English model and activist Munroe Bergdorf somersaulted into the lime light after going head to head with one of the world’s biggest beauty brands (she was dropped from a diversity-centric campaign, ironically, for voicing her opinions on systemic racism).
In a truly modern turn of events, the viral controversy that followed established Munroe as a leading voice on intersectional feminism, and she continues to demand that trans women of color be included in the feminist movement and the media conversations that surround it. Her grit, smarts and seemingly unwavering moral compass has garnered her dedicated following – she terrifies institutions, enrages the right wing media, and embodies the new wave of politically charged social celebrity and power. In a world that wants her to take a seat, she’s stood up. In a world that wants her to be quiet, she’s called out and raised her voice for trans women and other minorities everywhere.
She’s as Salty as they come.
In this issue Munroe talks about surviving sexual trauma, #metoo, cis allyship, and sexual fluidity, and for the first time, opens up about her love life and sexual orientation. She’s also imparting some dating advice for trans women and those who love them.
Let’s Get Salty.
Salty: At Salty, we explore modern sex, dating and relationships, and part of that, unfortunately for many trans women, is experiencing sexual violence. Why do you feel it is important for you to speak publicly about what your experiences?
For me personally, it took me a long time to actually speak to anybody about experiencing rape or sexual violence. I was raped at the beginning of my transition. I was 24. I didn’t know who I was as a person, really. It really destabilized me. It left me unable to really form attachment to men. It left me unable to connect with my body when it came to sex. I didn’t enjoy sex because I was associating it with violence. It wasn’t until I was really talking about it that I was able to start healing. I could start taking ownership of my body again. I realized it’s just something that someone else did to me. I don’t need to internalize that. I can let it go. I think that the more that I started talking to people, the more I realized that I could actually turn that experience into something positive.
I think the reason why I wanted to talk about now, and not sooner in the #metoo conversations is because I wanted to observe and think through what I was feeling. What I was feeling at the time was a sense of frustration because society really isn’t including trans women in the narrative of #MeToo. It really made me upset that people are seemingly shocked about Me Too, but no one’s batting an eyelid when it comes to trans women being killed by the men that find us attractive. It doesn’t seem to be computing in people’s heads that that is part of the same story. I just really wanted to sit with it for a minute and think, “Why is this?”
What I was feeling at the time was a sense of frustration because society really isn’t including trans women in the narrative of #MeToo.
I think putting trans people in the same sentence as sex still makes people uncomfortable. Especially when it comes to distinguishing between sex and rape. I also think that there’s a sense of otherness when it comes to trans people, and that there just isn’t that same sympathy for us than there is for cis gender women. We are being killed at a higher rate than anybody. We’re more marginalized than anybody. To be shocked when it comes to largely privileged white women in Hollywood, but not when it comes to oppressed marginalized black women in America, it is really crazy to me. That’s why I wanted to say something because I felt like if I said something sooner, it would have just got lost in the narrative. I wanted to really give a detailed account of what happened, to show that this happens to girls like me all the time.
Salty: What do you think proponents of the #MeToo movement could do to better include trans women?
I really think it’s just listening and passing the mic. If you have got a platform, then using your platform as an ally to facilitate a space where a girl like me could talk. I like to think that I use my platform not just to speak about issues that affect me, but that affect cis black men, or cis black women or the muslim community, when it comes to Islamophobia. It’s all about not just highlighting the issues that affect yourself, but also thinking about how you can use your platform or your privilege to elevate the voices of others. I feel that’s all people can really do. I think that cis gender people need to really be stepping up to the plate. The only thing that’s standing in the way of trans people is cis people. We need people to be allies because no marginalized person has ever become liberated without allyship. We’re not looking to overthrow people, we’re looking to have equality and that’s just not going to happen without allyship.
The only thing that’s standing in the way of trans people is cis people. We need people to be allies – because no marginalized person has ever become liberated without allyship.
Salty: We’re constantly impressed with how you handle yourself in situations where people are obviously trying to rile you up. How do you stay brave in the face of misogyny and homophobia?
You need to think about your intention. My intention is not to win over people that don’t have respect for me. My intention is to command respect. Period. Not to convince a reporter, or someone that I’m having a debate with, that I’m worthy of respect. I’m worthy of respect. It’s a fact. I’m not going to debate it. I think that, especially when I’m on television and I’m having someone scream at me or what not, them screaming at me proves my point. I think it’s just standing firm in the fact that you know that you’re right. If you stand in your truth, it speaks for itself. If you just stand firm and tall and allow your words to speak for themselves, then that’s what they’ll do.
If you stand in your truth, it speaks for itself.
Salty: Let’s talk about race and dating.
People really need to think about how they are identifying who they find attractive and whether or not the way that they’re doing it is paying into a narrative of oppression. Especially when they’re like, “Oh I can’t be offensive to that group of people because I sleep with that group of people.” Slave masters slept with their slaves. It doesn’t mean they didn’t find them attractive. Do you know what I mean? It baffles me how people think that they can’t be oppressive because they find that person attractive.
It’s one thing to be drawn to, or find certain types of people attractive, but saying that you exclusively only date one cross section of people, that’s fetishism- it’s very different from finding people attractive. If someone said, “I only date trans women,” then I can guarantee you that that person fetishizes trans women.
People really need to think about how they are identifying who they find attractive and whether or not the way that they’re doing it is paying into a narrative of oppression.
There are a lot of guys who sleep with trans girls that don’t want them to exist outside their bedroom. Those guys aren’t likely to ask you out for dinner, or take you to a nice restaurant or be seen with you out in public … Don’t allow yourself to become that person. You shouldn’t have to feel like you’re ashamed to be yourself. I had that for a while. Especially in the early stages of my transition, where I was visibly trans. It’s difficult. When you allow guys that find you attractive to make you feel like he can’t be with you in public, I think is a really bad thing to do.
Salty: Even just speaking about what dating and sex is like for trans women in a public forum- you don’t see that in mainstream women’s media. You don’t see that on any dating sites.
We’re just so stuffy when it comes to sex. I really do feel like the media doesn’t want to allow trans women in the public eye to be sexual. It’s so crazy. Sex is something that we should all enjoy. The trans experience is a physical experience as much as it is mental. It’s to do with our bodies. What better way to be in tune with our bodies than sex. To speak about the trans experience, but not speak about trans sex, is just ridiculous.
The trans experience is a physical experience as much as it is mental. It’s to do with our bodies. What better way to be in tune with our bodies than sex?
Salty: Last time we spoke, you told us you had a girlfriend. Do you identify as bi-sexual?
I’m on a journey and I don’t it is as cut and dry as just labeling yourself and that’s that. It hasn’t been until now that I have started sleeping with different genders apart from men. It took me to be comfortable with myself to venture out and experiment. I think that sexuality is a journey for everybody. Some people, they just sleep with just one gender and they are happy with that. But for me, sexuality is a changing thing, just like my gender. But if people want to call me bi, then yeah, I like boys and girls and everyone in between.
When I’m with a woman, I feel like I’m with my equal and sometimes that scares me because … I feel like I’m required to be a lot more emotionally available and honest and present, open.
I really don’t know you I am going to end up with. It might be a man, it might be a woman. When I’m with a woman, I feel like I’m with my equal and sometimes that scares me because … I feel like when I’m with a woman I’m required to be a lot more emotionally available and honest and present, open. When I’m with a man, I can kind of fake it much more. It’s a lot easier sometimes to just be with a guy because it’s, for me, sometimes it satisfies a lot more of the physical needs that I have. That’s what it’s like with me, I feel like I have got different needs, and both genders fill them out.
Salty: Any advice for those looking to impress a trans woman?
If you’re looking to take out a trans woman, really know yourself and be very certain with who you are as a person because a lot of cis men who date trans women, take out their insecurities of being transamorous out on trans women. It is not our problem. Be confident, treat us like a girl and hopefully you treat any other girl with respect. Be open, understanding that our experience is different to a cis women’s experience but its equal and worthy of your understanding as much as any other women.