Tuesday 9 June 2020

Interview with Veso Golden Oke

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Veso Golden Oke, a Nigerian-born beauty queen and model, professional make-up artist, Miss Ghana at Miss Trans Star International 2019. In 2019 Veso became the first transgender woman to compete in the Miss Europe Continental Ghana, a beauty pageant for cisgender women. Hello Veso!
Veso: Hello Monika, thank you for this opportunity.
Monika: You were born in Nigeria. Could you say a few words about your teenage years there?
Veso: Yes, I was born in Nigeria and lived in Nigeria for 20 years of my life. It was hell every day because as a young Christian child I was made to believe that my lifestyle was demonic and I needed deliverance. Society had no pity on me, I felt hate and isolation every single day. I was once arrested and put in jail with criminals just because I identified as a woman. I was lucky once when I almost got stoned in the streets after protesting against the 24 years imprisonment for LGBT people. I would have died if I had not found a way to escape.
That was when I realized I had to move out, and Ghana was the only country I could afford with the money I had. Ghana is not safe because there’s no law protecting us, and society still doesn’t accept us but the LGBT organization in Ghana found a little way to protect us so I felt a bit safer there.

Monika: Do you remember your first beauty pageant? Where did you hear first about such a contest for trans girls?
Veso: After coming out as transgender, I gained a bit of support and empathy after the people heard my story. I started advocating for transgender visibility on national TV stations and my friend online told me about Miss Trans Star International. For me, it was an opportunity to be a voice all over the world as a beauty queen. So I decided to join.
Monika: How did you prepare for the pageant? Did you have any support with your dresses, makeup, or hair?
Veso: I didn’t get any sponsorship because I was in a country where I have no legal value. I did everything on my own, I sold almost everything. I had to pay for my flight ticket and get my costumes.

Photo credit: Eemmax Experience.

Monika: What was the atmosphere among the contestants? Was it a tough competition? 
Veso: The competition was very tough, as most of the girls had support from their country and family. So being alone sometimes got me depressed.
Monika: And the Miss Europe Continental Ghana? It must have been a great feeling to compete against cisgender women.
Veso: Competing in Miss Europe Continental Ghana was a big breakthrough for the African trans women living in Africa. I encouraged them to come out and embrace their selves because they mostly live in fear and only want to come out at night.
I believe I gave them the strength to come out feeling proud. I’m grateful for all their support during the pageant. When the news came that the chief judge said I should not be crowned because I was a transgender woman, I was surprised that after the show my fellow contestants fought for me and that alone was my winning moment. I won in the heart of everyone.
Monika: How did you start your modeling career?
Veso: I started modeling when I was seventeen years old but it has always been difficult because in Africa you need connections to get to the top.
Monika: What needs to be changed in Africa, so we could see more transgender girls in the fashion industry?
Veso: The fashion industry needs to start accepting transgender models and designers should be open-minded to work with trans models because I believe we are as capable as any other person in the industry.
Monika: What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Veso: I don’t have special outfits or colors I just go with what looks good on me. I like to feel comfortable, confident, attractive, and responsible.

Monika: You are quite active in defending LGBTQ rights. You had the courage to criticize the well-known model Olajumoke Orisaguna for her homophobic comments and threats...
Veso: It’s time we start breaking those boundaries and stand up for ourselves and that’s what I am doing, the more we keep quiet people start thinking we have no voice or are scared to speak out against injustice. I won’t sit back and watch anyone humiliate any young member of my community.
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?
Veso: Yes, for sure I lost my job and got distant from my family but the worst experience was not being to attend my fathers funeral because I would be sent to jail the moment I stepped into Nigeria and my uncles and aunties were not ready to set their eyes on me. As my dad's favorite child I really wished I was there to say goodbye to him. I am in tears typing this; it still hurts a lot.

Photo credit: Eemmax Experience.

Monika: At the time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed? How did you hear about transgender women?
Veso: I have a transgender mother. I call her my mum because she was the only transgender woman who reached out to me even if she did not know me at that time. She guided me through my transitioning journey because in my country we lack health personals that know anything about how to treat a transgender patient.
Monika: How did you meet her?
Veso: I spoke to her on Facebook after watching one of her live videos and she immediately replied and was very welcoming and ready to listen to all I had to say.
Monika: Are there are any transgender ladies in Africa that you admire and respect now?
Veso: Yes, I admire Miss Sahhara because she’s very bold and advocates for the rights of transgender women. I love how she uses every opportunity to stand as a voice. I see the woman in her that I want to become myself.
I also admire Noni Salma, she’s humble welcoming, and very caring to me unconditionally. 
Monika: Yes, indeed. Miss Sahhara is an inspirational woman. I had the pleasure of interviewing her a couple of years ago. She has managed to establish herself as a celebrity in the United Kingdom. Have you ever thought about doing the same? I mean going there and starting as a model or actress?
Veso: I am now in the Netherlands. I plan to establish myself here in Europe. But it’s a gradual process. I will also love to become a motivational speaker.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Veso: I already shot a movie with a Spanish movie director. The story is all about my life and struggles. It will be out soon and shown at film festivals.

Monika: How did you meet with the film director? Who came up with the idea to shoot a movie?
Veso: The title of the film is A Throne For Miss Ghana. It’s about the struggle to become a model and walk on an international stage. It shows how my breakthrough, what I had to go through, believing in myself, accepting myself, and fighting for what I want.
The movie director contacted me via Facebook and I turned it down at first because I was transgender but he told me that it was even better and convinced me. For some reason, I had confidence in me and I trusted whatever he said.
Monika: What would you recommend to all trans girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Veso: I believe as transgender women we should start breaking boundaries and show the world that we are not just women but strong women who are determined to be leaders, doctors, businesswomen and do well in all works of life.

Photo credit: Eemmax Experience.

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?
Veso: I also once felt what I needed most was to get surgeries done but I have come to realize what’s more important is self-discovery, acceptance and living a comfortable life; having your surgery doesn’t and won't change how you see yourself.
Monika: Veso, thank you for this interview. I will be keeping my fingers crossed for your movie and model career.

All the photos: courtesy of Veso Golden Oke. 
Main photo credits: Eemmax Experience.
© 2020 - Monika Kowalska

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