Zoey Black is a transgender woman of colour living in Cape Town. She is trans rights activist, actress, freelance writer and digital content creator. She is employed with Gender Dynamix, a non-profit organisation with a focus on championing human rights for trans and gender diverse persons and communities in Southern Africa. Zoey is the organisation’s Legal and Education Advocacy Officer and leads the legal, policy and educational reform initiatives and projects. In her personal capacity, Zoey publicly advocates for trans rights and visibility, and broadens the scope of trans representation and narratives through her social media and online platforms, including her recently launched Youtube channel. Her channel acts as a resource in providing accessible information on trans specific issues, including accessing hormone replacement therapy, and changing one’s name and gender marker at the Department of Home Affairs. Working in tandem with her YouTube channel, Zoey runs a blog, which focuses on sharing her personal experiences and narrative as a transgender woman, including issues around discrimination and violence, mental health and wellness, and acceptance and tolerance. In addition, Zoey is studying toward a Bachelor of Laws, with intensions to enhance her capacity to further assist vulnerable persons and communities in accessing their rights, as well as contributing to the development of policy and legislation which will enhance, promote and protect the rights of marginalised members of society.
How are you doing in the midst of the pandemic?
To be honest, I’ve been really well. Lockdown has been quite taxing and difficult in a number of ways, but it seemed to push me in ways didn’t quite expect. And I’m happy for the little victories.
For those who don’t know you, professionally speaking, how do you choose to describe yourself?
I’ve had so much time to practice this, so here the short of it: My name is Zoey Black. I’m a transgender woman living in Cape Town. I’m a human rights activist at Gender Dynamix, a non-profit organisation with a focus on championing human rights for trans and gender diverse persons in Southern Africa. I am the Legal and Education Advocacy Officer and lead the legal, policy and educational reform initiatives of the organisation. I’m also a content creator on YouTube. My channel serve to document my experiences and thoughts on issues pertaining to the LGBTQIA+ community, specifically around the experiences of transgender and gender diverse people. As well as exploring social and lifestyle interests.
During lockdown, you launched your Youtube channel which aims to address and explore social and lifestyle issues pertaining to the LGBTQIA+ community, specifically around the experiences of transgender and gender diverse people. What was the catalyst that made you decide to explore Youtube as a medium in which to share this content? Were there any learning curves?
For me, coming out was difficult. It was very isolating. There was little to no visible trans representation in South African media, and so that meant that I couldn’t see any of my experiences or relate to any narratives that were similar to mine. And we know that representation is so so crucial, especially in media. Just talking broadly about visibility of women in television, film, fashion, influencers… trans women are invisiblised and not represented at all. And if there is some sort of recognition, it’s usually a hyper feminised or distorted image of us. And so I had made a deliberate decision to be transparent and visible about my transition and my life in order to make experiences like mine more accessible to people like me. I decided to start a blog and then, as that grew, started a YouTube channel. I love film so much. And many of my friends had encouraged me to start a channel. And for most the part, I was so scared to fail. But I made the jump during lockdown, and I’m so glad I did. The learning curve of moving from a blog to film was huge. You are pretty much responsible for the entire production process — script, principal photography, editing, sound design. It’s a lot. But it’s exciting!
What has been your biggest take away from sharing this content on Youtube?
I think I’ve been learning a lot over this last year. And something that has become really clear to me was the fact so many of us, myself included, are so scared to start things or make a change because we’re so afraid of what other people are gong to say about us. We’re afraid of what other people are going to say about us if (or when) we fail. We’ve learned to place other people’s options of us over our own sense of value. And that theme that has been running through much of my content in subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) ways. So, if anything, I’ve learned how to place my own sense of value first and not care too much [about] what other people think of me.
How do you ensure that you continue to create content that is true to you and your voice without compromising?
I guess this also ties into the previous question and where I place my value. For much of it, I really do my homework around what content and style would be better received by my audience. But at the same time, I’m not placing their value above my own. And because the content is largely rooted in my life and experience, it’s consistently works out better when I’m telling stories that I want to tell and producing content that I would want to watch. So tried and true that authentic content always wins.
You recently debuted your Behind The Cut Filmmaking Masterclass. What was the creation process like of structuring a Masterclass?
I have experience in conceptualising and running workshops from my work in the theatre industry, so that came in handy when designing the Masterclass. I usually try and structure workshops like these from a human-centric perspective, where I try to consider the experience of the participant ahead of what agenda or “teaching.” So the workshop integrates theory around basic principles of photography with practical application and execution of content creation for YouTube. And lots of questions were answered. It was a really great experience and the participants seemed to love it. So I just really need to thank Nadine Cloete and the team for inviting me to the platform.
What is one lesson you wish you had known prior to beginning your content creating journey?
I wish I’d known how much work it was going to be. Not that it would’ve changed my mind about starting a channel, but that I would be better prepared for the long hours. I’m up sometimes until 4am trying to get the right edit for a specific video (because I really do agonise over the details); and I didn’t quite expect that when I first started. But committing to posting at least once a week gets a little hectic when you are also working a full time job. That said, I absolutely love those long hours editing. And then that joy of watching the final cut!
What do you hope people take away from the Masterclass?
Honestly, the theoretical knowledge a person can get online, the practical skill you can get from just doing. So in giving the Masterclass, the one thing I wanted to give participants was the confidence to believe in their own ability. And that sometimes means having hard, honest conversations about why you want to make films. But then simultaneously integrating that very theory and practice into building that confidence in the lesson. I hope, at the very least, people leave the class with sense of purpose and confidence in their ability to start something.
It’s also important to mention that you are currently in the process of obtaining a Law Degree, all while balancing your career, advocacy work and content creation. How is that going?
It’s going! Slowly, but there is movement. I’m studying through UNISA and taking things at a manageable pace. This is really a 10-year plan, so patients and consistency here is really going to be crucial. But we’ll get there. Eventually.
How has your advocacy work been affected by the pandemic? What can be done to support those causes during this time?
For many trans and gender diverse persons, things have been incredibly hard. Under “normal” conditions, trans persons are almost always relegated to the margins of the society, and often struggle to access basic services such a shelter, healthcare, education and employment. The pandemic has really exaggerated that situation. So it’s been a really critical time for us to double down on our efforts, particularly those involving community support, access to healthcare and legal gender recognition. For advocacy, I always say that the best thing anyone can do is to ask questions. Ask questions about yourself, about your prejudices, about why you value some of the things you do. Ask questions about things that you might not be familiar with, or about experiences that are different from you own. Learn and unlearn. This is usually cascades into driving tangible, practical change for the better.
What social media account or online platform should we all be following right now?
Special thanks to Zoey Black.