Naechanè Valentino discusses the process of transitioning, grieving and separating from a previous identity in this interview transcript.
Naechanè Valentino discusses the process of transitioning, grieving and separating from a previous identity in this interview transcript.
Lou Stoppard: Tell me a little bit about yourself.
Naechanè: My name’s Naechanè Valentino. I am currently a part-time news worker, and I’m a musician and ex-model. I’ve toured the US, Europe, UK. My music was a big part of my previous identity. I have two albums released on iTunes.
LS: You said, 'my previous identity', how would you describe this?
N: How would I describe my previous identity? My previous identity was a female rapper. I was a female lesbian rapper for ten years or so. I was known as the UK’s most, I don’t know, vulgar, upfront, in-your-face lesbian rapper. But now that I’ve transitioned, I’ve been on a career break from music for about three years, maybe four, so that I can transition. It’s been tricky because I’ve been so upfront with the community and stuff, it was difficult to transition in hiding in that sense, but I did try. It’s only recently that I’ve started to come out again and have my new identity. People are taking a while to get used to, get used to him, because I’ve not been out, I’ve not been around so they’re just taking a while to get used to him, but it’s easier because they don’t automatically associate me with my previous identity. So it kind of works, that I’ve gone into hiding for a while.
LS: You said that you took a break from your music during this period, what was the point where you started to feel that you wanted to move away from your previous identity? What was the point where you started to disassociate yourself from that and realise that you wanted to start afresh?
N: I mean, it was something that I was ignoring for a while if I’m honest. I think in 2008 she won a Woman Of The Year award, which was nice because at that point I’d made the decision to transition, so she kind of went out with a bang. After that I started to delete like old stuff as I can. As you know, when you put something in the web you can’t really delete it, but I tried to delete as much as I could of her, like on websites and all that stuff so that she could die gracefully I guess. But Wikipedia is still there and Wikipedia doesn’t go away, and I don’t know how Wikipedia got hold of the information that I was going to transition, but that does mean that it was all out there.
LS: You said you’d sort of been hiding from everyone for a while, and you felt like you were putting it off. Why do you think you were putting it off?
N: Because it was a big decision to make, having to transition. It’s a long process, it’s a daunting process. It has a lot of ups and downs and it was a big decision to make, and for a while I was denying my identity. I was thinking, 'okay I’ll just be a Stud and I’ll just be happy with that', but after a while that just wasn’t working anymore and being a Stud just wasn’t enough. I’m still a Stud but a masculine Stud, a macho Stud, not a female Stud. But it just, I don’t know... it just wasn’t enough and I felt that it was time for me to at least start researching and putting the wheels into motion and it didn’t take long at all to get to what I am now.
LS: I understand to be a very difficult process and a long process, can you talk me through it a little bit?
N: It’s difficult in the sense that, well, medically it’s seen as a psychological problem. It's a mental issue, so you have to go through a lot of assessments by the mental health people and stuff like that, to assess where you’re at and why you feel this way and all of that. So you have to be able to get an assessment from a psychotherapist, so you might get one, two, or maybe three assessments depending on the person, the therapist and how many sessions you need. From that, you will get a letter to transfer you to the gender identity services and then you have to have two other appointments with them for them to assist you as well. So that’s another six months or eight months for that assessment to be done and by that point they will contact your GP and start getting you on treatments for testosterone. With that you have to do a certain amount of blood tests because the testosterone is quite strong, it’s an injection that you get monthly that takes a toll on your organs like your bladder and stuff like that so you have to do regular blood tests. They check your levels, they check your liver function and all that stuff. It’s very, very long. It’s a lot.
LS: Which sides of it have you found sort of the most challenging and the hardest to go through? Was it the medical side or the emotional side?
N: I’m an emotional person anyway, it’s in my nature. But support, well lack of support that some trans-guys and some trans-women get from the immediate people around them can be very difficult. Because it’s already a big decision to make, and to not have support on top of that from the closest people in your life makes everything a lot harder to cope with. So, for me, I think the emotional side was definitely the hardest part. I was in a long-term relationship until, well until I made the decision,and for her it was difficult because she felt like she was losing her identity as a lesbian so she left. For me that was heartbreaking because I was already at a very delicate part of my transition, I was only just starting, the hormones were not even seeping into my system yet and having to deal with that was hard. It took me two years to cope with that, and eventually I kind of picked myself up. But, it happens to a lot of trans-people. Especially if they’ve been in a relationship at the beginning or throughout the transition, their partner either can’t cope with it or feels that it’s not good, it’s changing too much or it takes away from who they are and that leads to a lot of heartache, a lot of infidelity in most cases.
LS: Do you think it is possible to maintain a relationship throughout that period?
N: I think it is possible to maintain the relationship, but that all depends on the strength of both parties. Some people have maintained their relationships with their partners from the beginning and some just can’t cope with it. But I think for the person that’s going through the change sometimes it can seem, I don’t know, seem selfish in a way and they end up blaming themselves for making that decision, although it’s, you know, inevitably a decision that’s going to make them a happier person.
LS: How did other people react to you. Did you find support elsewhere?
N: I have a cousin who is very supportive. He’s been by my side from day one really. He’s a photographer as well. He takes a lot of my shots and worked on a documentary record, a photo-documentary of my transition. And he’s been pretty much, family-wise, my solid support. My immediate family, as in brothers and sisters, are not really coping with it. They’re trying, I guess, it’s been three years now and I think one sister is just starting to correct herself if she mispronounced me or stuff like that, but my other brothers and sisters don’t really do that. My eldest sister refuses point blank to acknowledge it, and we get into arguments a lot, because like she’ll put stuff up on my Facebook page - and obviously on my Facebook you know there’s people who don’t know I was born female - I just have to delete it because I can’t cope with the argument all the time. It’s difficult for her. I guess I have to understand where she’s coming from, she’s had a little sister from birth and it's difficult for her to let go of that. But I guess that’s the only saving grace really, that I try to be understanding for her. I'm trying to deal with it because it is kind of grieving in that sense of letting go of someone that you’ve known who no longer exists. So you kind of grieve the loss of that person so I guess she’s got to grieve that whole thing before she can, I don’t know, acknowledge it to me I guess.
LS: I’m interested by you saying that’s a process of grief because when we spoke at the start of the conversation you talked with a great sense of separation. You talk about your two different identities and you talk about her as if she’s very much gone, like she’s very much from the past. Do you find that you yourself had a process of grieving?
N: Yes definitely. I know that she is the essence of who I am and if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be the man that I am today. I’m grateful for all that we have achieved, you know, in the past, to get me where I am now. So I guess yes, I did have to go through a stage of grieving and now I talk of her as you know, a twin sister’s who has passed away. And that’s how I refer to her. I’d listen to her music sometimes and, you know, remember the good memories that we had. So I kind of associate her as a part of me, like you know, like a twin that’s passed on but still is a part of me in that sense.
LS: I was quite interested by something you mentioned when you were talking about your sister’s reaction. Do you find the confusion where people don’t know what gender to speak to you with - is it things like that are actually the most maybe difficult in the process afterwards?
N: Yes it’s become like outside, you know, in the normal world when I go out, I’m seen as a boy, I’m seen as a man. I’m never mispronounced when I go out so I find it difficult for my sister to continue to bring up my past. I do find it very, very difficult but in my normal existence when I go out, I don’t get any issues at all. It’s just her being stubborn in a sense.
LS: I’m interested because you were so involved in the lesbian community with your music, is that the type of thing that you’re still very much involved in or have you found the kind of degree of separation, now that you’ve done the transition?
N: I think a mixture of the two, I am a trans-person now. I’m going to be honest. At first I did try to be stealth, I did think, ‘you know what I’ve done, I’ve done my dues now, I’ve done my years for the lesbian community' and stuff like that. I guess at first I kind of felt that people in the community didn’t really understand transgender issues and I think it’s still something that they’re still working on. Because for all the times that I was doing work in schools and all that stuff as a lesbian, transgender issues were never brought up. So now I kind of feel that I’ve got to take on that and make people aware. Just as there is homophobia, I feel that transgenderism is not represented at all to be honest. And the ones that have been represented are in things like, for example, My Transexual Summer and programmes like that. I was meant to do that programme, they did ask me but I got scared and I declined it. But I kind of, looking back on it, I’m kind of glad I didn’t do it because there’s not many black trans-guys out there that that young trans-boys can look up to. When I made the decision to transition, I did try and look for another black guy who I can talk to or ask a question, and the only one I found, he was fake, and that was via forums and stuff like that on the internet. So for the UK, I think kind of with hesitation, I think I’m still going to end up being that representation in the community and you know, like I said I did try to get away from that because I didn’t want to, I didn’t want to have to be the one to do it but in the end I feel like you know, if I don’t do it, who will, in that sense, do you know what I mean? Like on the shoot, the plan was everyone was going to be vacated out of the studio and I would get to shoot by myself. I guess on the day itself I made the decision to just you know, whatever, I just have to deal with however people perceive me or take me. So when I went downstairs to get changed and stuff you know, they were obviously apprehensive of the shoot that was going, they were like, ‘do you want people to leave and stuff?’ I said you know, I’m going to look like a diva with everyone like having to vacate the place. I kind of made the decision on the day, just be you know, upfront about it and I was quite surprised really because obviously everybody in the place also was shocked at first, you know they didn’t know who I was and obviously didn’t put the two together with me and Fontaine so they didn’t put the two together at all. And although I knew most of the studs that were there, you know, they didn’t even recognise me at first. It was a shock but, you know, I was pleasantly surprised and it kind of opens me up a lot more as well because for all the time I was saying I was just going to exist as a man and just be myself and you know, completely ignore my past identity as a trans-person in progress, it now feels that if I continue to do that it won't bring along change to make transgenderism more noticeable.
LS: You mentioned My Transexual Summer and programmes such as that. Often I find that they’re just still sort of almost objectifying members of the trans community, and sort of turning them into a bit of a show, a bit of a...
N: A puppet show?
LS: Yes exactly, do you find that?
N: It did seem like a bit of a puppet show, which is why I said that I was kind of glad that I didn’t do it because, you know, I don’t think it really put across everyone’s story well enough. I guess, because I was going to be the only black guy in the house, number one, that was going to be an issue in itself and it kind of seemed like a Big Brother-type thing. But I just don’t think it was done properly. I think that it could be done where it could be educational as well as entertaining I guess, but I don’t think they’d done it well enough.
LS: So what are your hopes for the future? What are you looking forward to?
N: What am I looking forward to? I’m looking forward to doing music again, because it’s been a long time and with my voice change and stuff it’s very difficult and I kind of let the music die in me a little bit, which is very sad, because I didn’t like the way I sounded as I started to go for this transition and stuff. I didn’t like my sound, I didn’t like the way my voice sounded and stuff. And for a while it wasn’t settling, so it was up and down, squeaky, you know, normal - what’s it called? - puberty problems. Now that it’s settled a lot more I guess for me now it’s just about getting used to the new tone in my voice, the new octave and training it up and getting back into music again, because I’ve kind of missed it a lot to be honest. Now that I work in music, I work in a studio on this project where rappers have to rap and singers have to sing and have to make beats from the programmes and stuff like that. Now I’m trying to re-ignite the fire of love for music in my soul again and hopefully be able to put myself back out there again. But in saying that, I’ve always compared myself, Naechanè, to Fontaine. So this is the first time now I’ve just kind of, you know, disassociated the two because she was then, he is now. So I’ve kind of just got to focus on him and getting him out there, and I don’t know how many people will still associate the two together but I will cross that bridge when I get to it.