Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Interview with Vanessa Lopez

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Vanessa Lopez, a Chilean-born model from Sweden, TV celebrity, beauty pageant queen, the author of "Jag har ångrat mig" (2014). Hello Vanessa!
Vanessa: Hello Monika! Thank you for the introduction! 
Monika: Let’s start with your autobiography first. Why did you decide to "Jag har ångrat mig"?
Vanessa: Thank you Monika! The English version would be: “I Changed My Mind”. A TG sister of mine told me once about the native American two-spirit people. I started to investigate the two-spirits through books, and I found out that what she told me was true! Native Americans had multiple genders in their society. The basic were woman, man, female men and manly female, who were all socially accepted.

I’m from the native Mapuches from Chile, so I could see myself living in this deeply spiritual society where they valued gender variance. Would I have hated my gender if I lived in that time? Absolutely not! If I was brought up in a society like that, I wouldn’t. Native Americans never gendered their children until the child itself expressed their own experienced gender. They never interfered or suppressed the child’s exploration and playing. It was against their values to ever interfere in somebody’s pathway.
"Jag har ångrat mig" via bokus.com.
If nobody ever told me that there was anything wrong with me or my body I would never have canalized that to hate towards my gender. In our time “Gender dysphoria” is something that you have to “fix” with hormone therapy and gender reassignment. Both very invasive to the body.
I believe that transgender people should avoid gender reassignment and hormone replacement therapy, the side effects of going through those treatments are unnecessary. We should work on social constructions and self acceptance. We should instead put value in nature’s ability to create gender variance as a part of human diversity, we would not need to correct our healthy and fully functioning body parts.
So hating my gender was because of the limiting gender constructions that exists in our time that only accepts two models of humanity’s multiple variations of gender and gender expression. And if you don’t live up to those norms there is something wrong with you.
I could have lived with my boy body and with my female gender identity without any surgery. If I only had accepted that combination within myself, but I was not liberal enough at that time and didn’t have the knowledge that gives me this perspective that I have today, therefore I took the solution on “fixing my body” to fit my gender identity. I should have claimed my own kind of woman instead, a woman in a boy’s body living socially like a woman! Like a two-spirit!
Monika: Which moments of your life did you particularly focus on?
Vanessa: I focused on the process from a teenage boy finding the pathway to becoming a woman. I was at that time one of the youngest in Sweden. I started the process of becoming a girl at the age of 16, at 17 I started the medical process and at 18 I got my hormones, when I was 20 I got my gender reassignment surgery.

Monika: Which parts of your autobiography could be of special interest to other transgender ladies?
Vanessa: The afterword is where the strongest message lies. Many transgender women say to me that they are not two-spirited, that they are only girls and girls should have a vagina to be completed. But my question to them is always the same: why do you hate your gender?
The answer is often that they feel like a woman completely and that they want to feel whole. But if our society wasn’t based on the strict binary gender constructions that says that a man should have a penis and a girl a vagina, would we feel the need to correct people’s gender identity to the body at all? If it was socially accepted to have a female gender identity and live in a boy body, not so many would go through the SRS and HRT!
Monika: In 2011 you participated in the Swedish edition of Big Brother. Did the show change your life?
Vanessa: The social experiment of Big Brother revealed the ignorance about gender diversity that exists in our times in Sweden. It therefore gave me the opportunity to take on an activist role. I wrote debate articles and started giving lectures in Sweden, enlightening people about gender diversity. Later on I published my book and here I am today.
Courtesy of Vanessa Lopez.
Photo by Bo Brinkenfalk.
Monika: In the same year you decided to join the world of beauty pageants and take part in the Miss International Queen in Pattaya, Thailand – the most spectacular beauty pageant for transgender ladies from all over the world. Did you enjoy the pageant? 
Vanessa: I loved the experience of co-existing in an culture that honors transgender people. I mean, they have so many transgender people visible in media and different levels of society.
Meeting so many different transgender girls from so many different countries made it like a safari of beautiful exotic transgender creatures. I felt like home and I felt valued for being me.
Thailand is an great example of a society that is more tolerant towards gender variance. The way that transgender women express their feminine nature is artful. It taught me that femininity is a beautiful gift that many transgender women possess.
Monika: Some activists criticize the concept of transgender beauty pageants, pointing out that they lead to the obsession with youth and beauty. What would you answer to them?
Vanessa: Yes that is one bad part of beauty pageants, but the good part I believe is that it is a platform for transgender people to express themselves, a platform where people get an opportunity to get to know transgender people. Getting to know a group of people takes away fear and prejudice and thereafter comes acceptance of the group. Thailand amongst others in Asia like The Philippines, are great examples for the world of acceptance of gender variance.
Monika: In your opinion, out of all the transgender beauty queens that you met, which ladies were the most charismatic personalities?
Vanessa: I still have contact with Sahhara Henson, Miss Nigeria, she is really charismatic and humble at the same time, so intelligent and educated. She won the Miss Super Sireyna crown in the amazing Philippines! It’s a new international beauty contest that honors not just transgender beauty and performance, but also intelligence. They have fewer participants that gives the audience and judges more time to get to know every participant individually. They do not include the bathing suit moment, excellent with no pressure on body image! I want to go to that competition and hope that they cast me! I’ve heard that Filipino people are great supporters of the transgender cause!
Courtesy of Vanessa Lopez.
Photo by Bo Brinkenfalk.
Monika: At what age did you transition into woman yourself? Was it a difficult process?
Vanessa: I started exploring the gay world at the age of 16, gradually allowing my gender expression to be more like I wanted it to be, feminine. But it was scary in the beginning. What would people say! But I started living like a girl full time when I was 17.
In Sweden you get SRS, HRT, voice therapy, hair removal, Adam’s apple removal and help with medicine costs as part of the Swedish social welfare.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Vanessa: At that time I dint have any in Sweden. I had to rely on the Internet and I got inspiration from Roberta Close, a Brazilian model/actress whom I liked a lot. In Sweden I was the first transgender to appear on mainstream TV.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Vanessa: So many hard things, being as young as I was. Being open transgender is being exposed to so much. I went stealth as soon as I got surgery, even before. As a transsexual going stealth like I did during a time of my life, means coming out many times in different situations.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in the Swedish society?
Vanessa: Since 2013 we have had freedom to change our legal gender independently to our physical sex. We are still struggling with attitudes. In Sweden transgender people are not seen in media as much as in southern Europe where you have been able to see transgender women on TV since the 70s. So they are more familiar to transgender people whereas in Sweden it’s pretty new! But in Sweden I find it hard to find meaningful serious relationships because of my TG status. But in Spain and Italy for example, guys never cared when I told them about my background.
Monika: What do you think about transgender stories or characters which have been featured in Swedish films, newspapers or books so far?
Vanessa: Here we have a great movie titled “Something Must Break” that has won many international prices but in Sweden it’s been overlooked. It’s such a shame! It’s an amazing movie with a TG person as the main role, played by talented Saga Becker, an TG-person herself. I recommend!

Courtesy of Vanessa Lopez. Photo by Peter Elofsson.

Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBT communities. Being the last letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBT group?
Vanessa: Of course there is a hierarchy in the Swedish LGBTQI community. The T letter is overlooked in many ways. Easiest to see this is in the LGBTQI platform QX, on the cover of the QX magazine there has only been one transgender and it was a female to male person. No transgender except him has ever been on the cover, not even me or other sisters and brothers that have been great candidates. Instead they choose straight people on their covers that never ever did anything for the LGBTQI community. That is a reflection on the community’s own transphobia and their own big need to conform to the hetero norms.
I believe that we should come together since we are more strong together, but we have a lot to work in this respect. In the LGBTQI community in Sweden we need to show more solidarity towards the smaller groups within the group.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Vanessa: Yes of course! We have another actress Aleksa Lundberg, who is active in the newly formed political party Feministisk initiativ! I myself do politics in my own way but not lobbying in campaigns. But who knows!:)
Courtesy of Vanessa Lopez.
Photo by Bo Brinkenfalk.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colours or trends?
Vanessa: Since I became a vegan I have changed my consumption of leather, fur, silk, wool and anything coming from animals. I haven’t had any time to get to know any designers that fit my vegan standpoint, but I love Prada and YSL! But I won’t ever again buy anything that comes from animals.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Vanessa: We are planning to translate my autobiography book "I Changed My Mind" into English. Hopefully it will be available before the summer! It will be sold digitally as well! So keep your eyes open!
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls dreaming about such a career as yours?
Vanessa: Dreams or goals in life come true through patience and processes of making mistakes, learning from them and trying again. I believe that luck is about being well prepared for the opportunity that will take you one step closer to your goal/dream. In other words never giving up means to await for the right opportunity! It will come! Never stop looking!
Monika: Vanessa, thank you for the interview! 

Main photo by Bo Brinkenfalk.
All the photos: courtesy of Vanessa Lopez.
Done on 23 December 2014
© 2014 - Monika 

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