If you could sit down and make a plan to make life better for trans people, while working within the limitations of reality, what it would it be?
I had the joy of asking that question. Of myself.
Here’s the parameters, the basics of what it is that I can and cannot do, when I look at that question:
To create opportunities and environments that empower Trans people to recover, to succeed in accomplishing goals, to reconnect with themselves and others, and strive for a purpose in life, to rise from poverty, and to live authentically, making them healthy, vibrant and whole.
I have to do the above while keeping in mind the following goals:
- To help Trans women and men connect to themselves and their community
- To ensure that Trans women and men find supportive work environments that will sustain them financially.
- To ensure and stabilize access to care for Trans people of all races, ethnicity, creeds, genders, and backgrounds.
That’s all a pretty tall order.
Now, to *really* see how that works, realize that I can’t do any sort of political activity.
And I have to do all of that on small dollar donations.
What are small dollar donations? Generally speaking, these are donations where the average amount donated is not more than 50 dollars per person.
So, now that you’ve become aware of all of that, what is your answer to the question I opened this post with?
In other words, what does one do when one isn’t doing formal politics to make a difference — a real, practical, day to day difference in the lives of trans people on the ground.
That means that theory isn’t worth a plug nickel. That means that all the online arguing and such that you see so much of is about as important as what you had for lunch yesterday in the greater scheme of things.
Theory, applied in real world situations across many people either holds up or it doesn’t — and the problem is that if it doesn’t hold up, people are hurting. You don’t get to experiment with people’s lives in a real and practical sense.
Note, as well, that none of the above gives you the ability to pick and choose who you help. It means all trans people — including the ones you are having fights with. That means ones who don’t want surgery as well as ones that do. You can play semantic games online but in a real, practical world setting, where dollars and human existence is involved, you don’t get to draw fine and precise lines like that.
This is where the rubber meets the road.
So what do you do?
I’ll tell you what I did. And I’ll tell you why I did it. Because this is what the work of helping trans people is really about. This is what it means, this is what is involved, and you do have to make choices that are really ugly, and really unpleasant, and also really necessary.
The first thing I did was sit down and look at what was needed. I started out in a good place — I already had efforts and work underway to solve a pressing need: solving homelessness. I already had efforts that worked to reduce substance abuse and promote recovery. I already had several programs and classes and efforts to enable people to do things that no one had really ever tried to do for just trans people.
So I had already addressed several of the key things that came out as a result of the Injustice Survey. Our work with companies and businesses occupies a significant amount of my personal time in terms of speaking to them on behalf of their own policies relating to trans people, And, slowly, that’s having an impact.
It could have more impact if I could take away from some of them their stated problems with doing training on the topic more widely. I don’t charge for the training. That makes me among the cheapest professional diversity trainers one can get. I have a low attendance requirement — 3 to 5 people. Those two things sorta blow through a lot of hesitation pretty much immediately. The third one, though…
I need a space. That one is the one they use to balk, to weasel out. So I need a space that’s unmarked — because I could use the local LGBT center, but that’s visibly marked, and they don’t want to make their employees uncomfortable.
Right now, I expect a lot of bloggers are blinking and thinking to themselves “so? That’s the whole point! make them uncomfortable!”. Except, again, “real life” doesn’t work that way, If they are uncomfortable, they are defensive. And the absolute last thing you want is for people you are trying to reach to be defensive. That closes doors and makes them stay closed.
Online, I have no problem doing that. When I do trans events for the trans community, you can be damn straight I don’t have a problem with that. Speeches, no problem, political work, again, not an issue.
But this work is different from all of that stuff. This work is harder, this work is sneakier, this work requires that you be far more subversive and much more willing to be considerate of them.
You have to win them over with honey, my grandmother would say. This isn’t the time or the place for piss and vinegar. And she loved that phrase.
So I have to take away their objections, and that means a space to train in. An “unmarked one”. What does that mean? Well, turns out it means one that doesn’t say LGBT or flys the rainbow flag.
That’s really stupid, I know, but there it is. It is also a really easy thing to take care of. The signage I have in mind is much less obvious to people outside the community.
It would also help to have a place so that I can reach more people with the classes, and schedule them more effectively and more conveniently for the wider community.
Another big gap I notice is that there really aren’t enough support groups. When I started my transition, there were two. One was once a month, the other was twice a month,. I lived for those meetings.
And it is important to always remember how it was when you started. Not because things are the same, but because the same feelings you had are there for other new people. Just because I can say that there are 15,000 trans people in the Phoenix area doesn’t mean that all of them have come out to themselves, let alone other people. And some of those people are going to be something other than the standard narrative “knew at 5, gotta have surgery, really strongly binary” horsecrap that we are all fed.
More support groups, then. They need a place. Had just started two of them. One for the Guys, one for the gals. Turned them over to a different organization. I’m not into ownership so much as I am into services.
But those are only some. For a really vibrant community, there needs to be options at least twice a week for everyone of pretty much any sort.
And where are the ones for people of color? For returning vets as well as older ones? Where are the ones for families, the ones for kids?
They need a space. They need a space that is often going to need to be outside and away from a church. Because the trans community as a whole has a lot of resentment towards God and religion.
So now this one idea is starting to tackle many little issues that all serve to meet those requirements. Not all those groups have to be boo hoo fests, some of them can be activity groups (poker seems to be popular). There is even more than a little interest in possible dating events (provided any cis folk are properly screened). Even groups that have rules about who is and who isn’t a transsexual need places to meet. Doesn’t matter if you like them or you agree with them, you have to help them, because you don’t have a choice.
There is a need for a place to display and highlight the Art of Trans people. painting, sculpture, photography — also, performance works, from music and poetry to more.
There is a need for lower cost facilities to hold fundraisers for trans specific efforts. Including my own — a place that has a focus on maintaining Agency through abstention from substance abuse really shouldn’t be holding fundraisers in bars. Even if that is “the way things are done”.
Its potentially taking advantage of potential clients.
SO suddenly, I start to see something that solves a lot of problems that have been ongoing and persistent. It also provides a place for clinics to be held, for testing to be done, and more — and we have the ability to do that.
On solution is readily apparent then, we have to get a Space of our Own. One that is open to the community. A community that is not filled with money. A community that can’t afford even 35 bucks for a meeting space, really.
So it has to be a Space that is basically free to the Trans community. Doable.
Yes, really. It can be done. Most community centers don’t charge for use of their space.
And that’s pretty much what this is — a community center of sorts. A resource hub. A neutral and safe space.
So what is that going to cost? Turns out, there are lots of whays to break that down, from full service to partial, but, basically, if you figure on standard costs and twelve bucks a square foot (which is lower than average), you can find an 1800 square foot space, with restrooms that would be under the center’s direct control, for around 2500 a month.
Which is well over twice what we pay monthly for our Residence.
We could, of course, just stick to doing the residence. Six people at a time, maximum. Occasional events. Eke out a way of doing things. And be static, and watch it close down when the people involved run out of energy and money and patience because it is not easy to do this stuff and it does take a lot out of you.
I don’t get paid for the work I do. I really would like to get paid for the work I do. Nationwide average Salary for the work I do right now is $60,000 a year.
We don’t even operate on that much in a year.
We need to change that, because it endangers the work we do if we don’t make a change. If I get hit by a bus tomorrow, who will step in and do the work? I know one person, but she’s still developing. And then she’ll be in the same situation — no money, a full time job, and a lot of stuff she has to do.
If we have a bad month, what will we do about the payments on the mortgage? If we have three, will we even still be open?
Can’t put them at risk, and the truth is, we’ve been having those lean months. The economy has devastated us. We used to help out by providing bus passes so people could get to appointments and apply for jobs and go to school and take care of their needs since cars are pretty much out of the question for most of the people in our housing program. We used to do a field trip where we’d teach people about personal style, about shopping, about combining clothing so that they can make a few pieces stretch a full week and how to shop for bargains and figure out what looks good on you and what doesn’t. It was a cheap program — 25 dollars per person. But we had to drop it out.
For many of the gals we help, those were their very first clothes they’d ever bought for themselves. You have no idea the impact in a person‘s life that can make. The expressions, the way their eyes light up, the grins that last for a week even if people are saying ugly stuff.
And it happened in public, so they learned a lot more, and they taught others. I’ll never forget the group of gals who caught on to what we were doing and came over to help, and did a great job in the process. Instant volunteers, sudden people who were supportive and amazing. The kind of stuff you don’t expect.
Yeah, I’d already scoped out the store and made sure the staff weren’t going to give us any problems, but still, they didn’t know that. Hell, the store donated a ton of stuff to us themselves.
We can’t do them right now. Things are too tight. But we have, and we will do them. To fully fund all the stuff that we do that is centered around the house — and this includes paying for the AC, which is, I’ll tell you, a godsend in Phoenix summers, but can be pricey as all get out, as well as internet so they can do job hunting (and around here in Phoenix, Job hunting is pretty much down to just online, which really pisses me off).
Or go to school. Phoenix has one of the top ten online community colleges in the nation. We have an LGBTQ high school for young people through an amazing program at another brilliant organization called 1 in 10 — and we’ve sent people to them and they’ve sent people to us and the point is always to help them to make their lives better.
We don’t do everything. We teach them to fish, really, and we teach them to do it from the shore, and from a pier and from a boat, and we have to have the equipment to have a shore and a pier and a boat and poles and nets and hooks and bait.
Sometimes they learn slow. Sometimes they don’t want to learn. We still teach them, and they still get it in bits and pieces We don’t stop them from screwing up. If they are going to, they do. We just wait until they are ready and there is always someone else who needs the space.
In the last three years, the longest we went without many clients was three weeks. In high summer. Two of them. Otherwise, its constantly in flux.
We fill up fast, because they come in waves.
The house stuff? 2500 as well. That’s everything, plus adding new and more fun stuff there. Like building a deck that will allow us to have more space for events, and creating a nice firepit to gather around in the cool nights. Also, adding a second bathroom, because, you know, that seems to be a big deal. All that, plus it sets up up for the second property, so we can reduce the waiting list of often three people deep.
We do a lot of things there. Stuff that has survived the cuts so far is mostly still going on because it comes out of the pocket of those of us who spend our money. We just did Trans-Giving Day. It is open to the entire community. We had many new faces stop by and lots of new people who immediately felt welcomed and accepted.
And well fed, I’ll add. Three turkeys, 20 pounds mashed potatoes, more.
The Winter Celebration is nearly on us. Christians call it Christmas, others call it other things. For some of our residents it is the first time they have ever had a christmas as themselves. That’s an amazing thing. And we give out presents. To everyone. Nothing fancy, mind you, but the residents have in the past had make up kits, new hair, purses, binders, packers, and more. IT all depends on how much we have,how much we can do.
We still have meetings and fun things there every month. We are going to have to cut back on the internet soon. There is no cable. Cable would be a luxury and there’s not much of that there.
I can say that those things save lives. Factually. And one of the easiest ways I can establish evidence is that you are reading these words.
But those two things mean 5,000 dollars a month. We don’t bring that in right now. We don’t get grants, we don’t have a foundation, we aren’t supported by large, deep pocket donors.
We want to. We plan to — because you have to do all of this in stages. That’s the next stages, the one after we are sure that we have a stable basis on which to operate, so we can put the effort into getting those things done and paying for the services that are needed.
The Trans center mentioned earlier, its a big deal to me. What it means is that people can be put to work. Not for a lot, and often it will mean they have to learn new skills and such. But we can help that along by getting some equipment that enables the trans community to do more,. Like publish the resource guide at a lower cost. Like a newsletter and a magazine that focuses on the Trans community, improving communication and awareness and employing trans writers and editors. Like creating Pride wear that we can offer at Events for the Trans community. Like making t shirts for support groups and friends and family. Silly stuff, but those things can also be offered to the wider community so that they provide payment for Trans people to work.
We also want to give donors stuff. Silly, I know, but it does kinda matter.
That equipment is a one time cost of around 2500 dollars. And allows us to build up to doing more, because this is all the first step in a longer term effort towards creating a business that employs trans people. That money is key to that effort. Keep it coming in, and we can make a change in the lives of trans people that may just be more than short term.
There is a fourth part.
And here’s the kicker, here’s the personal investment in this effort, in answering th is question.
I have some medical needs to attend to. I have to have life — I burned out this last summer and the key driving force behind it is that I have a life of my own and I need to live it and that takes a job that pays me.
hard cold reality.
I’m not asking for much. But I’d like to be able to pay my housemanagers. I’d like to be able to hire contractors to do things like write grants proposals and help us with funding, and I do have costs that come with trying to get the word out there — the website for the org costs money to maintain, and we have other things we want to do but mostly…
If I get hit by a bus tomorrow, who will we hire?
“Hi there! We have a great job, but it pays nothing, doesn’t assume any of your personal expenses, takes most of your time, and has no benefits!”
That will really get good candidates. People who can take things further than I can, people who can move to the next level.
People who will be trans people themselves.
When I took this job, I didn’t want it. I was much happier being a stinging nettle in the wilds of the internet, and enjoying being just a woman on her own.
I even tossed in what I figured would be a poison pill. I asked for a monthly take home of $1,000 dollars a month. I figured they couldn’t possibly pull that off.
They did. I haven’t been paid yet. The money isn’t there to pay me, and whenever it has come close, it has made more sense to spend it on the clients, on the people who need the services.
But that’s two years of that. Then I asked for a raise this year. To 1500 a month. That’s about 24,000 a year. Before taxes.
They gave it.
I would really, really like to get paid. As I’ve said, I have medical things to take care of. Medical things I’m sure many of you understand the pressure of not taking care of them on your life, and how they make it hard to do other things.
I don’t expect ti to happen over night, but it would really take a load of my mind, personally, to know that I was at least getting stuff coming in.
Plus, living on 400 a month for over 5 years is really starting to grate on me.
For me, that amount is literally life changing.
All these other things and the slary? another 1500.
So, 10,000 a month.
10 dollars a month from 1000 people. 5 dollars a month from 2000 people.
1000 people seems pretty reasonable. So does 10 bucks a month.
And it changes lives in ways that can’t readily be measured.
And the best part is that you can actually see all the numbers laid out, and read about all the other programs we do, in more detail, by just heading over to the This Is How website and clicking on the Our own Space link at the top of the page.
Now, a lot of my readers are trans people, themselves.
And, like me, you tend to find it challenging to part with 10 bucks a month.
I part with 100. I can, though — my money comes from someone else. Still, that’s 25% of my entire monthly income, and truth is, I spend more than that out of my pocket. I had to buy a bus pass. The house manager just did the same thing. We ar trans people helping trans people, and together we can change the world.
Hell, given the other stuff we change, this should be a walk in the park.
But I know many of you can’t afford this. So what I’d like for you to do, if you could, is to tell other people. Tell businesses, tell cis people you know, tell facebook and twitter and tumblr and pinterst and well…
Just please, please, spread the word. We are in desperate need. 1000 people is all we are asking for, but that means we need to be able to reach 10,000 people.
10,000 people who can.
We are counting on you.
Because so many of you are counting on us.