Text JF. Pierets Photos Maxime Imbert
There’s a new transgender voice on the mainstream platform; Rhyannon Styles is a performance artist now writing a column for Elle UK. A column in which she reflects on the gender transition she began from male to female in 2012. A conversation about transformation, balance and living today instead of tomorrow.
First of all: congratulations with your Elle assignment. How did that happen?
Elle approached a PR lady whom I know and they asked her if she knew anyone who was currently in transition. She recommended me. After several email exchanges with Elle, and me giving them some examples of my writing, they decided they wanted me to be their transgender columnist.
Why did you say yes?
I decided to pursue this opportunity because I think this is a really amazing platform and it’s a wide read magazine. Having somebody who is transgender writing about his or her experiences is really important in such a mainstream environment. I’ve had had lots of good encouragements and letters of support as a result of the first two columns and I hope that continues.
What would you like to achieve with that column?
I’m now a part of the trans visibility in the media, which has grown a great deal in 2015. In a few years we probably stop talking about it and it won’t be such a big issue anymore, but right now it’s a central topic. By being an Elle columnist it will always be a reference to people who are feeling the same as I’ve been feeling. I hope that will be helpful.
Next to being a writer you’re also a performance artist?
The reason why I’m a performance artist is because I really enjoy performing. There’s an essence of being extremely confident when I’m on stage and it feels natural to be in front of an audience. But I also enjoy writing. It’s new to me, and interesting because it sort of landed in my lap. It’s an opportunity that I don’t want to miss and I find it really important to be able to do different things in my life. This assignment is such a unique opportunity that I’d be foolish to turn it down.
How does one become a performance artist?
When I was younger I always knew that in some way, shape or form I liked being in front of a camera or on stage. Nevertheless it took me a long time to find the mode. When I was a teenager I joined bands playing rock music and it just progressed. After I finished university I got heavily into nightclubbing and expressing myself in terms of the looks I was creating. I designed these extreme characters, which lent itself really easily to being onstage, so it grew from there. It’s really interesting to create a fantasy persona and bring that to life.
You call yourself a transitioning performance artist. Why is that an important word to add to the description?
I’m born male and I’m moving towards something that could be labeled not male, and that’s a process. A process that enables me to draw on lots of experience to put into my work. In a sense everyone is transitioning, since we’re all growing and changing on an hourly basis, based on our experiences in life. We’re shaped by our reality and regardless or not whether you’re in transition, which I am as a transgender person, you still should be moving onwards with your work. So that’s why I say I’m a transitioning artist, because I’m doing a lot of transitions all the time.
You know what the difference is between being a male or a female performer. Do tell!
That’s true; I’ve had the unique opportunity to be living as male, and everything that entails, and as female. When I was performing as a male, I was more of a female impersonator and was creating characters that were more androgynous or a-sexual. Performing as a female felt I had to find that form on stage. It’s hard to articulate because I don’t know the answer, but there is definitely a difference. Nevertheless I enjoyed being on stage as a man, and I definitely enjoy being on stage as woman. But as to what people think that I am; it’s their thoughts, not mine.
Do you care?
Sometimes I do, if I’m having a bad day or when I’m feeling sensitive. But it stays somebody else’s opinion and it shouldn’t really be affecting your experience. If you let everyone’s thoughts about yourself worry you, you would never get anywhere. Especially when you are writing or performing because you are in a way opening yourself up for critique. And people will critique you, that’s part of life. You just have to be ok with it and let go, otherwise it can be demoralizing.
Do you feel your life is balanced? Being creative and being in transition at the same time?
I have a lot of great stuff in my life that keeps me balanced. I guess from an outsiders point of view you think it’s heavy, but the everyday reality is one that’s quite comfortable. I’m able to except who I am and what I am. The confidence that I have is visible to other people so I don’t get many negative reactions. I haven’t always been surrounded by accepting people though; there was a time when my family wasn’t able to communicate with me because they were trying to adjust to the transition. And there were times when I felt very alone. But right now I have my family behind me, I’m having a fantastic relationship with a man who is very comfortable with who and where I am in my life and I have security in my job. Those are all things that help you stay balanced.
‘I decided to pursue the opportunity to write a column for Elle UK. Having somebody who is transgender writing about his or her experiences is really important in such a mainstream environment.’
This might be a weird question, but are you this creative because of the transition or would you be the same otherwise?
I’d like to think I am. My creativity hasn’t changed because I’ve transitioned. If anything I think my creativity, my feeling that I need to comment on certain stuff has just exploded because of the transitioning. I’m coming to a place of trying to understand myself a bit more and allowing myself to be me. This way I can open other channels that were possibly quite closed in terms of my artistic endeavors.
Do you have the feeling you have to start all over again?
I do. But I think it depends on how you want to transition. When I was 30, I had to start all over again. I needed to create a new identity and because I already had a strong identity as being a male performer, it has taken me 3 years for that to change. But it’s exciting to create a new identity. You can change the narrative. I think that’s what some people can find difficult coming to terms with, especially your family. They have this idea that you’re born as a son and you are called Ryan and you will always be Ryan till you die. But then you turn around and say; “No, I’m not Ryan. I’m Rhyannon, and this is how I’m going to live my life”. I guess that’s quite hard for people to come to terms with.
Would you trade if it were possible?
That’s a difficult question. Part of me want’s to say yes, but part of me wants to say no. Living as a boy for 30 years has been really valuable although there were both happy and sad times, which there are in everyone’s experience of life. But no, I wouldn’t change my life. I’m happy with living as a male and to some extent female, not much people have that opportunity.
Do you need to have gender reassignment surgery, apposed to living your life as a woman in a male body?
I grew up relating more to females and couldn’t really understand why I wasn’t able to do what my girlfriends did. I didn’t like that separation but I can understand the point of view you’re sketching. There are certain things in life I still can’t do because I have male genitals and that is annoying, but at the same time I still don’t know whether or not gender reassignment surgery is the right option for me. But I still have time to think about that. The possibility is very exciting but I don’t know how it will be in reality. It’s a strong commitment, and you have to be very sure about what you want to do.
How can you be sure about something like that? Is it a feeling?
I wouldn’t say I’m 100% sure, no. I’m more inclined to having gender reassignment surgery than not, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll definitely go ahead with it. Fortunately I don’t have to make that decision today so I’m not going to worry about that just yet. Marsha P. Johnson, a black trans woman and gay liberation activist from New York, once stated: “Nobody promised you tomorrow”. All I have is today and today everything is comfortable.
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