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Women’s History Month: Bridging the Wage Gap for Trans Women & Femmes

Women’s History Month: Bridging the Wage Gap for Trans Women & Femmes

By: Mo Viviane (they/them), Program Manager for Trans Employment Project

As we come together to celebrate Women’s History Month, we must recognize and uplift the contributions and badassery of Trans Women and Femmes in all employment sectors!

Let’s explore the importance of bridging the wage gap, fostering equity, and taking action to create a more equitable reality for us all.

The Wage Gap: A Barrier Yet to be Overcome
The wage gap experienced by Trans Women and Femmes presents a significant barrier to financial and professional success. Studies have shown that Trans Women and Femmes have consistently earned less than their cisgender counterparts, and the disparities are even GREATER for BIPOC Trans Women and Femmes.

According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, Trans Women and Femmes earn an average annual income of $10,000 less than cisgender women. The HRC notates more profound pay inequities; whereas cisgender white men earn $1.00, an average of all women earn $0.84, and Trans Women earn $0.61. 

The Power of Visibility & Inclusion
Increasing visibility and fostering an inclusive environment are critical steps in combatting the wage gap and building a better future. By acknowledging and uplifting the experiences and achievements of Trans Women and Femmes, we challenge stereotypes and biases while celebrating all of the contributions they bring. 

Visibility also plays a crucial role in validating the experiences of Trans folks in the employment sector. Representation in the workplace benefits the individual and has a positive impact on society, breaking down barriers and inspiring others to pursue their passions and goals. Or, as wonderfully as Raquel Willis stated at the Women’s March on Washington in 2017, “As we commit to each other to build this movement of resistance and liberation, NO ONE can be an afterthought. We have a chance to be stronger and better than we ever have before – and that starts with having hard conversations and being held accountable.”

Taking Action Towards an Equitable Future
While awareness is essential, it is through action that we actively mitigate the inequities faced by Trans Women and femmes.

Let’s explore some steps we can take!
1. Implement Equitable Pay Policies: Establishing equitable pay structures that ensure Trans Women and Femmes receive appropriate compensation for their work is vital in bridging the wage gap.

2. Strengthen Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Initiatives: By prioritizing DEIB in all aspects of your organizations, you can create a more inclusive and supportive environment for ALL employees. It is important to ensure that BIPOC Trans Women and Femmes are at the forefront of conversations and policy changes.

3. Providing Support and Resources: Offering resources, mentorship programs, and career advancement opportunities designed to address the unique challenges faced by Trans Women and Femmes is a crucial part of action in the workplace! 

  1. Joining Trans Employment Project: By joining Trans Employment Project as a partner or a member, you are on your way to bridging the wage gap of the Trans Women in our community. As a member, you’ll have access to tips, tricks, and skills training to up your skillset. As a partner, you can sign up to stay plugged into our work or even sponsor our work so that we can continue to move Trans Women out of crisis and into empowerment.

    Addressing Anti-Trans and Anti-DEI Bills
    Unfortunately, the fight for inclusivity and equity faces ongoing challenges in the form of anti-trans and anti-DEI bills. These bills seek to roll back the progress made in creating a safe and affirming place for Trans people. It’s essential to recognize and address these issues head-on and actively advocate for Trans rights. 

By partnering with local advocacy organizations, engaging in educational initiatives, and voicing concerns to policymakers, we can work towards dismantling the barriers these discriminatory bills create that affect every aspect of our community.

As we dedicate Women’s History Month to honoring the achievements of women throughout history, it is time to ACT and INCLUDE Trans Women and Femmes. Together, we can bridge the wage gap, foster inclusion, and create more equitable and empowered workplaces for everyone!

To learn more about Trans Employment Project, visit our programs page: https://transempowerment.org/tep-projects/trans-employment-project/

If you are interested in receiving training from Trans Empowerment Project to level up for the Trans community, follow our training page: https://transempowerment.org/trainings/

J Mase III: A Black Trans Icon for LGBTQIA2S+ History Month

Head Shot of author, Mo VivianeBy: Mo Viviane (they/them/theirs), Associate Director of Workplace Equity & Inclusion

This LGBTQIA2S+ History Month, I want to highlight an individual who has made an impact in my community, as well as in my life. J Mase III is a poet, educator, and advocate. He has left an indelible mark on the Trans and Queer community, challenging norms and amplifying Black and Brown folks. 

Black and white photo of J Mase III

Images courtesy of J Mase III

J Mase III captures various forms of artistic expression, from poetry to photography, capturing the essence of his lived experiences and the stories of those who often go unheard. In his poetry, he delves into themes of identity, gender, race, and Queerness. His words create a powerful and introspective journey, inviting readers and listeners to explore their own perspectives and challenge societal constructs.

J Mase III has used his platforms to educate about the experiences and struggles of the Trans community, specifically Black and Brown Trans folks. Through workshops, performances, and public speaking engagements, he has fostered conversations that promote understanding, empathy, and acceptance. He is the author of White Folks Be Trippin’: An Ethnography Through Poetry & Prose. These pieces are inspired by Langston Hughes’s The Ways of White Folks and guide us into accepting what we already know: White Folks Be Trippin’. 


As the Co-Director of The Black Trans Prayer Book, an interfaith, multidimensional, artistic, and theological workthe cover of J Mase III's "White Folks be trippin': an Ethnography Through Poetry and Prose" Cover features several "one line graphic" style Black character on and around a bench set on a dark yellow background that collects stories, poems, prayers, meditation, spells, and incantations of Black Trans & Non-binary folks, he has highlighted the intersections of race, gender, and faith. In this, a space of healing and connection within the community is prominent. In 2019, when 25 anti-Trans bills had been introduced in the United States, he created the campaign #TransphobiaIsASin. That number has since increased to 593 bills. This campaign is ongoing, especially since anti-Trans rhetoric and its connection to religious violence have not stopped

His book And Then I Got Fired: A Transqueer’s Reflections on Grief, Unemployment & Inappropriate Jokes About Death has helped me navigate being a Black Non-binary Queer person who left a pretty messed up workspace, while I was also navigating my grief and the complexities of life as a Transqueer person. J Mase III provides a unique perspective on resilience and growth. 

Cover image for J Mase III's "And then I got Fired" featuring the authors photo in profile in sepia tones Back when I was a student at Northern Kentucky University, I had the opportunity to meet with J Mase III. His presence left a profound impact as he shared an immersive experience through poetry and thought leadership. He also led a writing workshop, where he fostered an environment of learning, empathy, and understanding. J Mase III is my Black Trans icon, deserving of so much recognition and admiration. He has inspired me to embrace myself, especially in a world that continues to erase folks like me.


For more information on J Mase III and to purchase his books, visit his website at https://jmaseiii.com

 

Black Poetry Day 2023 – Mo Viviane


Happy Black Poetry Day!

This day means so much to me. As a teenager growing up in a small town in Kentucky, I was given the opportunity to attend the Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts back in 2011. I was accepted into the Creative Writing program, where most of my focus was on creating prose and poetry. Many of my influences have been Black poets such as Bianca Lynne Spriggs, Alice Walker, and Frank X Walker. This experience changed how I sought out writing and dug deeper into myself as a poet. I studied under many outstanding Black poets, including Cave Canem fellows Kelly Norman Ellis and Mitchell L.H. Douglas. 

In my undergraduate studies at Northern Kentucky University, I was part of a small slam poetry group called S.W.E.R.V.E. (Spoken Weapons Engaged to Revolutionize Viewers Everywhere). I led many workshops and community gatherings for Black writers and allies at the university. Still, poetry has been something I use as a tool related to my spiritual practice in Hoodoo and many other avenues in my life. Poetry has always been about liberation, uplifting community, and making just for the sake of making. 

One of my favorite anthologies is Circe’s Lament: Anthology of Wild Women Poetry, edited by Bianca Lynne Spriggs and Katerina Stoykova-Klemer. There are many other influences on my writing, such as Crystal Wilkinson, Poet Laureate of Kentucky (2021-22) and the award-winning author of Perfect Black. Many of her works have inspired me to lean into my Blackness and be truthful to myself–as a writer and to my community. 

 

Most of my poems have turned into songs (that I hoard in my recordings app on my phone). Sharing this piece called “Gone” is super personal to me. It is a recording of my voice one year before starting testosterone and at two years on testosterone. This piece represents the memories that I hold with me and to remember that being Black and Non-Binary is not about erasing who I am, but recognizing every facet of my life and wholly leaning into myself in that.

I hope you enjoy it!

Black Poetry Day 2023 – Jacquii Cooke

In 1827, the English poet, literary critic, philosopher, and theologian Samuel Taylor Coleridge defined poetry as “the best words in the best order.”  He further wrote, “When we write, we string words together like beads, ever mindful of color and shape, the powerful nuances of meaning each word conveys.” As a Black Trans poet in the 21st century, I find Coleridge’s assessment to be spot-on. I would add to his definition that poetry is not merely a collection of best words, but it is also personal. I describe it as a soliloquy in reflection: our needs and desires, our wishes, sorrows, and joys written for posterity. It is an emotional testament to our existence.

 

Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote that poetry is “the work of a nightingale who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds.” I’ve experienced a darkness so profound, the only thing I could see was the sweet song I longed to birth into the world. At one time, blocked from indulging my various curiosities, I turned to verse to hear my own voice. I found that I thrive when sharing my life experiences with whoever has a receptive ear. Thus is the transformative power of poetry.

 

In celebration of Black Poetry Day, I encourage all to unleash the symphony of our collective voices–to sing and allow joy to thrive in both the seen and unseen spaces of our existence. Shout (if you must) your experience using your best words in their best order, unlocking your profound wisdom, enabling a journey to self-discovery, and uplifting your community through testimony of how it was, how it is, and how it can be. 

 

Several Black poets have shaped me in my own journey. Langston Hughes was the poet, philosopher, and essayist extraordinaire whose genius shone through in his character Jesse B. Semple. Zora Neale Hurston, though not primarily a poet, wrote verse after verse on how to attain self-respect when the door has been slammed in your face. She schooled me on how to get that door answered and open. Black poets have always been philosophers. Their need to share wisdoms gleaned from their experiences gives many–including me–the courage to share their own. 

 

I discovered the tenacious Ntozake Shange and knew instantly that it’s okay to embrace my natural self, even when it comes to having “nappy edges” and an attitude just as unkempt. Then I found the rebellious words of Ai Ogawa, a Black poet and educator who won the 1999 National Book Award for Poetry for Vice: New and Selected Poems. Ai talked unashamedly and courageously about rape, not shying away from the dark and controversial stuff of humanity. She was known for her mastery of the dramatic monologue as a poetic form, “I want to take the narrative ‘persona’ poem as far as I can, and I’ve never been one to do things in halves. All the way or nothing. I won’t abandon that desire,” she said. It’s like she wanted to give a voice to the marginalized, impoverished, and abused, just as we do in our work at Trans Empowerment Project.

 

On this Black Poetry Day, we at Trans Empowerment Project challenge you to channel your inner poet, recognizing that you are seen and appreciated, and that your value is priceless. Take some time to read some poetry. Write or sing some of your own. There is value and empowerment in your words, not only for yourself, but others. We are committed to supporting and championing you to use your voice in order to foster equity, joy, happiness, peace, and love into your life. Moreover, we dare you to do the same for others.

 

I Am Not Tragically Coloured 

(about Zora) 

So the Moon shined in April, a half quarter gleam at your backside Zora. He was as dust tracks on your road, caressing you with His natural endowment 

for falsetto grace-hope. 

You knew that Ol’ Man Moon – He kept you lit when you were scoring the most beautiful Neale Hurston masterpieces. 

Well that Ol’ Man Moon steady hides behind, beyond thee like an unseen strata of cumulous clouds. 

He’s demure with songs of lust, his wind still yearning your silver-linings and your unkempt starry nights. Like tornadoes piquing in the eye of ecstasy: 

He wants you, your barefaced façade like an eclipse of God… You wrote to him, “Tell my horse.” 

I laughed that frosted May. Giggled raucously. 

The Moon was full with springtime surprise, but no stars in the garden that night? Where lay those subtle orbs of fire?, their blatant sighs in an atmosphere filled with mocking. Must’ve slyly spied swiss upon my mahogany visage, an unwinked eye? Hooded? 

I smiled with you Zora; I kneeled beside the subtle of your blasphemy… I smiled poetry. 

I winked it actually, my left eye lazy 

and my right shining in jest – I steady smile 

the prose of questing for an entire humanity 

no longer mired in the muck of Jim Crow, no longer as the mule of young virile men. 

From terror to triumph I smile (for we are all vital) And you shine Zora. You shine on. 

Butterflies and orchids. Half-rainbows, stars at noon. Wine and green blades – Daffodils of yellow make you swoon.

And the chil’ren in sand boxes: Naïveté amazed. Overalls specked – Slides and swings rathering spirits gay. Shall you comfort on benches like chaise lounge rooms? And fall in gardens: Honeysuckle, Azalia, Hyacinth blooms? Special aroma awaits you. (In the gourd vine of redemption.) 

Kittens claw seraph wings and dogs paw like loyalty. Eyes of golden green, a hazel teeming with malice. Defense blows in the wind as claws grasp. 

A face in moonlit shadow. A voice beckoning 

as rain drizzles in the pallor of an invisible orb. Stars ablaze; clouds rampantly gray: a great man dead… (dust tracks blown in the wind of perseverance; in the midst: reparation) 

…and her eyes, they laugh, they’re on the silver-lined, for she could never hold a grudge; grudges rot hearts. Plus she’s naïve-smart, loving child at thirty-one. Her eyes be watching God; They’re hungry 

and she’s queer. 

Copyright © 2006 Jacquii Cooke

Black Poetry Day 2023 – Jack Knoxville

 

Jack Knoxville is the founder and Executive Director of Trans Empowerment Project. In addition to his activism, Jack is also a prolific writer and poet. In celebration of Black Poetry Day, here is a sampling of some of Jack’s work.

 

I’m too Angry

I’m too angry about my 

Lived experiences 

You know, The ones that

Get the privileged

Likes on Instagram

For “standing in solidarity with”

My anger, 

no longer hidden by desperation, has made me a marked man

and will never get me heard over my Blackness or my Transness

Only discarded like the empty promises transcribed on protest signs 

Strewn across empty streets

 

The posters that these t-shirt collectors put together

For fun,

On a Friday while

Drinking wine and filling their bellies

 

While I starved

 

For food

For funds

For friends

For family

For freedom

To BREATHE.

 

These moments 

A movement, carried through the interwebs by tweeting birds

Drown out the sound of sorrow 

In the void of isolation while the afflicted wrap themselves in the familiarity of loneliness

After being 

tokenized, capitalized on 

by slogans on swag

Under this guise of solidarity

These words, 

Intentional splatters of ink

Meaningless to anything other than the page

Fall, and flop with a thud 

In front of me, at my feet

When they work so hard to keep me out of the room, let alone near the table

My life’s a drag to hear about

To have gone through, to have to heal from

Especially when the hurt won’t stop

Is only valuable when told through other people’s voices

A story that affords me space for the price tag, 

Of my soul for their swag, 

But when the conference is over, and they go home, I’m the one that’s left with the night terrors of reality while they get to sleep. 

 

Where in the hell are all of the solutions?

 

The weight of the world

rests not on my shoulders

but on my mind

It’s burning a hole in my throat

and tying my stomach in knots

as I think about all that I wish was not.

I need to be stimulated

not oppressed

I need to be educated

not distressed.

I need love

not guns

I need tolerance

not ignorance

I need excitement

not fear

I need food

not toxins

I need oxygen

not pollution

We need dreams

not nightmares

With so many problems

Where in the hell are all of the solutions?

 

From Crisis & Trauma to Something Better

By Jacquii Cooke

[Content Warning: The following content may evoke strong emotions and trigger memories. It aims to shed light on the issues faced by the Two-Spirit, Trans, Intersex, Gender Expansive, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color Communities (2TIGE BIPOC) during Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month. If you prefer to skip potentially triggering content, please refer to the Tips/Lessons Section Link below.]

Trans Empowerment Project (TEP) stands firm in our unwavering commitment to forge a world that is equitable, where every individual can bask in the joy of simply existing peacefully. We yearn not just to aid you in the pursuit of happiness, but to help you grasp it firmly, embrace it wholeheartedly, and nurture it ceaselessly. It is our unshakeable belief that we are entitled to experience unbridled joy in our day-to-day lives. We demand the fundamental right to exist without the abhorrent attempts at erasure and sabotage hurled at us by those who hold positions of power they don’t deserve. Far too many of us contend with our own internal demons, compelled to battle our own inner self-saboteur. We often have our own self-destructive thoughts and have no need for external forces to compound our pain, to deepen our wounds, or to amplify the struggles we face. 

Allow me to introduce myself. I am Jacquii Cooke, Multimedia Specialist for TEP and former Program Manager of inTRANSitions (TEP’s direct aid program). Through this heartfelt testimonial, I intend to share personal reflections, drawing upon my own experiences of engaging in self-destructive behavior, of staring death in the face, all while desperately crying out for help. I suffered silently. I was (and still am) seeking solace from a world that seems all too eager to turn a blind eye, unwilling to freely give the peace and help we all ultimately need to thrive while striving to live our best lives.

The colloquialism “I can do bad by my damn self,” reverberates in my mind as a relentlessly echoing and sobering truth I heard daily in childhood. My lived experiences align perfectly with that very colloquialism, as witnessing the malevolence I absorbed and inflicted upon myself seeped deep into my soul, molding my anger into a toxic brew of depression. It is said that depression is simply anger turned inward, and I have experienced this truth intimately. Over the last two decades, my experience has followed an agonizing pattern: moments of triumph, followed by descent into darkness, descending further still until things became bearable, and finally, a glimmer of hope that allowed me to label it as good. Yet, against all odds, I stand here today, proudly proclaiming that my rollercoaster of trials and tribulations has settled on the platform of “better.” I am determined to live my best life, defying the odds that once threatened to extinguish my light. I am alive and mentally stable enough to share my story with those within our community, our Trans siblings who bear the weight of their own struggles, and those who stand as allies doing the real work to help others in the community.

Even now, the scars on my left arm vividly mark my first attempt at extinguishing that candle. I felt used, dismissed, discarded, completely alone, and left to wallow in my own self-pity. The burden of loneliness seemed like the straw that would break this camel’s back. I just knew there was no other viable alternative but to call it a day. But I was wrong. And fortunately, that night as I knocked on Death’s door, that door remained closed. After a trip to the emergency room, the stitches on my arm marked the beginning of my journey with mental health facilities, where I hoped to find the support I so urgently needed.

The memories of this unsettlingly haunting choice raised questions for which I didn’t see the answers. It’s an unfortunate set of recollections I have, but what if the answers had been truly visible? Twenty-six years after my first attempt, I wonder: what if there were solutions offered during my first in-patient stay at Lake Shore Mental Health Facility in Knoxville, TN? What if there were organizations like TEP and our inTRANSitions program, offering real resolutions for folks in similar situations instead of band-aid fixes? Today, the answers to these questions have become clear. And I want to share them, along with some positive and inspiring lessons I’ve gleaned over the years, because it does get better.

Back in 1992, there was barely language to define my Trans identity; or rather, there was language, but it was suppressed and cruelly cloaked in a blatant attempt at colonial erasure. LGBTQIA2S+ organizations, inclusive of the most marginalized within the community, were and still are slightly hidden from view. The first advocacy group I joined–the then University of Tennessee GLB Student Union–saw its acronym with important letters missing from what many naysayers now unironically refer to as the “alphabet mafia.” The struggle is real, but the tables are on the way to turning right side up, if gradually. The fight for representation and equity is coming to fruition through the brave (often brazen) visibility of our diverse experiences.

There are now mental health facilities dedicated to helping those of us in crisis. As a direct result of five years of therapy–something I am a vocal proponent of since it has proven a readily available tool in my arsenal of self-discovery and ownership of self-care,–I felt empowered to join Trans Empowerment Project’s dedicated team. The inTRANSitions program in particular has helped me immensely during my evolutionary journey, providing the support and resources needed to live a more fulfilled life. The inTRANSitions program and other organizations’ programs, whose ultimate mission is to uplift the community from places of struggle, crisis, and trauma to something better now absolutely do exist. The proof is with me now, proudly writing to you as TEP’s Multimedia Specialist, looking to reach out to folks who were or are in similar situations and offer some hope with my story. 

Opportunities exist for us when we continually stroll the path to evolving for the better, seeking happiness as if it were the storied pot of gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow. Many would say that we are the rainbow, and that we only seek to find ourselves, not confined to the shade, but in light-filled spaces filled with joy, equity, and mutual respect for each other’s dignity and right to thrive. 

Allow me to share some tips and lessons on breaking the cycle of merely pursuing such happiness, but attaining it. Here are six practices I’ve put in place for my own self-care and peace of mind. I certainly encourage others to do similar towards the goal of moving yourself beyond survival mode to thriving:

  1. Practice Self-Acceptance: Embrace and celebrate your identity. Learn about Trans rights, healthcare options, and resources available to you. Affirm self-compassion by endorsing your worth and uniqueness. Being well-informed in the arms of acceptance can empower you to make informed decisions about your own well-being.
  2. Set Boundaries: Learn to prioritize your self-care by setting boundaries with others. Clearly communicate your needs so that you protect your mental and emotional energy.
  3. Build A Support System: Surround yourself with supportive friends, family, and healthcare professionals who can offer a listening ear and are affirming of your identity.  Share your feelings and challenges, as talking about them can provide relief. 
  4. Explore Support Groups: Join support groups specifically designed for Trans folks experiencing similar feelings or challenges. Engage with media, books, and social platforms that uplift and represent Trans voices. Intentionally placing yourself in such spaces can foster a sense of community, belonging, and understanding, as well as help reduce feelings of isolation.
  5. Create A Safety Plan: Work to develop a crisis plan that outlines steps to take during a moment of crisis. This plan typically includes strategies to identify triggers, coping mechanisms, and emergency contacts to help you navigate in such moments.
  6. Celebrate Personal Milestones: Acknowledge your own progress and achievements. This can help build self-confidence and resilience. This strategy can help elevate your self-esteem and is the foundation on which you might find your own champion within. 

Now, as I continually try taking my own tips, evolving myself for the better, and transforming into the embodiment of my most authentic self, I urge you to take hold of this fervor and call for self-care, healing, and joy during Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month. Channel this testimonial and be encouraged to be your most happily authentic self every month. We are not called to struggle alone, there can be happy endings. Channel it into helpful action when you see friends, loved ones, and strangers alike enduring struggle.

We see you. And I know we must cooperate, finding our power together, advocating for the rights and well-being of our 2TIGE community, especially the most marginalized of us within it. Let us support one another, rejecting the notion that our existence is anything less than extraordinary. Together, we can create a world we’re proud to call home. We can create an existence where our every moment is painted with vibrant brushstrokes of love, joy, acceptance, healing, and empowerment!

Trans joy might be radical, but JOY is a birthright. Help us bring folks who are struggling from surviving to thriving and experiencing joy. The program that helped me get there is inTRANSitions. Make a donation for this life-saving work and sign up for updates to get involved. And together, daring to be better to each other and to ourselves, let’s make it happen.

Safety Exit