The model and activist talks life.

Jewellery right hand ERIKA. Jewellery left hand RATHEL AND WOLF

Jewellery right hand ERIKA. Jewellery left hand RATHEL AND WOLF

You first started exploring your gender identity when you went to uni in Brighton. Can you talk us through that and tell us a bit about that time?

I grew up in a very middle class, conservative, white majority area. I always stood out and never felt like I fitted in or belonged anywhere until I moved to Brighton. Going from being the only black kid in my school and the only openly queer kid also… to feeling like I’ve found ‘my people’ in a place where I felt that I could begin to discover my true self.

University was full of ups and downs, but it’s definitely a period of time that I look back on as crucial to me understanding who I was and who I wanted to be. Dressing, behaving and living without filter. It was a time of personal liberation for sure.

When you were 24 you decided to undergo hormone replacement therapy. Can you tell us a bit about this decision and what it meant for you?

I knew for sure that I wanted to transition when I was around 19, but there was also a lot of procrastination and denial that would crop up every now and then, which would stop me from taking things further. I knew that once I started HRT it would become much realer to my friends and family. But once I stopped giving so much weight to what others may think, I started medically transitioning.

What were your friends and family’s response?

I think initially there was a sense of shock or fascination with friends, depending on who they were. I’m so lucky to have such an amazing support network around me, something I haven’t always had. When you transition, not everyone will understand or appreciate how hard it is. Sometimes it’s better to cut ties with kinds of friends rather than be stuck in a friendship based on you feeling that you have to apologise for your own personal growth, which is all that a transition is, it’s growth, something that we all do.

I’m also extremely lucky to have two supportive and loving parents. Like with most families there was an adjustment phase and it took everyone a bit of getting used to, the change in pronouns, name etc. But for the most part when your loved ones see that you are happier and more like who you were always meant to be, as a result of transitioning, I think the new family dynamics just fall into place.

You’ve spoken before about the prejudice you’ve faced being transgender. How do you deal with it?

I found that no matter what someone else may think of me, what really matters is what I think of myself. As long as I’m living in an authentic, open and honest way and treating others with respect and decency why should I care about someone who can’t do me the same courtesy. In the beginning of my transition, people’s prejudice hurt me a lot more than it ever can today. Back then I felt like I had to prove my womanhood to others and to myself. Now, I know exactly who I am, I have nothing to prove to myself or others on that front, so if somebody wants to call me a man, it says more about them than it does about me.

All clothing IRENE SJ YU and jewellery ERIKA

All clothing IRENE SJ YU and jewellery ERIKA

You’ve become a massively public voice of social activism. This must come with a number of positives?

Yes for sure, I’m getting to travel lots and to share my thoughts and stories with people. I just think back to when I was a kid, that they were not trans women of colour visible in the media. I’m just glad that hopefully kids today can see someone like me succeeding and feel less limited by their gender or sexual orientation.

Have you also faced difficulties from being so public about trans issues?

Unfortunately we are so polarised as a nation when it comes to issues of gender and race. So unfortunately I seem to have become a target for those who refuse to open their minds and hearts to the fact that the world is moving forward and our understanding of certain societal constructs has to change in to be inclusive of all people. The problem is, not all people want an inclusive society.

How does it feel being hailed as a social activist for such an important movement?

It isn’t really about me it’s about all of us. I’m not interested in being hailed anything. I’m just sharing my views and feelings and I’m glad it’s resonating. Gender and race are two of society’s biggest taboos, at times I feel a bit like the sacrificial lamb, but I feel that we’re getting somewhere. I get lots of messages from the older generations saying thank you for waking them up, that I changed their views on things, which obviously is the goal. It’s also important to remember that I’m standing on the shoulders of giants, many, many trans women of colour have been saying what I say without credit and often ignored or forced into silence. I’m echoing their voices, it isn’t just about me, it’s about all of us.

What advice would you give to young people struggling to comes to terms with their
gender identity?

What would you do if you didn’t care about what other people thought of you? As long as it doesn’t hurt yourself or others, do that!

Maximilian Hetherington
Josh Tuckley
Florence Ssentongo
Sophie Cox

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