Le Bain

Transcending Boundaries: BTFA & the Future of Black Trans Femme Art

As we celebrate Trans Day of Visibility with the Black Trans Femmes in the Arts (BTFA) collective this Friday, March 31st at Le Bain, we explore BTFA's mission with its founder Jordyn Jay.

THE STANDARD: Your decision to create BTFA stemmed from a desire to celebrate trans joy, as opposed to narratives centered around violence and trauma. Can you explain the importance of focusing on positivity within the Black trans femme community?

JORDYN JAY: When I first started transitioning, I didn’t have a community or know any other Black trans femmes. The only representation I had was news headlines and statistics about violence against Black trans women. It was terrifying and disheartening. But, when I found community, I saw there was so much more possibility for us. It gave me hope and purpose. I want BTFA to give that joy and hope to Black trans femmes who may not have a community like New York's. It's important for them to see our work and realize their potential, especially now with the media and lawmakers spreading propaganda about the trans community.

You founded BTFA in 2019 after you graduated your masters degree in art politics at NYU, in response to the lack of acknowledgement of Black trans art. How do you think academic institutions can better recognize and support the contributions of marginalized artists, like Black trans femmes?

I think it starts with having honest conversations about how institutions have been deliberately structured to keep people out. Without acknowledging that truth, no lasting change can be made. Once that is addressed, academic institutions have to rethink what type of knowledge, experiences, art, and people they deem as valuable. There needs to be a shift from a white hegemonic understanding of education to a pedagogical approach that allows space for different stories and different cultural traditions to have value. Only then can Black trans people and their Art be truly understood and supported in that space.

The BTFA team
“So much of BTFA’s structure and ethos is based on how the mothers of the ballroom community have cared for the Black queer and trans community.” 

Can you share the experience of hosting your first meetup at NYU, and how that initial gathering laid the groundwork for the BTFA collective?

When studying at NYU, I was the only openly Black trans femme person I knew. I was studying Black trans history and art, and I asked myself, "what good is a Master's degree if I’m not sharing it with the community that matters to me?" So, I hosted the first meetup to learn from those working in the arts outside of the university and how I could support them.

I wanted my work to be rooted in the actual needs of the community. When I heard that our meetup was the first time a young trans woman felt safe enough to leave her house in months, and the first time an older trans woman ever experienced a space specifically for Black trans femmes in New York, I knew I had to keep going.

Was organizing a Fundraising Gala at the Brooklyn Museum last year an achievement in that direction?

I think that the Brooklyn Museum, particularly with their public programming, which is headed by BTFA Board Member Lauren Zelaya, has been very aware of their positioning as an art institution that is located within a majority Black community. They’ve consistently brought in local artists of various cultures and experiences to both share their own work and engage with the collection of work in the museum. The museum has made a concerted effort to break down the unspoken barrier between institutions and community, and that is why we chose that venue. 

Could you introduce us to some Black trans femmes who have been direct inspiration to you and BTFA?

Marsha P. Johnson is the mother of the trans liberation movement and has been an inspiration to all of us. Janet Mock and Laverne Cox are also inspirations, as they've been the most visible Black trans women and have paved the way for many of us. I'm inspired by the fem queens of the ballroom community, like Octavia St. Laurent, Sinia Alaia, Shanice Supreme Moncler, and Courtney Balenciaga, who've cared for the Black queer and trans community and created impactful art. Lastly, I'm inspired daily by the artists working at and with BTFA, who give me a reason to go on.
BTFA’s Gala at the Brooklyn Museum (photo by Maximo Extravaganza)
“We created a growing database of over 100 Black trans femme artists from around the world to connect those artists with opportunities.”

What are the keys to create an inclusive and supportive environment within BTFA for Black trans femme artists?

We ensure Black trans femmes are involved at every step whenever possible. BTFA is Black trans led, and we make an effort to hire as many Black trans people as we can. By having a Black trans team, we can think critically about how our organization impacts Black trans femmes, ensuring they have the best possible experience. We also discuss our own oversights and implicit biases, holding each other accountable.

How can we apply those same keys in a broader context?

To be more inclusive, people must assess how welcoming and safe their spaces are for Black trans femmes at every step, considering intersectionality and how classism, xenophobia, ableism, and other offshoots of white supremacy impact them. They must acknowledge existing damage and the disenfranchisement of Black trans people, and work to create equity within the art world.

Thanks to BTFA’s increased visibility, you secured funding for programs you initially thought would take years to implement. Can you discuss some of these programs and how they will benefit Black trans femme artists?

We produce new works by Black trans femme artists, providing funding and technical support. We host an artist in residence program, curate public exhibitions, and organize workshops, community gatherings, and art visits. Additionally, we created a growing database of over 100 Black trans femme artists from around the world to connect them with opportunities.

BTFA’s Gala at the Brooklyn Museum (photo by Maximo Extravaganza)
“I hope that we reach a point where Black trans femme art is no longer limited by being representative of the identities of the artists and can be engaged with, enjoyed and critiqued in more meaningful ways.” 

As you look toward the future, what are your aspirations for BTFA and the family of Black trans femmes in the arts?

I hope BTFA can spread nationally and internationally, providing a space for all Black trans femmes to create without limitations. I want us to invest in every step of an artist's journey, including education, housing, and healthcare. I hope we continue to humanize Black trans femmes, work with Black trans youth, provide educational resources, and stay connected to political movements for Black trans liberation. I also hope Black trans femme art can be engaged with and critiqued in more meaningful ways.

What keeps you positive and optimistic? 

Seeing the growth of artists within BTFA and those who are inspired to identify themselves as artists because BTFA now exists to support them makes me feel very optimistic about the future of Black trans femme art. I hope that people continue to support our mission and journey.

What can we expect on Friday at Le Bain for the Trans Day of Visibility sunset celebration?

You can expect to see Black trans joy and Black trans visibility in action. This night is a celebration of BTFA and the way we are shifting art and culture in New York City and the world by creating avenues for Black trans femmes to be seen, heard, and humanized. We hope that our supporters and allies will come celebrate that with us and donate to allow us to continue that work.
Join us Friday, March 31st at Le Bain to celebrate Trans Day of Visibility with BTFA. Hosted by Mariyea, Cherry Jaymes, Miss Kam, Mermaid Garçon, Brazier Ray and Julie J. Featuring DJ Crystalqueer. From 7pm to 10pm at Le Bain, 444 W 13th street.

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