Monday 17 February 2014

Interview with Nicole TS

Monika: Today’s interview will be with Nicole TS, a young video blogger that documents her transition on YouTube. Hello Nicole!
Nicole: Hi Monika! Thank you for inviting me for this interview.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Nicole: I moved from the Philippines to the UK in 2010. I was a registered nurse in the Philippines and I am currently looking for a placement to give me a PIN to practice in the UK.
In my spare time, I am an avid badminton player and currently playing for my county, Dorset. I am the second transsexual person to have ever been allowed to compete as a woman by the governing body in England.
Monika: Why did you decide to share your transition details on YouTube?
Nicole: Many of my friends, particularly those online, wanted to see in pictures my transition from male to female. I decided to collect various photos and create a video out of them and post it on YouTube so I could share with everybody.
To my astonishment, I had a lot of interest and compliments from fabulously supportive people around the world. In response to this, I decided to post further videos to share my story, entertain, inspire and help others.

Her Before and After picture.

Monika: At which stage of the transition are you right now?
Nicole: I am currently part way through my transition. I started taking hormones in 2011 on and off. In 2012 I proceeded taking them regularly. In 2013 I then had breast augmentation surgery. I still have further to go though.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the results of the hormone therapy?
Nicole: Although the hormones take a long time to have a dramatic effect, I am pleased with what they have done so far in softening my skin, feminizing my features and improving my hair where I want it.
Like most transsexuals though, I am never fully satisfied with my appearance and will continue to take hormones and seek greater femininity.
Monika: Could you describe your childhood? When did you feel for the first time that you should not be a boy or man?
Nicole: I am the eldest child in the family and the only son. My parents never accepted me as a gay son. I was beaten by my parents when they saw me making friends with other gay people or transsexuals. I knew at that time that I was different somehow because I preferred socialising with girls, particularly my cousins. With my female friends I sometimes played games with them dressing as a girl.
The feeling of being a girl at that time felt quite natural to me. I still remained as a gay boy though as I knew that my parents would not accept me as a girl, let alone a gay, so I didn’t have the courage to come out to them. Gradually through academic achievement, they came to accept my sexuality as a gay guy but I knew at the time they would still not accept me as a transsexual.
Monika: For most of transgender girls, the most traumatic time is the time spent at school, college or university when they had to face lots of discrimination. Was it the same in your case?
Nicole: In the Philippines, transgender people are quite accepted but still a substantial proportion of people view them as a second class citizen. Transsexuals are often picked-on, bullied, ridiculed and generally discriminated against. The country is generally quite devoutly Catholic and this plays a major part in peoples’ views. Any norms against the Church are considered wrong, such as transgender and same-sex relationship.
When I was in the Philippines though, I had not transitioned because of this and to respect the wishes of my parents. As a gay guy though, I never suffered unduly outside of home because I was taught by my father to be strong and stand up for myself. Once I moved to the UK, I found that attitudes were profoundly different. The gay community is strong and not only widely accepted but even respected. The society is also a lot more multi-cultural with less influence from religion.

Nicole and her Partner on their first date.

As I explored the LGBT community, I made many friends who were transsexual, many of whom were likewise Filipino. This gave me much more confidence to come out. When I did come out, I was in college at the time but surrounded by those who cared, understood and accepted me.
I therefore did not face the same issues as many do. My parents were still my biggest concern but they accepted me as they saw my success and were proud of what I had achieved. Despite some tears being shed, they realised that inside I was still their loving child at heart and had a strength to set my own destiny.
Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow?
Nicole: There are so many to choose from! On YouTube, I am a fan of Princess Joules and Gigi Gorgeous. I particularly like seeing transgender people talk about and do things that are not directly associated to their transition.
By doing so, it shows that they are interesting unique people just like all of us. Like many from the Philippines, I adore beauty pageants. There have been several TS who have had great achievements in these pageants and two that I look up to are Maki Eve Mercedes and Bee Urgello who are also LGBT advocates and helping make the world a better place for people like us.
My greatest role-model though is my best friend Camile, who I call my adopted mother. Not only is she a beautiful post-op, my parents know her personally. They saw through her, that a transsexual could also be a success in their chosen field, as she became a registered nurse in the USA. She unknowingly helped me come out to them and for that has my gratitude.

Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Nicole: I have already mentioned my struggles with my parents and this was one of the most difficult obstacles with coming out. Aside from this, I faced some challenges with my sport, badminton. I craved to compete but under the rules of the game, could only do so as a man, unless I got an ethics panel to approve me to play as a woman.
At this time, I was already living life as a woman and most of my fellow badminton players had no idea of my gender. I had great difficulty in turning down offers of competition and partnership. This meant I often had to make excuses and lie. Eventually, my coach discovered my sexuality through my YouTube channel.
Since then, he has been very supportive though, accepted me and kept my gender confidential. Badminton England then confirmed that they would allow me to play as a woman after a series of lengthy panel meetings and discussions with my doctor. Since their decision, I have been competing in the leagues, have entered tournaments and have built up a good rapport with my teammates.

Nicole on her wedding day, May 20,2013.

Monika: What is your general view on the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Nicole: As I stated earlier, there are some significant differences between the UK and Philippines. In both countries there is good and bad things. In the Philippines, transgender women are more overt and hence there are more role-models.
In the UK there are much better anti-discrimination laws and civil partnerships. Both countries are on a slow journey to becoming better but there is a long way to go.
I feel that it will be some time to wait until transsexuals are viewed in the same way as heterosexual majority. Until then, we will still have to endure being labelled and singled-out in a negative manner.
Monika: We are witnessing more and more transgender ladies coming out. Unlike in the previous years some of them have status of celebrities or are really well-known, just to mention Lana Wachowski in film-directing, Jenna Talackova in modelling, Kate Bornstein in academic life, Laura Jane Grace in music or Candis Cayne in acting. Do you witness the same trend in your country?
Nicole: As a pageant enthusiast, I have witnessed in the Philippines an active interest of transsexuals joining pageants both local and international. After Kevin Balot won Miss International Queen 2012, a lot of transsexuals were inspired to follow her footsteps. Kevin Balot is now an international model and a local celebrity.
There are other prolific trans celebrities in the Philippines. Vice Ganda hosts many popular TV shows and was in the highest grossing movie of all time in the country. She is a personal favourite of mine. Many transsexuals like her are comedians or singers and are therefore seen by many.
In the UK, I look up to Kate Craig-Wood who is a successful entrepreneur and business leader. She has through her business achievements has had many television and radio appearances. She also became the first woman to tandem skydive past Everest. Unlike the Philippines, the trend in the UK is for transsexuals like her to come in to notoriety ‘under the radar’.

Her day to day make-up.

Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Nicole: Although passionate and supportive of people in my position, I wouldn’t consider myself a very political person. I do tend to speak out online when something grabs my heart such as an LGBT person being hurt or mistreated.
Politics may be slow in the UK and often boring to me but I am confident it is moving in the right direction for the LGBT community in the long term. We are even lucky enough to have had some transgender politicians such as Sarah Brown and Jenny Bailey.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colours or trends?
Nicole: As I have grown in self-confidence, my interest in fashion has grown. It is exciting building my new wardrobe. I have recently been renewing much of what I wear as I have lost weight from my sporting life. I really like buying alluring and revealing feminine clothing such as skimpy dresses. In day to day life I seldom wear them though.
More often than not, I wear more casual ‘street fashion’ such as skinny jeans and sexy tops. I really like some of the designers such as Herve Leger bandage dresses, Gucci jewellery and Kurt Geiger shoes. I have a small collection of such items like my beloved Dior & Gucci flat shoes and my Louis Vuitton & Gucci handbags. I can’t really afford these though so many have to wait on my shopping list!
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Nicole: By now you could guess that I love watching beauty pageants of all sorts and transgender ones are no exception! I even visited Ms TS Philippines UK to support some of my friends who were taking part.
I believe that such pageants not only show the public that transgender people can be very beautiful but they can also act as an aspiration and achievement for some transgender people. Simply to take part in one would be a huge achievement and honour for me as it would show that I have the confidence to present myself and be judged. I have therefore set participating in one as a personal goal.
Monika: Are you involved in the life of your local LGBT community?
Nicole: Locally I am not so involved and lead a regular life as a normal person with few who suspect me as anything but a woman. I do however get involved in Pride and LGBT badminton events. I also when available try to support my friend who runs a regular transgender film event at the Cinema Museum in London.

Her first make-up as a Transgirl, done by her friend.

Monika: What would you recommend to transgender women that are afraid of early transition, discrimination and hatred?
Nicole: Transitioning from male to female is not at all easy and the decision should not be taken lightly. I have received a lot of questions about this through YouTube from people who both young and old, from many countries around the world and who are in a range of social situations.
My personal advice to all of them is to take some time to breath and then establish a support network of like-minded people who have been through the journey already. This can be done online through forums or through local support groups, preferably making some good friends through the process.
I believe that no one person can fully give you the advice and support you need and therefore getting collective support and range of views is invaluable in helping you make decisions and tackle the challenges you face. It was undoubtedly my transsexual friends, supporters and loving partner that helped me the most. That is why I feel like I want to help give back to others who are in the early stages of going through the same journey.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Nicole: My main goals are to pursue a career in nursing and my badminton where I play competitively for my county. Both of these are my passions. In the future, I also would like to adopt a child and give it a loving upbringing it may not otherwise have. This I feel would really complete me as a person.
Monika: Could you say that you are a happy woman now?
Nicole: In many respects yes as I have a lot to be thankful for. I have a loving family, a dedicated and supportive husband, many friends and a fairly stable life. That isn’t to say that like most people I am without stress.
Much of this though is what most people face and thankfully most of the big issues of transition are behind me. In getting this far though, I want to act as a support others going through their transition and act as a role-model. 
Monika: Nicole, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!

All the photos: courtesy of Nicole TS.
© 2014 - Monika Kowalska

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