Currently reading : Speaking with Tschan Andrews
When Claire Barrow first saw model Tschan Andrews at a nightclub she told me that the word that immediately came into her head was superstar. Tschan is in fact a superstar in the most Warholian of ways, her very being expels an unparalleled authenticity and eccentricity in her glamour and beauty. I’ve known Tschan for a number of years where her presence in London’s nightlife makes you realise the importance of the city’s underground. Of recent her modelling career has been going from strength to strength having the likes of Nick Knight, Juergen Teller and David Bailey shoot her for a variety of prestigious fashion magazines and campaigns.
However two weeks ago Tschan’s life changed, we are all aware of the heightened fashionability and presence of trans models within fashion but it can be easy to be apathetic towards the reality of these peoples lives rather than them simply being bastions of ‘cool’. Tschan has in fact experienced a conundrum of bigotry throughout her young life which recently escalated to her family destroying her most important belongings after they disowned her. At only 23 years old, Tschan has experienced more difficulties than most ever will.
Last week she came to my house to discuss what has been happening to her outside of the photographers lenses and on the other side of the superficial.
Reba Maybury: How are you?
Tshcan Andrews: I’m good, I think that this is the best I’ve mentally ever been. I feel like I’m going through a weird stage. As you already know I went through a period where I was feeing much better and then the whole Trans thing just took over. I realised all the negative aspects were too much to handle as a person and I went through this self destructive period where I didn’t know what else to do or how to cope. Then I came to a realisation and actually this isn’t what I want out of life and I tried the hardest to survive each day as a person and now I feel like talking honestly and openly about my experiences as opposed to keeping it all inside and bottling it up and letting it consume me as a person. It has been therapeutic for me and also for other people to actually speak about these issues. A lot of other people struggle with these same things as well. I didn’t think people would care if I was to openly talk about it. I remember people asking me like three years ago a question about being trans and I’d always burst into tears. I didn’t even know how to speak, I never have, I’ve always kept myself to myself.
It’s something that you’ve obviously lived with your entire life and you’ve never been in an arena where it’s something you’re allowed to speak about, after bottling it up for so long it’s going to take a long time for you to be able to filter it through.
It manifests in anxiety for me, for sure. The fact that I’ve been being attacked or the shit I’ve had with my parents or having problems like uni or what have you. Obviously I also have gender dysphoria but it builds into… my pathology, when I enter a space and I get so worried about what people are thinking about me, or how I’m reacting to that. That’s the anxiety.
These are all effects of the issues that you’ve been through. I think it’s really important for you to understand that this anxiety you have is a social construct about trans issues and actually you’re a great, fantastic person and what you’re going through is to be expected because the world is largely biggoted. The emotions you’re going through you shouldn’t feel bad about them, ever… I want to hear about this crowd funding that’s happened.
It happened after I’d just came back from my Mum’s house and I hadn’t spoken to her for months. I’m always talking to my friend Blake Wood , like on Facetime and stuff like that, and I told him what happened.
When was the last time you lived with your Mum?
The beginning of this year. She kicked me out. I wrote a letter to her. She kicked me out, I don’t know what her deal was. She kicked me out the house for no reason, just started arguing with me and told me to get out and laughed in my face. I was like, ‘Ok, I will leave’. A couple of days later it was Easter and she sent me emails like ‘Happy Easter’ and I was like why are you even emailing me this? I’m homeless, going from house to house to house every single day, not knowing where I’m going to stay.
Is your mother Christian?
She’s Catholic. They’re catholic. Apart from my Nan, my mum’s never mentioned religion to me at all it’s just her personal hate towards trans and gay people.
Does she use the umbrella of religion as an excuse for ignorances?
No she never has it’s just her personal hate
Does she go to Church?
She does go to Church but I don’t know how often because I haven’t had a conversation with her for about six or seven years. We happened to coexist without speaking because my family are disassociative towards me. They all ignore me in the house.
How old was your mother when she had you?
Were you her first child?
No, she had my brother a year and a half earlier.
So you’ve been living with her on and off?
I only went back because I had no choice as being trans I couldn’t get a job and without that, how the hell am I going to get a flat and fund it. I couldn’t go back to my foster parents as that’s against the rules, they have other foster children now and its embarrassing. I didn’t tell them I was homeless for a while because of the embarrassment.
You were too embarrassed to go back because you weren’t at university anymore?
No they knew about that and I told them the reason why. I was embarrassed because I had to go back home. One of my foster Dads wanted to meet up with me because we meet up all the time, I met him the other day, but I didn’t want him to see me in such a dark place.
How was it when you went back to your Mum’s for the first time?
Awful, just like how it was.
Was she verbal about how she didn’t want you there?
No but it was obvious, I was never invited to any family events and when family members came to our house I was made to stay in my room, not come out. If I did come out to go to the toilet or get some food from downstairs, she’d act abrasive towards me in front of other people. I never interacted with her.
How long ago was it that you left your mother’s?
March or April
What have you been doing since then?
Resuming my life if that makes any sense. Especially being trans when your body starts to transition and you go back home and for it to be easier, for you to have a more comfortable time and take off everything that you’ve become, the most depressing thing of it all because it’s so frustrating. You don’t like me as I am already, you don’t like me being anything else.
Have you ever spoken to your mother about it?
I can’t talk to her about anything
You’ve never had that conversation with her?
I don’t need to, the statement of intent has always been like this as well. It’s not like I’ve always been gay and then suddenly one day I want to be a woman. ‘You’re not a girl’ has always been the narrative since I was a child. She’d take things away from me because boys don’t do those things.
What about the relationship with your brother?
I don’t have one. He’s awful. He’s my original bully. We shared a room when we were younger and he’d punch me in the stomach and tell me I’m ugly and that my body is horrible and I’m a stupid bitch because I act like a girl or I’m a poof.
What does he do now?
He’s really successful. He just got a PhD in statistics at King’s College London and he went to private school and stuff. He’s the golden child.
What private schools did he go to? You didn’t, why was that?
I went to a private nursery but stopped around primary school age. I don’t know, I suppose he was really intelligent so she wanted to push him in that way.
You’re incredibly intelligent Tschan
Not mathematically, that’s where his strength lay.
You still don’t speak to your brother at all?
No, last time I saw him is when I went to my Mum’s house for the last time. He opened the door and he stared at me then got out of my way so I could get past. He walked away and into the kitchen as I’d been told that my letters that I’d gone to collect were under the fruit bowl. I saw what must’ve been his girlfriend and said ‘hi’ as I’m a nice person and that’s instinctively what you’d do and then I went to go to my old room. I didn’t want to go back. I get anxiety just going there and walking down the street and passing the barber shop where people would come out and say ‘what are you? A boy or a girl?’ or just shout things at me. Just going back there and getting on the stupid fucking train to Crystal Palace.
Anyway I went into my old room and all my stuff was completely gone. I don’t care about the room, whatever, but the fact she’d got rid of absolutely everything that’s mine was the worst.
Do you think your mother’s aware that you have a public persona now?
I don’t know, I don’t really care.
I mean you don’t care but that’s obviously something your mother would care about, I’m sure.
I don’t know, I haven’t really thought about it.
She knows about the modelling you’ve done?
It’s funny. I have a younger sister who’s one year younger than me. She was there as well and testament to it. I remember I got an email that I was confirmed for the Barney’s campaign with Jurgen Teller (14.39) and I was like ‘Oh Mum, look’- I forgot that actually she’s a bitch- and was like ‘I’m going to get paid great money to go to Panama, that’s amazing!’, she didn’t even make eye contact, she was looking at the floor doing her nails. Then she was like ‘Oh’ and that was it.
Do you think there’s an element of jealousy there?
Definitely. Not with necessarily with trans people but with this female jealousy thing. I don’t know what it is or why, it doesn’t make any sense to me, there’s nothing to be jealous of. Why do you hate me so much, what have I done to you? I’m such a nice person, I think I am, I try to be. It’s weird.
You didn’t know this fundraiser was happening. Who set it up?
Not at all. I told Blake just after I left the house, I was shaking with anxiety, just about to cry and I didn’t know what to do. I went to my friends house in Tottenham and I just needed to sleep and watch movies all day. I woke up the next morning and still felt the relevance of it. Then I got a text message but I didn’t read it then my Facebook was going all weird and I looked at it and saw the Crowd funding and was like ‘this is so sweet’ and then someone from Dazed wrote about it and Kelly Osbourne tweeted it because he’s friends with her, she was texting me and stuff. That’s how it happened.
How do you feel about it?
It’s been really therapeutic. I want to talk about these things but I find it embarrassing
Why do you find it embarrassing?
It’s very public and I don’t want to talk negatively about my family, it’s just put me in that point.
That’s the reality for a lot of trans people though. If this situation can help people in the future understand the realities they’re going through that’s never a bad thing.
I think a lot of people think there’s an undercurrent of exposing trans stories, a trend with instant clicks online. That’s the case, I’ve noticed it but being trans doesn’t mean you’re going to become a supermodel and have all these photo shoots, that’s not the case at all. I live in reality and the reality is it’s really difficult, really hard. We’re not all Caitlyn Jenner, we’re all not going to be on the cover of Vanity Fair. It’s not like that. Especially if you’re black or of colour. White families seem to be more likely to accept trans because they’re more basically educated. Maybe that’s racist to say that. If you look at most children who are kicked out of the home for being gay, lesbian or trans, 90% of most homeless LGBT people are black. You don’t have family support so you’re basically set up to fail.
When you were much younger did you have any other friends you could speak to about being trans?
It’s weird all my friends from primary and secondary school that I used to hang out with are trans now
What?! This is in South London?
It’s weird, we synced into being friends because we were both… my female friend is basically a trans man. I haven’t seen her in a while but last time I did she’d shaved off all her hair and you wouldn’t of thought she was female if you saw her walking down the street. We saw each other in ourselves. I fulfilled the feminine side she didn’t have and she fulfilled the masculine side that I didn’t have. That’s been the case of most of my friendships since early childhood.
So you did have some kind of formula and structure there ?
We never spoke about it. We didn’t have to but we knew were different, we when I was 17 my school friend started transitioning and I saw it from then that’s when it became a reality that you could actualise. Before it was just a matter of fact.
When did you start modelling?
The first thing I did was that David Bailey shoot.
How does modelling make you feel?
I like being asked to do things directly from the person, I don’t like the model agency row, people turn out to be absolute bozos or don’t know what they’re talking about or what they’re doing. Not everyone is white, blonde and sixteen and if you’re not that they make you know that. How can you put me down and say I can’t do this and I can’t do that and say we ‘don’t do trans people’ and then getting a message from Juergen Tueller’s assistant on facebook saying we’re looking to shoot you. When that does happen you get good press because you reap the rewards of having a trans person in your books but you don’t do anything to actually help that person, they find it themselves. People are really stupid and don’t know what to do. I’m of colour as well, I figured if I was white. I’ve actually done amazing things but I still feel like I could be in a better position than I’m in today.
I feel you have a profile already and the things you’ve done have been incredibly prestigious. You can only really go up from where you are. I think what’s really incredible about you is that you’re very humble. I don’t see you as someone who can be arrogant or narcissistic.
All those personality types are absolute flaws.I think young people today have a perception of idolising people so much and they try to simulate what their personality type would be to become that person, to become famous. Acting like that makes people think they’re amazing but it’s actually just flaws.
I’m interested in what you want to start doing next?
I’m excited to just live my life but I don’t know. I’m taking each day, day by day. I’m thinking of going to New York from LA and meet some casting directors, maybe get an agency there and I’m meant to meet this guy from V magazine. That’s my immediate idea of what to do. I’m definitely saving money for a flat where I actually want to live. I’ve been at the mercy of housing associations and rejection, the only reason I got my place in Dartford now is because there was a trans man managing the property. I was talking to him about my situation and he immediately helped me and in two weeks I had somewhere to live. Before that I was on waiting lists and going to interviews, being rejected.
Why were people rejecting you?
I don’t think people had any sympathy for me. I think they assumed that being trans was my choice, my problem.
Would you say the trans thing is a ‘fashion’ at the moment?
I think so, amongst young tumblr users [laughs]. I think a lot of young people transition for the wrong reasons. They want to have to have a certain look and they transition for that reason. You can definitely tell.
Do you think there are people transitioning who aren’t fully aware of the reality of it?
I think so. There’s always this focus on the modelling.
This is what I’m interested in; beauty is becoming very intrinsic to being trans when actually physical beauty isn’t what being trans is about. There seems to be a lot of focus on that.
Being trans is not going to make you beautiful. Some people are just lucky, it’s not the case for everyone.
It becomes fetishized
People see it as something to convert themselves into whatever fantasy they have in their mind. I hate to say it but I think it’s true.
I think it’s honest and that’s not a problem. It’s interesting to see in the past year how it’s blown up. It’s still very present. My interest is where is it going to go? I find it irksome how there is so much focus on the male to female experience. There’s barely anything about the female to male experience and I don’t understand it.
First of all it’s a male turning to female so essentially male privilege turning to something of lesser. There is the sexual element too. People don’t really mind masculine girls.
They’re not threatening
No. It’s bizarre but people are more likely to accept it
What about your friends now, do you have any trans friends you’re close to?
I don’t really have any trans friends.
I think in New York and LA there’s a much bigger scene of young trans people than there is in London.
I have some online trans friends. That is the case, in London I think a lot of trans people are very localised with private lives. They don’t want to be outed. Most transitioners try to assimilate into normal society.
What do you want to do in terms of activism?
I want to do it so badly! I keep on saying this and I don’t know how. Hopefully someone reads this interview and reaches out to me. I really want to follow someone who’s transitioning in school and visit them every month or so and be their mentor. Be someone to talk to.
Do you think that would have been something that would’ve helped you?
Definitely, for sure. In school it was the worst. It was like being in hell. My school was really bad as well, everything I’ve learnt has been on tumblr, YouTube or the internet. School didn’t teach me anything apart from how to survive bullying. I really want to talk to teachers about trans and gay students.
So you’d like to get into education?
Yes, I’d absolutely love to do that. Even younger years at primary school. Just go to assemblies and talk about experiences. Gay people don’t exist in school either. If you are gay it’s like ‘you’re gay ah!’ That’s all I heard at school! Everyone was accused of being gay all the time.
How do you feel about being called a muse?
I don’t know it’s a big responsibility.
I think that’s what’s really wonderful about you Tschan, you’re really effortless in your personality and people are attracted to you because of that. The thing about you is that you are an authentic version of yourself and there are a lot of people who aren’t that, trans or not, there are a lot of people who never truly live the full extent of who they are. You really do so that’s why people are attracted to you and want to photograph you and love you because you are very unforgivingly real. Whether you are trans or not that would still be the case.
Aw, that’s the most complimentary thing anyone’s ever said to me.
You unforgivingly are yourself and that’s incredibly admirable and on top of what you’ve been through. Most people’s lives are so comfortable and they don’t realise how comfortable they are but you’ve been through hell and you still want to help people and I think that’s really incredible.
You can donate to Tschan’s crowdfunding campaign here.