Kiara St. James

Interviewed By Michelle Esther O'Brien

Kiara St. James is the CEO and a co-founder of New York Transgender Advocacy Group (NYTAG). Here, she recalls the experiences throughout her life that inform her activism and advocacy today as a trans woman of color. She recounts her early upbringing in an evangelical Christian community in Beaumont, Texas and her adolescence spent with a foster family in Heidelberg, Germany. She details many of the scenes and spaces she inhabited as a femme queen in nineties-era New York City, and reflects on both care and conflict within the trans community during that time. She describes her evolution as a community activist, and considers the opportunities and challenges of trans-led advocacy to secure civil and political rights, economic empowerment, and personal dignity. (Summary by Justine Ambrose.)

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Beaumont, Texas (00:39)
gender policing (00:46)
Church Of God in Christ (COGIC) (00:50)
religious condemnation (01:02)
family disapproval (01:30)
masculinity (01:43)
Wonder Woman (02:04)
abuse (02:19)
trauma (02:28)
Richard Pryor (02:40)
domestic violence (02:43)
normalized violence (02:59)
father (03:38)
mother (03:44)
middle-income family (03:52)
image (04:48)
Good Times (04:55)
religious condemnation (05:16)
self-hatred (05:34)
trans identity (05:45)
foster care (06:15)
Heidelberg, Germany (06:27)
Department of Defense (06:43)
foster family (06:51)
Jewish (07:13)
Black culture (07:19)
gospel music (07:31)
Black churches (07:55)
singing (08:24)
multicultural family (08:33)
foster siblings (08:36)
health teacher (09:20)
heteronormativity (09:35)
isolation (10:13)
whiteness (10:21)
racial stereotypes (10:26)
gender stereotypes (10:35)
high school graduation (10:45)
pre-Internet (11:02)
United States (11:08)
social isolation (11:21)
business school (11:32)
student loans (11:41)
armed security guard (11:53)
vocational training program (11:59)
Job Corps (12:10)
San Marcos, Texas (12:12)
nursing (12:20)
gender nonconforming (12:26)
people of color (12:27)
fantasizing (12:49)
library (12:57)
history (12:59)
Strand Bookstore (13:08)
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books (13:18)
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roots of Christianity (14:00)
geography (14:09)
National Geographic (14:27)
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Council of Nicaea (14:52)
Jesus Christ (15:12)
church community (16:36)
self-denial (16:43)
queer Scripture (17:07)
spiritualism (17:17)
religion (17:24)
libraries (17:49)
queer literature (17:50)
queer Scripture (18:10)
Old Testament (18:14)
queer community (18:40)
drag queens (18:54)
Atlanta, Georgia (18:56)
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drag queens (19:04)
self-knowledge (19:25)
Black Mecca (19:42)
partner (19:47)
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relationships (20:07)
Job Corps (20:38)
Houston, Texas (20:52)
Dallas, Texas (20:54)
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moving (25:42)
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sex work (26:30)
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hotels (27:18)
odd jobs (28:01)
newspaper seller (28:14)
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female energy (28:49)
self-denial (29:01)
femme queen (29:22)
HIV/AIDS (29:40)
pride (30:01)
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identity hierarchy (31:59)
drag queen (32:00)
femme queen (32:18)
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self-knowledge (33:11)
hormones (33:41)
purple candy (33:43)
transitioning (33:49)
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showgirl club (34:28)
Port Authority (34:32)
Danielle Revlon (34:43)
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inspiration (34:51)
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sex shops (37:40)
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pre-Internet (39:42)
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Craiglist (40:41)
Backpage (40:43)
authenticity (41:11)
conversations (41:12)
sex work (41:36)
group initiation (41:45)
vulnerability (42:05)
self-protection (42:28)
nostalgia (42:56)
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competition (43:16)
generational discord (43:31)
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racial identity (44:11)
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multiracial family (44:33)
self-hatred (45:08)
Black pride (45:47)
ballroom scene (46:25)
colorism (46:30)
nineties (46:47)
survival (46:52)
Anti-Blackness (46:59)
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House of Ebony (48:29)
Butch queen (48:35)
Femme queen (48:39)
Activism (49:42)
self-interest (51:00)
Danielle Revlon (51:06)
ballroom spaces (51:28)
Clubhouse (51:33)
escapism (51:45)
gender dysphoria (52:19)
federal assistance program (52:28)
racial conflict (52:40)
white privilege (53:04)
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) (53:17)
sex work (53:42)
violence (53:48)
activism (54:09)
breaking sunset (54:29)
13th Street (54:44)
gentrification (54:47)
homelessness (55:09)
political advocacy (55:25)
queer activists (56:36)
inspiration (57:01)
community care (58:29)
activism (58:52)
self-respect (59:50)
Housing Works (01:00:37)
HIV/AIDS (01:01:03)
affirming spaces (01:01:25)
solidarity (01:02:15)
Wards Island homeless shelter (01:03:15)
transitioning (01:03:22)
transphobia (01:04:15)
shelter staff (01:04:18)
transmisogyny (01:05:19)
sex (01:05:54)
class stereotypes (01:06:32)
housing insecurity (01:06:39)
trans women (01:07:16)
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Miss Cookie (01:08:45)
shelter employment program (01:09:21)
faggot (01:09:36)
incarceration (01:10:12)
nineties (01:10:52)
nostalgia (01:10:55)
activism (01:11:17)
City Hall (01:11:40)
2002 (01:11:43)
Transgender Civil Rights bill (01:11:46)
empowerment (01:12:15)
Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (SONDA) (01:12:30)
Charles King (01:13:44)
Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) (01:13:48)
Transgender Civil Rights bill (01:14:21)
legal protection (01:14:37)
McDonald’s (01:14:53)
bathroom (01:15:02)
transphobia (01:15:19)
misgendering (01:16:08)
outing (01:17:03)
spooked (01:17:25)
transphobia (01:17:35)
empowerment (01:18:14)
activism (01:18:51)
New York Transgender Advocacy Group (NYTAG) (01:19:12)
equity (01:20:10)
investment (01:20:47)
economic insecurity (01:21:15)
shame (01:22:35)
validation (01:22:36)
New York Transgender Advocacy Group (NYTAG) (01:22:39)
2014 (01:22:43)
mobilization (01:23:24)
trans-led organizations (01:23:29)
intersectionality (01:24:01)
structural inequality (01:24:16)
cooperatives (01:24:48)
economic empowerment (01:24:56)
skills (01:24:58)
investment (01:25:38)
murders (01:26:15)
coalitions (01:26:36)
interfaith (01:28:39)
Long Island University (01:29:25)
Asian (01:30:07)
political commitment (01:31:14)
fundraising (01:32:57)
public health (01:32:59)
Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program (01:33:02)
Center for Disease Control (01:33:04)
investment (01:33:28)
housing insecurity (01:33:47)
assault (01:34:18)
Monster bar (01:34:29)
direct action (01:34:37)
legislative advocacy (01:35:07)
AIDS Institute (01:35:20)
coalition-building (01:35:24)
trainings (01:35:35)
law enforcement (01:35:49)
structural inequality (01:35:57)
solidarity (01:36:46)
political commitment (01:37:00)
media (01:37:45)
transphobia (01:37:46)
rights (01:38:09)
activism (01:38:26)
challenges (01:39:01)
competition (01:39:19)
sisterhood (01:39:42)
healing (01:39:54)
trauma (01:39:57)
affirming spaces (01:40:45)
inclusivity (01:41:22)
businesses (01:41:49)
political progress (01:41:51)
education (01:42:22)
housing (01:42:25)
responsibility (01:42:52)
trans leadership (01:42:57)
outreach (01:43:35)
community networks (01:43:46)
identity (01:44:21)
intersectionality (01:45:25)
solidarity (01:46:16)
respect (01:46:22)
safe spaces (01:47:09)
self-care (01:47:48)
travel (01:47:53)
Heidelberg, Germany (01:47:56)
leadership (01:49:01)
expectations (01:49:27)
full humanity (01:51:07)
victimhood (01:51:17)
inclusivity (01:51:38)

Transcript

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Interview Data

Date of Interview
March 6, 2017
Location of Interview
Housing Works, Brooklyn Office
Place of birth
Beaumont, Texas
Birth Year
1975
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About This Collection

NYC Trans Oral History Project

NYPL's Community Oral History Project is teaming up with the NYC Trans Oral History Project to collect, preserve, and share oral histories from our city's transgender and gender non-conforming communities. 

We'll be training a community corps of interviewers to collect these largely undocumented oral histories in order to build a lasting and expansive archive on NYC transgender experiences.

About the NYC Trans Oral History Project:

We are a collective, community archive working to document transgender resistance and resilience in New York City. We work to confront the erasure of trans lives and to record diverse histories of gender as intersecting with race and racism, poverty, dis/ability, aging, housing migration, sexism, and the AIDS crisis. 

We are inspired by the public history activism of the ACT UP oral history project to build knowledge as a part of our anti-oppression work. We believe oral history is a powerful part of social justice work, and that building an alternative archive of transgender histories can transform our organizing for transgender liberation. 

You can listen to interviews, search interviews tags (like #genderfluidity #self-knowledge #gentrification and #queerfamily), and soon read transcripts. We hope the interviews and tags will preserve and proliferate new knowledges about trans and gender non-conforming experiences.

Content warning: Many of the interviews here include personal accounts of violence, sexual assault, abuse as children, or trauma.