Dakota Robin discusses his activism-driven career, the ways he is working to inform and create positive change and the struggles he has had to overcome in order to get to where he is now. Although participating in one on one and or in-person events is where Robin thrives, he has had to shift towards a consulting approach over the course of the ongoing pandemic and having to work and promote remotely. Alexander Beer’s photoshoot of Dakota showcases the importance of identity, vulnerability and helps promote positive body imagery for the trans community.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself, what you do and a bit about your background as an activist?
My story is pretty exceptional, 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 grew up in an environment where there was no diversity. Nobody to look up to or relate to. No knowledge or understanding that would have supported me in the early stages of my life. I first heard about transgender people when I was 18 but it was also a very negative and stereotypical image that did more harm than good in strengthening my identity and self-acceptance. I’m really lucky and grateful that I survived even after giving up so many times.
When I finally started my healing process I realised why I had to go through and experience everything I did. I started volunteering, I wanted to be the person I would have needed when I was growing up and also I wanted to spread as much knowledge around me as I could. From then on, everything started to line up and I was chosen to become an international human rights trainer.
Now I have been in the field for 6 years and I've been a professional consultant for 3 years.
I travel around the world, educating on diversity and inclusion, human connections and breaking the unhealthy norms of society. I have trained professionals from around the world, including doctors, large international companies, politicians, government, lawyers, psychologists, schools etc.
Without advocates, voices, numbers (people) and the passion for change; improvements will likely never come. How important is it to you to share your experiences and work towards a brighter more accepting future for generations to come?
This is my calling but I’m not saying every trans person should be an activist or should share their story. This is not for everybody and it can be really draining and painful because you have to see the side of the world which you are scared of; people who are not ready to accept you and who are so scared of you that they try to push you away and deny your existence. My pain and experiences hold so much knowledge and knowledge is power. I guess I can say that I have turned my painful experiences into something beautiful, powerful and valuable for me and others.
Do you have any major inspirations, role models and or people that have inspired you to continue an activist-driven career?
I have always admired Tony Robbins and Oprah but from the trans community there are many amazing activists like Laverne Cox, Munroe Bergdorf and Schuyler Bailar.
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With your more recent photoshoot done by Alexander Beer you have a wide array of pictures taken of you with the intention of showcasing you in a vulnerable way which seemingly intends to highlight the importance of accepting ourselves for who we are rather than try and fit the mold built by the society around us. If you could offer advice to those of us who are going through similar experiences and don’t know how to approach their identities, what would you like to say?
Be patient and remember that all human beings have insecurities and struggles with our identities so you are not alone. I would say just try to get to know yourself and don't compare yourself to others because also many of us get lost in the queer community. We think we should look or act a certain way or want the same things to be trans or queer enough. It’s just another trap to fit in. Try to find healthy role models and not become like them but learn from them. Other people can inspire you but nobody else is you. Nobody knows better than yourself so be kind to yourself and try to get to know yourself first. Also do baby steps and don’t pressure yourself to be enough.
In what ways does social media (the goods and the bads) play a role in activism? And do you find that social justice related content often reaches a wider number of users through social media then it would without it?
I didn’t use social media at the start of my career... Working in cis and straight normative environments was really lonely but through the social media I have found a community where I can learn from other activists and also relate. We can help each other and support each other. Also, with the help of social media I can reach many young people. Influencing them has always been close to my heart, that was the reason why I even started in the first place.
What helps you stay energetically aligned and motivated with your work? And has this process changed at all over the course of the last year and a half as we have all been dealing with the ongoing pandemic and mass sociopolitical unrest?
The past year and a half has been really hard for me because the best part of my job is to interact with people. I love face-to-face encounters, I love seeing in my own eyes people's perspectives changing and when they are willing to let go of the fear and let me build connection with them. Social media can be so harsh because people don’t have to take responsibility for their comments and they use it to channel their own pain onto others.
The pandemic has brought more fear, pain and bitterness to people, which is why social media has become a common battleground. We should just remember that we cannot fight for equality because in a fight, someone always loses and someone wins. Equality does not come true when someone loses and someone wins, it requires cooperation and common understanding.
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What are some moments you'd like to highlight from your career as an activist? And if you could go back in time and experience a significant moment in this regard, what would it be?
My work is always really rewarding. It's hard to pick one or two but I would say that when I’m able to make people see themselves in me. For example, I went to educate the head of a big international company and when I started I saw this big white old man leaning tightly against the bench with his hands in disgust. I knew he didn’t want to be there and for some reason I always feel like I have to go where there is the most resistance because that's the place where change is needed. So, during my training I started to slowly build a bridge between us. I was willing to see, hear and understand him before he was willing to do the same back at me. And when he was ready to see and hear me, I used my experiences and story the way that everybody could relate to it and that's the key.
If you go and make them feel they are separated from you (us versus them) you only create sympathy or defence but nothing really changes. When you make them feel one, like it's our problem, people feel that they have the or power responsibility to change it. After the session this guy came to me, his energy was totally different and he said: “I would have never believed that I could relate to someone like you.” Then I knew I did it, he saw himself in me and he saw us as equals.
As we continue to shift our focus onto community engagement, realignment of power/wealth, gender and sexual equity, and the amplification for voices not portrayed within the larger scale more typical media, we continue to see backlash and pushback from those outside of these identities and communities. What ways might we instill positive change in a way that peacefully transitions the power imbalance?
We need to stop using disconnected language which is putting the blame and pain on others. It will just separate us even more. We need each other so we need to start using us and not us versus them.
What can we expect next from Dakota Robin and are there any upcoming events and or issues you would like to give a shoutout to so that our readers can stay connected with your work?
Unfortunately because of the pandemic I’m focusing more on consulting and private events but I have been writing my first book and I have a podcast that's about to come out. The eest way to follow my work is through my Instagram. I will promise to stay humble and use all my knowledge and tools to create the change I want to see in the world.
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