Drew Ashlyn Cunningham: Live Your Life
We are really excited to interview the fabulous Drew Ashlyn who featured on the inspirational Documentary ‘My Transsexual Summer‘ which was aired earlier this year on Channel Four. As you may already know, the show has opened a door of opportunities for Drew, who has attended various events, educates young people on the transgender community, and has gone on to work for make-up company Illamasqua. But it has not all been plain sailing for Drew, here she talks to us about her background, the aftermath of the show, and why she thinks Ditch the Label is such a great cause.
Ditch the Label: Hi Drew, we are so excited to interview you here at Ditch the Label! Were you already aware of us?
Drew Ashlyn: Ahh you’re welcome! Yes and I think it’s really positive everything you represent, I love the photo campaign on the website too. It’s all amazing.
Ditch the Label: Thank you! moving on to your personal story, when did you first realise that you wanted to be a woman?
Drew Ashlyn: I kind of always knew from a really young age but I didn’t know how to go about it. When I reached my teens I did some research on transgender, and by the age of eighteen I was looking at famous trans people such as Amanda Lepore and her image, then I went on to youtube and watched tutorials on how to apply makeup and what to expect from people along with how to ‘come out’.
Ditch the Label: So in your earlier years, were you ever bullied as a child? If so, how did you deal with it and what kind of coping mechanisms did you use?
Drew Ashlyn: I always got bullied from a young age, people assumed I was gay because I was really feminine and wanted to play with girls toys because to me that was normal. I didn’t know how to deal with it – my mum stuck up for me and told teachers what was going on. My mum was the one who always helped me and stuck up for me, I just took it and never stuck up for myself or complained about how I was treated. Every school that I attended I faced prejudice, I wasn’t allowed to play in the dress-up area because I was a boy, but my mum fought for me, saying that my behaviour or the way I acted wasn’t ‘wrong’.
Ditch the Label: How was your experience on My Transsexual Summer? How was it being around people in a similar situation to yourself?
Drew Ashlyn: I mean generally I thought the show was really positive and so was the outcome. We [the contestants] did what we wanted, and nothing was scripted so everything you saw was real and Channel 4 understood how to deal with us. The programme was a great experience I’d never change anything about it, meeting everyone was so positive, it made me realise I needed to be in a better relationship than what I was in. It made me more confident and not let people get to me. It literally changed my life – I just wanted a regular job, and I came out with a job and friends, it was an amazing experience.
Ditch the Label: On the show you talked about how difficult it was to find a job and relationship difficulties, why do you think that is? Do you think that it is fair for people to treat you differently?
Drew Ashlyn: I had a long-term boyfriend at the time of appearing on the show, I was with him for three and a half years. He didn’t accept the fact I was going on the show, he didn’t want me to be ‘out’ even though I wanted to be open about myself – he wasn’t interested. Now I have got a new boyfriend who I am happy with. In terms of jobs, employers made out they were eager to hire me, i.e. the bridal shop that was featured in the documentary, but when they asked why other places weren’t hiring me and I told them the truth then they completely flipped on me. I think a lot of people are scared, like my friend who is a transwoman is made to work out the back at work because of her appearance. You still get discrimination in the work place, but luckily the place I work at now is so proud and amazing because I am different and that is what I represent – being different. I like the fact I can be how I want and wear what I want.
Ditch the Label: Since the show, has the media exposure changed your life and opportunities? Have you faced any more prejudice or have you found that people have grown to be more accepting?
Drew Ashlyn: I think prejudice is unfair, Lesbian/Bisexual/Gay people’s sexuality doesn’t effect their work but with a trans person you judge them before you meet them. We all judge people on the way they look because that’s human instinct. I think with trans people what they see on the outside is what they judge on. With me for example, my look is over the top; my blonde hair, fake tan etc. I still have that, but since the first episode of the show (My Transsexual Summer) I saw comments online saying ‘Drew’s really confident’ and that I loved myself but when they started watching more episodes they realised that I wasn’t. After the show I did a lot of interviews, like in Stella fashion (The Daily Telegraph)they commented on the fact they thought that the look I based myself on was strange but when they spoke to me in person and spoke to me they thought I was really down to earth and enticing which I thought was really sweet.
Ditch the Label: Since exiting the show have you stayed in contact with the other contestants? Does it make you feel like you are part of something bigger now?
Drew Ashlyn: Yeah I text them all yesterday to ask them if they wanted to come to an event I’m hosting in two weeks! But mostly Lewis, he’s like my brother! The only one I don’t really see is Max as his outcome from the show wasn’t as positive as it was for the rest of us. I feel more accepted and that I fit in more. Before I didn’t really have a life – I was working nights etc., but now I’m travelling, going out, attending events, the things I’ve been offered and have done have been amazing. I work on Gaydio radio station every Thursday morning and I’m a patron for a few charities. I’m even doing sessions at schools and universities and have taught a puberty lesson for year seven’s and making sure they are taught about trans people. Since the show I feel like people approach me for advice rather than the other way round.
Ditch the Label: Do you have any advice for anybody that is being bullied for being different or that is going through a similar experience that you have been through?
Drew Ashlyn: I’d rather get a load of abuse from people if it means being happy and living my life. You come into this world on your own and leave on your own so what happens in-between is upto you. Remember that at the end of the day however you are living, you need to be happy with yourself and not be put down by other people. You can’t sugar-coat anything, you can ignore things and what people say but it is always going to be there, it’s a case of rising above it and living your own life. Hold your head up high and live your life for you.
Ditch the Label: Drew it has been absolutely fabulous talking to you and thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me this evening
Drew Ashlyn: Not a problem, I think Ditch the Label is an amazing cause, thank you!