Monroe is a name that’s familiar to almost anyone in Ukraine. Since the end of the 90s, she paved the way for hundreds and thousands engaged in drag performance and introduced the term «drag diva» into the Ukrainian media space. For the past few years, Monroe, who now identifies as transgender, has been focusing on blogging and social work.
I am Monroe, a transgender person, a blogger, a social activist, and since April I have been working as a consultant for an organization that helps the trans community. Previously I was engaged in drag, was a TV presenter, sang, danced, and also published a book. But now my main activity is my YouTube blog, and I also produce 2 more YouTube channels that are not related to the open LGBTQIA+ community. Although I do not consider my channel to be socially oriented either, it is about everything that interests me, and mostly about my life in Ukraine.
About the path to the true self
All my life I felt that I was not like everyone else. More precisely, I did not feel comfortable in a binary world where there is a typical man and a typical woman. Since childhood, I felt like a woman, but I grew up in a post-Soviet society, where the perception of so-called minorities, which is now not a correct wording, was through the prism of sexuality exclusively, and people did not know what gender was, not to mention the LGBTQIA+ community. When I realized that something was wrong with me, I hid because the society was very hostile. Gradually, I began to learn that there are different people, but still – it was all about sexuality. No one said anything about gender, and the very first time I learned about transsexuals, which is also an incorrect wording, I had a negative example. Then, at the beginning of the 90s, I realized that I didn't want to do that, and in a strange way, the stage became a more or less comfortable way for me to acknowledge myself socially as a woman. And it was through drag culture. In the mid-90s, a friend introduced me to the work of Ru Paul and other famous, stunning drag artists. That's how I started working in the genre of musical parody and performing on stage - then, in the post-Soviet world, it was called a «drag show». And I performed quite successfully, given that back then Ukrainian society was quite homophobic-trasphobic.
Somewhere in 2007-2008, simply performing in nightclubs became not enough for me, so I began to actively attend social events, inspired by famous socialites. I learned about the events and just came, brightly dressed and cheerful. On the one hand, it was quite difficult, because I was often treated in hostile manner, but on the other hand, I was pretty enough and had my own point of view on any issue, which worked in my favor. I just got on camera, giving interviews, and at the same time continued to perform in the genre of musical parody, hosted parties, corporate events. At some point, I began to sing original songs, ready to finally move away from the image of a Marilyn Monroe doppelgänger, because I was already recognized as Monroe, a Ukrainian travesti-diva. I longed for fame, recognition, to be printed and shown on TV. In this way, I provided myself with the social status that I needed, in order to no longer feel the colossal bullying and hatred that dragged on from childhood. Somehow I made my way until 2013, and then the Euromaidan [what is now called Revolution of Dignity - ed.] ]took place in the country and the so-called anti-terrorist operation began, although now everyone understands that it was already a war back then. At some point, I moved away from the drag culture, realizing that the performances in nightclubs, all the jokes I told from the stage, were very gender stereotyped and they also did not correspond to my inner state. Yes, I took part in many media and entertainment projects, but in each one I tried to show that every person has the right to self-expression. To look the way they want, not the way the binary world expects them to look. Intuitively, I behaved very discreetly, ecologically, without offending anyone, and most importantly - without being offended. But anyway, I got really tired of it and decided to develop my own YouTube channel, introducing my own narratives and creating my own community of like-minded people.
When the Euromaidan happened in Ukraine, I experienced it very acutely. I understood that I had no future in Ukraine with Yanukovych [then - president of Ukraine who fled the country in 2014 - ed.], because I saw what was happening in Russia. Back then russians passed a homophobic law that banned so-called "gay propaganda" and began to screw up the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community. I understood that Yanukovych's chosen path to teaming up with Russia, unlike European integration, is the path to a totalitarian regime. I did not want to emigrate, despite my rather difficult path in Ukraine and the attitude towards open LGBTQIA+ people which at that time was not positive. But still, I managed to gain popularity among people, maybe because previously I mostly did not focus on the problems of the LGBTQIA+ community, but focused on my own creativity and stage image.
But after the Euromaidan, Ukrainian society began to change, and as a popular opinion leader, I began to receive proposals from public associations, social projects that developed new democratic whether I began to pay more attention to the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community and gradually relate myself to it, because for a long time I thought that it did not apply to me. I'm Monroe, I'm an artist, I'm a person - that's what I thought, not accepting myself being a transgender, being in a certain vacuum. I remember when I came to Kyiv Pride for the first time, I met many activists and saw that there are young people, a new generation that defends our rights, and this young generation is not easy to intimidate. Yes, they were like me, 20 years have passed, and the same problems have remained. But this generation is different! They are stubborn, they don't take that bullying offense so acutely, they act with good intentions, for themselves as well as for their community. Then the COVID lockdown began, I still continued my activities, constantly voicing the problems of the LGBTQIA+ community on my blog. I just started talking about what I've been carrying around all this time.
All my public activity, which was not based on emphasizing that I am a representative of the LGBTQIA+ community, but simply me as an individual, gave a lot to society. Ordinary people looked at me and saw a positive example. Smart, beautiful, successful - people saw me and understood that transgender people, or representatives of the LGBTQIA+ community, are the same people as themselves, and they are also able to achieve success. And I showed it on my own example, when no one was talking about activism, back in the late 2000s. With my example, I gave strength and courage to people who were afraid to express themselves, and I convinced people who perceived transgender people negatively to change their opinion.
About what the war changed
I did not believe that there would be a war, I even joked about it, because in my value system it was absurd. In the first days, the first weeks, I very quickly got myself together mentally and helped many people, started volunteering. Every day I went live on my social networks - I'm not a therapist or a psychologist, but it had a certain therapeutic effect on people. I reminded that one should drink water, breathe, move and stay present. At the same time, I was shocked, I didn't know what to do next, because I didn't understand who needed joy anymore. My whole life and work has been about joy, and that's okay, because life is made for joy and happiness. And now, who needs it? Who needs perfume, makeup, dresses and talks about Kim Kardashian's ass when people are being killed and bombs are launched over our heads? At the same time, I thought about who I am. Who am I? Definitely not a man, although my biological sex is male. But I never felt like a man. As for the woman, I didn't live the life of a transgender woman either. So I started looking for answers to my questions, I consulted a psychiatrist, I started working with a psychotherapist, a lot of issues arose – that still remained unresolved since childhood. Last summer, everything fell more or less into place, and then I realized that I came to the stage in drag to feel like the beautiful, intelligent, desirable woman that I always considered myself to be. However now show business, as such, causes me mixed feelings, because in Ukraine, for me, there are no celebrities except for the military. There is a parallel reality, there is international show business, and the only celebrities we have in Ukraine are the heroes of Ukraine, our military, thanks to whom I can speak with you and continue to live my life in Ukraine. Yes, there are artists who continue to carry Ukrainian culture around the world, and I am very grateful to them for that, and I also continue to carry Ukrainian reality to the world through the prism of my YouTube channel, but show business as such does not interest me now.
About participation in the Anoeses x KyivPride project
First of all, I support all initiatives of KyivPride, because I like any organization that unites people on socially important grounds. When I was growing up, I had nowhere to turn. We had a company of like-minded people, and we could only go to Khreshchatyk [Kyiv’s main street - ed.], take a walk and worry that we might get beaten or insulted. It is very important to have a community of people who are united by one idea, where you can turn to for help, support, and explanations. Secondly, I am personally familiar with KyivPride - I attended the Equality March organized by the NGO “KyivPride” twice and was completely delighted. And thirdly, I adore beautiful and artistic photography. And maybe my story will support someone, because my life is an example that has no analogues. I was the first openly transgender person in the post-Soviet media space since the late 2000s. Is an open representative of the LGBTQIA+ community being on the morning air of national television an achievement? It certainly is. It was 2011 and I was being introduced as Monroe, the drag diva.
Freedom is walking down the street in heels, being an open trans person, and not looking around anxiously.
Courage is being yourself in Ukrainian realities.
Beauty is, first of all, about being well-groomed. And secondly, it’s to look the way you feel at the moment. Again, without looking around to see what people will think of you and how they will react.
Love is unconditional acceptance of everything that happens around, people, events, everything. Without evaluations, but with kindness, warmth, respect and gratitude.