mtv3 article in English

This is the translated article from the original Finnish version, linked below.

Click here for the original Finnish mtv3 article
English translation : Anne-Mari Ala-Kuha

  Flash of colour: former Londoner Andy found happiness as a transgender
parent and musician in Mikkeli and tells how she won over the locals.

Unlike many others who start feeling like a big fish in a small pond, Andy Bonnor didn’t head off to a big city to find herself. On the contrary, she left London for Mikkeli, a small city in eastern Finland.

Now, at the age of 49 she is happier than ever before as a transgender parent of four who plays electro punk and works in construction.
This combination has been a lot to digest for many, and coming to terms with it took Andy some time as well. Even though she has lived in Mikkeli for 15 years, Andy still keeps turning heads on the street in her bright red hair and clothes and high heels to match.

   Confidence is the key
It wasn’t until five years ago that Andy found the courage to express her genuine self. At first, coming out lead to threatening situations.
“Back then I was still trying to find my confidence and was not used to looking like a woman in public.”
Andy learned that braveness alone isn’t enough – if you lack confidence, others sense it.
“They may get confused and as a consequence, react negatively.”
She encountered aggressive behavior in bars.
“Many people were confused because I was neither a man or a woman, not even half and half. I should’ve been “as feminine as possible”.”
When Andy found her own style, she also found her confidence.
“When you look good and have good energy, people have no reason to think negatively about you, because you energize them.”

Why Finland?
In the early 2000s Bonnor toured around Europe with different bands in the hope of getting a break through. The genres varied from indie and metal to electronic music.
However, Andy’s life changed permanently as she met a Finnish woman in 2004. They started dating, and when the new girlfriend found a job in Finland, Andy decided to move with her to
Mikkeli. They had two children together, but eventually opted for divorce- their relationship ended.

Mikkeli state of mind
Andy wasn’t actively looking for a new partner, but in 2010 she met Maria at a festival’s after party and fell in love.
Relocating to Helsinki, a more liberal capital, was not an option for Bonnor since she wanted to stay close to her sons in Mikkeli.
“My new partner found work in Mikkeli, so she moved here. Then my ex-partner happened to get a job in Helsinki and consequently moved there with our children.”
For two years Bonnor picked up her sons every other weekend and drove them to Mikkeli. “It was hard but definitely worth it, because I wanted to have a genuine connection with my
Maria and Andy got married a bit over five years ago. They have two mutual children.

   Wife helped in coming out of the closet
Bonnor had always wanted to dress feminine, but she needed another woman to finally get the
courage to come out of the closet. That woman was her wife Maria.
“We’d been together for a year, and she noticed that I like using makeup and other feminine
things. She said that if I wanted to wear women’s clothes, it was completely ok and she would help me.”
Andy couldn’t believe her luck – partly because her former partner had never accepted this preference.
“I was really glad to have found a person who accepts me for who I am and who I want to be.
After that we started to buy clothes together and develop my style.”
“All of that was already in me, but when I found my style, it was easy to come out. Now my masculine and feminine sides are in better balance. This is how I want to express myself.”

    Change requires new types of influences
Despite a few threatening situations, Bonnor considers Finns modern and open to accept different minorities. During the past 15 years she has come to understand why it’s not easy for
everyone to accept things like her way of dressing up as a woman.
“If the society hasn’t been exposed to or influenced by alternative, gay, or even foreign cultures,
people take time to get accustomed to a new, more modern way of life. I believe that at least in Mikkeli I have personally helped change this situation,” she laughs.

    “London never liberated me”
Bonnor spent her childhood and adolescence in London that especially in the 1980s was far more liberal than Mikkeli. Despite the circumstances Andy wasn’t ready to be her authentic self.
“I had to live long enough before I realised who I truly am.”
“I did go to fetish clubs and had various types of relationships, but I preferred women so much that being with them and like them was what interested me the most.”
Bonnor does not miss going back to England, apart from visiting her relatives every few years.
“If I want to fly abroad, I rather go somewhere warm and put on my bikini.”
Andy’s brother and mother understand well why she prefers to live in Mikkeli.
“London is expensive, crowded and full of traffic jams. Here we have lots of space, fresh air, a
reasonable price level, no traffic jams, and clean lakes you can swim in. When they visit us, they are dismayed to return to London.”

      A transwoman as a parent piques curiosity
The locals of Mikkeli have mostly gotten used to Bonnor’s flamboyant character during the past five years. However, when Andy’s not wearing flashy makeup and walks down the street (in day clothes) with her children and a baby buggy, passers-by get curious.
“We’re treated as some sort of a queer family. When we walk the streets in daytime and I’m wearing just a little bit of makeup and a normal outfit, my 13-year-old son is the one who observes if somebody’s looking. My youngest son is completely cool with it.”
If a person on the street asks Andy about her lifestyle, she doesn’t ignore them.
“I talk with everybody who approaches me. There’s no brick wall in front of me, and it doesn’t say “Fuck off” on my forehead. I’ve told my story to hundreds of people in bars. Also, a regional newspaper story about me was published last December, so I don’t have to start from scratch
with everyone anymore.”

      Not your average construction worker
So far Bonnor may have caused the greatest confusion in his work places. After moving to Finland she got a vocational qualification in construction. Since making and producing music doesn’t yet bring home the bacon, Bonnor has continued working in construction to this day.
How have people reacted to Bonnor’s lifestyle change in this traditionally masculine field? Five years ago she got funny looks during the lunch break.
“Although I don’t look that feminine in a builder’s clothes”.
Nowadays co-workers don’t pay as much attention to her appearance as before. Bonnor thinks that Finnish men that do heavy physical labour are usually quite macho. It is this stereotypical
image that Bonnor wants to challenge.
“Physically I’m equally strong, but mentally I’m stronger. I’m used to defending myself against threatening body language, for example.”
“If I like Andy, does it make make me gay?”
Nevertheless, particularly older men find it hard to understand Bonnor.
“Can I like this person? And if I do, does that make me gay?”
“The risk is real,” Bonnor jokes.
Accepting Bonnor is difficult also for teenagers who are only starting to become aware of their own sexuality.
“They giggle and stare.”

      An all-rounder musician
Bonnor dreams of being able to leave construction work for good. That would require a breakthrough in the music industry. In addition to her solo project In your Dreams that she performs
under the artist name AndiA, Bonnor helps out both new and more experienced musicians in the Savon region.
“The music scene is lively in Mikkeli and the rest of the Savonia region. There are lots of young bands. Nowadays everyone can make an album, but those albums are demo quality per se. I help bands with mixing and producing their material.” “When it comes to older artists, I help them with digital publishing. A physical product, such as a CD, is important but outdated.” It’s important to gain local popularity first, but in the modern world of streaming services there’s no reason to not publish music globally, too, Bonnor says. With the help of Bonnor’s personal
contacts a band from Mikkeli can get a gig in Berlin or Nashville – as long as they have talent and enthusiasm.

     More tolerance is needed
Although the Bonnors are happy to live in Finland, Andy thinks there’s still room for
improvement. Especially in how people from different cultures are treated.
“Finland usually puts its own citizens first and immigrants second. It’s understandable, but you don’t have to be aggressive about it. It’s better to keep an open mind. If foreigners are willing to make an effort and do their best in a new country, they should be given a proper chance.”
Bonnor thinks it’s obvious that a versatile culture is significantly stronger than a culture that is
bound by only one nationality, sexual orientation, or race.
“When I came out, some of my Finnish friends wanted to take distance. On the other hand, I got new friends who appreciate what I do. I’ve never been happier in Finland than I am now.”

Click here for the original Finnish mtv3 article