Katelynn Cusanelli, who some may remember from MTV's "The Real World: Brooklyn" as the first (and only) openly transgender person in the show's twenty year history, and as an activist and lecturer in the LGBTQ community who has worked to raise awareness regarding HIV & AIDS, participated in an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit, a user-driven content aggregation site, yesterday afternoon.
Cusanelli responded to questions from Redditors on topics such as her opinions on the LGBT community, her favorite video games (she is a self-proclaimed "esteemed geek") and her experiences during and after appearing on the "Real World." Save a few negative commenters, many Redditors seemed appreciative of her taking the time to discuss personal issues so candidly. As one Redditor put it, "This has been very informative for a straight dude with no transgendered friends."
We have collected some highlights from the AMA below. Some have been shortened, mainly because we're not sure how many readers are as well-versed about Dungeons & Dragons and role playing video games as Cusanelli is. You can see the entire delightfully nerdtastic AMA here.
How do you feel your experience on the "Real World" has affected your life? Has it changed any of your views or habits? What do you think is the biggest thing you've taken from it (literally or otherwise)?...
Response: ...The "Real World" affected my life in mostly positive ways, though it has made it very difficult to get a job (try explaining to your employer why you drunkenly slid down a support column in Gettysburg) and it has all but ruined my love life, heh....
"And it has all but ruined my love life..." How come?
Response: I like to think I am "passable" (I loathe that term, and I believe the younger Transwomen call it "trapping" but I'm no fan of that phrase either, as it is entirely pejorative while being flattering at the same time, heh), and when I date I like to let the person get to know me before I come out as transgender.
However, in this day and age you'd be a complete fool not to at least do a cursory Google search of someone you're dating, and thus my dates tend to trudge up very intimate and personal details about me with no context or frame of reference. It just adds additional degrees of entropy which make an already frustrating and difficult process that much more so.
And then there are those who react violently...
Question: If you were / are not a fan, what was the inspiration to audition for the show?
I personally hate reality TV and would never dream of going on to a show like that save for some sneaky, covert, bring-it-down-from-the-inside type job. Was that your real plan?
Response: It wasn't about me or my desires, it was about representing a community that has been heretofore woefully misrepresented if not underrepresented in the media. I did it to show not all of us look like linebackers in a dress (a la Jerry Springer), and not all of us are completely fucked up and damaged. We're real people. =)
Question: I am always intrigued by trans people and how they invent an identity that corresponds with who they feel they really are. As a female, how did you come to identify/choose the name Katelynn? What name were you given at birth? And, PS... you really do look like a "Katelynn"!
Response: Aww, thank you! I don't really give away my birth name, not because it's a sensitive issue for me, just that I don't want to set any precedence that it's something trans people are willing to disclose. I'm not suggesting you specifically are doing this but some people do use the birth name as a way of overlaying a gender identity that we don't agree with, almost as if to say, "I know what you really are."
As for how I decided upon the name Katelynn, it was rather methodical and geeky, heh. I went through my elementary and middle school yearbooks and a found a name that was somewhat common for my class/birth year... and then spelled it completely and totally fucked up. lol
Question: ...How did your parents feel about the whole transgender process and assuming pre-op your sexuality? Were they aware?...
Response: ...I was born and raised in a traditional Roman Catholic Sicilian household within a Military family. Initially, the family didn't respond too well. I left home when I was 17 and thankfully over the years have repaired the relationship with my family. It took them a long time to realize there are worse things in this world their child could be other than transgender...
Question: As an activist in the LGBTQ community, how do you feel about trans-discrimination from gay/lesbian people? Do you still do TKD [Taekwondo]?
Reponse: I feel as though there is far too much in-fighting within the QUILTBAG (thank you shobble for giving me a new term!) community and as long as we're too busy fighting over kicking people out of the little boat we're all in, we're gonna miss an opportunity to gain a better standard of living as a whole.
I have not trained in TKD since 2003. I haven't formally trained in any martial art since 2008.
Check out Cusanelli's full AMA here and check out the slideshow of LGBT-related subreddits below.