Ulelli: How are you?
Angel: I am quite fine
Ulelli: Tell me your name and where you are from?
Angel: Well, the name I preferred to be called is Angel Lee and I live in Trinidad and Tobago?
Ulelli: Angel Lee
Ulelli: So, but how come you use …. Where is that from?
Angel: Well, Ebony is also my nickname. None are my real names, Ebony is my boy representation and Angel Lee is my female name.
Ulelli: Ah, nice.
Ulelli: Good, well you talked about it, but I am hearing…
Angel: Well because of what you asked me (Laughter)
Ulelli: So, tell me a bit …
Angel: What would you like to know?
Ulelli: About you…ah..tell me the story in school.
Ulelli: We are talking about gender expression right now I mean and I think we should start with this part.
Angel: Well, that story is a good story. So, I am Trinidadian by birth and I left Trinidad when I was eight, so I was formally educated in Grenada and I remember one time when I was in College there and the team at the Community College, I decided for some reason to wear three quarter jeans that day and I was going upstairs to the library and the librarian was like, no, you can’t wear, you are not allowed to wear that in the library. We have a dress code here and the three quarter pants, that was literally beneath my knee an inch beneath my knee, and that I was breaking the dress code and I was like ok and I turned around to leave and I remember walking to leave and I saw this girl in the miniest of miniskirts, so I said “hold on, hold on, so I a man, technically speaking at that time, I can’t wear three quarter jeans but she could be up here basically half naked. And when I protest the dress code, you know girls could wear skirts, ah seh but what is the stipulation about wearing pants, men could wear pants and this is considered a pants. I said ok, cool no problem. The next day I then decided to go back to the library in a skirt… (laughter)..
Ulelli: In a skirt…
Angel: Yes, I got suspended.
Ulelli: Did you walk down the road in the skirt?
Angel: No, I did not. I dressed in the bathroom downstairs the library and I walked in, I mean it caused quite a stir at the time. I was always known for being a miscreant really, umm I changed in the bathroom and I walked up the stairs and I was like “Hi’ and then she is like…”this is a joke” and I am like..”what are you talking about, I am here to just get a book” and she is like” you know you not supposed to be wearing skirts right?” So, I said, “ a can’t wear three quarter pants, a can’t wear skirts now, but the girl was wearing that skirt yesterday and she was like “ no, she is a girl and girls are allowed to wear skirts” but I said, “ I am a boy and I was wearing a pants, what’s the difference?” And then she said, you know, not conforming to gender guidelines of the school and I got suspended. I didn’t care and I felt like a rock star.
Ulelli: And how did your school classmates react to it?
Angel: They thought I was …they always thought that I was kinda crazy.
Ulelli: And what about your parents?
Angel: My mom never knew, oh God, no, at that time, no. After when I graduated from college she knew about me wanting to cross dress and all these things. As a matter of fact the first time I ever dressed up to go out, my mother was the one who was clipping on my brow ironically...yeah...she was very supportive..I don’t want to say supportive but she was not unsupportive either. I guess she was just being a good mother I suppose and doing what a mother should do.
Ulelli: What is it that you do here in Trinidad?
Angel: I…sometimes I am conf…sometimes I ask myself whether I am gender fluid or whether I am really a Trans woman so…um...I mean given my restrictions and I suppose my confines I cross dress whenever I get the opportunity to, so it’s not just like for the play. Sometimes when I am home alone, I would dress like this.
Ulelli: Would you dress to go to a party like this?
Angel: To a gay event, yes, to a LGBT friendly event yes , I haven’t built up the courage but I think the absence of my mother had something to do with that because the first time I dressed up, I went on a date with a guy and we went to a regular establishment and she made it seem ok and I did not think anything was wrong with it but in her absence; I don’t have that kind of courage.
Ulelli: Where is she?
Angel: She died.
Ulelli: Oh, I am sorry.
Angel: Yeah, my parents are dead, so I just gender bend when I get a chance to, yeah I think my accent is certainly female. I would love the opportunity to just be free and even when I talk to some of my friends who are transgender and girls who are thinking about it , I cannot compare our stories, I don’t know …I just see myself being… the vision I always have , the first image that comes to my head is just me walking down the aisle of a grocery buying groceries . You know…it’s not like some of my friends wanting to be hyper beautiful, hyper feminine. I just want to be regular and fit in. My biggest issue is fitting in, cause you know being black and then being chubby and being effeminate in the Caribbean is tough. So, my biggest fear really is that I have spent, I am now 28...umm, I have spent 28 years of my life having to deal with being a black, chubby effeminate gay man living in the Caribbean. Do I have the strength really to go through another let me say 5, 10 years transitioning as a black Trans woman in the Caribbean? Do I have that strength, I am often not sure if I do.
Ulelli: Is there a Trans population here in Trinidad?
Angel: It is, well let’s say is or was because a lot of the girls have migrated to..I know there are girls in England, Canada and the majority of them have migrated to the Netherlands… um…now there is only one girl that I know that is that I know personally and that is like a full Trans, so the pool was greater but now its… people want to get out, you know, it’s very, you know…we feel like we have been waiting our whole lives to just live our lives, our true lives and I mean, I am very envious sometimes of them , they had the strength to leave and I am still here .
Ulelli: So there is like no one.
Angel: Oh and there is…sorry there is two, there is a queen bee, yeah, I forgot her, yeah. They are fully transitioned, so, like my friend who I will call C, I met her on the streets as a normal woman and my other friend who I will call G, she functions as a regular woman as well. They are fully transitioned, I don’t know about what their beneath parts are but to me that never defined anything… so
Ulelli: Yeah...yeah…that’s true…
Angel: But they are fully functioning women in every respect and in every regard.
Ulelli: So, this way of expressing yourself like how you are now, is that something that you would definitely just leave home and go out …
Angel: I would love… (sighs)
Ulelli: It’s not something you do right now …
Angel: Again, I just think about… (long pause) because I am not currently on you know like C and G, they are currently on hormones, they are taking hormone replacement therapy, they have some of the advantages, the biological advantages that hormone replacement therapy would give to you. I am just … you know naturally pretty or just very feminine face or whatever. So, I don’t know one, there is this thing being called passable in the Trans community, I don’t know if I am passable and you know I don’t know if …cause you know, I like to be a movie star… (laughter)
Ulelli: So basically you don’t have many Transgender friends…
Angel: I don’t ... not, I talk to people online of course on the internet
Ulelli: Yeah… I mean
Angel: But within, to link up with people…I don’t …actually …
Ulelli: How does that make you feel?
Angel: It makes you feel lonely cause sometimes you want people to like tell you their stories, you want to have an adversary and it’s not that at all, and even the girls who are sometimes, it’s very clandestine you know, people don’t want to be outed, even when you are Trans and successfully Trans, cause its harder you have to maintain that mask and I know what it means, I totally understand it. Well, I don’t feel any type of way about it.
Ulelli: Where is it that you work in the day?
Angel: I am a freelance makeup artist, so I work from here.
Ulelli: Oh yeah, that’s what you do?
Angel: I used to do work…I remember I was doing a course, sorry, not course, I was working at Super Farm and that was years ago because I remember I had just started out in 2010, 2011 rather and I remember working at Super Farm and I had just wanted to start transitioning back then and I remember going to HR speaking very theoretically and asking them what have you guys ever had, someone who was transitioning and me working there. Just the response was like; she told me she had never had a question like that being posed so she did not even know how to answer and I was like ok. And then when I was working at Flow I remember asking HR about that and they were , I mean that was more like last year and they were like well just once you are coming to work and functioning . I mean people say that in theory but then like a week after there was a whole whispering about the gay boy. It was ridiculous.
Ulelli: What happened?
Angel: Well one of the guys that was training we were in different batches so like my batch was for the Eastern Caribbean and there is another batch working for Trinidad and one of the guys in the Trinidad batch he knew that I crossed dressed . I wouldn’t say that I am a big deal but I am known within the community cause I have hosted events and shows.
Ulelli: You have hosted events and shows?
Angel: Yeah like all the gay … like the Queen of Queens, big pageants, I have done that and I have performed in drag and lip syncing and all these other events. I have done that, tell jokes and all that, so he knew me and apparently we were friends on my female profile on Facebook and he went and he started to show people on work, so that was all a talk and of course it got back to me and I went to HR cause I was very disturbed by it. It’s just again here I again have to deal with things I have been dealing with all my life you know in my personal life, now it’s affecting my professional life like when does it end and that’s why I keep telling myself you know every day I keep asking myself do I have the strength, really have the strength to go through a very similar fiasco again and oftentimes you know my answer is I don’t know, I don’t know. I don’t know if I have that in mean. I think I will never be happy until I do. It’s just hard, it’s been hard.
Ulelli: Tell me about your performance, who do you perform as?
Angel: My performance name is Angel Lee, that’s who I really think my essence is but…
Ulelli: What does she do?
Angel: She …she is very funny and very …I don’t want to sound conceited but in my mind I’ve… and perhaps there is the danger in me saying this because it’s not just the sexualization but I- when I was growing up…um a lot of the women I admired were …my first obsession in terms of a female obsession was Uma Thurman’s role as Poison Ivy in Batman and Robin back in 1998. I knew all her lines by heart … (laughter) and so those were the women like Poison Ivy and Cat Woman. I admired Little Kim and they were all very feline hypersexual. Then, there was this show, I am sure you remember the show that HBO use to show when they use to remake like the Greek classics and the Roman classics and I saw the story of…um the birth Venus and I was just…uh… my gosh, always being interested in Arts and Literature and I felt like oh my God that’s how beautiful and free it is just to be feminine really, that feminine essence and I have latched on to that since then I mean regardless of whatever new gender acting I do when I am in society . I always try to maintain my gender, my feminine essence but Angel Angel is … in terms of my performance self I tell jokes, I lip sync, I do drag, I suppose that is what they call it ..Um…but it’s…
Ulelli: But for you drag is more than just drag cause …
Angel: Yeah, that is not who I am, I just like to be home cooking in the kitchen you know with my little maxi dress on. I don’t even think, I honestly a lot of my friends have and perhaps to me that is a double standard about myself, I speak of wanting and having this fear of you know being real . I don’t know, I am not sure if Guyana has those concepts like realnesses when you are passable so let’s say they are three drag queens lined up the most prettiest and the most female looking would be the realest, so there is this obsession that Trinidad has with realness uh… I mean the free is really, I have never heard it until I came back home to Trinidad. So those things kind of sub-consciously fixate you, fixate me rather and the girls like me down here. So it’s always a matter of pass ability and realness. I feel like if I were to braid my hair and put on some brown powder and I was able to fully function as a woman, you better your bottom dollar that would be me every day but I have not had the courage to initiate that yet cause I am afraid of the repercussions …um… for me a lot of my friends have things to fall back on like you know there is family and I don’t have any of that. So if I were to walk out of my house, out my apartment in Curette and my neighbors were to complain you know I would be living nowhere.
Ulelli: They would complain?
Angel: Yes, because even now, my roommate is gay and he is, like I have learnt throughout a time to act the part, so I can act butch or act normal. He does not do that and they were asking me whether he was gay or not and they don’t want no bullah man in the area and I was like he is a young boy, he normal. So imagine, a black, again and they always …a lot of things I have heard in my years growing up you know, you a black man, how could you be one , why you wanna take man and you know?
Ulelli: So they are saying if you are black you shouldn’t want to have…or shouldn’t be gay.
Angel: Yes, you shouldn’t be gay because its anti…I guess this idea about a black man should be in the Caribbean you know, cause with the …it’s a big thing and all of my early fears with me growing up and praying the gay away from the church, the black church in particular ,um…well I mean I prayed and prayed and prayed and it never went away so…but that’s a think, a lot of the girls who wanted to transition I think that’s where the issue lies. You know for me I am lucky and unlucky in the sense that I do not have families that I do not have to you know not bring shame to or please, just me alone in the world. That’s the disadvantage sometimes when things happen to me there is no one to avenge me…I wouldn’t say avenge me but there is no one I can turn to really so…
Ulelli: So …what is it like for you as a gay man in Trinidad?
Angel: Um… now that particularly this year I mean like literally 2016, I mean I am making a conscious effort to try to act butch cause growing up I would always here why you can’t liking no girl, why you can’t liking no girl and you know, I would always think to myself that it’s not an act that is how I am naturally. When I try to be heteronormative that is when I am acting and I never...and up to this day I don’t understand and people don’t understand that when I leave here and I walk with a bump and a male swagger or whatever that is me maintain a facade and really acting my ass off, deepening you know my base to my voice and ruffling it out you know ruffling out my accent. It’s an act.
Ulelli: What caused you to make a decision to start acting like this?
Angel: Well after my birthday three years ago with the whole stabbing, I was attacked by a bunch of men who kinda targeted me and um…I was stabbed up and left for dead…I mean I almost died um…that was a turning point for me and I really, I was a recluse for so , oh my God, I mean when I got out of hospital, I wasn’t even working, I was locked up at a friend’s house for like a year , um… and that’s when I said you know that we are really a minority in the Caribbean and I don’t want to put myself at greater risk by being seen as weak because I am effeminate, you know these are things that people somehow they process femininity… and I think that perhaps I have never read upon it but I have a strong feeling that comes from this religious thing that women are the weaker sex so, even if you are a man who is slightly effeminate you are deemed as less of a man and weaker than what the straight acting man or masculine man would be. A lot of those things people don’t even realise how it’s ingrained in us through society and how religion and all these things and um…my life oh my God my dear listen you don’t even know the half of it has been one roller coaster after the other and I told myself last, one of the things that happened to me a year, two years ago that was my seventh strike you know. I have had seven things happen to me that were life threatening so I have two more and I don’t want to put myself in a situation where something else was to happen to me you know. Sometimes when I you know shower and I close my eyes to like soap off or lather up, I see me drowning and it’s terrifying, it’s not nice at all. So that’s where the acting thing comes from, I want to …
Ulelli: Fit in …
Angel: Fit in …
Ulelli: So what is perceive as normal?
Angel: Normal is to say that you are a black man; you have to have some kind of masculinity about you, well now the trend is you know just swag, if you ought to be a little spicy now it’s only swag you know um… so normal is you know being regardless of now the whole race thing is here and that, if you are a man, you are expected to be masculine, um that’s really what the emphasis is on for me, me fitting in and being masculine and diminishing any kind of female characteristics um…sighs…so I don’t shave my brows anymore you know stuff like that. I walk with a kinda bounce and now because my posture is very upright, I always throw a bag on my bag like whenever I am leaving home to kind of bend/crutch me over so that also adds. I don’t know I did it in the mirror and I looked more, something about it. Men have this kinda lumbering presence about them and when I throw the bag on my back it gives me that lumbering thing that I don’t have when I am without it cause I am a very head up in the air, you know pristine girl without it and …laughter…you know and I find it’s so tragic that I even have to have these things in my head it’s sad …
Ulelli: Yes, survival
Angel: It’s ridiculous…
Ulelli: Yeah, just so that you can fit in
Angel: Ridiculous …
Angel: Like for example, my friend who is gay as well… I have a problem saying I am gay I don’t see myself, like when I look in the mirror this is what I see even when I am not in this, I think I am a woman whose name is Angel.
Angel: He is very, you would never be able to tell if he is gay or not, he invited me to go to a boat ride cause he is my friend and you know I think it was sweet of him but you know people invite you to things that they want you to say no to …laughter… cause you know … cause I would never come to a straight party and embarrass or out you. I wouldn’t know how to function in that kind of space, I can do it walking down the road because it’s a moving thing you know it’s not stationery, but to be in a stationery place with heterosexuals for so long, what if I walk a particular way or sit a particular way or say something that is gay and out you I don’t want to do that and its things like that that really piss me off, I can’t be normal even within my gayness, you know it’s always this thing of having to conform and not be heckled or being hassled and them things which has been my major issue . A lot of violent things have really happened to me and um… ridiculous things really, because I you know, the gays, the gay men are not exactly innocent either you know, they are very damaging, very vicious people or I am gay myself so I can tell you. There is this…I don’t wanna... like political thing within the gays where when you are too effeminate, there is the fem-phobia within the gay community especially in Trinidad because when you go to sights like Adam for Adam, Grinder, BGC, one of the first things and I have done the research for a gentleman named Keith McNeil who I know, one of the first things we see on their profile is no fags no fems you know, those things govern the psychological mantra of the men within the Caribbean and you know and I have not travelled outside of the Caribbean so I don’t know what it’s like but I have lived within the Caribbean and certainly it’s a case …cause men never fear you know in the Caribbean of being outed you know, yeah you gay but you want a man and then the other stupid thing that I have heard people say in defense is but why would I want a man who acts like a woman or to be a woman and I am like , behavior and gender are not even remotely correlated you know. You could be an effeminate man but still be heterosexual so, it’s a stupid argument that I think is totally beneath me so now I just sleep with straight men but men who identify as heterosexual and I don’t question that because I think I am a hetero woman anyways so I …but then the danger…you know is like these men, they treat you as some sex object , like some freak of nature, you know, like a chick with a dick, um… there is no winning, no winning ground. It all ends in tragedy.
Ulelli: What do you want the public to know about gender expression?
Angel: I just think that we were all; I mean I am Roman Catholic that is how I was raised and if we were all born in God’s image and likeness, God made no mistake in making you or me you know or Allah or Buddha or whoever you believe in you know , Zen days or whoever. What is my expression of my true self, how does that infringe upon you and your own beliefs. I am not dressing up as a woman to fool man or to trick anyone or to if I give you my phone now and you go through my messages you would see after saying Hi, the next thing I say is, I am a cross dresser whatever…that is always the first thing I say cause you know I have heard stories of back in the day, way before my time that predates me back to carbon dating where things that happened. It’s just dishonest why would I lie you know um… and I don’t believe in that so my thing is just let people live, let people be, you know allow people to be themselves. I just have a feeling that the world would be a much better place if we really as a collective as humanity just really preached, thought and adhere to this thing of love and equality. It’s sickening, its I am way over it, it has nothing to do with you cause your heterosexuality has nothing more to with you than mine is to you, you know. How is two consenting adults fucking or kissing or even holding hands or being in love, how is that harming you? I am so curious to know that and I think that a lot of the times when men, people in the LGBT sector speak, and I have seen it happen before in professional settings there is a bit of underlying anger but you know we have been angry for so long, because we have been mistreated for so long, you know, it’s now our voice of have hurt, fractured and not being able to speak and all these things you have piled up inside you, just falling out. It’s sad.
Ulelli: Anything else you want to add?
Angel: Um…I just think that the world would be a better place, honestly if you think about it , just let people be, love is a beautiful thing , when has love ever caused hurt, true love , free love, it does not hurt at all. Your bible spoke about that… laughter, end quote.
Ulelli: Thank you… very much.
Angel: You are welcome.