Thursday, 2 October 2014

Interview with Shelley Bridgman

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Shelley Bridgman, a British stand-up comic, presenter, actress, and writer who started stand-up in 2004 under the stage name Shelley Cooper before reverted to her real name, the 2012 Silver Stand Up honoree, transgender activist, the author of Stand-up for Yourself: And Become the Hero or Shero You Were Born To Be (2014). Hello Shelley!
Shelley: Hello Monika!
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Shelley: Not sure what is most relevant. I have several roles as in addition to Stand-up I am a Psychotherapist working with children and adults who have issues with their gender identity. I also do a weekly podcast when I interview people. 
Monika: I have conducted over 200 interviews and I find it striking that so many of my transgender interviewees are stand-up comics: Alison Grillo, Sally Goldner, Natasha Muse, Julia Scotti and now you …
Shelley: I think it is something about having a voice. Many of us, especially transwomen, lose status when we transition but I think I reconnected with my love of comedy after transitioning. It helped me find a vehicle to express myself.
Monika: Do you often tell transgender jokes?
Shelley: Not now. When I started out everyone told me I’d have to connect with the audience by owning my transgender status. My first Edinburgh show was called ‘Growing Pains’ I told my story with the aid of humor and gags.
Now I connect with who I am so that the audience know I’m comfortable with myself but then I move on. So in a twenty minute routine I spend 30-60 seconds talking about being a woman who has changed gender.

Monika: Could you elaborate more on your most successful shows and performances? 
Shelley: I did a one hour one woman show called ‘Britishness’ at the Edinburgh Festival five years ago. I got good reviews and was invited to take the show to Rome and then on to New York where I did a week off-broadway. It was a great experience.
Monika: You are also an actress and presenter …
Shelley: Yes, I co-wrote and starred in a sitcom that was aired on BBC television. We thought they would make a whole series but it wasn’t to be. Earlier this year I acted in a play called Transcripts which was verbatim play produced by New York Producer Paul Lucas. We were in Bridport in Devon and then at The Actor’s Theatre in London.
Monika: Is there anything like transgender art? What does it mean to be a transgender artist?
Shelley: I have absolutely no idea!! I actually don’t identify as ‘Transgendered’. I’ve never really understood what that means. I just feel female and had to modify a few body parts.
Monika: Why did you decide to write your autobiography “Stand-up for Yourself: And Become the Hero or Shero You Were Born To Be“?
Shelley: Everyone kept telling me to write my story but I think writing an autobiography is a very arrogant act. The assumption that we are so interesting and everyone wants to read about us. I included imaginary conversations with my heroes and she roes as a way of making sense of the various phases in my life.

Monika: Which aspects of your experience can be useful for other transwomen?
Shelley: I think everyone is different but it is really important not to lose faith in yourself. Society may sometimes look on us as being different, even odd but we have to believe in ourselves and our right to have equality. There will inevitably be setbacks but we have to dig in and remember that we all have greatness in us. We shouldn’t deny the world of our talents and who we are.
Monika: At what age did you transition into woman yourself? Did you have any support from your family or friends?
Shelley: I got married and had two children before finally giving up the struggle. I began transitioning when I was about thirty four but the process took me about five years because it was hard to get treatment. My parents and one of my two sisters found it all too much but my spouse and children stuck by me. My partner and I just celebrated our fortieth anniversary. My eldest daughter made me a grandmother four years ago, which is an amazing joy.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Shelley: Not really although I was very inspired by my now friend Adele Anderson from Fascinating Aida. She achieved so much at a time when being transgender was very much looked down on.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Shelley: The rejection from friends and family was tough.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in the British society?
Shelley: It’s getting better all the time but we still have a long way to go. Still have to get equality with pension rights etc.

Monika: Could transgenderism be the new frontier for human rights?
Shelley: I don’t think so. Although it is very different in other cultures so we should never forget the struggle that some of our brothers and sisters face across the globe.
Monika: What is your general view on transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers or books so far?
Shelley: In the main I’ve hated the portrayals. Always seems to be clichéd scenarios with sex as the core issue. I sometimes think film makers assume everyone has the sole objective of getting laid.
We recently launched the Trans Comedy award and there will be a sitcom on British television where the trans character is portrayed in an affirmative light. Be interesting to see how it is portrayed.
Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBT communities? Being the last letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBT group?
Shelley: I think we are moving towards a position where the T can stand on it’s own but I know a lot of trans activists will disagree with me.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Shelley: I used to run a trans charity and spent six years at the coalface but aside from my own battle with the establishment over my pension rights I’m now concentrating on Psychotherapy and performing.

Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Shelley: My family have been the most important thing in my life. The love of my children and granddaughter is the most important thing in my life. They kept me focused and sustained me in my darkest hours.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Shelley: I am in the last year of a doctorate which is looking at the clinical treatment of transpeople. I hope I can influence the way we treat people when they show up for help. I then want to get a chat show on the Radio and perhaps write another book.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Shelley: Get help and support. I sometimes think we look upon therapy as an admission of weakness but it is important to get support for what by any standards, is a huge step when we change gender. AS I said earlier never, ever let anyone tell you that you don’t deserve to stand in your greatness.
Monika: Shelley, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Shelley Bridgman.
© 2014 - Monika Kowalska

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