Munroe Bergdorf dies on stage several times, discussing his memoir Transitional …
The blurby bit
Renowned activist and model Munroe Bergdorf launches her life-affirming, heartfelt and intimate new book, Transitional, in conversation with Clara Amfo.
Transitioning is an alignment of the invisible and the physical. It is truth rising to the surface. It is one of the most fundamental aspects of the human condition – a part of our experience as a conscious being, no matter who we are.
As time goes on, we all develop as people. We all transition. It’s what binds us, not what separates us.
In her new book, Transitional, Bergdorf shares reflections from her own life to illustrate how transitioning is an essential part of all of our lives.
Through the story of one woman’s extraordinary mission to live with authenticity, Transitional shows us how to heal, how to build a stronger community and how to evolve as a society out of shame and into pride.
Munroe Bergdorf was appointed as Contributing Editor at British Vogue, and has written for publications including The Guardian, Evening Standard and Grazia.
In 2019, Bergdorf was awarded an honorary doctorate for campaigning for transgender rights by the University of Brighton, and appointed as a National Advocate for UN Women UK.
Bergdorf is a proud ambassador for gender variant and transgender youth charity Mermaids and a founding consultant of L’Oreal Paris’ UK Diversity and Inclusion Board. She has also spoken at international institutions from Oxford to the UN General Assembly.
Bergdorf is the host of the critically acclaimed podcast The Way We Are on Spotify and fronts the hit MTV show Queerpiphany. Her first film, What Makes a Woman, premiered on Channel 4 in 2018.
Clara Amfo is an award-winning broadcaster, podcaster and television presenter.From The Southbank’s website (my bolded emphasis)
The focus of the book, as the blurb points out, is to make the idea of ‘transitioning’ as a normal part of all our lives and I would say that the crowd drew more of a cross section of people than is usual for these things (i.e. not just blue hairs), including a family sitting near me. It was very nearly sold out. In large part though it was women aged 17 to around 35 years. Notables included the odious non-binary doctor, Dr Ronx (identifies as female when visiting the loos it turns out). Edward Enninful, editor of British Vogue, had apparently turned up to provide support, Bergdorf is also contributing editor at the mag. Naturally his memoir has earned endorsements from Vogue and Teen Vogue. The only walkout I noticed, very early on in the interview, was by a man in his early sixties. It has to be said that Bergdorf is nowhere close to being a raconteur. Advance copies of the book were available and Bergdorf was to do a signing after.
A week prior to Munroe Bergdorf’s memoir being published, the Guardian published a long interview with him written by Simon Hattenstone, in which Bergdorf basically admits that he has still retained his male genitalia, that his partner Ava (also a trans-identified male) had committed suicide, while he himself had been hospitalised in 2022 for anxiety and depression. Regardless of these gory facts, Hattenstone treats Bergdorf as brave and stunning, rather than a person who is clearly teetering at the edges of severe mental breakdown.
While we see any number of politicians and commentators discussing trans rights, Bergdorf points out that trans people have been notable for their absence in the debate on their future.From Simon Hattenstone’s interview with Munroe Bergdorf
Clara tries not to cry
After the woman from the Southbank introduced the event, Clara Amfo, the journalist paid to interview Bergdorf, came on stage to introduce him. As she told us she was going to ‘try really hard not to cry’, her voice broke. The audience went aahhh. Amfo also told us that her good friend was one of the ‘most bravest impressive people’ she had ever met and she’d met ‘a lot of people’. We were awkwardly informed that Bergdorf was ‘warm, kind, funny and a vicious cackle in her laugh which makes you feel instantly invited’. The previous night they had attended the Brit Awards together.
Crowd goes mad
There were the usual hysterical screams we’ve come to expect at these things as Munroe Bergdorf teetered onto stage wearing a split dress and very high heels. Amfo’s first incisive question was ‘How are you?’ Munroe responded that it ‘meant the world’ that people had turned up. Writing the memoir had been an ‘excavation’ and had given him a chance to hug his inner child.
The announcement of Bergdorf’s book came with much fanfare in July 2020. At that point it was described as part political tract, part memoir and part history. Bergdorf had apparently written eighty-thousand words (that’s about 260 pages) though I think I also recall seeing claims of the more modest effort of just forty-thousand. Anyway, despite apparently writing the whole thing upfront (final version is 224 pages) the publication date was beset by a number of delays. Ordering an advance copy from Amazon I was kept abreast of the ever vanishing release date as it went from 2021, to at least two dates in 2022, a promise of January 2023, until finally March 2023, which was suddenly bought forward to February. (I personally wonder if this was to get in first before any attention was given to Hannah Barnes’s expose of the Tavistock Time to Think, whose publication was announced on the same day of this event.)
My personal theory about the delays in publication, admittedly backed up by nothing more than a cynical terfy hunch, and the fact that a book-length tract had already supposedly been written, is that Bergdorf ran into a number of disputes with a series of ghost writers commissioned to write the book. On eyeballing the book’s sample online it appears that memoir with strong political opinion thrown in, was the genre settled on finally.
Bergdorf’s new account is that he started to write the book in 2018 but when the pandemic came he was confronted by some difficult stuff without the support network available to him but without the distraction of being able to nip out and visit friends (I think I was churning out two blogs a week in lockdown). So, although it might seem he had loads of time to write, he was actually dealing with a lot of stuff.
We’ve seen the community become so visible but also so unprotected and when you expose a vulnerable community to a culture and an environment that is harmful and you don’t systemically implement processes and legislation and policy is that protective of that community, you’re ultimately advocating for their harm and I think that that has been the most heartbreaking thing to see in the time I’ve been writing this book.Munroe Bergdorf on how things changed during the period it took to write the book
There is no LBG without T
After telling us how much worse things were for trans people, the upside of this was that the community was so much tighter. Bergdorf told us ‘there is no LGB without T’. Amfo noted that the timing of the book was very urgent, without of course mentioning which particular issue had come to the fore. I don’t think it was a reference to the murder of Brianna Ghey, which had come to light that day, and which the vast majority of the audience would not have seen the reports of yet, as surely it would have been mentioned.
Cis hetero white patriarchy
Amfo suggested all the negative things Bergdorf experienced could all be put down to ‘cis hetero white patriarchy’. Bergdorf responded that as a society we hadn’t had a discussion about what it meant to be heteronormative and that the Government was only interested in misogyny when it was ‘under the cloak of protecting women from trans people’.
Bergdorf chose his interviewer
Surprise, surprise, Bergdorf asked his friend of seven years to interview him. Amfo had been reticent to accept, since she isn’t trans, and didn’t want to take up the space of a more worthy human being. Bergdorf’s response was that he had written a book meant for everybody, hence it was okay to share his platform with a ‘cis black intersectional feminist woman’, indeed she would broaden his appeal.
Grappling with the other side’s argument
Bergdorf told us that people were using ‘science to discredit trans ideology’, instead he wanted to focus on ‘social sciences’ and human behaviour.
Chapter on Adolescence – the first chapter
The book was divided up by chapters on various aspects important to Bergdorf’s life: adolescence, sex, gender, love and race. Adolescence covered his teenage years growing up in a small village just outside London, Stansted Mountfitchet. Bergdorf wanted to know if any of his homies were in the room. They weren’t.
Growing up just outside London
Bergdorf stuck out in Stansted Mountfitchet because he was mixed race, queer and feminine, contradictorily claiming that he was safe there, but also he was ‘seen as a threat to so many people’. Amfo patronisingly described Bergdorf’s father as being ‘a good black’ wanting to assimilate in a white conservative area. Remember we are talking about a village in the London commuter belt, which is a ten minute drive from Stansted Airport, and a 40 minute train journey from London. Probably the vast majority of the people who live there, work in London. It is not some isolated incestuous place, like the one my grandmother came from, on the outskirts of the Pennines, which had one bus a day, that I was fleetingly exposed to during my youth. If he’d had come from a place like that, he would have had my full sympathy.
Being his dad’s teacher
Bergdorf told us that his father had difficulty ‘navigating masculinity’ and that although his sexuality was a problem, it wasn’t the real problem. I think this differs slightly from what he has said before, that his father’s real issue was his homosexuality. Bergdorf reported that dad had gone on a journey to investigate his own masculinity and whether or not it made him truly happy, or whether it had pushed him further away from people who love him. In other words, Bergdorf was admitting he had effectively gaslighted his father.
It really took me being myself for him to understand himself.Bergdorf on his father
Normally children try to understand their parents, in order to understand their own place in the world, but in the Bergdorf family it has taken place in reverse, a sure sign that it’s Munroe who wears the trousers. Amfo recognised this, describing him as ‘their teacher’.
In direct conflict with the idea that Bergdorf was sidelined at school, we learnt that he had a big birthday party. Now, as everyone knows, only the cool kids are allowed to announce they were having a party and then invite everyone along. You had to have at least that confidence anyway. And because he was also on a swim team outside of school, he was able to get all the girls from the neighbouring schools along too.
Bergdorf got a bit tongue tied trying to explain how the birthday party was momentous in his life in revealing to him ‘how masculinity treats femininity’ (aka the difference between the sexes). The boys were apparently too shy to speak to the girls, whereas Bergdorf had no trouble and partied it up with them all night. A simpler creature might put that down to the fact that the girls held no sexual attraction for Bergdorf and therefore felt relaxed in their company. Bergdorf, however, explained that it was all about ‘unconscious bias’.
Femininity is subordinate
And here is the crux of many a man’s feminism. Bergdorf explained that it was femininity which was seen as subordinate (rather than women, which he didn’t mention). With no irony whatsoever, Bergdorf told us that men and boys seek to dominate everything and that when they can’t ‘they feel lashed out at’.
Friendship with a wealthy bestie
Bergdorf’s best friend was a very wealthy girl he knew locally, who was also modelling. He spoke about in her in a way which showcased his empathic skills, i.e. he understood how she was othered for being young and pretty, but then dropped this damning comment:
It was the early two-thousands and it was becoming cool for pretty white women to have gay best friends.Munroe Bergdorf
Will & Grace was credited with bringing ‘queer come into the mainstream’ with its ‘best gay friend trope’. Bergdorf felt it helped get him labelled as the fast and funny sidekick (even Syd Little had better company). Amfo suggested that he had been ‘socialised as a gay man’, which gave Bergdorf an opportunity to explain that at that point he had never heard of being trans.
Nadia on Big Brother
It wasn’t until Nadia on Big Brother that he had seen a trans person on TV. He also mentioned the trans character on Coronation Street (played by a woman) and the reality TV show There’s Something about Miriam, in which several straight men vied for the affections of a trans-identified male. Bergdorf stated that they didn’t know Miriam was a man (they did, they knew from the first day of shooting) and that after the contestants sued the TV producers for sexual assault (which is true, but also the production company was also sued for its serious lapses in health and safety, like plying them with alcohol daily with one of the contestants almost drowning in the open sea – see my review here).
Meeting trans people
This was a supposedly a time where transphobia made his life very hard, but it was clear from the unemotional glassy voice he used that he was simply repeating a script he’d learnt. The idea of being trans at that point was too scary for him, even though he didn’t know he was trans, whereas he could be the ‘gay best friend’ quite easily.
At around the age of nineteen he started to meet trans people. Amfo felt that ‘anti-trans rhetoric’ always centred around ‘sex and sexual violence’, proving she was aware of the story that week, of Adam Graham, a convicted rapist sent to a woman’s prison.
Chapter on Sex
Next it was time to boo the Tories and bemoan the fact that he had ‘grown up under Section 28’ and that ‘queer sex’ couldn’t be talked about, nor homophobic bullying and therefore teachers weren’t able to condemn the same. It meant Bergdorf couldn’t have a sex education and had to turn instead to pornography in order to find out how adults had sex. Bergdorf wasn’t against porn, but was against children learning about sex through porn because it wasn’t realistic. He felt that looking at porn had put him in harm’s way but he had had to do it because he had no one to talk to his own age (his fag hag already a distant memory). This lead him to meeting ‘people who wanted to abuse minors’. If we don’t teach kids all about ‘queer sex’, they’ll go looking for it instead, reasoned Bergdorf.
Why did you go looking for that?
Asked Amfo. Bergdorf had been driven underground and had confused abuse for validation. He had been looking for safety but found something else. This is what happens when you’re deprived of love and the possibility of it happening to you.
Bergdorf told us he had dedicated the book to his ‘ex-girlfriend’ Sarah Ava Fersi. In fact, Fersi was male and it seemed deliberate to me that Bergdorf wanted to withhold that he was in a relationship with another man. Indeed, he emphasised that he previously thought he would never be able to fall in love with a woman and had thought his femininity should only be engaging with masculinity. Falling in love was like ‘transitioning into the unknown’.
The only thing he told us that was that their relationship was ‘healthy’. He also avoided mentioning that suicide was the cause of death (but which he had revealed in the Guardian interview).
When Bergdorf finished speaking Amfo told him that he was absolutely worth loving and the audience clapped and cheered.
There is almost no information about Ava Fersi available online, his Instagram account having been deleted. Fersi worked as a photographer and the only remaining mentions on Instagram are of his involvement with the Horse Hospital’s Sick Monday, an exhibition celebrating the ‘video nasty’. The images the Horse Hospital have posted on Instagram with #avafersi included as a hashtag hint at the depravity.
Chapter on Race
Cut to 2017
Amfo went over the incident with L’Oreal. L’Oreal had sacked Bergdorf in 2017 for being a racist dick head, when he said this:
Once white people begin to admit that their race is the most violent and oppressive force of nature on Earth… then we can talk.Munroe Bergdorf’s facebook rant as reported by the Daily Mail
A few years later, and the need to virtue signal in light of the hysteria around the death of George Floyd, L’Oreal apologised and welcomed him back on board. Understandably Bergdorf was still feeling triumphant about this. Interestingly the photos of him back in 2017, he is noticeably several skin shades lighter than he is now.
When Bergdorf began his modelling career he always knew he didn’t just want to be photographed, he also wanted to speak, hence his career in activism began. As a ‘trans woman of colour’ he was tired of ‘diminishing’ himself and started getting involved in protests and collectives. He wanted to use fashion as a way of opening peoples’ minds. Fashion was a window into the future.
And then 2020
Brands had wisened up that they needed to do more activism. Clearly Bergdorf feels that he has been partly instrumental in this. Capitalism needed to stop villainising people of colour for being upset about racism. He still felt that ‘white people’ should be held responsible for everything. Looking back on the 2017 incident, he described himself as the ‘fall girl’ which earned him yet another round of fawning applause.
Until Bergdorf understood intersectional feminism (hinting that he had read the works of Bell Hooks, Angela Davies and others) he didn’t really think that he had a right to feminism. Of course, the feminists he likes are only the ones which are inclusive of trans-identified men. The experiences of ‘black trans women’ and ‘black cis women’ are ‘so much the same thing’. It was really important that these two things weren’t separate. The oppression the two groups experience might look different (hint, hint, it’s worse for meeeeee) but at the end of the day it all makes us feel the same way.
Question and Answer
Magnanimously Bergdorf accepted to do a question and answer session to yet another round of sycophantic applause, saying that he’d ‘come to love my journey’ and that it was the perfect way to kick off the book tour. He also loved ‘the community’ and that he loved and was proud of the book. Rinse and repeat several times to more applause and wild clapping.
Question 1: From Bergdorf’s ‘trans mum’
Yes, just like a corny episode of This Is Your Life, ‘Maria’ was in the audience. He had worked with Bergdorf in 2009 for a club night every Thursday. Bergdorf hadn’t started transition yet, but confided in Maria that he wanted to, and Maria helped him find hormones (Bergdorf squealed with laughter at this recollection). After that they lost contact, but a while later Maria saw a photo of Bergdorf on Instagram and thought ‘Wow, that’s my daughter! I’m so proud of you’. Anyway, Maria’s question was, was Bergdorf happy with his transition? To which the predictable answer was ‘yes’ with cheering and clapping from the audience. ‘Can I have a hug, babe?’ Bergdorf asked of the man who he had just publicly accepted as his ‘trans mum’, despite clearly their relationship not being special enough to have continued.
Bergdorf fleshed out the details of the measly story, they worked the same Soho club night run by drag queen Jodie Harsh and they had a lot of fun. At that time Bergdorf ‘didn’t really label myself, just called myself ‘queen”. The first time they met, Maria had pretty much turned up to the club naked. They talked and Maria showed him a world of possibilities. Bergdorf thanked Maria for taking him under his wing and said ‘I love you’. More wild clapping and cheering.
Question 2: From counsellor for children and young people
In a world, where more people are starting to question their gender identity from a younger age, how can single sex schools in the UK ensure that they inclusive of all genders and support any of their students who are transitioning or who have already transitioned?
Bergdorf recommended that people sought the advice of experts and since Bergdorf was a Patron for Mermaids, he recommended them (more wild applause and cheering). (At the time of writing five out of six of the patrons are men who have ‘transitioned’ as adults.) Mermaids do ‘incredible work’ but were subject to ‘so much hatred’ and ‘misinformation’ all because …. well, he couldn’t quite say, but he could’ve started with the appointment of Jacob Breslow as a Trustee, the paedophile apologist, and worked back from there.
Bergdorf also recommended people plug into the services of Gendered Intelligence and warned that the current status quo was very bad for ‘trans kids’, comparing it to Section 28. Specifically:
Trans kids are really going through it, they’re terrified. They’re terrified that their access to healthcare is going to be taken away. They’re terrified if they come out to their parents, that they’re parents are gonna hate them, when they are seeing so much of their, you know, who they are be debated, rather than – . The narrative isn’t ‘how can we help trans kids,’ it’s ultimately how can we stop kids from transitioning. And that needs to change.
Mermaids facilitates or provides holistic support, not just for trans kids, but also parents and […] ultimately [they] transition together.Munroe Bergdorf
He also recommended that parents talk to other parents of ‘trans kids’, as it wasn’t just kids who transition, it was also the parents.
Question 3: On JK Rowling
Is it truly possible to separate the art from the artist? For example, there is discourse on Twitter, regarding Hogwarts Legacy and the wider Harry Potter franchise and on whether you can still be a believer of trans rights while being a simultaneous consumer of JK Rowling?
Boos from the audience at the mere mention of Rowling’s name. Bergdorf, grand as ever, told people he didn’t want to tell people what to do, but went on to repeatedly tell us not to buy anything connected to Rowling, describing her a ‘horrendous terf’, a ‘transphobe’ and guilty of ‘hateful tirades’. Bergdorf reminded us that trans people were dying and that trans youths were self-harming at a disproportionate rate and ‘attempting suicide in awful numbers’. This was down to rising hate crimes and the Government ‘actively disenfranchising’ the trans community.
Question 4: The intersectional question
How do you think intersex and trans activists can work together to advance their rights collectively and what advice would you give to intersex activists, e.g. terminology, etc.?
Bergdorf sounded miffed, even though I’m sure him or his management will have had a hand in vetting the questions (indeed, they had to be emailed in, in advance). Bergdorf was still learning about all the stuff that intersex people had to go through but felt there was a lot of crossover. People were outraged that ‘trans kids were having surgeries, when they’re not having surgeries,’ whereas ‘intersex kids were having surgeries performed on them, without consent’. This was due to the state requiring a baby have a gender assigned to them at birth. It’s really difficult to know when you hear trans activists repeat these lies, whether they are knowingly lying, or just not that clever. With Bergdorf one suspects the latter. Bergdorf wouldn’t dare give advice though because he still needed to educate himself.
Question 5: On transitioning
If this book was available to you earlier in your transition, what would it have meant to you?
Bergdorf hoped that it would have deterred him from making mistakes, describing the past as ‘fun spice’ and ‘dicing with death spice’. His hope was that the book would show people ‘an alternative’ and would have provided comfort that he wasn’t alone. He hoped that a ‘little trans girl somewhere, in a rural town’ would read it and it become ‘her survival option’.
Bergdorf reminded us that it was ‘miracle’ that he was still alive and that he had achievements under his belt. Another round of uproarious applause.
Question 6: From someone who had had an advance copy (i.e. his manager)
I was really struck by a passage early on in your wonderful book where you write about the conscience being the attic of the soul, a storage room for inconvenient truths, but also probably the place in our mind which understands best our need to continually transition. I read it while waiting for a trauma assessment and I now know the difference between trauma memories and neutral memories. So thank you. How did you find writing about difficult memories?
Bergdorf told us that writing the book broke him before it helped build him. Writing in lockdown meant he didn’t have access to what he needed. What he needed was connection but also needed not to talk to people too. He needed to know what he was feeling was real and ‘um, I didn’t know what else to do’. So eloquent.
Bergdorf then told us he had an eating disorder, which meant that sometimes he ate too little or too much. During lockdown he gorged himself. He became more and more unhappy because he couldn’t deal with what he was writing about so he checked himself into rehab (but not for the eating disorder). Rehab gave him the tools to deal with his writing process. Honestly, who goes to rehab to write a memoir?
‘Our healthcare system is being dismantled,’ moaned Bergdorf and someone shouted ‘fuck the Tories’. Edgy. This gave Bergdorf the opportunity to mention there were seven year waiting lists in the UK (for gender identity services) meaning he had been let down in lockdown (by the state). At points it had been harder to relive his life story as he wrote it, than it had been to do it the first time round.
The event ended with him receiving a standing ovation.
The event was filmed and if it gets publicly posted by the Southbank I will add it here. The book appears not to be doing too well. Looks like his missed the golden moment.
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