Munroe Bergdorf on how she fell back in love with life

In “‘I never really thought I’d be alive at this point’: Munroe Bergdorf on how she fell back in love with life,” Simon Hattenstone (The Guardian) brings attention to Munroe Bergdorf: “She’s the model, writer and trans activist who has been abused in her private life and vilified in public. Now she is revealing all in her new memoir – and explains why writing it was the most brutal form of therapy.” Her book is entitled Transitional: In One Way or Another, We All Transition (Bloomsbury 2023). Read full article at The Guardian. [Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.]

At the age of 13, Munroe Bergdorf was a swimming sensation. But in her memoir, she barely devotes a sentence to her feats in the pool, merely saying she swam at national level, was ranked 11th in the country and didn’t have her heart in it. That’s all. She doesn’t tell us whether she enjoyed swimming, trained hard or dreamed of competing in the Olympics. Not even her stroke of choice or distance. Now I’m curious. Fancy being so brilliant at something yet so indifferent to it that it barely merits a mention in your life story.

So I ask, and it all pours out. She swam the 50m backstroke, won race after race for her all-boys school, and hated every minute of it. Not the swimming (that was fine), but the culture. “Going to meets, the boys would all have fun together on the bus and I’d sit at the back,” she says. “I was never part of the squad. I was just there to bring the average of the team up. All of my teammates hated me.” It says so much about how she viewed the world, and how the world viewed her. [. . .]

Fast forward 23 years, and Bergdorf is a renowned model, writer and activist. She was the first trans person to appear on the cover of Cosmopolitan UK and to be hired (and fired and eventually rehired) by the cosmetics giant L’Oréal. Her achievements are indisputable. As are the many attacks she has been subject to. Bergdorf has been vilified in public for her views on race and gender, and abused in her private life. It’s not been an easy ride. [. . .]

[. . .] Transitional is a clever, moving book that packs a lot into its 194 pages. Yes, this is a story about Bergdorf’s transition from he to she, but more importantly it’s about any number of transitions that we all go through in life – culturally, politically, financially, intellectually, socially, you name it. As she says, barely a day passes when we don’t evolve, or transition, in some way.

Bergdorf, aged 36, grew up in Stansted Mountfitchet, a conservative middle-class village in Essex. Her working-class parents had done well for themselves (her white British mother had a senior job in financial PR, her black Jamaican father was a carpenter) and moved from London to Stansted. There were hardly any other black people in the neighbourhood, though this was never discussed when she was growing up. Her parents liked to think they were the perfect fit.

She was happy at primary school, but as she grew up she became increasingly alienated from her peers. “Once gender roles were introduced and the girls and boys started dividing, I didn’t really have a place because I was too girly for the boys and I wasn’t a girl – or seen as a girl. So I was ostracised, and the ostracism never stopped until I left high school.” Her own family struggled with her sexuality and gender dysphoria. Her father, in particular, found it hard to accept that his son wanted to be a girl.

[. . .] Bergdorf grew into a sad, angst-ridden teenager. While her struggles prevented her from excelling academically, she did well enough to win a place at the University of Brighton to study English. When she left home, she says, she was reborn. Did she finally feel she belonged when she got to university? She corrects me, gently. “I felt I belonged in Brighton. I didn’t go to university for reasons of academia, I went to start a different life.”

[. . .] In the book, she describes a terrifying sexual assault by a man she met on a night out who pushed cocaine up her nose and into her mouth as he raped her. “When you look at someone and you know they want to kill you, and they don’t see you as human enough to respect you when you say no, you don’t want to have sex with them, and rape you anyway, that just kills a part of you.” She chokes up. “I don’t know how I can unsee that. I still struggle to think of that period because I lost all hope. After that, I started hating myself a lot and entered abusive relationships because I didn’t think I deserved anymore.” [. . .]

She says her story is the story of so many trans women – dysfunctional relationships, abuse, seeking solace in drugs and alcohol, mental health collapsing. At one point she was so worried that she called the police to protect her from herself. Not surprisingly, this period of her life was particularly tough to write about. Transitional has helped put it in context, she says. “I do feel proud of myself for getting through it and for taking something positive from it. For a long time, I struggled to see the upside.”

[. . .] It perhaps wasn’t the most balanced or calm way of expressing your point, I say. “Well, would you expect people who are heavily traumatised by racism to be balanced and calm?” she fires back. “The idea that people should speak about the trauma and oppression they have experienced in a way that is digestible for people who don’t experience it … I mean, I was angry. We were watching one of the most violent displays of racism in recent history. It was horrendous. Of course, I was angry, and I think I had a right to be.” [. . .]

For full article, see

The book—Transitional: In One Way or Another, We All Transition
Munroe Bergdorf

Bloomsbury, February 2023
224 pages
ISBN 978-1526630315 (hc)

HarperOne, February 2023
208 pages
ISBN 978-0063112148 (hc)

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