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Munroe Bergdorf: 'I was bullied my entire school experience - I'm used to the Piers Morgans of the world'

The trailblazing model issues a rallying cry for for Black and trans equality in the Attitude September Style Issue.

2021-08-11

Interview: Cliff Joannou; Additional words: Will Stroude

To say that Munroe Bergdorf has had a rollercoaster few years would be an understatement.

After becoming the first transgender model in the UK for L'Oréal in 2017, the 33-year-old media personality soon found herself axed from the campaign for calling out white privilege and racism online, and spent three years being villified by the British press.

However, when calling out L'Oréal's "PR opportunity" Black Lives Matter solidarity message in the wake of George Flloyd's death last summer, Munroe found herself getting a long overdue apology and a place on the cosmetics giant's Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Board (as well as prompting a £50,000 L'Oréal donation to trans youth charity Mermaids and UK Black Pride).

Finally, it seemed that the ride the rest of British society was on was beginning to reach the same destination Munroe had at all along.

Munroe Bergdorf wears red dress by Stephanie Uhart; leace dress by NOdress; jewellery by Saad Collection; shoes by Ilias Little Shoe Box; gloves by T Label for the Attitude September Style Issue, out now to download and to order globally (Photography: Jordan Rossi; Styling: Mariam Taiwo Sonekan)

As Bergdorf takes to the cover of the Attitude September Issue - out now to download and to order globally - the transgender trailblazer joins BBC Radio 1's Clara Amfo in conversation to dissect the social changes of the past few years, reflecting on her own experiences as a young Black queer person and issuing an urgent call-to-arms for anyone invested in a more just society.

"For me, power comes when you stop believing what society tells you about your intersections, and start actually believing in yourself and what you can do," reflects Munroe.

"I didn’t believe in myself. I’ve always pushed myself way past my comfort zone; I’ve had to, because I’ve always been very visibly queer, so I’m used to being in situations where I’m on a high alert, but I will push myself to do it.

"Walking through the corridors every single day in school was hard enough as a kid that came out as gay at 14. I was bullied throughout my entire school experience.

Munroe wears coat by Prada; jewllery, stylist's own (Photography: Jordan Rossi; Styling: Mariam Taiwo Sonekan)

"So because of that, I’m used to the Piers Morgans of the world. I’m used to being bullied in the conservative press. I’m used to social media trolls. I think that that’s truly why I can hack it, is because I’m used to existing under duress."

The former Attitude Award winner goes on: "Whatever I’ve been through in the public eye, I’ve been through ten times worse. [There was a ] a time when I was not doing OK. I was partying a lot. I wasn’t happy. I was really struggling. We hadn’t had the conversations that we have now about transitioning. There was not the respect or the recognition of humanity for trans people that there is now.

"I grew up on the gay scene and all of my chosen family were gay and queer and trans. It was extremely difficult because, even within my own community, there wasn’t an understanding of trans-ness. Trans people were joked about all the time within our own community. It was very difficult.

Munroe wears dress by Gucci; tights by NOdress; shoes by Ilias Little Red Shoe Boz; ring by Stephen Webster (Photography: Jordan Rossi; Styling: Mariam Taiwo Sonekan)

"I’ve been able to access my power by making sure that I generate my own power, that I’m not looking for it in external ways, and I’m not trying to fill a void with partying or superficial things."

As Munroe prepares to enter a new, more empowered chapter, the Essex-born activist reasserts her commitment to fighting for a fairer tomorrow for Black and trans people.

"We’ve all got the capacity to change the world in one way or another. I’m just trying to do my bit with the time that I’ve got," she explains.

"I think if you’ve got privilege and a platform, it’s a great shame if you choose not to use it."

Read the full interview in the Attitude September Style Issue, out now.

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