Monday, 27 May 2013

Interview with Frances McKevitt


Monika: Today’s interview will be with Frances McKevitt, inspirational woman, transgender artist and leader of the band "The Frantastics". Hello Frances!
Frances: Hello Monika!
Monika: What are you doing these days?
Frances: Very much what I have always been doing, travelling and performing in London and around the country, perfuming both solo and with the band. I’m also doing a lot of gardening, not very rock ‘n’ roll I know, but I seem to have caught the gardening bug real bad. I’ve a beautiful summerhouse at the end of my garden, where I like to spend time reading and writing new songs.
Frances McKevitt
Monika: How would you describe your music? Do you draw inspiration from other artists?
Frances: Well, I’ve two styles, one the solo material and the other what I do with the band. The band’s style is straight up rock ‘n’ roll and country, a collision we like to call Frockabilly, we dress in the those big 50’s frocks with the wonderful petticoats.
When performing on my own, the style is a crossover folk/country thing, think, Art Garfunkel and Neil Young meet Carly Simon; people have often compare it to that of David Gates from the band Bread, which is quite flattering.
Monika: How does your transgender status contribute to your artistic perception of the world?
Frances: I really live in a day to day mainstream world, I’m not aware of trying to work any other angle.
Having said that, as I’m bisexual, I can write about my affairs with both men and women. For my own amusement, when introducing a song I’ll say, ‘I wrote this song is about a man I was in a relationship with,’ I’ll follow that with, ‘and this next song is about a woman I was involved with... Yes, I like my toast buttered both sides.’
This usually brings a roar of laughter from the audience; so perhaps it’s afforded me a bit more leeway in my songwriting, however, some songs are none gender specific, both emotion and love are universal, as indeed is music.
Frances McKevitt
Monika: Are you familiar with any other transgender musicians or artists?
Frances: Less than a handful, otherwise I can’t say I am. I’m sure they’re out there, I’m just not aware of them. Most seem to be either drag queen lip-sync’ers, or vocalists slavishly imitating their pop idol/diva, sung over the usual backing track; I find it all a bit discouraging really.
Monika: What is your general view on the present situation of transgender women in the British society?
Frances: We’ve moved leaps and bounds in the 20 odd years since I started out. Certainly in the world that I move in, the arts and Bohemia, it’s embraced. I would say the climate is more than favourable, there’s always going to some bigot, but they’re the same people who’d dislike you for supporting a different football team, the way you wear your clothes or the colour of your skin i.e. simply ignorant people.
Brits are on the whole, a tolerant and accepting bunch, thus the reason so many outsiders come here to live and more so to London, we’re a part of the culturally rich tapestry that makes this country what it is. 
Monika: Transgender ladies are subject to the terrible tests as to whether they pass as a woman or not. You don’t have such a problem yourself, but what would you recommend to other transgender ladies who have to struggle to pass?
Frances: Less is more, realise your strong points, play down what you think are you weaker one’s. Choose your role models carefully, if you’re wishing to live a mainstream life and not be seen as some oddity. Truth is, we should be able to be whoever we want to be (in an ideal world), but if you want to live below the radar, well...
Frances McKevitt
Monika: We are living in times of modern cosmetic surgery that may allow us to transition even as late as our 50s or 60s. Do you think it is really possible? What kind of advice do you have for transgender ladies at such an age?
Frances: Be realistic. A subtle tweak here and there, but avoid anything drastic, they may be able to take 10 years off, if they promise 20 well, I’d be skeptical. I never did like my nose, even after 30 years, so I did something about it, I feminised it. 
Cosmetic surgery isn’t dissimilar to getting the builders in; find someone who’s had work done and which looks good, and get the name of their surgeon. I was lucky to have found an objective and conscientious surgeon, 20 years ago.
Monika: At the time of your transition did you have any transgender role models that you could follow? What was your knowledge about transgenderism?
Frances: I admired April Ashley for both her journey and her style. Women of culture, grace and style I admire such as Audrey Hepburn, not the big screen image, but the woman herself, Catherine Deneuve would be another.
When I started out 20 years ago, there was no Internet; the only advice we could get was from books, if you could find one, makeup and dressing was a trial and error affair. Now, you just click on a link and up pops someone giving step by step on screen tutorials on how to apply make-up…for men! Wow, I wish I’d had that; it would have saved me an awful lot of time, grief and expense.
Frances McKevitt
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Frances: Nothing really, I took it very slowly, a little bit here a little bit there, it was so gradual that over several years I’d not quite realised how far I had come along.
My children were very accepting, as they never had it thrust upon them; we went on this journey together. It’s when you try to change everything over-night, that it usually breaks down and falls apart. 
Monika: Have you ever been married? Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Frances: Yes, I got married at 18 and remained so for 17 years, until my wife died; I’ve 5 wonderful grown-up children.
My family have been a consistent love and support in my life; other loves have come and gone, they were right for as long as they lasted; perhaps the future holds another great love?
Monika: What do you enjoy most about being a woman?
Frances: Certainly the empowerment, which I didn’t have when I was a male, and as a dedicated life-long Dandy, its afforded me a wider palette of clothing with which to play with. Otherwise, after 20 years, it’s what it is, just getting on with life. I don’t wake up in the morning and declare, ‘Oooh, I’m a woman,’ this is a normal everyday thing that I live, I can’t say I get any kind of kick out it.
Frances McKevitt
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Frances: I’ve been invited to Parliament a few times, and asked to contribute my opinions and views on various matters. 
I’m a guerrilla activist through my art, performing gigs out in the mainstream world; I’m not confined to playing gay clubs or ghettoised. So yes, I’m educating people, but in a subtler and seductive way than say ‘Pride’ do.
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Frances: A bit silly really, but if one doesn't take them too seriously and you’re happy to enter and are prepared to come last, well... beauty is more than skin deep. 
There’s a massive amount of negative body image within the Trans community, regards how one looks or passes etc. Many people forget, just how attractive confidence is, it can carry you far.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colours or trends?
Frances: No, individuals doesn’t follow fashion, we have a style, and can notice it a mile away. Fashion is fickle fun for the young, one shouldn’t become enslaved to it, enjoy it. My wardrobe consists of equestrian clothing; a few Chanel pieces; 50’s big frocks with pinched waists; well cut women’s suits, cashmere dress’s and skirts, just above or below the knee, I’m no club kid in a mini-skirts anymore.
I do however; still wear my leather catsuit, which I had made over 14 years ago. Being pale and blonde, if I do wear jewellery it’s usually silver, which is more flattering for my skin than gold. I’m not a big jewellery person; most of what I have has been bought for me. the only pieces I do buy for myself are Hermes bracelets.
Monika: Are you involved in the life of your local LGBT community?
Frances: No, I’m involved in my own subversive espionage.


Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Frances: Ah, that book within us all, perhaps one day.
Monika: Could you say that you are a happy woman now?
Frances: Content, not always happy, rarely sad, but almost always content, the other two are imposters.
Monika: Frances, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Frances McKevitt.
Done on 27 May 2013
© 2013 - Monika 

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