One night last summer, 21-year-old Kiki Fantroy was killed after shots rang out in Goulds. At that point, Fantroy was at least the 15th black trans woman murdered in 2019 — a number that by year's end would nearly double.
The epidemic of violence against trans people — specifically black trans women — has continued to worsen with each passing year of the past decade. This presents a troubling paradox: During the same period, trans people have become increasingly visible in mainstream media — from Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox to the dozens of young trans actors, musicians, and creatives who have emerged to make their mark on popular culture — while activists have worked to secure the protection of trans rights in the Supreme Court and beyond. Yet, at the same time, more trans people have faced violence and death from Mississippi to Miami.
Fantroy’s murder marked the moment when artist, advocate, author, and motivational speaker Octavia Yearwood sprang into action.
“It happened in our back yard, in the city that I love, in the city that I praise without pause,” Yearwood tells New Times. “I was just like, Nah, I need to figure out what I can do for real for real.”
Yearwood's aim — to “create something that is going to show the motion and the movement of trans people of color” — led to the birth of The Tranz Form, a docuseries that follows trans people in Miami and portrays its subjects as humans first, with the same emotions, issues, triumphs, and struggles we all face in our own lives.
“I wanted to create something that was going to inform folks and let people have some type of understanding and then grow compassion — see themselves in these people and then have empathy — and hopefully at the end of it, save a life," Yearwood says. "That was one of my goals with creating this show: to save a life, honestly.”
Yearwood reached out to director and executive producer Carrie Choe to help bring the project to life.
“We're only going to come together as a community — cis and trans — if we understand each other, and I think trans folks just have not had the platform just to be themselves: regular people showing and giving their perspective, which is so different and so unique,” Choe says of the project. “I was very cognizant of just capturing their truth. And the girls were just so open and willing to be so transparent and vulnerable that it just really gave me the freedom to ask anything.”
The Tranz Form chronicles the daily lives of Brielle Roundtree, Elle Williams, and Xaria James, three local transfeminine people, each with their own views of the world around them and the genders they identify with.
“Initially, I was very excited just because it was created by black queer women and it centered the lives of black trans women, because of the murders that had been taking place,” says Roundtree, an activist and speaker who founded the Bridging the Gap book club, which focuses on queer and trans youth of color. “That was why I was excited to be a part of it: It’s by us, for us.”
Because black women were both behind and in front of the camera, The Tranz Form’s storytelling is an honest look into its subjects’ lives that doesn’t sensationalize their identities or their individual experiences.
"We wanted to make sure that it wasn't trauma porn, and that it wasn't us gathering all the mishaps and all the problems in their lives and making that into a show,” Yearwood explains. “We wanted to highlight their strengths. We wanted to make people see who they are. We wanted to make sure that we focus in on their greatness. And if you watch them in the episodes, you’ll see that the complexities in their lives naturally come up."
By contrast, when transgender people are featured in TV shows and movies, they’re often relegated to portraying "undesirable" characters or victims of violence. Nonscripted shows, like those hosted by Jerry Springer and Maury Povich, have made punch lines out of trans people (and specifically black trans women) for decades, usually relying on the problematic "trap" trope for laughs. The advent of pioneering shows like the Netflix drama Pose ushered in a new era in which trans people are portrayed as just that: people.
Still, The Tranz Form offers something Pose and its ilk don’t: a real-life look into the lives of real-life trans people, as opposed to actors and creatives who’ve achieved celebrity status.
“That trans person who is not a creative or an influencer or a Laverne or a Caitlyn — how are they going to find themselves or be able to find community or somebody to identify with, without those people being elevated and their voices being able to be heard?” Yearwood asks. “We want people to be inspired by the powerful trans folks who are in their communities every day, who could be their cousin, who could be their aunt.”
Yearwood hopes The Tranz Form’s appeal will reach far enough to catch the attention of networks who “see the value in telling these stories and help us to push it forward” by supporting the show through multiple seasons. Because the more people who are unfamiliar with the trans experience are able to see genuinely trans people, the more likely they’ll be inclined to understand them — and, ideally, embrace them fully and give them the same chances that are afforded their cis counterparts.
“I would love for people to see Brielle and Xaria and Elle’s greatness and bring opportunities to these women that you see on this on the show,” Yearwood adds. “Think about how you can help them.”
In the end, what lies at the heart of The Tranz Form is humanity. That's the common denominator everyone involved with the project hopes will connect with viewers and help them to learn.
“Trans issues are just human issues, and we all have the same problems and the same obstacles that we have to face,” Brielle says. “I spoke a lot about just loving yourself as-is — loving your core being, who you are, those things that makes you different, those things that make you stand out, those things that shine your light, and embracing who you are authentically — whatever that means for you.”
Episodes of The Tranz Form are available now on YouTube.