June 25, 2020
Activist, spokesperson, and model Munroe Bergdorf joins Jameela this week to discuss her experience as a black transgender woman, to dispel untrue arguments against the transgender cause, to talk about how to be a better ally, and to share about her recent reconciliation with L’Oreal.
12 — Munroe Bergdorf
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to another episode of “I Weigh” with Jameela Jamil. I hope this episode finds you well. I’m alright. Just a bit stressed, been on the phone, way too much, 13, 14 hours a day sometimes just reading the news and Twitter, Instagram and watching the news cycle continue to be so devastating and scary and watching all the vitriol and blood-thirst online, all the bigotry that seems to be pouring out, because after any moment of progress, there’s always a horrific backlash. I also am incredibly disheartened watching the way that the government is utilizing a moment of distraction and chaos and panic to take away more and more rights from the most marginalized people. It’s just pretty devastating. And I’m starting to have actual panic attacks. So if you are out there and also struggling, know that while it is important to be informed and engaged and helpful, you don’t have to be plugged in all of the time because you’re just going to burn out and then be no good to anyone. So maybe we all need to scale back a bit. Speaking of rights being taken away over in the UK, trans rights are being rolled back. And I was very lucky to be able to get hold of the very busy and very important and very extraordinary world famous trans activist, Munroe Bergdorf. She is a young black transwoman and has a very specific and unique lens and so articulate and smart and funny and human, in this episode, and just gave me, it’s so rare when someone with such a big platform is so willing to be so unguarded with you. And she just went all the way there with me. I do have to give you a trigger warning. At one point we talk about some very, very upsetting sexual violence that she was on the receiving end of. We talk about it kind of just past halfway or towards the end of this episode, and it might be upsetting for you to hear. I think it’s important to hear about if it’s something that won’t hurt and trigger you, but it really gives you a full sense, her full explanation of her experience on this podcast really gives you a sense of what it’s like for her. For people like her, for people in the trans community, what their day to day existence is like, how much danger they are in. Because all we keep fucking hearing about at the moment is how afraid predominantly middle class white cis women are of trans people. And part of this is because the same sort of 12 cases throughout history of a transwoman committing some sort of violence against cis woman, those same 12 stories are being circulated again and again and again and again and again and being used as a weapon, as a tool to classify all of the trans community as the same, that they are all the same as these, this small minority of offenders. This is a classic bigoted trope that is used and it is used against people who look like me, after 9/11, all of a sudden we were all terrorists and we all wanted to kill and blow up white people. And we all had bombs on us. It’s unbelievable how fast the minority are used to represent the majority of an entire marginalized group in order to justify other-ing them. We talk about this more in the podcast. But just watching this happen again and remembering what it felt like after 9/11 really triggered something in me and really emboldened me to make sure that we understand how much misinformation we are being told and how much fear mongering is happening in order to justify taking away the rights of people who are doing nothing wrong. They are just trying to live peacefully and happily and lovingly, people like Munroe. So I hope you enjoy this episode. She’s truly just one of a kind. And I learned so much I was gripped. I didn’t want it to end. And I am so proud to have been given the opportunity to sit down with her. She’s someone that I’m really care for deeply. And we have been working a lot together very recently. And I’m so excited for you to be introduced to her if you are not already following her line. But I suggest you do, because you’ll learn so much as I have. Enjoy this episode. Take care. Wash your hands. Lots of love. Munroe Bergdorf, how are you?
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:04:27] I’m good. How are you?
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:04:28] I’m fine. Bloody hell. What a time for us to be having this conversation. It’s like the world is on fire. It feels like there’s progress happening in so many different areas and then unbelievable setbacks and other, in others. And and that’s part of why I couldn’t think of anyone more important to talk to someone that I learn more from than you.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:04:50] Oh thank you.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:04:50] And in this moment in history, you are a black transwoman. We are at this historical intersection of the uprising of black people around the world fighting against white supremacy and Pride is happening and LGBTQ laws are being passed in favor of that community in the USA. And then in the same week, Britain, where you live, passing laws to reduce the rights of trans people specifically. How the fuck are you?
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:05:14] Uh-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:05:14] Considering that, like I know you’re currently OK. But how are you processing everything that’s going on in the world right now?
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:05:20] You know what? I’m, I’m trying to focus on, I’m trying to stay aware of what’s happening, but I’m also trying to, like, process the good.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:05:28] Yes.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:05:28] And the good is that we’ve never been more organized. We’ve never been more rallied. We’ve never been communicating like we are and aware of, you know, the tactics of the governments. You know, the distraction tactics, all of this, so I feel like we’re, we’re moving into a stage of mass enlightenment and I’m choosing to look at that rather than look at all of the awful things going on in the world because they’ve always been there, you know, I just feel like it’s all now coming to a head because governments are weak, they’re, you know, they’re not coping well with Covid-19, they’re not coping well with black people calling out and rising up against racism. They’re not coping well, you know, being held to account with all of the other things that they have to deal with, such as Grenfell, such as the wind wars scandals. There’s like a lot going on right now. But I think I’m focusing on the fact that we’ve never been more cohesive as allies and as a community.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:06:30] For sure. And also, I mean, I’ve been talking about this a lot. That part of what I think makes this moment so powerful, for all the shit that all of us rightfully talk about social media and the access it gives some terrible people, social media has massively been responsible for worldwide mobilization, especially with what we’re seeing, not only with Pride, but with the Black Lives Matter movement, which is just like it’s just really, really-.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:06:53] It’s amazing. And I’m loving how, I’m loving how platforms have changed as well, like how Tik Tok’s changed and become like a platform of information for protesting and all of the things, I was watching videos about like how to modify your phone for protesting and activism to make sure that you’re not traced and that it’s used against you and things like that and all of like everybody becoming, not everybody we, we’ve known about this, but allies and largely white people becoming a lot more active in being anti-racist and finally getting it after, you know, we’ve been speaking about this for years. So, decades. So it’s amazing to see the change actually happening.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:07:38] Yeah, I agree. I think it’s really important now. I mean, it’s, it all could have happened sooner, but I’m glad it’s happening now. And I think all of us are registering our own sort of inaction. I’ve spoken about this before on the podcast and taking accountability and recognizing, OK, there’s always more we can do and something really moving happened last week, which was the there was a rally for black trans lives in Brooklyn.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:08:04] Incredible. And I think during this time I’m seeing things happen that I never thought was ever going to happen. You know, I never thought that white people would ever say, right, we’ve got work to do. Like, we’ve been asking for that for decades, you know, ever since, like, you know, the Black Panther Party to, you know, the AIDS crisis. Like, people have, like, stood idly by and watched people die for too long. So I never thought that that was gonna change. And it’s starting to and to see 15,000 people rally for black transgender women. That, that was amazing. And it came on a day when I really, really needed it, because the British government have decided to leak information to the press about their intentions of winding back transgender rights and making it harder for trans people to self identify or transition into the gender identity that we identify as. But also to reduce our access to women only spaces. And it’s transgender women being targeted, not transgender men, even though transgender men are affected. The, it’s just heavily misogynistic. And that’s the issue is that we’re dealing with misogyny. We’re dealing with racism. We’re dealing with white supremacy. We’re dealing with all of these different forms of oppression, all piling up together. But they all are rooted in white supremacy. So we can’t be speaking about Black Lives Matter if we’re not including the trans narrative. So it makes me so happy to see transgender women being rallied for.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:09:45] Yeah. And at the very start of this this moment that we’re in, a couple of weeks ago, straight after the murder of George Floyd, you know, we started to see a lot of news about any black man, cis man who was, who was killed, especially by white supremacists or, or police. But we weren’t seeing that same energy for people, Breonna Taylor or trans people that Tony McDade and all the different people who we’ve lost. And so it definitely feels like there is some sort of much needed groundswell happening when it comes to acknowledging that all Black Lives Matter and that the women and trans people have been forgotten until now and it feels like that is no longer being accepted, which I think is wonderful.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:10:23] It’s no longer being accepted, but we’ve, we’ve got so, we so far to go, of course, like Breonna Taylor’s killers are still on the loo- like still working.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:10:33] I mean-.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:10:33] But they’re on the loose but they’re policemen.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:10:35] They passed a law called Breonna’s Law to stop that from ever happening again, but have not charged the officers who have done what has created that law. It makes no sense to me.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:10:47] Absolutely wild.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:10:47] So, I mean, there’s, there’s still so much to do. But it just feels like we are, we are in a moment of such global accountability, one that I think is the only way that we can move forward from this. And it just feels like, and I’m so happy to see that happen and I wish it didn’t have to happen in this day and age, but it feels like there’s no turning back now. It feels like we’re not going to go we’re not going to move backwards.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:11:08] Oh no.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:11:08] It’s never going to happen and I feel like people are going to be hired. Black people are gonna be hired at bigger positions and more executive positions. And we’re seeing those hires happening in front of us. We’re seeing black literature being sold and we’re seeing people like you and your platforms exploding and Rachel Cargle and Ibram Kendi and all these different amazing people finally being really listened to. And so.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:11:30] It makes me so happy because, you know, I, as I said, I never thought this was going to ever happen to our community. But I feel that the difference now is that we’re not speaking about, we’re not speaking about awareness. We’re speaking about action. We’re speaking about what we’re demanding. You know, we’re demanding respect. We’re not asking for respect or tolerance anymore. That’s not happening. I saw an amazing speech that wasn’t actually during this time, it was before, but it was Dominique from “Pose”. And she was speaking about, you know, I’m not asking for your acceptance anymore. You will respect me. And that’s really the energy that we’re in right now is about. This is real. You cannot deny that racism is real anymore. It is right here. You can see the stats. You can see the disproportionate effects of Covid-19. But what are the governments going to do about it? So I think it’s all about now holding governments and holding big, big, big businesses and corporations accountable and saying that, you know, you need to be part of the change. It can’t just be us. This, this is on you guys.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:12:45] Now everyone’s coming out in the wash. We’re seeing all kinds of big corporatiosn being called out, which we’ll talk a bit more about later. Will you talk to me about the British government’s move on the GRA? For those who don’t understand.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:13:02] Yeah. So this has been going on for a very long time, for about four years now. And the government set underneath Theresa May’s government, said that they wanted to reform the Gender Recognition Act and have a consultation on-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:13:17] And what is the Gender Recognition Act?Sorry.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:13:20] So the Gender Recognition Act. Oh, my God. Gender Recognition Act basically reforming it would make it easier for a trans person to transition. So right now, for a transgender person to transition it’s quite an arduous process. It’s, you need to like jump through hoops, go and see this person and then go to that person. That person refers you to them, and then you go there and you wait for two years and then you transition. So this would make it a lot easier. Well, it was meant to make it a lot easier for trans people to self identify and skip all of these, you know, jumping through hoops. But during that time, this section or branch of feminism, which isn’t feminism, trans exclusionary radical feminism or gender critical feminism have been campaigning against the trans community to say that this puts cis gender women in danger, which is ridiculous because there’s no stats to say that transwomen are by nature sexual abusers. If anything, it’s transwomen being sexually abused and attacked and murdered. But the papers, the conservative press, are as doing what they usually do, are pushing a narrative of traditionalism. And there’s only two genders. And transgender women aren’t women, they’re men. And if you let transgender women into the bathrooms, then you’re putting tran-, you putting cis women at risk. Which is ridiculous because that would say that, that is of the mindset that an abuser is going to transition to sexually, her, sexually abuse somebody, which why would they do that? You know? A rapist is going to rape somebody. They’re not going to make their life 10 times harder to then go and like rape somebody. Like, it just doesn’t make any sense. And they’re now saying, you know, transgender women who have male anatomy, male anatomy, are no longer going to be allowed in women’s refuges or female spaces.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:15:30] How the fuck they gonna monitor that?
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:15:33] This is what I said.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:15:34] Are we all getting? Are we all taken down our knickers? Like, what’s happening?
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:15:37] Yeah, this is what I said. It doesn’t. How, how are they going to enforce this? And this is the issue is that it isn’t actually about this. It’s a distraction tactic by the government because they haven’t addressed the Grenfell disaster. They haven’t addressed the racism that was encountered during the Windrush scandal. They are trying to distract from the amount of people that have died from Covid-19 and how poorly they reacted. They’re trying to distract from the Dominic Cummings scandal. There’s so many shortcomings of the government and there’s shortcomings of Trump as well. So they’re taking the trans community, a largely misunderstood community and weaponizing that with their racist and homophobic and transphobia base. So I, I, I’m not taking it personally insofar as I know that it’s not necessarily about us. It’s about them. And we just need to just make sure that we kick them while they’re down and get rallied and get organize and sign petitions, write letters to your MPs, write letters to the Prime Minister as well. I posted a link in my Instagram today. And, you know, there’s stuff that we can do and whether or not they take it on board is another thing. But we need to do what we can.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:16:55] For sure. Absolutely. And I think it’s important that, you know, we’re seeing, especially after J.K. Rowling’s tweets that started a huge storm on social media where she was not pro all of trans rights and definitely not pro the GRA being, well, something that would be easier to pass. She, I’m trying to be careful because I don’t want to drag you back into all of this because you and I were really in the middle of it on social media last week. But my point being that we’re seeing a lot of talk about this and it’s important that we address some of the typical tactics used by people. I don’t even know if I would call them trans exclusionary rad feminists because of the fact that so many people have told me that rad feminism in itself is supposed to be trans inclusionary and, and not interested in gender and finds the concept of gender incredibly. So I think they’re just transphobes and we shouldn’t allow them to use the term feminist if they don’t include trans people, there’s no such thing as a transphobic feminist. In my opinion.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:18:00] Well yeah. Exactly.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:18:00] So I think it’s important just to like, we’re just calling them transphobes. They don’t get to have any-.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:18:05] Oh, period.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:18:05] Any other kind of, any other kind of title, I think, other than just ignorant bigots.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:18:10] Agreed.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:18:10] So some of the tactics that you’re going to have seen maybe on social media, it, are people using maybe four to six examples of scenarios in which A, an identify, someone who identifies as trans has perhaps molested or attacked a cis woman and, and in history. Right? We have a handful of these cases and those same cases are circulated again and again and again and again and again in a tactic to create hysteria, especially among cis and predominantly white middle class women. Right? Now this is something that has been used against my people after 9/11, from 9/11 onwards. We were to take a couple of cases of horrifying extremist monsters who would identify as though they are from Islam and yet would do things that did not represent Muslims. And then all Muslims would suddenly be cast in the same way. And still to this very day, we are all racially profile-, I’m not even Muslim, but because I look like one, I have a Muslim surname, I am racially profiled every, every airport I go to and all of us have to deal with consistent racism. The same thing has happened with black people. They will take a couple of people and use the same stories again and again and again to the point where there are so many white people out there who just think all black people are into gangs and drugs.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:19:31] Exactly.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:19:31] And that is such a classic tactic.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:19:34] Yeah. If you boil it down, these are segregation laws. It’s using exactly the same tactics as was used with black people, with Jim Crow and toilet segregation. There was the narrative at that time that black men and women were by nature violent and aggressive and had the potentiality to attack or kill a white woman. So white women rallied and said that we don’t want black women in our toilets so that segregated them. But this is exactly the same kind of thing. It’s saying that transwomen are, by nature sexual abusers or pedophiles. You know, I was working with a charity and they set up a shell organization to rally to get me out of that position.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:20:25] What’s a shell organization?
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:20:27] So it’s a pretend organization. It’s, it’s like, like a trap house, like kind of, you know? Like say it’s like, it’s like pretending that something is something that it’s not.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:20:39] Right.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:20:39] So they pretended, they pretended to be an organization of concerned parents. But really, they’re an abusive ring of transphobes that go after and attack people that are trans in positions of power.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:20:55] I cannot imagine what it’s like for you. And I’m really sorry for the things that people say to you. And I’m really glad that you not only call out, but you showcase it on your social media. And I think that that’s incredibly important. And you put yourself immense risk just by being a public figure. And I really appreciate you because Jesus Christ, I mean, just since I have been vocally, vocally, heavily, like diehard pro the rights of trans people in the last five or six years, I have never, I have never been flooded with this much abuse, this many death threats.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:21:26] It’s wild.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:21:26] I cannot imagine and I’m a privileged as hell cis woman, so I cannot imagine what it must be like. And I would like for you to please explain that to our, to our listeners, because all we keep hearing about in social media, the fucking loudest people just keep on presenting how much danger people are in from trans people, allegedly. I would love for people to, if you don’t mind, if it’s not too painful for you to explain the kind of shit that you get on a daily basis and the way that you were treated, the way that you have to walk through this world, because that’s the perspective you don’t hear enough about. Because we don’t have enough transwomen or black transwomen in particular in positions of power to have 14 million followers to say these things to.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:22:10] Well, the issue really is, you know, when we’re speaking about black transgendered women. The issue is, is that we experience misogyny, racism and transphobia. So that’s going to be three sets of abuses that are going to be coming after you. And I say abuses because the tactics of these oppressive people is, you know, to whittle you down to the point where you can’t take it anymore. And, you know, they’re, it’s unfortunate. But they’re employed by the press. They’re employed by the media. So they’ve got that backing. They’ve got millions behind them. They’ve got, you know, the standing as the news and people read it and they believe it. So I’ll be attacked personally on my social media but I’ll also be attacked in my places of work. They’ll turn up to, if I do a speech, then I got followed to Wales once in Aberystwyth, which is in the middle of nowhere. They followed me to Wales to ask me a question and yeah, basically insinuated that I am a pedophile sympathizer because I support a kid that does drag. It’s, it’s completely mind numbing. But unfortunately, a lot of people believe them because they’re middle class whitewomen largely and middle class white women are believed when they say that there’s an issue, especially with a transwoman who up until recently, you know, transwomen haven’t been seen as just, you know, human. You know? And we’re still not because the government’s telling us to get out of the women’s toilet, but not offering us any gender neutral toilets, not offering any form of solution to that issue. You know, if they were to say, oh well, you can’t have this space, but we’re going to provide you with other spaces. That’s fine. But they’re not doing that. They’re just saying, off you go. We don’t care where you go. But you’re not using the toilets that you identify with.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:24:21] And I got into a little bit of heat this week because I was talking about the fact, I was talking to white women and middle class privilege women and, and, and specifically the most transphobic people online who spread this hate and spread this false rhetoric. I was saying that they have a responsibility in how they speak as to how transpeople are treated in society. And immediately, I was accused of victim blaming or not just victim blaming, but blaming women for the actions of men. And I feel like this is another really dangerous narrative that’s gone on throughout time is that women suddenly hold their hands up and they’re like, well, you know, you can’t blame us for what they did. We have to, it’s empowering for us to recognize that women have a huge influence on our society, especially now more than ever. But also, you can trace this back to the times of, of the worst of the most blatant racism, obviously, towards black people specifically. Yes. Maybe. Perhaps it was men who were doing the physical lynching, but there were white women who were enabling that, who were encouraging that rhetoric, who are fear mongering their own children, fear mongering their husbands, making false accusations. They weren’t rallying against it.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:25:34] No, but it is, it is also white women calling the police.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:25:37] Exactly.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:25:38] You know?
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:25:38] Exactly.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:25:38] To get people killed. And that’s still happening today.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:25:41] And so it’s not just about whose finger is on the trigger. It’s also about the people who contribute to the entire narrative. And I think that that’s something that I’m doubling the fuck down on. And I, and I think it’s really important that we take accountability and recognize the, the power of our words and how easy it is to poison the well and make people fear each other. I mean, it’s one of the biggest tactics used to divide and conquer all of us. The government do it often, literally, as you said earlier, just to distract us. And so, yes, I, I’m sticking to my guns. Is what I’m saying. For anyone who had an issue with that.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:26:14] We love to see it.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:26:14] Last week. It’s just, it’s a pattern throughout history. And white women have tremendous, you know, Lizzo said it really beautifully what she was like. She wasn’t even trying to, she was trying to appeal in the most empathetic way she could where she was just like white women, you have so much power. You have so much ability to create space for us at the table. Just do it. Use it. Use your privilege. And I wish more people would do that so that everyone could be safe. And for whatever it’s worth. I have only received the most love and the most acceptance, the most kindness and felt the most safe amongst the trans community. If there’s anyone who-.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:26:49] Well, we’re a great community.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:26:51] You’re a great community.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:26:52] I’m so, I’m so, I’m really thankful to be trans, you know, because I said the other, like a couple of years ago, that the problem with being trans isn’t being trans it’s, that’s not what’s difficult about it, it’s other people. So I, I’m so thankful for my community. I’m so thankful that I get to understand the world through a trans lens because we can see through so much. We can see through gender. We can see through sexuality, a lot of the time, we can see the fluidity of identity in a way that is lived and real. And I really feel like it’s a gift. And if you go back through history to ancient times before colonialism invaded the world and enforced the Western idea of gender identity being attached to biology and genitalia, which isn’t the case, if you move through the world, you go through to ancient South Asia. If you go through to Native Americans, to indigenous lands, to Polynesia, all of these places had transpeople in one way or another. And we were revered as spiritual guides. And we could see past all of, you know, the bullshit in society because we, we’ve got, you know, both aspects or a fluid approach to our identity. And it’s just such a shame that people don’t understand that transphobia, homophobia and racism are all legacies of white supremacy.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:28:29] And Angela Davis said, there’s a video of her that circulated this week talking about the fact that-.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:28:33] That was amazing.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:28:34] I loved that video so much and I cannot paraphrase it for fucking shit. So all I will try and say is just the fact that she was talking about and perhaps you can actually do a better job of me than this, but I will start you off, in the fact that women should be looking to trans people and transwomen in particular for guidance and feminism as though they are the people who are most exhibit resilience and they exhibit freedom. They, they defy the the rules, quote unquote, of our society. And they take what is rightfully theirs. They fight against the system of patriarchy harder than anyone else. And so women can learn so much from transwomen in the nature of the fact that they do not tolerate being told who to be, how to behave, how to dress. You were at the forefront of the core of what feminism is supposed to be.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:29:24] Well, we always have been. You know, trans, transwomen are on the front lines in every single way. You know, a lot of us are forced into sex work in one way or another, whether or not it be because people won’t employ us or literally forced into sex work with circumstances. And I believe that sex workers are on the front lines and need the most access to feminism. But this is the difference between black feminism and intersectional feminism, which was a term coined by a black woman and white feminism. And white feminism is, is based on a hierarchy and is oppressive because it’s only accessible to white, straight cis women. You know, it’s such a shame. And then obviously lesbians have been brought into the fold over time, but that hasn’t always been the case. So I just want people to, you need to identify the source of things.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:30:18] Yeah.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:30:19] Once you identify the source of something, you can deconstruct it.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:30:22] Absolutely.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:30:23] But once you just think that, you know, you think that racism goes both ways or you think that we’re, that there’s no sort of hierarchy in society, then you can’t deconstruct that because you can’t acknowledge privilege. You can’t see, you know, where you fit into the deconstruction machine. Activism no longer has its hold because nobody knows what role they play with in that. So it’s all about identifying the source.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:30:51] Also, I mean, speaking, speaking of lesbians, one of the other arguments that we’re seeing being made repeatedly online is, are lesbians in particular or gender critical lesbians saying that they are, they do not want transwomen allowed on to their dating websites because then they are being forced to date and have sex with them. That is not the case. You don’t have to meet up with or have sex with anyone. You don’t want to go on a dating website. And if you meet up with someone and perhaps you didn’t know what height they were, what age they really are. I mean, there are people using their profile photos from 19 fucking 75. You know, like there’s all kinds of different things on there that you wouldn’t expect or don’t know about. You don’t have to sleep with anyone. The idea that you are then forced or obliged is such a ridiculous attempt at, again, making this a hysterical and absurd issue. And I think it’s really important to also be very explicit about what is specifically for black transwoman, what the current life expectancy is.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:31:59] Current life expectancy was, as far as I know, is 35 years old and. Yeah. That means I’ve got two years left, which is traumatizing.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:32:08] Not on my fucking watch. No, you don’t. We must protect Munroe Bergdorf at all costs.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:32:16] Well, this is it. Like I have access to privilege now, which allows me to-. At the same time. I’m very much on the front lines and aware of my safety. So even though I’ve have access to privilege with money, when it comes to, you know, me walking down the street or speaking in a public event, I’m very aware of the fact that that event has been advertised. And if somebody wanted to do something to me, then they could. So I’m always hyper aware of my safety. And like I was, you know, I was sexually, I was raped in my own bedroom by a man who I slept with. And ever since then, I’ve always been very aware of the fragility of my existence and how it’s usually the men that can’t deal with their attraction or feelings towards transgender women are the ones that kill us.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:33:14] So you were saying, this was with someone you’d been in a sort of relationship with before who then came in and attacked you.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:33:18] I had a one night stand with him. We, we had a one night stand.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:33:22] And then-.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:33:23] And he stalked me over a period of six months and then broke into my bedroom when he was high on cocaine and locked me in my bedroom for two hours and raped me.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:33:34] Oh Munroe.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:33:35] Yeah.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:33:35] I’m so sorry.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:33:36] I mean, so, like, when I speak about what transwomen and black transwomen go through, I, I couldn’t be, you know, I might not have been here if something else had gone wrong, you know, but I, I managed to escape. And, you know, I’m hyper aware. I’m hyper aware of what’s happening.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:33:57] Yeah. Exactly. And the reason I keep bringing up some of the, like, arguments that other people bring is because I want the person who I think is the most qualified of anyone I’ve ever met to debunk them with me. And again, finally on that, there are people who say, well, you know, the life expectancy is sometimes so low because they have mental health issues. And that in itself implies that trans being trans in itself, gender dysphoria, these things are, are mental health issues. It shows that there’s something wrong with them. No. No, you idiot. How can you not see the cause rather than just the symptom? How can you not see that if you ostracize people, you demonize people, you slander them and you, you literally like otherize them and push them out of protected spaces. What do you think? You take away their ability to get hired. You take away their ability today. You do all of these things. You do, you dehumanize them in every particular, in every possible way. What do you think someone’s mental health is gonna be like? Trans is not the cause of a mental health issue or the symptom of a mental health issue. It is just, I’m not telling you this. I’m telling the listeners this.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:34:58] No.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:34:58] For all the people who follow me and see these dickheads in my timeline. I want to clarify these things that I can’t do in 280 words, 280, sorry, characters. I wish there was 280 fucking words on Twitter. Okay. Well, thank you. Thank you for clarifying a lot of those points to me, I really appreciate it. And thank you for being so open. And again, we must protect you at all costs because you and women like you are so important, especially to me and to all of us.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:35:28] Thank you.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:35:28] Okay, we’re gonna go to a quick break and then we’re going to come back. And we’re back. So it feels quite late in the game to start talking to you about this now. But what has your journey through transition been like? How old were you when you, you were certain that you had been misgendered at birth?
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:35:55] So I didn’t really have a eureka moment. I didn’t really have a moment, I was like, oh my God, this makes sense. It was more like I’ve always known and I was in denial or I didn’t know that I could transition. So when I was a kid, I always dreamt about who would I be if I was a girl or like a woman. And, you know, what would I want to be like? What would I want to look like? You know, who, who would I model myself on? And I just kind of pushed it to the back of my head because I didn’t think that I could ever do it. So when, and also the idea of transitioning, you know, I only really saw transpeople when they were on “Jerry Springer” being completely heckled by the crowd or on “Coronation Street” with Hayley Cropper, who, you know, who’s lovely. Who was a lovely character, but she wasn’t played by a transwoman. And also, she was like a 30 year old woman. And I was like a 16 year old child so that, she didn’t appeal to me. And then there was like the transwomen that would be murdered on “CSI”. So really the narrative. Oh, and Nadia on “Big Brother”, who was absolutely lovely, but also not like, you know, the kind of woman that I can see myself as.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:37:11] Not accessible. Yeah. To you.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:37:13] She just, was she wasn’t you know, she wasn’t a black transwomen. She. I couldn’t see myself in her, but she was fabulous. So it just didn’t really seem like something that was possible for me until I moved away from the family home to go to university. And I met my first transgender friend and she was just so beautiful and normal. And that was the thing that got me. Not that she was beautiful, but be-, that she was normal, and she worked for a bank. And I just thought, oh my God. So you can be stunning. Great. Knew that kind of anyway. But you can have a normal life and be fulfilled and have friends and be close with your family and all of these things. She just really opened my mind to the fact that I could have that for me. So I think that I’ve always known that I was trans. I was so petrified and traumatized by society telling me that I could never do it and that I should never do it. I put it to the back of my mind. So I transitioned when I, medically, when I was 23.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:38:17] That was after you had to go through a two year protocol? That you were discussing earlier.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:38:21] Well, I didn’t, I didn’t actually do that because I’m very, very impatient. And I actually took my friend’s hormones, which is something that a lot of transwomen do. I wouldn’t recommend it. But unfortunately, because the waiting times are so long and they’re like, you need to live as your gender, your desired gender, they say, for two years without hormones before we give them to you.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:38:50] God, that’s a long time.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:38:50] Which is so long and also really traumatizing. And I was like, no, I’m just going to get this going. Which is dangerous because no one was monitoring me taking those hormones. But this is, again, you know why we need to be addressing access for transgender women, because the system forces us into these situations where we’re taking our lives in our own hands. So to make it easier for transgender women to transition is literally saving lives. And the government aren’t willing to do then, which is, they’ve got blood on their hands.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:39:30] Absolutely. Yeah. I think it’s really important to say that you wouldn’t advise doing that, but also, yeah.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:39:37] I definitely wouldn’t advise doing that. Absolutely not.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:39:39] But I also understand, I understand the impetus to do so. And also because we live in a society that is so particularly unsafe for transpeople. These hormones and these accesses to surgery, etc, are things that ensure your safety because-.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:39:55] Absolutely. I just want to say that, like I always tell the truth when it comes to my-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:40:01] Yeah.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:40:01] My transition. I’m not gonna sit here and pretend that I have, you know, had a squeaky clean life and that I’ve done everything by the book. Because when society puts you into the place of being black and trans and queer, you need to navigate it however you can. Like, you’re forced into a position of do or die. And to say that a black transwoman who I was very visibly trans at the beginning of my transition to say that I had to stay very visibly trans for two years before I was given help, before I could take hormones that were life changing and gender affirming for me was extremely cruel to me. So it forced me-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:40:47] It endangered your life.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:40:49] It endangered of my life. I felt like, oh my God. Like, you know, there’s two years where I could be potentially attacked.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:40:55] Yeah.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:40:56] Like raped. And I was raped. And it’s just it’s, it’s so blind to the reality of our lived experience. It’s not just, you know, that they want us to be certain. It’s not about that. We’re certain. If someone’s transitioning, the likelihood is that they’re not going to de-transition. That’s another myth that terfs like to say is that the majority of transpeople de-transition or that we’re just confused. And that’s not the case at all.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:41:26] Yeah. Where does that come from?
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:41:29] I mean, there are people that are confused, but there’s people that are confused when, you know, they think that they’re queer. And then they try it and then they don’t, then they’re not queer.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:41:39] Or they think straight. And then it turns out that they weren’t.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:41:43] Well, exactly.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:41:45] We’re all learning.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:41:47] But I really don’t think that the narrative is, is that someone goes all the way through with the gender reassignment surgery and then regrets it.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:41:57] No. It’s another case of the one or two cases being used. And being recycled again and again.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:42:01] There’s always going to be-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:42:02] Yes. Exactly.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:42:02] Exactly. There’s always going to be one or two cases. It’s like Myra Hindley, you know, burying children in the Moors. But she’s not a representative for all cis gender white women. Is she? So, like, why is, you know, why are abuses being used as a representative for an entire community?
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:42:23] Only when they’re marginalized. We’re not told, to-. Yeah, I mean, the amount of school shooters who happen to be cis and white, we’re not told to fear all cis white boys or men. It’s just, I mean, it is what it is. So, okay. So was your community accepting of you around that time when you were making that transition?
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:42:44] Well, the very exciting thing is, is that the trans community has come so far since I transitioned. When I transitioned about 10 years ago, oh my god, it’s been a decade for me. When I transitioned, there really wasn’t the same community as there was now. It was very much like a competition between girls and the way that, you know, and the patriarchy sets it up is that, you know, we’re all forced into competition of who’s gonna be the most beautiful, who’s gonna get the most men. And it was very much like that. It was so toxic. And then there was around the time of 2015, I feel like, again, it was like a mass awakening and can. Caitlyn Jenner came out as trans and Laverne Cox was doing her thing in “Orange is the New Black”. A few years before, Carmen Carrera was talking about transitioning. And there was all of this new representation. And I was at this time, I was like five years into my transition. So it really took a good five years before I managed to get that sisterhood that I’ve always wanted. But when I got it, you know, I am so proud of my community. And like I said, I love it. I love that I’m trans. I would never take it back. I love my transness. I love my blackness. Love my queerness. I’m so happy that I’m queer. Oh my God. What would I do if I was not queer?
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:44:08] What do you mean?
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:44:11] Honestly. Like, no. Like, it’s not even about sex. It’s about the community. And, you know, to have grown up on the gay scene largely from the age of 17. And to experience what it’s like to be part of a gay family. Like your chosen family is just incredible. And I’m sure that you’re seeing that on “Legendary”. It’s, it’s the most beautiful thing. I’m getting goose bumps right now because, like, I’ve got my gay moms, I’ve got my trans moms, I’ve got like my like guncles and I’m just very, very lucky to have so many amazing queer people around me. And I’ve always had queer people around.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:44:52] Yeah. Something that I love about “Legendary”, which is this show that I’m doing at the moment that centers the ballroom community, which has, I’d say in the majority black and Latino, queer or trans participants and community members. What I love is how much we showcase the love of this community and the fact that because they have been otherized and ostracized, their resilience and their sense of survival and they’re ensurement of like, ensurement, I don’t if that’s a word, but how much they work to ensure the survival of each other and how much they teach each other and love each other and accept each other and are honest with each other. I think a lot of people, a lot of people from sort of heteronormative cis families are probably going to be quite jealous of the amount of love and openness that they see with these communities.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:45:36] Absolutely.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:45:37] It’s unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:45:40] It’s incredible. And I’m so lucky to have experienced it. I literally think that I’m lucky to be. I wouldn’t want to be straight, you know, just because I don’t feel like straight people, have that community. You know, there’s not, it’s, the straight community isn’t thought of as the straight community, even though it is. It’s, you know, a sexuality. So, of course, it’s a community. But the, the, the love and the support and the freedom, that’s it, the freedom that I’ve experienced from embracing all of myself through the queer community is unsurpassable.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:46:16] I love that. I love that so much. I love that you’ve said that. So. Okay, so a couple of years ago, you became, you decided because you were being able to create a platform for yourself. You decided to move towards being a role model for your community and moving towards activism. And what year was that and what has that experience been like?
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:46:39] I don’t actually know. I think it was 2014 or 15. I think 2014. I started using my voice more and I was like what is going on because-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:46:50] I think it was around the time you became a brand ambassador for the first time because you’d been modeling, right?
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:46:55] I’d been modeling, doing bits and bobs. And I was very much involved in the fashion industry, but I was hired as a trans model. So I was hired very much because of my body. And like I would do shoots and I would be asked, oh, can you, can you shoot untucked? Like because we want, we want to see all of your transness, we want to see all of your body and made to feel very much like I was just a body. Not a person.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:47:21] Yeah.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:47:22] And it was quite traumatizing actually. I didn’t have the best time modeling. And then I started moving more into like it, not necessarily influence work, but much more like a spokesperson for my community to speaking about my experiences being trans and black in London. And I booked a big job for a big Japanese label. And then everything just kind of blew up after that and started going up and up and up. But then around 2016 was when I really found my voice and started out denouncing actual instances of white supremacy, such as school shootings and the awful Charlottesville riot that turned in, well rally that turned into a riot, the “Unite the Right” riot.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:48:16] Exactly. And that kind of brings me to something that you and I have been involved in in the last couple of weeks, which is you became an ambassador for the brand L’Oreal. Call it a beauty brand, I guess. ‘Cause they do all of that sort of stuff. So you became brand ambassador back in 2017. Is that correct? For L’Oreal. Was it 2017?
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:48:37] Yes, 2017. In September.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:48:39] Yes. And you were their first ever trans spokeswoman, first ever black transwoman ever included as one of their ambassadors. And I remember when that happened and what a huge moment it was and how much love there was amongst the people that I was following in my echo chamber for your existence on that campaign, and it was just this history making wonderful moment. What then happened is during the course of your, and by the way, they, they hired Munroe knowing very much so that she was a very outspoken, didn’t pull any punches activist whose voice was very much so a part of her entire identity and part of the win of having her associated with your brand. During that time, we had what happened in Charlottesville. I’ll let you take it from here as to what happened.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:49:31] So the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally was a white supremacist rally. And it came largely off, off the back of the 2016 election, which saw Donald Trump become the president of the United States. And in doing so, he emboldened a whole new wave of racist-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:49:52] Rhetoric, yeah.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:49:53] Rhetoric. And, and people that actively were emboldened by their racism. And, you know, even with, like the red hat, it became pretty much the new Ku Klux Klan outfit. So unfortunately-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:50:08] I’ve never thought of it like that. Wow. Go on.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:50:11] I mean, tea.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:50:13] Yeah.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:50:13] So yeah, so yeah. Basically, they were marching with tiki torches. It was really, really grim. And it’s etched into my mind. All of these white men marching with tiki torches on to anti-racist protesters. I can’t remember what they were protesting. I think they were protesting a colonizer statue. And they drove a car into one of the protesters and it killed her. And I think something in me just flipped. I was like, I can’t deal with our society anymore. And the unwillingness to for, of white people to confront their own racism and society’s racism. And how many white people don’t understand that their entire existence is rooted in racism. And I think that that is what really got people when I would saying all white people are racist because all white people are born into this system, which is white supremacist by nature.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:51:21] Yeah.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:51:21] So even if you don’t realize it, even if you’re not consciously racist, everything that you’ve ever known is rooted in racism. So in order to not be-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:51:33] The system you live in and exist in, by the way, is a racist system built by particular by in black people, where white people, they are then not given an equal opportunity to exist and progress.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:51:42] Exactly, The reason why, the reason why the UK and the U.S. are so rich is because black people have been marginalized and forced to build it for free. So that’s what I was trying to get at. And there was this narrative that I shouldn’t be as angry as I am when speaking about racism. I shouldn’t be, you know, as emotional when speaking about something that has affected me throughout my entire life.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:52:06] Also-.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:52:06] And is now bubbling over.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:52:08] Exactly. But also, it’s important say that these, the things that you said you’d said on your private Facebook and someone who is, quote unquote, “friends” with you on Facebook screengrabbed it and sent it to the newspaper, someone who wanted to hurt your career because they were probably upset to see you doing so well. Now, however-.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:52:23] This person, I actually, I actually went to university with this person and they were also posting pictures of Michelle Obama next to a cast member of “Planet of the Apes” in monkey costumes.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:52:35] Christ.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:52:35] So that’s, that’s what I was against.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:52:38] Cool. Cool person.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:52:40] Yeah. Yeah.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:52:40] But the point is, is that a lot of the things that you were saying on that private Facebook are things that we are all saying right now, just three years later.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:52:47] I wasn’t say anything different.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:52:49] Yeah, exactly.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:52:49] Yeah.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:52:50] You were just ahead of that conversation where we were calling out the fact that silence is violence. You were calling out complicity, calling out in action, calling out the lack of education of white people about the privilege they live in. And so your statement just was described by Facebook, it was removed by Facebook and described as hate speech against white people, which in itself is hard to process. Well, yeah, you know what I mean? Like, people try to say that if you were to say that about any other group, then that would be considered racist to, to create a blanket statement. But what you were saying was actually factually correct because of the system of oppression. But also there is no history, especially not in the west of the, or anywhere really of the oppression of white people that is carried along with those words. So when this happened and because that had been sent to also one of the more openly bigoted establishments within the press, they were the ones who received your private Facebook post from this person who was trying to harm you and actually putting your life in danger, as we later saw. You were dropped very quickly by L’Oreal.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:54:01] Yeah.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:54:01] And because of the accusation of racism and they very quickly parted ways with you and there wasn’t much of a conversation, I guess, between you and them as to-.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:54:10] It wasn’t a conversation, unfortunately. I don’t feel like people were ready for what I said. What I said as activists, we’ve been saying for a very long time, and I feel like it just broke out of the echo chamber. And I feel like it was a moment in which a lot of people started to have these conversations about white supremacy, whiteness as a concept and white privilege. And we were now having debates about white privilege on television. I had a number of debates on television that had been circulated for years since. But I really do feel like, in a way it helped people to open a conversation about race issue. And I don’t know and I’m not taking all of the credit, but I do feel like that situation, without that situation, I don’t know if we would have had a number of the conversations about race that we are having now.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:55:11] Oh, for sure. It was a huge moment.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:55:14] In the UK anyway.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:55:16] Yeah, it was a huge moment. I remember it so clearly. I think that was the first time I became aware of you and started following you and to sort of like sending you beg friend messages. In your DM.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:55:27] Well now were real friends. It’s all good. It worked, Jameela, you won.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:55:35] Yes. Oh god, it was all worth it. Three long years. OK. So I. So if anyone who is listening to this follows Munroe or myself or many activists who especially who exist within the queer or trans base online, you may have seen what happened in the last couple of weeks. At the beginning of the protests, L’Oreal posted a supportive message to those who want speak out. They said speaking out is worth it. And they were talking about donations, big donations that they were making towards people at the NAACP. To support those who were protesting against white supremacy. At that moment, you decided very bravely, to not just sit down and eat, that however positive facing it seemed to be, you wanted to make sure that they were called out for the significant hypocrisy of the way that people within their same company. It’s a giant company. There are loads of different companies within it. There’s loads of different employees. But the point is that that same company had dismissed you over the same thing, they are now encouraging other people to do. This created a shit storm online. And I was very proud of you for doing that.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:56:44] Thank you.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:56:44] And we all jumped in and, and then you and I, I guess, kind of got together and I. Because I. Because I’m so, so privileged. And I am at certain tables and dinners where I’m able to meet the people high up at these companies. I asked you for your consent. I reached out to them. We, to them personally. And just sort of became like a bridge between you and them for you two to have a very honest dialog. ‘Cause that is the thing that never happens when we call people out. Or, you know, kind of the culture of cancelation takes over, which just while I support it, in some ways, and I think it is vitally important. I think it also gets misused and sometimes doesn’t actually result in actual progress. Just to sort of a quick panic apology from these big brands. I mean, we’ve been seeing it for the last couple of weeks, been a bloodbath where everyone who’s tried to post something about Black Lives Matter has immediately had their hypocrisy exposed. And then rather than actually do something, institutionally change it. They just write a quick, like short apology practically on notes and posted online. And then that’s the end of that. And no actual change.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:57:49] Well, exactly, I feel like we’re in the we’re in the era of accountability. I feel, I feel like again, as I said, we’re not asking for respect. We’re demanding it. And we’re calling people out and hopeful-, I want people not just to call people out though, I’m looking for resolve.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:58:07] Exactly.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:58:08] I’m looking for companies to, you know, put their money where their mouth is and to action what they’re saying. We don’t just want lip service. We want progress.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:58:19] Yeah. So it was very big of you to be willing to have that conversation with them, considering how hurt you been and the fact that what we haven’t mentioned is upon their dismissal of you so publicly, them disowning you and not standing by you in that moment, kind of was. I mean, it was treated like a green light by bigots to be like, oh, this very powerful establishment is calling her out and not backing her and not standing by her or educating people about what she’s talking about. Therefore, it’s open season on this young, marginalized woman. And you received death threats for like six months. Like insane death threats. All kinds of abusive messages.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:58:53] All kinds of, yeah, I had, I had really bad stuff.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:58:57] Yeah, it was really, really dark. And so you were willing to still talk to them, because I guess you and I talked about this at the time, that we are activists for a reason. If we don’t believe in change and if we do not want to push for change, then there is no point in actually being, then what are we fighting for? What are we risking our reputations or our safety or our sanity to do this if we don’t actually want change? And I think that that’s still something that we need to move forward on as a society is like, yes, we have to get angry. But then what? What’s the next step? So you sat down with the president at the company and you guys had an incredibly open discussion. I was so honored to be there to watch you speak because you were so bloody moving and composed and passionate. And I also was very impressed by them and the way that they did listen and-.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:59:45] Me too.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:59:45] They were the exact opposite of what I thought the people at the top of a giant corporation were going to be like. They are new management. They are new members of that team. And to give credit-.
MUNROE BERGDORF [00:59:54] Two women.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:59:54] Yep, two women and to give credit where credit is due. I think we were both quite surprised at the end of how that went by, the fact that-.
MUNROE BERGDORF [01:00:03] I was really surprised. Yeah, I was really surprised, but pleasantly surprised, especially after I mean, I, I called them out and I was upset. I’ve never seen red like that before. I was like, you can’t. You can’t, this, this message of speaking out is worth it, it’s amazing. Great. But you need to acknowledge what’s happened in the past.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:00:26] Yeah, walk the walk.
MUNROE BERGDORF [01:00:27] And what’s happened and walk the walk and, you know, make good of what’s happened. So, yeah, I didn’t expect them to jump on a call with me. I thought that I was just going to get what people usually get, which is, you know, as, as you said, a really shoddy apology with no follow through. But they reached out and we got a phone call and it was very much-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:00:51] It was a two hour Zoom.
MUNROE BERGDORF [01:00:53] It was a two hour Zoom. Yes. If it didn’t feel like two hours, it felt like, you know, I’ve been waiting for this call for three year.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:01:03] Yeah.
MUNROE BERGDORF [01:01:03] So it was, it was very much like person to person. And it was woman to woman. It wasn’t like talent brand, it didn’t feel like that. I felt like I was speaking to two women who wanted to understand and wanted to make good of the situation. And then they offered me a job essentially to-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:01:23] Literally.
MUNROE BERGDORF [01:01:24] Come in-. Well, yeah, literally. To come in and sit on their diversity and inclusion board, which is amazing and genius, actually, to take their biggest critic of the last three years and say, okay, well, you’re, you’re, you’re a critic of ours, but how can we do better? Will you help us do better? And my initial response was like, I don’t know. And then I thought about it. And I was like this is what you do.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:01:52] Yeah.
MUNROE BERGDORF [01:01:53] This is what you do. You are holding businesses accountable. But if you don’t want them to actually do better, then why are we holding people accountable?
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:02:01] Exactly. It’s exactly what we’re saying. That’s the whole thing we kind of went back and forth over for a while of just like then what’s the end result? And I think this was amazing. And they donated. They donated to a charity of your choice, one that centers the needs of black transwomen. Your position is paid. ‘Cause it’s really fucking important that we don’t hire activists to come in and do work for giant corporations for free. I think that’s really vital. And they issued a po-, a public apology and as well as a personal apology in person. And I hope that we start to see more of this sort of action from these giant corporations who have failed people tremendously, because I think, I also-.
MUNROE BERGDORF [01:02:38] Yeah. Absolutely.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:02:38] Really felt the power of women coming together. Powerful women coming together.
MUNROE BERGDORF [01:02:43] It was amazing.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:02:43] I’ve never seen anything like that.
MUNROE BERGDORF [01:02:43] It was really amazing. And, you know, I also want to say that me and the president have been speaking throughout the week as well. So-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:02:52] President of L’Oreal, not Donald Trump.
MUNROE BERGDORF [01:02:56] Oh my god. I thought that was all BS. Me and the president of L’Oreal have been speaking all week. So it’s not like, you know, that they’re doing this just to keep up appearances. They genuinely want my input and I genuinely want to give it. So I’m looking forward to having a relationship with them for the next three years.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:03:16] Hurray! Girl power.
MUNROE BERGDORF [01:03:18] Yeah, yeah.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:03:18] But also, I think the reason this was important to bring up, even though it has been resolved in its entirety, is currently, is that we’re about to see so much more of this. We’ve already seen the commodification of activism in the last couple of years. It’s happened to you. It’s happened to all of our friends who activists even happened to me in my position of privilege. So I, we have noticed that it has become trendy to speak out on big issues and it has also become trendy to center marginalized people. But what we are only now in the last couple of weeks finding out is that those people aren’t paid or they aren’t paid enough or they aren’t protected or brands have no idea about the lived existence of this person. They are just thinking, well, we’re doing them a big favor because we’re giving them this massive platform. So therefore A, it doesn’t matter that we’re not paying them that much. But also, it’s just good for them. Brands, anyone listening to this who works within a brand or, you know, who maybe owns their own brand. Please understand that when you are taking someone marginalized, they are marginalized because they have been bullied and ostracized by society. That person also needs protection because with all the praise and with all the glory and all of the platform also comes the fact that this person becomes hyper visible to the people who have marginalized them in the first place. And I think that’s something that L’Oreal learned. I think that’s something that a lot of brands are going to have to learn. And Christ, you and I both know that in the next year we are going to see more black people and black transpeople, in particular. We’re going to see them centered in giant brands or big films or big and very prominent positions, which I think is so fucking great and so important. And we need that. I’m not about like, oh, you’re just doing it because it’s trendy. I don’t care. Whatever your motive is, we want the representation, but-.
MUNROE BERGDORF [01:05:04] We want the representation and we want the coin.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:05:06] Exactly. And the protection.
MUNROE BERGDORF [01:05:08] You need to-, the protection and the coins. You need to pay people their worth and you need to protect people because they’re worth that, you know? I feel like there’s just, the, the idea that, you know, you can pay black people less or that you can pay women less or that you can pay queer people less because you know that they’re a marginalized demographic or that you think that they’ve got less impact. But really what you’re saying is that you, you don’t see their worth, and you don’t see, you know, you don’t see their humanity ultimately because we need money to live. So I think pay people their worth and protect them.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:05:50] Protect them, teach them how to manage social media. A lot of these people are being taken from relative obscurity and thrust right into the forefront of people’s fame. And as we’re seeing this year in particular, especially with everyone off work, it’s a more violent time than I’ve ever seen online. So, you know, you really need to-.
MUNROE BERGDORF [01:06:07] Yeah, it really is.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:06:07] Make sure you look after them and that you learn about them and that you hire more people on the inside who can stop it from ever happening again. What happened with you and L’Oreal kind of reminds me of how when some like teenage boy, let’s say, hacks into the Pentagon or the CIA, they more often than not will hire that teenaged boy to teach them how to not be hacked again. And I feel like that is the benefit of hiring marginalized people into your companies is like, I will stop you from fucking up again. I will show you your weak spots. I will show you where your ignorance lies and where you are setting yourself up for your failure and their failure.
MUNROE BERGDORF [01:06:46] Absolutely. And it reminds me of what Maxine Waters said, Representative Maxine Waters. She said I think she said something like, support controversial voices because they’re the ones that are doing the work. And it’s very much that kind of energy is to support the people that are saying the things that a lot of people are afraid to say.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:07:11] Can you quickly tell me how anyone listening to this, who’s watching the news cycle right now, who’s listening to your story, would like to be a better ally? How do you feel like you would-? How, how would you like to see people step up and help?
MUNROE BERGDORF [01:07:25] I think step one of being a better ally is educating yourself. Don’t expect other people to educate you and educating yourself can take the form of, you know, diversifying your feed on a very base level. Trying to, you know, go back and again, look at the source. Look, like do your research on history because we’re not taught history in an accurate way, especially when it comes down to the history of marginalized people. You know, look, if you’re going to be an ally to the gay community or LGBT community, do your research on why we need things like Pride and where Pride came from, research the AIDS and HIV epidemic, and like what happens with that. Legislation such as Section 28 and what my generation went through living with Section 28 when we were in school, or if it’s the black community, again, educate yourself so that you can have a conversation, not expect a lecture from or why we need Black Lives Matter, you know, so like get yourself up to speed, but also realize that allyship is in your actions, it’s not in what you say, it’s what you do. So write your MPs, share petitions, follow these, follow the activists that are not just raising awareness, but also offering your resolve. So I love activists like Shaun King because he always gives you a tool. He always says if you want to help, this is what you do. And this is what I’m trying to feed much more into my activism. And I, I put a little line saying, what can we do so that people can instantly feel and not just feel, but actively do something. You know, it’s not enough to just not be racist. We all need to be anti-racist, as Angela Davis says. It’s, it’s really in your actions. So and also, you know, if you’ve got children, educate your children on this as soon as possible, educate them on racism, educate them on sexism, misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, because-.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:09:45] Ableism, etc, all these different thing.
MUNROE BERGDORF [01:09:47] Exactly. Exactly. Because it’s really our only chance really is to educate the kids.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:09:54] Absolutely.
MUNROE BERGDORF [01:09:55] So that this stops in its tracks and is a generational problem.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:09:59] Thank you. That was incredibly clear. And I hope everyone finds that helpful. And I think that that’s also something that is being echoed all around. So if you aren’t hearing that information, then you are not following the correct people. Do not sit in-.
MUNROE BERGDORF [01:10:12] Exactly.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:10:14] A comfortable kind of complicity of silence and inaction, as many of us have done. And, and like I said, I’ve said this before. I definitely call myself out in all the different communities, I still could have done more from. I do more than maybe some other people in my line of privilege. But there’s more I can fucking do. And will continue to do.
MUNROE BERGDORF [01:10:36] Yes.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:10:36] Thank you so much for all of the things that you have told me and educated me and all of us on. Thank you for your service to your community and also to all communities who have learned from you. You are such a precious person, not just to me, but so many. You are such a hero, such an icon. You will always be remembered.
MUNROE BERGDORF [01:10:53] Thank you.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:10:54] For the fact that you have committed yourself, in spite of so much, so many scary and abusive scenarios, you have committed yourself to making sure that no one else has to go through what you’ve gone through. And you walk the walk better than anyone I’ve ever seen. So I love you. Before you leave, will you just tell me, what do you weigh, Munroe?
MUNROE BERGDORF [01:11:15] I weigh my purpose. I weigh, I weigh my mission. You know, I think that I believe that you should leave the world better than you found it. And that’s what I try to practice. I think the meaning of life is to stand for something and to follow that through. And that’s what I want people to look at me and see, you know, I don’t, like I like glamor. I like all of like, you know, like nice things, like everybody else. But that’s not what I want to be remin-, remembered for. I want to be remembered for what I did. And it’s like Maya Angelou said, you know, people will forget what you did, but they’ll remember how you made them feel. And I want people to feel hope when they see me, especially black transgendered women, because we’ve been shat on for so long and we’re finally getting the respect and the understanding that we deserve. So I want to be part of that change and I’ll do everything that I can to make sure of that.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:12:27] Well, thank you very much. And I will speak to you really soon because now we’re real friends. You said it. You said it on air. So now it’s happened. So you can’t take it back.
MUNROE BERGDORF [01:12:36] We are real friends. Listen, we’ve spoken so much over the last few weeks. Everyday.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:12:40] Yeah, I feel so proud of us for that. I feel so, not for talking, but for what we were able to prove to other people is possible.
MUNROE BERGDORF [01:12:48] Absolutely.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:12:49] It’s, and I’m so proud of you. And you did something so incredibly brave.
MUNROE BERGDORF [01:12:53] Thank you. You really did show up for me. And I’ll never forget that. And you know, Jameela called me in like the middle of the night. I think it was like 1:00 a.m. or something, my time.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:13:03] Sorry.
MUNROE BERGDORF [01:13:04] And I was like, hello. But you know what? You showed up for me. You have exercised friendship in a way that I’ve never seen. And thank you so much. I’ll, I’ll never forget that.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:13:18] I’m so fucking ride or die for you. You have no idea. Which is weird ’cause we’ve never met. But as in whatever way, for whatever reason it feels that we are.
MUNROE BERGDORF [01:13:26] It’s weird that we’ve never met. Because it feels like we have.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:13:29] We’re weird online sisters. I know. I know. I feel like I’ve known you forever. All right. Well, you go about your day. Have a wonderful rest. Thank you so much. Love you. Bye.
MUNROE BERGDORF [01:13:35] Thank you, my darling. Take care, bye.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:13:38] Thank you so much for listening to this podcast. I just want to give an extra massive thank you to people who helped me make this, Sophia Jennings, my producer and researcher. Kimmie Lucas, my producer. Andrew Carson, my editor. James Blake, my boyfriend, who made the beautiful music for this show. And now I’d like to leave you by passing the mic to a member of our community, sharing their “I weigh”.
I WEIGH COMMUNITY MEMBER [01:14:01] I weigh being a talented woman in I.T. I weigh having the most supportive, loving group of friends. And I weigh being able to overcome some of my darkest days.
January 12, 2023
Author and podcaster Amanda Montell joins Jameela this week discuss all things cults. They cover what makes a cult vs. what makes something cult-ish, what to be on the look out for when assessing if something is a cult (or cult-ish), the dangers of large cults or the cult of one, the cultish qualities of the diet and wellness industries, and more.