TRANSCRIPT: TransLash Podcast Episode 59, ‘Happy Trans Holidays’

Imara celebrates the holidays with trans hope and cheer in this episode from 2022. First, she talks with designer and entrepreneur Mars Wright about his streetwear brand Life on Mars. He reflects on the journey to starting his own business, the importance of making trans joy visible through clothing, and the beauty of trans spirituality. Next, Imara is joined by tech journalist and #letters4transkids creator, Ina Fried. She shares the story of her viral social media campaign, and why she’s standing up to support trans youth.

This episode of TransLash Podcast with Imara Jones was originally published in December 2022. Explore the transcript below.

[background music]

Imara Jones: Hey, TransLash fam, it’s me Imara. Welcome to the TransLash Podcast, a show where we tell trans stories to save trans lives. [sigh] Well, we are fully into the holiday season every year. It seems to come faster and faster, but I don’t really know how it could because it seems like this year it started on, I don’t know, October 13. [sigh] We know that for many of you this is a really tough time of the year and for others, it’s not. So wherever you are and however you’re doing, we want you to take care of yourself. 

[sigh] But wherever you might be emotionally or otherwise, you know that TransLash Podcast has you covered. [sigh] And so we are thrilled to talk about all things holiday on this particular podcast, but we want to make sure before we get to all of that, that you check out our trans-owned business holiday shopping directory at translash.org. It’s a great way to encourage you all to support trans-owned small businesses and allied businesses and there’s so many great things there.

So please [deeply sigh] do go there and check it out. [sigh] And I also want to invite you all to also either think about giving to TransLash or to encourage your friends and family to give to TransLash many people are thinking about [sigh] their year-end giving [sigh] if you choose to do so or someone that you know, [sigh] you can go to translash.org in order to be able to make that gift [sigh] and just know that we all deeply appreciate it on our end. 

[sigh] So as I mentioned the other day [chuckles] show, we are going to talk all things holiday. This is one of my favorite shows every year y’all and so many things span our holiday conversations [sigh] with respect to [sigh] how to shop, transfer the holidays and how to make sure that you take care of yourself. And that’s exactly what we’re doing [sigh] and this year’s holiday podcast as well. First, we’re going to talk to Mars Wright about his streetwear brand Life on Mars. 

Mars Wright: I remember one of my teachers told me, we all have millions of bad pieces of art in us. So if you can be the kind of person that gets the bad ones out the fastest, you’re gonna be there when the good stuff hits.

Imara: And then we’ll speak with journalist [sigh] Ina Fried about her viral social media campaign letters for trans kids and why it’s so vital at this moment.

Ina Fried: I appreciate and love all of the youth that have bravely spoken out and they shouldn’t have to. I’m angry that they’ve had to, that youth have to do anything other than being kids. Kids should just get to be kids.

Imara: But before we get to those incredible conversations, [sigh] let’s start out as always with some trans joy, which is what the holidays are all about anyway, well at least the joy part.

[pause]

[background music]

Imara: It’s the perfect time of the year to support trans artists and makers with your gifting purchases. [sigh] That’s why we wanted to highlight the beautiful work [sigh] of Shoog McDaniel. Shoog is a southern, queer non-binary, fat photographer [sigh] and artist [sigh] living and working in Gainesville, Florida. Working with digital photography and watercolor. Their art celebrates marginalized bodies set against the backdrop of Florida’s freshwater springs.

Shoog McDaniel: A lot of my art involves nature and [sigh] fat folks, predominantly nude fat folks. And that’s because of the ripples and the stretch marks and the waves and the rolls, it’s the variety. It’s looking at somebody who doesn’t look like everyone I’ve ever seen on TV. [sigh] I feel very moved towards [sigh] showing what is possible and creating the world. I wanna see right now like I just vibrate with the feeling of happiness when I’m creating with people that are also trans and [sigh] also fat and [sigh] it just feels like we are living what we want to see.

Imara: Listeners, you could head over to shoogmcdaniel.com [sigh] to check out their prince stickers and other gifts for sale. Shoog McDaniel, you are a trans joy.

[pause]

[background music]

Imara: I’m so happy to welcome trans artist, designer, and entrepreneur Mars Wright to the show [sigh] you might know Mars from his Los Angeles-based streetwear brand Life on Mars. [sigh] Mars’s collection includes apparel, accessories, and even home-goods [sigh] that all feature messages of trans joy and resistance. [sigh] One of my personal favorites is a sweatshirt that says “Trans joy is resistance.” And there’s even a Christmas ornament that says “Christmas without CIS is just HRT-MAS. Get it. 

[sigh] 2022 has been a big year for Mars. [sigh] He has recently featured in a mini-documentary by Google for Trans Awareness Week, [sigh] and just wrapped on his brand’s first-ever runway show at the Pacific Designer Center in Melrose. [sigh] The show featured all trans models and raised funds for the TransLatina Coalition [sigh] who we just happened to feature [sigh] on our last trans joy segment [sigh] in our previous episode. You can find the new Life on Mars fall-winter collection on mars wright.com [sigh] or even catch him dancing like nobody’s watching on TikTok. Mars, thank you so much for joining me. Yeah,

Mars: Yeah. Thanks so much for having me.

Imara: You’re the perfect blend of like brand and name so it makes it easy to [laughs]. Make sure I get it right throughout our interview. Really appreciate it. [sigh] Do you remember the first time you thought about creating [sigh] your streetwear brand and or a small business for the first time?

Mars: Yeah, definitely. So in college, I actually studied graphic design and art. [sigh] We got access to like a screen printing studio in college. [sigh] And so back in the day I would just print shirts and sell ’em, [sigh] and that kind of like sparked it. But what really hit the nail on the head is I moved to Los Angeles after graduating [horn sounds] from college and it was 2017 [sigh] and at the time I was strictly using they-them pronouns.

I was recently out [sigh] and I was getting all these job interviews and then I would go to the job interview and we would spend probably 40 minutes of me just trying to explain how to use a they-them pronoun, what my gender was [chuckles]. And they didn’t even ask me anything about my qualifications. [sigh] I’m a triple tourist so I’m very stubborn [laughs]. That was the moment that I was like, “Well, if this is the experience that I’m gonna continue to have, [sigh] I’d much rather just work for myself, you know, and work with other queer and trans people.

[sigh] And so that kind of again was like the second little catalyst. [sigh] And then I finally did get a job and I was really grateful for that job, [sigh] and I brought them a streetwear merch collection and they looked at the collection. Of course, I cast all of the models and I wanted real diversity. [sigh] I wanted the models to look like people I knew in my life [sigh] and I brought it to them and they wanted to reshoot the entire catalog. 

But the lucky thing was the person who printed that merch saw something really awesome in me [sigh] and then I contacted him right after and I was like, [sigh] “I’m not interested in working with these people but maybe we could do something on our own.” So it was kind of this three-part [sigh] layer of I need to do this for myself [sigh] that just kept hitting me and then finally that was the catalyst of like, “I have to do this for real.”

Imara: You know, I think that what drove you into this is something that a lot of trans people can identify with on a deeply personal level. That is to say [sigh] the hostility of the workforce for us and the desire [sigh] and the need, of course, to make money in order to live. But [sigh] understanding that conventional structures don’t work for us. And a lot of people have this desire in our community and a lot of people are business owners in our community. 

[deeply sigh] How do you think that you had the courage to do it? You described what led you to do it, but what do you think is the ingredient that led you [sigh] from being led to do this for all the reasons that you described to having the courage to do it, like “I’m gonna do this.”

Mars: That’s really sweet. Like framing of courage.

Imara: [laughs]

Mars: I, I like to see it like that’s [laughs] sometimes. And I think my biggest piece is trans joys resistance. And it’s purposely on this like all black paper with these big white smiles that are supposed to feel almost like aggressively smiling at you. [sigh] And I think it’s, it’s actually from a place of trans rage, right?

Imara: Mm-hmm.

Mars: Like the trans rage led to, “Okay, I have to be joyous, like I have to live my life in resistance to these hard systems.” And I, I think it was honestly [chuckles] 80% sheer just like pissed. I was like, “Y’all are really undervaluing me. You’re wasting my time. I don’t like this and I don’t see another way out unless I do it for myself.” And so I think that, that constructive place to put my anger in is kind of what led me, I guess gave me the courage. Yeah.

Imara: And one of the interesting things about your brand is this marriage between, as you say, the joy, the rage, [sigh] the kind of tongue and cheek, ironic nature of it. The fact that it’s community focused and it’s stuff that you can actually use and kind of all those things together I think is what has led it to spread like wildfire. And so [chuckles] I’m wondering [sigh] all of those ingredients are those things that were carefully crafted or they’re by accident.

Because I think that sometimes people look at brands or brands that people start [deeply sigh]and believe that everything that succeeds is the result of a really intentional smart calculation. [sigh] I find that sometimes creativity mostly doesn’t work that way. And so I’m just wondering if you can [sigh] talk about the way in which the brand that it is now, [sigh] was that the result of a master plan [laughter], or is it something that you [sigh] kind of just developed instinctively?

Mars: Yeah, I mean again, like I have pieces of God as trans and I do really believe in a higher power a trans-God. And I think in part like some of it hopefully was a greater design that I didn’t play a part in. [sigh] I really love the vehicle of clothing specifically because the clothing was the first moment where I felt gender euphoria. [sigh] I remember like I would go shopping for clothes as a kid and there would be the gender-neutral sweatpants section and that was the only time I would ever be happy [sigh] was when I could buy just like the neutral sweatpants and I didn’t have to decide between going to the boys [sigh] and the girl’s section. 

And that was like a moment of peace in a [sigh] gender-painful childhood. And so I love clothes for that reason. [sigh] And I also am really anti-believing that art and fine art shouldn’t be accessible and that art should be like hidden in these galleries that people can’t see. [sigh] And so clothes become this beautiful intersection of being able to put this message out there [sigh] like at a really large scale. So I think that has always been by design. I want as many people in the world [sigh] to walk around seeing messages of trans joy, messages of trying my best messages of [sigh] some wounds take longer to heal. 

[sigh] And I want that to ripple effect into the world. I know my mom will wear my shirts out in public [sigh] and they love to go on little road trips and so they’ll go to these like random little [sigh] gas stations and people will come up to her wearing the “I love trans people shirt” and be like, “Thanks so much for wearing that.” And like those are the moments that are very much on purpose and [sigh] why I picked clothes. 

But a lot of the other like, like brand stuff, was totally just like, “Okay, I have to sell this, I have to pay rent. This is something I really like. This is a new thing I want to try.” Like a lot of it was tons of fun honestly. And I think, I hope that comes through in like the joyous nature of it [sigh] is a lot of them are just choices. I’m like, “Oh, that would be a really fun clothing item to wear. I should make that.” [chuckles]

Imara: Yeah, I mean it’s funny that in many ways you’re making things that you wanna wear or that you want to see in the world, right? Which [sigh] underscores that it’s not a calculation which may be [sigh] a part of the secret sauce that you have. You’re literally putting out things that [sigh] you would wanna wear as a member of our community. [laughs], I mean the other thing that occurs to me as you speak is that you know, a lot of times [sigh] we don’t speak about or a lot of people aren’t comfortable speaking about [sigh] the idea that there is a higher power at work [sigh] kind of end with through trans people. 

Now, you spoke about the role of a higher power and I’m wondering [sigh] how you manifest that in your work because that’s not something that we actually hear people [sigh] talk about. And I mean as I hear you speak about it, it’s not necessarily Christianity, it is kind of a spirituality that’s at work and what you do.

Mars: I’m lucky I grew up with an atheist father and an agnostic mother. So I was never bombarded with any idea of this is what this God has to look like or this is what religion has to look like. And [sigh] to be quite honest, I’ve never even read the Bible [laughs], I don’t know a ton of the technical stuff of religion. And so because of that I think I’ve been able to have kind of a blank slate. [sigh] And then just to be quite honest, there have been moments where I’m like, I didn’t think I would make it past 16, 17, 18. 

I just really did not believe that as a young child and to be here at 27 there just feels in my bones like there was something else that was helping me and I don’t really have words for it and I can’t really describe it. It makes me sad that queer and trans people don’t feel close to being able to at least have that kind of like calmness, that there is something greater watching out for us. 

Cuz I do think trans people are divine outside of a spiritual or religious nature. I just think being trans is such a cool experience that I don’t know like you know how it is like our brains, we just get to experience a world in a way that is so complex and different than other folks. [sigh] I don’t even have words for it and that’s why it has to be something greater than me cuz so much of it’s just a feeling, you know?

Imara: Yeah, I think that’s right. I think that [deeply sigh] when you stop seeing the world in regards to limitations [sigh] then there are so many other things that open up for you. [sigh] And I think the way you just said is so powerful at this moment in terms of where we are in the holiday season where many people are disconnected [deeply sigh] from their families either by choice or by force because they have to be in order to stay safe. [sigh] And so many ways in which you’re touching upon things that are resonant for this time of the year. 

[deeply sigh] I am wondering if we can talk a little bit about the nuts and bolts of business operation cuz I’m sure that there’s some people who are listening [sigh] for that piece. Can you talk a little bit about your journey as an entrepreneur and the things that you wished that you had learned [sigh] before you started? I mean one of the things that I know that I tell people [sigh] all the time and that I hear from other people who are social entrepreneurs or business entrepreneurs is that [sigh] it’s gonna be far harder for a longer period of time than you think.

[laughter]

Imara: I mean that’s the, that’s the secret that no one ever tells you. So I’m wondering for you if that rings true and if so, what are some of the other things that [sigh] you think are really important for people who are [sigh] thinking about starting their businesses and embarking on that journey need to know?

Mars: Yeah, definitely. Yes, it’s [laugh] a lot harder and it’s so cliche but everybody’s like, “Oh if you work for yourself you wanna work a day in your life.” And it’s like, “No, I work all the time.” But I think the thing that I wish I would’ve known and I wanna tell other folks is the things that you’re gonna put out in the beginning, this is kind of harsh but they might really suck. Like a lot of my like earliest [sigh] shirts were like poorly printed, my shipping was a mess. 

I was just trying to like figure out how to get things out the door. [sigh] I didn’t quite understand how to go to like USPS and [sigh] get the right packaging. Like all of that stuff was just bad [sigh] and [laughs] I just had to go through [sigh] messing around and keep going. I remember one of my teachers told me, [sigh] we all have millions of bad pieces of art in us. [sigh] So if you can be the kind of person that gets the bad ones out the fastest, [sigh] you’re gonna be there when the good stuff hits. 

[sigh] And I, I kind of have always taken that approach cuz the clothing is art but every part of the business, like [sigh] as long as I can make the mistakes then I don’t have to do them again. And every time I make a mistake the faster I get to the time when I’m gonna like really do that thing the right way. 

Imara: Yeah. I think that that’s right and a lot of it is creativity and learning and experimentation and I think a lot of people are paralyzed [deeply sigh] because there’s a belief that everything has to be perfect. And again, as a part of a plan, I mean, of course, it helps to plan [sigh] but I think that what you’re underscoring for people is that [sigh] you don’t have to have it all figured out and you’re gonna learn as you go. And that those two things are part of the journey.

Mars: Yeah, a hundred percent.

Imara: Has there been a moment in your journey as an entrepreneur I think that we could now say a successful entrepreneur but [sigh] we leave that to everyone to define for themselves [sigh] where you felt like it was for real what you were doing, that you weren’t just experimenting, that you weren’t just trying, that you weren’t just kind of [sigh] doing something and hoping that it worked out, but that it began to feel like it was starting to take a life of its own and that that was something that you realized, “Okay, this is for real, for real.”

Mars: Yes, definitely. It was actually almost exactly a year ago. I was still doing the business and my brand but I also had a full-time job at an agency and I was really close with the founder of the agency. They were moving and, and things were kind of changing around and they let me go because [sigh] they realized keeping me there was gonna pull back from the brand and they needed to move and have my role change to do all of these other things that would’ve taken a lot more time and would’ve pulled me away from [sigh] kind of the more creative side of things. 

It was gonna be more like task management, stuff like that. [sigh] And so they, they let me go from that corporate job and I was like, “Okay, like this is the moment I have to figure out how I make the brand work full-time,” and this becomes my source of income and I’m just gonna do it until my bank account [laughs] is scary. And every morning I knock on wood and somehow it’s continued to, to be okay. But that was definitely the moment when I was like, “Okay, I can either spend my time looking for another corporate job or I can pursue this full-time. 

And of course, full-time is an exaggeration a little bit. I take on a lot of other freelance work, you know whenever there’s [sigh] other projects like we were saying, it’s not like a perfect all planned now it’s a great success and before it wasn’t. [indistinct sounds] It’s always ebbing and flowing. But that was definitely the moment when I was like, “Okay, I can do this and I have to put as much effort as I would into this as I would a corporate job at this time. Like this is the whole moment.”

Imara: Yeah, it’s funny, I think every journey, I’m obsessed with epic, right? Epics from literature and history, [sigh] and there’s a part of the epic where every person who’s embarking on their epic journey [laughs], they start with what they know and they feel confident in what they know and it allows them to start [sigh] and then at some point what they know totally disappears. 

It’s like you start sailing from the seashore and the seashore is familiar to you wherever you started [sigh] and then you’re out in the ocean and you realize, “Oh my god, I’m really out in the ocean and everything that I know to this point is gone [sigh] and this is either gonna work or it’s not.” And I think [sigh] that moment that you described with your boss where they sort of said, “Okay, you’re out there and you’re on your own,” it’s gonna work or it’s not, was, was that moment for you. 

And again, I think as people develop their journeys into entrepreneurship or anything like this that they realize that that moment’s gonna come [sigh] and hopefully they’ll remember this conversation and, and it won’t be so scary but it’ll still be scary but it won’t totally freak you out.

Mars: Yeah, it’ll be scary. And that goes back to what we were saying earlier, like in those moments I don’t have a choice [sigh] to not believe in something greater than [laughs] me cuz I’m too scared. [laughs] I gotta do something to turn it over cuz I just get so scared and that’s when like the higher power comes in for sure.

Imara: Let’s continue this tutorial metaphor a little bit more and let’s say you are in a room full of trans entrepreneurs who are just starting out. What would you tell them is the thing that they need to remember when things get the hardest? Like if this is one thing that I want you guys to remember when you get to that moment where it’s gonna [sigh] seem totally out of reach for you, here’s the one thing I want you to remember.

Mars: I think specifically like the intersection of queer and transness like if this was trans entrepreneurs [sigh] would be, it can feel like the world is out to get you but being willing to accept the help I think is the number one thing that I would suggest because [sigh] I think it’s really scary as a trans person to accept help. I have had to accept a lot of [sigh] tangible allyship and that can be really scary. 

But whoever it is, if somebody’s offering to help you, for me at least I get in the moment of I don’t need to accept help. I can do this all by myself [sigh] and a friend just saying, you know, “I’m here for you and it’s gonna be okay.” Or maybe help looks like, “Hey, can you help me? You know, package up Black Friday and they need to package all these orders and ship it out.” Just reaching out and, and knowing that you don’t have to do it all on your own.

Imara: What are your new dreams? Because survival is something that’s already been ticked in the box. [sigh] So what’s the next box for you in your journey as an entrepreneur [sigh] that you look forward to or that is your new aspiration, your new goal?

Mars: A big dream that I have is just to create more physical art of trans joy. I um, would love to do billboards, especially in cities that have really awful legislation going on of these powerful messages of trans joy of you are not alone. A big one that I wanna put up is I exist because of the trans people that came before me, but just putting these messages up at larger scale for the people that I think need to see them most. That’s a big goal of mine. 

[sigh] I recently started posting stickers [sigh] and my goal is to draw as many as I can and find one person in every state that I can mail them to so that they can start putting the stickers up so that we can have trans joy messaging in every single state. So that’s a project that I’m currently working on. But yeah, just thinking of how we can work more on getting these messages out there. 

Like I did the mural for Project Q [sigh] and that says Trans joy’s resistance and now that lives on, you know, on Fountain Avenue in Los Angeles. And I think that’s something I’m the most proud of really looking at like the tangible world around us and how I can make actionable changes through physical art.

Imara: Yeah, I think that that is really powerful because what we want to do is try to embed those images in [sigh] physical space because they’re so few trans people. A way for people to become aware of trans people is through the dissemination of these images and the actual space that you’re talking about. So [sigh] it’ll be interesting to see how that develops. 

Lastly, now that we are, of course, in the holiday season, I wanted to ask you a very, very, very practical question to close out our interview cuz you are an entrepreneur, which is [sniffs] when is the last date that people can place an order on Life on Mars [sigh] and get it by Christmas?

Mars: I never want to guarantee anybody will get anything before Christmas at this time cuz you know how USPS can lose packages right now, [sigh] but you would be good if you place an order at least by the 15th.

Imara: Well, the 15th is the day that this is dropping, so everyone has to know that they have to go immediately [laughter] to Life on Mars and order it if you want it by the holidays. [sigh] But it’s okay. You know, one of the things I have done is [sigh] like gift wrap a note to someone telling them what their gift is in a box. That’s another thing that you can do.

Mars: And if you want to, even if you place it after and you don’t get it before Christmas, I’ll send you a personal video to give to that person saying that it’s on their way. 

[background music]

Imara: Listen, even an extra bonus to the Nth degree and your videos are good, they’re, they’re all over TikTok so they’re super good. Well, I just wanna thank you for taking the time at an extremely busy time for you in joining us and talking about your journey into entrepreneurship and [sigh] the things that have gone into it and what we need to think about it. [sigh] I think it’s going to help a lot of people [sigh] as they make their New Year’s resolutions as well in fulfilling their own dreams. So thank you so much.

Mars: Yeah, thank you so much for having me. And yeah, thank you for everything that you do for the community. I’m a big fan.

Imara: That was designer and entrepreneur Mars Wright.

[pause]

[background music]

Imara: I am so excited to talk with award-winning tech journalist [sigh] and #Letters4transkids creator, Ina Fried. [sigh] In a started letters for trans kids in April of this year [sigh] as a way to support trans youth [sigh] during a time of heightened political attacks. [sigh] After asking for people to post messages of support [sigh] on social media, [sigh] she got hundreds of handwritten letters and videos from people [sigh] all around the world. 

Among supporters were activists, Chase Strangio, hockey player, Kurtis Gabriel, and actors Veco Ortiz, and George Takei. When she’s not starting viral social media campaigns, Ina is the Chief Technology Correspondent at Axios where she writes Axios daily tech newsletter Login. Before joining Axios, Ina served as a senior editor at Recode [sigh] and wrote for all things digital and CNET. Ina has also served as vice president and national board member of the Association of LGBTQ Journalists in recognition of her decades of work covering the technology sector. [sigh] She was inducted into the LGBTQ Journalists Hall of Fame [sigh] in 2016. [sigh] Ina, thank you so much for joining me. 

Ina: Thanks, Imara. It’s an honor and a privilege. Glad to be here.

Imara: Same, we get to talk about something that is good, uplifting, and reassuring, [chuckles] which we don’t often [sigh] get to do as trans journalists and that’s [sigh] as a result of your initiative [sigh] letters for trans kids. [sigh] And I’m wondering if you can talk to us [sigh] about why you decided to start it and what you think [sigh] will be the benefit for trans youth.

Ina: So it’s an idea that had been kicking around for a while. It actually started, I was on the phone with a cousin of mine, you know, we were in the first year of this massive [sigh] wave of anti-trans legislation in 2021 [sigh] and my cousin was like, “You know, is there something I can do? Can I write a letter?” [sigh] And so I, that stuck with me and I thought about it because I feel like there were a lot of people who were alarmed by what was going on, who wanted to add a dissenting voice that wanted to share their support but didn’t really know how. 

[sigh] And I also knew that regardless of what happened with each piece of legislation, just the fact that there were all these laws being proposed [sigh] was taking an enormous toll on all of our mental health [sigh] adults and youth alike, but especially [sigh] for youth to have just the exhaustion of being constantly in the news and your identity [sigh] subject to question, I really felt like I needed to do something [sigh] somewhat constrained by being a journalist.

I felt like it wasn’t gonna be my place, it wasn’t gonna be a comfortable role [sigh] to be speaking out about this piece of legislation or that, [sigh] but I also felt like as a happy, successful trans adult, I absolutely want to do everything in my power to support and uplift my community. [sigh] And that can’t means staying silent at a time like this. [sigh] So that was kind of what was going on as the backdrop. And I had this idea of a letter writing campaign that would serve a few different purposes. 

One, most importantly allows trans youth out there to know that there were a lot of people that do support them. That the voices of hate that they were hearing weren’t the only voices out there. [sigh] But another was also to just provide a human counterpoint to a lot of the narratives that are out there that are based in so much ignorance. I think there is hate out there as well, but there’s just such ignorance and we’ve seen this with other movements and [sigh] it really didn’t change in the [sigh] lesbian and gay liberation movement sentiment until everyone started knowing someone who is gay. 

And I know there’s an element of that too with people that are trans that [sigh] it’s just the case that a lot of people don’t know someone who’s trans still. [sigh] And so I thought it would serve a few different purposes and then it was just a matter of [sigh] when is the right time and can’t remember if it was [sigh] the law in Alabama or the law in Arkansas this past April. That was like the last straw. I was like, “Look, we have to send this message out there.” [sigh] I was on my way to the TED Conference in Vancouver and [chuckles] I actually was coming down with COVID but didn’t quite know it and I was like, “We gotta pull the trigger on this.” And so we did.

Imara: As a person right now with COVID for the second time, maybe I’ll come up with [laughs] an innovative idea during this time. [sigh] The holidays are a particularly tough time for trans people and I’m wondering if there is anything different about [sigh] the way that you’re [sigh] approaching this initiative, the letters for trans kids during this, [sigh] this holiday time that is different than other parts of the year. Maybe not, but [sigh] uh, might be.

Ina: Yeah, I think there’s a couple of reasons why now is a really great time to sort of rejuvenate the campaign to add fresh voices. And I’d urge everyone [sigh] to think about a letter. And just to back up for one sec, like the way it works is basically, [sigh] you know, post a letter typewritten, handwritten, a short note, a video to any social media platform, whatever you use, whatever you have access to, and the #Letters4transkids. 

[sigh] And I think right now is a great time to add your voice for a couple of reasons. One, we’re not right in the heat of an election cycle. I think it’s harder for people to hear messages when it’s so crowded. It’s so noisy because everyone’s running for office, [sigh] but it’s still just as urgent. A lot of the states, [sigh] even after these election results, have gone back and said, “What new legislation can we impose?” And so we’re seeing a lot more legislation again. 

[sigh] But as you point out, the other reason is this is a tough time for a lot of people. You know, holidays for a lot of people are about family. [sigh] For trans people that can be super mixed, it can mean families, they’re estranged from, it can mean in the families that they’re still living with but who don’t fully see them. And it’s a great time [sigh] to send some love and unconditional acceptance. [sigh] I think again, we all can use that. 

Like I think people don’t necessarily appreciate the mental toll it has taken on our entire community and it affects us all differently. [sigh] But there’s no way to be trans or non-binary and have lived through the last two years and not just be exhausted at your identity coming up for a debate every day. So I’d love to see maybe holiday cards for trans kids. Maybe we uh, just came up with a new one right now.

Imara: [sigh] Hey, there we go. #Holiday Cards for Kids [sigh] in addition to letters. I’m wondering if you can just talk a little bit about the broader environment. You know, so many trans youth [sigh] live their lives online. I mean if millennials were digital [sigh] natives, I don’t know what a word for being even more entrenched [sigh] in cyberspace is for generation Z. 

[sigh] And what we’re seeing as you know, as a technology reporter is this massive uptick in, I would say online violence, online rhetoric that is violent [sigh] against LGBTQ people. And I’m wondering if you have any insights about the way that this [sigh] rhetoric particularly impacts trans youth in really particular ways.

Ina: It’s really important issue and you are right that the starting point is this generation is even more online than their very online predecessors and then my generation and the generations before us. [sigh] That does have positive impacts too. I mean it’s why letters for trans kids can be impactful. It’s why other [sigh] positive efforts can work is [sigh] you really can reach people. 

I mean that is where they’re spending their time. [sigh] But to your point, the broader environment has gotten not only more toxic but more dangerous in a couple of ways. [sigh] So some of it is purely online rhetoric. And again, the mental toll that that takes, [sigh] the impact it has on our dialogue that our identities and rights are up for debate [sigh] is one thing that has come out of it. That in and of itself is dangerous, [sigh] but it also has a real-world violence impact in a couple of ways.

[sigh] Certainly, all of this stuff contributes to mental well-being, and as we know, and all your listeners know, [sigh] trans and non-binary youth are at extremely higher rates for violence against them as well as suicide. [sigh] And so it has that impact. But we’ve also seen this sort of generic call to violence from far-right accounts where [sigh] they’re saying, go disrupt this children’s hospital that’s providing gender-affirming care. [sigh] Go disrupt this story hour that trans people and drag queens are doing. 

[sigh] Go make yourself a physical impediment to people’s lives. And I’m very concerned about that. [sigh] And part of the problem that’s unique to this very online era we live in is [sigh] you can send that message extremely broadly and all it takes is one person who’s a little more predisposed to violence [sigh] to act on it. There’s this term stochastic violence, which is basically [sigh] the idea that you are using words, [sigh] but you’re issuing this sort of generic call [sigh] that you are intending could end up in violence.

And we’ve really seen a lot of that. And even when they’re not fully successful, even when no one’s actually getting hurt, [sigh] the impacts are pretty broad. So [sigh] children’s hospitals have had to evacuate programs at children’s hospitals where kids can get medical care, have either been shut down or gone from in-person to offline, youth groups have had to stop meeting in person, [sigh] doctors are afraid to speak at conferences. [sigh] All of those are things I’ve heard firsthand from people. [sigh] And that’s an enormous impact. Again, at a time when our lives are increasingly challenging. [sigh] They’re trying to block off our access to support as well.

Imara: To be clear, you know, it’s not only general threats, but it’s also very specific threats, it’s bomb threats, it’s threats that are particularly [sigh] heinous and quite clearly terroristic in nature. [sigh] You know, the growing protests and contentiousness of those protests outside of [sigh] individual trans doctors’ offices on top of everything that you’re talking about. I mean, I think [sigh] the terrain is really [sigh] and truly a rough one. 

And it’s also the fact that [sigh] as you say, the problem here is that this type of language adds to the permission structure for [sigh] the small number of people who wish to do us physical harm, to feel comfortable in that. I mean, [sigh] one of the things that I’m always struck by, for example, is that when you read the accounts of [sigh] murders of trans women, specifically black trans women, [sigh] most of those men don’t believe that they’ve done anything wrong. 

Cause they believe that the society is giving them [sigh] a permission structure to view trans lives as, [sigh] as less worthy. And so some of them sometimes, for example, will wait for the police and say, “Yeah, I did it.” [sigh] Because they don’t believe they did anything wrong. I think [sigh] we too often are willing to dismiss speech, but it does have these consequences.

Imara: And the impact is enormous. You’re absolutely right. And it starts with dehumanizing language. It starts with language that makes trans people out as predators looking to do harm to children. 

Ina: [sigh] And we’ve enabled this to go from the fringes [sigh] to out of the mouths of mainstream politicians and it’s become widely more acceptable on various social media to talk about LGBTQ plus people [sigh] as groomers, for example. [sigh] This language contributes to exactly what you’re talking about and it really does need to be challenged. And that doesn’t mean every type of speech should be illegal, but there needs to be a cost to it. [sigh] We have this perverted notion that’s become increasingly more common again in mainstream dialogue. 

That free speech means you’re able to say whatever you want without consequences. [sigh] It should mean that you can legally say almost anything, not anything. You can’t yell fire at a crowded building, and you can’t do [sigh] certain things, but most speech is legal to say that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be consequences for it, [sigh] that doesn’t mean that platforms shouldn’t take action [sigh] to keep it from being amplified.

[sigh] And right now it’s not only existing, it’s being echoed and amplified by people in power for political and economic gain. [sigh] And that’s very disturbing. It should not go unnoticed [sigh] that whatever the motivations [sigh] were in Colorado Springs, that was a place that had hosted drag events. The idea that drag events have been allowed to be turned into something that they’re just not [sigh] like people reading stories to kids, they’re reading kids books. This is nothing sexual. If you think there’s something sexual that says way more about you than it does the people performing at or attending these events.

Imara: Yeah, I think that, that’s absolutely right. And one of the things that stands out to me is a glad report that came out [sigh] believe in the last couple of weeks, which said that nearly 200 threats and or attacks were made [sigh] against drag events in the last 18 months, I believe is the timeframe. 

So [sigh] it’s even more than gets reported. And I think that that’s one of the things about the noise that is happening right now, [sigh] is that it’s even more profound in terms of its impact than we realize and more profound on, on these kids, which is why [sigh] this effort is so needed. What stands out for you as any feedback or any type of communication to you that really moves you in a particular way to underscore that letters for trans kids are so vital?

Ina: Yeah, there’s a few. I mean I- overall the response was incredibly positive. And we’ve been talking about this toxic online environment. This was such an antidote to that, getting to see just positivity and love. And surprisingly at the time, we got very little blowback. I would hope that will continue. 

But what I got was just this amazing [sigh] outpouring of love and it was from trans adults who were happy to see these messages out there, but it was also from [sigh] grandmothers who didn’t know anything about trans stuff [sigh] and just were compelled to write a letter because they wouldn’t want anyone’s grandkid [sigh] to not feel loved and accepted to some athletes and celebrities, to a poet in England that did this amazing video. It was very nourishing. Again, I don’t like to speak for more than myself, but I can’t imagine any other trans or non-binary person not being just exhausted.

[sigh] I know I am and I have all the support in the world and a great job and [sigh] stable housing and all that stuff. So it was very nourishing for me. It was great to hear from trans youth and I think one of the next steps in the project, is we’re not fully formed there, but we want to have some element to it where more people get to hear from trans youth as well.

Both about what the project’s done, but also their own voices. And I think it’s so critical that more people get to know these trans kids and non-binary kids because they’re amazing. [sigh] And I think attitudes will change. I think the tricky part is how do you do it safely. Because anyone who’s speaking out right now is also putting themselves at risk. And that’s [sigh] one thing if you’re an adult, it’s another thing if you’re a kid. But I think the world benefits from hearing from these amazing kids. 

My life is richer [sigh] from getting to spend time hearing how the next generation thinks about gender and sexuality and it’s so much healthier and more complicated and wonderful than the way [sigh] we do. You know, they just have grown up getting to be themselves in the best of cases. You know, I think [sigh] it is this case where some kids are having this amazing experience in their gender being supported by families, in accepting communities, and they’re absolutely thriving. 

They’re happy, healthy kids whose main interests have nothing to do with their gender. They’re just getting to be kids. [sigh] And then you have a lot of kids who are [sigh] having to fight to be who they are. They’re struggling with their families or you know, in many cases [sigh] their families may be accepted, but they’re in communities that are openly hostile. You know, I really feel for this, [sigh] there’s now a generation of kids who have grown up testifying to city councils and state legislatures begging to be treated as equal human beings. 

Some of them have had to move states after spending years trying to educate [sigh] the adults. Uh, it’s just, it’s tragic and it’s wrong. I appreciate [sigh] and love all of the youth that have bravely spoken out and they shouldn’t have to. I’m angry that they’ve had to, that youth have to do anything other than being kids. Kids should just get to be kids.

Imara: Totally. Absolutely. [deeply sigh] No, I think that you’re exactly right. And I think about some of the anonymous messages that we get from kids who can’t be out, who say that [sigh] when they come across a piece of content that we do, that it acts as a lifeline for them. And I know that it would’ve for me, you know, if I couldn’t have been out in my family, but if I had had the ability to be able to access [sigh] any type of, uh, messages that were affirming of who I was and am, it would’ve made [chuckles] a massive difference in my life. 

And so [sigh] I think about the fact that yes, it will be wonderful as you hear from more and more kids, [sigh] but I’m thinking [chuckles] that some of the most profound impact you might have are kids that you never hear from [sigh] because they have to, as you say, protect themselves.

Ina: Absolutely. I mean, to me it’s been one of the great privileges. I’ve been out as a trans journalist now [sigh] for 20 years, uh, 19 years. [sigh] And one of the things that I’ve loved through most of that time is getting to just be a journalist in my field and being visibly and audibly trans. So whether I’m on an NPR [sigh] or CNBC or Al Jazeera being trans and talking about my field of expertise technology for a long time, that’s actually all I really wanted from my public persona was to show both.

You know, this generation of adults and the next generation of youth that you can be trans and in a position of power and you can be whoever you want. And actually, again, I thought that was really all I needed from my public self. And it wasn’t really till the last couple of years that I was like, “That’s no longer enough for me. That’s not enough for this moment.” If I have any sort of voice, if I have any sort of reach, I need to use it to lift up my community, to support my community, to stand up for my community. 

[sigh] And now, I can’t imagine not doing that. I look forward to a time when it’s less challenging. [sigh] It’s been an opportunity amidst a very challenging time to really embrace and rededicate myself to our community because I am happy to be trans. 

I am a happy trans person and I’m happy to be part of this amazing community mixed with folks that are still struggling to find their place in the world, whether they’re old or young [sigh] people who are happily out, people who are struggling and out part of this amazing next generation, or at least, uh, getting to share the world with them. [sigh] So I, I do feel like that’s a blessing even amidst this really tough time that it has been.

Imara: Well, I can’t think of anything that signifies what the holidays are all about then letters for trans kids, maybe now holiday cards for trans kids, [sigh] because it is about sharing positivity and love. That’s the actual true gifts, the true presence, the true light. And [sigh] I want to thank you for bringing it forth into the world and for everyone who’s joined you in doing so. [sigh] And want to encourage everyone who’s listening [sigh] to please, whether it be a social media post or an actual letter that you read aloud in video form or some other expression [sigh] that you send an open letter to trans kids. And of course, use the hashtag. Ina. Thank you so much. 

[background music]

Ina: Thank you. And yeah, it’s #Letters4transkids. And the one thing I’d add is don’t assume if you don’t have something to say. Everyone’s voice matters and just find the words in your heart. They are sufficient. I get so many letters from people who are like, “Oh, I was afraid to say something, or I wasn’t sure I had a letter in me.” We all have a letter.

Imara: That was tech journalist and #Letters4transkids creator, Ina Fried. Thank you so much for joining me on the TransLash Podcast. Now, listen all the way through to the end of the show for something extra special thanks to moms for trans for giving us a five-star review on Apple Podcast. Moms for Trans says, quote, “My son has gifted me with the desire to learn more about trans issues. I very much appreciate the host’s eloquence while navigating important topics in ways that are easily understood.”

Mom, for trans, thank you so much for your kind words and for listening to the show. [sigh] And if you all want to help and support us, please, please, please go ahead, and leave your own five-star review on Apple Podcast. [sigh] You might just hear it on the show. And as I keep saying, it helps us counteract the impact of all the trolls out there. The TransLash Podcast is produced by TransLash Media. 

The TransLash team includes Oliver-Ash Klein and Aubrey Calaway. [sigh] Our intern is Mirana Munson-Burke. [sigh] Xander Adams is a contributing producer to the show. And our sound engineer [sigh] digital strategy is handled by Daniela Capistrano. [sigh] The music you heard was composed by Ben Draghi and also courtesy of ZZK records. The TransLash Podcast is made possible by [sigh] the support of foundations and listeners like you.

[background music]

Imara: Um, what am I looking forward to? Um, all the Christmas movies. I-I just have to be perfectly honest. The sound of music is gonna come on. What else? I don’t know why that’s a Christmas movie, [sigh] but, um, Sound of Music is gonna come on, which I really love [sigh] and I love um, Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph, Grinch, those are all the things [chuckles] that I’m looking forward to. [sigh] Um, the end of the year is-is always stressful.

I find that even if there’s a break, I’m always doing a million gazillion things and then getting ready for the new year. So it’s extremely stressful. So that part [sigh] I’ll manage as best I can. But the thing I’m looking forward to is all of the, the movies out there.

[background music]

[END]

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TransLash tells trans stories to save trans lives. As a trusted source for journalists, thought-leaders, movement activists, researchers, and those wanting to know about trans people, we produce narratives about and for the trans community—accurately and reliably. At a time when disinformation about trans people is being used to undermine democracy and human rights, TransLash Media serves as a beacon of hope through the voices that we share with the world.

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TransLash tells trans stories to save trans lives. As a trusted source for journalists, thought-leaders, movement activists, researchers, and those wanting to know about trans people, we produce narratives about and for the trans community—accurately and reliably. At a time when disinformation about trans people is being used to undermine democracy and human rights, TransLash Media serves as a beacon of hope through the voices that we share with the world.

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