MONEY & ME
Episode #10: Dani St James
Not a Phase: financial, educational and emotional support for the trans community
In this episode, Caroline talks to Dani St James, about the huge financial and emotional costs trans people experience getting access to jobs, medical care, and psychological support. And how her Not a Phase charity plans to help.
Hi everybody, my guest today is the wonderful Dani St James. Dani is a model, influencer and the co-founder of Not A Phase, an organisation she set up with her best friend to benefit the lives of trans adults across the UK. Through workplace support, community projects and resource distribution, Not A Phase champions the development of independence for the wider community and supports businesses in the diversification of their workforces.
So Dani, welcome to the Money and Me podcast. I’m thrilled to have you on here. How you doing today?
I’m good. Yeah, I’m good! Fresh, bright morning, actually sunny for a change. So yes, feeling good.
Makes a difference, doesn’t it? So let me know if I’ve got this right. You’re currently studying for a degree, modelling, starting a business, and building a charity. So you’ve kind of decided to take it really easy in 2020!
Yeah. And working as well. So yeah, yeah, just chilled, really not doing that much!
So what is your degree? Let’s go through them kind of one by one. What’s your degree? What are you studying?
Yeah, degree equivalent. So it’s, it’s like a really high level of HR training.
And is it enjoyable?
I absolutely detest it. It’s one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in my adult life.
Yeah, I signed up for the study of it at the beginning of lockdown, thinking ‘Oh, god, I’m gonna walk out of this on top, I’m going to be at the top of my game’. And it’s separated into nine modules. And I just bury my head in the sand for the entire of the module and then spend about three days at the end of each cramming and writing an assignment. And on the first one, I did six weeks worth of work on one day, and don’t know how I did it, but came out with the highest mark that I possibly could for that module. So I was like, ‘Okay, this means that this is what I can do the whole way through’. Didn’t turn out to be correct. And the second one I submitted, and I knew that I failed, because I submitted it with half of the information missing. But it came down to that one day where I thought I could do it all. And I just oh my god, I don’t know even what I’m looking at. Nevermind writing. So I submitted that, that got returned to me about a week and a half ago, with a fail and the feedback of like, basically nothing is done, I don’t know how you’ve managed this. And then they gave me two weeks to resubmit it. And I’ve now got three days, have I even looked at it? Absolutely not. But today is the day where I get it done!
If you look at it in one way, you’ve gone from giving yourself just 24 hours to a few days.
I’ve upped the ante, I’ve got three days to do it now.
Let’s go on to something that you actually do like. Let’t move on to something that you’re really into, tell me about Not a Phase, your charity, where did it start?
So it actually started with my best friend, my best friend Jacqui, we’ve been friends since we were teenagers. Right at the beginning of the year, there was documents leaked and talk in the government that there were plans to restrict under 18s from gaining health care when it was related to being trans and gender variant issues, as well as what was branded as the protection of single sex spaces, which is basically they wanted us to go into the bathrooms and changing rooms and anywhere else that’s divided by sex, based on birth sex, not gender identity. So it was quite a scary time really. And there were a number of other global events going on, such as the amount of trans people of colour being murdered in the States and the rollback of trans rights in Eastern Europe. There’s lots of really scary things going on for our community both nationally and internationally.
And my best friend Jacqui, she wanted to raise a bit of money for a trans charity. As it stands there’s only, well there was only one trans charity in the UK, which is Mermaids. They do great work for trans youth and their families, help support them with mental health resources, with therapy, and all that sort of stuff. And so Jacqui a bit of a dab hand with Photoshop. So she designed this logo that just said ‘Not a phase, support trans youth’ and started selling t shirts via this third party t shirt printer. That’s basically they print orders, and the T shirts were taking about a month to get to people, and off of each t shirt she was getting about £4.50 to donate to the charity when the t shirts were selling for like £16. So that was going really well for her and I was helping her kind of push it with my- I’ve got quite a big online platform, I was helping her push them, and it was going relatively well, I think she sold about 400 of them in the end and raised a few grand for Mermaids, sent it over. But the reason that she sent it over is because as things got worse and worse, as the months rolled on, I started getting as scared as Jacqui was. As scared as Jacqui was to put that pen to paper, I started getting as scared as Jacqui. And then I started saying to her, like, there’s got to be more that we can do with this, there has to be more. And so that was kind of where Not a Phase as an organisation started coming into play. And very quickly things started happening. And we realised that there are no charities in the UK that specifically support trans adults. There are great organisations like Stonewall, THT, the Albert Kennedy Trust that do support trans adults, but not specifically. And there are also no trans-owned organisations for trans people in the UK, Mermaids is not trans-owned.
This is extraordinary to me.
Yeah. And then, so a good friend of mine is on the board for Stonewall, and he also owns this amazing law project called the interlaw diversity project. And it’s a network of 700 law firms across the UK that collectively fight for LGBT law. I started talking to him and I was like, we’re gonna set up a nonprofit organisation with Not a Phase, we started having all of these different ideas of what this could be, what can we do? And that was when we kind of took advice from people that are already in it. And he basically said to us, there’s a huge hole in the charity sector for trans people. He said, there isn’t one. And it’s mad that there isn’t one. He said, so we can help you. Let’s do it. So that was kind of where it all began.
And it was also around the time that we started getting heavily involved with the organisation, with the protest for our rights, trans pride, and all of these big movements that did happen during lockdown. And as lockdown started fizzling out, the first one anyway. So we were out in the streets fighting. At the same time, we set up Not a Phase, at the time, as a limited company, I invested my savings into getting a huge stockpile of of t shirts. And we start, I started calling upon my kind of network within the fashion industry, started getting queer designers to collaborate and make new t shirt designs. And just make it interesting, Jacqui’s pumping out content that’s actually nice to look at and it’s not the same black and white, boring stuff that other charities do put out. We wanted to make it really dynamic and interesting. Jacqui and I are both of the social media generation. And because of that we’re doing things in a completely new way. And so now here we are nine months on where we’ve got full, global legal team, we have people in the States, in Asia, in the UK. We’re developing the charity, we’re going through the registration process at the moment. We’ve got amazing projects planned, lockdown and COVID put a bloody big stop in front of a lot of the things that we’re doing. But it’s really becoming something.
That’s amazing to have done all of that in nine months in a pandemic. Do you think the urgency of it is what fueled it for you?
It was a baptism of fire as an organisation. And it was born out of fear and pain. Honestly, it really was. There were days in those early weeks, where Jacqui and I would FaceTime each other first thing in the morning. And we would just sit and cry with each other on FaceTime. And we would cry about how helpless we felt. And how we felt like there was no, there was nobody doing anything. There were a lot of quote unquote activists online saying they were but it was just a lot of talk. And we just felt really helpless. We’re in touch with so many trans people across the UK, and hearing people just scared, really scared that they would have to- the idea that I’d be marched off into a men’s bathroom is wild. And you know, there has since been announcement from ledge trust who’s the equalities minister, I say that with a gap, equalities minister that have kind of alleviated some of the stress. But a lot of this is fueled, the single sex spaces act is still got fuel on the fire from trans exclusionary radical feminists, or the TERFs as we’ve named them, that’s still got a lot of fuel on the fire, it’s still in talks with the government. So the fight isn’t over and and we are also as an organisation and as individuals very aware that the issues that we currently fight really are the tip of the iceberg, where we’re at the the turning point and the beginning of a movement that’s gonna be a long, long, long time. And there’s so many different facets to this as to how we’re trying to help people become equal.
Yeah, and you’re a big advocate of reforming the gender recognition act aren’t you? Can you explain to listeners who aren’t familiar with it, so it’s all about trans people having the right to self identify, and not having to go through horrible, bureaucratic and intrusive and costly processes, just to be recognised.
The waiting list alone to be seen by a gender specialist, because of underfunding, and more people across the UK now feeling comfortable enough to identify as trans, and the waiting lists are up to five years in some counties, to just to see somebody the initial appointment. Now, within that initial appointment, it completely varies, what sort of service you’re going to get between the time of the initial appointment, and hormones even can be a year, two years, and then getting the gender recognition certificate. Firstly, you have to pay for it, the government makes you pay for it. So there are costs involved. And that can be further down the line also. So you’re potentially asking people just to be able to be themselves to wait five, seven years, to a young person, say an 18 year old or even younger. Imagine how seven years sounds to somebody of that age, the difference to them of being 11 to 18. It’s a long time. It’s just unbearable. It really, really is. So we’ve asked for the ability to self identify, we’ve asked for the gender recognition act to be reformed to make it easier for trans people to just get through the process there. As I say, there are so many other facets involved within this fight. But flatly we’ve been told no. So the fight continues.
That’s heartbreaking. Because you know, you and I’ve talked about this before, all you’re asking is to be able to get to the starting line.
Yeah, it’s the starting line.
It’s not asking for more. It’s just can you get to the starting line to be able to live your life in the way you want to?
Yeah, exactly. And so young trans people these days, there are private clinics that are opening up that specialise in gender care, that can help you with hormones really quickly, actually. Not too quickly. That’s the fear of the TERFs is that you walk in and they hand you a bag of oestrogen and off you skip out the door with a lovely set of breasts on day one. But there are privatised places that help you now. However, the fight is also with those too. Privatised places are now seeing waiting lists develop because of the government waiting list. Private places see a waiting list now of at least 18 months, which is not as bad, but still is a long time to wait for a doctor.
And I think one of the other things that doesn’t get talked about at all, is the cost of transition. Not just the you know, the mental cost, but also the actual financial costs.
Yeah, right financially it’s massive, massive costs. If you take somebody who goes to one of those privatised services too because they pay for the appointments, which I believe, don’t quote me, I believe are about £300 an appointment. You pay for your prescriptions, it’s surgeries, name change documents. There are loads of other costs, and it varies person by person, everybody’s different, because there are also trans people that don’t have surgery. There are people that are non medical, everybody’s journey is different. From a trans female experience, it’s laser hair removal, it’s various body enhancing and adjusting surgeries, gender reassignment, facial feminization surgery. Sometimes some people opt for vocal surgery. There are also therapies costs, there’s so many costs to transition. I mean, I’m not far off thirty now and the only thing I have to show for the last 10–15 years of work is my transition.
It’s estimated that being trans affects one in, I believe it’s one in 10,000 people in the UK. One in 10,000 identifies as trans, which means we make up between 0.2 and 0.7% of the UK population. On the grand scheme of things, we are one of the smallest, the smallest minorities in the UK, tiny, tiny community. Within that community, it’s estimated that one in 200 has openly said that they have experienced feelings of wanting to de-transition. So in a 0.2 to 0.7% of the company, 0.5% of that 0.2 to 0.7 have discussed de-transitioning or have medically de-transitioned. It’s the most miniscule number that would lead people to think that it could be a phase. I’m not saying that there are people in this world that haven’t had external influences, and may have made choices that weren’t for them, or that they’ve gone through parts of their life, where they’ve identified as things that weren’t, weren’t who they were. However, what I’m saying is, when you look at the numbers, there’s not nearly enough to make people think that generally it could be a phase for all of us.
Completely, and that’s even without taking into account would the numbers be different if you were welcomed? And not marginalised?
Yeah, exactly. Yeah. How many people are living out there that are too scared to go to the doctor about it, that are too scared to live authentically?
Now, tell me a bit then about what your plans are with Not a Phase? What are the plans for the charity in terms of what you hope to offer the trans community? I think you’ve talked before about educational support, financial support, what are you hoping that this will do?
Part of what we do and we are already doing is working with organisations to change their HR practice, their policies, the language that they use within their business that will make them more trans inclusive. We’ve just taken on a project with Omnicom, which is the second biggest media company in the world. They represent McDonald’s Sainsbury’s, the NSPCC, huge, huge organisations, Omnicom represent them and market them. They did an independent survey, they’ve got 5000 Global employees, they did an independent survey, and worked out that no one in their company was openly identifying as trans and they knew that they could be better. So they came to us. And we’re now working with them. We’re in the very early stages of developing a young trans persons apprenticeship scheme to help them get into all areas of their business, HR, finance, design, marketing, all of these different things within their five different companies that sits under Omnicom. We’re working with them to help young trans people get into media work. Alongside that, that’s just one of the projects that we’re doing, we’re working with a number of businesses to help them get more trans people into their workforce, because we are intelligent and capable people in the same way that anybody else is. However, we’re not given the same opportunities.
Dani it’s bonkers that you should even have to say that, of course!
Yeah, we’re, so we’re doing that. That’s one part of what we’re doing is working with the companies. With those companies then financially helping us, we have been helping others. So we are looking at ways to develop key skills workshops to help people gain those skills to get them into various places, whether that be fashion design and sewing workshops, or the beauty industry, and then also things like CV writing things that you don’t learn. CV writing, job interview preparation, we’re really, really workplace focused. Alongside that with the money that we generate. We’re looking into how we can help trans owned businesses and organisations around the UK, generate money to give them resources, and help develop their businesses. The main part of what Not a Phase does is enable trans people into self sufficiency. We’re so dependent as a community on others, and we really want to help people gain independence.
And then also we want to bring the community back together a little bit. Their used to be this thing that happened in London monthly, it was years ago and it was a monthly meeting place for trans and gender variant people to come together and just meet each other and say hello and have a nice time. Our community is kind of pushed into the night, where the only time we really meet each other is in nightclubs and bars. I’m sober, I’m in recovery and I know that without going out and getting drunk, it probably wouldn’t have been possible for me to meet all of my trans friends, because that’s where you meet. So we’re looking at bringing the community together with safe spaces for people to get together and, and meet up and just share experiences and have speakers and have experience together that is away from the nightlife side of it as well. I’m not saying that nightlife isn’t fab, I was in it for years. But yeah, we’re doing community stuff too. Alongside just general outreach and education to a wider audience. We want to make things really approachable and friendly and not demonise people for not knowing all of this. We want to help people to understand what’s going on.
Everything that you’re doing, and I have to say, your background and your HR and your like operations, doing-mode really comes across because you’re like, let’s build stuff for people, let’s make stuff for people, so that whatever the gaps are in their lives, let’s fill them. And one of the things that you and I talked about before, which I have to say to my shame I hadn’t thought through, was just how hard trans people find it to get jobs.
Absolutely. Honestly, it’s ludicrously hard. So it’s a real vicious cycle for young trans people. I speak often from my lived experience as a trans woman, so I pulled from that a lot. However, it’s just as hard for other gender variant people and trans men also. But say, for a trans woman, even to walk in and get a job in a supermarket, if she’s very early on in her transition- not even very early on, if she doesn’t pass to a standard that was set for cis people, then she’s often not even looked at as a viable candidate for a job. Because she doesn’t look a certain way or sound a certain way, she’s overlooked and bypassed for a job.
So what happens is, we see these astronomical figures of trans people resorting to sex work. I’m very pro sex work, I’ve got amazing sex worker friends, however, the numbers do not show that it’s a choice for everybody. It’s what is available. The cost of a transition is enormous, and for you to look a standard that is acceptable for you to go and work in McDonald’s and not be laughed at every day, it costs so much money. So young trans people are resorting to sex work, porn cam work, Only Fans, these sort of measures because it’s quick, easy money. And it kind of plays into the massive fetishization of trans people also, which also leads to a wider public image that we are sexual deviance. There’s an image that is cast upon us that we’re sexual deviance, but nobody has compassion as to why sex work is such a prevalent industry within the trans community. And it comes from being marginalised and not being given the same opportunities. As a community, we don’t go into higher education as often. Because as a 16 to 18 year old, what are you going to choose? Being able to live authentically, but that costs money. So you go into the world of work, or go and spend five years in university to get a degree that probably won’t get you a job anywhere?
Look at the graduate to workplace ratio now in their chosen field, and look at the statistics on that with cis people alone, and then throw into the fact that somebody hasn’t been able to transition properly yet. So then they are going to get lost out anyway.
If you just look at it purely financially, you’re absolutely right. None of it adds up. Five year waiting lists just to see a doctor, as you said, NHS. Are you going to spend those five years spending your money going to uni? Or are you going to spend those five years trying to get whatever work that you can get in order to pay for the costs of the hopeful transition?
Yeah, the odds truly are stacked against us from day one. So the notion that we hear that it’s a choice and a phase is so bizarre, because who would choose this? You know, like who would choose that option in their lives? This is a fight to live authentically. And so as an organisation if we can help companies change their opinion and help trans people have the skills and the confidence to go in there, then even if we only are able to help a small number of people, then we’ve won. I’ve worked in recruitment, I’ve worked in a big reputable firm in the city, in London. And I’ve seen the way that people are judged. I’ve seen it from behind the scenes, I’ve seen sizeism, ageism, ableism, transphobia, homophobia, any type of Islamophobia. I’ve seen it all from behind the scenes, and I’ve heard the conversations of why people are not going to get the job. And a lot of the time, it’s not based on their skill. It’s the way they look, the way they sound, their culture, where they’re from. And it’s real, and that’s as recent as last year into this year. This is a real problem. And so if companies now go like, you know what, we need to do more than we are at the beginning stages.
But how have you found it? It sounds like you’ve got support from some big name companies who are vocally saying, we realise we’re not doing well enough, we want to change. How have you found the process of finding support, finding partners?
I always- me and Jacqui always say “it’s me and my mate Jacqui! Trying to change the world”. And yeah, you’re right. It takes a village. And the second week that we were live, Victoria Beckham did a fundraiser for us on her Instagram. Oh my god, I was dancing around in the garden. I’m the biggest Spice Girls fan. And I had Victoria Beckham two weeks in, it was amazing. And then we’ve had- we’re in a content partnership with Missguided. Missguided have been huge for us, and have pushed us out. They’ve given us resources, they’ve been amazing. And so yeah, it does, it takes a village. And luckily, our village is quite big, quite fab, and quite gay, which is wonderful.
You’ve said to me before that you think this is probably your life’s work. But did you- you didn’t set out to be an activist, did you? But it just sort of happened?
Yeah, it has. Yeah, to be honest, I kind of shun away when people ask me about activism, I shun away the title mainly because of its over usage in 2020.
I get it.
I think of myself and Jacqui more as doers than activists, because activism can be as little as tweeting these days. So I didn’t set out to work in the third sector, I didn’t choose- I never thought I would choose a job that wouldn’t make me rich. But it’s fantastic. And I do think that this will be one of the biggest accomplishments of mine and Jacqui’s life. I didn’t set out to for things to be this way. But I feel like Jacqui and I are- have a good lived experience and a good mindset to be the people that kind of lead the way with this organisation. But it will come through being a big melting pot of loads of other voices as well. We don’t profess to be to be all knowing and to know the experience of the whole of our community. I can’t tell you what it’s like to be non binary, I can’t tell you what it’s like to be a trans man. I can’t tell you what it’s like to be a trans woman of colour. These are all things that I don’t know. But I know through luckily having an incredible support system that share their experience with us and to the wider audience. We’re very, very lucky that people have been so giving of their time and their resources and their experiences and their stories.
How is it impacting you personally? We talk a lot in this podcast, everything is about the sort of the choices that we make. And choice is always an interesting word because it’s always choices within the constraints of the situations that we’re in. You have made choices here which are: “I’m willing to be the face of this because I believe it’s so important. Jackie and I are willing to give up all of this time and effort and our personal money to put into it”. I guess there’s risks involved. It’s a huge commitment.
Yeah, it’s a massive commitment. And it hasn’t been easy the whole way through, it really hasn’t been easy. And like I say, we’re at the foot of a mountain because all of the projects that we’re beginning are on pause. We’ve got so many things that we’re waiting to do. So, right now, everything that we’ve done is all like planning almost, you know, we’re waiting for our registration number, we’re waiting to be able to reach out and do things, we’re waiting to be able to help people properly. And Jacqui also does all of our design work and Jacqui does a lot more of the personal connections with the trans community work than I do, she has those conversations. I do all the business conversations. Jacqui has the quite often exhausting conversations with the community where it’s just listening and absorbing other people’s trauma. It takes a lot of energy. Thankfully, my boyfriend also he runs all of our logistics stuff for our merchandise sending out and he talks to a lot of people too. So it’s not just the two of us. It’s also he helps too. But it hasn’t been easy. Jacqui and I have been friends since we were 14, and up until this started we’ve probably had two arguments in the last 14 years, for 14/15 years. We’ve argued more in the last nine months than we ever have. We’ve had proper shouty arguments. And ‘I’m done with you arguments’, we really have, it’s really put us to our test.
I remember when we left one of the protests, feeling really overwhelmed. And I went home and it was strange, I had this massively visceral reaction to everything. My boyfriend, Alex, he had to go to work, so I went home on my own after one of the protests, and it was a really emotional protest. And I stood in my kitchen, and I was starving hungry. So I was like getting- and all of a sudden, I just felt myself start crying. But it wasn’t like, it wasn’t like a conscious cry. I wasn’t specifically thinking about, I ended up crying for three hours. I just did not stop crying, it was so overwhelming, because I’d just stood on a platform in front of 1000+ people and spoken to them and and tried to put a bit of hope into these people. It was so overwhelming. And that’s something that we go through quite a lot, is this overwhelming emotional side. Not to mention how much it’s detracted from my professional life, from my personal time with my boyfriend with my friends, and, and all of that it’s a huge undertaking.
Yeah. And are you really proud of yourselves? Are you proud of what you and Jacqui have done?
Yeah, I’m really proud of me and Jacqui, I really am, I’m really proud of what we’ve done, what we’re gonna do, what we’re doing, I don’t often kind of sit in the glory of anything that I do. Whether it’s like modelling campaigns or anything, I kind of, I put it out there and I try not to focus too much on the reaction, I try to just keep it going and moving on.
What shines out from this whole conversation is just how much of a mission this is. Just how vital it is. And, you know, the other thing that kind of struck me with you is that you feel, it seems to me and tell me if I’ve got this wrong, but it’s like you feel that you’ve been able to carve out some space for yourself, and now you want to carve out a bigger space to be able to invite more people in.
Absolutely. I’ve been able to work and be successful in my career, I’ve been able to find happiness. I wish that everybody could experience happiness. And so I do want to make a difference. I want to make a difference to the community that I love so much. The work that I do is a love letter to my community because I just adore, I adore my community, not just the trans community but the LGBT community as a whole. I think that we enrich the world.
Yeah, joyous is the word that I would use to describe your community. Dani it has been so good talking to you. Thank you so much for sharing all of that. Is there anything that you would like our listeners to do to help Not a Phase, is there anything they can do right now?
We sell some fab stuff on our website. We’re currently we’re waiting on our donation situation to be loaded once we’re registered fully, which will be within the next month and a half. But if you’d like to support you can buy one of our T shirts, or beanie hats, or our face masks. We’ve got fab face masks too! And hopefully by wearing it or using it, you can have the conversations with your friends and your family about what you’ve heard.
Support Not a Phase: Www.Notaphase.org
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