Munroe Bergdorf is shortlisted for our inaugural Gay Times Honours as a Future Fighter, precisely because of her no-holds-barred approach to calling out racism and prejudice, and for being an unapologetic voice for the trans community.
Gay Times spoke to the LGBT+ activist about life in a modern world as an out and proud trans woman, inspirations for her fierce and fabulous style, and how she remains a figurehead of hope and change for us all.
Role model? You fucking bet.
How would you describe Munroe Bergdorf to a stranger?
Hold on to your hats! [Laughs] No, no – I don’t know. I’m a very impulsive person and I do what I feel and feel what I do.
How do you mark success?
With how content I’m feeling in my private moments. I think that success is a very personal thing and you can’t ever measure it by other people’s expectations. So yeah, how I feel in my private moments.
Tell us about the last time you felt empowered…
I think it would be today… I did a very empowering thing. I tend to only do things that empower me and lift me up. If you’re in situations where you don’t feel empowered then you need to be thinking if this is worth it. I don’t think it really is.
How do you overcome failure?
I always try and find the positive in situations. I try and find the best out of every situation. There’s literally something you can always take away so if that’s a lesson or… yeah, finding the positive.
What do you think LGBT+ people need to do to try and tackle racism within our community?
I think the main thing is knowing we don’t have all the answers, and just listening to how other people feel. To not expect other people to educate you and looking for that information yourself.
I think a big problem that I’ve encountered is people saying, “Well, I don’t really like to talk about it (racism) because I don’t want to upset anybody – I don’t know what to say.” If you educated yourself and took your own time, not just when you’ve got a person of colour in front of you, if you actually took that time yourself then you’d know how to react. You’d know what’s not okay and what’s okay. You’d know the very basis of how to hold a conversation and that really is the problem. White people don’t know how to hold conversations with people of colour when it comes to racism, so do that work and put in that work.
Ultimately we just want to have conversations. It doesn’t need to be awkward, either. These are situations that are out of our control. I don’t have any control over racism but the difference is that people who are white do. We all want to get in the same boat where we can steer it, rather than all panicking about the boat going under.
Who’s your biggest style icon?
Argh! [Giggles] My biggest style icon… I’m loving Issa Rae. She is absolutely amazing. I’ve never seen a black woman style her hair in so many different ways, with so many episodes, and it not be that long. It’s so short but she styles it so perfectly in every single scene. I’m also a huge Insecure fan. It’s the best show and depicts black sisterhood so amazingly. It’s so spot on and hilarious.
One goal you’re currently chasing is…
My work and private life balance as I don’t really have one. I’m dating someone at the moment and she also happens to be my best friend, so I’m really thankful that she’s in my life. She’s the most understanding person that I know, basically.
We’ve been best friends for two-and-a-half years and it’s always kind of been there – the underlying that it’s something more. To have gone through the situation and for her to be there is amazing. I want to create a better work and personal life balance.
As we mark Black History Month here in the UK, tell us about one person that empowers you to achieve greatness…
I am obsessed with Lady Phyll who, if you don’t know, is the founder of UK Black Pride. She is amazing! When I saw Phyll turn down an MBE from The Queen, it pinpointed a significant change in how I see myself within activism.
Activism should never be from your ego but for the greater good and benefit of your community – or whatever you’re fighting for. It showed me that you can receive all these accolades and if you’re not doing it for the right reasons then you shouldn’t do it at all.
It’s a difficult balance working within the fashion industry and the beauty industry as it’s so visual and you’ve often got people saying, “You’re so great, you’re so great, you’re so great!” It’s trying to keep in mind that I’m not doing this for me. The modelling and everything is great and I enjoy it and I love doing it. When I’m using my voice, my voice isn’t for me. I’m speaking on behalf of people that can relate to me.
What makes you angry?
Erm… anger. I try not to get angry, but obviously I do.
Things that make me angry: small-mindedness and unwillingness to listen to other people. Silencing people extremely infuriates me as I don’t think anyone should be silenced unless you’re being detrimental to the mental or physical wellbeing of another person. When you’re just silencing somebody that has a different point of view to you, I think that’s more damaging than good as you’ll just make that other person angry and then it will get even worse.
I went to dinner last night with a woman that voted for Brexit and we’ve actually got a lot in common. As human beings, we often overlook that we’ve got a lot in common because we disagree on certain subjects.
For me, personally, when it comes to Brexit, I was against what it stood for and what it brought out of people – I was against that. Whether or not it’s going to be better for us as a country, we don’t know. We don’t know. It’s stepping into the unknown and so I didn’t come at it from that point of view. I was remain and I voted remain, but I voted for what it brought out of people. I told her that and she said: “I completely agree with you on that”.
Abuse and everything like that is terrible, but once we push past that… she’s not a terrible person. Small-mindedness and an unwillingness to see situations from other people’s perspective annoys me.
What empowers you about being an out and proud trans woman?
I think being an out and proud trans woman is amazing because you get to enjoy yourself. There’s no point in being in the closet… it’s a privileged thing to say that as there’s certain people who, if they came out of the closet, it would be threatening to their safety. I’m of a privilege where I live in the Western World, I can be myself and walk down the street and not have any problems.
I understand why some people do stay in the closet. I’m in the fortunate position where I don’t have to be, but if you can come out and you think that it’s something that you want to do, then I say go for it. There’s nothing better than celebrating yourself.
Tell us about your greatest achievement…
My greatest achievement, I think, is the day I started my transition. I think I’ve achieved a lot of things in my career but making that choice for myself to start living my life how I wanted to live it, and standing there and being in the knowledge that this is good for me. This is what’s going to make me happier.
I don’t know where I’m going, but this is the right choice for me. That’s the greatest achievement I’ve ever made.
More information on Munroe can be found here.