Trans Day of Visibility 2022 with Miss Simone and Joanna Rivera
To close out Women’s History Month and celebrate Trans Day of Visibility, SAGE organized a conversation with our Manager of Transgender and Non-Binary (TGNB) Outreach and Community Engagement, Joanna Rivera, and the legendary spokeswoman and entertainer, Miss Simone of the West Village. Despite facing discrimination, rising anti-trans sentiments, and the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic, Miss Simone has forged an outlet for our elders to express themselves, socialize, thrive, and refuse to be invisible.
Joanna Rivera: Miss Simone, thank you so much for joining us. Many of us at SAGE know you, but for those that don’t, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Who is Miss Simone of the West Village?
Miss Simone: I am Miss Simone of West Village. I come out of the bars of the West Village, I come out of the bars and the nightclubs in New York City. [Like] the Townhouse nightclub. I was the very first Queen at Lips Restaurant in the West Village, which really put me out there. I also started performing in different bars like the Stonewall, you know, back in the nineties, and a lot of different bars all over in the West Village. Also, I do a lot of those people’s astrology readings. That’s another thing. I do a lot of people’s astrology readings which really pushed me out there because I have a talent for that, too. So I’m basically Miss Simone of the West Village. If you come in the village, you’re going to see me or meet me in one way or the other.
JR: Including at Christopher Street Park, where you do a lot of street performances.
MS: Exactly. I also have this show in Sheridan Square Park. This show has been there for three years. Okay. In Sheridan Square Park, me and a couple of the other girls like my co-host is Gina. JR: Who is also a SAGE participant! Who is also a SAGE participant. My DJ is Tanya. Who is also a SAGE facilitator! Another SAGE Participant. [SAGE Comms team: You got the House of SAGE going!] Exactly. And those are two of my really, really, close girlfriends, you know, outside of Joanna, [who is] one of my closest girlfriends. You know, so we’re all there. If you come in the village, you are going to see us.
JR: So Miss Simone, your relationship with SAGE has changed over the years that you’ve been involved. You first started with just being interested in our groups like our trans social, and now you’re working with us. Now you’re doing shows for us, now you’re getting interviewed. What has that been like?
MS: It’s been oh, my God. It’s been amazing because it gave me a lot more exposure and a lot more exposure to help other people or participate in different things with SAGE and try to make people happy or get involved. You know, it’s just really took me down a lot of positive roads.
JR: Is there more comfortability with the fact that everybody’s over the age of 50 and we’re celebrating the fact that aging is beautiful?
MS: Yes, of course, I agree with that because it’s a lot of maturity you have too. Most of these people have experience, life and are very mature. You know, we learn from each other. We teach each other. We feed off each other, and everything is in a positive direction. If it was a much younger group, it wouldn’t be as fulfilling to me because we, you know, the young people, they’re learning from us.
JR: Yeah, and you feel more connected. So being a performer, you put yourself in a position of being front and center, of making yourself very visible. What does visibility mean to you?
MS: It means everything to me because I’m able to reach people and send a positive message of what we’re doing here in New York, which is important for girls around the country. They all want to know what we’re doing here, and that’s very important to them, and inspires them to start different programs and stuff in their cities and states. So it’s extremely important.
JR: And I know that you have mentioned some of the girls in the South in particular, and that, you know, they don’t feel comfortable. They cannot be visible. Can you speak on that a bit?
MS: Yes, because in some in certain parts of the South, they haven’t advanced as much as we have here in New York, has as far as trans freedom on gay freedom, period. There’s still a lot of homophobia and transphobia and just all kind of gay-phobia in the Bible Belt where people are literally being beaten across the head with religion and told that, you know, them living their lives is something horrible. Or you may have some crazy people that may you know, come out to them in a violent manner because they disagree with who they are, or they just want to destroy who they are.
JR: What advice or recommendations do you have for trans elders who are looking for ways to support younger community?
MS: Is it important to try to live your own life in a positive way. If you want to, you know, inspire younger people because there’ll be enough of you, you know, and if you are a mature adult, they are really looking forward for us to teach them the right way to go, you know, send a positive message to them. They really don’t have an image until we give them one. They get their images from us. It’s important to try to be as positive or take care of yourself as much as possible.
JR: I agree with all of that. The youth are looking for trans elders for inspiration. And what can trans youth do for trans elders? How can trans youth help our older community members?
MS: By I think trying to get to know most of them, or try to stay away from, number one, try to stay away from drugs. If you can help a person do something, like run an errand for them, run it! Or conversate with them, you know, because most young transgender people don’t have any role models or [aren’t close with] their own relatives. An older girl is usually their mother or stepmom in some kind of way, as an older trans person. You know, because a lot of them are either kicked out of their homes or rejected from their own families. So it’s important for us to try to be as positive towards them as possible.
JR: What positive changes have you seen in the world? You’ve been open as a trans woman for several decades. What has that been like? How has it changed in a positive way?
MS: It’s been – it’s been very positive, because I was blessed when I came out in the nineties in New York. Okay. I was – I was young. A lot of stuff was new to me, but there was a lot of unity from the eighties where we had a lot of bars and freedom. You know, girls from all over the world would come here to live because they wanted to be free to live their lives without rejection or discrimination. And it was a really…back in the nineties, New York was very positive specifically for gay people. There was a lot of freedom, a lot of affordable housing. So it was we all supported each other a lot. A lot of these people came out of houses which were from the nightclubs, as we call them, the houses where, you know, people would vogue and have the balls and ballroom scene. A lot of stuff for gay people, period, which gave them something to participate in, which kept them out of the streets, kept them away from drugs and you know, like a whole lot of negative stuff.
JR: I’m really glad that you brought up housing because at SAGE, you’ve been a very huge spokeswoman for housing as a necessity for trans people, in particular, trans people over the age of 50. We know way too many of them that are unhoused. What can we do?
MS: We can try to advise a person where they can rent, rent a room, find a roommate. We can try to help them in some kind of way, give them the address of an agency or a realtor, you know, if you know of a place that’s vacant, that’s also affordable, give the girl the address. Because we have a lot of homeless people, and I don’t want to see anyone homeless, whether they’re gay, straight, whatever, they are, you know, it’s not good to be in the streets. Everyone deserves a roof. Everyone deserves a home. To you know, you feel better when you have somewhere to lay your head, you feel a lot better. When you’re in the streets you can’t focus, you can’t think clearly. You feel helpless. And, you know, a lot of these issues have really exasperated since the pandemic – things have gotten a lot worse for so many community members.
JR: Let’s talk about performers first. A lot of performers are really struggling right now. They were counting on a certain amount of tips. Then the shutdown started happening. People lost their income. And I know that you’ve been very open about that.
MS: I’m very open about it because those shows take care of those girls and I’m a showgirl, okay. I’m a model and a showgirl. And those tips put food on the table. It’s a job! It’s her job, her dream job. She’s living her life and she’s working at the same time. You know, everyone doesn’t want to work at McDonald’s. You know, even though McDonald’s is a job, you know, a lot of these girls, they work very hard to entertain people. Oh, my God. To bring people into bars and stuff like that. This is this person’s life, all right. They’re an entertainer. You know, this is show business. And Covid came in and shut down a lot. And a lot of girls fell into depression. A lot of them turned to drugs. Some of them became suicidal. There was nowhere for her to work or go. You don’t want to throw away your beautiful clothes. You don’t want to throw your talent, and you feel lost because whatever you’re doing, that’s not really who you are. You know, a lot of girls are at home on stage, and I’m one of them. You know, I’m at home being in front of people, you know, I mean, me not being able to perform or even model I mean, I would be totally lost because this is what I do. This is why I live in New York.
JR: Wouldn’t it be great if more places like SAGE would give jobs to trans people over the age of 50, you know, jobs that people enjoy and like, for example, you do for us what you mentioned. You do shows for us, you model and it’s a win-win situation, right?
MS: Of course, it’s very important for specifically girls over 50 because a lot of them are very experienced, a lot of them have kept themselves up they don’t look their ages at all have had all. A lot of these girls are gorgeous! JR: Including Miss Simone! Thank you, and it’s important to hire a lot of them because they have experience. They can also open the doors for other people. It’s important to hire them.
JR: You’ve really become a huge representative of SAGE, what does that feel like to you? People look at you and they say, “oh my God, that’s Simone from SAGE!”
MS: It’s amazing to me because I’m able to reach people. I’m able to show them something positive happening at SAGE. I’m also blessed to be a part of such an amazing organization. I mean, this organization is absolutely amazing, it is a dream job for a lot of girls all over the world. So, you know, of course I’m proud. I’m very proud and pleased with this.
JR: And it’s a dream to work with you, Miss Simone, it’s been really wonderful.
MS: Thank you so much. Oh, my God. Joanna, you have helped me so much. I was able to reach so many different people, and I don’t feel that my life was in vain because I’ve been doing something positive.
JR: Miss Simone, you brought up dreams. What are your dreams within SAGE? What does the future look like? Because we’re just getting started, right?
MS: Yes, we are. My dream is to have my name on some type of project. Here at SAGE, some type of creative project that will open the door for other girls and modeling, and doing shows that can actually, you know, do things like projects for SAGE, as fundraisers and things like that. And have my name on it, which I think that would be great. I would be leaving something behind, which is a dream come true. I’m hoping to have a lot of girls from everywhere, from all over the world that would like to be a part of it. And they can use it as a fundraiser for this great organization.
JR: I think that you’re the perfect showgirl Miss Simone, thank you for everything that you do for SAGE. We love you.
MS: Thank you so much. Thank SAGE so much, thank you, thank all of you so much for supporting me and helping me put something with my name on it that’s positive in New York. Thank you.