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Munroe Bergdorf on the cultural influences that have shaped her identity

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Helen Bownass
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The model and activist tells Stylist about her key cultural touchstones. 

In her recent documentary, What Makes A Woman, model and activist Munroe Bergdorf examined the complex construct of a woman. It’s a particularly pertinent subject for the 30-year-old who began her own male-to-female transition six years ago, and went through facial feminisation surgery earlier this year. We asked Bergdorf to share the cultural influences that have honed her identity and made her into the woman she is today.

Venus as a boy

“This book [Venus as boy]opened me up with respect to gender and sexual orientation. It’s about someone who is kind of genderless who is turning to gold. And who can give people orgasms where they see heaven. I spent a lot of my childhood living in a dream world because I didn’t feel as though I fitted in; this book is like a modern-day fairytale. I’ve read it about seven times and it’s taught me to remember the effect we can have on others and made me believe in magic.”

Paris is burning

“This documentary was made by a privileged white woman looking at the life of trans people in New York in the Eighties. It was the first time I saw a transperson of colour in a humanised way. This and Hedwig And The Angry Inch were my introduction to the question: what is gender? Is it our genitals or something else? I had to watch them in secret because I was scared about what that would mean. Now we can see the impact those films made on the mainstream.”

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy was a great example to young girls, and placing a girl at the centre of a story felt so revolutionary. It was quite a feminist TV show and Buffy taught me to stand up for myself. Will And Grace also made me feel a little bit closer to queer culture and understand the importance of friends and how they can be your family, especially when you’re queer.”

Aaron Philip

“None of us are completely finished; we all need to continue expanding our minds. Aaron is an amazing disability activist who’s educating me on how we view people with disabilities. As an activist, you can’t expect people to show up for you if you’re not showing up for other marginalised people.”

What Makes A Woman is on All 4.

This article originally appeared in Stylist’s 2018 Beauty Issue, out 26 June. To see more from the issue, click here.

Photography: Maximilian Hetherington

Images: Netflix