Each year, Transgender Awareness Week serves as a time of reflection and celebration to raise the visibility of transgender and gender non-conforming people to shed light on issues the community faces. This year, TAW takes place November 13 through November 19, culminating with the Transgender Day of Remembrance on Wednesday, November 20 to observe and honor the memory of those whose lives have been lost to anti-trans violence.
Follow along on social media to learn more about what you can do to advocate for the visibility, protection, and human rights of transgender, non-binary, and gender-expansive people both near to you and around the world.
words by Jen Winston (she/they)
It is a Saturday in Clinton Hill, the kind of warm November night that almost makes you appreciate global warming. Inside a loft apartment, Jari Jones (she/they) @iamjarijones and Corey Daniella Kempster (she/her) @corey_meets_world sit sprawled on a couch, both wearing black lace-up boots with trace amounts of flowers still in their hair.
The women have just finished a photoshoot in this apartment-turned-studio — 2.5 hours of wearing lingerie, entwining their arms and legs, and putting their love for one another on display. They lean toward opposite sides of the couch now, finding their individual comforts, the way you only can do around someone who knows you’ll come back.
The photoshoot soundtrack included both Nicki and Cardi — neither Jari nor Corey wanted to choose sides. Now they’ve switched to Sza, and though the vibe has slowed down, the sound of their laughter continues at full speed.
“She wore a crop top every day,” Jari says as Corey giggles. “It was like, ‘You wanna be a trans girl? Wear a crop top.’” Laughter erupts again —
the sound strong, loud, and filling up the whole room.
The story does not begin or end with crop tops, and Jari and Corey know this well — not just for themselves, but for each other. They met seven years ago (“April 29,” Corey recalls) during their freshman year at Borough Manhattan Community College in Tribeca, where Jari saw Corey in a performance of Reservoir Dogs. After the show they connected on Facebook, and Jari watched in awe as Corey shot down trolls.
“Right after gay marriage passed in New York,” Corey explains, “one of my cast-mates posted a very homophobic status that said, 'Why do you gays have to call it marriage?’ So I started arguing with him.”
“She was a Facebook WARRIOR,” Jari says. “I loved the way she handled that argument, and afterwards I DM messaged her was: ‘I love you.’ Just that. All caps.”
“I almost blocked her, but I didn’t. Then we became pen pals that whole summer,” Corey replies.
“We always used to say that our husbands would need to respect this dynamic that we have,” Jari says.
“But now we have the language for what our relationship truly is.”
The retelling of this story is ripe with sexual tension, as it took years for Corey and Jari to actually kiss. Eventually they did (on a beach, no less), then followed said kiss with something even more romantic: a discussion of their boundaries, wants, and needs. But part of their relationship’s success lies in the fact that it wasn’t rushed — each of them still had a personal journey to embark on, and too soon was too soon.
Things leveled up for both of them in college when Jari started questioning the title of “gay” — images of gay people seemed to portray only “lean, muscular, white boys” (she notes this was how Corey presented at the time).
“But then I discovered the term ‘queer,’ and this movement of gender non-conforming and non-binary PoC. Seeing these people who were letting gender be their own expression while still being encapsulated in their blackness — I was like, that’s where I wanna sit.”
At first, this came as a shock to Corey — “gay” was the very term that had brought her and Jari together, a seemingly solid part of both of their identities.
But after some unpacking, she too realized the term had been thrust upon her.
“My mom used to tell me that I would walk around in her heels and that’s how she knew I was gay,” Corey says. “But it has nothing to do with sexuality — it has to do with gender. It was a term people had provided me to explain this discomfort that I had experienced my whole life. And all these ways that I didn’t meet the expectations of everyone around me.”
At this monologue, Jari starts snapping in agreement.
“C’mon bitch,” she cheers.
Summer 2016 was when the radical self-love began to take hold. Corey had started the process of coming out as trans (“‘gay’ was a lot easier,” she says), bringing home skirts — and, of course, crop tops — from Forever 21.
"Gay was a term people had provided me to explain this discomfort that I had experienced my whole life."
“She was like, ‘I think I’m trans,’ and I was like, ‘Of course you are, and look how beautiful you are,’” Jari says. “And at that time I was switching into the title of non-binary, and she was the most affirming out of everybody.”
Both women ponder how to describe the word “affirmed.” Then, at the same time, they say: “It means to be seen.”
Neither Jari nor Corey takes affirmation lightly — they see it almost as a duty to each other and their communities, and both have found their own ways to pass it on. Jari is an actress/model/singer/and then some, channeling her talents into powerful trans-centric storytelling — she was featured on FX’s Pose, starred in an Off-Broadway show called “The Sex Myth,” and just finished filming a movie with Leyna Bloom, directed by Martin Scorsese. Though Corey also takes time in front of the camera, her focus is as counselor for LGBT youth who are experiencing homelessness. Immersed in the daily work of helping people transcend statistics, she is also an encyclopedia on the history of trans discrimination.
“One of the big stereotypes is the idea that trans women are perpetuating hyper-femininity,” she says. “But if you look at history, at the old standards that were set for trans women, you had to meet the most patriarchal standards of femininity to qualify for hormones — they would ask if you played with a kitchen growing up, and stuff like that.”
She also discusses the prevalence of eating disorders among trans girls, citing that they’re four times as likely to have an eating disorder as cis girls.
“They’re looking at the same images and thinking, ‘I’m that much further from that,” she says. “That’s why we can’t be afraid to affirm the girl who is still wearing baggy pants. It’s important that we do that for others because I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for that.”
“We have to affirm each other until it overflows,” Jari says.
Though the discussion has turned serious, the joy from earlier remains in the room. The laughter now stands for something bigger than itself — its strength is resilience; its loudness is visibility; its abundance is an ongoing, never-ending celebration. Hearty laughter is something so many take for granted — it is a privilege, a display of freedom, and a revolution all at once.
After both of their personal journeys had steadied, there was one coming out the women could only do together.
“We finally decided to announce that we were officially a couple,” Corey says. “When we did, the top comment on the post just said, ‘Water is wet.’”
When this collaboration launch and as part of the 2018 Midterm Get Out & Vote effort, Momotaro Apotheca invited a few amazing members of our New York community out for a special photoshoot and fundraiser collaboration (more on that here).
Above are photos from that shoot and a contribution by our good friend, Jen Winston of @jenerous. Her words capture the journey of our models (@corey_meets_world and @iamjarijones) and the challenges and beauty of the human struggle.
We're proud to report that this collaboration raised almost $1,000 in one day for the NYC based organization G.L.I.T.S (@glits_inc), a grassroots organization dedicated to supporting the LGBTQIA internationally.