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Translash Q&A with Imara Jones

Imara Jones smiles at camera.
Please state your name, organization, role in your organization, and a brief explanation of what it is that your organization does in your space?

My name is Imara Jones and I am the founder and CEO of Translash Media. Translash is a nonprofit media organization that uses the power of journalism and nonfiction narratives to help center trans people at a time of social backlash by telling trans stories as a tool to lower the ignorance about our community and consequently violence against our community.

We started in 2018 as just a video documentary project that I was encouraged to do by some of my friends and colleagues. This project focused on what it was like to be trans at the end of the Trump era. That’s how Translash started, which was just one camera person and me literally traveling around the country, with me reflecting on my past, and us talking to people about transness during that time. I think we’ve fulfilled two important roles. The first is that we really found a way to help connect trans people to other trans people through stories by showcasing what people are doing, and how they’re doing it, as a tool for community building. The second thing that we have done is worked very hard to tell true stories through a journalistic framework to communicate about what is happening. This is the intersection of transness with other essential social, political, and economic issues.

Can you give a brief explanation of when your organization started and what role it fills in uplifting your community or members of your community?

It makes sense for us to start with the podcast, which wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the Heising-Simons Foundation. The Foundation was actually how we were able to launch our podcast, and so it’s fitting that we focus there. It’s the most significant area of what we do, when you look at the number of people devoted to it organizationally. In reality, though we have two podcasts. The first of the Translash podcasts is twice a month, sometimes three times a month depending on the calendar for the podcast, and focuses on interesting people and issues that are going on in the trans community. We focus on everything from health, such as our conversation with Dr. Rachel Levine, who is the Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services, as well as art and the movement, such as our conversation with Janelle Monae who is known to be a non-binary artist, where we talked about music and culture. To sum it up, it’s a wide-ranging podcast that really dials into a variety of conversations that are essential, that are topical, timely, and relevant. I also want to mention that it was nominated for a Webby.

Can you give a brief history of the oppression that the trans community has faced in this country/globally?

Oppression has taken place, for as long as we have known, regarding trans people in this country. You can see this in the first court case involving a Black trans person (Mary Jones) being prosecuted by law in New York City. That happened in 1830. One of the things that we are seeing as trans people is that we have fought to emerge more in public life in modern times, of course, beginning with the Stonewall riots/rebellion, which was led by Black trans people, and trans people of color overall. This current fight for trans civil rights has allowed trans people to have emerged more and more in political life. But we are also seeing the growing backlash against that. The backlash started immediately in regard to the gay rights movement, and a story that’s not told often about how trans people were pushed out of the movement that they founded, meaning that the fight for trans inclusion was delayed.

Those original dreams of people who started at Stonewall are only growing with physical attacks since 2016. We all know what happened in 2016 when the Trump era started. But the levels of anti-trans violence have been growing year over year. 2021 is the deadliest year on record for trans people. It makes sense that a corresponding result of that will be increased physical violence. I also know that we need to contextualize, for example, we often like to think that there’s the world and then there’s the US, but the US is a part of the world. The United States has the highest recorded numbers of trans people who are murdered other than any other country on the planet except for two, and that’s Brazil and Mexico. It shows that it’s a very dangerous place to be and we can get confused by some of the pop culture victories that we have.

What do you think the biggest misconception is about the trans experience in this country, and why was it important to reclaim that narrative? What stories do you try to tell as a result?

Narratives and stories help to define who we are in the shape of possibilities. Centering the humanity of trans people, and taking a very expansive lens on our community, specifically, who and what we are is important. We are real, that we are human and that we exist, and not that we are something that has been created. That’s essential. Nothing does that better than the actual story of another human being connected through the story to another person. We try to focus on a wide range of topics to show the expansiveness of the issue in our community, and the diversity of our community, including people like me who are Black, and then others like the Latinx community. We also focus on people who live in different parts of the country to really spotlight this idea that we are everywhere doing everything from all perspectives.

What is the story that you’re most proud of that you’ve worked at Trans Lash? And why?

I think I’m super proud of our recent storytelling and narrative efforts with “Trans Bodies, Trans Choices”, where through film and a variety of other mediums we pointedly tell their story. This allowed trans people to tell their abortion stories and their stories as it relates to reproductive justice, which helped underscore this connection between trans rights and reproductive justice with an eye toward body autonomy. One of those films has now been selected for screening as a special focus at Outfest. So, I’m super proud of that. I’m also super proud of the short documentary we did on my family’s reaction to me being trans which has really touched many people and received a lot of engagement. It was the focus of the Guardian’s coverage of the 50th anniversary of Stonewall.

What do you need from funders to address the problems you face in the work you do and what are the solutions needed?

I think the first is just how expensive this work is. The podcast is kind of our flagship, but we also have a Zinethat’s targeted at Gen Z. Additionally, we also do other short-form videos to promote our work, as well as have a new writing platform called “News and Narratives”, as well as our social media, and digital media. Our work is expansive. The second thing that people need to understand is that a fragmenting environment requires us to be on all of those platforms and even more that we’re not able to be because of resource limitations that have affected our ability to be more on emerging social platforms, such as TikTok and Twitch, and other gaming platforms. These are places where we don’t have a large presence right now and require us to do more, not less.

That is to say that for some reason, especially people who didn’t grow up in a digital world, have a conception that with social media somehow, it’s easier, and that the existence of social and digital media means that you don’t have to engage on other types of platforms. When the inverse is true, you must do more on more platforms, not less and less on platforms. For example, a podcast audience isn’t a YouTube audience, who isn’t a TikTok audience. So for instance a podcast on finance wouldn’t be the target demographic on all or even one of those platforms. Those are now distinct media environments with their own audiences. And so, if you’re going to engage in journalism, that’s impactful and engage in narrative change. It means that you must fund more in order to reach more people. I think that’s really important, and also just how labor-intensive it is and expensive it is. Because even though Translash is a nonprofit journalism organization, we compete with organizations that are not nonprofit, and are for-profit media for talent. So, all that means that in order to do what we do well and in an effective way, it has to be resourced, and it has to be resourced in a totally different way, with foundations funding long-term. One-year funding cycles don’t take into consideration all the planning, contracts, shooting, and editing it takes to complete some of these projects, especially juggling everything else.