Monday 31 March 2014

Interview with Miss saHHara

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Miss saHHara, a British Nigerian model, singer, beauty queen and LGBT activist, known for representing Nigeria in international beauty pageants to draw attention to the plights of LGBTQI+ people in Africa. In 2011, she was the first Nigerian trans woman to participate in the Miss International Queen beauty pageant in Pattaya, Thailand. Hello Miss saHHara!
Miss saHHara: Hi Monika!
Monika: Some critics compare your voice to that of Nina Simone. Do you have any singers that you admire and draw inspirations from?
Miss saHHara: Yes, I have been told I sound like Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald and Heather Small from M-People. I find it humbling because they are the greats! I am influenced by the looks, glamour and stage presence of Shirley Bassey.
Monika: Could you say a few words about your singing career?
Miss saHHara: I began singing and writing songs at the age of twelve in Nigeria. I found solace in music through the church due to a rather troubled/confused childhood because of the identity I was assigned at birth. So, when I moved to the United Kingdom to live my life openly, I decided to pursue my music career a bit farther.
I have a singing residency in a lovely venue in London for the past 10 years. Music is my life, being creative in writing and producing gives me joy and satisfaction. I have written and produced over fifty songs, I am planning to release an album in the future.

Monika: Apart from singing, you are also a model …
Miss saHHara: Yes, I was modeling full time few years back when I was a lot younger and skinnier, the fickle fashion industry cast out the older models when we get off the ideal age, unless you are a famous model. Modeling is quite fun, I do it part time at the moment; just as a muse for certain designers and photographers.
Monika: Being beautiful always produces a lot of girl power and empowerment. Do you often use it?
Miss saHHara: Hahahahaha, beauty fades darlings. I think I’m okay in that department. I always say makeup does magic! So I guess it is empowering to look glamorous, but I don’t rely on my looks to achieve anything in life.


Monika: Have you ever thought about acting?
Miss saHHara: Yes, I have done a bit of acting in the past; I have been featured some movies and adverts. I haven’t posted my acting clips online. I wanted to be taken more seriously as a singer and a model.
I am also quite self-critical in everything I do. I cringe when I see myself acting in films. I guess it is the Virgo in me. LOL!
Monika: You also take part in transgender beauty pageants. In 2011 you were very close to win the Miss International Queen, a pageant organized in Thailand for the most beautiful transgender women in the world…
Miss saHHara: Yes I did! It was an amazing experience, I did it as part of a documentary and also to highlight the plights of LGBT people in Nigeria. It is painful to come that close and not win, but it was also a blessing to come second, since all the contestants looked stunning.
I’ll be joining other international pageants next year to raise more awareness of transphobia in Africa. Wish me luck! (Giggles)
Monika: Did you have a chance to make friends with the other pageant contestants?
Miss saHHara: Yes, I made sisters for life, we keep in touch often on Facebook and on Skype, we are planning a reunion in the future.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you could follow?
Miss saHHara: Not really, I transitioned quite late. I had fellow sisters in the club scene that helped me with information. I was able to do more research and educate my self on my confusions online too. Learning more about April Ashley and all the other trans veterans helped to normalize my journey into womanhood.

The Miss International Queen pageant (2011).

Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Miss saHHara: Being rejected by family, friends and society. Islam and Christian religion controls the society in Nigeria.
Most Nigerians have radical views on all aspect of human life due to the influence of American evangelical Christians and Sharia Law. Many people have negative misconception and the wrong information when it comes to gender variances.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in the British and Nigerian societies?
Miss saHHara: The United Kingdom has come a long way when it come to human rights and transgender rights; it is a huge contrast to Nigeria, in the UK there are professional healthcare advisers and doctors who treat gender disorders and confusions with great understanding. I have the freedom to achieve like any other British citizen.
In Nigeria, on the other hand, people like me are non-existent, gay people are driven underground by hate and misunderstanding. Most gay men are married to women in fear of persecution and murder. Nigeria is a hundred years behind the western world; the laws are made based on religious beliefs.
The government recently passed an Anti-LGBT law, dishing out 14 years imprisonment for LGBT people; 11 years for friends, family and people who associate with LGBT. It is very sad, what Africa need is education and the separation of government from religion.

Monika: Could transgenderism be the new frontier for human rights?
Miss saHHara: I don’t think it is new; it has always been there. It is the ‘T’ in the LGBT, unlike lesbian and gay it has been the silent character in the LGBT, young trans activists are now emerging, trans people are more confident to speak against injustice and discrimination.
We have few visible trans women in media, which should change in the nearer future as the world advances.
In the past it was a taboo to talk about gender issues, because they are seen as ‘strange’ and embarrassing. Now we are trying to make people understand that we are normal like every other human being with blood running in our veins. We just happen to have a history and a corrected birth defect.
Misgendering of trans women is another huge issues we are dealing with in media; it spoils our progress in influencing people’s ideology on gender variances.


Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Miss saHHara: Transgender people can make positive contributions in their various communities if given the chance. It is quite common that we are not allowed to have certain types of jobs or allowed powerful opportunities because of our life histories. Anybody with the right talent for the job should be given opportunity to prove himself or herself, in reality it is not always so unfortunately.
But, some parts of the world are a bit more evolved based on their views on gender. For example Thailand, although trans people are not legally recognized, they are socially celebrated and accepted for their talents. For example, the beautiful Nok Yollada is a celebrated transgendered businesswoman in government.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Miss saHHara: Love is a beautiful element in everyone’s life. It depends on how the love is disseminated and acquired. I always say, love yourself first then you will attract positive attention from others, if you don’t love and accept yourself as the person you’ve always felt you are, then you can never be happy, thus attracting the wrong kind of people in your life.
If you love and respect yourself, you would be self-sufficient enough to live your life peacefully and happily without needing to get the wrong kind of love from others. So yes, love is important, love and put yourself first.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colours or trends?
Miss saHHara: Not really, I wear what suites my body shape, I still have the figure for fun sexy outfits. So I wear lots of figure hugging attires. I love my high heel shoes too, I’m 5’11 and on heels about 6’3 or more, but I don’t care that I look abnormally tall for a woman. Lol

The Miss International Queen pageant (2011).

Monika: You have a perfect figure. What do you do to stay so slim? :)
Miss saHHara: Hahaha I do? Thank you, I like staying slim and fit, probably for health reasons and also for the fact that there is more fashion option for women my size.
I don’t follow any regimented fad diet; I just eat wisely and count the calories when I can. It can be difficult at times to be disciplined. I am very naughty with my food. I love food. LOL
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Miss saHHara: Yes I have thought of it, but I did not want to rush into it, I haven’t reached the climatic point of my life yet, I still have so much more to achieve in life. I will write my memoirs when I can inspire through my life story and experiences.
What I am more focused on doing, is to make videos on gender confusions and variations. How difficult it is to find love as a trans woman and other practical life issues we face everyday. The memoirs and books will come later when I’m older.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Miss saHHara: I am planning to do my PhD in the next few years on Gender and Sexuality studies, and then have a baby. Those two are my top priorities. I’ll still continue to make music and fight for trans people all around world by getting involved in different trans awareness projects.
I’ll also be going back to Nigeria to shoot a film on how difficult life is for people who are born different from the majority. I have a few educational projects in the pipeline as well. I’m looking forward to the future.

Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls, thinking about such a career like yours?
Miss saHHara: I am involved in so many things, but my professional career is in Digital Media. I’ll say to the girls to get an education, it is very important to cement your future by getting a professional qualification.
They need to remember that in every profession we choose to be in, we are subjected to more scrutiny than others; it is a must to have the right talent and confidence to compete with cisgendered people.
Beauty is only skin deep after all, looks can fade, but having that intelligence and knowledge helps to equip and guide anyone through their various chosen careers.
As glamorous as being a model, actress and singer sounds, it is also our undoing, wanting to impersonate our famous idols can lead us into making certain wrong decisions in life. They should focus on creating their own positive vision of themselves; this will help them to have a secure future without resulting into desperate careers to earn money. 
Monika: Miss saHHara, thank you for the interview!
Miss saHHAra: Thank you very much for interviewing me, I am very flattered and humbled you find me interesting enough. (Smiles) Kisses

All the photos: courtesy of Miss saHHara.
© 2014 - Monika Kowalska

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