Girl Talk: Chatting With the Philly Trans Firefighter from What Not to Wear

I tracked down Casey D. to see how her life's changed since getting made over on national TV.

I was so excited to see the Philly trans firefighter in last week’s episode of What Not to Wear, that I had to track her down for an interview. It wasn’t an easy feat, considering all I had to go on from the episode was “Casey D.,” which, turns out, isn’t the most Google-friendly search term. Eventually Twitter was my saving grace, and I @’d and hashtag’d my heart out to arrange a chat with her this week. Thanks to the convenience of social networking, I now know that Casey D. is actually Casey Donegan, a 30-year-old volunteer firefighter and EMT in Flourtown. During our Q&A sesh she spilled the beans about what it’s like being behind the scenes of What Not to Wear, how she struggles with trying to maintain her million-dollar look on a working-woman’s budget and she opens up about all the hot dates she’s been on since she got the makeover.

G Philly: What did you think about the show after you saw it on TV?
Casey Donegan: I got to watch the show with my EMT house, and I think one of my EMTs put it best: “[It] was very respectful. It was tasteful.”

GP: What’s the biggest difference between the filming process and what we see on TV?
CD: The biggest difference is … a lot of times you’re just looking for the correct answer — you’re looking for those words they want you to say. I was in the 360 mirror for about 20 minutes before I finally said the words they apparently wanted to hear. … They would just leave you there to keep talking, and they’d ask you questions in slightly leading ways and you’d have to go down the path they’d want to take you.

GP: The show’s hosts [Stacy London and Clinton Kelly] seem fun and well-informed. Did you learn a lot from them?
CD: Actually, my personal shopper [who never appeared on screen] is the person I spent the most time with. I learned more from her than anybody else.

GP: So you’re saying Stacy and Clinton are just figureheads?
CD: Pretty much. What you saw on camera was pretty much my entire interaction with them. There was very little off-camera interaction. It wasn’t like they were avoiding me, they just wanted them to give genuine, fresh reactions to how I looked.

GP: Have you found that it’s easy to maintain your new look?
CD: Since then, I’ve gone shopping, but I’ve never been able to recreate the outfits I had on the show — those are $200 to $300 dresses. I also haven’t been able to wear makeup everyday like I said I would [on the show]. After seeing how I looked on TV, I decided to concentrate more on physical fitness than maintaining my makeup. For transgender people it takes twice as much workout to get half as much results … because of the hormones. I’ve knocked testosterone down to such a level that the body just wants to grab on to weight. When I was first transitioning, when I was [140 pounds], I was able to pull off much-more-feminine things and it was much more readable. But when I gained weight, I didn’t dress up as much. The plus side, though was that I was able to blend in more. I think I traded “she” for “sexy.”

GP: The hairstylist did a great dye job on your hair. Are you keeping up with that?
CD: My hair is still red. It’s actually a little darker than it was on the show, because I had to dye it myself. That’s the only way I can afford it. But now I know how good my  hear can look, so I’ve been practicing with it beyond just braids.

GP: How did being on the show impact your life as a trans person?
CD: The best way I can put it is that being on that show has [made me] less worried about being perceived for what I’m not and more open to being perceived for what I am. It’s gotten me to a point to where I’m not self-conscious.

GP: I noticed on your Twitter page you’ve been asked out by two hot men recently. Have you been on more dates since the makeover?
CD: Since filming — absolutely. But that’s not so much clothes-wise, it’s more confidence-wise. Also, now that I have all these great clothes, I want to go out. I want to leave the house more.

GP: Do you feel like a local celebrity since the show aired? Do people recognize you on the street?
CD: I’ve had a few people who have emailed me through the fire companies outside of Flourtown — mostly female firefighters who saw the show. Most of the people I’ve heard from have found me through Facebook and Twitter and all that kind of stuff.

GP: Does your fire squad know you’re transgender? Did they see the episode?
CD: If they’ve seen the episode, no one has said anything about it. But no one knows except one friend and a reverend at the firehouse.

GP: They don’t  know? Were you concerned that they’d find out if they saw the show?
CD: I wasn’t concerned, and the biggest reason is that trans people are very good at knowing personal psychology. It’s just an automatic survival instinct for us. Anybody who watches at the firehouse is going to assume that no one else did, so unless someone else brings it up, they’ll never talk to each other about it. It’s been that way in every environment.

GP: Would you rather be open about it?
CD: Being in the closet is different for trans than it is for gay people. When trans people start, they’re thrown out of the closet and they have to tell the whole world that they’re transgender, and the goal is to make it optional. For me, it’s been optional for five to seven years. The point is, if nobody wants to bring it up, that’s fine with me. If someone wants to, I have no problem answering questions. So I’m fine either way.

GP: Well thanks for answering my questions today.
CD: Not a problem!

Editor’s Note: After the interview, Casey emailed to say she found out “the whole firehouse watched the show, and they
could not have been more supportive.” If you missed her first turn on What Not to Wear, the episode will re-air tomorrow, Feb. 21 at 3 p.m.


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