Text by Dylan B Jones
Photos by Matt Spike
Makeup by Chris McLeod
Styled by Bang London
Dani St James! What a babe! Is she a model? Is she an “it” girl? Is she a businesswoman? She’s all of the above!
She arrived in London from Wales with a dollar and a dream. Well actually, more like a Greggs and a can of M&S gin and tonic.
As we all know though, living in London is tough. In a struggle that will be all too familiar to many trans people today, Dani quickly became the focus of an unprecedented amount of attention, both in day-to-day interactions, and in the mainstream press.
Dozens of photoshoots, several hundred men *cough* and 20,000 Instagram followers later, she’s learned some valuable lessons and come out the other side a confident, savvy and eminently likeable young woman.
We chatted to her about run-ins with the media, working a new high powered office job, and THAT First Dates appearance.
Tell me about your experiences with the mainstream press.
I was relatively early on in my transition. I’d had no surgeries, hormones hadn’t really taken effect yet…I was just young and naïve. And they started taking an interest in me. I got so caught up in it that I said yes to everything. There would be photographers in my home, or taking pictures of me in Holland Park. I didn’t realise those images would be visible for the rest of my life. I was doing beauty pageants at the time, and that’s what they picked up on. They spun it that I was “under the radar” – pretending to be something I wasn’t. They wanted to manipulate the facts, and the way they did that was by putting stories out with headlines like “Glam Dan was a man”. My heart breaks for 20-year-old me. I was just like “whatever, that’s fine.” It wasn’t fine, but I was so caught up in the idea of being in the media and being seen. It never led to anything good. All it led to was me exposing myself to countless people. That whole time period is not something that I look back on fondly. I was manipulated because of my youth and my naivety. And it was so blatant. Now they have to be cleverer in the way they trick people.
Why do you think they still do it?
The way I look at it is this. When Queer As Folk came on television, it exposed gayness to the masses. People realized “hang on – gay people are actually everywhere. They’re teaching our kids, they’re curing our illnesses, they’re selling us bread in fucking Tesco.” We’re now in the trans equivalent of that time period. As much as I hate to say it, I think people like Caitlyn Jenner were a massive catalyst to opening up the conversation. That “Oh my god, they’re actually everywhere” moment. When people say to me “you’re the first trans person I’ve ever met” I say “no, I’m the first openly trans person you’ve ever met.” We are like Russian sleeper cells. We’re fucking everywhere.
Caitlyn Jenner was undeniably a moment. That fucking cover.
I was actually contacted after that cover came out, by a mainstream publication. They wanted to recreate that shoot. I don’t even know what the spin on that was, but they wanted me to wear that corset and have that backdrop and that pose. It was bizarre. That was when I began to say no to things. The power that came with that ability was amazing. We’re at a point where more people need to say no to this media sensationalism. It’s detrimental. There’s nothing progressive in that mindset. Why do I need to replicate another trans woman’s photoshoot in order for you to see me? Fucking shove me in a gorge gown and chuck me on the back of a greased up boy. I’m down!
Does the mainstream press still contact you a lot?
More so since I did First Dates.
I looked at the comments on that clip prepared for the worst, but most of them were actually sweet!
It was lovely in that respect. All of a sudden, people were like “oh wait, they’re just actually a bit normal.” I think what the producers did that was really intelligent, was show a vulnerability. I wasn’t portrayed as a sex-crazed lunatic that’ll steal your husband and break your windows and kill your cat.
Even though you are.
I am, I have and I will [laughs] but seriously, it showed a vulnerability in trans people. Like “hiya! I’ve got a job, and a life, and a bit of a drinking habit.” Relatability.
— Channel 4 (@Channel4) November 21, 2018
I hear you’ve just started an office job in the city! What’s the sitch there? Are you “out”?
I did six levels of interviews for the job. During that, I locked down all my social media, and reached out to everywhere that had done stories about me, asking them to take them down. I went through the whole process thinking “ok, no-one knows.” I did my first week, and there was no mention of it. I set up a new Instagram – pictures of me in Canada drinking cocktails with my friends, when really I’m an actual pig. Then I went to some work drinks in my first week. I was sat with a colleague – I wasn’t drunk, but I was, shall we say, verbally lubricated. I said “I’m gonna ask you a question – how many people in this room know I’m trans?” She looked at her glass and smiled, and said “how many people do you think saw First Dates?”
So all your efforts were in vain!
Yes! The thing is, I’d been so scared by my own transness, and the visibility of that in a corporate environment, that I’d almost tried to fool myself into thinking I was a different person. Two other girls I work with came to our table and I went “OI! You didn’t tell me you knew I was trans!” and they were like “well, you didn’t tell us, so we didn’t want to make you uncomfortable.”
So sweet. I left the bar shortly after, and I got a text from one of them. She said “no-one cares about this other than you. We all adore you, and we’re so happy you’re here. None of this matters. We’re just happy to know you.” I sat in my apartment and cried. Both for the kindness I’d been shown, and the realization that I’d been so scared. It was the first time in ten years that I was scared if someone knew I was trans.
And now? Are there any residual fears?
My general consensus is that if somebody notices that I’m trans, they’re noticing part of me that I’m inherently proud of. I was ashamed of myself when I sat in my apartment that night. I was ashamed that I’d been ashamed of myself. Because I’m actually so proud of it. I preach pride to every trans person I know. We’re living in a time where we’re starting to be visible and free. So if you feel like you can, fucking put it out there!
Dani’s episode of First Dates is available on 4OD. Follow her on Instagram at @danistjames