We had the good fortune of connecting with Fiona Dawson (she/her) and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Fiona, do you have some perspective or insight you can share with us on the question of when someone should give up versus when they should keep going?

To answer this question, I’d love to share a little about my personal story of realizing my life’s purpose and the path I’m on to allowing it to unfold. There have been many times when I could have given up, but it was knowing that the activity brought me into alignment that kept me going.

In 2010 I literally quit my job to make my dreams come true, and it’s all Oprah Winfrey’s fault. I had a great job in corporate social responsibility working for a bank in Houston, my boss was wonderful, and there was an exciting career path ahead, but it just wasn’t fulfilling my soul.

At that time, Oprah was launching her OWN network and had a competition to win your own show. I realized if I could do anything with my life it would be to host my own show sharing positive stories of people being kind and courageous in the face of adversity. We typically see the negative side in the news media — how horrific a situation is — and while that can’t be denied, we turn off feeling helpless and depressed. But those stories also have a positive view of the inspiring people doing things to make these situations better. Those are the people I want to meet and the stories I want to share, in order to spark more good in the world.

So I created the concept of my unscripted TV series “NOW with Fiona,” produced a demo video, and entered Oprah’s competition. I didn’t win but said, “Hell! I’m going to do it anyway!” In November 2011 I threw my belongings into the back of a 10-foot rental truck and drove myself from Houston to New York City to develop my media career.

After pounding the pavements for months and realizing how small I was in the Media Capital of the World, “NOW with Fiona” didn’t feel like it was gaining traction. I had lots of, “Wow! That sounds amazing. Keep going, and be sure to stay in touch!” And then crickets.

Meanwhile, in the summer of 2012 I came to realize that transgender people were still banned from serving in the U.S. military. This might sound a little left field, but I’m a part of the LGBTQ community and have been advocating for our rights since 2004. As a lesbian (today I identify as bisexual) I’d given speeches on stages at large events and been interviewed in the media on the need to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” All that time we’d said, “LGBT” but little did I know that the law’s repeal would allow lesbian, gay and bisexual people to serve in the military, but transgender people would still be banned due to out-dated policy.

I felt ashamed that I had not known, irritated that we hadn’t finished the job, and I knew no-one who was telling these stories. I had many friends who were trans and several of whom were in the military or were veterans. It was obvious that the story of their work to end the ban needed to be documented and shared. So, I started the TransMilitary project.

Six years later, I’d earned an Emmy® nomination for my op-doc “Transgender, at War and in Love” commissioned by The New York Times, was selected as a White House LGBT Artist Champion of Change, and received the South by Southwest (SXSW) 2018 Best Feature Documentary Audience Award for “TransMilitary”. Not to mention a few other wins along the way.

Once “TransMilitary” was out in the world on iTunes, Amazon and many other platforms, it left me questioning, “Now what?” But I quickly answered that there’s nothing more I want to do than host my own series, “NOW with Fiona.” So in 2019 I went back into independent production and last year finished a proof-of-concept episode of the show.

This year I’m building my production company by pitching Season One to be filmed in Texas, producing animated explainer videos on LGBTQ terms (see this “cisgender” and “transgender” explainer here), hosting speaking engagements, and writing a book. I haven’t even asked myself if I keep going or give up, because the only way I would fail is if I stopped.

Yes, I change my action, but my belief in manifesting my vision into reality is as certain today as the grass is green. I’m just learning to surrender to the timing of it all, which still takes practice! Originally, I thought “NOW with Fiona” would get picked up by Oprah in 2010. Then I thought a company in NYC would pick me up in 2012. Then I thought “TransMilitary” would win an Oscar and my show would get picked up in 2019. Then in 2020 I said an overnight success takes ten years, so this would be my year. Today, I do my best to let go of predicting or trying to control the timing, and instead focus on my thoughts, beliefs, words, actions and emotions. They all circle into making your dreams come true.

It’s taken a lot of work to feel this powerful, and I’ve had to learn how to strengthen my physical and spiritual self to keep me going. Daily practices in the mental gym of meditation, affirmations, visualization, journaling, reading and running keep my whole being dedicated to living my passion in the present. Life is not a journey to a destination, as the destination already exists within us. That’s when you realize that you don’t need to give up because it’s already there. The Universe is just coaching us to live in integrity so as Martha Beck describes in her book “The Way of Integrity,” we arrive at our address of peace where everything we have asked for has been sent.

Another inspirational author of mine, Howard Thurman (1899 -1981), also sums it well up saying, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it! Because what the world needs is people who have come alive!” I’m lucky enough to have found what makes me feel alive, so I’d be letting the world and myself down if I give up now.

Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?

I’m an entrepreneur with my own multi-media production company, Free Lion Productions. We envision a day when all people are treated with equal rights, respect and responsibility. Our mission is to decolonize the worldview of gender & sexuality, starting with the LGBTQ community. Our company’s products build inclusion with animation, share truth via speaking engagements, and produce kindness through video production.

As founder and CEO I’m building a team to provide LGBTQ people with the largest, loudest platform from which to tell their own stories. Titles for my work include Director, Producer, Writer, Executive Producer, Host, Speaker, but my one line bio explains me in a nutshell, “Fiona is your bisexual, female version of Mr. Rogers.”

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
In 2011 I left my beloved Houston to live in New York, but came back to Texas last year. The city has changed so much since it was my home! Today I hardly recognize my old stomping grounds of Montrose. But in 2013, I had the incredible opportunity to participate in a press visit and write an article for a lesbian magazine on Houston’s hospitality, which gave me a refreshed insight into the best places to check out. But just know my lens here is queer.

I love that while Houston has not traditionally been a biking city, massive changes have been taking place in great thanks to initiatives kicked off by Former Chief Sustainability Officer for Mayor Annise Parker, Laura Spanjian. Using the bike share program, “HOUSTON B-Cycle” we’d enjoy a beautiful ride from downtown, along Buffalo Bayou and into “The Heights” to fuel up at Revival Market. This responsibly sourced grocery is packed with pantry supplies of fresh, flavorful local produce, artisan conserves and also many authentic Texan wares that serve as excellent treats to take home. Among the shelves of hearty foods, we’d nestle at a cafe table to indulge in a no-nonsense, locally produced, organic start to the day.

Next, my bestie and I would hop back on and pedal up Heights Boulevard, soaking up the historic homes and leafy canopy to the funky shopping hot spot of 19th Street. Here boutiques and antique shops will whisk us into another place and time, potentially burning a hole in our pockets as we go.

Depending on how ambitious we’re feeling, we’d either keep pedalling or switch to a car through Montrose into the treasure trove of the unique Museum District. My top three museums are the Asia Society Texas Center, the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, and the Rothko Chapel.

Reflective of the incredible diversity of Houston, The Asia Society Texas Center is only second to the establishment in New York City. This stunning contemporary structure was designed by Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi, best-known in the U.S. for his renovation and expansion of New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

I love the rich educational history provided in The Buffalo Soldiers National Museum. Although modest in its design, the museum takes you back in time to when women were banned from serving and African Americans were segregated. Coming to know the courageous story of trailblazing Black woman Cathay Williams, who in 1866 enlisted in the United States Army posing as a man under the pseudonym William Cathay, inspires us to continue forging ahead for equality as she once did.

The Rothko Chapel is quite simply a breath-taking place for self-reflection within the edifice’s calming silence. This sanctuary is where mind, body and soul can escape the pace of the world in the embrace of the domineering Mark Rothko (1903-1970) paintings. Dedicated for ‘contemplation and action,’ the Rothko Chapel is for people of any or no faith. We will feel cleansed by taking time out to simply breath within its walls.

After that spiritual refresher we’ll be ready for happy hour! Although there is a dynamic bar scene, like many major cities Houston has a limited choice of queer women’s joints. But Pearl Bar owner Julie Mabry has picked up where Chances left off and taken the female-leaning LGBTQ social community to a whole new level. My friend and I would cheers with drinks in Pearl’s dark, sultry, cavernous interior with worn sofas and armchairs, and pop outside to enjoy the huge outdoor patio adorned with lights where locals gather for weekly steak nights, live bands and a resident DJ.

A visit to Houston would not be complete without two-stepping at a proper country watering hole. So we’d kick our way on to Neon Boots Dancehall and Saloon! Back in the day the venue was home to Willie Nelson and Patsy Cline, but today the historic esquire ballroom touts itself as “A More Diverse Kind Of Country.” Although it is Texas’ largest LGBT country bar they proudly welcome and attract a fully diverse crowd, once again proving that Houston is home to everyone.

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?

Oh gosh, this is a dangerous question to answer because it would be impossible to complete. There is an infinite number of people who have touched my life, and therefore influenced my growing success. Quite frankly, there are people who I don’t know exist who will have effected my journey. To ensure I don’t inadvertently miss someone, I will reserve shouting out most names for when I’m printing my book. However, I’d like to mention with gratitude my original team who got me going in 2010 of Robin Brown, Rob Alfieri, Reesa Hedrick, Kelley Cloud, and all the Kickstarter Campaign supporters from Houston who helped film the pilot. Today, my show’s Executive Producer Mindy Raymond is a God-send as is the person who introduced us, Sheila Grace. The amazing and hard-working friends at GLAAD like Jeremy Blacklow, Nick Adams, Rich Ferraro, Anthony Ramos, Mathew Lasky and the organization’s President & CEO Sarah Kate Ellis are extraordinary champions boosting my work. I also shoutout my mother, father, sister and brother for the love and life they breathed into my foundation.

Some of the books that ignited my passion and enriched my travel are Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist”, Eckhart Tolle’s “Power of Now”, Rhonda Byrne’s “The Secret”, Mike Dooley’s “Manifesting Change”, Brené Brown’s “Daring Greatly”, Jen Sincero’s whole series of “You Are a Badass”, Don Miguel Ruiz’s “The Four Agreements”, Wallace Wattles’ “The Science of Getting Rich” Jamil Zaki’s “The War for Kindness” and Edie Windsor’s memoir “A Wild and Precious Life”.

All the people on my gratitude list, which I read daily deserve much credit and recognition in my story. Some of these people I’m no longer connected with, but I know we all effect each other’s lives and often serve as teachers towards a more conscious life. I give thanks and peace to everyone I’ve ever met.

Website: Join my mailing list and follow me on all the things here: nowwithfiona.com. Find me at freelionproductions.com to do business together.

Instagram: @nowwithfiona

Linkedin: linkedin.com/in/fionajdawson31

Twitter: @fionajdawson

Facebook: @nowwithfiona

Youtube: @nowwithfiona

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