Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Interview with Vanessa Lopez

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Vanessa Lopez, a Chilean-born model from Sweden, TV celebrity, beauty pageant queen, the author of "Jag har ångrat mig" (2014). Hello Vanessa!
Vanessa: Hello Monika! Thank you for the introduction! 
Monika: Let’s start with your autobiography first. Why did you decide to "Jag har ångrat mig"?
Vanessa: Thank you, Monika! The English version would be: “I Changed My Mind”. A TG sister of mine told me once about the native American two-spirit people. I started to investigate the two-spirits through books, and I found out that what she told me was true! Native Americans had multiple genders in their society. The basic were woman, man, female men and manly female, who were all socially accepted.

I’m from the native Mapuches from Chile, so I could see myself living in this deeply spiritual society where they valued gender variance. Would I have hated my gender if I lived in that time? Absolutely not! If I was brought up in a society like that, I wouldn’t. Native Americans never gendered their children until the child itself expressed their own experienced gender. They never interfered or suppressed the child’s exploration and playing. It was against their values to ever interfere in somebody’s pathway.

"Jag har ångrat mig" via bokus.com.

If nobody ever told me that there was anything wrong with me or my body I would never have canalized that to hate towards my gender. In our time “Gender dysphoria” is something that you have to “fix” with hormone therapy and gender reassignment. Both very invasive to the body.
I believe that transgender people should avoid gender reassignment and hormone replacement therapy, the side effects of going through those treatments are unnecessary. We should work on social constructions and self-acceptance. We should instead put value in nature’s ability to create gender variance as a part of human diversity, we would not need to correct our healthy and fully functioning body parts.
So hating my gender was because of the limiting gender constructions that exist in our time that only accept two models of humanity’s multiple variations of gender and gender expression. And if you don’t live up to those norms there is something wrong with you.
I could have lived with my boy body and with my female gender identity without any surgery. If I only had accepted that combination within myself, but I was not liberal enough at that time and didn’t have the knowledge that gives me this perspective that I have today, therefore I took the solution of “fixing my body” to fit my gender identity. I should have claimed my own kind of woman instead, a woman in a boy’s body living socially like a woman! Like a two-spirit!
Monika: Which moments of your life did you particularly focus on?
Vanessa: I focused on the process from a teenage boy finding the pathway to becoming a woman. I was at that time one of the youngest in Sweden. I started the process of becoming a girl at the age of 16, at 17 I started the medical process and at 18 I got my hormones, when I was 20 I got my gender reassignment surgery.

Monika: Which parts of your autobiography could be of special interest to other transgender ladies?
Vanessa: The afterword is where the strongest message lies. Many transgender women say to me that they are not two-spirited, that they are only girls and girls should have a vagina to be completed. But my question to them is always the same: why do you hate your gender?
The answer is often that they feel like a woman completely and that they want to feel whole. But if our society wasn’t based on the strict binary gender constructions that says that a man should have a penis and a girl a vagina, would we feel the need to correct people’s gender identity to the body at all? If it was socially acceptable to have a female gender identity and live in a boy body, not so many would go through the SRS and HRT!
Monika: In 2011 you participated in the Swedish edition of Big Brother. Did the show change your life?
Vanessa: The social experiment of Big Brother revealed the ignorance about gender diversity that exists in our times in Sweden. It therefore gave me the opportunity to take on an activist role. I wrote debate articles and started giving lectures in Sweden, enlightening people about gender diversity. Later on, I published my book and here I am today.

Courtesy of Vanessa Lopez.
Photo by Bo Brinkenfalk.

Monika: In the same year you decided to join the world of beauty pageants and take part in the Miss International Queen in Pattaya, Thailand – the most spectacular beauty pageant for transgender ladies from all over the world. Did you enjoy the pageant? 
Vanessa: I loved the experience of co-existing in a culture that honors transgender people. I mean, they have so many transgender people visible in media and at different levels of society.
Meeting so many different transgender girls from so many different countries made it like a safari of beautiful exotic transgender creatures. I felt at home and I felt valued for being me.
Thailand is a great example of a society that is more tolerant towards gender variance. The way that transgender women express their feminine nature is artful. It taught me that femininity is a beautiful gift that many transgender women possess.
Monika: Some activists criticize the concept of transgender beauty pageants, pointing out that they lead to the obsession with youth and beauty. What would you answer to them?
Vanessa: Yes that is one bad part of beauty pageants, but the good part I believe is that it is a platform for transgender people to express themselves, a platform where people get an opportunity to get to know transgender people. Getting to know a group of people takes away fear and prejudice and thereafter comes acceptance of the group. Thailand amongst others in Asia like The Philippines, are great examples for the world of acceptance of gender variance.
Monika: In your opinion, out of all the transgender beauty queens that you met, which ladies were the most charismatic personalities?
Vanessa: I still have contact with Sahhara Henson, Miss Nigeria, she is really charismatic and humble at the same time, so intelligent and educated. She won the Miss Super Sireyna crown in the amazing Philippines! It’s a new international beauty contest that honors not just transgender beauty and performance, but also intelligence. They have fewer participants that give the audience and judges more time to get to know every participant individually. They do not include the bathing suit moment, excellent with no pressure on body image! I want to go to that competition and hope that they cast me! I’ve heard that Filipino people are great supporters of the transgender cause!

Courtesy of Vanessa Lopez.
Photo by Bo Brinkenfalk.

Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman yourself? Was it a difficult process?
Vanessa: I started exploring the gay world at the age of 16, gradually allowing my gender expression to be more like I wanted it to be, feminine. But it was scary in the beginning. What would people say! But I started living like a girl full time when I was 17.
In Sweden, you get SRS, HRT, voice therapy, hair removal, Adam’s apple removal, and help with medicine costs as part of the Swedish social welfare.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Vanessa: At that time I dint have any in Sweden. I had to rely on the Internet and I got inspiration from Roberta Close, a Brazilian model/actress whom I liked a lot. In Sweden, I was the first transgender to appear on mainstream TV.


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

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