Max and Chloe\

Being the absolute nerds that we are, Ditch the Label thought it would be fun to compile a list about video games. Be it the first transgender video game character ever, or even a pop culture icon, all of these characters had a part to play in the progression of video games.

1 – Samus

When it comes to face reveals, Metroid did it right when revealing the identity of Samus. Players did not know the identity of the main character until after they had played through the whole game. What made this so great, was that players had hours to develop an attachment. The shock came when it was revealed that Samus was female. This made her one of the first female, badasses in such a male dominated area.


2 – Max and Chloe

I know this is a 2-in-1 entry but it’s my list, my rules and if you don’t like it go away… dad. Max and Chloe are two female characters from the BAFTA award-winning, Life is Strange. Throughout the story their relationship develops and depending on the player’s choices, their friendship develops into a relationship. The game tackles this topic very well, not constantly pointing it out or making it their only character trait and really that’s why I put them on this list.

Max and Chloe

3 – Women’s National Football Teams

If you thought I was cheating by putting 2 in the last one, you’re gonna love this. FIFA 16 saw the first ever inclusion of females as playable characters in the game. This comes with the ability to play as one of twelve national teams. This was a huge breakthrough for female athletes in video games and it has definitely been a long time coming.

Alex Morgan

4 – Michael Jackson

Yep… that guy. It should come as no surprise that the first ever black protagonist in a video game also happens to be arguably the most famous person in the world, ever. MJ featured in the 1990 beat ‘em up, Moonwalker; the objective of the game was to beat enemies by dancing them to death. Despite the horrible concept, the rise of Michael Jackson really helped open peoples eyes to racism, so like it or not, this old-school game contributed to the progression of society.


5 – Birdo

So waaaay back in 1988, this character featured in Super Mario Bros 2 and was also the first transgender character in video game history. She was described in the games booklet as: “He thinks he is a girl and he spits eggs from his mouth. He’d rather be called Birdetta” This was later confirmed by Nintendo when in the North American version of Super Mario Bros 2 was released, Birdo was voiced by 3 different voice actors throughout the game, starting with a male and ending with a transgender female.


6 – You

In Elder Scrolls V Skyrim, your character has the ability to marry any NPC in the game regardless of gender, race, background or age (not that one). Presuming you have consent, this game allows you to be as progressive as you wish. So, well done you.


So there you have it, six of the most progressive video game charaters in history. Any big ones that we left out? Let us know in community and for another gaming article written by this golden love machine (open to edit), click here.

We interviewed Actor Noel Gugliemi

DTL: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your story so far?
Noel: Speaking of labels, if you believe Google and search “that Mexican guy in every movie,” you find me. Looking back on a 25-year career in the entertainment business, I’ve worked alongside some of the best in: Fast and Furious, Training Day, Bruce Almighty, Purge Anarchy, The Dark Knight Rises, Fresh Off the Boat, CSI Miami, Bones, The Walking Dead and literally hundreds more.

My acting life started in my teens. Raised in a classic middle-class Los Angeles home, my life took three sharp turns early on.

First, when I was about 13, my dad took a job offer to travel and to take my mum and they left me behind. Then, young and homeless, I gravitated to people who offered a sense of belonging; they were gang members. Next, I met a girl who took me to an acting class that led to a role in a commercial. Money soon followed along with more roles and opportunities that would ultimately see me enjoy a 25-year career and the life I have today.

In the shortest span of time I went from a normal life, to abandonment and homelessness, to a criminal life, and then to an actor’s life.

“I went from a normal life, to abandonment and homelessness, to a criminal life, and then to an actor’s life”


Now, I extend my work day in other ways. I connect with young people in schools and communities locally in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and nationally to try and make a positive difference. I draw on my own experiences – from fatherhood to prison to celebrity life – to help young people face issues. My hope is they benefit from hearing about my struggles and triumphs in relatable ways. Google me in the future and I hope some of this outreach comes up there, too.

DTL: Have you ever experienced bullying, cyberbullying or trolling? 
Noel: I have experienced both sides — I have been both the target and the person doing the bullying.

Young and muscling through the worst of my awkward stage, I was targeted and beaten up a lot. With growth, I got better looking, gained confidence, developed an attitude and got in trouble. I hung out with a crowd that accepted me like family. They were gangsters, but made me feel I had people who cared for me. From being bullied, I became the one who bullied. I battled the sympathy I felt for people against the pressure to be bad in front of bad friends. I knew what it was to be picked on, but I picked on others.

“I knew what it was to be picked on, but I picked on others”


I’ve always had a heart and it didn’t feel right to hurt other people. Over time, through work in acting, I found myself better able to help people. I made peace with my past, and now use my position of leadership to help others overcome their own struggles. That includes being the one who bullies, being bullied or both.

DTL: What advice would you give to those who are being bullied?
Noel: I would tell them that we were not made to fit in, we were made to stand out.

What makes you different is what can attract people to you. Learning to love, respect and be kind to yourself and others avoids these situations and prevents problems.

If you happen to be an onlooker, don’t look away because it’s not happening to you.

In all circumstances – bullying, bullied or bystander — help is available. We all have a responsibility to help and lift each other up out of bad situations.

“If you happen to be an onlooker, don’t look away because it’s not happening to you”


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DTL: Why do you think people bully?
Noel: I think some people bully because they see it as an easy way of gaining acceptance, like I did. Some people have no self-confidence, so they pick on others to convince themselves they have worth. Some have insecurities so they play on other’s insecurities to try and make themselves feel better.

DTL: What are the best and worst things about being an actor?
Noel: The best are the opportunities I’m given to meet different people and see new things. If it was not for acting, I wouldn’t have met as many people or travelled to the places I have. The worst is having to memorise a lot of scripts — which isn’t really all that bad – so I’m very lucky.

DTL: If you could go back in time, what one thing would you tell your younger self?
Noel: Think before you speak, Noel. And think before you act. Don’t be so quick to respond to situations – ignorantly — like you have in the past. Be slower to speak, quicker to listen and slower to act before doing something that can end up with bad consequences.

“Never perfect, we can only strive to be the best version of ourselves”


DTL: What does the future hold for Noel?
Noel: Making movies and living the life. I want to make movies that are good for people, that encourage and inspire. Give the hopeless hope. Turning hearts around. Inspiring people to treat others as they would want to be treated.

DTL: What would you be doing if you weren’t acting?
Noel: I’d be dead or in jail. I was on the wrong path before I started acting. It helped save me.

DTL: What motto do you live by?
Noel: God first and the rest later.

DTL: Is there anything that you would like to add?
Noel: Never perfect, we can only strive to be the best version of ourselves. While it’s easy to disappoint ourselves, we don’t want to let down those we love. So keep in mind that we are not alone and are meant to lift each other up when things get tough. It takes confidence, courage and boldness to be a champion and stay in the game. So be your own biggest cheerleader.

If my story can help people, let it help.


Follow Noel on Twitter

Comedian Jules Posner: How I Usually Answer These 10 Common Questions About Being Mixed Race

1. So, what are you?
I’m half something and half something else. Why does it matter? Also, if you’re asking me “What am I?” there’s like a whole philosophical aspect to that question that I also don’t care to answer.

2. So, do you identify with your mother or your father’s side more?
Well, I identify with my mom because I’m being courteous enough to entertain this question, but I also feel a strong identification with my father because I kinda want to sucker-punch you for asking me such an annoying question.

3. So, what was it like growing up with parents of different races?
It was like having living with two people that grew up with two sets of ideologies and they met and then realized those ideologies had some overlap. Subsequently, this compatibility led to love, marriage and the start of a family. So it was like growing up with two parents that loved each other and loved me.

4. You’re mom’s Latina? I bet she’s a dope cook.
Unfortunately no. I mean she’s okay, but she was really busy working 10 hour days at the hospital and it didn’t allow her much time for prep or produce shopping.

5. Do you speak Spanish?

6. Why don’t you speak Spanish?
No se.

7. How are you Jewish if your mom isn’t Jewish?
I had a bris. So, if you don’t think I’m Jewish tell that to my circumcision.

8. So, is your dad super cheap?
He’s a musician so I wouldn’t say he’s cheap. Just poor. Thanks though!

9. Do Jews control the media?
No, just the weather.

10. Man. That’s a crazy mix. What’s that like?
It’s pretty chill. I mean I’m really cute, so that helps.

We interviewed blogger Natascha Cox

DtL: Hi Natascha! Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your story so far?
Natascha: Where do I start?! I live in Buckinghamshire and come from a mixed family. My dad is Jamaican and my mum is from the UK. I started blogging a few years ago as I have always loved fashion and so I started a blog about beauty and travel too. I am not your typical blogger, I try to send a positive message to girls and women following my work, that it’s ok to be just the way you are. It’s great to be healthy but judging people because of the way they look is just not right.
I want to let young girls know that you can be whatever you want to be, no matter how you look. The journey might be a bit difficult but you can make anything happen.

DtL: What would you say has been your recipe for success?
Natascha: Hard work! Nothing comes on a plate, even if it seems like it’s a piece of cake there is a lot going on behind the scenes. Sometimes it’s an uphill struggle but it is all worth it in the end.

“I want to let young girls know that you can be whatever you want to be, no matter how you look”


DtL:  Have you ever experienced bullying? 
Natascha: I haven’t experienced bullying in an ongoing situation but I did have a few negative experiences at school. I remember being called the P word repeatedly by a boy in middle school and I was so annoyed because I couldn’t get through to him that I was actually half black. There were other times when I had my hair made fun of and a girl who I was friends with decided to call me all kinds of names in front of all the boys on the school bus once.
Unfortunately I was not the kind of kid who just walked away from bad situations. I used to get so embarrassed and that meant I lashed out and normally got the blame for the whole situation.
I grew up in schools where I was surrounded by a huge majority of white kids so I was always different. I always felt like I was the odd one out, the girl the boys never fancied etc.
It wasn’t until I got to about 20 that I suddenly stopped caring what anyone else thought and started thinking actually I am quite hot…lol!

DtL: You have recently been made an ambassador for Girls Out Loud – What inspired you to get involved?
Natascha: I really wanted to work with a charity that I could relate to and when Girls Out Loud came along I thought it was perfect. The work they do is so relevant to how I felt as a teenager. Giving girls that support at school  – where they go every day – is so accessible. The girls that the charity help know that if they are in trouble or just need to vent then there is someone who’s been through it all on hand, ready to listen.
It’s such a great concept and I’m so glad it’s expanding and reaching more and more girls in the UK – it’s just what we need.

“I grew up in schools where I was surrounded by a huge majority of white kids so I was always different”


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DtL: Do you think that the media has a negative impact on young people in terms of body image and self-confidence?
Natascha: Yes! Sometimes they are working in such a small bubble of skinny, pretty writers, editors, models and celebrities that they forget what the real woman looks like. If you are constantly seeing women who look ‘perfect’ how does that make you feel about yourself? What lengths do you go to in order to be like the women that are portrayed in magazines and on TV as ‘the norm’?

DtL: If you could go back in time what would you tell your younger self?
Natascha: Please talk to your mum! I felt like there were certain things that I couldn’t go to my parents about. Now that I’m older I realise they would have helped me with anything. I made some big mistakes as a teenager and they have completely changed my life. I worried far too much about what others thought and gave in to a lot of peer pressure.

“Just be real and be kind!”


DtL: What motto do you live by?
Natascha: Just be real and be kind! I really don’t care what people think and I can’t stand fake people. I’m extremely loyal, so if you hurt me once then we are never friends again.

DtL: Our research revealed that 35% of teenage girls believe that their gender will have a negative effect on their career. What are your thoughts on this?
Natascha: That sucks! I think you just have to go into the workplace with the mindset that you are as good as your work, not your sex. If you put in the effort and show willing, it will be very hard not to get to where you want to be. Create opportunities for yourself and don’t wait for them to come to you.

DtL: Is there anything you would like to add?
Natascha: If you are being bullied or feel unhappy about something then please just talk to someone. It really does help and if someone else knows you are having a hard time they will be looking out for you which can never hurt.
There is so much support available, just look at Ditch the Label! Reach out if you need to.

Khoudia Diop once experienced bullying because of attitudes towards her skin colour; she is now a successful fashion model

DtL: Hi Khoudia! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Khoudia: I’m Khoudia Diop AKA the Melanin Goddess (@melaniin.goddess). I’m 19 years old, I was born and raised in Senegal, then I moved to France around age 15 and I currently live in New York.

DtL: Have you experienced bullying?
Khoudia: Yes it’s something that I went through. People would always try to make jokes about how dark I was, or they would come up to me trying to make me feel bad about my skin colour. But I would always fight back or joke around, even though it wasn’t funny for me. I would always try to show them that I didn’t really care about what they thought of me…that kind of busted up my confidence too.

“People would always try to make jokes about how dark I was, or they would come up to me trying to make me feel bad about my color”

DtL:  What advice would you give to those that are being bullied?
Khoudia: I advise them to just ignore those that are bullying them. It’s very hard but I believe you can turn those hurtful words into something positive and keep being who you are.

DtL: Could you tell us the story behind your nickname ‘Melanin Goddess’?
Khoudia: I felt that it would be a cool nickname and would help educate dark skinned people – to let them know that it’s okay to be very dark and hopefully make them love themselves more.

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DtL: What are the best and worst things about modelling?
Khoudia: The best thing is connecting with a lot of amazing people and inspiring others! I haven’t had any bad experiences yet!

DtL: If you could go back in time, what one thing would you tell your younger self?
Khoudia: To be more patient, and spend less energy on the people that were bullying me.

“I would like all girls out there to always remember that difference is beauty”

DtL: What has been your proudest moment so far?
Khoudia: I inspire a lot of women who have insecurities, so receiving messages from them thanking me for making them realise that they are beautiful are my proudest moments.

DtL: What motto do you live by?
Khoudia: Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you!

DtL: Is there anything you would like to add?
Khoudia: I would like all girls out there to always remember that difference is beauty!


The Colored Girl: Rebirth

Thanks to Tori Elizabeth, Victory Jones and Khoudia Diop.

We talked selfies and racial stereotyping with photographer Florence Ngala

DtL: What inspired your selfie series?
Florence: When I started taking pictures, I didn’t know it would turn into a series— I took them out of boredom and curiosity about what else my camera could do. The more I learned about its capabilities, how to find good lighting and control it, as well as the other technical aspects of taking and editing an image, I then became more creative because I had more control. This evolved into me just shooting more and freely producing content. So I was initially inspired by the learning process, then after a while ideas kind of came to me based on what I saw, what I did, and I just tried my best to bring those ideas to life.

DtL: Why do you think this generation turns to the ‘selfie’ to express themselves? And what effects do you think that is having on self-esteem and body image?
Florence: Well for starters, there was a time just two hundred years ago when the photograph was this very valuable possession because it was not accessible to everyone. It’s still important now, but not in the same way. People paid photographers just to have portraits taken of their family or themselves to preserve something, to record history. Now you don’t need to pay someone to take a picture of you, you can do it yourself, you don’t even need a camera, people take pictures on their phones, laptops, etc.

“I think selfie culture has empowered many more people, especially women”


So to answer your question, I think that this generation turns to selfies for the same reason humans have always created images. Back then the technology wasn’t there yet, but people have always been interested in being able to represent themselves. Cavemen did it, the Egyptians did it, the Greeks did it, and now people have literally created careers solely based off of creating pictures of themselves. We’ve gone from Neil Armstrong taking pictures on the moon, to Kim Kardashian being able to publish and sell a book of images of her face. The common denominator is the fact that we all want to control our own narrative. In terms of self-esteem and body image, I think selfie culture has empowered many more people, especially women. Sharing a picture opens this window for comments, likes, and lots of positive reactions. When talking about the effects, it has definitely encouraged this generation to be more self-confident, and in some unfortunate cases kind of vain.

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DtL: What do you think of ‘selfie’ culture?
Florence: I mean, it’s here to stay for sure. It’s fascinating to see how it has evolved. We have the Go-Pro, the selfie stick, I just recently saw a video about engagement ring boxes with cameras in them. What started off as front camera on a phone has without a doubt completely revolutionised the way people document their lives and share them.

DtL: Have you personally ever experienced prejudice because of attitudes towards your ethnicity? If so can you tell us what happened and how you overcame the experience?
Florence: Growing up, as the child of immigrants, I noticed the divide that existed between Black students and African students. I noticed that there was an impression of inferiority that some kids in my class tried to project onto me which seemed to be based on stereotypes which existed about African people. At that age (like 9/10), I never really thought to identify more with one than the other until classmates made it seem as though there was a difference between me and them. I retaliated by hitting them back with any mean comment I could think of.

“I noticed the divide that existed between Black students and African students”


I also used to figure skate for years and was blessed enough to really excel in that sport. I surpassed in skill girls who had been part of my program longer than I had, or who were older than me. I worked really hard to make sure I didn’t come off as being better than these girls and was almost scared sometimes to showcase my skill because I thought people would dislike me. At a point I experienced passive bullying and fake friendships from individuals who were in my group. I could tell these people were my teammates but not my friends. What made matters worse was that since I became a strong figure skater, I was moved up to a harder group where everyone was also older than me for a while, my real friends and I were separated. I dealt with this by ignoring that gut feeling I had that these girls didn’t like me, and overcompensated by trying to be really nice. I kind of wish I wasn’t though, but I was young and just didn’t want to not have friends, especially people I saw multiple times a week.

DtL: Our research revealed that 35% of teenage girls believe that their gender will have a negative effect on their career. What are your thoughts on this, based on your experiences in the industry?
Florence: This is a great question, I honestly have never felt that my gender would hinder my success. I feel as though this question will spark a different answer for women depending on the career path they’re in. I can understand how individuals in one field may feel that gender inequality is more so the case than those in other fields. Going into a creative industry, I’ve always just felt that no matter what, creativity trumps everything, it doesn’t matter who you are. A good idea is a good idea.

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DtL: What advice would you give to someone who may be experiencing bullying right now?
Florence: Well, I believe that in life, it is such a comforting feeling to realise what you’re good at, and to be undeniably passionate about it. To be consumed and invested in your talent and to just develop this work ethic where you’re motivated by you loving what you do and not being distracted by anything else. During my 2016 spring semester at school we had to create anti-bullying posters in my design class and the approach I took for one of my designs was promoting this idea of working hard at what you want to do, and being the best at it. So I created posters with the ages of people who’ve broken world records and reached amazing feats at very young ages. The point of this was to showcase that once someone harnesses their talent, there’s truly no stopping them, and that there is no age where this starts or ends. Kids as young as 10 and 11 have broken world records, and so have people as old as 80 and 90.

So, if you’re being bullied now, cliché as it sounds, distract yourself, that means try every sport, hobby, extracurricular, anything, and in time you’ll latch on to what you love, become good and just kick a**. Who will stop you if you are focused on your craft? In retrospect, this is what I did as a young figure skater when it came to dealing with the girls who I felt uncomfortable around. I loved figure skating so much that no matter what, getting on that ice was always when I felt strongest and safest. Over time, the more I did that, the easier it was to not pay attention to the shade I thought was being thrown my way, or comments I thought were being made about me. Find what you love to do, and keep doing it.

“It’s heartbreaking and overwhelming to think about how messed up some parts of the world are for people”


DtL: What is it like to be a woman in 2016 and what needs to change?
Florence: Well this response could go on for a while, but for now I’ll just point out the things that really break my heart and resonate with me. For starters, honour killings—I was reading about this on CNN recently and find it so disgusting and repulsive that a brother, uncle, or father can execute his female family member, in some cases publicly, because she has “disgraced” their family— and then not have to deal with serious repercussions for it. The reasons for these killings are usually also very subjective and foolish, just further emphasising that some parts of the world are still so patriarchal.

Female genital mutilation also needs to change, kidnapping of young women and girls, human trafficking, rape culture, I mean there’s so much. So, so much and sometimes I just think about the fact that some people live harder lives simply because they were born a certain gender, in a certain place. It’s heartbreaking and overwhelming to think about how messed up some parts of the world are for people. Even here in America things still suck. That’s why I respect activists and humanitarians so much, I hope to one day feel moved and passionate enough to devote my life to changing the lives of others. I also am sure that one day soon I can create art that addresses these issues and not only brings awareness but also change.

DtL: Is there anything you would like to add?
Florence: Art can change someone’s life, someone’s mood, someone’s beliefs. Think about when a movie made you cry, or a song made you happy. I, myself, will never forget the first time I was moved to tears by a photograph and how amazing of an experience that was for me. I believe everyone is capable of making art, and there are so many mediums. I hope that people do not feel limited by school, careers, or what they think they should do in life to make money or be successful, but remember to always try to tap into that creativity, you never know how it may affect someone.


Liv Little on feminism, racial stereotypes and founding gal-dem: an online magazine by and for women of colour

DTL: What made you want to set gal-dem up?

Liv: I just finished university, like last week. I was at the University of Bristol studying Politics and Sociology and it was during my second year there, that I became exasperated with the lack of diversity. I also started to get frustrated with the singular perspective so present in academia. I have always been interested in social issues and intersectional feminism, and although I didn’t have any experience in the field, journalism. The media has a tendency to bypass or homogenise the narratives of women of colour; I wanted to set up a space that allowed us to reclaim our voice, whilst reminding readers that our views, opinions, experiences and interests are extremely wide ranging.

DTL: How do you think women of colour are currently represented in the media? What needs to change?

Liv: I think there are so few of us actually represented via mainstream channels, be it in music/tv/film/fashion –  and such a lack of depth to the characters that are visible – like, black girls in ‘urban’ dramas who are portrayed as ‘ghetto’ and hyper-sexualised – gal-dem strives to counter these stereotypes. There needs to be more women of colour working in the creative industries, to promote and represent the diverse body of voices out there.

“I think there are so few of us actually represented via mainstream channels, be it in music/tv/film/fashion –  and such a lack of depth to the characters that are visible”


DTL: What have been the reactions to gal-dem so far?

Liv: Reactions to gal-dem have been overwhelmingly positive. A lot of people have been reaching out to us and saying how amazing it is that a platform like this exists. Having young, women of colour reach out to us and express how much our work resonates with them is an incredible feeling, but it’s not just women of colour that are showing appreciation for the magazine. I think people really appreciate the quality of the content, and the fact we are trying to cover nuanced perspectives. Although we naturally often cover issues regarding feminism and race, our writers are in no way limited to this remit.

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Of course, there have been a few times where people disagree with what has been written in an article, but I don’t think that is a negative thing, that is just the nature of discussion. It’s good to open dialogue around these subjects. We haven’t experienced much in the way of trolling – there have been a few racist comments – but really, it pales in comparison to the positive feedback we have received. I think, in the main, people are leaving behind preconceived ideas of what a woman of colour should ‘be’ like. Obviously, there is still much that needs to change, but society has come a long way in tackling the forms of aggression or racism that our mothers and grandmothers would have experienced. Our generation have to deal more with micro-aggressions, which are smaller, much harder to pinpoint, and can be harder to articulate.

DTL: Do you have any advice for readers, especially for young people from minority groups, who feel as though their voice is not being heard?

Liv: I advise looking for online spaces and networks that you can relate to, or take it is an opportunity to set up your own online platform. The chances are, if you feel like something is missing, or there is a gap in the market, there probably is. If you want help or advice just reach out – what’s the worst that can happen? More often than not people will be willing to help if they can. Share your ideas and artwork – pitch them to gal-dem!

Identity Racism

What is Racism?

Racism is prejudice, discrimination or hostility – or in other words; directing hate or dislike towards a person, or group of people because of race or ethnicity. Racism is a hate crime; it is illegal to treat someone differently because of attitudes towards their race, religion, nationality or culture.

Racial discrimination can be direct or indirect.

Direct racial discrimination: when a person purposely goes out of their way to exclude someone, or verbally or physically abuse someone specifically because of their race. These actions are normally intentional, thoughtless and intended to get an instant reaction.

Indirect racial discrimination: when a person or organisation introduces a rule, behaviours or culture that discriminates against people on the basis of race.

You can find more information about hate crime here and advice on how to report hate crime in our Ultimate Guide.


Rufaro Mazarura lists 6 things she is tired of hearing as a black girl

1. Is that your real hair?

Okay, my hair, whether it be natural, relaxed, extensions, a weave, braids or even a wig does in fact, belong to me. I’ve paid a lot of money, dealt with a whole-lotta nonsense to get products that work for me, and spent hours pushing through the pain barrier while someone pushes and pulls at my hair to get it the way that I like. So, whether it is synthetic, styled, or just naturally growin’ out of my scalp – yes, this is and always will be, my hair.

2. We are not all ‘rude girls’, and not all of us hail from the ‘ghetto’

Similarly: Not all Asians are clever, not all Indian people have arranged marriages and not all Muslims are terrorists. Let’s ditch the stereotypes.

3. Not everything is about race.

If somebody feels confident enough to talk about race and the part it plays in their life, which is actually really difficult to do, maybe try and listen. Race affects us all, even if you don’t see it, or haven’t personally experienced the negative side of things, try not to devalue the experiences of others and the stories they are brave enough to share.

4. You’re so strong and independent! *shocked face emoji*

I know this is meant to be a compliment but this is a line rarely (if ever?) said to men. It’s as if being ‘independent’ and being a ‘woman’ are mutually exclusive. If you haven’t already, it is probs time to Youtube ‘Destiny’s Child – Independent Women’. Amen.

5. You’re really pretty, for a black girl.

Just no. There are so many things wrong with this sentence. #Checkyourself

6. I don’t want to sound racist but…

If you think that what you’re about to say is going to sound racist, it probably is. Saying that you’re not racist at the beginning of a sentence, or trying to convince me that what you’re saying isn’t racist by precursing it with some sort of disclaimer, is not going to make what you’re about to say any less racist. In fact, it’s going to make whatever you say sound worse, because now I know that you intentionally said something that you understood to sound racist…to conclude, it’s probably better left unsaid.

Written by Rufaro Mazarura
Twitter @rufarofaithh

Life as a transwoman of colour can be a very challenging and solitary existence

In the patriarchal and gender-biased world we live in, it is extremely challenging for someone assigned ‘male’ at birth, to assume their femininity. Society makes it very hard, almost impossible. A transwoman’s journey to womanhood is one ridden with one challenge after another – which worsen when one is from a visible minority, and with roots in the global South.

My earliest memories are that of asking for things that I found interesting, and being told that they were for girls, and not for me. It is something I never understood, and I would on occasion cry and protest to have my way, just like any other child. My preference for things society classified as being meant for ‘girls’ soon became a problem, a reason for anger and disappointment. My parents put me in an all-boys school, which, in retrospect, turned out to be the toughest part of my life so far. All I wanted was to get away, which I did soon after high school.

Arriving in France for my higher studies, I was initially relieved to find myself at last in a place where I could be myself, without the pressure of conservative attitudes. However, I soon discovered that this was all but a mirage. I ended up in quite a conservative country, where certain privileges of open-minded attitudes were not extended to me. I was catalogued for my ethnicity and national origin – not just by cis-gender heterosexuals, but also on the so-called, ‘gay scene’. I was completely out of place. I would feel very uneasy and unwelcome in both circles, and I was left wondering what on earth was going on.

At a young age, you don’t really have answers to all the questions you are faced with. Exploring responses, finding who I was and what I liked, was a tremendous struggle that took a lot longer. It has been a long and painstaking effort to unlearn what I was told and taught, and to find my true self, the real person within that I always knew I was, but had next to no means of affirming, of being. It was a story of being forced to conform, strictly, to the dictates of a world in which the gender binary had the final say. A life beyond gender assigned at birth was clearly impossible.


The undergraduate years spent in France often involved bouts of anxiety and plunges into depression. I quickly closed up around myself, with my voice subdued and little prospect of moving forward. What was most challenging and painful was not the discrimination, insults and micro-aggressions from cis people, but the difficulty, if not the impossibility of being part of the LGBTQI community, where being a person of colour who was questioning their gender identity happened to be far from welcome. I did what I could, to move around, to surround myself with a lot of material on gender politics, ethnic and racial studies, and activism against racially and socio-economically motivated forms of oppression of people, especially people of colour. This is what eventually made me take stock of the reality that in my struggle, I was not alone.

I subsequently ended up, in a totally unexpected way, in a place called Northern Ireland. To someone with major concerns about their gender identity, sexuality, and as a person of colour with a citizenship from the global South, it is hard to think of a more challenging place to find oneself in Western Europe. The metropolis in Northern Ireland, Belfast, has been changing dramatically since the time I first landed on these shores some ten years ago, but life as a transwoman of colour can be a very challenging and solitary existence.

One of my biggest challenges over the past few years, has been that of reconciling my gender identity with the academic and professional work I am engaged in. Working on a PhD in International Politics in a very conservative university, I found it highly challenging to assume my transwomanhood in the academic sphere. At one point, I seriously considered changing track, abandoning my PhD, and moving over to a ‘gender studies’ department in a different university. There was a time when I couldn’t help seeing things in the eyes of heteronormative society – thinking that my gender identity was going to impede my professional success. It took a great deal of time, effort and energy for me to convince myself that this was in fact not the case, being transgender does not, and should not be seen as an obstacle to career development. After taking some time to pull myself together, I began to see things in a different light. When you land in a place, out of whatever circumstances, where you do not have much space, all it means is that you have to create your own space. I chose this tiresome path of building spaces, a continuing struggle, with its own milestones, successes and indeed, many setbacks.

I generally despise the term ‘transition’, as it does not render justice to this complex process of self-affirmation that trans people undergo. It is a process of affirming, despite the dictates of a society obsessed with the gender binary, who you are. It is much more appropriate to describe it as a process of gender self-determination, which, like any struggle for self-determination, is not straightforward, and marred by one hurdle after another.


I also despise the resolve of healthcare authorities in the United Kingdom to systematically ‘pathologize’ trans identities. It is as if being ‘trans’, or not being comfortable in the ‘cis’ identity you were assigned at birth, is a sickness, a disorder of some sort. I take issue with the way in which trans people are dealt with in the UK health system, which forces people to go through compulsory psychiatrist appointments, perpetuating the view that trans people somehow need to be ‘diagnosed’, and are ‘mentally unwell’. Some trans people, just like cis people at varying stages of life, may indeed require psychological support services, and I certainly appreciate the work done by healthcare professionals in gender identity clinics across the country. However, the system needs to begin to take stock of the fact that quite a few trans people, who have reached clear conclusions about their gender identities, should not be forced to go through the metal health red tape – a process in which trans people are brought to explain and justify their very existence.

I dare say the ailment, or mental disorder, is not in trans people but in a society that revolves around the gender binary. It is society that likes the [thoroughly false and unsustainable] ‘uniformity’ that the gender binary seeks to enforce. Biology, on the other hand, loves difference and diversity. Take any ancient culture and civilisation, and you’ll see the important presence of people of a rich array of gender identities, who upheld traditions and structures of wisdom that the gender binary could never accommodate. Trans identities are not a recent innovation. From where I stand, as someone who moved westwards from South Asia, I also reiterate that trans identities are by no means a ‘Western’ development or some form of ‘trend’.


The former argument is common among anti-trans individuals and groups in the global South, and the latter is often voiced by anti-trans folk in the West. Both groups, in fact, are all but two sides of the same coin of hatred. In the UK, many LGBTQI support groups uphold a strategy for ‘diversity’ which includes providing occasional spaces for people of colour to express themselves. This, in my view, is somewhat inadequate, and is a form of domination in which someone in a position of power gets to determine the parameters of diversity – thereby perpetuating racial and cultural hierarchies in the LGBTQI community.

In a country with such a great deal of diversity in all its forms, it is very important to raise critical questions in LGBTQI circles on anti-oppression, multiple forms of micro-aggression, and the interplay of race, ethnicity and gender plurality. It would be beneficial to everyone to take an approach that centres around the concept of ‘queer liberation’, in which marginalised individuals and groups become the very motors of constructive change, on a platform of equality.

ChamindaDr Chaminda Weerawardhana ( is a Belfast-based transwoman, academic and parent, by way of Sri Lanka, France and Germany. Chaminda is currently a Visiting Research Fellow at the School of Politics at Queen’s University Belfast, and is the first transwoman to hold a research title in the university. She is a tireless advocate of gender justice, decolonising gender politics, transfeminism, and indeed, queer liberation. Chaminda blogs at
Twitter @fremancourt.