Dakota sits down for an exclusive interview with Editor Ana Markovic to talk about the misconceptions surrounding gender and sexual identities, his work as a human rights consultant, and keys to self acceptance.
Tell us a little about yourself and your work as a human rights consultant.
I’m a half Turkish half Finnish, transgender man who was born in Switzerland but raised by Finnish war veterans in a small town in Finland.
I was a child that never knew how to adapt to the roles of society. I was different from others, which is why I had to learn how to connect with others despite the differences. These skills have led me successfully throughout my life. Now I help companies and organizations by supplying them with efficient resources to build a more coherent internal environment.
I travel around the world, educating diversity and Inclusion, human connections and how to break the unhealthy norms of society. I have trained professionals from around the world, including doctors, large international companies, politicians, government, lawyers, psychologists, schools etc. It all started with the desire to be the person I would have needed when I grew up. I started as a volunteer to help LGBTQ+ youths but ended up studying 3,5 years to become an international human rights trainer.
You educate all kinds of professionals, so what do you feel is the biggest misconception surrounding gender and sexual identities?
I think the biggest misconception is that we are not everywhere or that our existence is rare. People still believe that we are somehow different from others in the way we look, feel or what we want in life and that’s why we would be easy to spot from the crowd. Most of the time I hear that “we don’t have people like you here” and it’s only because you don’t know everything about your best mate Pete who is working next to you. You see yourself in Pete and you see him as a “normal” one of others which makes you treat them respectfully but at the same time Pete is scared to tell something personal about himself because he is scared to be seen and treated as “different” from others. Diversity is not “the new normal”, diversity has always been the one and only normal we ever had.
What are the crucial things you wish cisgender people knew about transgender and nonbinary people?
That our mental health issues are not coming from our gender identity, it’s coming from the environment where we are living. Human beings need as much sense of belonging for survival as food and shelter. We need to feel we are part of something bigger and that our lives matter but for that, we need to be seen and heard. Well, transgender and nonbinary people are not seen and heard, and we don’t belong to our school system, health care, law, sport and most of the families. Our existence has not been recognized in our society and when it is it’s most of the time not safe for us and that makes us mentally struggle like it would anybody else. In the end, most of us are happy and proud to be who we truly are.
In your experience, what are the most frequent problems LGBTQ+ employees face?
Many times when I offer my consultation to the companies I get an answer “we already have an open work culture and everybody is welcome” and this misconception keeps us from moving forward. Many doors are “open” for us but nothing inside those doors helps us to feel and do our best. We are still struggling with real inclusion which needs constant work and willingness to learn, grow, let go and do the changes which are needed inside the company.
Sometimes it’s really tiring to keep proving to people that we are like any other human beings, we are one of them and that means we deserve to be seen and heard and that our lives should matter as much as any other human life.
As a society, do you think we have become generally more accepting, or are we regressing?
I think things are moving forward slowly but it’s still a long journey. We have to remember that even though change is happening, it’s important to stay active and not just trust that things are moving forward because it’s 2021. We can’t control which way the change is moving us if we are not involved in it. Spreading knowledge and increasing awareness is the key.
How often do you experience harassment? Do you feel safe?
I’m really lucky that I pass which keeps me safe in the streets but obviously I also face harassment, mainly only in social media. Most of the time I feel safe and let’s be honest it is easier for me to walk in the streets alone than it is to my fiancée who is a cis gender woman.
What is the most difficult part of being an activist, and what is the most rewarding?
The most difficult part is to always be so aware of all the pain my community is going through and at the same time keep fighting for basic human rights. Sometimes it’s really tiring to keep proving to people that we are like any other human beings, we are one of them and that means we deserve to be seen and heard and that our lives should matter as much as any other human life. The most rewarding thing is when I see the change in people who at first were resisting. The game-changer is when you are able to make people relate to you and see themselves in you. That’s when sympathy transforms to empathy which makes people believe they can and they should do something about it because it’s on one level also about them.
What advice would you give to someone struggling with their identity?
First I would like to remind you that you are not alone and it’s totally normal to feel insecure or lost sometimes, we all do. Give yourself time and don’t pressure yourself to be or become anything else than who you are, you are enough. You don’t have to look or act a certain way to belong to the LGBTQIA+ community. Also, remember that people’s opinions about you have nothing to do with you in good or bad. They are just somebody’s opinions which are only telling about them as human beings and how they see the world but it’s nobody’s else’s truth.
The fashion industry should raise awareness that clothes don’t have gender and fashion don’t have limitations.
Laurel Hubbard has become the first-ever transgender athlete selected to compete at an Olympics. Are we finally ready to embrace transgender athletes?
I know this is one of the trickiest topics and I don’t have a solution for this that would be 100% fair to everybody but only what I know is that football saved my life. It was the first time in my life that I felt belonging and when that was taken away from me it completely destroyed me. I was a 12 years old happy, athletic and kind kid among other boys who turned into a 13 years suicidal gang member who wasn’t scared to hurt anybody around me. So including trans youths in sports, it’s super important.
In your opinion, what kind of steps can the fashion industry take to help the transgender community?
Clothes are created for people to express themselves and make them feel good, confident and beautiful. The fashion industry should raise awareness that clothes don’t have gender and fashion don’t have limitations but as long brands keep stereotypes and expectations alive as long they keep failing in their purpose.
Speaking of fashion, tell us about your personal style.
I have never really thought about having a style but I have more used clothes as armor to keep me safe. When I was younger I used a lot of baggy clothes just to hide my body and to be accepted among others. Nowadays I use clothes that feel good. I don’t follow trends, most of my clothes are from second-hand stores and I wear them until they break down. As one of my favorite shirts, I bought it when I was 19 from the second-hand store and 11 years later I still use it.
Do you think transgender and nonbinary people visibility in pop culture is getting better?
It’s getting better because for the first time in life our existence is even recognized.
In your opinion, what is the key to self-acceptance?
You. In my life, I have learned that as long as we build our self-image based on other people opinions as long we are feeling we are not enough because there will always be new people to impress and there is no way that everybody is going to like you don’t like everybody either, it’s totally normal. We have to learn to like ourselves even other people wouldn’t always like is, peoples opinions is not your business but your self-esteem and wellbeing are so turn your focus on yourself and start to build the healthy relationship first with you before you do with others because if we don’t have a healthy relationship with ourselves we are not capable to have it with others either. It’s a lot of work but it’s worth it because running after other people’s acceptance will be a never-ending battle.
What makes you hopeful about the future?
Our youths, I feel like the younger generation is seeing our mistakes and they don’t buy the bullshit when we are trying to hide our steps. They are on it, they are out and loud, they are pissed off and determined to change the world.
Keep up with Dakota on Instagram – @dakotarobinn