How Are You, Really? is an interview series highlighting individuals—CEOs, activists, creators and essential workers—from the BIPOC community. They reflect on the past year (because 2020 was…a year) in regards to COVID-19, racial injustice, mental health and everything in between.
The pandemic left most of us stuck inside, looking for something, anything to entertain ourselves. Enter TikTok, which had us scrolling for hours (and we mean hours) on end. But while many look to the platform for entertainment, Kissy Duerré decided to use it as an outlet to talk about trans issues, racism and mental health. Since joining March of 2020, she has garnered over 600,000+ followers by educating, spreading positivity and expressing vulnerability. We spoke to Duerré about the past year when it came to her mental health, joining TikTok and what it means to be a Black trans woman in America.
So Kissy, how are you really?
My first question is, how are you?
I’m pretty good.
How are you, really? As individuals (specifically BIPOC) we tend to say, we’re fine even when we’re not.
Well, I’ve been feeling alright—not super good, not super bad. Last year was a very difficult year for almost everybody with the pandemic, but I’ve been trying my best to keep my mental health in check. On a scale from 0-10, I’m at a 7, so that’s pretty good.
Do you find it difficult talking about how you feel to others?
Yes...in a way when I was growing up. But at the same time, I’m very thankful for having the most loving and kind father who allowed me and encouraged me to be vulnerable and speak about difficult times in my life. Now, I’m at a good place.
Why do you think it’s tough for BIPOC to talk about their mental health?
I think it’s very hard to talk about mental health issues for BIPOC because it has to do with how we are raised. It’s also the stigma too with things like ‘[Your] parents went through this, so you’ll be fine too to go through these similar kinds of situations. You don’t have to talk about things. You just have to be tough.’
How has your identity affected how you feel about yourself?
As a transgender woman, it was hard for me growing up. As a kid, I had to embody masculinity even though I really did not fit within that spectrum. It was always ‘Men don’t cry. Men don’t express their emotions.’ Yeah, it’s hard. It’s a constant circle and stigma around it too. It’s also that belief that BIPOC, especially if you’re Black, [have to be] tough, strong and all of that. You cannot be vulnerable—regardless of gender.
What are ways you focus on your mental health?
I think having different activities helps me navigate my own mental health. I take my dog on walks, and another thing I’ve actually been doing for a while is painting. I love painting. It’s very relaxing.
What has made you smile lately?
One thing that actually made me smile recently was getting surprise gifts from my boyfriend. Also there’s a lot of beauty outside when I go for walks. I see a ton of wildlife because I’m staying at my dad’s cottage for the time being, so it’s a little bit secluded and not a super busy location.
How has the pandemic played a role in your career?
It has opened different career opportunities for me. Prior to the pandemic, I was not active on social media. Getting onto TikTok has opened a lot of doors for me. I know it’s been a difficult year for a lot of people, but it’s been lucrative for some.
How has TikTok changed your life?
One great thing about TikTok is that it helps you to connect with people. And what’s even more interesting is that you get to connect with different communities based on the things you like, things you watch the most, things you gravitate towards. I’ve learned so much about being vulnerable and being open to discuss issues and struggles [like transphobia, discrimination, self-acceptance and mental health].
[I also love] getting feedback from my followers. I get DMs from my fans telling me things like ‘You’ve helped me come out,’ ‘You’ve helped me embrace myself,’ and ‘You’ve helped me love myself.’ It just means you’re having some impact on someone.
What’s the topic you enjoy discussing most on TikTok?
Transgender issues—mostly about accepting and loving transgender people. I try to tell transgender youth and transgender people that being trans is actually really beautiful. It’s not what you’re used to seeing in the media or what people might have told you. Your transphobic family or society might’ve told you that you’re ugly, you’ll never be beautiful, you’ll never find somebody to love you. [But it’s just] because they are afraid. Some people are just insecure in themselves and they try to project that on you.
Do you think the past year has brought change when it comes to racial injustice?
I believe changes have been made. It may be slow but it’s getting there. When the Black Lives Matter movement sparked, it had an overall effect across different countries all over the world. It challenged the way the justice system—not just in the U.S. but in many other countries–treats other people. Not just BIPOC, but also sub groups that have been oppressed—groups like the LGBTQ+ community and people who are disabled. There is progress here.
Are there issues that still need more attention?
The integration between people that belong to the LGBTQ+ community and people in the Black community. As a Black transgender woman, I face different realities. I face misogyny. I face racism. I face transphobia. All of those things exist at once.
What advice would you give someone looking to get involved in activism?
To become a better ally, you need to be open-minded and willing to learn. When a BIPOC tells you something about their experience, the best thing you can do is shut up, listen and learn. Don’t bring in your opinion. Just learn. Be quiet, take a seat and learn.
What are your hopes for the year ahead?
I just go with the flow, see where things go and where I will end.