Good morning, all!
Joining us today is the lovely and inspiring Alana Nicole Sholar, author the transgender memoir Hung in the Middle. If you missed Samuel's review from earlier this month, you can check out his review here (after the interview, of course!).
♥ Thanks so much for stopping by, Alana! For those who may be new to your remarkable story, can you tell us a little about yourself?
Well, I was born in Hopkinsville (western Kentucky) in 1961 then we moved to Versailles (central Kentucky) when I was around eight years old. My brother, Ricky, took that picture on the front of “Hung in the Middle,” (HIM) not long after we’d moved to Versailles. It was then that I knew I was different – dressing for that picture just seemed ‘right’ – like it was the first time I’d ever seen ‘me.’
I think it’s kinda neat, and rather significant, how the acronym for “Hung in the Middle” is HIM – especially since the book relays the story of that part of my life when I tried so hard to be a ‘HIM’ – when I worked so hard to hide being different – even to the point of not wanting to admit it to myself.
♥ Like so many within the community, you struggled with your sense of identity for decades before ultimately taking control of your gender. What was it that made you decide it was finally time?
I was experiencing health problems, especially with my blood pressure – one minute it would be extremely high and then bottom out
– like being on a roller coaster ride. My doctor had unsuccessfully tried numerous medications to get it under control.
I’d been having the health problems long before I was even able to bring myself to tell Mary – my wife at that time – that I was hiding a secret. Once Mary knew my secret, she said I needed to let my doctor know and threatened that if I didn’t tell him she would.
I was scared to death to tell Dr. VanMeter, but, once I got the words out, he made me so comfortable and led me on the road to learning about transgender individuals.
♥ Do you have any regrets about not doing it sooner, or do you feel that was the right time for you?
Is it OK to say a big, HELL YES, I wish I could have come out when I was younger. However, like my spouse Bobbie says, everything always happens in its right and perfect time.
♥ Can you recall any influences or inspirations growing up? A celebrity, perhaps, who publicly acknowledged or celebrated their gender identity and made you feel a little less alone?
No – unfortunately there were no Chaz Bono’s back in my day. As a matter of fact, I was raised on rough and tough cowboy movies and ‘bad’ guys
– those were the only influences I knew. All my friends were ‘bad’ guys, so I felt that, in order to ‘keep face’ with my friends I had to be a bad ass as well, often to the point of laughing at those who we then called ‘queers.’
I also remember watching movies starring Rock Hudson – a real ladies man. I guess I could say I was ‘influenced’ by Rock Hudson. Long before he came out as being gay and being diagnosed with AIDS I had a dream about him – I think I was in junior high school. In my dream Rock Hudson was ‘doing’ me and someone walked in and caught us. Once caught, I had a feeling of relief that now everyone would know and I’d no longer have to hide. Unfortunately, it was just a dream and I remained in hiding.
♥ Now that's an interesting dream! Clearly, the world has changed significantly since either of us were children, with information and support far more readily available than ever before. Looking at the number of transgender biographies, memoirs, and non-fiction books available, is there a book you wish you could somehow go back in time and share with young Alan?
Of course, I’d have to say it would be my own book, “Hung in the Middle.” If ‘young Alan’ could have read “HIM” he would know that his world would eventually become a good place to be and that Alana would have her time in it. I would have been able to identify with the lifestyle of the ‘main character’ of “HIM” trying to hide from himself and be what he thought others wanted him to be. I would never have related to or even read a ‘sissy boy’ biography. The only other thing I might have been able to relate to is a movie called, “Normal” because he dealt with tractors and farm type stuff in that movie.
♥ It seems like the more information that becomes available, the more labels and definitions we have to deal with (transsexual, transvestite, transgender, genderqueer, etc.). In terms of your own self-definition, has how you label yourself changed over the years?
Everyone interprets the labels or words according to their own experiences and the same word can mean something different to each person. Personally, I relate more to the term ‘transgender’ because my interpretation of transgender is someone who ‘transitions’ from one ‘gender’ to the other – which is how I define myself
♥ Should you ever choose to transition surgically, do you think how you label yourself might change as a result of the transition? Do you ever see yourself leaving behind the 'transgender' label to be 'female'?
It would be wonderful if I could simply think of myself, or label myself as ‘female.’ However, I can’t change my history and know the only way I can become a female is to make the ‘transition,’ therefore, technically, at least at this point in my life anyway, I feel I would always be labeled as a ‘trans-woman.’
♥ The title of your book, Hung in the Middle, definitely has a dual meaning. Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to label your life's story that way?
In all honesty, I was simply lying in bed one night thinking about being in the ‘middle’ of various situations when “Hung in the Middle” popped into my head. When I told my spouse, Bobbie, she liked the ‘dual meaning’ part, especially from her perspective. However, when we gave our publisher the name he said it was too suggestive and wanted us to come up with another name. When we said that’s the name we wanted and stuck to our guns, he then added “A Journey of Gender Discovery.” That way we all got what we wanted – and each reader can interpret the title to mean whatever they want it to mean to them.
♥ A fair compromise. On the subject of being subjective, the internet has provided us with a wealth of information, but has also served to further sexualize or fetishize transgender identities. Do you feel that exposure has harmed the community, or has it made it more acceptable to be (if I can borrow your own phrase) hung in the middle?
I believe when it comes to sexual fantasies, they are as varied and range from the mild to the extreme just like the personalities of people vary and range from one extreme to the other. From what I gather by searching the internet, apparently T-girls are very popular – which I believe has helped the community, and especially those outside the community, by opening up closed minds to the possibility of being with a T-girl – especially for those who would have viewed it as something ‘freakish’ before having access to the sexual activity now available on the internet. I think once someone views good T-girl porn they see that sex is just sex, a body is just a body, and all bodies are good.
However, personally I have had the experience of being ‘wanted’ by a man, then once he has me, I feel like he’s ready to throw me in a dumpster somewhere - like he’d just experienced a ‘side-show freak’ or something. That’s not a good feeling. Bobbie tells me that as a GG she’s had similar experiences where men come on strong, and then once they got what they wanted, she was made to feel like she was second rate or something they were ready to toss aside. So, maybe that’s just the way some men are and it has nothing to do with the person they’re with.
♥ At what point in your transition did you decide that you wanted to share your story?
After losing my job I didn’t have much to do and spent a lot of time ‘playing’ on the computer. One day I decided to type out my thoughts and then the memories and stories just started spilling out. You should see some of the things I originally typed – just thoughts in no particular order or format – no punctuation
– run on sentences – one memory triggering another memory of something that might have happened years later or years earlier – I just typed whatever came into my mind.
It was a jumbled mess of stories and thoughts until Bobbie started helping me. She made a timeline with an Excel spreadsheet and started placing my stories where they fit on the timeline. She retyped everything putting them in the ‘story line’ that is now the book. Truer words were never spoken than those on the Acknowledgements page of “HIM” where I say, “I had managed to get words onto a page, but her patience and hard work turned my words into a book.”
♥ Ah, if only we all had a Bobbie to help out - maybe I'd finally get over my own procrastination! What was it that compelled you to share your story? Is there a key theme or message you're looking for readers to embrace and take away from it?
Even before coming out about being transgender people would tell me all the time that I needed to write about my life’s experiences with the Kentucky horse farms, wrecking fast cars, and my days of playing in the band which lead to drugs and drinking. But they only knew the ‘outside’ part of those experiences – they weren’t aware that a lot of those things I did, I did in an attempt to keep my secret hidden. I just felt that it was the right time to tell it all after I did come out so those who had urged me to write about the experiences could be made aware of why I did those things.
As for a key theme or message – it is our hope, Bobbie’s and mine, that “Hung in the Middle” helps all individuals who think of themselves as different and live outside of what society considers ‘normal’ learn that it’s OK to be different. We also hope it gives some insight to the struggles faced by those who feel ‘different’ when trying to just be themselves. It’s not always easy to accept yourself, so how can we expect others to accept us until we can accept ourselves. Like Bobbie often says, we hope the reader comes away understanding that ‘people are just people no matter what’ and I usually add, ‘embrace your difference, it’s a gift.’
♥ What was the initial reaction to the book from friends, family, and colleagues? Did it open any eyes, or change any of your day-to-day interactions?
I have been absolutely blown away by the positive response from family and friends. When you read the book’s reviews on Amazon.com you can tell that many were written by family members and longtime friends. It’s been wonderful.
I’m also amazed at the support and attention HIM has received not only nationally, but internationally as well – from people I don’t know but have only met through social media. One example is JJ Romanoff in the UK – she has dedicated a page to, as she calls it, my ‘transgender book’ on her company website at http://www.dress-me-up.co.uk/ which is getting attention there in the UK.
As for the day-to-day interactions – I’ve had several new friends I’ve made through social media act like I’m a celebrity, which I find funny because there isn’t a more down to earth country person in this world than me. I love the attention though.
♥ You've been married twice, once pre-transition and once post-transition. Did coming out to your first wife make your second marriage any easier, or do you and Bobbie continue to learn and grow in your own way?
I have ‘come out’ about being transgender, but, although I’ve been on hormones for a number of years, technically, I’m still in the beginning stages of actually ‘transitioning.’ As the last line of my book says; “But for now, I’m still hung in the middle” and the dual meaning does still apply.
I currently live in what Bobbie refers to the ‘cocoon’ stage, no longer a male (caterpillar) yet not quite a female (butterfly). I want facial feminization and breast implants so the world can see the true me – the feminine me. However, due to our financial situation, I haven’t been able to get these done yet. Hopefully book sales will change our financial situation.
As for the marriages, Bobbie had the advantage of being aware of and getting to know me as Alana before we were married where Mary and I were married approximately 13 years before I could bring myself to tell her. Bobbie and I face new experiences daily and deal with them together – sometimes we even agree on how to handle the new experiences.
♥ If we can impose upon your personal experience for a moment, what advice would you give to a young man or woman struggling with their gender identity? Is there anything you've done that worked exceptionally well for your situation?
When I begin talking to someone about being transgender I often say, “I know you may not understand me but I hope at least you’ll be able to accept me. I can’t expect you to understand something that I, myself, have had a hard time understanding.”
I believe advice is hard to give because each experience and each person is different. I can tell someone what I did and what worked for me. However, what worked for me may not be suitable for anyone else. I would never want to give advice that could be harmful or dangerous to another individual.
I believe if I could have just been honest about being transgender earlier in life it would have eliminated a lot of the suffering I endured. I guess if I were going to give advice it would be to just be honest – with yourself and those in your life. Be a person of integrity.
♥ Good advice. Along the same lines, is there something you wish you had done differently?
I imagine it would have been nice if I had been able to come out earlier in life, however, that’s not the way my life unfolded. I feel I’ve handled my situations in the best manner I knew how. I’ve never faced what I refer to as ‘the bomb’ which is the fear of someone criticizing me – at least they haven’t to my face – and what they say behind my back doesn’t matter. At this point in life, thinking about ‘what might have been if I’d done anything differently’ is just a waste of energy.
♥ Finally, before we let you go, what can we look forward to from you next? Is there a project or an appearance on the horizon that you're really excited about?
Of course, “Hung in the Middle” was just released in May of 2012, so we’ve only just begun. Since I haven’t gotten the call from Ellen Degeneres yet, I’m starting with local appearances. I had my first book signing at the 5th Annual Lexington Pride Fest on June 30, and I have a book signing scheduled in a local bookstore for August 11th.
I’ve been invited to be a presenter and do a book signing at the Northsiders GLBT Festival in Cincinnati, Ohio on August 18. Also, Bobbie and I will be attending the Southern Comfort Conference in Atlanta, Georgia for a week in September, and I’ve been asked to schedule a couple book signings while there.
Currently, Bobbie is working on a book. It, too, is about transition, but it’s about ‘her’ transition from initially being freaked out and rejecting ‘Alana’ (when she saw me as Alana for the first time) -- through her journey from rejection to acceptance -- and us getting married. She says the title of her book is going to be, “My HUSBAND Looks Better in Lingerie Than I Do . . . DAMN IT.”
“Hung in the Middle” leaves off at the point where Bobbie and I got married in 2008 – four years ago. It was during those years that HIM was written – which had some extreme side effects on me. Re-living my past ‘knocked my feet out from under me’ and I’ve spent much of that time battling depression and social anxiety. I want my next book to pick up where HIM stops and go through the completion of my transition. Right now, as I imagine what life will be for me once my transition to female is complete, I want to call my book, “With Head Held High,” unless I can come up with an appropriate title that would have the acronym “HER.”
And, of course, we’ll be sure to let you know when we do get the call from Ellen.
A huge thanks to Alana for stopping by today! If you have yet to check out her book, Hung in the Middle, then what are you waiting for? Get out and get reading today. :)