Artist Profile: Alex & Effee
To be trans and visible has always been radical. Despite the leaps and bounds made by activists like Laverne Cox and Janet Mock (their work being proclaimed in 2014 as “The Transgender Tipping Point” by Time), transgender individuals continue to be the victims of violence disproportionately. And while more and more transgender stories are being brought to television and film, stock characters and ideas, such as the “tragic trans figure” or the “successful transition,” dominate the public’s idea of trans life.
It makes sense, then, that the next step for trans representation in media is finding a voice for the stories that defy tragedy or explore life beyond, or even without, transition. Artists Alex Jenny and Effee Nelly are a pair of queer and trans people of color who seek an outlet for these stories. Jenny and Nelly are poets and photographers, who recently opened a blog that chronicles their experiences in life and love.
Jenny and Nelly met at the University of Michigan in 2012 and graduated in 2014. The pair married later that year. While they were not as much the activists they are now, Jenny was a member of The Coalition for Queer People of Color and volunteered at the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center. Last Friday, SAPAC invited Jenny and Nelly to speak on the intersection of queer and trans identities and healthy relationships.
“They invited me back a few years ago to do the keynote for their student activist conference, and once we started the blog, they invited both of us back,” Jenny said.
Their blog was born out of their need to feel connected to the creative aspects of their lives as the pair was busy maintaining and building their professional lives. By day, Jenny is a therapist and social worker and Nelly works as a consultant. But out of the office, they are poets and artists. The blog, simply titled “Alex & Effee,” consists of writing, photography and a journal where they share life updates and playlists. The pair’s writing deals with the complete trans experience, ranging from healing, current and past trauma, romance and family.
Despite meeting in 2012, the pair didn’t bring their relationship to social media until Feb. 2017. Part of the delay stemmed from their growing disconnect from the creative part of their lives as the pair worked on building and maintaining their professional lives. Other reasons are far more personal.
“We didn’t identify as trans when we were here at school, but through the safety of our relationship, we developed together and discovered parts of ourselves we thought were unlovable,” Jenny said.
Through their process of growth and healing, Jenny and Nelly bring a different sort of queer and trans narrative to the fore. Instead of telling a traditional coming-out narrative, like Amazon’s “Transparent,” or a tragedy like “Prayers for Bobby” or “Brokeback Mountain,” Jenny and Nelly use their blog to share what Jenny calls “the multiplicity of possibilities and existence. There are so many different storylines for queer and trans people, not this one imagined narrative.”
However, opening up for the entire world was not an easy process. The pair worked on striking a delicate balance between raw and confident, a struggle that continues to play out for many queer and trans individuals. Nelly said that “as trans people, we’re often reminiscing,” which alludes to the push-and-pull between internal pressures to be true to oneself and external pressures to follow the status quo. So, if a person comes out later in life, they question whether their efforts to protect themselves when they were younger inhibited potential growth. This question resonates throughout many of Jenny and Nelly’s poems.
While it has been a struggle inviting so many people into their creative process, Jenny and Nelly find managing the blog to be incredibly fulfilling. As time has passed, Nelly said, “(they’re) being a lot more intentional now” and explained how the couple is trying to give readers and followers a full picture of her and Jenny’s love. She mentions how some of the photography on their blog helped a father find someone to do senior pictures for his trans daughter, which was incredibly fulfilling. “These are gifts to my younger self that she just didn’t have,” she said.
Aside from new creative pathways, Jenny and Nelly find the blog to be a different and exciting new outlet for activism. For Nelly, starting conversations through an online platform — and being visible in that way — is very different.
“I was in direct action. I was part of the group advocating for a new Trotter,” Nelly said.
Jenny agreed and stated that the blog allows them to explore elements of their identity that other forms of activism cannot: “I don’t think we would have been able to do this a few years ago. Our most radical work is to love ourselves.”
Romance or not, Jenny and Nelly’s blog reflects the crescendoing calls for a new sense of social rights and a complete picture of the life of marginalized individuals.
“As glamorous as we portray ourselves, we are part of that middle,” Nelly said.
As you read through Jenny and Nelly’s blog, you start to understand the inner workings of their lives. They like pop music. They reminisce about the past. They love to see their family and travel. From their journal, you would think that life is simple and easy now — but the road to being visible has been everything but.