Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Interview with Nicole Orpen


Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Nicole Orpen, a South African video blogger that documents her transition on YouTube. Hello Nicole!
Nicole: Hello Monika, thank you for giving me the opportunity to raise awareness regarding the transgender community.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Nicole: I am now 48, I started my transition late in life. My last year has been the most incredible year of my life! Just prior to my transition, I was probably at my lowest point ever.
Now I am the happiest I have ever been and so so grateful to everyone who has helped me to get here. I still have challenges, but I now look forward to each and every day. I have left a dark grey world and entered one of color and beauty where anything is possible.
Monika: Why did you decide to share your transition details on YouTube?
Nicole: I spent my entire life thinking there was something wrong with me. I always felt different, but I didn’t know why or what it was. I don’t want other transgender women struggling unnecessarily with what I went through. By raising awareness, hopefully I can help them find themselves much earlier than I did.
I always wanted to try modelling.
Monika: Was the transition difficult for you?
Nicole: I transitioned when I was 47. I’m now 48. It has been about 17 months since I started. Actually it was on woman’s day 2015 that I finally committed to the process. The process was not difficult, challenging yes, but I had a lot of support from family, friends and colleagues.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed? The only South African icon that I recall is Lauryn Foster…
Nicole: Caitlyn Jenner has been my role model and inspiration. Without her, I don’t think I would ever have had the courage to begin the process. In fact it is my dream to one day meet with her and personally thank her for saving my life.
I didn’t know of Lauryn Foster when I started, but I did reach out to her after starting my transition and she emailed me back, which was so amazing!
Monika: Are there are any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now?
Nicole: Yes, there are quite a few, Sara a YouTube blogger (she goes by SoSara on YouTube) is amazing, she has documented her journey and I was a few months behind her in my process so it was really helpful to follow her.
Nicole Louw is another YouTube blogger here in South Africa who is also pretty amazing too! Caroline Cossey and of course Lauren Foster is also people I admire. There are so many strong and self-assured trans woman out there who I admire and respect.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Nicole: The hardest thing about coming out was admitting to myself that I was transgender. After that, I just knew I had no choice. I had a few scary moments like the first time I went out dressed as a woman, or telling friends and family, but by then it was more of a formality. I now knew who I was, and living that truth gave me the strength to move forward. 
Monika: I like your video on M2F Voice Training. You have achieved a fantastic result yourself. Could you share some of your best practice?
Nicole: I went to a voice coach here in South Africa and one of the most important things I learned, is to practice. Practice a lot! You have to unlearn old habits and relearn new ones. The only way to do this, is to practice.
My voice coach gave me phrases to say. I repeated them in the shower, in the car and whenever I had any free time. You may not notice the changes initially, but then one day someone will call you ma’am on the phone.
A typical day at the office.
The first time this happens it’s such an amazing feeling!
Pitch is not the most important thing. Enunciation and not speaking a mono tone pitch is almost more important. SoSara has also started a group on Facebook. Mtf voice training. If you are just starting out, I would highly recommend joining that group.
Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBTQ communities. Being the penultimate letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBTQ group?
Nicole: It is great to at least belong a community like the LGBTQ community, but gender and sexually are two completely different things. Just recently I told someone I was transgender and the first thing he said was that he understood as he had some close gay friends. The commonality is that as a transgender person we often explore our own sexuality and will probably have lesbian, gay relationships.
So we mostly are part of the group for these reasons, not because we as Transgender per se. The Trans community is small, so even at LGBTQ meetings we are a small minority. At my next meeting we are going to be discussing gender related issues, so we do have an impact in these groups.
Monika: What do you think in general about transgender news stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers or books so far?
Nicole: I am really happy to hear that there are more transgender stories in the news. It’s sad that there are still haters out there, but the awareness that we are real and we are normal is good.
Monika: Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Nicole: South Africa has a very progressive constitution that protects the rights of all LGBTQ people. I personally have not dealt with any discrimination because I am transgender and there is little to reform in terms of our legislation that can be done here. Enforcing these rights in mostly rural areas is another story though.
I have participated in LGBT marches and our support group is getting involved with some of the schools to raise awareness and council teachers and staff. It would be great to see more trans women, in not only politics by all high profile positions. Good role models are so important for validating us people.
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants? Some activists criticize their value, pointing out that they lead to the obsession with youth and beauty.
Nicole: I have no problem with transgender beauty pageants except for the fact that by making it about being transgender is in a way saying they we are different from other women. I’d like to see more trans women participating in all beauty pageants. 
1 year after beginning my transition.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Nicole: I would really like to have someone to share my life with, maybe even get married. Being trans and finding someone to love you is really difficult. I am accepted as female by most everyone and have no problems, but when it comes to being intimate sadly most guys have a problem. I am not sure how it is in other countries, but it seems that here, men are so afraid of being labeled gay or teased by their friends, for being attracted to us.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Nicole: My transition has been very quick as far as transitions go. I started on hormones, did my voice training, change my legal documents, had extensive laser hair removal, electrolysis, SRS, and breast augmentation all in just over a year.
So at present, I am taking a bit of a breather. I would like to be more involved in helping other transgender woman with their transitions and raising awareness about the reality of being trans. I am doing a little though my LGBT support group, but if other opportunities come up, I will very likely get involved.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Nicole: Start your transition as soon as possible. When you live authentically much of that dysphoria disappears. Seeing out naked bodies can still be difficult and SRS can be a long way off for some, but there are many other things that you can start on first. Reaching each milestone is so encouraging and while you feel you are moving forward the dysphoria feels manageable.
Monika: My pen friend Gina Grahame wrote to me once that we should not limit our potential because of how we were born or by what we see other transsexuals and transgender people doing. Our dreams should not end on an operating table; that’s where they begin. Do you agree with this?
Nicole: I always knew that SRS would be the big milestone, but I also knew that it wasn’t the end and I tried to prepare myself for that. Life does continue after SRS, but it is still very hard to see past that point as the process of transitioning, consumes so much of your time, physically and mentally.
I am only 4 months post-op. As each day goes by, I think less and less about transgender issues and focus more and more on other interests. On one hand I want to help other trans women, but on the other hand, I want to be ‘just another woman’.
I would love to be an advocate and role model for other trans women, but how do you do that when people don’t even know you are transgender. I feel so blessed that my transition went too smoothly and I wish that for all other trans women too.
Monika: Nicole, thank you for the interview!
Nicole: Thank you Monika, for giving me the opportunity to tell you a bit out by experiences as a Transgender woman. I am every so grateful to so many people that have helped, supported and inspired me through this journey and my one hope is to be able to pay it forward in some way. Thank you!

All the photos: courtesy of Nicole Orpen.
Done on 8 March 2017
© 2017 - Monika 

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