“I can’t speak my mind because I’m a black transgender woman,” says Munroe Bergdorf in her most candid interview ever
Pride is more than just rainbow flags and lashings of glitter. The true meaning of Pride isn’t just celebrating one group or community, but equality for all of us, regardless of background, race, sexuality or gender. Here, transactivist and model, Munroe Bergdorf dissects the true meaning of Pride and why, even within the community, there is so much more to be done.
Munroe couldn’t be better placed to wade in on this debate after a controversial sacking from a L’Oréal contract following a statement where she called out the basis of racism. A showdown with the troll of morning TV, Piers Morgan, followed and then after being appointed LGBTQ+ advisor to the Labour party in February this year, she was forced to quit after tabloid pressure. Hold on to your device, Munroe is going in, in one serious and refreshing way…
“Pride is an important time to remind ourselves that our rights can be removed as fast as we got them”
For me, personally, I would say that Pride is the best opportunity we have as a community within the UK to really be ourselves and to remind ourselves how far we’ve come, that we really need to maintain our rights and not always be looking for the next one. It’s just a really good time to reflect and to embrace the community and to push forward.
“LGBTQ+ community needs to stop being so refracted”
There are a lot of factions in the LGBTQ community and I think Pride is an opportunity to acknowledge that we ARE divided when it comes to the community. We need to be asking why there are those divides and to start listening to each other because I think those divisions are only there because we don’t really listen to each other as a community. I think this will evolve organically when we push forward with the division of spaces. There’s a lot of conversations going on about, ‘do we need men only nights’ within the queer community. Why can’t all like-minded people exist within the same space? We need to keep in mind that we wouldn’t have the rights that we have if we weren’t a community and if we hadn’t pushed forward as a community – especially with the most marginalised demographic within our community – black transgender individuals are actually doing a lot of the legwork when it comes to activism.
“The media have given me a harder time because I am a transgender woman of colour”
I try to explain it to people in so far as if I was a straight, six-foot, a man and I was middle class and I had said what I said, I would not have had any issues. When it’s a man speaking about feminism, he’s deemed a ‘woke bae’ but when it’s a woman speaking about feminism she’s instantly an angry bra burner. When it’s a black woman speaking about racism, she’s angry. It’s a double standard. So, we don’t really like listening to new information when it’s coming from the horse’s mouth, so we tend to trust the most privileged members of society and that is largely white people. If I was white and I had said what I said, there wouldn’t have been an uproar and that’s been proved. Lorde the singer said exactly the same thing as me around the same time and no one said a word.
“People have this mentality of, ‘how dare you speak out of place. You live within the UK, how dare you!’”
I don’t look traditionally like what people would associate with being British so in certain people’s minds it almost like I’m seen as a guest in this country. It’s so weird to me, I’ve spent 31 years in this country and people still think I shouldn’t be able to speak about how brutal and how violent this country can be. So, I defiantly do think that if I was of different intersections from society, what I said wouldn’t have even been a thing.
“Controversy taught me…”
I learnt that I am so much stronger than I thought I was and that I can take a lot. Also, that I really can step up to the plate when I need to. I learnt so much about myself, I feel that over the last eight months I changed phenomenally as a person. I’m still adjusting as my life has pretty much changed completely so it’s really difficult to manage sometimes and sometimes I do feel completely overwhelmed and don’t know how to cope with it. But it hasn’t even been a year so I’m trying my best, but it is tough.
“I try not to think of myself as a role model. I always say I am a ‘role option’”
If people look up to me and they see themselves in me then that’s fine – that’s great, it’s fantastic – but I’m dealing with my own sh*t as well. I’ve had eating disorders to deal with, I’ve got depression, I’ve got anxiety issues, I have PTSD, I have all of these things going on with myself that I’m still working out at the same time. Sometimes it’s nice to hear that someone hasn’t got all the answers and that they’re working it out. My gift is that I can communicate how I feel, I can put it in a way that resonates with people. If people feel a closeness to that then that’s fantastic but I don’t have all of the answers and I don’t have it all worked out.
“The way the world is set-up is breeding anxiety”
This world is insane, I think the world the baby boomer generation has created has basically put so much pressure on young people that of course, they’re going to have stupid levels of anxiety. You also feel so much more pressure after looking at social media. But my anxiety started in high-school and I totally think it has something to do with the education process. The amount of bullying I encountered in high school was ridiculous. I think the majority of the LGBTQ+ community take that need to have approval and that thirst for wanting to be popular into life after high school too. I think we need to look at how we are treating young people and relook at the environments that we are putting them in because I feel that it’s breeding anxiety well into adulthood.
“If we all thought the same thing, then life would be extremely boring. But you really don’t need to abuse anybody because of different life choices”
I would say to trolls: would you treat your mother like this? Would you treat your sister like this? Would you treat somebody that you love like this? I honestly think if you wouldn’t treat a member of your family like that and wouldn’t want to be treated like this then don’t treat other people like that. If you don’t understand something and something makes you angry then the best thing to do is to educate yourself to the point where you feel like you’ve had an objective look at both sides. If you STILL don’t feel like you don’t agree then that is fine, but you don’t need to abuse somebody over the internet. That makes you in the wrong.
“If somebody can’t afford you the respect of treating you like a human being, disengage”
If you already feel you are a socially marginalised person who has other discrimination to deal with then there’s no point engaging with trolls. It won’t go anywhere. It will just end up with you feeling hurt and them just forgetting about it in the next ten minutes when they log off. You need to pick your battles. So sometimes an argument over Facebook really isn’t worth you putting yourself through it.
“There are brands who just jump on Pride for profit”
We need to look at what brands do the rest of the time – the other 364 days of the year. What money are they donating elsewhere? Are they just doing it for the image? A lot of brands do. I think if a brand is featuring an LGBTQ+ person in a campaign and they’re allowing that person to speak and express themselves in an organic way and they’re not also donating their money to discriminatory groups and they’re not funding right-wing political agendas – then I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. However, it needs to come from a sincere place. I know with certain brands it does, but others are just trying to keep up with what the trend. If you look at brands like Absolute Vodka and MAC who continuously work with the LGBTQ community, for instance, there are some who do fantastic with the community.
Munroe’s documentary, What Makes a Woman is now available on All4 and you can follow the model and activist on Instagram and Twitter, @MunroeBergdorf
First image credits: Photographer, Maximilian Hetherington; Makeup, Sophie Cox; Hair, Florence Ssentongo; Stylist, Josh Tuckey