I figured I wouldn't like Nova Gyna. I confess to being creeped out by the whole he/she thing, which Nova Gyna (pronounced "no vagina," and Latin for "new woman") writes about in her new book, The Occasional Woman. I expected to find a scary drag queen, maybe even one of those militant cross-dressers who would want to give me fashion tips. But the 53-year-old Columbus, Ohio, native surprised me with her boyish candor and utter lack of guile. We lounged at A League of Our Own, where, surrounded by cigar smoke and several big-screen TVs blaring a baseball game, I tried not to cringe while Nova talked about guys who get their dicks cut off.
New Times: So Nova Gyna is your real name.
Nova Gyna: It is now. I had a different name before.
NT: You claim, in your book, that you were aware of your transgendered nature at age 8.
Nova: When I was 7, I was asking my mother when I was going to get to be a girl. She was a single mother in Kentucky in the '50s, but she let me grow my hair long, and she curled it for me. There were a lot of kids who weren't allowed to play with me. Which is probably a good thing, since I always ended up having sex with all the boys who did play with me. I matured early.
NT: You write that your family sent you to a seminary as a "remedy for your condition."
Nova: Yes. They thought it would help. So they took a gay transsexual and sent him to a place full of puberty-aged boys from all over the world. It was an international buffet of boys. Whoopee! I was there for two and a half years, but they sort of figured out that the priesthood was not the place for me.
NT: You feel better in a dress and some falsies. Why?
Nova: These aren't falsies! I do hormones. These are mine. But I think I can answer your question: A transvestite gets a thrill from wearing lingerie, but for me, it's more about being perceived in a certain way. I'm more comfortable in the middle zone: I'm not very feminine, I don't change my voice. I know heterosexual men who are far more feminine than myself. My point is that gender doesn't work.
NT: Yet you live as a woman.
Nova: I'm more comfortable this way, but I prefer to be perceived as a biological male living as a woman. I'm not trying to fool anyone, though, and I couldn't if I tried. Normally, I'm mistaken for a big, ugly woman. I don't have fine features, I'm not all that effeminate. Nothing will make me a woman; I'm still functional as a male.
NT: But what if you did go all the way? You know, have it cut off?
Nova: I'd still be male. You can take a Volkswagen and put a dune buggy body on it, but it's still a Volkswagen. I'm biologically a male, but I'm also biologically blended. I know transsexuals who have no business having any male parts at all. They were born female inside. I am not. I still like Steven Seagal movies!
NT: Maybe those hormone shots aren't working.
Nova: They are! But they're not for everyone. In my book, I caution about hormone use, because it's easy for a biological male to become sexually dysfunctional on hormones. I write, "Be sure you know what you're asking for."
NT: So you have no plans for gender reassignment.
Nova: No. I like my penis. But my body is changing because of the hormones. I've got bumps, and my hips are getting bigger. I'm going to get plastic surgery to make me look more feminine, although mostly because of vanity. I gave up a lot of years to my children with no regrets, but now I'm ready to have some real fun.
NT: You have kids?
Nova: I have three sons and a daughter. I raised them as Dad. My oldest is 34, and he's stationed in Kabul, Afghanistan. Here's a picture of him firing a French assault weapon. One of my other sons is put off by me. He has issues. But my daughter still calls me "Dad." She lived with me for awhile, and she would borrow my lipstick.
NT: So what's the difference between you and a garden-variety drag queen?
Nova: One's a parody, the other's a necessity. This is a proclamation of who I really am, whereas a drag queen is a guy in a dress lip-synching to a Dolly Parton record. I need to look in the mirror and see this. I like it when someone refers to me as "she." I love to dress up in glam clothes. But I'm not a drag queen. It's not my goal to be the prettiest thing. In slang terms, I'm a he/she and not a gender-bender.
NT: You look like a guy with boobs.
Nova: I'm uncomfortable with that. I'd rather be perceived as a chick with a dick.
NT: What's the difference?
Nova: I'm more comfortable being dealt with as a strong woman, not as an effeminate man.
NT: When you're out in public, which restroom do you use?
Nova: Usually the women's. The only time I've ever had a problem was when I tried to use the men's room at the airport. Someone called airport security. I figured I was in for an unpleasant orifice check, but the cop just said, "You can't be in here." I told him I'm a transsexual, and he said, "I don't know what to tell you." I said, "I know what to tell you: I have to pee!"
NT: Where do you buy shoes?
Nova: I'm not a big spender, but I do like Macy's. I'm not above shopping at Payless. But I don't wear dresses and gowns that much. I'm a tomgirl. I'm a rock 'n' roller. I just came back from Ozzfest.
NT: In your book, you recommend that heterosexual cross-dressers come out to their wives and girlfriends.
Nova: If wearing women's clothing is important to you, the close people in your life need to know. It's not the kind of information you can keep from your wife and still have an honest relationship with her. Besides, where are you going to keep your gowns?
NT: You also write that earrings are a cross-dresser's most important accessory.
Nova: In many ways, absolutely.
NT: But you're not wearing earrings right now.
Nova: Well, tonight I'm not accessorizing. No glam stuff tonight, because I'm wearing a sit-down-and-talk-about-myself outfit.
NT: Of course not. I read with interest the section in your book about creating a set of birdseed boobs.
Nova: It's a trashy way to go, but it works. You basically just fill a pair of pantyhose with bird chow and then cut them off and stick them in your bra. I knew I'd become a famous writer when I started getting letters from prison. Transsexual convicts write to me to ask how to make boobs out of birdseed.
NT: Explain this one to me: Some men have surgery to become women . . . but then they date women. What's that about?
Nova: For some men, it's easier to have surgery to become a woman than it is for them to say, "I'm gay." Which is what they're doing if they take a male lover, even after they become a woman.
NT: What about you? Do you date men or women?
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Nova: Right now I have a boyfriend and a girlfriend. My relationship with my girlfriend is more intimate. We do girl things together; we hang out. We shop. We make jewelry together. We get drunk together. We get cut off at bars together. You know, girl things.
NT: So if a friend of yours gets married, do you go the bachelor party or the bachelorette party?
Nova: I tend to get invited to the bachelorette party. I'm not all that comfortable in stripper clubs, which is where bachelor parties usually end up. I went to one once in Australia, and the girls were wearing nothing but smiles and shoes. And someone thought it was real funny to buy me a private dance. The girl came over and tried to sit on my lap. I said, "Honey, just sit down here next to me, and let's talk about those false eyelashes."