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Exclusive interview: Dennis Starr of AMC's "Small Town Security"

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As the second season draws to a close, GLAAD was given an exclusive opportunity to interview Captain Dennis Starr of AMC's Small Town Security, an unscripted reality show that follows the employees of JJK Security in Ringgold, Georgia. The first season was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Reality Program, and the second season finale aired this evening.

Over the past two seasons, viewers have followed Dennis as he took significant steps in his transition from female to male.  This season, Dennis received his court-ordered name change, which included changing his last name from Croft to Starr.  In tonight's season finale, Joan and Irwin from JJK accompany Dennis as he has chest reconstruction surgery.  We checked in to see how he's doing since the surgery, and to get his thoughts on the second season.

Thank you for taking the time to speak us today, Dennis!  We are happy to be able to talk to you about this season's events!
I'm glad to do it.

We know people will be interested after seeing tonight's episode, so how long has it been since your chest reconstruction surgery?
About two months now.

How are you feeling physically?
Great.  Perfect.  I'm working out a lot now, starting to build those pec muscles up.  My doctor noticed a difference just yesterday.

This season, we saw you create a ritual at the fire to mark your name change, and chest reconstruction surgery is often a milestone for trans guys.  How has this changed your daily life, and how you see yourself emotionally?
Typically when you're trying to compress those breasts into non-existence, you also have a tendency to hunch over and walk caveman style.  So my military stature was wavering through those years of binding.  I've noticed now that I've lifted my shoulders.  It took me a little bit to get used to the fact - "Oh, I don't have to do that anymore."  And now I'm walking taller.  I'm walking at my full stature of 5'4", which is very short [laughing], but I'm actually able now - I feel like now I'm presenting and I'm not hiding anything.

You don't seem like you're 5'4" - you seem like you're 6 feet tall.
[laughs]  There was a cop here recently, and I swear I thought he was 5'6", because I just felt big.  And he's actually 6'1".

There's a scene in tonight's episode between you and Joan, and the way it's edited it's almost like Joan is taking responsibility for making you trans.  Of course, we know that no one can make someone else trans, so I wonder if you could talk about how you figured out you were transgender?  When did you first discover that people could transition from female to male?
I guess I was fairly sheltered growing up.  My family was military.  My mom's British and very conservative, and being in the south, in North Carolina specifically around a military town, all that was taboo information.  Growing up, I wasn't exposed to anything [gay, much less trans.]  It didn't exist in my young years.  However, I always felt different and out of place - in the wrong place.  When I went into the military and started becoming my own person, I was battling again in a conservative, structured life, and I didn't seek out information.  I felt the touch of who I was while I was in the military, but I was thwarted by, "Oh no, no, you're just a strong female. You're still a girl and you'll never be anything but."  And it wasn't until I moved here and started working with JJK, and was befriended by Joan, that sex and sexuality become a heavy topic of discussion between us.  And there was so much discussion on what I liked, and if I was gay, or if I was this or that, and through the process of communicating feelings and ideas with Joan, she made it ok for me to explore this transgender identity.  I began with, "Well, let me look into this. This actually exists."  So I did a lot of research, and I thought, "It's ok. It's ok to feel like this.  There's something out there that's me, and this is what it is.  It's called transgender and it's ok to be on this road.  I'm not broken.  I'm just different in this manner."  She was the catalyst because she allowed me the opportunity to explore all the options.  She kept asking me so many questions!  Why do you feel this way? Why do you do this?  Why do you act like a man? Why do you want to look like a man?  Through those conversations, and then me reflecting on the answers, I found my way.

We've seen a change in the Chief's reaction to your transition since the first season, and by the end of this season, she seems much more respectful and accepting of you as man.  Do you see that change as well, and how does that feel?
I have seen the change. It's still a process. Like I said before, everybody around me is transitioning as well.  And it's not an easy transition, especially when you've known somebody for years.  Thus the ceremony that I wanted to put everybody that is close to me in, is to help solidify the change by putting Denise to rest.  Ceremonies mean a lot because it celebrates the milestones and puts it in the mind as a real event.  So I thought the ceremony was very necessary.  That ceremony was a turning point for everybody, especially Joan, concerning my transition.  The road has still got rocks and probably will for quite a bit, but that's to be expected.  She has very much accepted me.  I think as I transition further with these surgeries that I hope to get in the future, it will become that much easier for her.  It's all a growing process and I feel good that everybody surrounding me is growing.

We rarely see transgender people on television, let alone trans men.  Viewers who watch Small Town Security may have never met a transgender person.  What are you hoping viewers take away from seeing you on the show?
I hope they take away from the show that we exist, we live among them, and we're normal people living our lives as we see fit, as happy as we can.

Looking on your Facebook page I see what appears to be several flirtatious posts from women.  Have you been approached by women who like what they see on the show?  You're a handsome guy.
Yes, I got a call out of the blue a couple of days ago from a woman, and she said she wants to take me out. So I said "yeah" and we're going out next weekend.  There's another lady that I got into a conversation with who I asked out, and she's willing to make a trip from the Midwest over here to Chattanooga to go out with me.  I'm not a socialite at all, and so this is new ground for me.  The dating scene has never happened for me, and so I'm like a teenager, not knowing what the hell to do.

What are your plans for the immediate future, and do you plan to get more involved with the local trans community?
My priority right now is Chief and that includes the business and her well-being.  And so that is where my focus still remains.  I have, through social media, come across many, many people who have confided in me, that live in the area.  The community is much larger than what people realize around here. I hope that my story and coming out so openly will allow them to have the strength to become themselves instead of staying in hiding.

Thank for taking the time to talk to us, and thank you for sharing your story on Small Town Security.
Thank you so much, sir.

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