Imara Jones: “Stories Are a Way to Combat Ignorance”
In 2018, award-winning journalist Imara Jones launched TransLash Media alongside releasing a docuseries about her own transition as a Black woman living in New York City. It was the height of the Trump administration, and Jones was noticing the uptick in anti-trans violence – and wanted to use storytelling as a way to educate others about trans people’s experiences.
Beyond telling stories that center on the experiences of trans folks, Jones serves on several boards – the Transgender Law Center, the LGBTQ+ Museum, to name a few – which is just another way she advocates for fellow trans and queer folks every day.
In a year that has seen unprecedented anti-trans legislation and violence, POPSUGAR is highlighting the perspectives of trans and nonbinary folks throughout Pride Month. These leaders are sharing ways they protect their joy, reminiscing on moments of gender euphoria, and suggesting how allies can support the LGBTQ+ community right now. Explore all of our coverage here, and read Jones’s story, in her own words, ahead.
Gender is something that’s strange to many kids up until the time when they get to be confronted with gender, because they’re just who they are. Even if they say, “I’m a girl, I’m a boy,” they don’t know what that means. They know what it means in terms of what other people are designating for them, but they don’t know what that actually means. I didn’t know.
For me, it was starting at 5 years old, but really by the time I reached 7, I had a really clear sense that I was not the way that the world was seeing me. I was not a boy. There was this growing disconnect between how I felt inside and how people were interacting with me. And after a certain time, that becomes more and more isolating, because as you’re moving through time, gender strengthens in society. For example, people allow girls to be tomboys until they reach a certain age. So as you’re moving along, gender is actually becoming a stronger force in your life. And for me, it became harder and harder and harder, and what I had to do was to find ways to suppress and repress myself even as I was moving through life and essentially playing at the gender people saw me as. That was really lonely.
One of the things I did for a very long time was at the end of the day, right before I went to bed, I would replay my entire day, reimagining it as if the world saw me as a girl. That was one of the ways in which I held on to my identity and gave myself a parallel childhood and puberty and adolescence. And that honestly makes it easier to be me now, because I still have reference points for my younger self, which is really powerful.
I woke up and realized I wasn’t thinking about my gender.
Even after you transition, it’s such a battle. But one day, I woke up – this was in the past seven years or so – I woke up and realized I wasn’t thinking about my gender. I was just like, “Oh, what do I have to do today?” I was going through the list of things that I had to do – go to the store, etc. – and usually, those things would build up anxiety. Like, how is the world going to interact with me, how was I going to interact with the world? But I’d gotten to a certain point, a certain comfort with myself and comfort with my transition, where there was a day that I woke up and I didn’t have to think about that. And it was a very powerful feeling. It took a really long time.
I created TransLash Media because I realized I had gifts and abilities in storytelling, in journalism, in marketing, in media, in communications, which allowed me to be able to talk about what it was really like to be trans, specifically during the time of Donald Trump. That’s when it really dawned on me, because it was like, we’re really being targeted. And so I started TransLash initially because my friends pushed me to, people that I worked with pushed me to. I didn’t want to initially, because I was really uncomfortable with the idea that I was going to focus on me exclusively. As journalists, that’s a really weird thing to do.
I finally said, “OK, well, if I’m going to tell my story, I’m going to tell my story, I’m going to tell that of our community, and I’m going to tell that of the country.” And essentially the very first TransLash documentary I did was focused on me and my experiences during Trump and what I was seeing and traveling around the country and interviewing experts and families and my own.
The scale of the problem is so large that there is an inordinate amount of things that people can do.
I also had a really strong understanding that there’s a fundamental connection between the lack of people knowing us and us coming under attack. That’s always been a very clear insight that I have held onto since the very beginning. If there is this problem with a lack of knowledge about our community, ignorance about us, then I know that stories are a way to combat ignorance, to close that gap of understanding. And to close that gap of understanding, we’ll actually be helping to create a world that’s safer for us.
At this point, I don’t understand people who don’t know how to help the trans community. The scale of the problem is so large that there is an inordinate amount of things that people can do. There are countless ways that people can get involved. The real question is: what are you most comfortable doing? It’s a different question than what can you be doing or what should you be doing, because I could probably list out 25 things right now, and they’re big and small, and some will be obvious and some aren’t. Are you comfortable finding your local trans nonprofit and giving to them? Are you comfortable with participating in a mutual aid program for local trans people? Are you comfortable calling your mayor’s office, your state senator, making your voice heard in all the ways? Are you comfortable pushing your workplace to expand all of its policies to be gender inclusive? The list goes on and on and on and on.
One of the things that I’m trying to do is be more mindful and present in the moment of the things that are feeding me. I’ve been taking the time to actually enjoy the things that I am doing. For example, at the GLAAD Media Awards, I worked really hard to be present, to be present in the moment. As someone said, very rarely are you going to get the perfect moment of things being totally tranquil. So if you’re delaying joy up until those moments, you’ll be waiting a long time.
– As told to Lena Felton