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Interview Transcript

Brian Smiga: Hi, this is Brian Smiga of TEDxAsburyPark. I’m here with Karen Kendra Holmes.

Karen, we were talking about respect and how it relates to being transgender, how it’s almost kind of like a test of people’s respect, their empathy and their ability to treat others as they wish to be treated themselves. Let’s talk about that.

Karen Kendra Holmes: I mean, the toughest thing for any transgender person around the world, because this is not a United States thing, it’s a worldly issue. The thing is, we transition to be happy, that’s number one, and people confuse a lot of it between, well, if you’re transgender, are you gay or lesbian or bisexual? And the first thing I tell people, it’s got nothing to do with sexuality. It’s who we are in our mind, heart and spirit. And we want to live a normal life doing everything. I mean, the things that I used to dream of before I actually transitioned was being able to be at work as a woman doing things normally, walking to the Metro station, doing everything and just being happy. And that reality came true October 1st of 2010 when I was able to live my authentic self, shall we say.

Brian Smiga:  All right. So it’s just been a 10th anniversary.  We’ll come back to that. The pursuit of happiness is in the Declaration and in our foundation as a country, and for folks that are dedicated to the Constitution and to the kind of rights we enjoy as free people in the United States, I think we can really get behind this idea of transgender people pursuing happiness.

Karen Kendra Holmes: Yeah. For me, I look at myself as one, a hard worker, a caring person, and just wanting to have fun, just enjoy life as it was given to me. The only difference is I’m transgender. I’m doing great things out there through my federal agency job, and in the military, now doing volunteer stuff with Red Cross, CERT, which is Community Emergency Response Team, and I sit on the board for RSVP, which is Retired Seniors Volunteer Program. So I’m doing a lot of things and the list could go on, but in doing that, I’m really just a normal person. I’m not out there killing anybody. I’m not out there raping anybody because I’m being me.

Brian Smiga: I think the definition of patience, or of a patient, is someone who is a sufferer, right? And so I think those of us in life who have suffered usually are the ones that are volunteering the most, have the greatest passion and have the greatest verve and energy to get things done. I think that’s got to be true for transgender people because they’ve got to overcome an identity they were born with. They have to overcome this lack of respect and this bias in society. So tell me one story about your passion, either before or after 2010. Can you share one story about your passion, tenacity and determination?

Karen Kendra Holmes:  Well, I remember my time when I went to Houston for Hurricane Harvey, summer 2017, for Red Cross and I was down there for two weeks and this really stuck to me. I’ve been on other missions before, such as Hurricane Sandy and down in Joplin for the tornado. But down at Harvey, I was driving around in a, looked like an ambulance, was called an ERV, which is the Emergency Response Vehicle. And being in there, we went through the community and fed people meals.

And in the process of going through different neighborhoods and sounding the alarm that were coming through, we’ve got food, people are running out their doors wanting food. You’ve got elderly people coming out their door, waving at you to stop so they can get food, which we would then on some of the elderly people take the food actually to them because we didn’t want them to come all the way down to the response vehicle. And then they have little kids chasing after you down the road because they want to eat, and a lot of that, just hit me hard.

I was energized, but I was also exhausted on Harvey because of the fact we were out there for 14 hours. So it takes a lot out of you. And that was one of my biggest experiences that I really enjoyed. And I tell people, like for me personally, I’ve been infected with a virus called “volunteer”. And my thing is I want to infect as many people out there telling my story about the things that I do. And when I do tell them, they’re like, “Wow, I’m not doing enough. You’re making me jealous”, and that’s not my purpose. I’m just letting you know who I am personally, who just happens to be transgender, but doing great things out there.

Brian Smiga: Yeah. Well, I totally get it. At TEDxAsburyParks and all volunteer organization, we bring 25 great speakers like yourself to the theater for an all day event, and it’s all volunteer. All of our volunteers have a lot of passion for it. That was 2018 when you came and spoke on our stage. A couple years have passed, tell me kind of what’s changed for you in the last two and a half years.

Karen Kendra Holmes:  Wow. A lot of my speaking engagements, they’ve listened to my TED Talk. They want me to come out and speak pretty much as a motivational, and I do it in two parts, basically to motivate other transgender people and then the other part is for people who don’t know transgenders, and are afraid, or haven’t heard enough about transgender people, to educate them. Since 2018, I’ve done numerous speaking engagements and conferences all over the country.

Brian Smiga: As a columnist and as a radio personality.

Karen Kendra Holmes: I love doing the radio show. And the next thing I know, they asked me about hosting the show, and I’ve been doing several of those as well as writing an article for Baltimore Outloud newspaper and my column is called Trans Lives, and I talk about my experience as a transgender person, going through different stages of doing certain things. And one of them just happens to be me doing my TEDx Talk.

Brian Smiga: That’s great. Now, we went through a period of maybe increased polarity, intolerance, during the Trump Presidency. And yet, I think a lot of the folks that were very pro-Trump are very pro USA, pro The Constitution, and I think The Constitution absolutely guarantees your rights and every American’s rights to happiness and the pursuit of freedom. So that’s how I interpret it.

But now, we have a change. And so I was really excited with the election of Biden and Kamala, the first black and Asian and woman Vice President. But some of the actions they’ve taken immediately upon office, I’m really excited about the example there. So how do you see things changing going forward?

Karen Kendra Holmes: Definitely my rights are more protected and mine pretty much above everybody else who hasn’t gone through the surgery of being now post-op transgender. Beforehand, I would need to worry about my health care, my job, not only as a federal employee, but any employee out there could give the rights to fire you because you’re transgender, and that’s going to totally change for the better the way President Biden is jumping right at this.

In the military, it’s the biggest thing right now. Like I said, it’s just protecting us. And I think if Trump understood what it meant to be readiness as a battle buddy, he would understand what it’s all about, being in the military, which he never did.

Brian Smiga: No, he dodged it. You lived it. You are a military veteran. And I think when Biden did that right away, I felt it was such a great expression of freedom and equality and the right for Americans to serve their country together as battle buddies. I was really happy to hear that and so many other things that are going to come with this administration.

What one thing for someone who’s not completely comfortable, as I am with you, with a transgender person, what one thing would you share with the listener to say, “Hey, do this”? Can you think of something?

Karen Kendra Holmes:  Wow. I think basically, find out who I am. If you talk to me, and actually any transgender person, we really want to share our story. There’s 1.4 million transgender people in the country. If you talk to each one of us, we’re like unique stories. There’s going to be that slight difference between my story and how I got to be me versus somebody else, but some of our stories are very, very close and similar, but it’s going to be that difference and that’s the way it is.

Find out who we are. And once you start talking to me, hopefully you’re going to see what I see coming out of my heart to you that says, “Hey, we’re okay.” You can trust us. Believe in us.

Brian Smiga:  Well, I can’t wait to hear your next TED Talk. I think this is such a great expression that “treat others as you want to be treated” starts with curiosity and wanting to get to know the other person as a person. And I think from there, everything flows beautifully. So Karen Kendra Holmes, thank you so much for being with us.


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