MUNROE BERGDORF: TALKING CORONAVIRUS, OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GENDER AND HOPES FOR THE FUTURE
Interview by Charlie Long
Interviewed March 13th, Published May 22nd
For Quazar issue 05, we were joined by our leading cover star, trans icon and legend, Munroe Bergdorf. It's not often you get to meet and work with one of your hero's. As the Quazar team and I sat in a small make shift studio in a garage in Hackney, in walked miss Munroe Bergdorf. She carried a glow as she entered, there was a sense of kindness and calm about her. She filled the room with her reassuring presence as we spent the day laughing, ordering Mcdonalds and coffee and planning Munroe's TikTok career (yes, i'm being serious and yes, it was iconic).
Munroe is a trans icon and activist who has spent the last 3 years in the public eye as a beacon of light and hope for many within the LGBTQA+ community. She has advocated for changes in a variety of ways, joining forces with multiple LGBTQA+ organisations, last year even collaborating with the UN, supporting the #DrawALine campaign with the goal of putting a stop to female genital mutilation. In 2019 Munroe was awarded an honour doctorate from University of Brighton in recognition of her campaigning for transgender rights.
The activist and model sat down (on the phone of course) with editor, Charlie Long, to discuss her plans for the future, her relationship with social media and how she is maintaining her mental health during a pandemic.
First and foremost, how are you dealing with everything going on at the moment in regard to the virus? What a mad time for us all.
Totally. It’s so difficult to wrap my head around it all because there is just so much information everywhere. I am just trying to stay informed, remain positive and be responsible to make sure I follow the guidelines and stay at home. I’m also trying not to constantly absorb too much news because there are so many layers to it, it just becomes unhealthy and overwhelming. But on the flip side I feel I need to empower my audience and keep people informed and positive where I can.
Putting the horrific news to the side, how is Munroe Bergdorf feeling in 2020?
Um… She’s okay (laughs) I mean come on, we started off the year with a Conservative election win, then Brexit happened and now Covid-19. I was personally ready to have an amazing year, but as I’m sure everybody is experiencing, all my plans have changed so I’m just trying my best to stay as happy as possible and bear in mind this isn’t permanent. The world will change, but the difficulties in regard to isolation and struggles that come with that, are only temporary.
2021 better come correct right? (laughs) You have spoken very candidly on social media in the past about your struggles with mental health, do you feel these battles ever truly end?
I mean, I do believe some people can recover from their battles with mental health, but I feel for the majority of us it is a case of managing your mental health and having good and bad days. It’s more, for me, about making sure I am monitoring myself and putting in the framework to make sure I have as few ‘bad days’ as possible. I look at mental health as physical health, if you take your eye off your physical health for too long, it will deteriorate so it’s about making sure you are checking in with yourself and making sure you are on a good page. For me it’s not about recovery necessarily, it’s about managing.
Completely, what do you do to self-care and manage your own stress and anxiety?
My friends are such a huge support system for me, so I am really struggling with all this and having to find new ways of maintaining my mental health, this can be with skincare, music, tv series as well as making sure I am eating regularly. I battled with eating disorders in the past and in stressful situations I tend to not eat as much, as my appetite often reduces. It’s important for me to eat often throughout the day, get enough sleep and check in with friends, utilising technology and keeping that sounding board of people around me during such an unprecedented time is important.
Off the back of making sure we are keeping on top of our mental health, you recently came off twitter, what changes do you need to see made should you choose to return?
I mean, I came off Twitter because I feel like it is such a negative space at times. It works for some people but for me at this moment in time, I just don’t feel there is any need for the amount of vitriol on that platform and how unchecked it all goes is concerning to me. In this current day and age as consumers of internet culture, we feel we need to have certain apps on our phone and truth be told, we don’t! If something isn’t working for you, get rid of it. There is such a pressure that we feel we are going to be ‘missing out’ but that’s not the case, the way Twitter deals with hate and hate speech and allows these things to happen on mass and that just does not sit right with me.
I think it’s also concerning that many of us rely on one app for all our news. We need to be looking at multiple news sources, not just Twitter. If you are just looking in one place for all your news, it’s easy to for that news to be biased.
You are completely right. Its’ nice to know you aren’t alone in this either with the likes of Jesy Nelson and Olly Alexander speaking about their experiences of online trolling and how it was managed. How important do you feel this is for young people to see?
It’s SO important. When I was younger, mental health just wasn't something that was talked about. It was seen as a ‘weakness’ or ‘attention seeking’ and other awful narratives that we have all now worked so hard to stamp out. When someone with high influence speaks about how it is perfectly okay to be struggling with your mental health, it takes away that element of shame and encourages us to have more of these types of these conversations. The more conversations we have about mental health, the less scary it becomes and the easier it is for all of us to be able to feel freer and less alone in our struggles.
Reflecting back on how a young Munroe had to deal with her mental health issues in that type of environment, if you went back in time and told her that she would be doing what you do today, what would she have said?
Oh gosh. I don’t think she would have believed you! I feel so very lucky to be in the position I am in, and I am so thankful to have the opportunities I have as a black queer transgender woman. In situations where I have been the only queer black trans woman in the room is really mind blowing to me but also a reminder that as far as we have come, we still have so far to go, because I can’t be the only one all the time (laughs). There needs to be people after me and I am excited to hopefully be someone who breaks down barriers for other black trans people after me.
You have definitely already been that person my darling. Leading on from that and skipping to the future, what do you hope to be remembered by?
I am a great believer in the Maya Angelou quote ‘People will not remember what you did but they will remember how you made them feel’ and I just hope I make people remember to be more empathetic to people's lived experiences and I want people to be excited by people who aren’t like them. I also want my experiences to inspire other people who feel they are underrepresented to share their own journeys and inspire and educate others. I feel like I got into this point because I was frustrated with how trans people were represented, so hopefully I've opened some minds and changed some perspectives.
Our conversation surrounding gender is ever evolving, what major changes do you want to see in society’s perception of gender?
I think that we need to get over the idea that somebody's gender identity is something people can comment on. It’s important to recognise that gender identity and sex are completely different. Our gender identity is ours and ours alone, commenting on it is the same as commenting on somebody’s sexuality, its none of your business and not your place to say anything. I think it just comes down to respect and if someone tells you for example, their preferred pronouns, you must respect that and recognise that it has nothing to do with you.
And that's on PERIODT. What would you say the biggest misconception about you is?
I really try my hardest not to think about how other people see, I don't think it's too healthy to think about that stuff too much. How people see and perceive another person on a personal level, really is as much about them as it is about you. It doesn’t add any value to my life, so I encourage more people to try their hardest to not pay attention to what others think. I care about what people think about my work, but unless they know me personally, I try not to take personal comments to heart.
You said in an interview with Material Magazine – ‘My trans activism came out of frustration, I was transitioning and there were no voices out there I could relate to’ – do you feel this would be the case today and what other types of representation do you feel we still need so other young people don’t have to feel the way you did?
I think there is always nuance we can be adding to conversations and in the British press especially, it’s so transphobic and they are still stuck on reductive issues, such as what toilets trans women can use, it is just dehumanising and degrading. We still have so much work to do with getting cis-gender people to understand what transphobia is and understanding it’s not something you can have an opinion on. Much like homophobia or misogyny, transphobia is not an opinion, it is just another act of oppression.
I could listen to you talk all day, the way you word things is just how I wish I could! (laughs) What celebrity, if any, did you look up to when growing up to help deal with negative feelings you had towards yourself?
I think Cyndi Lauper was a great inspiration for me, I bought all her records and had all her posters on my wall. She stood up for LGBT rights at a time where it would have been to her detriment and it just wasn’t ‘cool’ to do so. She was always looked down upon by the mainstream media for the attention she bought to the LGBT community and HIV awareness, that was my first lesson in how to be an ally for other people. Naomi Campbell as well of course, she has always just been so fierce, revolutionary and never gave a fuck. I just love women who push the envelope and aren't afraid to push people’s buttons.
So…yourself? (laughs) to close this interview, what’s one piece of advice you would give a young person reading who may be struggling with their identity?
I would say stop looking externally and look internally. Everything that you want to achieve is inside of you and you just need to get in tune with that, as opposed to feeling you have to be something different. It’s about who you are as a person and who you are when you are alone. All the answers are inside of you and it’s to be enjoyed. Exploring my identity is the most fun and invaluable thing I have ever done, not in a corny way, but in a true way. Find yourself, love yourself and be yourself in the most authentic way possible.