Category: Learn Something New

Lady Boss + Personal Finance: Part Three

In the final installment of our Lady Boss + Personal Finance series, we’re going to discuss saving for the future and that big elephant in the room: retirement. The days of pension plans and financial security after retirement are long gone. Today, no one holds your hand and walks you through the process. But the idea of saving for decades in the future may intimidate you to the point of paralysis: where do you start? Fortunately, financial advisor Galia Gichon breaks down the basics so you can start saving well before 70.

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Image courtesy of Lifehacker

How Much Do I Need?

While everyone needs to save for retirement, the target number varies for everyone. To pinpoint your target, grab a Post-It note and jot down the following information:

  • your age
  • the amount of money you’ve saved for retirement to date
  • your current annual salary
  • the amount of money you are currently saving each month
  • your investment style–are you conservative, moderate, or aggressive?
  • the year you wish you retire

With this information as a guide, head over to Fidelity’s My Plan Snapshot and input your answers into its handy calculator. This tool provides a visual to show where you are and where you want to be. Did its results make you panic? Don’t worry; play with the sliding toolbars to adjust your age of retirement, your monthly contribution, or your investment style. There’s no “right” answer for how to retire: you can retire later, work part-time later in life, or increase your contribution when you’re financially able. The only way you can reach your retirement goals is if you find out where you are right now.

How Do I Start?

Once you know your retirement goal, it’s time to get saving. Tossing money into a savings account may work for short term goals, but it doesn’t work as hard to achieve long term growth. In order to hit your mark, you need to invest.

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Essentially, all these plans function in similar ways. First, you pick your portfolio of investments from this pool of options.

  • Mutual funds: (a group of investments)
  • Stocks (equity in a company)
  • Bonds (loans to the government)
  • Exchange Traded Funds (a group of investments traded like one stock)
  • Hedge Funds (aggressive risky investments)

Your portfolio may contain all or only some of those choices. Typically, your level of risk decreases as you get closer to retirement because you have more to lose. When you’re just starting out, you have more time to recoup a loss, so you may incorporate more risk.

Who Can Help?

If you are not an investment expert like Galia, don’t fear. There are plenty of people you can turn to for help. Start by asking if your company offers a 401(k) or 403(b) and sign up right away. Many locations offer matching programs, so you’re essentially leaving money on the table by not participating.

If you’re a freelance employee or if you’re interested in the Roth or Traditional IRAs, chat with a representative of your local bank. You can also compare rates with online services like Vanguard, Fidelity, or Schwab. These companies walk you through the steps of choosing your portfolio and field any questions you have along the way.

Extra Credit Reading List

Inspired to learn more about your finances? Galia’s a gem and compiled a list of further resources for you to explore. Take a look and remember: you’re not alone. Everyone gets nervous about money, but only you have the power to control yours. Huge thanks to Galia and Tracy Candido of Lady Boss for another fantastically informative event.

Money Rules: The Simple Path to Lifelong Security by Jean Chatzky

The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom: Practical and Spiritual Steps So You Can Stop Worrying by Suze Orman

Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties by Beth Kobliner

Arts & Numbers: A Financial Guide for Artists, Writers, Performers, and Other Members of the Creative Class by Elaine Grogan Luttrull

The Intelligent Investor: The Classic Text on Value Investing by Benjamin Graham

Overcoming Underearning: Overcome Your Money Fears and Earn What You Deserve by Barbara Stanny

My Money Matters: Tools to Build Peace of Mind and Long-term Wealth

The Wall Street Journal Complete Money and Investing Guidebook by Dave Kansas

The Little Book of Common Sense Investing: The Only Way to Guarantee Your Fair Share of Stock Market Returns by John C. Bogle

Smart Women Finish Rich: 9 Steps to Achieving Financial Security and Funding Your Dreams by David Bach

Lady Boss + Personal Finance: Part Two

In the second part of our Lady Boss + Personal Finance series, we’re going to talk about credit, what it matters, and how you can fix yours if it’s less than perfect. It’s generally understood that credit card debt should be avoided; living beyond your means can quickly lead to late payments and calls from collections agencies. But bypassing credit altogether also creates negative consequences. You need credit to rent an apartment, refinance existing loans, or apply for a mortgage. Having credit may even impact your ability to get a new job. But don’t panic: financial advisor Galia Gichon knows how to help.

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Image courtesy of Mint.com

Know Your Numbers

The two main pieces of your credit  are your FICO number and your report. Your number is on a scale of 0 to 850; if your number is anywhere above 700-750, you’re killing it. The score reflects if you pay your bills on time and your ratio of credit availability. To have good credit, the ratio of owed money to available credit must be less than 30%. Here’s how you calculate it:

  • Add up all the balances you owe on all the cards you own (example: $3,000)
  • Add up each card’s maximum credit limits (example: $7,000)
  • Divide the first number by the second and make sure it’s less than 30% (in our example, we’ve got a credit ratio of 42%. Looks like we’ve got some work to do.)

Know your numbers? Great, but you should also treat your report like a doctor’s visit and give it an annual checkup. Gichon explains that 50% of reports contain errors, so make sure to fix any misinformation. Your report contains a detailed history of your payment history from the past 7-10 years; lenders consult your report if you’re applying for a loan or a mortage. Check your report at Annual Credit Report.

Raise Your Score + Fix Reports

Did you gasp when you checked your credit score? Was your ratio less than optimal? Don’t worry; you can fix these issues over time. Gichon cautions against opening additional credit cards to increase your available credit; too frequently, it’s easy to repeat bad habits and rack up more debt. Instead, she advises, you can call your credit card company and ask for a limit increase. If your report contains errors, dispute and correct them. Ultimately, you just have to pay the bill. Consolidate your debt onto one card and don’t be afraid to ask for a lower rate. Use a debt calculator from Kiplinger, Money.com, or SmartMoney.com to calculate your monthly payment and be consistent. Over time, you can decrease your debt and increase your score.

In our final installment, we’ll make sense of all the acronyms associated with retirement planning and show you how to get started.

Lady Boss + Personal Finance: Part One

When I was growing up, I learned about money from my parents. I knew that I should create a savings account and contribute to it regularly. In college, I got a credit card, but understood that I shouldn’t treat it like a magic money tree. And at some point, when I landed a real job, I knew I had to save for retirement. Yet while I grasped the reasoning behind this wisdom, I realized as I got older that I didn’t understand the tangible steps required to put it into practice. Without a plan in place, concepts like investing or saving for retirement seemed daunting and overwhelming. But last Wednesday, I met up with a team of women committed to taking the fear out of finances.

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Image courtesy of PNC Financial

Thanks to Lady Boss founder Tracy Candido, financial advisor Galia Gichon walked us through the steps to financial health in her presentation, “Maybe I’ll Start Saving When I’m 70.” With 20 years of industry experience, Gichon founded Down to Earth Finance in 2001. Her clients range widely in terms of income, investing style, and goals, but Gichon works with them to help them reach financial milestones. Gichon believes that, in addition to just saving more money, cultivating healthy financial habits gives people more confidence, alleviates stress caused by ignoring the situation, and maybe even lead to earning more money.

Editor’s note: Gichon’s presentation was so incredibly packed with information that we’re breaking it down to three different posts. Today, we’ll review formulating a budget and financial goals.

Know Your Numbers

According to Gichon, the first step to financial success is knowing your numbers. These include:

  • what you own
  • what you owe
  • what you spend
  • what you earn

If you carry a lot of debt, coming to grips with what you owe may feel especially daunting. However, Gichon argues that the only way you can make a plan is to figure out what you can afford.

Next, jot down a list of your fixed expenses. These may include:

  • rent
  • transportation costs
  • loan payments
  • utility bills
  • monthly membership fees

Figure out how much of each paycheck goes towards these fixed expenses; this money is non-negotiable because you have to put it aside every month.

Set Goals and Stick to Them

Once you know the expenses you can’t change, you can formulate financial goals with your leftover income. Where do you want to be in 6 months? Vague targets like “I want to save more” or “I want to pay down my debt” aren’t going to cut it. Instead, take a look at what you can afford and pick a number you can swing every month. Maybe you want to save $400 a month or pay off your $1,000 credit card bill. Whether you can put aside $50 or $550 a week towards your goals, make them specific and share it with a friend who can hold you accountable.

Back to Basics

If you have difficulty gauging your spending with debit or credit cards, Gichon suggests going cash-only as a way to reboot your spending habits. When you get paid, take your weekly budget out in cash and stick to spending what’s in your wallet.

There are plenty of free tools to help you visualize what you have and where it goes. Track where your money goes with Mint , YNAB, or your bank’s online tracking services. I started using Pennies, a handy app similar to Level Money,  that helps you quickly assess how much money you have to spend for the week. The very act of inputting my spending to the app helps me remain conscious of my spending. I can choose to blow half my budget on shoes and eat soup for a week or mete out my budget and end up with a little left over. However I divide up the pie, I’m in control of my decisions.

 

What’s your financial goal? If you’re feeling bold, share it in the comments. If you’d like to dip a toe in the pool, just write it on a Post-It note and stick it to your fridge. No matter your approach, take 10 minutes to think about how you’d like to improve your financial health.


In next week’s installment, we’ll discuss credit, why you need it, and how you can build and improve it.

Accept the Challenge: 100 Days of Making

Earlier in this year, we discussed building new habits. The process isn’t easy, and new habits don’t spring up overnight, but it is possible with a little practice. While there is no magic formula, the most important factors are consistency and support. Experts disagree on the length of time it takes to create a new habit but, if Pavlov’s dogs taught us anything, it’s that the consistency of the conditioning helps a habit stick.

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Image courtesy of Elle Luna

Yet while consistency is critical, motivation may flag over time. That’s why it’s important to have a strong support system. Maybe a group of friends is also trying to change the same habit. Or perhaps you choose to go it alone, but you speak your intentions into being so your friends can keep you honest. Whatever your end goal, you can learn a lot about yourself through the journey between start and finish.

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Elle Luna. Image courtesy of Ike Edeani from TGD Issue One

Keeping this principals in mind, what kind of projects do you think you could accomplish in 100 days? When designer Elle Luna was a graduate student at the Yale School of Art, Professor Michael Bierut challenged his class to repeat one action every day for 100 days. The medium didn’t matter: some students danced or made videos while others created posters or freeform writing responses. What was more important was the discipline, making the choice to show up day after day, during the worst creative droughts to complete the process.

Years after she graduated, Luna and her friends decided to launch a social-media based version of the lesson. It turns out that the project is just as difficult now as it was back then. Crazy schedules demand so much of our time that it’s hard to commit to anything that consistently. But by harnessing the power of the Internet and Instagram, Luna aims to create an online community to support participants when their energy flags. At the end of the 100 days, Luna promises an undisclosed celebration that will knock your socks off.

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Image courtesy of Elle Luna

Want to play along? Visit the project’s website and sign up; the deadline is today! (If you’re completely booked, don’t stress. You can always start a little late and catch up later.) Let’s get cracking.

Waves of Freedom: Surfing in Iran

With so many stories and images of Iran and its stalled nuclear talks filling the news, it’s easy to forget that a country is more than just its government. With a population of over 79 million, Iran is far more than President Hassan Rouhani and his politics.

SurfPhoto courtesy of Marion Poizeau

In 2010, friends Marion Poizeau and Easkey Britton traveled to Balochistan, a remote region on the Pakistan border, armed with a camera, a surfboard, and a mission. Britton, an Irish surfer, became the first woman to surf in Iran. Clad in a wet suit and a headscarf, she rode the waves while Poizeau documented the event. The resulting video attracted attention from the Internet, the Iranian police, and, most importantly, the locals. My favorite moment is a shot of two girls grinning and holding the top half a wet suit, eager to try the sport themselves.

Even after their trip ended, tales of Poizeau and Britton spread amongst Iranian sportswomen. After some planning and plenty of online correspondence, Poizeau and Britton returned to Iran in 2013 to teach. This time around, snowboarder Mona Seraji and swimmer Shahla Yasini joined Britton in the surf. The resulting experience formed the basis of Into the Sea, a documentary chronicling the development of women surfers in Iran.

For Britton, the impact of surfing extends far beyond the sport itself. Girls look up to women surfers as role models and leaders. Practicing the sport teaches women to embrace failure, to relax and let go when things get difficult, and to take risks to achieve greater success. This ability to take risks and gain confidence bleeds into all facets of a woman’s life. Confident women trust themselves and their peers and are able to push forward social change. Through their documentary, Poizeau and Britton share a perspective that contrasts strongly with Balochistan’s reputation of being a poor and dangerous area. Using surfing as a point of connection, the duo connected with the region’s citizens and dismantled perpetuated stereotypes.

Britton and Poizeau eventually returned home, but they remain committed to the cause through their non-profit, Waves of Freedom. Stay current by signing up for their newsletter or make a donation if you can.

Bridging “The Confidence Gap”

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Illustration by Oscar Ramos Orozco

Since one of our annual themes is risk taking, I decided to walk the walk. Back in January, I reached out to 99U Editor-in-Chief Sean Blanda and expressed interest in writing a piece. (If you don’t read 99U, toss it on your queue immediately. They’re a fantastic site that discusses the creative process and how to execute ideas.) Blanda introduced me to “The Confidence Gap,” an Atlantic article breaking down the disparity in confidence between men and women. Together, we started brainstorming.

Fast forward two months later and voilà, behold the final product: 3 Steps to Bridging “The Confidence Gap.” Through the interview process, I spoke to amazing women about mentoring and hammered out a game plan for others who want try it. Not only did I have a blast developing it, but associate editor Sasha VanHoven’s critiques helped me pinpoint weak points in my writing. Most importantly, just putting myself out there is a “small experiment with radical intent.” Seeing the project through from start to finish filled me with pride and made me wonder what else is possible. Stay tuned!

 

Lady Boss + Career Compass

It may be warm in some parts of the United States (here’s looking at you, Miami), but in the Northeast, we’re in the Slump Zone. If you’ve ever experienced the depths of a cold winter, you know what I’m talking about: a decrease in energy and motivation, an increased desire to consume fatty goods and snooze away your weekends. Your world shrinks as you wear a path from home to work and back again. To combat this physical and mental lethargy, you need to actively shake things up.

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Bark Box HQ. Photo courtesy of DogMilk

Last week, I attended my first Lady Boss event. Hosted by Bark Box HQ, I joined roughly 40 other women for an evening of guided introspection about our careers. Founder Tracy Candido conceived of Lady Boss as a means to meet like-minded women interested in taking their careers to the next level. Tired of banging her head on the glass ceiling and feeling isolated in her efforts, Candido sought out other women who were “seeking female mentors for advice, and want to connect with other women who want a clear path forward in their career.” Judging by the sold out crowd, I’d say there are plenty of us.

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Tracy Candido. Photo courtesy of Lady Boss

After a greeting and introduction, Tracy turned the floor over to career coach Michelle Ward. Ward earned a degree in musical theater from NYU, but after years of trying to crack into the scene, she decided to make a career change. Embracing her love of building relationships, she embarked on a new path to become a career coach. This change did not happen overnight; to remain financially stable, Ward worked for 2.5 years as an executive assistant before becoming a full-time entrepreneur. In this short video, she explains her path in more detail; you can also get a feel for her infectious warmth and energy.

Once Ward told us her story, we were charged with reflecting on our own paths. Armed with paper and markers, Ward challenged us to answer five critical questions over the course of 10 minutes. The short time span, she explained, encouraged us to go with our guts and not over think our answers. Over the soothing sound of her ukulele, we scribbled down responses to these questions:

  1. Why are you in your current role? What inspired you to take it in the first place? Why does it matter to you?
  2. Why have you gotten has far as you have in your career? what is about you that people respond to? What do you get excited about? What comes easily to you?
  3. What do you want to be known for in your life? What makes you feel valuable? What contribution do you want to make?
  4. Why do you presently care about your role? Your career? Your field? What makes your work meaningful?
  5. When have you felt most helpful or valued?

This guided exercise cut to the quick of who we are, what we’re doing and where we’re going. I was surprised at the answers that flowed onto my paper; the process helped me clarify some points that I’ve had trouble articulating to others. With our answers in hand, we spoke to a partner and got feedback on our responses. (Thanks to the amazing Fikriyyah George for being a fabulous partner.) Ultimately, we uncovered trends within our answers and used this information to guide our decisions about how we approach our work and proceed on our career paths.

While the premise seems simple enough, I was truly amazed at how many women gained a deeper sense of clarity from the exercise (myself included). Ward’s guidance focused our attention on our career and ourselves and asked us to get real with ourselves about what we want. The results helped us brainstorm ways we can capitalize on our strengths to achieve our goals. For example, I love experimenting with new technology to solve problems. Open source software? Love it. Messing around with scripts and tweaking code? Can’t get enough. So it’s up to me to seek out challenges at work that could benefit from these experiments; then I have to roll up my sleeves and see what I can do. I left the event inspired, refreshed and excited. For all my non-NYC based women, don’t worry: we aim to provide plenty of resources for mentoring, career advancement, and goal setting over the course of the year. After all, just because you’re not in the Big Apple doesn’t mean that you can’t be a Lady Boss.

A Path Appears: Part One

As I’ve mentioned before, it takes a lot for me to sit down and watch a full episode of a TV show, yet it does occasionally happen. But when I heard about A Path Appears, I made a note in my calendar to sit down and watch. Journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn set out to highlight some of the most difficult issues facing women today. The PBS series debuted last night with its first episode, “Sex Trafficking in the USA.”

A difficult part of drawing attention to the issue stems from the stereotype of “trafficking”: girls brought from another country, men with AK-47s, an exchange of money as women are bought and sold. Yet as Rachel Lloyd, founder and CEO of Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, points out, this image does not reflect the reality of the trafficking happening in our own country. “It rarely has anything to do with American girls on the track,” she adds. “We view that as ‘teen prostitution’ so they’re not real victims.” There are between 100,000-300,000 sex trafficking women in the United States every year and that’s just a rough estimate. Every day, more women add to that tally as they are brought into the fold via force, fraud, and coercion.

In The Life

At first glance, it might seem easy to be judgmental, to view women who engage in sex work as “other,” as if there is something inherently different about them. “They’re hailing cars, they’re wearing utterly inappropriate clothing. They certainly don’t look like anyone’s enslaving them or making them do what they’re doing,” Kristof says in conversation with Becca Stevens, founder of Magdalene and Thistle Farms. Yet as the team travels the country, they uncover stories of drug use, violence, rape and humiliation. “If that’s your choice, what are the options?” Stevens counters. The truth is it takes a lot of failed systems in communities to get them out there and that’s why it takes communities to bring them back.”

Shana Goodwin

Shana Goodwin. Photo courtesy of PBS.org

As the women of Magdalene tell their stories, they illustrate the lasting legacy of vulnerability and childhood trauma. Told as a unit, it is clear that these women are not alone in their struggle but, prior to their involvement in the farm, each one felt isolated and trapped in a toxic cycle of shame. Like many women, Shana explained that she didn’t consider herself to be a victim of trafficking because that was something that happened somewhere else. A combination of Stockholm syndrome, fear, and a deep-seated desire to be loved and have a family kept her there for years. As Sabrina, a former prostitute adds, “It’s not that they’re bad people; they’re just lost.”

Falling Through the Cracks

“Society’s idea of a woman who sells her body is that she’s hardened, she’s calloused, she doesn’t care,” narrator Blake Lively comments. “ You don’t ever think of someone being vulnerable and broken and wanting to get out of that life.” Yet “vulnerable” accurately describes Savannah, a 17 year-old girl who ran away when she was 13 and got locked in a house by her pimp, and Naomi, who stopped responding to messages from her social worker and appeared on sex trafficking websites. The documentary states that 1:7 young people between the ages of 10 and 18 will run away; 75% of those are female. Within 48 hours of being on the streets, it is highly likely that they will be approached by someone looking to traffic them.

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Savannah and her mom, Sara. Photo courtesy of PBS.org

Yet, as women like Audrey Morrissey illustrate, the problem is not hopeless. Morrissey, a former sex worker and leader of the program My Life My Choice, educates at-risk teens about the predatory tactics pimps use to recruit women. Along with a team of social workers, investigators and advocates, Morrissey helps extricate girls tangled in dangerous and seemingly hopeless situations. By the end of the episode, Naomi and her mother, Maria, reunite in a tearful embrace; I audibly sighed with relief.

Turning the Tables

According to the documentary, 10% of American men buy sex in a given year. Women are typically arrested but that doesn’t solve the problem; the pimps are still out there. Sheriff Tom Dart of Cook County takes a different approach by focusing the attention on arresting the clientele. The police force posts ads on the internet to entice potential customers, then posts up at a local hotel and lets the calls roll in. In the brief time the camera crew spends on the scene, fourteen men are arrested. With very little knowledge of what these women experience on a daily basis, the men represented a broad cross-section of society, all the men insisted that it was their first time soliciting sex; one of them even tries to convince the cops that he thought he was coming to see a masseuse for his back “because chiropractors are expensive.” Regardless of mens’ excuses, widespread stings targeting the demand help reduce solicitation.

Audrey Morrissey

Audrey Morrissey. Photo courtesy of PBS.org

Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunities

In spite of the multifaceted complexity of the problem, A Path Appears also highlights potential solutions. As Sheryl WuDunn explains, “Some people will just do the rescue part. Other will just do the safehouse and still others will do the skills training. What’s remarkable about what Rebecca has done is she’s using a targeted, holistic solution.” The solution in question takes the form of Magdalene, a two year residential community for women based in Nashville, Tennessee. To finance the operation and provide the women with work experience, Magdalene partners with Thistle Farms, a health and beauty company. Most recently, the group opened a cafe to create more jobs. Magdalene is a wonderful example of a chosen family that connects women with education and perspective on their lives and helps them get a handle on their responsibilities.

The discussion doesn’t end as the episode concludes; there’s much more work to do but the creators of A Path Appears are well aware. On their website, the team compiled an additional resource list. The site puts viewers in touch with organizations that combat sex trafficking in the United States as well as hotlines and help centers for victims of abuse. Take a look, pass it along, and get ready for next week’s episode.

True Trans with Laura Jane Grace

I hardly ever watch television, but when I do, I go all in. Recently on the Twitterverse, I heard about True Trans, a multi-part web series produced by AOL. The series follows Laura Jane Grace, a trans woman and the frontwoman of the band Against Me! Grace explains that at age 31, she had a house, a wife, a kid, and a successful career with her band. Yet she still felt that something was missing and needed to be addressed; no matter how hard she tried, she could not eliminate the crushing weight of gender dysphoria. She remembers, as a child, seeing Madonna on television and thinking, “I want to be exactly like that, not only in gender, but that was what I wanted to do. I remember vividly experiencing that and seconds later realizing the misalignment in my body.”

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Laura Jane Grace, photo courtesy of Stereogum

Growing up in a military family, Grace’s mother, Bonnie, explained that there was a lot of pressure to fit in. Looking back, Bonnie reflected, “I knew that this was a great kid, that she had a fantastic heart and spirit, that there was not anything bad about her. But I knew if she got sucked into that system, I would never be able to get her out.” As a punk kid in suburban Florida, Grace got picked on, thrown out of school, and arrested. Later on, she connected with other punks like her band mate James Bowman and channeled her energy into music.

While the first episode centers around Grace’s own experience, the following episodes document her speaking to other members of the trans community. According to True Trans, 1 in 11,000 men and 1 in 30,000 women seek help with gender dysphoria, “the condition of feeling one’s emotional and psychological identity as male or female to be opposite to one’s biological sex.” There are an estimated 700,000 transgender people living in the United States.

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Fallon Fox, photo courtesy of Huffington Post

Many of the people Grace interviews express initial feelings of isolation, of not having the language to describe their inklings, of having no one to talk to and of not knowing these views were valid. “I remember hearing about these men who dressed like women, but I didn’t know what transgender was,” explains writer and musician OurLadyJ. “I knew there were alternatives, and I was just holding on until something was revealed.” Without representation in the media, she explained that as a teenager, she never saw someone who looked like her. Many of the interviewees echoed her sentiments; through Internet research, they were able to build a vocabulary and give their feelings a name.

Like any sample of the population, childhood experiences varied widely. Some people felt that their parents were always supportive of them and that they struggled more with social expectations. Others felt that their parents would not accept them if they shared their true thoughts; they felt a crushing pressure to conform to their parents’ expectations. In extreme cases, religious families hospitalized their children and took them to therapy in an attempt to “fix” them.

Puberty, in particular, was an especially confusing time, when many people felt their bodies no longer belonged to them. During this period, themes of depression, drug use and suicide were common ways to blank out the feelings. Discovering the language to label these feelings and make decisions about next steps felt liberating. Whether people chose hormone replacement therapy, surgeries, or other options, they are finally able to live their truths.

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Our Lady J, courtesy of Time Out: New York

Needless to say, I binge-watched the whole season. I was honored to listen to their stories and so impressed with each interviewee’s ability to be true to themselves at any cost; every person’s story exuded such clarity, honesty, and a clear sense of self. It’s too easy for people to lie to themselves about minute details in their lives, to not seek help when they need it, to not take risks when the stakes are not nearly as high. Asserting one’s truth takes an incredible amount of fortitude and I was awed by their collective strength.

While I would’ve liked to see more trans people of color featured in the series (see: this flawless cover of Candy Magazine), I was grateful to watch a series where trans people speak for themselves. There’s a wealth of misinformation surrounding trans culture: for too long, mainstream media coverage was nonexistent, with sensationalist stories confined to the tabloids as a taboo. And, as we’ve seen so frequently with issues of racism, sexism, or homophobia, people are so quick to condemn or rationalize away experiences that they have not themselves.  Yet most people will likely experience depression, self-loathing, insecurity, self-acceptance and love in their lifetimes; these feelings are not foreign concepts. Ultimately, every person is in the process of becoming who they are, both internally and externally; as Grace points out, “Life’s just a transition, everyone’s in transition; that’s just the way it is.”

Check out the first episode here and subscribe to the rest of the series on AOL.

Girl Rising

I’m lucky to have fabulous friends who pass along tips and knowledge. A few weeks ago, my friend Paul recommended that I watch the documentary Girl Rising. It is currently streaming on Netflix and definitely deserves your attention. The premise of the film follows the journeys of nine girls and the obstacles they face as they fight to get an education. Each girl partnered with a writer from her home country to help tell her story.

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Photo courtesy of Daya Trust

Some stories culminate in victory. Wadley, for instance, survived Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, but had to relocate to a makeshift tent camp. Although her teacher continued to conduct lessons in a tent, she was initially turned away because her mother could not afford the fees. However, Wadley returned to the school each day until the teacher allowed her to stay.

Azmera

Photo courtesy of Glamour

In Ethiopia, Azmera was the youngest of three children, but when her older sister and father died, her mother became even more protective. The village told her mother that the best way to ensure Azmera’s survival was to marry her off, so she became engaged to a 20 year-old stranger. When her brother heard of this decision, he returned home and told his mother that he would sell everything he owned if she called off the marriage and kept Azmera in school. Today, Azmera is single and pursuing her education.

Suma

Photo courtesy of PhDs and Pigtails

Not every girl has the support of her family. Suma was bonded to a master by the time she was six years old, a practice that is now illegal in Nepal. She served three masters by the time she was eleven. At her last post, a schoolteacher who boarded there convinced her master to let her attend night classes. In addition to learning how to read and write, these girls realized through sharing their experiences that they were exploited. One day, Suma’s teacher appeared at her master’s house, argued that he was breaking the law, and set her free. Today, she says, “I am my own master now. I have no mistress. I was the last bonded worker in my family. After me, everyone will be free.”

Yasmin’s story is even more harrowing; because of concerns for her safety, she never appears in her own vignette. The scene opens with Yasmin and her mother sitting in a Cairo police station. As the officer questions Yasmin, her story unfolds via animated characters. Yasmin and her friend took a ride from a stranger on the way to the market; instead of fulfilling his promise, the man rapes her. In the end, the man is never caught; Yasmin gets married at 13 and never attends school.

Critical facts about educating girls serve as interludes between the tales. Some of these facts include:

  • Girls have a 1 in 4 chance of being born into poverty
  • 66 million girls are currently not in school
  • 14 million girls under 18 will be married this year
  • 50% of sexual assaults happen to girls under 15; this fact is often used as an excuse to marry girls off early or keep them home to protect them

I found myself becoming so personally invested in each girl’s story, cheering when they succeeded and holding back tears when they suffered. The power of education cannot be understated; women who receive an education earn more, are in better health, and have healthier children, not to mention the tremendous impact education has on a woman’s confidence.

So how can you get involved? Join the movement! You can host a screening, make a donation, plan a fundraiser, or become a regional ambassador. Even the smallest actions can snowball into something bigger, so check it out and make your move.