My interview series continues with author, blogger and writer, Mia Violet. In 2018, Mia published her first book ‘Yes, you are trans enough’ a personal insight into transitioning and dealing with society’s gender-binary expectations. Mia has recently launched a crowdfunding campaign as a way to minimise the financial difficulties faced by LGBTQ+ individuals in a world tailored for straight people. Mia is fundraising for gender-affirming facial surgery to combat her dysphoria, please support her campaign here.
Meeting in a café near the sandy beaches of the south coast, we spoke about navigating a new public profile, dealing with increasing conflict on social media and the power of trans visibility and identity in the media.
Your book, ‘Yes, you are trans enough’ has contributed greatly to intimate, honest and accessible queer writing. I would like to start by asking you about your creative process of writing; how did this come about?
The first iteration of my blog started as a private diary, which I never intended for anyone to read. I didn’t tell anyone about it, I just wrote down what I was feeling. I think after the first entry I already had a couple of comments. It was nice to talk and connect to other people who felt the same way. I was enjoying the process of sharing my thoughts and receiving comments back. I did that, I think, for about a year and a half with very regular updates.
Eventually, my writing ended up changing slightly because of something I had read. I remember it really pissing me off. Someone had made a comment, in reference to someone else saying she’s not really trans enough. That really annoyed me. It’s such a horrible thing to say. I decided to write a blog post in response stating there’s no such thing as not trans enough.
I believe I wrote the blog post in about twenty minutes or so. I knocked it out and put it online. Having just vented all of my feelings, I just threw it out there and then discounted it. The post then blew up. It became the most popular post I’d ever written, accidentally. A few friends said I should pitch it to someone, as more people should read it. I pitched it to Huffington Post who ended up putting it on the front page of their Queer Voices column.
I received so many messages and emails. People found the piece very validating. That’s when I realised there were a lot of people in a similar situation to me who were unsure about themselves. It was at that point I started to shift my writing away from just purely being a personal diary to more helpful advice and issues I was personally dealing with at the time. That’s how the book came about. I was ridiculously lucky. The publisher approached me. I didn’t think it would go anywhere but I knew I wanted to write about uniting my own experiences and trying to help people whilst talking about trans issues.
You’ve successfully incorporated trans politics, history and culture into a personal narrative. How did you first approach the task of writing a book?
I more or less pitched that idea and they handed me a contract. Towards the end of the process I remember feeling quite overwhelmed that people were going to read my book. It was an interesting process because it became incredibly important to me. I understood that I was very privileged to have been offered this platform, and I was very aware of using that platform properly, and to be really inclusive and use the right language. I am, however, just one person. I’m not speaking for the trans community. I’m not a spokesperson. These are my experiences and my thoughts. I wanted to help people. Some people might feel I was speaking on behalf of other people. That was my biggest worry in writing it. I didn’t want people to think that I was speaking for them or about them. I didn’t want to upset anyone. Thankfully that didn’t happen and I received a lot of positive feedback.
How important was the structure of the book?
I decided to do it in a linear order because, firstly, it’s easy to read and secondly, that was my journey, from being a kid and being trans. I tried to come out to my family the first time, but it didn’t quite go to plan. I then came out again as well as deciding to transition. The linear structure of the book worked well in being able to bounce off the key points in my life. I never really considered trying to write in any other way. That was always the idea from the beginning.
There were certain memories that, when I sat down to write this, I was looking forward to recollecting. Other memories I was very nervous to relive. It was a very therapeutic process. The bullying stuff used to be such a sensitive memory to me. In writing about it, thinking about it, and exploring it, made me confront the memory. Not that it was funny at the time but I sort of saw the funny side of it. I remember thinking how ridiculous it was. There were certain events and memories that carry a lot of emotional baggage for me, still to this day. However, I did decide to pour everything into the book, to not hold back. I was interested to see what would happen.
How has it been since the launch of your book? How have you found navigating this public side of yourself?
It’s been really interesting because for a long time I’ve always had this online presence. People would comment or write to me saying that my advice was really helpful, which was always so nice to receive. However, it wasn’t until around the time of the book launch that I gave a talk at Tate Britain as part of the Queer and Now festival. That’s when it was really hit home. I remember because I was at the event all day and it was really quiet early on. I remember thinking, god I hope people actually show up. I admit, it ended up being the busiest talk of the day. It sounds silly, but it really dawned on me that this was real. It felt nice to meet people.
I’m interested in the close relationship between art and activism as a way to explore identity, to create change and address both political and social issues. Do you feel like you have an active responsibility to talk about certain LGBTQ+ politics because of the platform you have created?
It’s interesting you use the word ‘activism’ because that wasn’t a word I’ve ever really associated with my work, especially my writing. I’m sad to say I don’t feel like I do I enough to call it activism. My main focus has been speaking out loud about particular things that have happened to me. At the same time, I knew my words were really helping people. If that’s my contribution to activism, or my role within activism, which then helps people to feel better, or helps them to get to a better place even if it’s internal within the community, that’s okay with me. I’m okay to contribute to activism in that way. Some activists are really good at getting out there and being politically active. I think I’m better at talking to people directly. That’s how I feel, anyway.
As well as writing, I do a day job where I work from a front desk. In that, I always think it’s nice that I’m welcoming visitors as they come in. I’m like, “Hello, I’m trans.” Then trans people would come in. I think it’s nice that I’m there, being visible, saying this is a safe place.
I’m slightly awkward about being trans. I’m happy to talk about being trans as I feel I have responsibility to be vocal for others and to normalise it as well. I’m sure most people in the LGBTQ+ community feel similar. I remember, last year, we had an away day with all the staff at my work. There was a presentation about diversity. I sat through this talk and remember feeling quite pressured to say something. At the end I decided to point out that I was the only queer person in the room. The conversation ended in quite a heated debate as I have a responsibility to use my position, as the only queer person in the room, to educate these people.
I always say on Twitter, I feel it’s really important to try and help people, and to try and educate people. At the same time, if you don’t want to do that, that’s also fine. You have a right to live a quiet life. I’ve been given the opportunity to help people and to give something back.
I would like to ask you about your crowdfunding campaign. I listened to a podcast the other day about ‘Queer Money Matters’ exploring the financial difficulties faced by LGBTQ+ individuals, and how many live in financial poverty. How has the crowdfunding been going and how did this come about?
There was basically a gap of a year from my surgery consultation to deciding what I wanted to do. For a whole year I went from thinking, yes this is what I want, to then getting to the point where I was saying to myself, actually I don’t need this and even thinking, I don’t have the right to do this. I saw other people going through the crowdfunding process and feeling so happy for them. When it came to me, I was like no I can’t do that. It’s difficult.
It’s so complicated. I remember joking on Twitter, saying, when people come out as trans they should get a bursary from the government as you need to buy a new wardrobe. You need to purchase all kinds of stuff. We have to find that money somewhere. Even in terms of the health care, for instance, with the NHS, we’re lucky that a lot of it is covered, but at the same time, there’s so much gatekeeping involved. Any sort of facial surgery is not covered in England. They cover it in Northern Ireland and Scotland. England is the exception. All the clinics are independent. I remember asking the doctors, already knowing the answer, if there was any chance of getting facial surgery. They basically said no. They refused to refer me. The problem is, trans health care in the UK assumes that everyone fits into this one stereotype. It’s like they have a checklist and you’ll be fine in the end. People have different stories and different ways of approaching their transition. I reached the point where a lot of my dysphoria was coming from how I looked, and my face. I’m otherwise, living a very nice, healthy life. When the dysphoria lights up, it’s causes a lot of problems. In the end I decided to try and save up enough money to make these subtle changes that will really help. Maybe that’ll take years but that’s fine. I know what I want.
Can I ask you about dealing with mental health and what it is like living with gender dysphoria? It’s really interesting hearing you talk about gender euphoria in your book as a positive way to approach your transition.
Trans narratives tend to focus on the negatives, specifically how terrible they feel or how awful the process is. People don’t really spend time talking about how transitioning is actually a really positive thing, which is what gender euphoria feels like. That was the main issue when thinking about my own transition, and what motivated me to pursue it. It sort of frustrated me because I constantly came across a thousand reasons not to do it and all these negative stories. There’s obviously something to that. That’s what I tell people now. I explain, if you think about how many people actually transition compared to how many people then don’t de-transition, there’s obviously something very positive happening. It does get easier, and it does get better.
As an active twitter user the Internet provides multiple platforms and spaces for people to find a voice. What role do you think the Internet and social media has played in the establishment of your identity?
Perhaps too much, I think it’s complicated. I’m trying to think of how to word this. On one hand I think it’s very positive, it helps people connect in different ways and obviously being queer, we are everywhere right? Sometimes we end up in places that are not queer friendly and don’t have queer communities so going online to search for these spaces, it’s really helpful to have people to connect with. It’s so valuable and so positive. At the same time, I think with twitter in particular, there’s definitely a negative slant to it. I don’t know if it’s just the people that I follow or if it’s more a gradual shift in the platform, but it seems like things are leaning towards the negative and confrontational than they ever have done.
Several of my friends, I’ve had to mute their accounts. I still love them. I still think they’re amazing but they tweet about transphobia so often that I’ve hit the point where I was like, I just can’t have this constantly in my feed. That tends to happen quite often in trans circles, which I believe is really unhelpful. People will often quote tweets that are transphobic, helping to spread their hateful comments. They also get drawn into long debates with these trolls, again heightening their transphobic tweets. This is normally a very small group of people who have zero social media presence. The problem is, if you engage with a transphobe on social media, it doesn’t matter if you’re making fun of them, whatever, you’re basically handed them your microphone and your audience.
I think that’s a problem. I think a lot of the main issues lie within the platform, not taking transphobia seriously. Twitter is more likely to ban a trans person than a transphobic person. There’s also a long-term, damaging effect when engaging with transphobes. I always think about the newly out trans people who are looking to meet friends online but instead come across these horrible comments. The status quo of the platform is changing to be more about outrage and hatred. It’s just going to frighten people. I think we need to have these spaces that are actually safe to meet online where you don’t just focus on the negative things. It doesn’t mean we don’t care that it’s happening it just means you maybe find a more useful ways to deal with it. I don’t think retweeting or engaging in hateful debates serves a purpose.
What bothers me the most, their voices are amplified so much that it almost legitimises them. They’re a very small group. There aren’t actually many TERFs out there. It’s funny, I know them all by name. But saying that, they get amplified so much that it does make you feel quite pessimistic about the world. The danger of it is your perception, that there is a lot more negativity in the world than there actually is.
What social media has provided for me in the past is helping to build my own identity and following people that are similar to me. That’s what is so helpful. I’m connecting with people all over the world that I would never normally connect with. Every time I think about leaving Twitter I think about all the good that’s come from it. Twitter has played a big part in helping me find my own identity. I remember following these American and Canadian trans women who were talking about things that I’d never really heard of before. They were very different from the stereotypical issues that I had previously heard. They would talk about how much they hated the conversation around needing to pass as male or female. You don’t need people to perceive you as cisgender to be happy. You can just be trans and own it. This was revolutionary to me. It really helped me very early on to hear these things.
I remember I would go back to the blog community that I was a part of and reading a comment by someone who said, “If someone perceives you as trans it’s a personal failure,” I don’t agree with that at all. There’s nothing wrong with being perceived as what you are. If I’d never listened to these women, my politics would have taken a lot longer to develop; it might have gone in a different direction.
It actually it makes me think about how I’ve seen a lot of young trans people who have developed quite exclusionary views, which is very bizarre. Previously these exclusionary views from trans people who basically don’t believe that non-binary people exist, that you have to identify as male or female, generally were people who had transitioned many years ago. Now I’m seeing a rising group of young people, who are really anti-inclusivity, which is really bizarre. A number of people believe these attitudes are coming from a couple of YouTube personalities. They’re absorbing their views and believing that’s what it means to be trans.
It makes me think about the power that these platforms have when influencing people’s politics. On the whole, it’s a good thing but on occasion it can become really toxic and end up hurting the community. I think it’s a problem we’re probably going to see more and more as time goes on. I hope it doesn’t start splitting the community. I think we should all come together. It should be a time to be positive, to celebrate, especially what’s going on politically. We need to unite. We can’t have these separations within our communities, I find that so bizarre and alien. I don’t know what the solution is but I’m hoping these people will eventually grow out of it.
I’d like to talk about the power and politics of representation. Why has it been important to you to talk about issues concerning trans visibility? The media’s coverage can sometimes feel quite myopic/narrow-minded. Could you talk me through your thoughts on the representation of trans people nowadays, and if this is something you have thought about, what more needs to do to represent trans people more fairly?
I think one of the big problems is that the media tends to focus on trans being very scandalous and being very othering. You see these documentaries about trans people, titled imagine if your husband came out as trans or your wife came out as trans. It’s almost like, wow, wouldn’t that be so scandalous and difficult for you, the cis person. I think that causes a lot of problems, mainly because trans people will then think that they are a problem, especially in terms of being destructive. We definitely need more examples of basically treating trans people as people with more sympathetic and positive portrayals.
I also think a big problem is that all these stories focus on one stereotype and one narrative. The narrative around people who were gender non-conforming as children, who experienced signs of stress, transitioned as soon as they possibly could. However, that’s not the case for a lot of people. For many people they’ve had okay childhood and maybe they didn’t figure it out until they were in their 20s, 30s or 40s. People don’t really understand that because that’s not a story often told. People then get the wrong impression of what trans is. Other trans people also get the wrong impression. We definitely need more positive and honest trans representation.
I guess, one area of the media that is both positive and negative is some trans representation is very different from it used to be, but it’s still very narrow, in that we’re seeing images of trans people who look very glamorous. Unfortunately in those examples, far more often than not, they look a cis person. They fit cis normative ideas of what a woman should look like or a man should look like. I think that’s now sending a message that being trans is about assimilating and fitting in and that’s not what it is. Transitioning isn’t the journey to look like cis person. Lots of trans people aren’t binary, lots of trans people don’t want to look like a stereotypical male or stereotypical female.
I think it’s also leaving a lot of people feeling that they don’t have representation or there’s something wrong with them. I’ve talked to so many trans people who are incredibly critical of themselves because they don’t look like cis people. There’s nothing wrong with looking trans. Trans is beautiful. That message is so rare.
Trans people who are in the public eye right now are doing really good work but I think there is a void left by not showing broad trans representation, not giving more of a platform to non-binary people, not showing people who don’t fit into normative ideas or stereotypes. I think that’s hurting a lot of people.
A strong part of iheartwomen is to explore the role of the female influencer, and to act as a resource of women who are role models. You’re now a voice for the transgender community. Who do you see are your supporters within the community?
I find it’s generally the people who have no platform and no place for their voices to be heard. There’s a lot of frustration in the trans community that the spotlight is on a very small percentage of us, it’s something I try and be aware of. I’m trans, I am binary and I’m also obviously a white person; I am privilege. I’m not intersex. It’s important that I am aware of these things. I can’t sit here and be like, there needs to be more people on the platform, then not do anything about it. I’ve realised that I have created a platform, and with that, have a responsibility to help people out.
It’s the one thing I worried about with my book, how do I acknowledge that there are different identities and issues that exist without speaking for them. I’m not sure that’s my place but I’m also not certain I did the best job I could have within the book. No one else has said this; it’s my own criticism of my book. I think I played it too safe. I think I was so scared of talking for trans men or talking for non-binary people, other trans people, black trans women, and other intersections of identity that I don’t share. I was so scared of talking on behalf of them and getting it wrong that I held back too much, to the point where their struggles and identities weren’t really acknowledged as much as I would have wanted. If I could write the book again, from scratch, I would probably have put my faith into actually explaining what it is other people go through, the similarities but also the differences.
I remember reading an article by an intersex trans woman who said, we have zero platform to be heard, but at the same time the trans community needs to stop using us as a chip in their game against transphobes. No one’s inviting intersex people to the table to have a conversation. I do talk about intersex people in my book but I was so paranoid about talking on their behalf or speaking over them.
It reminds me of a conversation I had at work recently; we discussed how it’s important to look at the diverse authors we are representing. I remember saying, we are a room full of white people, and we’re not the people who should be making these decisions. We need to invite people in and listen to them. You can’t have these conversations without these people at the table.
Who are your role models?
She doesn’t talk about her transition very much anymore but Sophia Banks, a Canadian trans woman. I don’t think she ever really wanted the job but she ended up as a spokesperson for trans community in Canada. She was someone I followed long before I even realised I was trans. She was really influential with her politics. I watched how she helped and supported people. I did have a moment really early on in my transition where I was like, it’d be really cool to get to her level and be able to help people. I feel like I’ve managed that now without even realising. She’s been the one who I’ve always looked up to. She’s been consistently authentic and that’s what I felt I should embody as well.
How does it feel when you see the work you’ve done actually directly impact people in a positive way?
That’s been very fulfilling but it’s also ridiculous. Someone said to me yesterday, they wouldn’t have gone to their referral at the gender identity clinic if it weren’t for me. I mean, I can’t put into words how that feels. It’s such a lovely feeling. I feel like I’ve definitely achieved what I should be achieving, if that makes sense. I never want to stop.
Are you planning to write another book?
My publisher said to me, when the first book was complete, do you want to do another one? I was like, yes but not now. I decided to take a year off from writing. I’m not going to say too much as its still in the early stages but the next book is going to be more broad and less focused on me. I’m looking forward to seeing what other opportunities come up.
• Laura Hensser, 2019