Monday 24 April 2023

Interview with Courtnei Lee

Monika: My guest today is Courtnei Lee, a Canadian entrepreneur, trans activist, businesswoman, and founder of OYT Cosmetics - a cosmetic line that was made for the LGBTQ+ community, especially for trans people who face discrimination and segregation daily. Hello Courtnei! Thank you for accepting my invitation.
Courtnei: Thank you so much for having me! It’s an honor to be a part of such a beautiful blog!
Monika: I remember when I was at the very start of my transition and I went to a beauty shop to buy my female cosmetics for the first time, and I was totally overwhelmed by the number of products. The beauty industry is probably one of the most competitive industries. 
Courtnei: It’s definitely one of the most competitive and the problem is with all these huge brands, we're still not seeing proper representation! That’s something that we are working really hard to try and change.
Monika: What kind of products are available in the OYT Cosmetics line?
Courtnei: We offer everything from skincare to foundation, lip products, and cream blush and contour kits. We have over 150 products with all colour variations.
"Everyone's journey with makeup
is different."
Monika: Do you often experiment with your own makeup?
Courtnei: Yes, every day! Makeup should be a self-celebration and expression. It’s also the only way to find the way you love your makeup, if you don’t experiment you’ll never expand your skill.
Monika: Cisgirls learn about how to apply makeup at a very early stage whereas we, transgender women, have to catch up with them quickly. What are the most common mistakes that we tend to make when applying makeup?
Courtnei: This is hard because everyone's journey with makeup is different, but I can speak to what I did wrong. I used way too much foundation and didn't spend enough time on colours that would compliment my face and eyes. I would find a picture that I liked and just try to do the whole look with no experience. Makeup takes time, and learning what works for you also takes time. My biggest advice is to be patient and keep practicing. Even if it’s just watching one video a day you’ll learn a LOT!
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Courtnei: I wish I was more into fashion, but I have always been a hoodie and sweats kinda girl. With photoshoots and content I have had to step up my game, so any stylists out there feel free to DM me haha.
Monika: I remember copying my sister and mother first, and later other women, trying to look 100% feminine, and my cis female friends used to joke that I try to be a woman that does not exist in reality. Did you experience the same?
Courtnei: I think a problem within our community is that we rely on someone's ability to “pass” as what makes them a woman. Some of the most beautiful cis women in my life have hair on their faces or body, have masculine features, and love who they are.
“Passing” is a conversation for us regarding safety but shouldn't be something we include in a conversation of self-worth. If you feel beautiful that's all that matters. We also see a lot of women take to Hollywood as our end goals, and that's just not reality, unfortunately. Knowing some of those women in Hollywood, they look just like us before teams of makeup and hair, plus all the Photoshop after.
Monika: By the way, do you like being complimented on your looks?
Courtnei: I mean who doesn’t enjoy being told they’re beautiful? It does mean more coming from someone I know in my life than from strangers though, but of course lol.

"We offer everything from skincare to foundation, lip products,
and cream blush and contour kits."

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?
Courtnei: I consider myself extremely blessed in my transition but of course, I had some pushback. I left a job to be able to transition comfortably, and have experienced plenty of hate in my life. Transitioning is the first step to us putting ourselves first and that is the only way to learn how to be the best version of yourself. I wish we didn’t have to endure such pain during such beautiful times in our lives, but I dream of a day when that no longer holds such weight.
Monika: Why did you choose Courtnei for your name?
Courtnei: I offered to let my mom pick my name but she wasn’t ready for that yet, so I gave a list to my friends of names I liked and they all picked my name. They all know me better anyways, right?
Monika: Was your family surprised by your transition?
Courtnei: Definitely, I think everyone in my life was. I wasn’t a feminine person before because of how scared I was of myself.
Monika: Do you remember the moment you came out to your mother? When did she fully accept you as her daughter?
Courtnei: I told her at 2 am right before making a Facebook post to everyone lol. So she didn’t have a big heads-up and it definitely took her a minute to understand and adjust understandably. Today she is incredibly supportive, still learning, but I’m very grateful for her support.
Monika: Are you satisfied with the effects of the hormone treatment?
Courtnei: Definitely, there are things I would like to change… of course, but I think any person today has their own insecurities.
"It’s not up to the trans community to
convince others we are beautiful."
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?
Courtnei: It’s not up to the trans community to convince others we are beautiful. It’s up to the straight cis community to change their idea of beauty. I think hopefully with continued education, representation, and activism we can slowly move towards that.
Monika: Do you remember the first time you saw a transgender woman on TV or met anyone transgender in person that opened your eyes and allowed you to realize who you are?
Courtnei: My best friend and business partner is trans and he was a huge sounding board for me through mine. Another big moment was seeing Laverne Cox on “Orange Is The New Black”. She allowed for this space that had never been seen on TV before in that type of role and it really changed my life.
Monika: Your business partner is trans as well? How did you meet?
Courtnei: We met through a mutual best friend in high school. We quickly bonded over basically everything in our lives and knew that this was a friendship for life. Since then we have started 5 companies and lived and worked together, and I couldn’t imagine a day without him. We are each other's rock through everything in life and I couldn’t do any of this without him. 
Monika: Did you have any transgender sisters around you that supported you during the transition?
Courtnei: For the most part my friends supporting me through the transition were straight, but I have met and made many friends since coming out. Julie Vu and Lauren Sundstrom are two women I will always be grateful for. They constantly inspire me and drive me to do what I do every day.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in your country?
Courtnei: I think out of the majority of countries I consider Canada to be a lucky place to be born as a trans woman. I really hope that changes for the better in my lifetime. 
Monika: Do you remember your first job interview as a woman?
Courtnei: Yes, I was interviewing for The Score on Davie. It was the best possible place to be going through that experience and I stayed there for four years.
Monika: When I came out at work, my male co-workers treated me in a way as if the transition lowered my IQ. Did you experience the same? Do you think it happens because we are women or because we are transgender? Or both?
Courtnei: I personally worked with really amazing men when I came out. Throughout other jobs I had more issues with being hit on rudely than being dumbed down so to say, but I did have a harder time finding inclusive work environments.
Like Mother Like Daughter.
Monika: What would you advise to all transwomen looking for employment?
Courtnei: Safety comes first. If you have the means to wait to find somewhere you feel safe, then do that. I find if you plan on being openly trans, it’s easier to get it out of the way in your interview and gauge their reaction. It can be really telling if it will be a safe place for you to work. Obviously, there is a lot of what if’s when it comes to our safety so to sum it up, do what’s right for you in your community.
Monika: Are you involved in the life of the local LGBTQ community?
Courtnei: Definitely. I worked on our queer street for 6 years and have amazing friendships I have built. The West End of Vancouver was my first supporter and I wouldn’t be where I am today had it not been for them.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Courtnei: For me personally, I value love in my life a lot. That comes in all forms though, friendships, family, my partner, and my work. Surrounding myself with people that love me has allowed me to be who I am today. My family is my chosen family for the most part and that is true for many LGBTQ2+ people, and I couldn’t express enough how much they mean to me.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Courtnei: I have been approached to write a book a few times, and it’s on my bucket list. Running 5 companies has my hands full for the moment but I do look forward to it one day.
Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Courtnei: I am going back into content creation full time, and the decision to do that came from wanting to contribute to representation for trans people. In five years I really hope that OYTC has taught some in the beauty industry about proper representation and inclusion. My biggest goal however is to create more safe work environments for others in our community.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender women that are afraid of transition?
Courtnei: Be kind to yourself. It is scary at first. Do what is safe for you, but just know that living as yourself is incredibly healing and a really beautiful journey. Therapy or counseling can be a really useful tool as well if you have access to them, utilize them.

For more info about Courtnei Lee, visit her website.

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?
Courtnei: I think surgery is only a step for those who want that, and it’s not a part of everyone's journey. I won’t wait for my life to begin until I have had bottom surgery. I am going to live every day to the fullest I can, and no matter what stage you’re at in your transition try to focus on that when you can. Laughter is the biggest medicine and sometimes being able to laugh at ourselves through our journey can be incredibly healing.
Monika: Courtnei, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thanks a lot!
Courtnei: This was such a pleasure. Thank you so much for including me and for all you do for our community.

Courtnei Lee on the covers of magazines.

All the photos: courtesy of Courtnei Lee.
© 2023 - Monika Kowalska

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