COFFEE WITH NICOA: Creating A LIFE BY DESIGN.

S1 Ep42: ALAINA KUPEC

November 28, 2023 NICOA DUNNE CORNELIUS Season 1 Episode 42
COFFEE WITH NICOA: Creating A LIFE BY DESIGN.
S1 Ep42: ALAINA KUPEC
COFFEE WITH NICOA: Creating A LIFE BY DESIGN. +
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Show Notes Transcript

This is a very special and powerful conversation with Nicoa's amazing friend Alaina Kupec who is a powerful woman who just happens to be transgenderAlaina vulnerably shares her personal story of living the American Dream in secrecy, fear, uncertainty and doubt until she finally felt safe and secure to consciously choose to begin living her AUTHENTIC Life By Design.  She asks us all to reflect and asks, "If you don't stand up for us, the most marginalized, weakest, least represented people in the LGBT community? Where is your line? Where do you stand up? "
 
Alaina appeared in the first nationally aired transgender awareness ad, depicting her being denied the use of a woman's restroom with millions of viewers when it aired on Fox News immediately before Donald Trump's acceptance speech.  Alaina has also been recognized  at the Logo Channel Trailblazer Awards for her advocacy work and was named the 2016 Transwoman of the Year by Transwomen National and in the same year recognized by the Human Rights Campaign as one of North Carolina's People of the Year.

REFERENCED RESOURCES:

  • G.R.A.C.E. Gender Research Advisory Council & Education www.grace-now.org  and TAKE ACTION to support this effort now!
  • The Alaina and Kathy Brennan-Kupec Transgender-positive NCSU Library collection
  • PFLAG - PFLAG ​is the nation's largest organization dedicated to supporting, educating, and advocating for LGBTQ+ people and those who love them. Additional PFLAG RESOURCES
  • REGISTER TO VOTE IN THE US HERE VOTE.GOV 

Transgender people in crisis should contact the following resources:

Buy your copy of YOUR LIFE BY DESIGN: A Coffee With Nicoa Self-Care Coaching Journal
on Amazon today! 

YOUR ISLAND GATHERING AWAITS: Baldhead Island, North Carolina, USA, April 11-14th, 2024
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Nicoa Coach:

Grab your coffee and join me Nicoa For a caffeinated conversation about life. I'll be talking to people who have chosen to walk their own paths and just like me, are creating a life by design. I hope it will give you the inspiration you need to do exactly the same. Good morning, my friend. Thank you for waking up early to be with me today.

Alaina Kupec:

Oh, it's always great to see you.

Nicoa Coach:

It's been way too long, Elena, I don't even know when the last time was that we saw each other maybe in Raleigh.

Alaina Kupec:

I think it was right in Raleigh at Justice, his graduation party from high school. That's how long it's been.

Nicoa Coach:

Wow. And you and I everybody, this is Elena kubek. And I'll give you an overview in just a minute of her amazing background. But Elena and I, we've been friends since probably 1989. I guess it is the state. And, you know, justice is 26 now and has his own place just bought a house the other day.

Alaina Kupec:

Amazing. I'm just been so thrilled watching justice or hearing about justice, and how he's thriving, just just so so endearing, so heartwarming for me,

Nicoa Coach:

for so many reasons. And we're going to tap into those reasons today. Absolutely. Well, everybody, please welcome the amazing, my amazing friend, Elena kubek. She is a friend, as I said forever, a parent of three boys. She's a wife, and she's the founder and president of grace, which I hope she'll share with us a little bit about grace in just a moment. She has a 30 year professional career that includes three years leading Pfizer's legislative grassroots programs. She works with the company's federal and state lobbying teams, addressing policy issues. She also lead Pfizer's largest US business communications team. She's currently a senior director of portfolio strategy and analytics at Gilead Sciences and Foster City, California. And she leads the company's portfolio strategy team for the virology and inflammation therapeutic areas. Now, she's an amazing friend, and has an amazing story. And that's why I wanted her to be on this podcast to talk about her life by design, literally. So she has been a woman who happens to be transgender. And, you know, that's not an amazing story in this day and age, it is what it is. And it's a beautiful story that I want her to share with us today, because she chose to become very public, and became a tireless advocate for the transgender community back in 2016. And that was when for those of us in North Carolina, we know the big legislative, bathroom bill HB two that came about, and she has a story to tell about her own experiences here and why she felt that was so important to become public and her transgender identity. Elena appeared in the first nationally aired transgender awareness ad depicting her being denied the use of a woman's restroom. And the ad was dude over 15 million people saw it online, and millions more when it aired on Fox News immediately before Donald Trump's acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. Elena, you've had this amazing background. This morning. I told John, I was like, Oh my gosh, she's been on ABC Nightline in the New York Daily News and you know, Military Times, and coffee with Nicoa. So I want to begin though, with this awesome background, and I didn't even scratch the surface, you guys. I mean, so many accolades, so much recognition in the past year alone, and so many more efforts that you've put in place to help support the LGBTQ community. Let's start with the beautiful story. That is you though, because in a life by design, I really want to understand how individuals feel being themselves and how they ultimately own creating their life. So tell us a little bit about your upbringing, and the younger version of Elena.

Alaina Kupec:

Sure, and what the younger version of Elena, my mother's from eastern North Carolina, Bertie County, which is very rural farming, she was one of 12 children. My father was from Illinois. So I was very young. I was actually born outside Chicago moved to North Carolina, when I was in the third or fourth grade. I can't remember when But consider myself a North Carolina native, because that was in the late 70s. So dating myself now. But you know, the early years of my life, I haven't had an older brother who's unfortunately since passed away. He was 11 months old and I have a younger sister, but I was a middle child. And you know, growing up, I always felt something was missing something was there Friend, I always identified with my friends who are girls, much more than my friends who were boys. And, you know, for me, it was, I always played sports growing up. I always enjoyed sports, but I had just a closer relationship with my friends that were girls. And by the time I was six or seven years old, you know, I felt like, Okay, if something's wrong here, something is not right, something's amiss. And you know, what I would find time to be able to be home at a young age, when my mother wasn't home, or my brother's sister wasn't around, I would put on my mother's clothes, and I would put on makeup, and I would wear her heels and not very well, obviously, at my age. And I felt like, that was who I was, I felt like, you know, that's where, how my body was aligned, but I had no words for it, there's no construct at that time to even know. You know, I just I felt ashamed. I felt like something was wrong with me. I thought that was broken. And I hit that part of me. But you know, every chance I got, when I was, could find that private time. That's what I look forward to. And, you know, I, you know, growing up and playing sports, I played baseball, I played football, and did all the regular masculine things and was quite good at those things. Interestingly enough, I played little league baseball, my little league baseball team, included your ex husband, right. So your ex husband and I met when I was in middle school, and now we're in the same movie baseball team, like I was all star catcher. And when I went to high school, I played baseball, but my my arm strength never developed. So when I went from the little field to the field, I never had the strength to be able to make the throws that I needed to make, if I could make it a smaller field, and just never had that endurance or that muscle strength. I never thought much about that. I just thought, well, you know, I'm weak. But you for me, in high school. Again, my friend, I have a lot of friends, friends who are guys are friends who are girls. And I really felt like I identified more with my friends that were girls. And it's a secret that I can never tell anyone. I just felt such shame and such guilt. Because, you know, obviously on the outside, that's not what I appeared. And

Nicoa Coach:

I'm curious, did you ever try to tell the secret? Did you ever even have a moment where you wanted to try? It was too terrifying.

Alaina Kupec:

It was too terrifying. I remember one time when I was in probably early high school. My mother walked in and caught me. And, you know, I tried to just play it off. And you know, I didn't remember what I said. But like, the guilt and the shame that I had was tremendous. And that also around the same time that, you know, I was trying to figure out like, I felt like, I was curious about of all things tampons, I couldn't figure out like, Where does the tampon go? Literally, like trying to figure it out for myself, like, Where would it go? Right. And, you know, at the time, it was just, again, so confusing. So guilt ridden so shameful. I couldn't talk about it, but I will always remember. And we're trying to figure that out.

Nicoa Coach:

There wasn't a lot of dialogue back then about bodies in most families and still in some families today, you know, educating both both gender children, you know about everybody's bodies.

Alaina Kupec:

Well, exactly. And you know, for life of me, I just was like, trying to figure out like, Where would I put this? Where would I put this? And you know, my body was going through puberty at that time. So looking back now it makes a lot more sense to me. You know, why I went to NC State we met there. And again, I wouldn't I got to NC State in 1987. I will always remember very vividly going to the DHL library on Hillsborough street this big, you know, research university and thinking the answer is hidden here, right? I could try and find it. And this is before like, computers. This was like card catalog searching time, right? So think about how hard it was to find resources. I searched that library for every resource to try and help me understand like, Why do I feel like a girl feel like a woman? look like? If this and there was nothing in that library to help me nothing at all. And so, you know, I got really good at compartmentalizing and repressing and pushing things way down to ignore it because, you know, you don't have a solution for something. I didn't want to go stir crazy trying to figure it out. And ironically, you know, I, after my freshman year, I played rugby my freshman year at state and then I injured my knee, fall my sophomore year, and had to figure out how to pay for college. My parents never went to college. I mean, a very middle middle class family, and I had to figure out like, they couldn't pay for my college housing or pay for college. And so I injured my knee and during that fall of I guess I would have an IED. Had to figure things out and actually join maybe ROTC and figured, okay, if I joined ROTC, now they can pay for my my education. And so, my father had been in the Navy, my brother had been in the Navy and I thought, Okay, this is a great way to pay for my school. And so that led me to a path of where we met at NC State, getting commissioned as an intelligence officer in the Navy, and which is something I always wanted to do. That was when Tom Clancy novels were out. And Tom O'Brien was an intelligence officer in the Navy, and then got out was doing all these cool things. But my father had been enlisted in intelligence in the Navy too. So it was also that thread. And so I remember

Nicoa Coach:

going to your recognition. Like, there was some big event and your parents came, and we all were at the Bell Tower together.

Alaina Kupec:

Oh, it's probably the commissioning. I was probably my stepdad when we were we did our commissioning at the Bell Tower. So yeah, day after graduation, I was commissioned in the Navy as an intelligence officer and served as an intelligence officer for four years and a fighter attack squadron. So if a team's which is like the most macho, the macho, and you're the Navy, that was the newest fighter attack? Gen. Again, you're looking back, you know, I think, was there an overcompensation? There? Not really, I mean, I always wanted to take on the biggest challenge. I'm always you know, the hard things. Like I'm drawn to those things professionally. But the irony is, is that, you know, I met my, my ex wife, while I was at NC State, never told her anything about I was

Nicoa Coach:

curious about that had those three babies I mean, you guys, when I sit back and think about your life, as I observed it from a distance as your friend, I remember thinking, man, they are just nailing this American Dream. Like you, because we were going into like, I think we were in Greenville, South Carolina at one point you guys had moved there. And and you were this top role at Pfizer and making all this money and that whole American Dream checklist, right. Yeah. So then when you ultimately shared with us, that you were transitioning, I remember thinking was that overcompensation? Because you were intensely winning? Always like, the cool car, the money the kids that, you know?

Alaina Kupec:

No, I think you're exactly right. And I think that's one of the trademarks of people who are transgender is, in order to compartmentalize and repress things we, we cope, and we have mechanisms. And for me, it's, it was being very driven and trying to fit a mold that that I felt I needed to fit that felt if I could fit that, you know, fluke that then I wouldn't have to acknowledge this other part of me. And, you know, I met my ex wife while I was at state we got married a year after I graduated. And ironically, I was an intelligence officer down in Jacksonville, Florida, and the squatter that I was assigned to. And this is when everyone got their first home computer back in 9394. And then I figured out, wait a minute, this works for how I feel. There's like other people who feel like me, there's people who, like live in their gender they feel they are and that was mind blowing, to me completely mind blowing that like, I'm not alone and like, oh my gosh, the challenge is, I'm an intelligence officer in the Navy or fighter attack squadron with a top secret above clearance. What does that mean for me? Right. So there is this dilemma. You know, I knew that I was gonna be faced with having to give background checks and anything that could be used to blackmail you. You would have to divulge in a polygraph. So if I divulge that, that was back during the days of don't ask, don't tell them. There's this paradox like okay, am I going to have to devote that so Uh, you know, ultimately I made the decision to leave the Navy. But I never talked about any of this with my ex wife never. During my relationship, I tried to like hint and ask questions and like, see if she would be accepting and drop off, you know, what I thought were hints later found out? No, they weren't. And to your point, you know, lived that stereotypical life. Until basically, I was in my early 40s. And I felt, you know, we were, I was working in New York, for Pfizer leaving that communications team. And I've have seen a counselor starting in 1996, actually, when I lived in Lawrence, Kansas, to first try and like, figure this out for myself. Good. And I remember that counselor gave me a tape to watch a VHS tape, you're not those big tapes, printer machine. It was a it was a couple who had the husband had to transition. And the person like why identified with them? It because of their presentation, I didn't they, they didn't look like a woman. To me, they looked like somebody who was early in transition. I mean, that with love and affection, because there's a, all of us go through that journey of being ourselves. But I didn't see two women, I saw an obvious trans woman and I felt like well, that's, that's not me, I'm a woman. And you know, I don't, and if that's, if that's what it's going to look like, and the other side, that scares me. But I remained, I remember, I saw counselors from 1996 forward, and, you know, would let little pieces of information out at a time with the counselor, like trying to see if it was gonna be safe, because again, at this time, counselors had no idea about this, the fact that my counselor in Lawrence, Kansas had some concept was amazing. I think that she may have been a lesbian woman. But, you know, it felt like living in the South living in North Carolina, that, you know, you don't find LGBT accepting counselors in the 90s and early 2000s. And so I kind of kept that a secret, until I was working in New York, for Pfizer, and finally got a counselor who actually was on the World Professional Association for Transgender healthcare advisory board. And so here's a woman who's an expert in this. And I still struggled to admit to myself what it was, even though I knew in my heart since I was so young. Yeah. But for me to be able to verbalize it, if I set it out loud, would mean it was real, would mean that I had to acknowledge it would, right, you

Nicoa Coach:

didn't take responsibility for that. And then what were you going to do? Either you were going to be in, or you were going to always have this, this is what I wish, but I'm not taking responsibility for it.

Alaina Kupec:

Exactly. And so, you know, I knew once I opened that box, that there was no putting it back inside. And so, you know, even in the safety of accounts that are trying to be, you know, totally transparent was difficult for me. And ironically, I met the first trans person while I was working in New York in person for the first time. And Dawn was a friend I met online, who lives in New York, and we met for lunch. And like, I sat across from a woman that like, okay, that's, that's what a woman looks like, who happens to be transgender. And I always put it in that order purposefully. Because being transgender doesn't define me as not who I am. It doesn't come before being a woman, it just as a part of my gender history, a small, small part of it is inconsequential. But I sat across from this woman, I thought she had the courage to do this. She, you know, she's been over that mountain and come out, okay. And that was really a pivotal moment for me. And she'll probably never know how much that meant. And then,

Nicoa Coach:

really important point, though, Elena, because that is the foundation of the reason that diversity, equity and inclusion is such a critical need in societies organizational structures, because if we do not see someone that we can identify with, then we don't think it's possible. And I cannot tell you how powerful that is. So I'm glad you shared that.

Alaina Kupec:

I appreciate that. Because you're exactly right. I mean, you know, if you look at the Williams Institute data, the old number was about point seven people out of 100 identified as transgender. And your My experience was is that there weren't a lot of out. There's not a lot out transgender people at that time, but you wouldn't know because they don't wear signs in their head that say I'm transgender. Right, right. So that was really critical for me to meet that person and feel like, wow, there's actually somebody in this big city of New York who feels like I do and who's been through this. Granted later, you know, you learn that there's a lot more than that. But that was also, I think, a pivotal moment for me that I knew that I had to do something. And so, but I knew that I felt like, you know, I couldn't do that to my family, and do it in the New York area. I felt like if I did do it, there was a high probability that it would wind up leading to a divorce, because most people who transition midlife like I do, the marriages don't survive. And, you know, that was a big fear of mine. So I didn't come out because to your point, I love my ex wife dearly. I always I loved my children, I always wanted children. And so we had children fairly early in our relationship, because I knew that she would be an excellent mother. And I wanted to have a family that was really critically important for me. But I also fear telling her because I also fear is, if I was honest with her that it would enter into our marriage. And so that's another reason why it kept me so locked in that closet was, didn't want to lose everything, lose my marriage, there's my kids whose relationships lose my job. All of those things were at risk, if I admit who I was, until finally, you know, I relocated down to the south, because I felt like if I was going to move forward to be in a safer place, and I met a woman online, who was transgender, who helps people like see themselves and what I mean is, like, help teach them how to do makeup and see themselves for who they are. And this she lives in Asheville, Jennifer, and when I met with her, and saw myself for the first time, how I felt I was on the inside. I don't know, I get an extra want to cry right now. Because I've always remember looking back at that person and thinking, Oh, my God, that's me. That's who I am. And it's not a man looking back at me, you as a woman. And for me, that was it. I was like, Oh my God, that that box that we were talking about, like to be able to admit that I felt like, okay, you know, kind of figure things out now.

Nicoa Coach:

That she gave you that process of learning how to see yourself and transform. And as a coach, I feel like I see that in everybody. Like, oh, my gosh, I see what's possible for you, and you tell me what you want. And we'll uncover that. And she literally helps you uncover it. You know, physically, yeah, that's beautiful.

Alaina Kupec:

Because I never, you know, there's a wide range of people, the umbrella, transgender community cross dressers and things like that. I never crossed crest, because that's not who I was close. We're not women's clothes, we're not finished. For me. Clothes are just clothes, or what I wear that just goes on the body that I have.

Nicoa Coach:

Oh, there it is. For me, they are a fetish for

Alaina Kupec:

guests. But, you know, I never really played around with makeup because I didn't want to see an ugly person looking back at me. I didn't want to see a caricature of a woman looking back at me, I wanted to see a woman looking back at me. And so that was the first time when I met with her. And she she's she taught me how to do makeup. I took notes, she instructed me when I saw myself looking back. And like her calling me female pronouns. I'm like, again, like, one of the several moments in my life, I'll always remember be grateful for because of the first time ever, I see who I am. And I see that this is what it's supposed to be. And that meant me being honest with my ex wife. And, you know, I always remember I was driving somewhere in South Carolina. And remember, we were living at the time and I thought I can't do it anymore. I can't keep this secret locked up. I can't, you know, it's going to kill me. And I feel like I've always wanted to avoid want to live my life with honesty and integrity. And I wasn't being honest. And with those around me and I wasn't being honest with myself, and there were two choices. The choice was either to not be here any longer and take my life or be honest with those around me and see what happens and deal with the consequences and deal with you know, hope that everything would be okay. And I'll always remember where I was when I made that decision, to be honest with everyone around me.

Nicoa Coach:

I'm glad you made that decision. Sure. I'm glad you made that decision and and We both know that that is a real risk. And a lot of people are often too afraid of being held accountable to society's expectations and what people think of them, and therefore they would rather escape the life. That means to live on this planet. And so I'm really glad that you made that decision. Thank you. I

Alaina Kupec:

mean, to your point, the numbers are in a high 40% of people who are transgender have attempted suicide. And, and I think that's where I was, was, you know, what do I do? It's so hard. I don't know if I can do it. But I'm going to try that I remember praying and thinking, I hope that I have lived a life of love and compassion with others, and that people will ultimately see me for who I am not what I am. And that he'll be okay, are trying to climb this mountain, but that somehow will get to the other side. And when I was honest with my ex, unfortunately, the fear that I had all those years came true. No, it's not what she signed up for. And I can appreciate that. And, you know, hoped it would not be that way, broke my heart. But, you know, I had faith that somehow it was gonna be okay. And it was a difficult year, because she knew before that I told her a year before I started my physical transition. So that led to a separation of physical separation, where I had different women house for a while, and I bought my own townhouse. And during that time, I came out to my children who at the time were 1311, and nine. And I did a lot of research, you know, before making, having that conversation, making the decision to physically transition. And, you know, I learned that if you wait till children are later, it becomes harder for them. Because their frontal cortex of their brain, their development, their values start to lock in around 1718. And I thought, well, the one person I'm hurting by not transitioning now is myself by potentially thinking of suicide, or making a decision to move forward. And I made the decision to move forward and just pray that it was going to be okay. And, well, it

Nicoa Coach:

has been okay, I see you loving your boys and traveling the world. You guys are just in Iceland. And I'm just, I want to reassure people, that children are much more resilient and open and willing to receive a parent's truth, no matter what that truth is. And you're absolutely right. I'm glad that you validated that research. Because a lot of people aren't getting divorces. They're not, you know, quitting jobs that are not transitioning and becoming public of their identities. Because of those fears of well, it's for the children. Now, that's an excuse. You have to find your authentic voice and your authentic identity for the children.

Alaina Kupec:

Well, I could not agree more with you. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, I have friends that I know that are in that situation. And they're holding themselves back for that reason. You know, and I've lived my life, how I've had to lead for me. And, you know, I have a dear friend who I know who's transgender, who's been on hormones for years, their spouse knows, they're older, they have grandkids, and they've not been able to transition. And there's a lot a lot of people who are transgender. I mean, for every visible person that, like me, that is out there. There's 10 more that are invisible, that are either not transitioning because of a marriage, or because of a job are because of children. Or their they've transitioned and they're just living quietly. And so, you know, it's a big number. And I think that the new numbers were lame, since she was actually 1.4, for every 100. And just because it's become more acceptable to be out. It's not that there's more people who are realizing they're transgender, it's more people who feel comfortable acknowledging who they are. And I think that goes to children, especially not our children have people they see they see that this is something that they can manage, and they understand that there's mental health health now, for children, adolescents, and that's how far we've come. I had to educate most of my counselors, like transgender issues, and, you know, now we have a lot of people who are experts in the field. And, you know, the challenge is to so we have some that are not experts, but they're to your point. I think that again, I just, hopefully my integrity, my values where I remember praying that You know, I'm going to be okay. If I just be true to myself. I never expect to find love again. And never expect to find someone who accepts me for who I really am. But that's okay. Because I'm okay with who I am. And everything else will work itself out. If I'm if I accept myself, everything else will be better around me, and that I will live my life that way.

Nicoa Coach:

And you did end up finding love again. And, you know, I coach on the philosophy of energy leadership and like energy attracting like energy. And when you do find your own self love and self acceptance, you do attract at that same vibration and you found the love of your life as well, as a result of your authentic self. You remember you rediscovered your authentic self. And I just think it's beautiful.

Alaina Kupec:

I think you and, you know, I made that decision to transition and to start hormones. And literally two months into that process, met Michael, who was my wife, my now wife, who I call my angel. And we met online on OKCupid, I was living in Greenville, South Carolina, she was getting her doctorate at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. And as you know, I grew up there, I had family and friends there. And you

Nicoa Coach:

still went out with her, even though we're Wolfpack fans?

Alaina Kupec:

Well, my ex my ex is a Tar Heel or wife is a Tar Heel. I don't know what it is about targeting women. But there's, I guess there's something. But you to your point, I think that's where they are because I have that piece, I had that acceptance, I put a dating profile up on OkCupid. I was honest in there, and I said, Hey, you know, I'm transitioning, and, you know, this is who I am. And just let let the world see me. And at that time, you could on OKCupid, or somebody look at your profile, you could tell. And I noticed that she looked on my profile a few times. And so I sent her a message. I'm like, hey, you know, I saw you checked out my profile a couple of times, it might be confusing. So if you have any questions, just please let me know. And my wife has been a lesbian her whole life. And we started talking, and we talked on the phone for six weeks. And this is their 2013. And it was almost like going back in time to like the 80s, where, you know, before we had cell phones, and you would pull that long cord and sit in bed and talk to your friends until like two in the morning, we were six weeks talk for three or four hours a night like, it really got to know each other in this deep level before we ever met in person. And it has just been truly remarkable to I have never, you know, felt more loved and more accepted and a stronger relationship because I know who I am. And I'm loved and supported for who I am. And I can love back equally and to feel that. Just that really nothing being held secret between me and my wife. And I think that was the other challenge was my ex wife was no I always knew I was hiding something.

Nicoa Coach:

Right. So you couldn't be your authentic self. And let me let me ask you a question. I'm gonna interrupt just to take a moment to go into the space of parenting and how your parents responded to this. Because that's something that I might also relate to. And I want to share that dialogue a little bit. What was that like when you came out to your parents?

Alaina Kupec:

Well, the irony is, is the first time I met my wife, in person was July 2 2013, on my way to come out to my parents because I talked to my parents. I was living privately as a woman and working as a man when I met my ex wife. So when I met my ex, I was literally the next day going to come out to my parents. Now, my now wife without Oh, boy, let's see how this goes. Right because she was outed by her mother 20 years prior and then to sell for three years. So she didn't have to have high expectations. She didn't share that with me at the time. But what I sat at the table with my parents and Wake Forest and just revealed who I was. But then my parents started crying. And they both stood up and I got the biggest hug from both of them. And just tears of love and support. And I never ever expected that. My parents are deeply religious. My father is a fourth degree Knight and Knights of Columbus and Catholic. My mother used to be the bishop's house cleaner Lolly so again I was prepared for rejection I was prepared for Are you No, not having them in my life, and never in a million years expected the unconditional love and support that my parents gave me that day. And they've given me every day since then. And to me, that's, again, immeasurable, and they always had fallout from my parents, they've had friends in their church that they've lost because of their supportive me. And yet, I think as a parent, unconditional love and support is what you get, as a parent, my parents have shown me that 10 times over and what is more Christian like than that, and showing love and support to a chart to your child. And so I hurt for them, because of the hate that they've had those feel and see, and witness and losing some of their friends as much as I did. But my parents have been my biggest supporters is a little confusing for them at first and the pronouns and, you know, eight or nine years from my dad, finally to drop them in the inverted inverted key. And then it's all like, Who are you talking to? There's no, he's here. But yeah, they've been amazing.

Nicoa Coach:

Well, I'm so glad to hear that, you know, I never asked you that. And I'm just so grateful that of course, they love you, we love you. And, you know, when I had my, my son come to me right before going away to college, and share with me that he thought he was identifying as a male, it was a little different 40 years a of age and 4014 years, or I guess he was 18, at the time, was very different. For me, as a parent, and I, I tried to be like your parents were for you. But at the same time, he was one month out from moving into the only all girls dorm at NC State. And so much was changing. And it was right after Jenner had come out as female. And Justice was spending a lot of time on this one online. I can't remember what it was. It was very popular, not Reddit, but like one of these online chat rooms. And I kept thinking, is this authentic? Or is this societally influenced because of those struggle of just growing up and finding identity? And I think that a lot of families and people ask that question, and what is my role as a parent to ensure an end? It's really, this is really the part that I struggled with the most. Where do I parent? And where do I parent just from? Okay, whatever you say, what I believe you, I trust you, of course. And are we sure I'm afraid for you? What if it's not your authentic truth, and you're just going with the crowd? So help me?

Alaina Kupec:

Yeah. You know, I think what you're expressing is what I've heard from so many parents that I've met over the last 10 years, they love their children unconditionally. They're so scared for what it's going to mean for them. Like, what kind of struggles will they have being accepted? What kind of, you know, potential physical threats may come their way towards their child? Is this really who they are? Right, or is this a phase? And I think that those are all valid things that parents go through. And, you know, I think that PFLAG is an amazing organization for parents that, you know, I referred my parents to PFLAG when I transitioned because I provided them resources. And I know, they went to a lot of PFLAG meetings where they could talk to their parents and like, really share that, that questioning and share that beer and be around others who are experiencing the same thing, because I think that again, they don't have to experience that by themselves as a parent, right? You don't have to, just like I had experienced all the things locked up inside as a parent, you probably feel the same thing. And I know that, you know, thankfully now there's a lot of in North Carolina, there's a parents group for parents of trans children, a support network and outside of PFLAG, I think it's called Transforming North Carolina or something like that. But I think all of those things are valid, because, you know, no matter what the medical condition is, we want to help our children. We want to make sure they get the right diagnosis. And I think that's where mental health care is so critical for people in the transgender community, because there are differential diagnosis is that people need to go through. There have been people who transition and who have comorbid mental health issues and then D transition later and it's not because they were transgender is because they probably weren't diagnosed right up front. And that's also why it's so important for Allow this to be accepted as it has. Because then you get the medical help that you need. You have psychiatrists, psychologists who have an expertise in this who can work through the differential diagnosis and understand, is this a borderline personality disorder? Is this gender dysphoria, and really help parents understand what are the nuances and what are the differences between those things, and get the assurance that just like depression, just like anxiety, just like anything else in the DSM five, this is a medical condition that is treated as such. And so, you know, I can empathize with that experience that you went through.

Nicoa Coach:

Well, counseling was the very first thing we talked about. And I was so proud of justice, because although that he chose not to become publican, his identity during those first year of college, I checked in, and it was still an awkward dialogue and time. But he ultimately took responsibility and did get counseling on his own. And then it was in his senior year that he publicly came out with us as a family and, and at that stage, no one was surprised or confused or concerned anymore, and we simply embrace this new reality. That was just and it's a beautiful relationship. And I think that there's a lot of love and a lot of hate that can come with any identity. And we've been very fortunate that we're a family of love, just like you, we're fortunate that you're a family of love. But I would like to shift a little now and thank you for the information, I'll make sure and put that in the show notes. But I would like to shift to maybe some of your life experiences of extreme love, and of extreme hate hate that you might want to share so that people understand what does it feel like to be you now, as a woman who happens to be transgender?

Alaina Kupec:

You know, for me, I never think about the fact that I'm transgender, doesn't cross my mind. I just doesn't even come into my consciousness. I'm just a woman now. And I have been for quite some time. And the physical transition really took about three years to get to that point to where you're looking in the mirror, and you finally say, looking back at me as a woman, because of the physical process and everything that's involved. But I never even think about it anymore. You know, the irony is, it's this paradox of visibility. Right? It's, I want the world to be a better place for people like me. In order to do that, I have to be visible. You know, my, when I first transitioned, I didn't want anybody to know, there's no need for people. No, it was, it was pre Caitlyn Jenner, right? It was like, the I had to educate everybody around me like what I was talking about, because nobody had a construct. Well, a couple of years later, Caitlyn Jenner changed all of that. Some would say for the better, I would argue, maybe not there's pluses and minuses of that. But for me, I am very fortunate that I have the benefit of passing in public and not being identified as transgender. And I think that, you know, that enables me to just live my life peacefully without risk of safety or violence or threats like that. But for so many of my community don't have a lot of transgender base via violence, face hate and ridicule. Because of that, and for for me, you know, I'm fortunate, I've never felt physically threatened because of my gender. I was groped on a subway in New York City. And it was horrifying. And I had no idea what to do. But that experience was what a woman experiences, right? And I think I remember just being frozen in fear. I'm in this pack subway. And this person has their hand and my rear end between two stops. I didn't know what to do. I was like, Yeah, but life doesn't prepare you for that. And, you know, I think that I'm so fortunate to live adverse experiences as a woman, and then figure those things out. I think that well, the paradox is, is that I live here in Florida. Now by an apartment in New York City. I work in California once a month, but Florida has the worst anti transgender laws in the country. And as you mentioned earlier, you know, I live in North Carolina during the bathroom bill, I live in Florida. Now there's all these laws, so I tell people if apparently you need egregious trans legislation, apparently I go to your state and I Yeah,

Nicoa Coach:

I move in. And you are a very vocal advocate. Tell tell us a little bit about how you are trying to move the needle there.

Alaina Kupec:

Well, you know, here in Florida, I am not out about my neighbors, you know, it's not they don't see me as somebody who's transgender, they see a lesbian couple here. And that's, that's the case for almost probably 95% of transgender people. We're not this caricature that politicians were making out to be where your neighbors were your friends, were your co workers, were your colleagues, you know, we exist right beside you. And you never even know it. And I think that the, this political environment is being driven by groups that lost the fight for marriage equality, you know, in 2015, marriage equality was your ruled into law by the Supreme Court. All these hate groups who were against the LGBT community had to refocus. And that's why in 2016, we saw the bathroom bills, right, because that was their first foray, like, Where can we pick on which community to go back after this, this community is the transgender community, the most visible, marginalized transgender women, and men who are transgender testosterone. So you probably don't even know 99% of men who are transgender, because testosterone, you would never even know. Right? That physical process takes a little bit longer. And so it's easier to characterize us and make us caricatures of femininity, and that's what has happened. And so those bathroom bills were attempted to basically make inroads, they were largely unsuccessful. And that's, to your point, that's what I made the choice to be visible when I was living in North Carolina. And, you know, the bathroom bill was passed into law. And there was going to be the first public rally church, downtown Raleigh. And I was on the board of a national transgender nonprofit. And I was contacted by a friend, and she's, hey, this is going on. And I thought, Okay, I want to go and like, be there. And I was asked to potentially speak. And on the car ride down there, I'll always remember thinking, this is a huge decision to be visible to the public and put myself out there. But the reason I did and the reason I do today is because of that younger generation, I want to be a dinosaur, I want to be extinct. I don't want people to transition in their 40s. We know how to treat this condition. Now. Children know who they are young ages. Not all children who identify as transgender will ultimately transition, but they should get the mental health counseling that they need when they're children and adolescents. And that's all that they're getting. They're not getting surgical procedures. They're getting mental health care. That's it. And they should have that ability to figure out that identity. So when they get to the age of consent, if they want to medically transition they can. But that's why I became visible as you know, if I could go back and go through middle school and high school as who I was, my life would be immensely different. I have my female friends, I grew up with my male friends. You know, don't identify with me anymore because I'm a woman. And men. Don't. You know, men don't emotionally let themselves out. They keep things private. They do their spouses, but they don't with other men. Yeah. How's the sports, how's the weather, how's the job? 10 men are like a two women on the other one for like a nine, right? We know everything that's going on with everyone. And that was really amazing to me that I learned that. But if if people if children can have the ability to grow up, socialized in their gender, and live their life congruently that's why I'm visible. Because they shouldn't have to struggle. They shouldn't have to have the challenges. They shouldn't have to think about making choices of suicide or living their life. And that's the choice that I made consciously that day and the drive to rally and things just sort of took off from there. Never by intent. But just because I felt like I can let the hate groups define who we are. I want to I want to help contribute to our narrative, and try and help people understand that when they talk about somebody who's transgender, they're talking about me, looking across the table at me. This is what it looks like. And I remember living in North Carolina if that bill passed, and ACLU was doing some lobbying of Republican lawmakers that they thought were made move upon the issue, but I sat across from them. They never met a trans person. And one of them said, Well, I have no problem with you using the bathroom. When I say A test. That's the point, I'm supposed to use the mentor now you mentor, I have to walk into a men's room, like in Florida, they've done the same thing now in 2023. If I go into a bathroom at a university or state government building, I am supposed to use the men's room. Unbelievable. How would that look? How's it gonna look?

Nicoa Coach:

Right? And how they'd be more uncomfortable if you did that. If you were using your appropriate bathroom, oh, my gosh,

Alaina Kupec:

exactly. So these laws are only designed by a very extreme extreme part of a political party, to advance their agenda to really get rid of transgender people. And they've actually made that's a known statements they've made right from the start starts with us. And then it goes to the gay and lesbian community. And then it's an intersectionality, outside of the LGBT community, look what's going on with race, look here in Florida the way that they're treating African American and black people in this state. Right? If you don't stand up for us, the most marginalized, weakest, least representing people in the LGBT community? Where is your line? Where do you stand up? When is it going to be too much? If you don't say this is wrong now? When is it too long? Or it's far too late, unfortunately. And so that's, you know, why I've just continued to be visible and trying to take on these issues and not let it be defined by the other side, absent a really, I think, coordinated effort?

Nicoa Coach:

Well, there's a couple of things that you've taken action on yourself, as well as you and Kathy, so your family would you share with us, I love the fact that you've just started a new nonprofit called grace. And tell us a little bit about that. And any call to action related to grace and how we might be able to support you.

Alaina Kupec:

Well, thank you so much. I mean, I was a part of one of the top I was a board member for one of the top three transgender national nonprofits for eight years, seven of those years as the board co chair. And that organization does amazing impact litigation work, work that's designed to get laws changed to solidify legal rights for the transgender community. But that's a defense as defense oriented and bad things have happened, where things are against the community, you change laws, that's the long game. What I felt like was an unmet need was, there's this narrative is being driven out there. We saw 21 states pass bans on gender affirming care, or anti transgender laws, this past legislative cycle 300 bills in total, that has been almost completely unopposed. There's a great, there's a great LGBT movement that focuses on equality of broader, there's none that's focused specifically on the transgender community. And helping people understand this is what it is, this is what we look like, this is what it means. And so Cray stands for the Gender Research Advisory Council and education and grace, that you know, the name is purposeful, because the work has to be done through conversation, and in a dignified way, not shouting at the other side that telling them wrong. So crazy is not a not an organization that's, you know, in an echo chamber. And I think that's what the problem is, then the general quality movement is they've picked sides, they've picked parties, and they're all aligned with one party. The problem with that is, the other party is the one passing the bills. And if we can't talk with them, if we can't have a dialogue with them, then we're going to continue to be a country of division. And my community is going to be taking the fall for that. So Grace is really designed to put to educate the public educate policymakers, through grassroots efforts, through the media about transgender issues and what it means, and specifically focused on defining our own narrative and humanizing who we are as a community and changing policymakers minds around some of these laws they're trying to pass because there hasn't been a solely focused organization designed to do just that. It's not a, you know, a side part of another national LGBT organization. It's not a, you know, I've seen a lot of money raised for the trend on transgender issues in the last eight years. And yet, we just had 21 states pass laws. So I have to say, whatever we're doing isn't working. And as you mentioned in the introduction, I was fortunate enough to lead Pfizer's legislative grassroots program for three years. I've met with countless lawmakers, policymakers. I worked on Paul We'll see issues. I also live communications for Pfizer's largest business in the US, I sat back and said, I'm a woman who happens to be transgender with a public affairs background and communications background, I can either let this happen. And think about leaving the country because that's the other alternative. Or I can choose to try and put an organization together of amazing people, and really help make a difference. And so that's where we live formed grace, and there was a presidential debate taking place this week in California. And we will have somebody on the ground of that debate in the debate, talking with the media, helping them understand the other side, when these issues get brought up, we will be there to provide the counter, because that's what has not happened. And we will engage with people from party regardless of what party they're from. Because if we can't talk with each other, if we can't work across party lines in a bipartisan way, we're going to keep facing these issues. And so a lot of our focus is on the middle right in the middle part of the country, this movable middle, we'd have to basically help them understand. This is what it means. And when they say this, this is what they're trying to do. And if you look at the three hate groups that are funding this work, the Alliance Defending Freedom, Family Research Council and the Heritage Foundation, they're spending 60 to $100 million on these laws. They've done the work they've done message research, audience research, they've done focus panels testing, this is a well orchestrated campaign. In the people they have going around testifying different state legislators, there's a group of five or six, who is there paid consultants who have don't have expertise in this area, who are making 40 $50,000 a year as quote experts. And they're just making the circuit state by state funded by these organizations. So for us, it's helping the public understand why these issues are what they are, this is what it looks like to be transgender. These issues are not winning issues. We know from the polling that the general public doesn't agree with these issues. They don't think these are issues. These are diversions, we have to help people understand that these are diversions from real issues. Right? Well, we just came out of a pandemic, children are reading at any level two years below where they should be reading. If we're talking about issues in schools, we should be talking about education for our kids, we should be talking about real things that matter for our children's futures, not what pronouns one of their classmates wants to use, or what bathroom one of their classmates wants to use. Those are the real issues. And that's why race exists.

Nicoa Coach:

Well, I love the name. And I think that you're exactly right, there's a lot missing in the way in which we're communicating with each other in the world. And I think controlling your own narrative applies across the globe, you own your life, you own your experience, but you also own the responsibility to setting the boundaries and clarifying what you expect in your experience with others. And what you're going to do is really put people on the ground. And I hope that people will go and check it out and provide you with the financial support the volunteer support, I bet there's a lot of other people with your background, that could be helping you right now whether they have a connection to transgender lives or not, you know, not everybody needs to go and advocate and March. But for those of you who are feeling led, this is a an excellent, beautiful channel to do so. And I always say, be careful, you know, use your words like a wand. And that very well old machine that is, in my opinion, going down a path that I don't support, they know how to use their words as a wand. And until we can do the same on our opinion and our side, then we will not be able to be able to find that. Well, you're exactly

Alaina Kupec:

right. And that's why, you know, we're putting together a complete strategy. That's media that's education driven. We got we're working with some of the best communications and public relations firms in the country. Excellent. The thing the thing that's been the challenge is it takes support. It's expensive, do this. And like I mentioned, we're fighting a 60 to $100 million monster. We're a small nonprofit, we've just started. You know, our website is www dot Grace dash now.org. You know, and we've filed for nonprofit status that takes a few months to get from the government, but we can we can accept donations now and provide the receipts. Because that's the biggest fear I have. You know, we have somebody on the ground in California that costs money to put them out there to pay their travel expenses to pay their salary. What keeps me awake at night, is Ken raising the money to do the work that I know it's going to take to do this effectively, and we're working with some of the best minds on the right, that are helping us with this work. We're working with the people who, who understand that ecosystem. And the messaging, we're not, you know, in the left in the echo chamber. And I think that's what it's going to take is really reaching people who have an expertise in that area who agree that these aren't real issues. And so I think that's where grace is different. We're solely focused on that they're there for the transgender community and reversing anti transgender policies and laws and trying to prevent them because 2024 is going to be another bad year for us. They're already writing the model legislation. Now, those hate groups, they give it to a local state lawmaker who introduces it, it's the same in every state relatively because it's model legislation these groups are writing, how can we help lawmakers and policymakers understand these aren't winning issues, this is not what the public wants you to focus on. This is what it looks like to be transgender, pick something else to run on issues that matter to people that affect their daily lives, not these, you know, issues that really thrive because of ignorance that people don't know about. So they've been successful with defining the narrative because people don't know about what it means to be transgender. So we have to do a better job of helping them do that, understand. And you,

Nicoa Coach:

you and Kathy are doing exactly that by educating the youth of today by this investment recently at the university or NC State University, the library system, tell us because that population, the youth of today will be the ones who can overturn this. And if they all, make sure they're registered to vote, and they educate themselves, they can make a difference in what happens in 2024 and beyond. So tell us a little bit about that investment at NC State.

Alaina Kupec:

Yeah, so my wife has a PhD in library information science. She's actually an information scientist, but in the Library Information School. So we're living in North Carolina going through this year, we've wanted to make a difference and help people we thought back to my experience at NC State when I went to the library, and couldn't find any resources. And she had a brilliant idea. She said, why don't we start a collection at NC State where students like you can go and access resources to understand themselves better. So people who are doing research on the subject have access to academic journals and things like that. So we've endowed a transgender positive book collection at NC State, and the university has been amazing. And a lot of that collection is is in the Open Stacks, so people don't have to sign it out. Because again, when people are trying to figure themselves out, they don't want anybody to know, they're transgender. And so there's a lot of resources that are in the Open Stacks that people can get access to. But there's also things that people can get research wise to. So that's an adaptive collection that will live on in perpetuity. And that we continue to add more resources to all the time. So we're, you know, people can do the proper research that's been validated in the academic community, they can get resources, that really, you know, like any other academic issue can be studied that way, free of political bias from any party. Right. And so, I think that was our goal in doing so is to help that next generation and to your point, our our future is bright, young people get these things. Young people know, they see right through this charade that's going on politically. When I transitioned, I was worried about my kids, I had to get bullied. Didn't happen. Not at all. Right? Because I think that kids, no thanks to people for with who they are. Racism, hate and bigotry are taught. They're exposed to that and taught that that's not who they are at their core. And I think anybody that's 30 and below, gets these issues and says, that's crazy. They know people who are transgender or gender non binary, they love and accept them, it's not an issue for them. And so to your point, what can they do? vote, vote for people who support all equality. Right and, and help people challenge what you hear from people when they say these hateful things. And I know it's hard to do that. But you know, I think that we've got to stand up and be visible, and I just, I am so heartened that I know that in the long term, that 25 years from now, there will hopefully be people like me, it's because this younger generation gives me such hope.

Nicoa Coach:

Absolutely. I'm very hopeful as well. And I and I think back you know, what advice right? What do you wish? When I think back to the life that you were experiencing prior when I first knew you and i My heart is somewhat broken for you to have gone through that for so long. You know, there's so many Any things I would want to say to that younger version of you? I'm curious, what would the adult grown up Elena like to say to that younger version of Elena, back then that she didn't get to hear?

Alaina Kupec:

You know, I'm getting tears in my eyes as you ask that question. Because I wish I could have been who I am, since I was six or seven, and never had to go through everything that I went through. But on the other hand, if I had done that, I wouldn't have the three amazing children in my life. And so my journey has been my journey for a reason, because I have the three most incredible sons and have their love and have their support. And if I had done that, that would have been possible. But to think that I could have been me is, you know, just to have the courage to accept myself, I think that's the thing is, have the courage, find the strength, find the support around you, and you'll get through it. And don't give up, it's gonna be hard. It's a mountain to climb. And you can only do it by taking one step at a time. And I think I had to learn that the hard way by the journey I took and having anxiety and having a panic attack. And one of my counselors said, bite the apple, one bite at a time, don't try and do it all. Just put one foot in front of the other and have faith that if you're true to yourself, if you're honest to yourself, you're going to get through it, and you're going to have more love and support. It's going to be hard, you're going to lose friends along the way. I've lost friends along the way. But I've gained a lot of other friends. And so just accept yourself, live your truth and move forward.

Nicoa Coach:

Well, you certainly are living your truth and moving forward with grace. And I'm honored to have been on your journey with you from the beginning to now. And I can't wait to see what you do in the next 50 years. We're going to live a very long time, Elena.

Alaina Kupec:

I hope so. I hope so. I have two back surgeries last year, and I've got another one coming up in the next month. So I am doing everything I can to make sure I'm here for a long time and leave the world a better place at the end of the day. I want to let the world a better place for me having been here and that's that's what my goal is every day and trying to give back.

Nicoa Coach:

Well, you just being you makes the world a better place. So thank you very much for being you and sharing with us your your life by design. And I look forward to talking to you again in the future. I hope you'll come back and talk to us again.

Alaina Kupec:

Anytime. Thanks, Nicoa. Love you. Love you.

Jennifer Gardner:

Thanks for joining us for a caffeinated conversation. Subscribe to Coffee with Nicoa for more stories from people living a life by design. You can also find inspiration on Instagram. Just follow Coffee with Nicoa and check out our website Coffee with nicoa.com and that's Nicoa N IC O A. We look forward to talking with you soon. And enjoy your coffee between now and then