Friday, 3 January 2014

Interview with Vanessa Victoria

Monika: Today’s interview is with Vanessa Victoria, a Puerto Rican transgender woman, activist, model, and entertainer. Hello Vanessa Victoria!
Vanessa Victoria: Hello Monika!
Monika: Could you say a few words about your career so far?
Vanessa Victoria: Well I currently work full time for the Research Foundation Of the City University of New York. In a research study/intervention for transgender women, it is very empowering to be able to promote resilience, provide coping skills, and discuss in individual and group session settings issues that we face as women, but also issues that we face especially as transgender women.

I also do modeling. I am very much into fashion. I always admired Victoria Beckham! Fashion and modeling is a form of expression. In 2014 I will be part of an anti-violence campaign, to promote awareness. As transgender women of color, we are at higher risk for discrimination and violence.
I am an Ambassador & Executive Board member of The Transgender Women of Colour Collective (TWOCC). I and 12 other Trans Women of colour have a mission to work with and empower trans women of color and foster sisterhood and healing.

Backstage of the photoshoot for
the anti-violence campaign.

Monika: A month ago you debuted in the play titled "In My Skin?" as a part of the cast of The Trans Women Theater Troupe. Could you say a few words about that undertaking and how you felt like an actress?
Vanessa Victoria: I haven't done acting, for a few years. It was fantastic to work in an all-Trans Women Ensemble, in the process of rehearsals. We grew very close with each other. The cast was built of women of all walks of life, nationality, and social status. The play was created by us, with all the scenes and script. The scenes were a mix of fiction, with some based on a true story, of experiences we have gone through.
Monika: How did you start modeling?
Vanessa Victoria: I always wanted to, but felt a bit insecure. Just for the fact that I was a transgender woman. When I moved to New York in 2006, I started working in Banana Republic. They had a runway show for corporate and other business folks, involved with the company. I was asked to be on the runway, for their Fall line. After I did that, it gave me the courage to move forward with it.
Monika: Do you have any favorite models?
Vanessa Victoria: I really don't have any favorite models, they are all so unique. I've learned to respect and appreciate all of them.
Monika: What is the usual reaction of the other modeling girls when they find out about your transgender history?
Vanessa Victoria: For the most part, I have never experienced any negative feedback. Some people were surprised by the news that I was Trans when they found out.

Photoshoot from October 2013.

Monika: What is your dream modeling experience?
Vanessa Victoria: I would just like to grow in the business with my transgender status. Not being a big deal at all.
Monika: While preparing yourself for photo sessions, does anyone help you with your outfits, make-up, and hair?
Vanessa Victoria: I usually like doing my own make-up. With clothes, I select them, but I always like getting advice from other people. With hair is the same way, I enjoy doing it, then after I am done. I may have people touch it up, if necessary.
Monika: What essentials are in your model bag? :)
Vanessa Victoria: Makeup, hair products, jewelry, and heels! 
Monika: What kind of clothes do you wear every day? Do you have your favorite fashion brands, colors, and styles?
Vanessa Victoria: I love mixing different types of clothes, Pencil skirts, jeans, flats, heels. I am not a very sporty person, for the most part, with posh outfits. I would have to say one of my favorite designers, is Michael Kors. Favorite colors, all shades of pink, black and purple.

Christmas 2013 in Puerto Rico.

Monika: What would you recommend to aspiring transgender models and actresses, dreaming about such a career as yours?
Vanessa Victoria: To believe and be secure in themselves. We are strong women; it takes courage to be who we are as transgender women.
Monika: Do you have any new projects in the pipeline?
Vanessa Victoria: Well as I mentioned before, there is an anti-violence campaign from The New York City Anti-Violence Project. I am planning to work closely with the Human Rights Campaign. I will be in Transition TV, an online radio and TV show for transgender people. Airing live on January 16 and there are some photoshoots in the near future.
Monika: In general what do you think about the situation of transgender women in American society?
Vanessa Victoria: I think that even though there has been some improvement, there is still a long way to go. More people need to be properly educated in the United States. There are a lot of misunderstandings and negative views and stereotypes towards the trans community.
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 Victoria: I am somewhat active in politics, recently there has been a lot of movements. In regards to murders of trans women in New York City. And YES, we can make a huge difference and show people that we are not only aware of what goes on but we are also educated and able.

Monika: What is your view on transgender stories which have been featured in the media so far?
Vanessa Victoria: I feel that a lot of the time the media feature us when there is something negative to say about our community. Along with the other ambassadors of The Transgender Women of Color Collective, I have been working very hard to change those views. Recently I have been featured in the media and news reports and I was able to represent the community in a positive light.
Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman yourself? Was it a difficult process?
Vanessa Victoria: I started transitioning at the age of 22. It was difficult in the sense that I had to move from my home (Puerto Rico) to be able to do it. Puerto Rico lacked and still does a lot of trans competencies. So I had to leave my family behind. My family was not completely shocked; they suspected it and even though it was a bit difficult for them in the beginning. They are very supportive of me and my career.

Behind the scenes of
In My Skin show.

Monika: At that time of your transition did you have any transgender role models that you could follow? What was your knowledge about transgenderism?
Vanessa Victoria: I did not have any role models. Living in Puerto Rico there was not too much information about trangenderism. I had to educate myself.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Vanessa Victoria: I think it was the fear of not being taken seriously. And of course rejection. But I had a very strong support system.
Monika: Transgender ladies are subject to the terrible test whether they pass as a woman or they do not. You are a beautiful woman yourself but how about other transgender ladies that have to struggle every day to pass?
Vanessa Victoria: I feel that not everybody transitions with the goal to pass. A lot of women transition just to be their true selves. Some are able to pass well, but the issue of "passing" is big because of our society and what they feel a woman or a man should look like. There are a lot of cis-gender women, who look masculine or have facial hair. I just feel trans women get it a bit harder.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Vanessa Victoria: Love is extremely important in my life and even though I am currently separated from my husband. Whether we are able to work things out or not, that will not change my feeling and thoughts about love and marriage. I am a bit traditional when it comes to love and relationships.

Monika: What would you recommend to transgender women that are afraid of early transition, discrimination and hatred?
Vanessa Victoria: Just to get educated properly about doctors and places that are trans-friendly and focus on them and what your individual goal is. Discrimination is everywhere and unfortunately is inevitable. Being aware of places and neighborhoods you frequent is very important and take it one step at a time. Transitioning is a long process.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Vanessa Victoria: I want to keep growing as a woman and human being, keep educating myself, as well as others. Be a positive influence and role model to younger trans people. Be that role model I never had when growing up. As for the future, I just want to keep outreaching through activism and advocacy, keep growing in my modeling career, and hopefully soon enough have a family.
Monika: Vanessa Victoria, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Vanessa Victoria.
© 2014 - Monika Kowalska

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