Saturday, 4 January 2014

Interview with Drew-Ashlyn Cunningham

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Drew-Ashlyn Cunningham, a talented woman, British celebrity and model, make-up artist, and participant of Channel 4’s reality documentary "My Transsexual Summer". Hello Drew-Ashlyn!
Drew-Ashlyn: Thank you so much for doing this interview. I'm excited to see what kind of questions you thought up for me!
Monika: It has been 2 years since you appeared on "My Transsexual Summer". Did the documentary change your life?
Drew-Ashlyn: Haha, definitely I think it's fair to say my life is completely different now and for the better. I moved on from the coffee shop I was working in while the show was being wrapped up and started working for Illamasqua in their stand-alone store in Leeds as a make-up artist. I moved on from an abusive relationship and met a lovely guy in my hometown. I no longer have people shouting nasty things at me down the street.

I still get the odd comment once in a blue moon but I've just grown so much more into myself that I no longer care what others have to say about me. I think by working in the media and having to be careful about what you say to journalists as well as reading positive and negative comments about you I've grown much more of thicker skin and moved away from the once shrinking violet I was becoming.
Monika: Having so many talents and great looks, have you ever thought about acting or modeling?
Drew-Ashlyn: I've done a little bit of acting for my best friend Lewis Hancox, who was also on my Transsexual Summer, for his uni work. I've done a bit of modeling too for wildchildmedia etc. but nothing major. I would like to keep an open mind towards that though. In fact, I have a modeling shoot coming up in the new year for a latex clothing line, which should be pretty fun.
I get to become and show a different side of me that I don't think people are used to seeing from the shy blonde persona I once was. Acting, on the other hand, I think I would enjoy it. I like the idea of being different and showing to people different sides. If I was to play a role, I'd rather it be the bad guy since it's the complete opposite of who I am as a person.


Monika: You were diagnosed with gender dysphoria when you were just 18. You had to tackle depression, self-harming, and abuse in the streets by male strangers. What do you think about all those bad years now when you are a beautiful woman and you are finally yourself?
Drew-Ashlyn: It's crazy to look back on the past. It's almost like I was a completely different person. I never thought I would get to where I am in terms of my transition.
I've grown a lot. I'm now 25 and I think even to this day I haven't really changed much but when I look back at the depressive years and pain I was dealing with I realize just how far I have come. I'm almost full circle to where I want to be. I'm definitely a lot prouder of who I am and I'm much happier to look in the mirror.
Even while I was filming I was so conscious of how I looked. Comparing myself to Donna, she is so passable that I found it tough at times. I was so self-conscious about my brace etc. that I think I over-compensated on my make-up and hair and tiny clothes to look more female whereas now my hair is darker blonde. My make-up is way more toned down. And I admit I have had my lips made fuller with juverderm but I just think overall I'm a better person. The past is way behind me that I find it hard to even relate to the old me.

Monika: What is your general view on the present situation of transgender women in British society?
Drew-Ashlyn: I think we have a long way to go in terms of getting away from stereotypes, which is that we are either sex manic porn stars, which to be honest, I would say I was sex mad haha, but on a serious note it's either that which we are seen as or just men in wigs who could be your dad. It's sad because we are so diverse and different that you can't stereotype us.
I think the media play a big part in this. Anyone who's passable in the trans world gets praise and admiration whereas someone who isn't as passable as a woman tends to get looked down on. And for me, the media need to change the way we look at one another. 
Maybe we need to have more trans roles out there or even a transgender presenter. Something which can break the taboo and just have society see us as women and not a label.
Monika: At the time of your transition did you have any transgender role models that you could follow?
Drew-Ashlyn: The first I would say was Amanda Lepore. She was so vibrant and out there. She was honest about her life and what she had done and she wasn't a porn star! For me she was someone who I admired and wanted to be like; a woman who was in control of her own life and the way she is seen and someone who is proud of who they are.
I also looked at Lisa du Preez. She was a businesswoman and wife and that's what I wanted in life; not so much being a wife but someone who is head strong and has a career behind them. I think another woman who played a big part in how trans people are seen was Nadia Almada from Big Brother. She made people look at her as a regular woman and she won!


Monika: You support the idea that primary school children should be taught about transgenderism from the age of 10 and have the option of jabs that delay the onset of puberty. Could you elaborate more on this issue?
Drew-Ashlyn: After going into schools and seeing that lessons of transgender and what it's all about has definitely shown that it makes a big impact on the way our future generation will look at us in years to come. It's them who will give us hope in becoming less of a label and more of a somebody.
Giving jabs to kids who feel they are transgender would also make their transition a lot easier in the long run especially for the teen years. They won't have to go through the embarrassment like I did of having to change into something you don't want to be or feel you are.
I felt I was a monster when I started becoming more masculine and seeing the damage of testosterone and what it was doing to my body. I felt sick every time something about me changed and if you can prevent this with a jab then it's the best option. Then if they decide it's a phase and they don't want to transition, which the majority of the time it isn't, they can be given the right hormones for their body.
Monika: You are a professional make-up artist. What are the most recent trends in make-up fashion?
Drew-Ashlyn: For the winter season it was berry tones and purples on the lips, anything with a vamp look to it. A lot of the fashion is also very rock/punk related, which is something that I love since my fashion now is back to my teen years of punk rock looks. There's been a lot of leather and tartan with statement jewelry.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs or colors?
Drew-Ashlyn: I do like fashion. However, I don't follow trends. My motto is if you like it just get it. I'm pretty skaterish with my look now; converse trainers, skinny jeans, punk vests, etc. with lots of rings and skulls whereas for work I'm a bit more girly with dresses but still adding the punk twist to it. I love really earthy tones, grey, khaki, black, etc. whereas when people knew me on the TV show I was very girly by wearing a lot of pink and tiny dresses.
I look back and think wow that's short I would never wear it now. For me, a midi dress is short enough. I like Vivienne Westwood because it's so different. I don't own anything other than a pair of bondage shoes she's done and a necklace but I do try to find things online or the high street which would be similar to some of her stuff. I'm a bit more quirky now. 

Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Drew-Ashlyn: I think it's great, though I would like to see the day when transgender people are finally in just regular pageants. I think the separation is what still makes us a taboo.
Monika: By the way, you have a fantastic figure. What do you do in order to stay so slim? 
Drew-Ashlyn: Thank you. Well, I'm kind of lucky I've always been slim. I'm a size 8 sometimes a 10 depending on the shop but I do eat decently. I still enjoy snack food and chocolate but more in moderation.
Since I've been wrestling, it definitely helped me keep in shape. It's really good cardio and with the protein I have, it helps repair my muscles, etc. I always make sure I have breakfast lunch and tea.
For breakfast, I tend to stick to oats, eggs, fruit. For lunch, I have salads with chicken, sometimes soup, or if I have a cheat day PB and J sandwiches, yogurt, more fruit. Then for tea time, I have chicken, jacket potato, and vegetables. Sometimes I will again have a pizza. I don't eat healthy all the time but when I feel I'm a bit sluggish I always go back to eating well. Especially if I wrestle every week.
Monika: You were raising money for your breast implants surgery on gofundme. I must say I often think about it but I am not sure whether it would be possible for me to get any donations. Does it really work; how successful were you?
Drew-Ashlyn: I think it's a great site and helps. For me, I made £500 and this was way after the show. It still puts away nice and safe but other than that it's been hard to save up so I'm still doing the 3 bra trick which is located on lita212. It does work, though Lewis from the TV show raised all his chest surgery money on the website, which was amazing to see.

Monika: You are very keen on wrestling. You are not discouraged by bumps and bruises? Are there many girls interested in this sport?
Drew-Ashlyn: Well a lot of women do sport. I did wrestling when I was 16 in Manchester with a company known back then as the FWA. Then I stopped to focus on my transition. So for me, I was comfortable to enter back into the wrestling world and train with the guys down at the gym so that's why I got back into it.
Plus I found it was more interesting than just lifting weights in a gym. I did it more for fitness but then it just turned into wanting to do it for shows etc. The bumps and bruises do hurt but it doesn't put me off. My idol in wrestling was Lita aka Amy Dumas. For me, she was the reason why I wanted to get into it. She's sexy and athletic and had a style about her that was like no other. She wanted to stand out and be a role model and showgirls you can kick ass wear baggy pants and still be sexy.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Drew-Ashlyn: I think love comes in many shapes and forms. I'm lucky to be in a relationship and to have had a few boyfriends. However, for me, that just isn't the love that's out there. You can get love by having friends and family around you. I think just having people support you is love in itself.
I would be happy to be single because I've done it and turned a lot of men down because I just didn't want to be with anyone at the time. I don't rely on men to make me happy that's my own job but to have a guy love me is a jolly good feeling I must say.

Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Drew-Ashlyn: I'm in the middle of writing a book about my life. I have written for a lot of websites such as gaystar news, wildchildmedia. All of which are very different. Some are about fashion and trends.
Other blogs are interviews or about myself etc. So for me writing a book is just an extension to that. I've always had diaries so to be able to let everything out and hopefully get published one day would be awesome.
My book will go through my childhood and the bullying I received, having verbal and physical abuse like being lent up against a wall and strangled after school or having a brick thrown at my face, which graced my school photo, haha, to going through puberty, relationships, my depression, self-harm and eating disorder, to being on my Transsexual Summer and debuting as a wrestler named Harley Ryder. Hopefully, people love it and it will help open up people's minds. I'm going to call it "Drew-Ashlyn: More than a Blonde, More than a LABEL".
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Drew-Ashlyn: I'm writing my book as well as still going into schools and doing appearances at pride. I'm going to be making make-up tutorials for YouTube and continue with my wrestling. As far as TV work, I have a few things in the line, so we will have to wait and see what happens with that but I'm pretty safe to say I will be back on the screens at some point.
Monika: Having transitioned yourself, what would you recommend to all transgender women struggling with gender dysphoria?
Drew-Ashlyn: If you are not being yourself, then there's no point being you. These are your streets too. No matter how much people bring you down, there will always be someone out there to bring you back up.
Monika: Drew-Ashlyn, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Drew-Ashlyn Cunningham.
© 2014 - Monika Kowalska

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