Saturday 23 May 2020

Interview with Solange Dekker

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Solange Dekker, a fashion model from the Netherlands, hairstylist, beauty pageant queen, Miss Netherlands at Trans Star International 2019, Miss Evolution 2019, and Finalist Miss Beauty of Noord-Holland 2020. Hello Solange!
Solange: Hi Monika! Thank you for taking the time to interview me.
Monika: You have already taken part in three beauty pageants! What is so special about being a beauty queen? :)
Solange: Thank you for your question. I have actually taken part in 2 beauty pageants! Miss Evolution is a title I won during my participation in 2019 Miss Trans Star International held in Barcelona, where I was the first-ever Miss Netherlands. The title goes to one woman who has shown the absolute most interest in the pageant and who has been the most 'evolving' girl in the pageant. Things such as being on time every time, taking extra catwalk lessons, trying to learn Spanish to talk to the girls, etc. Since this was my first ever pageant and I showed so much determination, I earned the title of Miss Evolution 2019.
I am now in the run as a contestant for Miss Beauty of Noord Holland, which is a regional pageant in the Netherlands. In this competition, I am the very first Dutch transgender woman to have ever competed in a cisgender-minded beauty pageant, so it is quite the news!
What is so special about being a beauty queen is that it is not just about beauty. It is about your personality and what you can offer to the world, what you can do to help people who really need your help! That should be the main goal and focus of every contestant in a beauty pageant. You cannot just win and then do nothing with the power and platform that has been given to you. You really need to use that privilege to help the people around you, and in my opinion, that is what makes it so special! You really feel you can contribute to the world.
Miss Trans Star International 2019.
Photo by Piccole Trasgressioni.
It was during Miss Trans Star International when I felt I could use the power that I had been given, to help the people back home! There are so many young and old transgender people and non-binary people living in The Netherlands, who feel they have no one to look up to, no one who speaks for them, and no one who understands what is going on. I got to realize that they were looking up to me when news spread that I was Miss Netherlands, and it was the greatest feeling ever.
In the competition I am currently in, it is a little different! Since there has never been a transwoman before I find it quite difficult to adjust and find my way without feeling like I didn't belong there. But my motivation and my reason why I am at this particular competition are still the same; I am here to fight for the people who can't fight, who have no voice, and for the younger generation to have someone who makes life easier for them, to help them with mental health issues and to make a bridge so that everything is much easier and accessible.
Monika: You reached the Top 10 at Miss Trans Star International held in Barcelona, Spain in 2019. How do you recall the atmosphere among the girls and the whole event?
Solange: Great question! I was very nervous because I had never competed in a beauty pageant before, and now all of the sudden I was in a national pageant with girls from over 28 countries in the world! But the thing is, we all went through the same thing. We don't have the same past, and some have it easier than others, but we all have the same thing in common, which is that we all were born in the wrong body.
That instantly creates a connection with all the girls, they immediately feel like family. Communication was very difficult, since the Organisation is mostly Spanish, who don't speak English at all. Therefore, there are many girls chosen from countries where they can only speak Spanish and no English. We had to get a tutor every day to at least understand each other, that was, in my opinion, the most challenging part.
I really loved the girls and I miss them every day! Although during the pageant we talked every day, now we don't, and probably I will never see them again in my life. We have bonded and that friendship will never go away, as it is a very special feeling.
I do think that the event could have been organized better, in terms of spoken languages, how many hours a day we need to do everything and that the Organisation itself also comes on time. During the finale, we were supposed to be on air around 8 PM, and we started around 12 PM, I think. But nonetheless, I had the most amazing time there and I would even consider doing a second run for the crown in another year. 
Monika: Did anyone support you during the pageant? Who did your dresses, make-up, and hair?
Solange: I was about the only contestant who had no one in the audience. It was difficult without my close friends there, but they watched the whole show live on Facebook! There were some people cheering up for me and screaming when I was walking up on stage, so I was very happy when they did! Even though I didn't know them, they made me feel happy.
I had support from one person who helped me from the beginning and who helped me understand what pageants are and what I could do with them. She scouted me at a party many years back, and she immediately saw that I should do pageants. It is thanks to her that I had the courage to take part in Miss Trans Star and that I got so far because I got to realize that I had it in me. Her name is Victoria, and she is a lifelong friend. She is the Director of Miss Trans Star International, and she was the only person who I could connect to, since she was the only one who spoke the Dutch language as well!
We’ve met so many years back and I actually taught her some Dutch. It was quite hard to communicate with all the Spanish girls, so it was nice that I could talk Dutch with her. We still see each other to this day. She was also my companion who went to the casting of Miss Beauty of Noord Holland when I got selected to be the first Trans woman in the Netherlands to compete in a cisgender competition. It shows what kind of bond we have. 
My dresses were all bought online! I tried to hire someone who makes dresses by hand, but it got too expensive for the amount of clothing we had to come up with.
During the 7 day pageant, I became close friends with Miss Israel, Reem. She was with her best friend who supported her as a make-up artist during the whole week, and he was so kind to also do my makeup on several nights, including the finale! My hair during the finale was done by the professional hair team that was provided by the Organisation.
Miss Trans Star International 2019.
Photo by Piccole Trasgressioni.
Monika: Have you thought about taking part in Miss International Queen in Thailand? 
Solange: Funny, I actually have! It would be a dream to be a participant in Miss International Queen. However, all these beauty pageants are very expensive.
I grew up poor; my mother was a single mom raising 4 children, so money was always tight. Since I came out transgender, the relation with my whole family has really dwindled and got worse, and I have not had any contact with them for years now on any platform whatsoever. 
This resulted in that I had to leave my house without a job and without savings, and having to pay my own rent and groceries at the early age of 18. So I never really had any savings to buy all this expensive clothing or plane tickets to these glamorous places!
I've only been on vacation twice when I could afford it. If I were a participant, I would want to experience the full pageant and not having to worry about not having enough money to last the week, or that I have just spent all my money on the plane ticket or one dress. I work currently in a restaurant, and the pay isn't great, and with no financial support, I have to make decisions on where my money goes. That being said, I do hope one day that I can enter Miss International Queen!
Monika: We all pay the highest price for the fulfillment of our dreams to be ourselves. As a result, many trans women lose their families, friends, jobs, and social positions. Did you pay such a high price as well? What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Solange: Unfortunately, I did. When I came out as a gay boy when I was 14, no one stood by me. I had countless fights with my family, and it was very hard being different. I grew up in a small-minded town, with 3 older brothers. Not only I had little support from my family, but I was also severely bullied at school because I was openly gay. People would throw things at me, spit on me, punch me, call me whatever they wanted. I had only four friends; I had no one who I could connect to and no one who I could cry to. It tore me apart, I grew a severe depression that still haunts me today, and I tried to end my life twice when I was younger because I could not cope with everything.
When I was 16, I came out as a transgender woman, and life got impossible. Eventually, my mother could not handle living with me anymore and she requested me to leave within a week. Two days after, I was gone. With no money, no future, and no support. Finding housing and work was one of the hardest things I had to do, since no one wanted to hire a transgender woman. Because of all these financial problems I faced back then, I never had the time or position to save money, which is still a big issue now. The hardest part about my coming out was that I had to do everything alone with almost no money. I nailed it nonetheless, but it makes you very wary about other people, and you can't trust anyone anymore.
Monika: It is wonderful that you have managed to shine all against all odds! During the transition, did you have any role models or trans women that you looked up to? The Netherlands can boast many inspirational trans women, just to mention: Veronique Renard, Colette Berends, Kelly van der Veer, or Valentijn de Hingh...
Solange: Yes I did! When I was figuring out who I was and wanted to be, I had a few people who I looked up to. There were two women that I actually knew. At that time I did not realize I wanted to be a woman, but they knew, and they guided me towards a certain path. Their names are Sunny and Frederique.
In my hairdressing time, I worked closely with Frederique, and Sunny is a high-class fashion designer. As for 'famous' people, I really looked up to Jeffree Star for his 'fuck everything' attitude and how he handled things. Gigi Gorgeous was the first trans woman that I knew online, and thanks to her I realized that you can make your own path and figure out what YOU want instead of what people want. It is all thanks to them that I am the woman I am today.
Miss Beauty of Noord-Holland 2020.
Monika: Having mentioned Valentijn de Hingh, I need to ask you about your own model career ...
Solange: My own modeling career isn't as great as hers! I have always had the big dream to be a professional model, and that dream is still alive today. I have tried many times with professional agencies, but I always got the same reply: You are beautiful, but just not what we are looking for. I am still trying but not as hard anymore as back then.
Monika: Isn't it amazing how many trans girls are successful as models?
Solange: Yes it definitely is! I am glad that every day trans women all over the world are getting more and more visibility and recognition. 
However, I do think that there is more than being a model. I do think that more trans people should stand up for their rights and speak out more.
Especially in the Netherlands a lot of trans women are silent when it comes to bullying, unemployment, or hate that we face. In my opinion that is a shame.
Monika: We are said to be prisoners of passing or non-passing syndrome. Although cosmetic surgeries help to overcome it, we will be always judged accordingly. How can we cope with this?
Solange: This is something that is close to walking on very thin ice. There are people who will always say that a transwoman looks like a man because of pure hate or jealousy. This will always hurt, even if you don't give two rats' asses about what other people think.
I personally think it is very much okay to cry and feel sad or angry when people say those things, go on a rant and give it a place in your own mind.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Solange: Yes I have! It didn't come to it yet, but who knows in the future! I sure have a lot of things to speak about and subjects to teach to other people.
Monika: Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Solange: I do not lobby in a particular campaign; however I am a strong vocal supporter of certain rights, such as equal pay, women having the right to choose over their own body, and transgender and gay rights. In the future, I would see myself lobbying in this kind of campaign.
Currently, I don't really believe that the voice of transgender women is being seen as something to be taken seriously, especially in the US. Maybe in the Netherlands, it would be easier to be promoted, but I doubt that they would let a transwoman make a real difference. But I hope that I am wrong and that very soon we would have that option. 
Monika: Are you a happy woman now?
Solange: Even though I would love to say yes, I am not sure. I am not going to lie about it when I say that my past did a number on my mental health. Certainly, I am very happy with how far I have come and what I have accomplished so far. But I never wake up with the feeling, today is going to be a good day! Or, I am happy! I don't want to die, but I am also not at my full capacity of being happy, but that is okay for me.
Photo by Santiago Garces.
Monika: What would you recommend to all trans girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Solange: Figure out what you want and just do it. Do you want to wear dresses and makeup? Do it. Do you want to color your nails and get a new name? Do it. Do you want to cry and feel bad about your dysphoria? Do it. It is not a shame in doing things in order to make yourself happy, even if it would be selfish to other people. In the end, you need to live with yourself and not with other people. You can try to please the whole world, but there will always be people who don't agree with you. So please, from the bottom of my heart, just do what you want.
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 transgender people doing. Our dreams should not end on an operating table; that’s where they begin. Would you agree?
Solange: Yes and no. I do completely 100% agree that you should never limit your own potential. You may even have potential in things that you don't know yet! You might face a huge setback from how you are born and molded by family, but that does not mean that you can't form your own potential for happiness and freedom.
Many times, jealousy sets in as well. You might very quickly see that other trans people are doing so well and are more famous than you, and that can get very frustrating because you can think that they didn't have such a hard life as you did. The advice I have to give for that is that you never know how hard someone's life is. And even though some people face much more than others, what those other people face, to them that is hard as well.
'The web for the spider feels easy and natural, but for the fly, it feels like chaos. This is a line I always say either to people or myself, it means that even though some people might give the impression and illusion that they never had to face hard struggles, they might have but just in a different way and form. Transgender people naturally have to survive much harder when it comes to words, bullying, harassment, and social anxiety. As a result, much often it is easier for trans people to act more free and careless later on.
What I do not agree with, is that there is this stigma that once you get 'the' surgery, you can finally start living as a woman/man. This is simply not true, what type of parts you have down there does not define how you feel and what society should make of you. You can feel 100% of a woman or a man or both when you have not even started your transition. Hormones and surgery do NOT make you the gender that you want to be, it is the soul and energy that make you the person you are, whether that is a man or a woman, both or neither.
Monika: Solange, thank you for this interview. I will be keeping my fingers crossed for your success at Miss Beauty of Noord-Holland 2020. I hope that you will repeat the success of Angela Ponce and Jenna Talackova in cisgender pageants and you will continue to be an inspiration for all girls like us.
Solange: Thank you so much Monika for this lovely interview, your time, and your in-depth questions. I wish you all the best.
All the photos: courtesy of Solange Dekker. 
Main photo by Santiago Garces (Instagram: snapkiller).
© 2020 - Monika Kowalska
On 24 June 2023, Solange was crowned the Miss International Queen 2023. This is the world's biggest beauty pageant for transgender women, held annually in Pattaya City, Thailand since 2004. Congratulations Solange!!! You are a real queen now!

25 June 2023

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