The Malta Independent 22 February 2020, Saturday

A catwalk to strut fashion, equality and inclusivity

Giulia Magri Sunday, 8 September 2019, 10:30 Last update: about 7 months ago

Last year, Karly May was the first open, Maltese transgender model to walk for three designers during Fashion Week. She was also Malta’s Pride Grand Marshall, walking at the front of the crowd among thousands, celebrating diversity, love and pride. Throughout history, many individuals from the LGBTQ* community have found a safe haven within the fashion industry which gave them the opportunity to better their life conditions and thrive creatively – enabling them to embrace who they really are.

This year Karly wanted to contribute to the pride week celebration by sharing her platform and empowering others through the medium of fashion. The first event for Pride Week was the Pride Fashion Show, which took place at the Black Pearl on 6 September − starting Pride Week full on with a bang. The Pride Fashion Show celebrated the local fashion scene with designers, models and artists who form part of the LGBTQ* community and their allies. The evening showcased looks by local talents Carla Grima, Gabrielle Fenech, Gaetano, Herman Vassallo, Maria Cutajar and Parascandalo. We met up with trailblazer and activist Karly May during preparations for the fashion show and to discuss the letter “T” in the LGBTIQ local community.

“Fashion has played a huge role in the process of constructing my identity and it was my first exposure to different ways of being a woman that weren’t necessarily rooted in conventions. Last year, through being the first open transgender model to walk during Fashion week, I found myself having a platform where I can share my experience in order to empower others. While I was proud and humbled, I did not want to be a headline-grabbing line. To this extent I decided to organise the Pride Fashion Show, which will see models from the LGBTQ* community share the stage with cisgender models, who are our allies, walking for a number of local designers. Through this fashion show I want to offer a platform to others like me and promote a message of true inclusivity and equality.” She explained that fashion plays an important role in the LGBTQI community and pride itself and she questioned how it was never truly celebrated during pride. While preparation was a slight headache, chasing people and keeping up with deadlines, Karly was extremely excited and nervous to coordinate the fashion show, but she felt that her own experiences have helped her greatly.

Looking back, being the first open transgender model to walk on the runway, she recalls how it helped her come out of her shell, especially in her role of activism. “Looking back, I still remember all the doubts and fears regarding going public with my journey, at which point my friend told me that sharing my story could really inspire someone or help them with their own journey.” Karly has always been honest about her story and who she is, with family, friends and partners. “You cannot know me and not know my childhood, my journey, what inspired me and how I came to be the person I am today.” She explains that after speaking with her family, she began thinking back to when she was younger, how there was no one who she could relate to or be inspired by due to limited access to information and because many did not feel safe in sharing their experience. “Growing up there was limited information about these matters, I had no idea what being a transgender person was and what it meant.”


Improving the transgender community by improving the local mentality

“I know that even if I am part of a minority, I still grew up with some privileges that enabled me to take on this journey. I know that not everyone has the same conditions in life and therefore I don’t expect everyone to be as open as I am. I decided to take control of my narrative because when you do that, it will be easier to connect to people and through these connections many of the fragile misconceptions over the word transgender easily dissipate and it becomes easier to realize that there should be no difference between transgender and cisgender people. We are trying to aspire to be the best that we can be.”

As times change, mentalities must also adapt and change. She expressed that the main step forward is education and awareness. Just as she learnt what it meant to be transgender, her family grew and learnt with her.

She remarked that while Malta has the most progressive LGBTQI laws, there is still a gap between the spirit of these laws and the overall mentality. “This is also due to historic factors. The struggle for equality for the LGBTIQ community was mainly brought forward and focused around the LGB. Therefore, throughout the years there was less awareness and visibility of the transgender community. We have local NGOs such as MGRM, ARC, Drachma, LGBTIQ Gozo who do an amazing job on a variety of levels. I want to bring more awareness and also normalise the issue of being transgender by sharing my daily experiences, which show that we all go through the same struggles. Through this kind of awareness and education I hope to create a ripple effect that contributes positive societal changes.”

When asked what advice she would give to someone facing difficulty coming out as transgender, Karly understands that it is a big step forward to come out. “Looking back at my early 20s during my transition, I changed quite a lot, but I was also unhappy and angry constantly, growing up and not understanding what I was feeling.” She said that accepting yourself for who you are is the first initial step and to be honest with who you are. “My life is not perfect, but I wake up every morning and I am blessed to have my health, my close relationships and being comfortable in my own skin; things I would not have today if I remained angry and constantly taking out my anger on others.”


Pride is a celebration to enjoy your authentic self

When asked to look back at the first time she attended a pride march, Karly blushed and said that her first pride was only a mere five years ago. “It was not as big as last year’s, but it was growing already.” With a smile, she recalled how last year, as Grand Marshall, she was at the front of the march and was on the float. “It was so much fun, seeing all those people including my friends supporting the community. My mother also caught a bus to come to Valletta to support me and experience this celebration with me and my community. It was a truly happy moment.” She explained that the overall pride was a good and special feeling. “I truly hope it keeps growing. People do not need to form part of the community to support it; ultimately we all have friends, family members and co-workers, so you never know when you would have to support someone in the LGBTQI community.  Moreover, this is a celebration of equality.”

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