Meet Kim Blackburn, the extraordinary trans activist who discusses gender, love and mental health with beauty and sensitivity. Jo Boon recently had the honour to interview Kim about her journey, experiences and what advice she has for others. The photographs are taken by the incomparable Allie Crewe, who shoots through a female gaze, and has worked with Kim to help amplify her important story. We hope you enjoy this interview and photo series, and a glimpse into the world of the beautiful, emporwered Kim Blackburn.
1. Please could you introduce yourself to your readers, let us know a little about yourself?
My name is Kim Lana Blackburn With my girlfriend Charlie, I run Park Life Café in Hebden Bridge. Hebden Bridge is a vibrant tourist town in the west Yorkshire Pennines: it was known as a hippy town and is now known as much for the beautiful countryside and artists as it is as the Lesbian Capital of the UK. The identity of the town is very much what drew me here to begin my transition. I feel like I chose the best place, its such a friendly and liberal town where everyone can be their self and I have been blessed and have had a lot of support from the community. The people here also know how to party and we have one of the best small independent music venues in the UK in the form of the Hebden Bridge Trades Club where I’m lucky enough to been given my own Club night; Lana Loves House.
2. How do you identify from a gendered perspective? Is there a label that you particularly identify with?
I identify as a trans woman if I’m with Cis Women, a woman in general and a lady if I’m joking but the truth is as I become happy with the body I see in the mirror and I spend more time with women I feel more like I’m non binary. My body is non binary and my experience of life is non binary. I feel like most people are a mixture of constructed male traits and female traits, I’ve just had to examine mine a little closer than most people which is a really interesting, if tiring, part of transitioning. I like what Ru Paul says; ‘We’re born naked, the rest is drag’. The sentiment here is that we perform our gender everyday whether we realize it or not. But I also feel that it is something we feel innately just like our sexuality.
3. Could you tell us a little about your journey?
So many unknowns, so many leaps of faith and not just for me but for Charlie too who shared this journey with me. What a crazy few years, its strange to remember those early days. Charlie has also transitioned too and so her story is my story, so these words that charlie wrote on a writing course encapsulate my transition better than a list of the ups and down and difficulties that can be easily seen through many other transition stories with the help of google. That which I hold in my hands may seem to you a mundane object symbolic of superficiality and frivolous vanity. I have come to find that it has magic inside and I’m not just referring to the black lacquer it holds. This is a wand that weaves its spell through the lashes of its wearer, altering the way they look out into the world and forever changing the way the world sees them. Shrouded in dim light with curtains tightly closed and engulfed by weighted silence, Kim looks up at me from where she sits on the edge of the bed. Hands trembling with anticipation and chest heavy with the worries of what the whole world would think about what I was about to do. What would this mean for our relationship? How would others respond to us? Could I handle this? I didn’t know how I felt there and then, let alone begin to comprehend how our lives would look in a year, two years, five years down the line. But I did it anyway. I step tentatively forward, taking reverential position between seated legs and looked down into eyes that brimmed with love and hope and sincere gratitude. I wove the spell, I painted her lashes and framed those pretty eyes and with this small action and shared moment I knew nothing would be the same again.
4. What have the effect of transitioning been on yourself, and others?
During my transition I spent a lot of time asking myself why I waited so long and what I was afraid of. It was hard to accept how much time I’d let slip by but really a large part of the process is about acceptance to varying degrees. I often joke to people that during transition you may become an enlightened being before you’re finished. There is a lot of waiting, time seems to stand still; if patience is a virtue I must be a fully fledged saint by now! I found that I lost contact with my old life while my new life developed. Although I still have contact with many of my old friends, for a while I found myself in a strange place when I was around them. Coming from a very masculine background in BMX, it was like my old male friends had to transition too. There were a few awkward moments as they had to re-learn how to relate to me and I to them! Many didn’t make the grade which has given way to new friendships in which I am just able to be taken for who I am now. Just because your unhappy with your gender doesn’t mean your going to be happy when you are living in your true gender. You may still have some of the same issues you had before; I used to be very shy. I used to constantly try to please people. I needed to feel valued, respected and understood. I needed people to be kind. I couldn’t let anyone see my weaknesses or let anyone beat me at anything without feeling bad. I wanted to change the world to one I could survive in. I lived my life inside out. I tried so hard to be the person I thought I should be and neglected who I already was, I had the game backwards. I don’t think that is unique to trans people but I think it is through my experience as a transwoman that I am able to see that we are all worthy. It is up to us to see our value, nobody can give that to us. And if we’re strong enough nobody can take it away. I think the process has changed me and now instead of a needy victim sign above my head there is one inviting people towards me. People think I’m unique and interesting, but they only think that because I do. What a gift it is to be Trans.
5. What have you lost/ and or gained?
I have certainly lost my male privilege. I remember walking through the park in the dark after I had begun transitioning and felt the prickle of a new kind of fear down the back of my neck for the first time. Moreover, through losing that privilege and entering into the female world I developed a new appreciation for the diversity of the female identity.
6. If you had three words to describe yourself, which would you choose?
Beautiful empowered sister.
7. Is there any advice you'd offer to anyone who might be experiencing something similar?
If you haven’t already come out, educate yourself before you do. You will need to know your stuff if you want to help people better understand trans issues. People will have a lot of questions, misgivings and assumptions and the more informed you are the better the language you have with which to respond. You will also be able to direct people to the resources and information that you have found most helpful and reflective of your own feelings. For example, before I transitioned I showed Charlie Lana Wackowskis acceptance speech for the Human Rights Visibility Award. That video, wherein she mentions her relationship with her wife, became a real source of comfort and inspiration to her and gave her something to hold on to during turbulents time. Most importantly, access the community. Get out from behind the keyboard and try to meet some real trans people. I am sometimes surprised at some of the behavior of the online trans community on the forums that are supposed to be about support and can sometimes be quite the opposite. A major turning point for me was dragging myself to the Born Project’s Mad Trans Tea Party in Manchester one Saturday afternoon. It was here I met another transwoman just beginning her journey. She and her partner have become great friends of me and mine and are a source of support and fun times! Subsequently, as part of what the project offers, I had a make up tutorial from transwoman and drag performer Grace Oni Smith who co runs Born with Paul. Both have been massively encouraging and inspirational and have helped introduce me to a fabulous queer community I did not feel I had access to before. As I’ve progressed in my transition I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me at the café which feels good too. Its great to share experiences with other trans people and try and help each other out.
8. Can you tell us a little about the shoot you did with Allie?
The inspiration or what you hoped to express? I haven’t done anything like this before and so I was a little nervous to begin with but Allie was great and really encouraged me to communicate through the camera. It was quite an exciting experience actually and I really enjoyed myself. I really wanted to celebrate the trans aesthetic as something beautiful in its own right. Many representations of transwomen through the various media platforms still play into archetypes that don’t really reflect what it is to be trans. I have not adopted the classic trans poses that try to hide things like a larger jaw, shoulders, feet and hands. I think I just wanted people to see me as I am and as I see myself, and I was really pleased with the final images. I think they are honest and uncompromising and beautiful.
9. What have you personally learned from this experience?
When I began my transition I thought it would have a start and an end. Starting, if you will, on male territory and finally ending on the elusive female homeland! I imagine it as a journey on a boat looking for new lands. I set off from the male territory and keep rowing towards the female despite not being able to see it very clearly on the horizon. As I get further and further out I lose sight of the old male territory, unable to navigate back there even if I wanted to, and continue towards what looks like the dry land of my female identity. As yet, despite it coming more and more into view, I have found no dry or solid land whereupon to firmly plant my feet and I’ve come to accept that this is ok as long as I continue to head towards it. I sometimes see other trans people paddling by with a certainty that they are heading in the right direction and I hope they are. But for now I’m just going to drift and try to enjoy the journey. I’m sure I’ll end up somewhere. Somewhere I’m happy to be.