Author Toni Newman understands there’s a shortage of books written from the perspective of an African American transgender person; she hopes to bridge the gap with her autobiography “I RISE THE TRANSFORMATION OF TONI NEWMAN.” The soon to be 49 year old Southern-native took 25 years to complete her transformation. From an early age she gravitated towards dressing up in women’s clothing, it was not until she was in college when she came out to family and friends. After several years of secretly cross dressing she finally admitted to her family that she was woman in the wrong body. In 1985 Toni obtained a BA in Sociology from Wake Forest University, currently she’s studying to be a lawyer so that she could fight for transgender people. She spoke to PrideIndex about her journey and what she hopes others will learn from her experiences.
PRIDEINDEX: Why did you write “I RISE THE TRANSFORMATION OF TONI NEWMAN?”
TONI NEWMAN: The reason I wrote “I RISE THE TRANSFORMATION OF TONI NEWMAN” was because I have never seen any books written about the life of black transgender people and what we go through with community, family and society. I wrote my memoirs to educate and enlighten others on why I decided to become transgender and to discuss my 25 year journey from male to female. My goal is to educate society about transgenderism from the black perspective. I am the first African American transgender to write a memoir in the United States. My foreword was written by Dr. Marc Weiss, former Columbia University Professor and my editor was Kevin Hogan, former English Assistant Professor.
PI: What do you want readers to take away from “I RISE: THE TRANSFORMATION OF TONI NEWMAN?”
TN: I would like for readers of my memoir “I RISE” to learn why an intelligent black child from a middle class, two parent home would make a transformation. Most of the general public rarely sees a black transgender in their daily lives so I wanted to bring awareness to our existence and how we survive in America and bring light to the dark areas of our lives. I only ask that the readers of my memoirs come with an open mind and understanding that we do exist and we need support and love from the community and society.
PI: Describe how it was growing up and at what point did you know that you wanted to become a woman?
TN: I had a good childhood and grew up in the deep south of North Carolina. I had supportive parents who encouraged me to study and excel and be the best that I could be. My mom was a religious woman; we attended church regularly and prayed as a family. My father was a good man who tried his best to give his children everything he could. I always knew I was different and from the age of six or seven I enjoyed dressing in women’s clothing and being around women instead of the men. I felt connected to women in some way; it was obvious I was different. I was so effeminate that many friends and family called me a sissy boy. No matter how hard I tried to be masculine my femininity always came through. Since I was so afraid to admit to myself I was transgender, and to admit to the world I was in the wrong body took years for me to gain enough courage to rise and come out and say who I really was. Most transgender people know at an early age that they’re different but depending on their family and community it can take years for them to actually start transforming from one gender to another. The black community doesn’t accept transgender people.
PI: What was it like to come out to your parents and family?
TN: I was in college when I came out to my parents and family. I was gay, and I was transgender. I just did not have the courage at that time to say I was in the wrong body; it was easier for me to say I was just gay. Most of the people already knew I was gay so it was not too much of a surprise when I actually said it. I was secretly cross-dressing regularly at night during that time and nobody knew. It took 12 years after graduating from college to actually come out as transgender to my coworkers, family, and friends. I still had a good relationship with my family until I came out as transgender then communications and support faded and I became alone. Nobody understood why I wanted to transform from male to female and I lost most of the support I had during this time.
PI: I understand that you were an “erotic professional” with celebrity clients, what does that mean?
TN: I was an escort. Chapter 7 – The Erotic Professionals, in my memoir “I RISE,” I talk about a team of 3 individuals (Transgender, Male, and Female) who were high end escorts that traveled everywhere with clients that paid top dollar for “special services.”
PI: Were you concerned about any backlash you might encounter as a result of your writing a screenplay and teleplay based on your encounters?
TN: NO! The teleplay and screenplay, THE EROTIC PROFESSIONALS, was based on experiences of Chapter 7 of my book. Once the book finally came out I got some negative responses about detailing my days as a street prostitute and the celebrities I interacted with. I only spoke the truth about what I had encountered over the last 15 years of my life back then. I did have one encounter of two thugs who tried to intimidate me but they were unsuccessful and the police were called and an incident report was filed. I refused to back down about the truth of my life. The story is not pretty but it is honest.
PI: Tell us about the factors or circumstances that lead you to realize that being an “erotic professional” really wasn’t the kind of life you want to lead?
TN: Let’s just say that being an “erotic professional” had excitement but there were definitely some downfalls as well. Most long term escorts end up with addictions to drugs and alcohol. The female escort within my team was an alcoholic and heavy partier. I realized that this job would eventually ruin my dreams and stop me from achieving the things I really truly desired to achieve. The money was good but I knew the long term effects of the job would ruin my dreams I’d had for myself so I stopped.
PI: What advice would you offer to youth or anyone considering undergoing gender reassignment surgery?
TN: In Chapter 9 – Personal Thoughts and Chapter 10 – I Rise of my book I discuss Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS) and advise transgender individuals to review all the medical facts with a qualified Gender Physician. This is a very personal and important decision that should be made carefully and with much thought.
My advice is to look at all facts and make the best informed decision for yourself based on your own individual personal life.
PI: What advice would you offer youth regarding coming out?
TN: I came out to my family and friends while I was in college. I didn’t have enough courage to come out earlier in my life even though most people already knew the deal. Every family is different and each individual has to do it accordingly to their own personal survival. Most black and youth of color come out later than their white counterparts due to family acceptance and understanding issues. I encourage black youth to think about the possibility that danger or violence might occur if they come out to family and friends,they should wait until a more appropriate time when things will be less volatile. This is an individual decision and should be made according to the circumstances of each individual.
PI: Why did you decide to become a lawyer to advocate for the rights of transgendered people?
TN: Chapter 8 – Learning the Law in my memoir “I RISE” discusses my past negative interaction with the police. Most transgender persons are treated poorly and sometimes abused within the criminal justice system. My first hand knowledge of unlawful arrests and verbal abuse while in police custody motivated me to study the law and educate myself about my rights as a black transgender. We’re a small population within a society making up less than 3 percent of the total population but we still deserve equal rights under the protection of the legal system. Just because you are different does not mean you are less than anyone else and deserve less legal rights. I would love to become a spokesperson for the black and minority transgender community in the legal system so we can be heard and seen.
The book I RISE THE TRANSFORMATION OF TONI NEWMAN is available on Amazon.com through Hardcopy and Kindle.
Author Toni Newman’s 49th birthday is December 2 visit http://www.tonidnewman.com