Tune in for a special takeover episode of the Will To Change. Jenn T. Grace, Founder and Publisher of Publish Your Purpose Press, hosts the episode. Jenn discusses the release of Publish Your Purpose Press’s first anthology, The Real Lives of Transgender and Nonbinary Humans. Joining her are several of the contributors as they discuss their lived experiences and why they decided to share their story in this anthology.
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
Doug Foresta: Welcome to The Will to Change, this is Doug Foresta. Of course, I’m here with Jennifer Brown. Before we get into today’s episode, Jennifer, I want to make sure that the audience knows that there is a new DEI Foundation cohort coming up. Is that correct?
Jennifer Brown: Yeah, thanks, Doug. I’m excited to announce our next cohort. So we run this about four times a year, so the next cohort is June 29th and it lasts six weeks. It is an asynchronous and synchronous program, meaning… Took me a while to understand what that meant. Asynchronous means that it is self-paced, and so we have prepared and made a big investment in uploading resources for you to absorb on your own time, in your own time and your own pace. But there is a synchronous element to the course, meaning that there are assignments and, yes, homework that is graded by our faculty. And then there’s weekly calls on Fridays, where everybody gets together to unpack what we’ve been working on our own. So that’s the synchronous part, which means the live instructor part.
Jennifer Brown: So it’s this wonderful blend. I think it’s a best practice in terms of attending to different learning styles. But I would think about, if you want to start this cohort, maybe the summertime is a great time of year to make that investment in yourself, and to spend that sort of deep dive time into your own role, your own story, your own perhaps starting to think about what kind of work you want to do and what kind of contribution you want to make to the DEI space. I mean, it’s called Foundations because it is meant to be a foundational program. And then we will be adding on and offering a level two, and eventually a level three on top of this foundational program, which would be for people who are moving into having the responsibility for DEI in a given organization.
Jennifer Brown: So the Foundations program though is something that I feel should be required, and it’s kind of a prerequisite before folks progress onto the next conversation, which is much more I think about building a strategy. What are the best practices around strategic pillars, and measurements, and metrics, and focus areas for strategies? That is much more applied. I think this Foundations program is that, like I said, that personal deep dive, the investigation into our iceberg. What’s under our water line? What do we hide or bring to the fore? What has shaped us in our lives?
Jennifer Brown: When I think about my storytelling and my journey with what’s under my water line, I think about investigating, being LGBTQ for example, but then doing the work around. It has formed and shaped so many attributes in me that I’m so proud of today, and that I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t been challenged by the world, challenged around who I am and how I identify. So I think it’s worthy for all of us to spend this time and give ourselves this gift to sit with our story, sit with our diversity dimensions, do that in a community and a cohort that is also working on that, where it’s a very, very safe and brave space. And then have that space also be held by our expert faculty, who has been around the block when it comes to this stuff. So I know that it just gets rave reviews, this program.
Jennifer Brown: We actually have a special discount code, Doug, for podcast listeners. So if you want to know more about the program, go to jenniferbrownconsulting.com, and you will see that it’s at the very, very top of the page. To learn more, you can read about the ROI and the kinds of learning objectives that we will be covering. There’s a registration link and then there is a discount for podcast listeners, you only need to enter the code PODCAST, all capitals, PODCAST, to get 20% off of the program fee. So please consider joining us, we’d love to have you. I hope the timing works, maybe it works beautifully because I hope for all of us, we get a little bit of a break this summer because that’s what summers are for, right, Doug?
Doug Foresta: That is true.
Jennifer Brown: Ideally, but we just work way too hard. So think about this as a treat to give yourself an investment in your current and future inclusively yourself. And also perhaps you will end up doing this work someday and this is a really critical piece to your toolkit. So go visit Jennifer Brown Consulting, look up DEI Foundations, and if you decide to enroll, use PODCAST for 20% off.
Doug Foresta: Everyone has a diversity story, even those you don’t expect. Welcome to The Will to Change, with Jennifer Brown. Get ready to hear from leading CEOs, best-selling authors and entrepreneurs, as we uncover their true stories of diversity and inclusion. Now here’s your host, Jennifer Brown.
Doug Foresta: Hello, and welcome back to The Will to Change, this is Doug Foresta. And Today, I am actually with Jenn T. Grace, Founder, Publisher and CEO of Publish Your Purpose Press. For those of you, you might or might not know that her company published Jennifer’s first book, Inclusion. What you’re going to hear today is a takeover episode where Jenn is actually the interviewer. So first of all, Jenn, welcome. Thanks so much for taking the time to be here.
Jenn T. Grace: Yeah, thanks for having me, I appreciate it.
Doug Foresta: So let’s explain to our audience what they’re going to be hearing, because this is a little different than what we normally do. So you took over this episode of The Will to Change, correct?
Jenn T. Grace: I did, yes.
Doug Foresta: Tell us a little bit about the, you have a panel of people who at least most of them were part of an anthology that’s coming out, we’re going to talk about that. So tell us a little bit, can you give us an overview of what we’re going to be hearing here, kind of set the stage for it?
Jenn T. Grace: Absolutely, yes. So Jennifer and I happen to be together and she heard about a anthology book that we were working on, and she generously provided this opportunity for me to do this. So first, I want to acknowledge that and I’m grateful for this. And so basically, what you’re going to hear is a conversation where I am interviewing four different people, who are all part of a new anthology that we are releasing in this month, June of 2021, Pride Month. And so the anthology is called the Real Lives of Transgender and Non-binary Humans.
Jenn T. Grace: And the entire purpose behind it was to gather and collect the stories of 12 really incredible and amazing humans, and put it together in a anthology form where anyone who is curious or just really wants to know more about what it either looks like, or feels like, or the experiences of transgender and non-binary people, that there’s now an opportunity to really do somewhat of a deep dive on these 12 different stories. And so this particular interview is actually me interviewing four of those people.
Doug Foresta: Say a little bit about, why is an anthology like this important?
Jenn T. Grace: It’s interesting because I have my reasons for why I think something like this is important. But it actually also comes up in the interview itself. And so for really at a high level and a quarter level, I think an anthology like this is really important, because oftentimes, the true stories… And that’s why we call it the Real Lives, is they’re just not expressed enough, or they’re in caricature type of formats in a sitcom or all of these different places where people hear the word transgender or non-binary, and oftentimes, it’s in a context that’s not actually productive for those that are within the community.
Jenn T. Grace: And so for myself as an out lesbian, it was really important for me, for my organization to put this together, because I feel like as someone who… I consider myself a staunch ally for the trans and non-binary community, it felt like it was really important to kind of go forth and do this. And so I would say, tune in, listen to the rest of this conversation. Because for me, it’s a visibility thing. It’s about elevating and amplifying the voices of those from a very marginalized community.
Jenn T. Grace: And so in order to do what we can to eradicate just the stereotypes and the stuff that is projected upon the community, for me that’s really one of the big reasons, is just really give them the platform and the opportunity to really tell their story in a deep and meaningful way. And in doing so help others, either people who are potential allies or people who are already allies, just have a better understanding so they can then go off and advocate on behalf of those that might be in their own communities.
Doug Foresta: That’s really easy to stigmatize or marginalize a group, just a generic group of people. And I think to me, this is the antidote to that or maybe at least hopefully the opposite of that which is to, when we hear the lived experiences and the stories of people in this community, that we realize that they are people, that they are people like us and we can find ourselves and our own humanity in others. And I think that really helps to hopefully to overcome the stigma, and misconceptions and preconceived notions, that had been projected onto this community.
Jenn T. Grace: Absolutely, that is certainly a big part of it. And one of the questions I did ask those that I was interviewing was, I kind of framed it of, “What happens when you are the only trans or non-binary person that someone may have encountered in their life? Like, what happens when you are that first encounter?” And it was a very, very interesting discussion that unraveled from there. So I’m not going to say any more about that, you just have to listen to them.
Jenn T. Grace: Hey, there, this is Jenn T. Grace, Founder and CEO of Publish Your Purpose. And I am here to have a conversation with a number of fine, amazing human beings to talk about their contributions to a new anthology being released this month in June called the Real Lives of Transgender and Non-binary humans. So while we are at the top of this, I would love to have everybody that I have the joy of seeing that you can only hear, give a little just overview of who they are and what they do in this world. So I’m going to throw it over to Nik, if you could start us off by just kind of sharing what you’re up to in this world.
Nik Kacy: Yes, hi. Thanks, Jenn. Pleasure to be here. My name is Nik Kacy, my pronouns are they and them. And I am a Asian trans, non-binary, queer individual who basically quit my job at Google to start my own company called NiK Kacy Footwear, which is the first gender-free footwear and accessories company, as well as created and produced Equality Fashion Week, which is the first LGBTQ Fashion Week in LA. All of this to create visibility, and ensure that we have access to basically things that help us be our authentic selves.
Jenn T. Grace: I love that so much. And I already have a lot of things that I want to ask you, but I’m going to refrain and I’m going to pass it over to Ashley.
Ashley T Brundage: Thank you so much, Jen, excited to be here. My name is Ashley T Brundage, and I use she, her, hers pronouns. And I’m the Founder and President of Empowering Differences, which is the intentional act of using empowerment to leverage change, and it’s a four step process that will help you grow in your career, your business and build up your community.
Jenn T. Grace: Another really… Oh, so many questions, so many questions. Okay, Rhodes, up next.
Rhodes Perry: Yes, thank you. I’m so excited to be here with so many amazing people. My name is Rhodes Perry. I use he, him, his pronouns. And I help business leaders build an emotional outcome of belonging, by focusing on psychological safety and trust in the business that I own and run. Also a bestselling author of Belonging at Work, and working with Publish Your Purpose Press again on Imagine Belonging, so lots of fun stuff to talk about. Excited to be here, thanks.
Jenn T. Grace: Thank you, Rhodes. I appreciate it. And last but not least, Brandi.
Brandi Lai: Hey, thank you. My name is Brandi Lai, I use she, her pronouns, and I am the Founder and President of Best Laid Pens, a ghost writing and storytelling company that helps diverse people share their stories and helps give them a platform. And I am also the… I don’t know what the proper term would be, I guess you could say author, who has listened to all of these wonderful people and many more their stories and helped them put it together in the anthology that is coming out.
Jenn T. Grace: So good. Yes, I intentionally wanted you to go last Brandi, because I want you to go first in my questioning here. Yes, I don’t know what the proper title is, but it’s kind of like a story doula or like the book doula. You were the one that really helped give birth to everyone who participated in this anthologies a voice. And so there are 12 participants who are in this anthology. We have the joy of having this conversation today with four of you.
Jenn T. Grace: And so Brandi, I just want to start with you, since you really were kind of the spearhead on behalf of Publish Your Purpose in helping me kind of sort through who we’re going to ask, what kind of stories we want to kind of pull from people. And so I’m curious because this was probably your first foray in an undertaking of the size. And so what was the experience like for you, just hearing all of these varying stories from just really, really awesome people? And what has that done for you just on a personal level, but then also a professional level?
Brandi Lai: It was definitely such a huge opportunity when you first sent me the email saying, “This is what I’ve been thinking of doing, this is what I want to do.” And my mind was blown that I have the opportunity to do this. Beforehand, I’ve been writing blog posts for PYP. In college, I’ve written a couple of posts, I presented a research paper. But up until that point, I haven’t written and done anything of this magnitude. So I was excited and a little bit anxious when starting it, and getting into it and hearing each of the contributor’s stories, especially since you’re somebody that’s so close to me being a trans woman, so many of your stories, so much of the downs, the ups, the winds, the turmoil, the struggles, the successes, that really weighed in on me.
Brandi Lai: And so far it’s like, “I’m here with these incredible people.” And at first, and I still feel like this sort of imposter syndrome almost of like, “Why am I up here with these people? Why am I given this opportunity?” And I’m grateful that I have a lot of people in my life that are like, “You have a story to tell, and you have a gift for writing.” So it’s been tough to hear some of the stories and to kind of relive my own experiences through them, and it’s been immensely rewarding to hear all of the winds, and the ups, and coming through those periods and being able to be who we are now. And it’s just reaffirmed my own story and it’s affirmed my commitment to keep doing this.
Brandi Lai: And Ashley here can attest to that. She’s the one who pushed me to start my own business. And from that, I couldn’t be happier with how things are right now. I don’t know where things are going to lead to, but right now everything looks just good and I couldn’t be happier. It’s changed me in a lot of ways and I’m assuming it’ll still continue to do that in the future.
Jenn T. Grace: I love that so much. And Ashley, so when I saw that Brandi had started Best Laid Pens, I was like, “Oh, there’s something so beautiful about this.” And it sounds like you, Ashley, are living to your values of the empowering side of Empowering Differences. So do you care to chime in a bit?
Ashley T Brundage: I was intentional in my choice of who I work with, and who I spend my hard earned dollars with practicing equality through economics. And so anyone that I worked with on publishing my book that I recently published called Empowering Differences, I worked with numerous individuals who were all diverse certified businesses or in process of gaining certification. And in Brandi’s case, I specifically wanted to give her a little bit of business coaching, but to hopefully inspire her to grow her business for the future. And that’s ultimately what empowerment is about. It’s about giving power and authority to others, it’s selfless acts that you can do to make a major impact for others. And that’s that business connection that we should all have, and we should all be utilizing empowerment as a strategic way to cultivate relationships and build communities up.
Jenn T. Grace: I love that so much. There’s so much in what you just said, and I think it’s really important that we, anyone of us who were part of the LGBTQ+ community, that we are doing everything we can to do business within said LGBTQ community. And there’s a lot of ways to do that, and I think this is just a kind of a beautiful example of a reciprocal business relationship. There’s some mentoring, there’s some seasoned business person to more greener soon-to-be powerhouse business person. And so there’s something really cool about how this has all taken place.
Jenn T. Grace: And so I’m curious, throwing it over maybe to Nik, because one of the things that kind of comes out for me is just thinking about thought leadership, so this is anthology… Like, if I go back to when I had the moment of wanting to do this, it was years ago. It was probably 2016 because I remember where I was living at the time, and I knew I wanted to do anthologies at PYP, but we had to figure out the right way to approach it. But then on top of it, I was thinking like, “Which is the first one that we’ll do?” I’m like, “It’s obviously has to be this one, this has to be the first anthology that we do.”
Jenn T. Grace: Because I feel like as someone who is not part of the trans and non-binary community, it’s my role as an ally to help elevate everybody else’s voice. And so it seemed like an absolute no-brainer for me to say like, “Okay, this is the one,” and then of course having Brandi as part of Team PYP. I’m like, “This is obviously meant to be. We have to make this happen.” So what I see in all of this is thought leadership. And so I’m curious for you, Nik, because you are a very active person just within the community from just a lot of volunteer type of standpoints and philanthropic standpoints, and all of the amazing things that I think apply to every single one of us in terms of just being really active in the community in some way.
Jenn T. Grace: But from a thought leadership standpoint, I’m curious for you, Nik, was it difficult to actually have to sit down and put your story into words, in a way that was actually going to be out in a book rather than something that maybe was on a blog post or a LinkedIn article? Like, did you find any resistance in kind of having to dig deep to tell your story? Or was it just kind of very clear and maybe easier for you?
Nik Kacy: Well, honestly, it was perfect timing because throughout the pandemic, I was sick, I was in bed for a lot of it, alone in isolation and scared, not knowing whether I was going to wake up the next day. And if like, would somebody know if something happened to me? Those are thoughts that you don’t really think when you’re in your mid 40s that you’re going to have to confront except… Because I think as trans folks and as [inaudible 00:22:09] folks, we have a lot of fear in terms of our safety in a lot of other ways. But when it came to health, that was not something that I really imagined. And I think the thing that really… Not broke me, but the thing that really catapulted my perspective was the fact that I never expected to be alone, because I have such an immense community and I’ve really dedicated the last 20 something years of my life to building this community.
Nik Kacy: So I never anticipated being so alone, that you start facing all these other truths, and your past, and your fears. And so a lot of people have told me that whenever I’ve done like an interview or shared parts of my story with people, I’ve had a lot of feedback about like I should write a biography, an autobiography. And I was always kind of like, “Oh, I’m not really a writer,” blah, blah, blah. And so when I recovered from COVID, I really thought that’s the next thing I need to do is like, my life is finite. And so I need to share my story, and I need to put it out there because it could potentially help somebody else, because growing up, I had nobody.
Nik Kacy: There were no role models, there were nobody to consult and get guidance, and nobody that could relate. And so now that we live in a world where it’s a little bit more accepted, there’s a lot more visibility, there’s a lot more people that we can look to for support, and guidance and mentorship, and just being able to look out and see a lot more people like me, it just made me feel like it was really important for me to put it down on paper, the journey that I’ve taken to get to where I am today, and to the show that it does get better, and it’s worth living no matter how scary it gets. But it was really hard and I spent the last year trying to start this book and I couldn’t.
Nik Kacy: So when Brandi came along and was like, “Here’s this project we’re doing,” it really was like, “This is perfect because I can really start kind of divulging more, and really looking inward and really process my trauma, my childhood, my growing up, my challenges and my achievements, and how I was resilient to get to the point that I am today.” And so to be able to tell it is a really amazing gift. And so this was a really great practice for me, and it was very, very challenging. And I know Brandi remembers there were a lot of editing and, “No, I changed my mind. Maybe I want to move this and I don’t know how to put this here.” There was just a lot of things that I did not know how to express myself properly. And so she was very helpful.
Jenn T. Grace: Beauty of a team. I say this all the time, is that publishing is a team sport. Maybe the writing part was a solo journey, but the publishing process is a team sport. So I’m happy to hear that Brandi was someone that you could lean on, and kind of trust in terms of helping just articulate your story in the way that you wanted to, because it is important to make sure that your story is being captured in the way that you want it to be received.
Jenn T. Grace: Because I feel like many people have the experience of just their words being watered down, or making them a little more safe or a little more, “Oh, we have to be sensitive of who might be reading this, and so we have to make it a little bit more digestible,” and all of these kind of excuses rather than just really just stepping into your truth and owning your story. So it’s good to hear in a way that there’s a little bit of friction, is what I heard, in terms of getting it out there. But it does sound like a good stepping off point. And Brandi, what are your [crosstalk 00:26:18]-
Brandi Lai: No, I just wanted to add to that. I’ve seen too many times where people have complained about some editor, or someone who interviewed a person and they completely took what they said out of context. And it just makes the person look bad, they feel bad, they no longer want to be a part of that or possibly even share their story. And that’s why I wanted to make absolutely sure like, “Okay, you can make as many changes as you want. It’s your story.” So I want to make sure that you’re happy with it, because once it goes into print, it’s going to be in people’s hands. So I want to make sure that it’s how you would want to tell it to somebody.
Jenn T. Grace: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah.
Nik Kacy: And that was the fear because once it’s out, you can’t change it. So I had a lot of fear in terms of like, what will my family think? What will like the people in my past? Because I think when you talk about your trauma, it potentially can hurt a lot of people that love you and didn’t realize you went through this, and maybe feel like, “Wow, was I blind? Was I not there?” And that’s not my intention, and telling your truth is not to hurt other people. It is to just tell the truth.
Jenn T. Grace: Yeah, that’s so powerful. And Rhodes, you’re working on your second book now. So your first one came out in November of 2018, and now you’re hopefully will be fallish, fingers crossed, of this year. And so for you it must have been a really different experience, because you’ve already put your story out there in a very public way, because you have a book and you’re obviously putting your story into this next book. And so now there’s kind of like this snippet of Rhodes Perry the person. So for you, what was the process like to figure out what story or stories you wanted to include in this, given the fact that you do speak really publicly about who you are and your story, just based on the work that you do?
Rhodes Perry: Yeah, that’s a great question, Jenn, and I was thinking about that. This was really a different experience. And kudos to Brandi and to you, Publish Your Purpose Press, that I think being able to work with someone who is trans as kind of like the lead editor, doula, whatever Brandi’s title is, it’s I mean, there’s a trust component that to me made really going back, rewinding far back into like, “Okay, when did I figure out that I was trans? And what was that process?” And those are stories that I don’t often share in workplace settings. I’m often talking about my experiences of being a trans man in the workplace and all the challenges that come with that.
Rhodes Perry: So it was going back to trauma that I’ve processed, fortunately, gay therapy. That’s good. I recommend that for everyone. But to think about what’s the goal, and I think my goal is knowing like people who listen to this podcast, it’s we’re trying to build up emotional intelligence, we’re trying to build empathy. And the last time a poll has been done on adults that know trans or non-binary people, it’s like less than 20%. So a book like this is many stories that can just create that instant connection of like, “Well, I never thought what it would be like to be a trans or non-binary person, and now there’s tons of stories that are featured in this book.”
Rhodes Perry: So that’s what I was trying to send her and this is like, how could this help potential allies move on their journey? And at the same time, how can this help someone… Like just thinking of my younger self, and I wanted to provide a complete picture. And I think the challenge, and I’d love to hear from other writers here, just like it’s always going to be incomplete. I feel like… I was thinking, “Oh, I’d love to write a memoir, but there’s this story that’s featured in this book, there’s a million other stories.” So it’s just trying to… I really wanted to share something that would be of service to the people that I would imagine reading this book in the future, and that’s my hope.
Rhodes Perry: And I was going back through the writing to be like, “What did I talk about?” I was like, “Wow, I covered a lot of ground.” It was like coming out, college advocacy and kind of early parts of my career, even working at the National Organization for Women. And at that time, they had done a lot of work of trying to be inclusive of trans women. So it was in the late 90s and the early aughts, and there was a change in presidents, and I feel like what’s old is kind of new. So one of the presidential administrations that was running for the organization was super trans-friendly and the other wasn’t, and it was a debate if people are familiar with the term TERF, it was happening then, it’s happening now in different ways.
Rhodes Perry: And read the book if you don’t know the term, I’m sure it’s covered in there. I’m not sure. I’m turning it over to Brandi a few, you cover that. But so it was hard. It was harder to write in this way than writing about purposeful disclosure in the workplace. So it was a good exercise for me.
Jenn T. Grace: Yeah, that’s so good. Brandi, do you want to address if TERF is actually covered in it? And then if not, does anyone here would like to elaborate more on that?
Brandi Lai: I don’t remember off the top of my head if TERF is covered in it. But for those who don’t know, it means trans-exclusionary radical feminism, so-called feminists that have in many cases actually published academic work. And I’ve had the distinct displeasure of reading some of them in college and debunking a lot of that, but basically excluding trans women from feminism which is inherently dumb, not right. Because the premise is that there’s only two genders, yet you argue against gender roles and the idea that they don’t have to present, but you argue for both sides just because you don’t like trans people. It just doesn’t make sense.
Jenn T. Grace: It’s a lot of hypocrisy in all of it. And obviously it’s not serving anybody well, and it’s certainly a topic that is on the forefront all the time it seems, at least in things that I’m reading. Ashley, did you have something that you wanted to kind of add into this conversation as well?
Ashley T Brundage: Yeah. Oh, yes, I did. I’ve been chomping in a bit. But honestly, Rhodes hits it for me, which ultimately is leading to the conversation around representation and why that actually matters. And the anthology is a connection point for representation. And I have the honor of serving on the National Board of Directors for GLAD in New York City, and our job is to amplify and protect, and ensure there’s representation across all forms and medium for the LGBTQ+ community. And so that job, to amplify and protect our community standards around representation and then the workplaces, and especially I know that a majority of you listening today connect on a workplace level.
Ashley T Brundage: So if you’re thinking about how you can really make an impact, number one, buy the Anthology in bulk. Number two, then go back and engage in ways at which you can ensure that you have representation just like PYP has representation, in the fact that Brandi Lai was here to do this anthology work. So if you don’t have that representation in your organization, and you’re not intentionally recruiting and trying to retain the top transgender talent, then you need to be contacting other subject matter experts in this field, who can help you really empower your people in your organization to be more poignant in their recruiting efforts.
Ashley T Brundage: And if you don’t see the value or you think that our community doesn’t bring power, and doesn’t bring the economy and doesn’t bring our voice, then you are sorely mistaken because we do. We work across all different types of the world as you’ve noticed from the Anthology. But just like Harvey Milk said, we are your post workers, we are your teachers, we’re doing all those things. We’re your rocket scientists, CEOs, authors, founders, presidents, Fashion Week, we do it all. And there’s a trans person that can literally do whatever you need, and we should be thinking about how we can add those representations for our organization.
Jenn T. Grace: I love all of what you just said, because I feel like this is for… We have essentially taken over The Will to Change, Jennifer Brown’s podcast, so we know that… which she’s a great dear friend of mine, and I’m so grateful that she’s giving all of us this opportunity to speak directly to those that listen. And so we know that a lot of them are corporate people. So I’m glad that you kind of just brought that to the surface, Ashley. And I’m curious if when you were all deciding what stories you would share and how you would contribute, because this is not a project that took like a month and like boom, “Hey, we have a book.”
Jenn T. Grace: We’ve been all working on this for a while. It’s been in the works for quite some time. And so I would imagine that each of you might have a different reason for why you felt it was important to share your story in this book. And Rhodes, you really just very beautifully said you were really kind of thinking about writing to your younger self. And I think so often, those who share their stories or write a memoir, for example, so often a lot of the intention is to kind of heal those younger self wounds, and just to be able to go back in time to help pave the path for that newer young person who just doesn’t have the resources, or maybe they’re missing hope or… There’s just a lot of things that come up.
Jenn T. Grace: But I’m curious if you all might have a different response to that question. Rhodes, I think you set the pace really well. But Ashley as you were just talking about the corporate space and the why, why a corporation should be thinking about intentional recruitment and retention of trans and non-binary employees. That’s a very big difference in terms of what a why could be. But at the same time, both of those things fit very squarely under the umbrella of this anthology. So I’m curious if maybe Nik, if you have anything to share in terms of what your kind of hope, in terms of what people would get from reading this.
Nik Kacy: I think my biggest hope in going into this, why I agreed to do it was one, to push myself to do something I was afraid to do, and two is, in the hopes that even if one person that reads it ends up feeling safer to live their authentic lives and be out or come out or share their story, then that is already an achievement, like that’s success to me because we live in a world where it’s not easy to be us. And it feels oftentimes like no matter how much progress we think we’re getting, we always end up taking two steps back, because there just seems to be so much hate. To Ashley’s point it’s like, we run the gamut as human beings with so much talent and beauty and experiences.
Nik Kacy: And in fact, I mean, I hate to say this, but I really think trans and non-binary folks are more apt to be better at dealing with any kind of stress and emergency and any level of duty and work than I think most people, because we have overcome since like the day we were born. So we are uniquely skilled in tackling almost anything with grace and ability. And so, I was recently in a panel where we discussed this, where there were several people from actually a corporate background who agreed that actually their trans and non-binary employees were able to handle a lot more because we’re just so used to having to deal with so much on a regular basis.
Nik Kacy: So I’m on the board of Trans Can Work now, and that’s one of my missions is to really help elevate trans and non-binary visibility in the workplace, because I think companies are starting to really see the value and the fact that, the more people realize that we’re humans just like everybody else, and that we deserve love and that we deserve to be accepted and we have community and we’re stronger together, then I think it’s going to make the world a better place. And I think that this book is one step towards that.
Jenn T. Grace: Yeah, Ashley. Please.
Ashley T Brundage: Yeah. And also to amplify what Nik just said, we have lived experiences across the gender continuum. And when you can hire someone that can literally have lived experiences that represent and can communicate and connect across the genders, it’s literally like getting to hire two people or three people, because of our lived experiences are going to be that much more dynamic.
Nik Kacy: Exactly. My mom told me one time, she was hanging out with her friends and her friends were telling her, “My daughter did this and my son did that, blah, blah.” And my mom told me that her response was, “I’m the luckiest because I got both in one person.” And that’s I think exactly what you mean is like, we do have this amazing capability because we have lived experiences across this gender spectrum. And it’s made me ever since I transitioned, I’ve learned so much about both even more, and about myself. So yeah.
Jenn T. Grace: Yeah. Rhodes or Brandi, do either of you want to kind of chime in? Rhodes.
Nik Kacy: Yeah, yeah. I just want to support what both Nik and Ashley are saying, which is just, for those folks who are listening likely in corporate settings, you’re hearing anecdotally our perspectives on the strengths that we bring to the workplace. That is supported by research. There’s research that’s looking at resilience of trans, non-binary people. And much to what Nik was saying, in terms of being able to solve problems, we’ve navigated a world that wasn’t built for us. So those kind of problem-solving skills, taking the initiative, we have that. The idea of embracing difference. We have to code switch every single day. We have to share our experiences and have to share it using a common language, common words.
Nik Kacy: I think this book is a great example. For readers that aren’t trans or non-binary, you’re likely to be challenged, because we’re centering ourselves in the stories. To a certain extent, we’re still trying to find common language to bring along, yet our experiences for once is front and center. And I think for any readers, anyone who’s trans and non-binary listening, what a relief, where you can read a story and actually be able to relate to it. I recently read a book called Amateur. Additional reading. If you want to continue on the trans authorship there, it’s by Thomas McBee.
Nik Kacy: And that book is amazing. It’s about a trans guy’s experience of boxing in Madison Square Garden. And there’s not a whole lot of stories that I can really relate to, and he’s talking about being a trans man and the invisibility of how he navigates the world, and a lot of his identity of being trans is erased, and some of the violence that he experiences because of that that’s often missed, and some one-on-one conversations that we have. So that’s the power of connecting to a lot of really different stories that are featured here. So I want to lift up with what both Nik and Ashley have shared on this piece. It’s really important.
Jenn T. Grace: Yeah. Brandi, how about you?
Brandi Lai: Yeah. I mean, going after what you said, Rhodes, it’s like stories change people’s lives. For anybody who’s listening, think about a time where you just hear someone go through a vivid story, and how it affected you. Did it affect you in a major way or a minor way? That’s one of my beliefs is that sharing the stories helps move people, and it helps get this sense of understanding of one another. And the more we share each other’s stories, the more we realize there are more parallels, there are more things in common, there are more things that we each and all struggle with, than there are differences between each and every one of us. Because too often do we look at somebody else and say, “Oh, my experiences are… That person, they’re so different than me. How can me and that person ever have something in common?”
Brandi Lai: And it may not be verbatim, childhood may not be the same, but the struggles, the journey, the path to get to where we are now, those are the commonalities that you will be surprised to find. And I feel like that’s a lot of what cis people might find in this book is reading it, they’ll definitely get a much wider understanding of what it’s like to go through the life as a trans person or a non-binary person. But also realize that a lot of the struggles that we have are similar to the struggles that the reader might have. And I’m thankful that, like you said Rhodes, that trans stories are able to be centered in this.
Brandi Lai: We’re able to just be open and not have to censor ourselves, and not have to think about who’s reading it and just say like, “Oh, I can’t say that. That’s a little bit too much.” We could just be open and say what we want, and that in itself is powerful, and that needs to be done more. And unfortunately, it hasn’t, but hopefully that will change with this.
Jenn T. Grace: I appreciate what all of you are saying, and I’m curious, because obviously as someone who’s a cis lesbian woman, I don’t share the same experience, but there’s certainly overlap being part of the same community in experiences that we share. And I know for me, oftentimes, how this is even possible I don’t know, but occasionally, I’m like the first lesbian someone’s met. And I’m like, “How is this possible? I don’t fully understand this.” And so because it is 2021, I feel like we should be a little bit beyond that. However, we know because Rhodes you were mentioning the stats before of 20% of people, have said that they haven’t met someone who is trans or non-binary. So that’s 20%. That’s a significant number.
Jenn T. Grace: So I’m kind of curious how each of you kind of feel when maybe you’re in that scenario or that setting, where you might be that first person that someone has met. And you now have the weight of the world on your shoulders, because now you represent the entire community. Even though the five of us know that that’s not actually the case, but in the mind of someone who has not actually encountered someone from within the LGBTQ+ community, we know that kind of happens. So I’m a little bit curious, just kind of what that prompted for any of you, and me just even saying that.
Jenn T. Grace: And then also, my hope is that this book is an opportunity to be able to just kind of give to that person, where maybe you are that first encounter somebody has, and you’re like, “Oh, you got a lot to learn. Go read all of these stories.” So Ashley, you had the most visceral reaction to my words, because I can see you even though the listeners can’t, so I’d like to start with you.
Ashley T Brundage: Yeah. I was yesterday year old when that happened in line in the airport, flying from Texas to Florida, two great states in our nation, where we sometimes try to draft legislation that specifically target the trans and non-binary communities. So there was that. And I literally heard the person behind me talking about the trans community and that they don’t exist, that we’re creating legislation for such a small, minuscule population. And I said, “Yeah, you mean like me? And here I am, I’m one of 227 people on this flight, which means it’s a lot higher statistically than you were originally thinking, right?”
Ashley T Brundage: And also, I’ll say too just from early on in my transition 12 years ago, trying to find a job out as a transgender person, that had its own unique set of challenges. And you’ll get a little bit of peek in that when you sign in, and buy the anthology, but that’ll be really powerful. And just know that anytime that I… I did finally find that job, and I started working as a part-time bank teller, but in that setting, as a teller, like literally I’m working at a $9 an hour position. Basically, I’m paying to work in that environment for myself. I’m definitely not making ends meet on that one job. And my job is to represent not only me and my family, and my former house that I’ve been, but the entire transgender community’s weight is on my shoulders, every single interaction that we have together. So just think about what that’s like, and how impactful that is for that person.
Ashley T Brundage: If you come into that discussion and not know anything, and think as if I’m going to be the one to have to bear everything for you in this community. So you have to kind of have that want, that desire. That’s why buying this book is going to be so powerful, because you have the ability to connect with all of these amazing humans who took the time to share that journey and share that passion, and you’ve taken the time to acquire it now is so impactful, and it will lead to so much more empowerment for others.
Jenn T. Grace: Thank you, Ashley. That was so beautifully said. Nik, how about you?
Nik Kacy: It’s one of those things where it’s kind of like the bane of my existence, where I feel like even within the queer community, I’m oftentimes like the main trans person or main non-binary person somebody knows. And on a daily basis, especially pre-pandemic, when we’re out all of the time at events and stuff, somehow I became like the encyclopedia of transness for people. And so you get all of the questions, and I think eventually… And trust me, I feel like there’s a duality. Part of it feels like, I’m honored to be able to be the one that helps educate, and that I have the safety of being able to vocalize and express myself. But it took me a few years, before I started to speak more publicly at panels and stuff where I’m like, “But be mindful of our mental health.”
Nik Kacy: It is a lot of work to constantly be the one educating everybody about all things that we are, because every time you ask a question, you might not realize this, but you’re also triggering our experiences and our traumas, and that just giving you a simple explanation about bathrooms might seem so minuscule to you, but that’s a daily experience that I have to face that’s traumatic, because I can’t seem to just go pee safely. And I think a lot of people don’t realize that. So most of it is ignorance, I think. And I so value the fact that when they do ask, because I value and have appreciation that there’s a genuine curiosity and desire to learn, that’s what fuels my strength in educating. But I do have to honor myself enough to say, “I can only take so much, and do some research.”
Nik Kacy: There’s this amazing thing called Google that people can look up stuff, and certainly don’t believe everything you read, but there are definitely respectable reliable resources that are out there if you do the work. So yeah, I definitely understand what Ashley is talking about.
Jenn T. Grace: Which is not surprising. Brandi, how about yourself?
Nik Kacy: Oh yeah, I have a lot to say. I have a lot to jump in on what Nik was saying, and just like that place of where people want to be educated definitely comes from a place of ignorance and not understanding like, “Okay, this is someone’s life I’m asking them about. This is someone whose life they have to constantly think about every time they step out the door.” There is that level of ignorance, but also I understand there’s the curiosity, there’s the want to know more about like what this is. People who have never known a trans person or LGBTQ+ person, like there’s this desire for people who have an open mind, who haven’t heard terrible things or haven’t heard great things. They’re just like, “I don’t know, so can you tell me?”
Nik Kacy: And I want to just, with what Nik was saying, just like caution, patience, and ask permission. Don’t just go out and ask all these deep personal questions, because for us, that’s what we have to deal with every day. And in a lot of cases, you’re asking us to unravel a lot of things that we’ve had to work on, and just to appease your curiosity and making us go through that. I’m not trying to make someone feel and think about a scenario where they’re like, “Oh, did I make that person feel really bad?” That’s not what I’m trying to do. What I’m trying to say is, do your own research. It’s important to do that on your own, because you take the burden and the pressure off of us, and are able to do the basic research that you need to know.
Nik Kacy: When you meet a trans person, the first two things you need to know about them, “What’s your name? What’s your pronouns?” That’s it. That’s all you need to know. You don’t need to know anything else. You don’t need to know the deeply personal questions that everybody asks, “Whoa. What bathroom do you use? Have you had the surgery?” You don’t really need to know. Do you really need to know that? Do you ask your friends that? When you go up to somebody, you meet someone for the first time you’re like, “Oh, hey, how’s it going? Oh, you’re also in this coffee shop. Oh, what’s in your pants by the way?” No, you don’t ask that of anybody else. It’s just because that curiosity exists, and I don’t want to say it’s fine that it exists, but you can do your own research and you can understand.
Nik Kacy: And think about, if you are meeting someone else for the first time, and someone unveiled an identity, or imagine if someone said, “Oh, I’m Puerto Rican, you wouldn’t ask certain questions about that person’s race, you wouldn’t ask them about like, “Oh, when did you immigrate here?” Or certain things like that. You’re just like, “Oh, okay. That’s fine. That’s just a part of your identity.” And for a lot of us, that’s all it is. It’s just another part of our identity. It may not be the focus, and we just go about our lives. We can just continue walking in the same direction. It doesn’t have to be this huge upheaval of interrogation.
Jenn T. Grace: Yeah. And my hope is that this anthology can help alleviate some of those conversations for some of you. It’s certainly not going to be a huge fix, but I think, at least if there’s a bunch of holes in a dam, maybe it’s plugging one of the holes, and it’s just an opportunity for people to go and learn, because every one of you who is featured in this, everyone was chosen for a really specific and intentional reason for being who they are and the message that they have to share. And so I think that this is going to be just at least one more step in everyone’s progress moving forward to stop just the ridiculous amount of questions and ridiculous questions period that are being asked. Yeah, Brandi, one more thing? Yes.
Brandi Lai: Just one more real quick point. I just wanted for LGBTQ+ people, it wears on us to have to constantly answer these questions. Think of it like someone constantly asking you the same question every time you meet, and it just becomes exhausting. You reach a certain point where you don’t want to answer it. And if it does reach that point, then just respectfully just say, “Okay.” That’s fine. That’s all I wanted to add on to that.
Jenn T. Grace: Yeah, yeah. I’d say it’s a good thing to add on. So as we’re kind of at the end of our time here, number one, I’m so grateful for all of you organizing this at the very last minute for us to take over Jennifer’s podcast, but also I want to make note for anyone who is interested is that we are doing a full book launch event on June 24th, from 6:00 to 8:00 PM Eastern time. So if you are interested, the information is available on all of the Publisher Your Purpose Press social media sites, it is available on publisheryourpurposepress.com, it’s on Eventbrite, you can search for it there. And you should be able to find the book wherever you purchase books, anywhere.
Jenn T. Grace: And hopefully fingers crossed, by the time you’re listening to this, it’ll be available. And if you go there, and it’s not immediately available, it will be very, very soon. So I want to give everyone just really quickly, let’s see if we can do this, just one last thought, something that’s kind of maybe still rattling around in your brain that you didn’t get out, and then just one way in which people can get in touch with you. And I’m going to start with Ashley.
Ashley T Brundage: Thank you. I just hope that you all think about ways to empower others. And if you’re thinking about empowerment and learning about empowerment, and what that actually entails, contact me because that’s my lane, that’s my specialty, and I would love to chat with you more and your organization, and you can connect with me @ashleytbrundage, A-S-H-L-E-Y-T-B-R-U-N-D-A-G-E. Or you can also connect with my company @empoweringdiff. And I’m on the same handle on all platforms. So thank you so much for having me. This has been really amazing.
Jenn T. Grace: Absolutely. Nik, how about you?
Nik Kacy: I would say that I would really love everyone’s takeaway from this as doing their part, how to be an ally, really thinking about being mindful on how to truly be an ally, which is not only taking the time to do the research and understanding the trends and non-binary culture, but also understanding the history behind it and where a lot of the achievements and the leaders and the movements of progress have been led by trans and non-binary folks.
Nik Kacy: And then obviously in buying the book and reading our stories and really getting a better understanding of the humanity behind all of us, and that is the link that links all of us together. And then to just be mindful to treat every human that they meet and uplift them in a way that, just remember like this is someone’s child, this is someone’s parents, sibling, friend, and living their best life and being the best human that they can be so that we leave this world better than we found it. You can find me on all social media platforms @nikkacyfootwear. That’s N-I-K-K-A-C-Y footwear.
Nik Kacy: You can find my personal accounts at @nikkacy, and you can check out my website and all my designs at nikkacy.com. And please also check out equalityfashionweek.com, because I think that everyone can really enjoy that experience and uplift all of our communities together.
Jenn T. Grace: Beautiful and well said. Now, Rhodes.
Rhodes Perry: Thank you. Yeah, this has been great and just knowing this audience, keep this in mind. One in four Zoomers are expected to transition their gender, whether it’s socially, medically, legally, some kind of combination of all that, at least one time in their life. That’s 25% of young people right now. That’s your future work force. So what are you doing today to build more gender-inclusive organizations? And I hope that you read the anthology, kind of learn about our stories, consider some of the guidance that we’ve offered today. And if you feel stuck, you can find many of us doing this work, you can find me, rhodesperry.com, really easy to find, happy to support you in that work. And keep going. It’s going to take all of us to build a better world. And the fact that you listen to this conversation today gives me a lot of hope, so thank you for being generous with your time.
Jenn T. Grace: So beautiful. Brandi.
Brandi Lai: I would just say, like everybody else pretty much took the words out of my mouth, but have a comment to a different person’s experience, whether it be trans, whether it be clear, whatever the person’s identity is, come into it with an open mind, if you know nothing about it, and listen to what they have to say and the stories that they have. Like I said before, we all can relate to one another more often than we think. There are more threads that bind all of us together than we think. And there’s a lot more commonalities than differences, hence links all of the stories.
Brandi Lai: I feel that anybody who’s listening to this podcast is going to find that, and going to find commonalities with some of these stories and resonate, and say like, “Okay.” That’s my biggest hope for this is that someone who is reading it is going to say, “I’m not the only one. It’s not just me. Okay.” It doesn’t have to be related to just the trans experience, but just a lot of what people have gone through and dealt with saying like, “There’s someone else out there that has gone through what I’ve gone through.” And so that’s my biggest hope. My social media is bestlaidpens.com, Best Laid Pens on Facebook and LinkedIn. That’s the two places I’m focused at.
Jenn T. Grace: Beautiful. And so once again, thank you all so much for being here for this conversation. I very much appreciate each and one of you for your contributions in this. And then as I mentioned before, June 24th, from 6:00 to 8:00 PM Eastern time, we will be hosting our official book launch celebration event, and the book is titled The Real Lives of Transgender and Nonbinary Humans, as told to Brandi Lai. And you should be able to search that anywhere on the internet and find it. And just another big thank you for Jennifer Brown, allowing us to take over her podcast to bring you this kind of a special private edition of the show. So thank you, everyone, and I will see you all very soon.
Jennifer Brown: Hi, this is Jennifer. Did you know that we offer a full transcript of every podcast episode on my website over at jenniferbrownspeaks.com. You can also subscribe so that you get notified every time a new episode goes live. Head over there now to read my latest thoughts on diversity, inclusion and the future of work, and discover how we can all be champions of change by bringing our collective voices together and standing up for ourselves and each other.
Doug Foresta: You’ve been listening to The Will to Change, Uncovering True Stories of Diversity and Inclusion with Jennifer Brown. If you’ve enjoyed the episode, please subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. To learn more about Jennifer Brown, visit jenniferbrownspeaks.com. Thank you for listening, and we’ll be back next time with a new episode.
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