by Kate Sweeney

Kindness and Courage: Ramona Peel

AGE: 42

Pronouns: SHE/HER/HERS

How would you describe your gender identity? I’m a trans woman. I was assigned male at birth, but about five years ago I started living authentically as a woman.

What has been the most surprising aspect of transition for you? Guys commonly assume that I know nothing about sports, pop culture, or politics now. When I demonstrate that I actually might—gasp—know more than they do, the most common reaction is anger. It’s wild how fragile masculinity can be for some cis (non-trans) men.

In your experience, what’s been the best thing about living authentically? There’s a line in the Radiohead song, “Fitter, Happier”—“No longer empty and frantic/Like a cat tied to a stick.” I was empty and frantic before I transitioned. I’m not anymore. Living authentically hasn’t solved all my problems, but it’s given me hope that I can actually be a happy, self-actualized person. I didn’t have that before. It also makes me think of a line from a Pearl Jam song—“I escaped it/A life wasted/I’m never going back again.” That hits me hard, too. Can you tell I was a college radio DJ in the ’90s?

In your experience, what’s been the biggest challenge related to living authentically? I constantly have my identity questioned. I’m not allowed to just be. Every day, in both subtle and blatant ways, I’m treated as a subject of curiosity and fascination. I’m a very out trans person, and that’s by choice. I want to control my own narrative; I want to put the pressure on transphobes to either abide by the social contract or reveal themselves to my face. And I aim to demonstrate that my identity is nothing to be ashamed of. But living in that heightened state of alertness is exhausting.

What kind of environment is Central Ohio for a TGNC (Trans or Gender Nonconforming) person? For me, it’s been amazing. In a concrete way, Columbus saved my life. Compared to the rest of Ohio, it’s much more trans-friendly. There’s a large and thriving trans community here, and there is a well-developed infrastructure of resources for trans folks. However, it isn’t safe for everyone—particularly for trans women of color—so we still have an enormous amount of work ahead of us to create a safe and inclusive environment for all TGNC people, even here in Columbus.

What question(s) do you wish people would stop asking you? Why? “So you’re trans? Does that mean you’re gay?” No, it doesn’t. I mean, I’m kinda gay. I tend to date women. I also date non-binary people. And the occasional dude. So I’m more bi/pan/queer. But who I’m attracted to, and whom I partner with, isn’t tethered to my gender identity. At all.

What do you want to share about your experience as a TGNC person that most people might not know about? Before I transitioned, I was the kind of person who would go to an authentic Mexican restaurant and order a cheeseburger and fries. I was so buttoned up and closed off, because I felt like if I stepped outside my comfort zone, the whole charade I was maintaining might fall apart. Since my transitioning, I’m much more open to trying new things—1997 me would be stunned that I like sushi, Indian food, and soccer now. At least for me, transition ended up being about much more than changing my name, my body, and my appearance. It also has been a process where I’ve become someone more open-minded and more open to new experiences.

What’s a book, movie, or TV show you’d want people exposed to so they could learn more about the TGNC experience? Why? I’m gonna cheat a little here—everyone should read “Whipping Girl” by Julia Serano. That’s my trans bible. But a movie you might not think of is The Matrix. Turns out that the Wachowskis are both trans girls. (Yay! Good for them!) And if you watch that movie again with that knowledge, you realize that entire movie is about being trans. The whole thing. And certain lines land way harder now—like when Morpheus says to Neo, “I didn’t say it would be easy, Neo. I just said it would be the truth.” Ouch. I’ve lived that.

What’s the most interesting thing about you (unrelated to your gender identity)? I grew up in Washington State before I moved to Columbus for grad school. The biggest thing I’ve kept from growing up in the Pacific Northwest is my obsession with the Seattle Seahawks. I haven’t missed a game in 33 years (either in person or on live TV). I’ve had season tickets since 1997, and I kept them even though I moved here in ’99. I’ve been at Seahawks Stadium for three NFC Championship Game victories, and I also write a blog about the team. So yeah, I bleed college navy, wolf grey, and action green. I should also note the I’m a Crew SC supporter and a Blue Jackets fan. This is home for me now, and rooting for the Crew and the Jackets makes me feel more connected to Columbus.

What do you think is the most important concrete action allies could take to help support the TGNC community in Columbus? Vote for (and give money to) candidates and parties that support trans rights, and refuse to support candidates and parties that are trying to make our lives more difficult and dangerous. This goes all the way down to your school boards and city governments. Better yet, if you support trans rights, run for office and push for laws that outlaw discrimination based on gender identity.