The struggles of trans people have gotten more attention lately all around the country. Here in Miami, local activists in and out of the LGBTQ community are hoping to further advocate for trans womxn of color.
One of those activists is local artist and author Octavia Yearwood. She’s putting a spotlight on the lives, passions, and struggles of three local trans womxn of color — Elle, Xaria, and Brielle. Octavia’s goal: to highlight the trans experience and to raise awareness of the violence that trans womxn of color have faced in the past year.
On March 31, a Youtube docuseries called “The Tranz Form” will begin to tell those stories, so we asked Octavia, Brielle, Xaria, and the series’ director/co-executive producer Carrie Choe, how the project came together and what they hope people take away from it.
These responses have been edited for length and clarity.
How did this project come together?
Octavia: After Kiki Fantroy was murdered in our backyard last year, I had to sit with myself and think of a way to show up better for my community. Something more than just a triggering Instagram post. At that point there was an average of two black trans womxn being killed a month, and the community was devastated constantly. Because I’ve been an educator for almost 20 years my thoughts always go to educating and using art. I conceptualized this docuseries with the goal of celebrating and highlighting Trans lives and voices for a much needed narrative shift and create work that will educate create understanding, empathy, compassion and relatability to hopefully save a life.
Carrie: Octavia reached out to me to help tell this story after she had already picked the cast. I was busy at the time filming another project and was going to pass. A few days later, I came across a really ignorant video where a news team was talking about gender and the “danger” of transgender people to children — and there were no transgender folks included in the conversation. I was very disturbed by the recklessness of the conversation in the media and reached back out to Octavia. I said I would join the project if we can talk about the issues beyond a “physical transformation.”
I didn’t know much about transgender or gender identity at the time, but knew the conversation needed to be shifted and that transgender voices needed to lead the conversation.
How did you go about finding the womxn and stories to highlight?
Octavia: When I decided that this was what I wanted to do, I went to a friend who had a camera and asked if they’d take this project on with me. When they said yes, I created a basic flyer on Canva, posted it on Instagram, and sent it to some LGBTQ leaders I knew asking for suggestions. I created a Google form and directed folks to the link with the deadline. By the end we had about five submissions (I had to work hard to get those too!). We read their stories and called in all of them to interview in front of the camera.
What made you want to participate in this project?
Brielle: Honestly anything created by black womxn centering black womxn requires my participation. Also, the intent to focus on the lives of Black trans womxn in a positive light.
Xaria: I was initially approached by Octavia who explained her vision for the The Tranz Form project. After a few conversations I saw that this project would have the potential to fundamentally reconstruct the way in which trans womxn of color are perceived by society. I wanted to lend my voice to this cause that would bring light to another aspect of a person of color transitioning. When you watch the series, you’ll see how my position in corporate America was threatened by my decision to live my truth as a trans womxn. That’s something that I think people need to see.
How has the violence against trans womxn of color impacted your life?
Brielle: I’m 30 years old and the average life expectancy of a Black trans womxn is 35. It’s scary to think that time is almost up. Hopefully people get to see that we are just like them in so many ways.
Xaria: At this point, everyone should be familiar with the statistics of trans womxn of color being disproportionately affected by violence. It’s scary to see people just like me being the victims of harassment, violence, and murder. There have been periods of time when I was fearful to leave home or interact with new people. However, with the continued support of family, friends, and business allies, I have found the courage to live visibly.
Beyond the play on the word “transform,” what was the inspiration behind the title?
Octavia: The inspiration was to show a physical representation of the experience being one that is a spectrum and not one way, and it’s more than a physical attribute. Like being black or even human rather there are many forms we take. There is no right, wrong, or boxed way to be anything, and the same goes for being a trans person.
Carrie: I believe it is time to TRANSFORM the way society treats, views and understands gender. There is so much misinformation out there, because transgender folks are rarely given big, public platforms to talk about thier personal experience and journey. We confuse gender identity with sexuality all the time and in this show, we show that our girls date everyone.
What do you hope people take away from the series?
Octavia: Wheeew! I am a big hope(r). I really hope people identify in such a way that they see themselves in any given person in the film, within the trans experience and within the queer experience, because then I’d know they watched the series right. I then hope that once they’re there they will help others get there because they’d then understand the importance of protecting their people.
I need people to learn how to respect and honor the magic of trans folks and be sure to make it a point to elevate them where they can. We gotta care more about people’s well-being, and I hope this docuseries ignites that fire in folks.
Carrie: I hope after watching this series that when people see a transgender person, they don’t just see a “transgender.” They see a human being first. When a transgender person walks in their job, or they see them in a store, they don’t stare and try and “figure out” their sex, but they treat them the same way they would anyone else. I hope that when a transgender person comes in for a job, you give them extra time and consideration because you now know how hard it is for them to get a job.
I hope they understand that being transgender is so much more than getting cosmetic surgery — being transgender is about how a person’s soul identifies and how some souls feel disconnected from their body (dysmorphia). How many transgender womxn don’t want cosmetic surgeries, can’t afford surgeries, but feel they have to get them in order to get a job, in order to fit in, in order to not be killed. I hope people see these beautiful people as PEOPLE.
What are you working on that you are most excited about outside of this project?
Brielle: I’m consistently working on the Bridging the Gap Bookclub. The ultimate goal is to build Broward County’s first LGBTQ community drop-in center.
Xaria: I’m working on a few projects right now, but I can share that I’m most excited about building my company: Xaria James LLC, which is a company that will initially consolidate my business dealings. From there I hope to incorporate my community advocacy and outreach projects. I’m really excited about this endeavor because I will be able to create and set my own standards of business.
What does the future hold for the series and the womxn you’re highlighting?
Octavia: We hope to get financially backed so we can created many more seasons that will highlight our dope trans men, non-binary, and GNC (gender non conforming) folks and share their stories and truths too!
This series is meant to highlight and celebrate the many forms of the trans experience, so we’d be blessed to be able to do that! In the media you see death or Laverne [Cox] and Caitlyn [Jenner] but there are a whole community of folks that are living a life to be honored.
Carrie: Elle, Xaria and Brielle are amazing individuals. Elle is re-launching her spiritual reading company, TrannyShack, and is available for spiritual and oracle readings. Xaria is killing the hospitality and resort industry after finding employment at a trans-friendly spa. Brielle is still leading marches, speaking at events and being a vocal activist for the trans-community.
What do you think is the biggest misconception that people have about trans womxn?
Carrie: The biggest misconception, especially now, is that being transgender is a new phenomenon. Transgender people have existed for hundreds of years. The Native Americans held transgender folks in high regard and referred to them as “Two Spirit.” They were people whose masculine and feminine energies were perfectly balanced. Society welcoming transgender people will not “increase” the number of transgender folks in our society, but it will increase the number of people who feel safe and free enough to live in their truth.
What else do you want people to know?
Octavia: The docuseries launches March 31, and while we are locking down a screening space y’all should mark your calendars to join us and subscribe to The Tranz Form YouTube channel so you don’t miss any episodes!
You should also follow us and let any trans person you know know about us because we’re giving out some coins for trans folks to share their story on our social media, and we want to continue to show up and validate your worth. Lastly, we want to screen this at colleges and in communities! We have some other cities on our calendar, so please reach out to us so we can see how to make that happen!
Carrie: The womxn featured in this series were very vulnerable and open, even during some of their most difficult times: experiencing homelessness, family drama, breakups and being unemployed.
They passionately debated trans issues with each other and were each other sister’s when one was down. With this show, we hope to build a community and safe place for the trans-community to tell their stories in their words. The Tranz Form is bigger than the 20 minute episodes, it’s a community and safe place. On @TheTranzForm Instagram page we feature and pay trans folks to send in pictures and videos of them telling their stories.