If you haven’t already started watching Fuse’s programming, you’re missing out. Between the hit show about Queen of Bounce Big Freedia (now in its fourth season!) and now the new transgender docu-series Transcendent, the network is expanding beyond its typical music-focused programming and getting personal.
Transcendent spotlights the lives of five transgender women: Bambiana, Bionka, Nya, Xristina and LA. Four of them perform at the AsiaSF cabaret and restaurant and one (LA) is in the beginning phases of transitioning. The show is funny, personal and highlights the joys and struggles of being transgender.
We had the opportunity to speak with the women ahead of the show’s premiere tonight. The women open up about transitioning, hormones, Caitlyn Jenner and what they admire about one another. Take a look.
SheKnows: What advice do you have for those in the beginning phases of transitioning?
LA: One [piece of] advice is that there is no rush. Everything will happen all at the right time. Find yourself and soul-search. It isn’t easy trying to find yourself, but once you have and feel that this is the life you want to live, go for it! I didn’t realize I was trans until about a year and a half ago… I took my time and when that day came, everything just fell into place. Also, just focus on the positive things in life and don’t let anybody get in the way of your happiness. Be you!
Bambiana: To do it slow and to stay strong. The beginning is the most difficult part but it gets better with time.
Bionka: My advice for someone in the beginning of transitioning is take your time. Let your magic hormone juice take its affect so you can see your results, then decide later on any surgeries you might require to polish you off.
Nya: Have fun with it! This is the time to take risks and try new things. Whether it be a style of fashion, makeup tricks, hairstyles or everybody’s favorite: shoes! Also have a good support system: family, friends, mentors or even counselors. It is always good to talk to somebody and be heard. Just keep an open mind and be patient because things usually don’t happen overnight. You will get through it!
Xristina: Just so we are all clear, the beginning phases of transitioning is from all ages. A prime example, in my opinion, is Caitlyn Jenner. Speaking of which, there are many open public figures now than there were before. You have Caitlyn Jenner, Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, Jazz Jennings and many more. And if you don’t mind, I like to include myself in that since I, too, have been a figure within our community for quite some time. It is in my experience we tend to look up to those who appear more accomplished in their transition as a role model, and don’t get me wrong — that is not a bad thing. You should have people you like to model through. I know there will be girls who are pretty and you may feel insecure or doubt your own transitioning, and then there are others who may not have the same luxuries, and you may feel more fortunate than those. Remember one thing: that doesn’t mean our struggles aren’t similar. Never think of yourself [as] more than or lesser than — look within yourself and become your own role model. Learn to love yourself, to accept yourself and to be kind to yourself. I can’t promise it’s going to be easy, but at the end, as long as you can look up to yourself, you will know you are your own role model.
SK: We see in the episode the struggles of coming out to your family members still using male pronouns. What advice do you have for those who have not yet come out to their parents?
Bambiana: I personally was very lucky to have a family that has always been very supportive with my transition. I can only imagine how much more difficult my life would have been without them.
LA: I think it is all about educating and enlightening everyone with what pronouns to use or how you want to be referred [to]. You can never go and choose the aggressive route, mainly because it will go nowhere. You have to realize that people want to know — or simply don’t know. It is our job to make them realize that we exist and this is who we are.
Bionka: Only you know the correct time for you to come out to family, so take your time and do it when the time is right for you. Pronouns are exactly that, and family is always going to make mistakes, and it takes a while for anyone to adjust, so don’t worry about the slips.
Nya: It’s always best to be honest. It may be hard to tell your family and the outcome may not always be what you prefer, but in the long run, it’ll be worth it to be able to live as your authentic self.
Xristina: My advice for those who have not as of yet disclosed to their parents regarding being transgender [is] the following: Get informed yourself, reach out to your resources, find support with… fellow trans peers and find out what steps they took in disclosing to their parents and to others — and confide in someone you feel you can trust. You know when you are ready, but [most] importantly should find support so you won’t feel alone.
SK: Can you pinpoint one moment in your respective lives when you finally realized you were comfortable in your own skin? If so, when was it?
Nya: Well, I don’t think that any one is 100 percent comfortable in their own skin. Nobody is perfect, but I think I have always had a strong sense of self, even at a young age. I still have my insecurities [until] this day, but I never have focused on them or let them define me as a person. I guess that doesn’t really answer the question, but I am the woman I am today because I always strive to be a better me.
LA: I’ve always lived my life as a woman but identified as a gay male. I wasn’t really familiar [with] the whole “transgender” thing. I felt like it was my time a year and a half ago — July 13, 2014 — when I told myself, “I am a woman and this is the life I want to live.”
Bambiana: The moment in my transition when I finally started feeling comfortable in my own skin was when I found love — a man that saw me how I have always wanted to see myself.
Bionka: I can’t pinpoint a particular time. I just know that once I made the official transition in 2001, I’ve been the best at what I can be and never felt better.
Xristina: Being a woman, I have always felt comfortable. With that said, it is my personal feeling that with being a woman, you are always relearning your body. Within the show, I have disclosed undergoing gender-confirming surgery, and let me tell you, that has been an exploration of its own. Ladies, y’all know what I mean. Our bodies are so extraordinary. That’s what I love about our show Transcendent: it transcends with transparency. Not only do we grow as individuals empowering one another, but we are making ourselves vulnerable to help create an impact within our communities and for those who are non-trans to get an understanding of what is like to be transgender. Additionally, I’d like to include [that] we are not a representation of all transgender people. What I hope is that viewers who are watching our show will become more informative and understanding of what is like to be trans.
SK: Getting hormones seems to be very difficult, as discussed on the show. What needs to change for this to become less of a challenge?
Xristina: That’s where all these trans-related shows come in. Our show, like many others, will create awareness. I feel awareness is something needed to see the difficulties plaguing our community. I’d like to see better health care for transgender communities as well as providers being better informed about what our needs versus our sexual reproductive organs are. That’s where I feel transgender sensitivity plays a crucial part in having awareness.
LA: I think simply awareness. People need to know that we trans women exist and we are no different than any other person. It just upsets me that most define us by what is between our legs. Why can’t we just love our lives as women or simply as a human being?
Bambiana: I think we will soon see more resources and better access to health services for the trans community. To me, 2015 is with no question the year that our community began to have recognition and inclusion.
Bionka: I believe that things are ever-changing, and with the change in health care, I believe that medical professionals need to brought up to speed on current transgender issues and how to treat and deal with transgender individuals to better service them when they come to them for help with transitioning.
Nya: I think that medical professionals should really be more educated and sensitive to trans issues first and foremost. Not saying that there aren’t existing practices that are, but I think it definitely needs to be nationwide. We are out there and we deserve the same rights and medical attention that everyone else has.
SK: In the premiere, you’re in the beginning of your transition. What’s one valuable lesson you learned from each of the women on the show?
LA: One valuable lesson is just again, be yourself and don’t let society or anybody define who you are. Own who you are. Do not compare yourself to anybody else because you are unique and you are you and nobody else!
SK: What would you say are some things women say in the beginning of their transitions that they need to stop joking about (i.e. terms/language they use)?
LA: Women in the beginning of their transition need to stop referring to themselves as “he” or a gay boy. I used to do that myself, and I realized that if I say that to others, they will think it is OK for them to refer to you as such. We are women. Done!
SK: What’s one thing you admire about each of the women on the show?
Bionka: I admire everyone’s courage. We didn’t have to go on national television to share our stories, but we did and for that I admire them.
LA: This goes to all the women: bravery, confidence and the intelligence they possess. It is not easy to live your life as a trans woman. You need to be strong and thick-skinned. Negativity for me just goes in one ear and out the other and I keep smiling. The show must go on.
Bambiana: Nya is always politically correct, fair and understanding. She is our manager and no one could do the job better than her. Bionka is a free spirit and a fearlessly strong woman. Her shows are always the one[s] I enjoy most watching. Xristina is flat-out drop-dead beautiful with a crazy, fun, goofy personality. I’m always laughing around her! LA, everyone loves LA; there is not one evil bone in her. She is always kind to everyone, but I also see her strength. I’m super proud of her.
Nya: LA: her innocence. Xristina: her heart. Bambiana: her boldness. Bionka: her confidence.
Xristina: I feel our show celebrates human diversity. We are all so different, yet share many similarities.
SK: What are your thoughts on how Caitlyn Jenner is handling her transition on her show and in the spotlight?
Bambiana: I admire Caitlyn Jenner for her transition in the spotlight. Transitioning is not an easy thing. I most love her for bringing awareness to the trans community; I am happy and proud of Caitlyn.
Bionka: I believe Cait is handling her transition the best way she can. She is just like the rest of her trans sisters. It’s just she was able to help with making the trans community more visible, and I thank her for sharing her beautiful story.
Nya: I think she is doing the best that she can. I couldn’t even imagine the pressure she endures while being under the microscope. Transitioning is such a delicate and personal journey, but I think she is doing it with grace and poise. It’s definitely an inspiration.
Xristina: First off, I’d like to thank you for saying “how Caitlyn Jenner is handling her transition.” That is such an important topic since everyone’s transition is so different. To answer your question, I am impressed! She has been an iconic figure for most men and now an inspiration for a lot of women. It takes some ovaries to stand up in front of millions — and I mean millions — and announce, “I am Cait.” I think she’s courageous, and I respect her not only for that but also for finally living her true self. Since then, she’s joined in our conversation of being trans by sharing her own personal story and living her authentic self. Now I hope all those people who are interested in Caitlyn would want to know more about their transgender family, friends and people they work with who are trans, and are either exploring being trans or who are trans themselves.
SK: Who are some people in the LGBTQ world you admire and why? Who deserves more recognition?
LA: I admire everybody: Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, Caitlyn Jenner. Regardless of who they are, they all fight for the same cause and empower not only trans women, but inspire everybody. I think every trans woman, famous or not, should be admired and respected. We all need to be treated the same way. We are one and the same.
Bambiana: Laverne Cox and Janet Mock! I think these two couldn’t be doing a better job.
Bionka: People I look up to in the trans community: Amber Lynn Gray, an activist/leader in San Francisco and has helped me along my journey; Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, executive director of [the] transgender justice project SF; Sharyn Grayson, my mentor [and] leader in transgender advocacy; all black transgender women that have helped raise me in SF and Oakland and [were] role models for me as a black trans woman.
Nya: Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, Geena Rocero, Carmen Carrera, Ellen DeGeneres, Chaz Bono, Ellen Page and many more. There are so many people that inspire me every day and for different reasons. One Lady of AsiaSF, Tita Aida, who is also featured on Transcendent, has been a trailblazer in San Francisco’s LGBTQ community for many years. She is an activist for HIV/AIDS awareness and trans rights. She is one of the leaders at the Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center and an organizer of the annual Trans March in San Francisco. She has been a mentor and mother figure to me for many years and inspires me to be a better person.
Xristina: My respect goes out to all those who find the courage to stand up for what they believe. In #BecomingWhoYouAre I respect your courage, I understand your struggle, but most of all I admire your strength. For that, I not only admire the visible public figures such as Laverne Cox, Jazz Jennings, Caitlyn Jenner and Janet Mock, but everyone else who has been able to stand up for themselves in becoming who they are.
SK: What else can we look forward to seeing later in the season?
LA: As the baby in the group… stay tuned!
Bionka: Transcendent is full of excitement and shares all of our experiences over eight weeks. We have family issues, love interests, love lost and a working girls environment. Did I mention we’re all beautiful and work in entertainment? Who wouldn’t want to watch?
Nya: It’s a secret! Shhhhh! You’ll have to stay tuned in to Fuse on Wednesdays!
Xristina: In Transcendent, we are opening our lives for the first time. You will get to see the diversity between us. We are all so diverse. Our show will give you an authentic look into our everyday lives as well as the emotional and mental struggles we face, [in] addition to our relationships in and out of the restaurant known as AsiaSF. You will [see] our relationships with our friends, family and loved ones. So grab your friends, family members and loved ones, because I promise you this show is like no other.
Don’t miss the premiere of Transcendent tonight, Sept. 30, at 11:30/10:30c on Fuse.