Monday, April 28, 2014

Sunshine Mugrabi & When My Boyfriend Was a Girl

Good morning, everyone! It's a beautiful sunny Monday morning, and we are absolutely delighted to be hosting Sunshine Mugrabi, author of When My Boyfriend Was a Girl: A Memoir. Before we get into her interview, however, let's take a quick look at the book itself:

When My Boyfriend Was a Girl: A Memoir
by Sunshine Mugrabi 

Sunshine had been unlucky in love—with both men and women—for years. She needed a new plan. What else could she do but hit the internet, cross her fingers, and hope for the best? In this heartfelt, humorous memoir the author takes readers on her personal journey of falling in love with Leor, who was born female, but who became the man of her dreams, through all of the ups and downs of loving a newly transgendered man. This riveting memoir is part love story, part Rorschach relationship test, and a psychological mirror for everyone who has ever been in love. The book gives readers an extremely rare and intimate glimpse into the lives of transgendered people and the people who love them. It also helps shatter preconceived notions about gender identity. And it should be required reading for those about to embark on a relationship, no matter their sexual orientation. When My Boyfriend Was a Girl is a mind-blowing memoir that will shatter any preconceived notions you have about gender, relationships, and love.

And now, without further ado, please welcome Sunshine!

Q: Thank you so much for taking the time pop by for a visit, Sunshine. Before we get into talking about When My Boyfriend Was A Girl, can you tell us a little about yourself?

I live in Silicon Valley with my wonderful husband Leor and our three cats, Mitzy, Schnitzy, and Clarence. I’m a big fan of british TV like Doctor Who and Top Gear. I really enjoy good food and wine; my husband and I had a food and wine blog for a while. I work in high tech as a writer and have been a journalist for newspapers and magazines.

Q: It’s easy to assume that being bisexual must have made it easier for you to accept Leor’s transition from girlfriend to boyfriend, but is that necessarily the case? Was it as easy as people might assume?

Actually, Leor was already living as male for a year when we met, so I didn't have to go through it with him on that level. That said, he did go through a massive amount change in the first few years we were together, which is really what most of the book centers on. The seismic shift that he was experiencing in his identity, and therefore we were both experiencing as a couple. Yes, I do think that being bisexual made it easier in some ways, one of which was that I didn't have to change my identity as bisexual when I got together with a transman. So I didn't have to go through what someone who is completely straight or completely gay might have to deal with, where their own sexual identity is up for question in light of their partner’s transition.

Q: I know, from talking to other spouses, that it is often to separate physical attrition from emotional. Were you ever concerned that Leor’s transition might impact how you feel, bisexual or not?

If that is one consistent thing in my relationship with Leor is that I've been completely hot for him from day one. We have incredible chemistry and it’s also a very deep emotional intimacy. So I’m very clear that whatever our problems, that glue is always there. Every once in a while I do miss certain things about how cisgender people are, but it just doesn't affect me much most of the time.

Q: Being bisexual, you must have already experienced your own share of taunts and abuse over the years. How did your own past prepare you for the reaction others had to Leor (and yourself) during the transition?

If you lived as an out queer person you kind of expect it. If anything, because we passed as a heterosexual couple we had it easier than when if I was with a woman where it was visible.  However, if people know about Leor’s past we were sometimes treated shabbily. So yes I do think that being bisexual prepared me for people’s negative responses when they happened.

Q: Post-transition, the two of you still had challenges in being shunned by straight community, and never fully accepted by the gay and lesbian community. How difficult was that for the two of you to overcome?

It was sometimes difficult. The world is changing really fast, and trans people are being more accepted, but we did feel isolated a lot of the time. Even when we sought out accepting communities there was still a certain distance. It was harder when I felt shunned or misunderstood by the gay community, but as a bisexual I was already somewhat accustomed to it. I had lesbians tell me that Leor was a sellout for being a transman, and why couldn't he just stay a butch lesbian. It still amazes me how uninformed and confused people are by the transgender reality. Especially gays and lesbians, who you’d think would have a little more insight, but quite often don’t. Transgender people face so many obstacles and discrimination, it’s time for our whole LGBT community to come together and support each other.

In terms of early reactions to the book, particularly with the media ‘push’ around the International Day of Transgender Visibility, what is the strangest or most surprising reaction that you've encountered to this point?

One of the most surprising things for me was just how many people have been coming out of the woodwork and supporting and promoting my book in their social networks. Some of them are straight tech guys I just know from work, who amazingly wanted to talk about how much they enjoyed the work and they wanted to tell everyone about it. One guy got in touch with me and said that  a coworker of his was transitioning to female and he, being a straight guy, found himself being attracted to her when she presented as female, and it opened his mind and made him very curious about gender and sexuality that he never had to think about before. I was also very surprised, as I began talking more openly about the fact that my husband is transgender, how incredibly positive people were. So times are changing very quickly, and we can thank people like Janet Mock, Chaz Bono, Laverne Cox, and Lana Wachowski  for bringing this out into the mainstream.

Q: Is there a message or a lesson you’d like people to take away from When My Boyfriend Was A Girl?

Mainly I just want people to enjoy reading it. I want them to decide what the message or lesson is. I've had so many different lessons people said they've learned. The lesson I learned in writing it is that love and good communication and understanding go way beyond anything to do with gender. They are really just human experiences.

Q: As a partner of someone who transitioned, what is the most important or heartfelt piece of advice you can offer to somebody in a similar circumstance?

Communication is the key. This is someone who is going through a massive identity change, and you have to talk though a lot more than you normally would. Unfortunately, during the transition, you have to put your own ego on hold, which was not easy for me, because the focus does have to be on them for a period of time. Eventually things balance out. You must have patience, and you have to be clear on your own identity, because theirs changes so much that you have to anchor your own.

Q: It’s a tough question to answer, I’m sure, but can you imagine how your response to Leor’s transition might have differed had you not been bisexual? Do you think love is strong enough to withstand such a physical change?

It’s not just a physical change, that is in many ways the smallest part of it. It’s really a life change, of identity. It’s a hard question to answer because I can’t imagine not being bisexual. Being bisexual did add a lot of flexibility for me.

Q: How did Leor originally feel about you sharing your story … about putting your life together out there for the world to share (and potentially judge)?

We had to talk it out a lot. We had to discuss all the possibilities how it might go. In the end he was really involved in it — he designed the cover, he came up with the name for the book. And he realized that our story is valuable to share because there are not many stories like that out there, so even though he’s a very private person he pushed through it.

Q: Were there any books (fiction or non-fiction) that inspired, educated, or provided comfort to Leor and yourself during his transition?

I really enjoyed “She’s Not There” by Jennifer Finney Boylan. I went to a reading by her where she signed my book and she told me I should write my story. Amy Bloom’s book “Normal: Transsexual CEOs, Crossdressing Cops, and Hermaphrodites with Attitude”, Leslie Feinberg’s “Stone Butch Blues” and “Transgender Warriors.” More recently I reconnected with an old friend Max Wolf Valerio, who kindly agreed to write the foreword to my book and has been a huge support. He has a book out called “The Testosterone Files” that really tells the story of a transition from female to male.

Q: Finally, before we let you go, what can we look forward to from you next? Is there more story yet to be shared, or any projects/causes that you’re involved with?

At this point we’re just focusing on getting the word out about the book. I am, however, very passionate about healthcare and the particular needs of trans people. I’ve given talks and done volunteering around this and plan to continue to do so, because it is such a crucial issue for the trans population. I now know first-hand how much needs to be done.

Thanks so much for taking the time to stop by, Sunshine!


Sunshine Mugrabi has been a freelance and staff writer for such publications as Red Herring, The San Francisco Bay Guardian, Curve Magazine, and The Daily Hampshire Gazette. Her short story, "The Last Time," was published in The Lullwater Review. She lives in Silicon Valley, California with her husband, Leor and their three cats. This is her first book.

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