no matter what.
M: What was the best part of the transition for you?
R: The first day I was on T-Blocker, it was like the entire world made sense to me. I flushed testosterone completely out of my system, and it was like wires in my brain were connecting like they never had before. I’ve become so much more mentally efficient since then that I wonder if I’d be in the running for valedictorian had it happened four years ago. I’ll be graduating with honors as it is, but the possibilities were truly endless.
M: What was the hardest?
R: the conservative side of my family, as well as my ex-wife’s fundamentalist family. Even with this strong independent streak, I still have the overwhelming fear of disappointing them and alienating them, not to mention the fear that they’d try to take my children away from me (my ex’s family, that is).
M: How has this affected your children? Was that a difficult conversation to have?
R: We’re still in the process of having it. As they’re the most vulnerable and tender, we’ve been very slowly introducing them to the idea. Right now, they just think Daddy wears makeup and paints his nails sometimes. To normalize this in their minds, especially after the fundamentalist nature of their upbringing, we’re taking it as slow as possible for their benefit. That way it won’t be a huge shock to drop on them. They’ve only lived with us for a half year, so we don’t want to scare them back into their shells.
M: At the end of Episode 70 of your podcast, you came out to your audience. What sort of feedback have you gotten from them?
R: I’ve heard positive affirmations from so many places that I still can’t believe it’s real and that I was afraid for so long. The people who I though might reject me the hardest have been the most vocal in their support, even if they don’t get it entirely. Something about this time around, this year, and the narrative made it the perfect combination. I’d say it’s been universally accepted and praised, but that would be inaccurate, but only slightly. That was the most unexpected part of the entire thing.
M: You just published a book. Would you tell us about it?
R: It’s out on Amazon, CreateSpace, and other online retailers, as well as available for a personally signed copy by either just me or foreward author Chris Kluwe on Patreon and through PayPal. The PC Lie: How American Voters Decided I Don’t Matter is the culmination of my rage and indignation at the results of the election, as the first chapter is a 30-page diatribe on the absurd and terrifying nature of the election of Donald fucking Trump. The rest is a series of essays detailing my personal and public transition as well as commentary on current events, social issues, and word manipulation. By that I mean the way people have taken terms like trigger warnings and safe spaces and somehow equated them with weak millennials offended by everything. I don’t hold back my anger, but it becomes more focused and refined throughout the nine days that I wrote the book, and it goes from ranting that feels raw and ruthless to a hyperfocused call to arms. It also contains essays from other writers of varying perspectives contributing their immediate thoughts to the post-election situation.
M: Where can they find your other work, podcast, blog, etc?
R: Inciting Incident is available across most podcasting platforms, including tin cans with string, as Jesse Dollemore so eloquently puts it in the intro. I write for patrons on Patreon, so that’s the best access to my current thoughts and pieces. Patreon.com/RisMC is the place I post the most writing.
M: I’ve enjoyed reading it, and I can’t wait to read the book. Ris, thank you for taking the time out to answer these questions. Always a pleasure talking with you.