Thursday 16 March 2017

Interview with Annie Wallace

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Annie Wallace, a Scottish actress from Aberdeen, one of the most prominent LGBTQ persons in the UK, computer science and sound engineering specialist, musician, known for her role of Sally St. Claire in the Channel 4 soap opera Hollyoaks, the first-ever British transgender actress to be nominated for a BAFTA award, listed no.17 on the 2015 Rainbow List and no.39 on the 2016 Pride Power List, winner of The 2016 National Diversity Awards "Celebrity of the Year" award. Hello Annie!
Annie: Hi!
Monika: Are you a descendant of Sir William Wallace that we know so well from the well-known film Braveheart (1995)?
Annie: I could be, couldn’t I? I suppose all Wallaces are, somewhere down the line… but I have no proof of that whatsoever!
Monika: Well, it seems that in 2016 you became almost as famous as Sir William. The role of Sally St. Claire in Hollyoaks had you nominated in the BAFTA Scotland Awards in the category of "Best Actress - Television". What feelings did you have after hearing the news?
Annie: Disbelief initially. That after just a year on Hollyoaks I could be considered for such a huge honor. It was truly amazing. Still amazed and grateful.

Sally's secret is exposed at Hollyoaks High.
© Lime Pictures (Kerry Spicer)

Monika: Who is Sally St. Claire? How would you describe her?
Annie: She’s a very dedicated, passionate headteacher; fiercely protective of her pupils, but takes no-nonsense. Has a heart of gold though. 
Monika: Which features of her character do you find in yourself?
Annie: I hope I’m as passionate about justice and fairness, as well as being a bit of a soft touch too.
Monika: Before your role in Hollyoaks, you played Miss Heller in the TV series “Shameless” (2011) and Barmaid in the drama “Dream on” (2013) …
Annie: Yes, another headmistress and a stroppy middle-aged barmaid. Great fun. A nice change from the stage work I was mostly doing.
Monika: Is your success a harbinger of changes in the British movie industry, allowing transgender actresses to play transgender or even cis-gender roles?
Annie: I hope so. There are so few of us at the moment, but that’s changing. Miss Heller was a cis role, I’m glad to say, and hopefully, there will be other roles waiting for me if and when Hollyoaks have had enough of me! 
Monika: Acting is not your only vocation …
Annie: No, indeed. In between acting, I’ve had to pay the rent as a computer network technician and sound designer. The bills must be paid, but acting is my first love.
Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? 
Annie: I transitioned in 1989, after two years of treatment. It was very scary. I was terribly nervous and shy. Just like Corrie’s Hayley!
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Annie: There were a few. Caroline Cossey, Jan Morris, and Julia Grant, who is now a good friend of mine.

Maxine is shocked when Sally reveals Patrick's portrait.
© Lime Pictures (Kerry Spicer)

Monika: Are there any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now?
Annie: Oh so many! Stephanie Hirst, Christine Burns, Hannah Winterbourne, Catherine Burton, Rebecca Root, Kate O’Donnell… and many more.
Monika: What is your view on the general situation of transwomen in your country? 
Annie: We’ve come a long way, in terms of societal acceptance, but with that has come to a backlash from the intolerants and bigots. It’s always two steps forwards, one step back. Trans people are about 30 years behind gay and lesbian people in terms of acceptance.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Annie: Getting the courage to do so! Risking losing friends, jobs, etc. It was something I felt I needed to do though, after 25 years ‘in the closet’.
Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBTQ communities. Being the last letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBTQ group?
Annie: It’s not about being the last letter, it’s about unity. Trans people get bullied, abused, and murdered by the same bigots that go after LGB and Q people. We need to support each other as we all move forward in terms of acceptance and tolerance.
Monika: What do you think in general about transgender news stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers, or books so far?
Annie: It’s better than it used to be. Trans people used to be forcibly outed by a gleeful press, and trans characters were almost always tragic figures of fun. They can’t get away with that as often now. It’s more upbeat and positive, but, as I said before, there’s still so much work to do.
Monika: Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Annie: I was a small part of the lobbying campaign Press for Change in the ’90s, working towards the legal rights that were eventually won in 2004. Now, I lend my support to groups that can effect change locally and nationally.

The National Diversity Awards -
Winner: Celebrity of the Year.

Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Annie: Oh I’m useless with fashion! I’m very much a jeans and tops woman. Dead casual. I do try and make an effort when I’m invited to a social event though.
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Annie: Each to their own, but I’m not a fan of beauty pageants of any variety. 
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Annie: I haven’t been in love very often, but I have a large group of friends who love me and vice versa. My cats love me too.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Annie: Yes, I have, but not yet. It’s something to consider in the future, as I have had quite the life, so far.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Annie: Apart from Hollyoaks, which takes up most of my time, I’m still intermittently writing more music, working with the Take Back theatre company, on some political theatre, and about to take up a few patronships I’m passionate about.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Annie: Talk to someone. Preferably a supportive expert, as well as other trans people who can advise and guide. They are not alone, by any means.
Monika: My pen friend Gina Grahame wrote to me once that we should not limit our potential because of how we were born or by what we see other transsexuals and transgender people doing. Our dreams should not end on an operating table; that’s where they begin. Do you agree with this?
Annie: Transition and treatment are a beginning, that’s all. Keep dreaming and keep striving for more. We are SO much more than just ‘trans’.
Monika: Annie, thank you for the interview! 

The main photo credits: © Lime Pictures (Kerry Spicer)
All the photos: courtesy of Annie Wallace.
© 2017 - Monika Kowalska

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