Tuesday, 26 January 2021

Interview with Nicola Nilla

Monika: Today I am meeting Nicola Nilla, an American YouTube vlogger. It has been almost 16 months since she launched her Nicola Nilla vlog where she shares her transition Story. Hello Nicola!
Nicola: Hi Monika! I can't believe it's already been 16 months since this all started.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Nicola: Yeah! I am a 27-year-old transwoman from San Francisco with a background in education. However, I like to dabble in a lot of different things like fashion styling, MUA, modeling, and photography. I like anything that allows me to express my true self!
Monika: Nicola is such a lovely name. How come you chose it?
Nicola: So it's kind of a funny story. My birth initials are NBL, and I wanted to keep those the same during the name change -- mostly out of simplicity but to also respect my parents. I already knew I wanted a unique "N" name when I was watching one of my favorite 2000s teen movies, Superbad. The side character, McLovin, spends half the movie obsessing over this girl he barely knows, Nicola. She really only represents that hot girl every guy wants to hook up with, and I thought that was badass so I took that name for myself haha! It's kind of a weird inspiration, but it stuck hehe.

"Understanding that I’m my own worst critic
gave me the courage to start wearing makeup
in public, which snowballed into full-blown

Monika: Why did you decide to share your transition details on social media?
Nicola: When I was first coming out to myself, I watched a lot of trans YouTubers talk about their own experiences in transitioning. Watching them made me feel like I was valid because I used to beat myself up a lot for feeling different. Once I started my medical transition, I felt like it was my duty to give back to the same community that helped me by sharing my transition publicly.
Monika: Do you get many questions from your audience? What do they ask for?
Nicola: A lot of them, who are still in the closet, ask for advice on how to start transitioning. Like many other women, I, too, wanted to transition in secret for a long time, but it's not really something you can hide.
My advice to them is to find a few trusted people that you feel comfortable coming out to and build up support and courage that way. Not everyone has close friends or family like that, so I'd also advise talking to a therapist or gender specialist, or reach out to your local LGBTQ center for additional help and resources. The first person I ever told was my therapist! Bless her heart.
Monika: How did she steer you through the whole process?
Nicola: My therapist, Joanna, was really encouraging. In our first session, she explained that I could treat her office like my “Identity Lab”, meaning I had a safe space to experiment with my gender expression. With her help, I began socially transitioning a few weeks after I started talking to her.
The best advice she gave me is that most people don’t really pay that much attention to you, so don’t be afraid of what other people might be thinking about you. In fact, it’s sort of rude to project your own insecurities onto other people, which is like deciding for them what they should be thinking. Understanding that I’m my own worst critic gave me the courage to start wearing makeup in public, which snowballed into a full-blown transition!
Monika: What was the strangest question from your YouTubers that you answered? :) 
Nicola: I guess this isn't that strange, just highly specific, but someone asked how tall I was, followed by if I wore heels, how tall are the heels, and how often I wore heels. Like, I may be sorta tall, but that ain't gonna stop me from wearing my tall, vinyl, platform boots out dancing! 
Monika: Haha, I am addicted to heels as well. And it is always difficult for me to resist buying new ones …
Nicola: Girl, I have too many, and I barely wear them! I keep buying them even though I’m fully committed to the thigh-high Ariana Grande boots look now.
"We need to surround ourselves with a diverse array of
people to understand that beauty is in many different
shapes or sizes, and I'm not just talking about surrounding
ourselves with more diverse trans people."
Monika: We all pay the highest price for the fulfillment of our dreams to be ourselves. As a result, we lose our families, friends, jobs, and social positions. Did you pay such a high price as well? What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Nicola: Fortunately, I've been pretty privileged in this area, since most people close to me were extremely supportive. However, several of my friends distanced themselves after I came out on Instagram. Earlier in 2020, one of my cis friends who served as my main confidant, broke my trust when she felt that I was a bad person for getting triggered by my voice dysphoria. I've faced a few other situations like this. Since I don't really have any LGBTQ friends, I have a tendency to tell cisgender people about what I'm facing in hopes that they will support me, but it can be a mixed bag.
But the hardest thing has been dealing with my gender dysphoria as it relates to my gender expression. I feel like I can't wear femme clothing if I have masculine features, which has made the early part of transitioning super hard. I guess it's like coming back from summer vacation only to find all the girls in your grade have had a growth spurt while you're left wondering, "when will my puberty hit"?
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Nicola: My happiness with HRT is complicated. Above all else, I'm super pleased with the changes to my emotional state and mood, and changes to my face. But there are several places in my body that are not really changing the way I hoped. I'm trying my best to accept that though!
Monika: We are said to be prisoners of passing or non-passing syndrome. Although cosmetic surgeries help to overcome it, we will always be judged accordingly. How can we cope with this?
Nicola: This is super deep and I think about it all the time. Honestly, we, as a community, need to do better to bring a wider representation of what trans people look like. Young transgender influencers are almost exclusively beautiful in a cisgender, heteronormative way, which doesn't really validate other transwomen the way it should.

"Trans women have historically been at the
frontlines fighting for LGBTQ rights, but
have always been left behind."
Photo credit: @thefutureisflower

We need to surround ourselves with a diverse array of people to understand that beauty is in many different shapes or sizes, and I'm not just talking about surrounding ourselves with more diverse trans people. I mean keeping company with gay, non-binary, POC, indigenous, disabled, trans, young, old people from all walks of life. Beauty is everywhere, but it doesn't have to be solely in appeasing the white, cishet narrative -- especially in the USA. Understanding that you don't have to be passing to be beautiful is how I cope.
Monika: I agree with you totally. It is difficult to compare a young girl that started taking hormone blockers as a teenager with a woman that had to go through masculine puberty.
Nicola: Exactly! Although most of the trans influencers I like fall into this category, it does make me a little sad that I don’t look like them. That said, when I look at myself, fresh-faced out of the shower with clean skin, I love my appearance! There is something really sexy about androgyny.
Monika: Are there any transgender role models that you follow or followed? 
Nicola: I'm a big fan of Samantha Lux, AJ Clementine, Caitlyn Jenner, and Eden the Doll! Then there's the entire cast of Pose -- those women are amazing!
Monika: Do you remember the first time when you saw a transgender woman on TV or met anyone transgender in person?
Nicola: It was actually online, but I vividly remember when Caitlyn Jenner came out. Before her, I really had no concept of transgender-anything, but I thought she was really cool! The first transgender person I met was a coworker. She was already out at work, so when I came out, she helped mentor me through the process. I'm very thankful for her.
Monika: It is so important to have such a mentor. Was she at the onset of her transition? How did she help you?
Nicola: She was about a year into her transition when we first met, and it was about a year later when I started my transition. She gave me tons of advice on how to start transitioning in the workplace, which was a high school for us, so I had to come out to a wide age range of people. With her assistance, we made my transition a very casual thing. I formally asked everyone NOT to congratulate me, since I had already come out multiple times in the last few months, and when people had questions, that they could talk to her about it instead (she was in charge of diversity and inclusion).
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country? 
Nicola: It could be a lot better. Trans women have historically been at the frontlines fighting for LGBTQ rights, but have always been left behind. Our rights and access to critical care are constantly put on the backburner. I think poor allyship is a big contributor to this. Allies will hype us up for our looks and confidence, but when it comes to spreading awareness or supporting us in more meaningful ways, we are ignored. I'm not sure why that happens to be honest, but it's worth thinking about.
"I suffered from depression and suicidal ideation for a long time,
so I know how it can feel to believe you are alone and unlovable."
Photo credit: @thefutureisflower.

Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Nicola: I love fashion! At the moment I am taking fashion styling college courses, and not to brag but I aced my last final haha! I usually dress pretty androgynously, but when I'm actually dressing up, my aesthetic is BDSM Barbie -- a friend coined that term, not me! I suppose she said that because I really like harnesses, buckles, leather, thigh highs, and bold pops of color. However, I also like cropped sweaters, chunky sneakers, and baggy low-rise jeans. My favorite brand right now is Maniere de Voir.
Monika: Do you often experiment with make-up or hairstyles?
Nicola: Make-up: yes! Hair: no. I love to try different makeup styles, but my hair is naturally really thick and curly. Since I’m still learning how to straighten and blow out my hair, this makes experimenting with my hair texture really hard!
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Nicola: I've never heard of a trans beauty pageant unless that's the same as an LGBTQ ball! Regarding the latter, I like them a lot. I know there has been a history of judges basing winners on their passability, but that isn't always the case these days. Either way, I would compete if I ever had the opportunity!
Monika: By the way, do you like being complimented on your looks?
Nicola: Yes! But only if it's respectful.
Monika: Do you remember your first job interview as a woman?
Nicola: Yes, but it was done virtually during the ongoing pandemic, so it didn't really feel that eventful. The person I was talking to seemed set on hiring me before the interview, and that didn't change when he saw/heard me for the first time. If you haven't noticed yet, I'm very privileged to live in a progressive area. The San Francisco Bay Area is very tolerant of LGBTQ people.

"The good and bad // my first year as an OUT transwoman".
Available via YouTube.

Monika: What would you advise to all transwomen looking for employment?
Nicola: Even before transitioning, I had a lot of trouble getting hired. Just remember that your skills should speak for themselves, and any employer that decided you weren't a good fit, no matter the reason, is not an employer you want to work for anyways. Find someone who values you the same way you value yourself. If you are still having trouble, reach out to your closest LGBTQ center, even if they are 100+ miles away. They usually have many resources to help with housing and employment.
Monika: Are you involved in the life of the local LGBTQ community?
Nicola: I'm not, unfortunately. I publicly came out about a month before the pandemic kicked off, which didn't give me a lot of time to express my new identity and form queer connections, so I sort of live in a bubble. I've been dying to go to a gay club lately! Sadly, everything is closed here.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Nicola: Love is everything! I suffered from depression and suicidal ideation for a long time, so I know how it can feel to believe you are alone and unlovable. I never want anyone to feel that way. I go out of my way to spread random acts of love and kindness to people in my life. Love doesn't have to be romantic in order for it to be powerful. 
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Nicola: Maybe in the future! I actually enjoy writing a lot, but I feel like I'm only in Chapter 2 of my journey. There is more life I need to live before I'm ready for "Nicola's Memoir".
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Nicola: At the moment, I am getting ready for voice feminization surgery in March, and I'm really excited! I try not to think too much about the distant future, but all I hope is that I'm still happy with who I am while surrounded by the people I love.

"All I can say is to live your life to
the fullest."

Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender women that are afraid of transition?
Nicola: All I can say is to live your life to the fullest. My entire life, my biggest fantasy was being a woman. Now I get to live that fantasy every day! Never settle for less than who you truly are. Live out loud!
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. Do you agree with this?
Nicola: 100% agree! You may start out in a race behind everybody else, but that doesn't mean you can't win. You may see a competitor running ahead of you, but that doesn't mean you have to match their pace. My high school track and field coach taught me this: "run your own race". The greatest good we can ever do is to become the best version of ourselves. Your situation, no matter how unfair it may be, doesn't determine that. You do.
Monika: Nicola, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!
Nicola: And it was a pleasure to speak to you, Monika! I wish you and your readers much love this coming year.

All the photos: courtesy of Nicola Nilla.
© 2021 - Monika Kowalska

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