“I’m actually surprised how much I like Charlotte — because I am a trans woman, and North Carolina has a bad history — a dubious history, obviously with the HB2 bill and the backlash. So many organizations and enterprises pulled out because [of] that very tragic hate bill that turned into a law. This year is the first year that it’s been sorted out, with cities and counties passing non-discrimination ordinances.”
Those are the sentiments of Jenny-Jaymes Gunn, former Vice President, Communications and LGBT Community liaison for the National Organization for Women (Charlotte Chapter). But that’s not all Jenny had to say about Charlotte, “People here are very progressive – for the south. I think because there are so many transplants, especially within the last few years. They are bringing new ideas. Charlotte is more of a melting pot city like San Francisco or San Antonio. It doesn’t mean the people prior were bad people, just different.”
And different is something Jenny knows something about. She’s originally from Amarillo, Texas, quite different from Charlotte. She’s also worked in many different capacities, including film screening for Reel Out Charlotte, a Charlotte Pride Film Festival and in many volunteer positions and advocacy roles. Today, however, she’s stepped into the role of willing interviewee. When asked what her livelihood looks like currently, she offers some details, “I do a lot of freelance and consultant work. I’m self-employed. Most of it is pretty boring. The volunteer stuff, those are my passions. But they don’t pay, so I do a lot of freelance work because it allows me to set my own hours.”
But what exactly is she consulting on?
“Currently I have a project going that involves a nonprofit and a for profit company that will provide training for the LGBT community in technology and life skills. It’s directed toward the under-30 LGBT crowd, who may not have gone to college and don’t have a specific skill set to fall back on. So, they would be learning things like computer coding, how to sit down and confidently answer interview questions, and how to navigate social settings in workspaces. We’re basically trying to create a formal mentorship program.”
Sounds wonderful, but the best part of all this for Jenny is being placed within a position to be able to help her community: fellow LGBTQ community members. However and as you might imagine, there’s more to Jaymes than work. She’s also an avid reader and Charlotte Pride book club member.
“I just finished reading Angela Davis’ ‘Freedom is a Constant Struggle’ for the book club. Actually, I didn’t read it. I listened to the audio book which was narrated by her. And because of that I think I got more out of it than people who read it because you hear her inflection and the intention behind her work and her words. She speaks in a very specific way, [and] she uses a lot of pregnant pauses in her language that the rest of the book club wasn’t able to benefit from.”
“After all the struggles she went through. Especially back in the day. All the fights, the imprisonment, and for her to come out on the backend and not be bitter, I don’t know how she does it. It’s powerful and speaks to her power.”
“[Davis’] fights are very connected, very intersectional. Sometimes, in progressive circles we get into our silos and we don’t see someone who is different [from us] as the same. [We neglect to] realize that the source of our struggle is typically the same – hate, which generally comes from the same groups. The same white supremist groups that we’ve always seen throughout our history.”
So, what challenges, Jenny?
“Ooooooh. A lot. Running into misogyny for the first time as a woman. I guess I knew it existed, but you really don’t know it exists until it’s aimed at you. The first time I ran into it was back in Texas, and I hadn’t been living as Jenny-Jaymes long.
“I was on a board for a local pride organization. I ran into a gay male, the Vice President who was mansplaining marketing and events to me; something that I’d been doing for 25 years, and he knew my resume. He was a 30-year-old white male that was literally talking down to me, because he saw me as a woman. So, it was an interesting conversation to say the least.”
Gunn confirms her life path has presented some challenges along the way, but insists she wouldn’t change a thing.
“Nothing,” she says confidently, “[But] sometimes it’s exhausting. Some days the misgendering or the smirks that I get when I say my pronouns in certain spaces, the microaggressions, can be exhausting. For the most part I ignore that stuff, but every once in a while, I get tired. Sometimes I just want to say, ‘It’s 2021. Get over it!’”
Despite some of the opposition she’s faced, Gunn is adamant no one should live their lives in regret.
“I think a lot of people beat themselves up for what they didn’t do in their lives,” Gunn explains, “A therapist once told me during the beginning of my transition, ‘You cannot unfuck your past,’ and that made me realize that we can grind about our past and coulda’, shoulda’, woulda’, but it fucks up our day and it hampers our tomorrows. So now I just look forward to sunrises.”