Munroe Bergdorf: “Blood Is Quite Literally on the UK Conservative Government’s Hands”

The trans writer, model, and activist's new book ‘Transitional' details the state of society's transphobia issue.
A collage of munroe bergdorf in front of her green book cover on a dark green background.
Collage: Cath Virginia / Photo: Mariano Vivanco

Remember the last week that went by without a new debate about trans people? Us neither. From Twitter keyboard warriors to “respected” media giants, the UK and the U.S. have been whipped up into a frenzy of hate via misinformation: It’s not the least overdramatic to say there’s a war on trans people right now.

This week, in the aftermath of the brutal murder of British trans teen Brianna Ghey, the UK media turned the focus once more into a sickening dispute ­– this time on the gendering of trans people’s death certificates. The incessant questioning of trans rights and constant debate turns the very real lives of people into concepts and statistics.


The past year in the U.S. saw a shocking wave of anti-transgender legislation, with 34 states introducing more than 145 anti-trans bills – the largest number recorded by the Human Rights Campaign in a state legislative session. Recently in the UK, prime minister Rishi Sunak announced his government’s plans to block Scotland’s gender recognition reform bill – which basically makes the lives of trans people slightly easier – marking the first time in history Westminster has tried to stop a Scottish bill becoming law, since the Scottish parliament was established in 1999.

It's in this era of the complete dehumanisation of trans people that Munroe Bergdorf’s debut book, Transitional, is needed more than ever.

As you probably know, Bergdorf’s achievements as a writer, model and activist make her one of the UK’s most committed forces for change. She was the first trans person to appear on the cover of Cosmopolitan UK. She was first to be hired, fired and rehired by L’Oréal. She has been vilified. She has been a lifeline to countless people because of her persistence to speak out.

Transitional is a memoir that offers hope. It stretches way beyond Bergdorf’s own gender transition story to explore the many transitions we all go through in our brief time on this earth. Crucially, it reframes the conversation away from the medicalisation of trans people – such a small part of the trans experience – and shifts focus onto the real story, sheer humanity.


Transitional is out now, and you can read an exclusive extract  below.


As I started to look more and more like society’s idea of a woman, I would now find myself being cat-called. I started to have a very strange relationship with the reactions to me on the street. I started navigating the paradox between danger and objectification. I would be pointed at and shouted at, spat at, told I shouldn’t be near kids, treated like a monster, but also I would be followed by men who knew that I was trans but who would objectify me in ways that were extremely sexual. They would often assume that I was a sex worker or at least someone for them to easily fuck.

When I was cat-called I would think, do these people know I’m trans, because if they don’t they may get very angry and this is how trans women, especially many Black trans women, end up being murdered. As I started to look more ‘feminine’, I also started confusing sexual objectification with validation. It meant that they found me desirable, they liked me. They were breadcrumbs of validation but it was more than I’d had before; being fetishised felt like genuine affection. Even now, now that I can move through the world not being bothered as much, even now when I’m cat-called on the street, I almost always freeze, thinking, will this man switch if he knows I’m trans, how will this man react upon knowing he’s attracted to a trans woman? Or do they know I’m trans, and are they objectifying me for that?


I told my mum I was trans when I was 26. By this point I had been on hormones for nearly four years. I couldn’t hide it from her any longer, nor did I want to. At the time I was living in Stratford, East London and still working in nightlife, but my modelling career was beginning to pick up pace. I was anxious to tell her, because of how she responded to me coming out in my teens, but I hoped this time would be different: she’d grown so much since then in terms of embracing my sexuality.

Unfortunately, history repeated itself, and she completely panicked. My body was beginning to change. I could tell that she thought she was losing me. I tried reassuring her that it would never be that way, that she would be gaining a happy child instead of risking losing an unhappy one. But I felt like she wasn’t listening, she wasn’t engaging with me and she didn’t understand. We didn’t speak for a long while after this.

book cover of munroe bergdorf's book 'transitional'.

Photo: Bloomsbury

In the time that followed, I felt abandoned and lost. I’d found myself settling for less than I deserved across the board – what I was paid, how I was treated, how I was loved. I settled for scraps. Everything had started to take a wrong turn.

I had run myself into the ground in the pursuit of making a name for myself. Despite remaining ambitious and driven, I wasn’t having fun at all. I had often taken drugs socially but now drugs had become a way to cope, to numb myself from being unhappy and unsupported. I was drinking a lot, often to the point of blackout. I felt deflated by my parents’ abandonment, and by the unsupportive and unhealthy romantic relationships I was having. I was rapidly approaching my thirties and still living pay cheque to pay cheque, trying to keep my mental health from taking a complete nosedive in the way it had in the past.


It’s often said that it isn’t being trans that is especially difficult; it’s other people’s perceptions of our transness and the way that these feelings are projected onto us that for many makes life feel unliveable, that makes us feel unlovable. If I had had the opportunity to transition within a society that prioritised supporting trans folk, that cared about our safety, our health, our inclusion or employment, then it would have been a very different experience indeed. But we live in a society where the trans community is still treated as an inconvenience, an anomaly, an afterthought, an agenda or an issue. We are a community too small for governments to pander to, but big enough to exploit as a political pawn in the weaponisation of fear in the pursuit of potential votes. If we can’t rely on the government to have progressive conversations about how transgender people can be safe, functioning and thriving members of society, then we should take it upon ourselves to be the change we want to see.

Until then we must recognise that Britain’s transphobia is not happening in a vacuum; it is being exacerbated and encouraged by people in the most powerful positions of government, including Boris Johnson, who was Prime Minister for much of the time I was writing this book. Until we have a government that recognises the humanity of transgender individuals and that is willing to understand our needs and lived experiences, we will continue to face societal ostracism; we will continue to struggle; we will continue to die. Blood is quite literally on the UK Conservative government’s hands.

Transitional by Munroe Bergdorf, published by Bloomsbury, is available in Hardback now.