Education is the Foundation: A Conversation with Co-Owners of TNET

An interview with the co-owners of TNET, an organization providing Transgender/Nonbinary Education & Trainings in New Mexico.

Stacy Fatemi and Charlie Alexander, owners of TNET (Transgender/Nonbinary Education & Trainings), run a new business that seeks to educate people on trans issues through providing educational trainings. Their trainings include topics such as #101: Transgender Cultural Fluency, #234: Busting the Binary in the English Language, and #123: School Best Practices for Trans and Nonbinary Students.

Since officially launching in January 2023, TNET has already done such important work in our community, carrying out trainings for a range of organizations and people including government agencies, schools, universities, clinics, doctors' offices, nonprofits, lawyers, and families of trans people. They also do public sessions on Zoom, which are open to anyone. Stacy and Charlie got candid with the issues facing trans people today, how they came out, what resources they want to make accessible, and what the future holds. Here is my interview with them.

Introduce yourselves.

S: I’m Stacy Fatemi. My pronouns are they/them. I’m the co-owner of TNET, as well as a trainer and I also run the website.

C: My name is Charlie Alexander. My pronouns are they/them. I’m the other co-owner of TNET. I’m a trainer as well and I handle our social media accounts.

How did y’all meet?

S: We met when we were working at the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico (TGRC). I was working as the Education and Outreach Program Manager, which essentially meant that I did all of the trainings. Charlie was the Youth and Family Service Coordinator. We both got to know each other a lot better when we decided to unionize. That’s really where we started to develop a friendship. I eventually stopped working at TGRC, and literally, two days later, I launched the TNET website. Charlie stopped working at TGRC as well and started accompanying me to trainings. I realized TNET was the both of us. It wasn’t just me anymore.

What is your mission with TNET?

S: We believe that education is the foundation for liberation. Having a good educational baseline for understanding trans people is fundamental for everyone, in terms of engaging in liberation and recognizing the marginalized community of trans people. There are so many bills being introduced that oppose trans people, and we feel that if more people had access to high-quality education about what it means to be trans, how to respect trans people, and how to talk about trans people, that could actually make things a little bit better.

C: To provide accessible and inclusive trainings about trans issues. To talk about how transness intersects in every aspect of life. To provide education to trans people for free. We have our trainings priced but we also want them to be accessible. There’s never an expectation that trans people have to pay. You can also get one free copy of all our educational zines if you’re trans.

How do you approach trainings?

C: You can’t know what you don’t know so I meet people where they’re at, use the language they know, and create an environment free of judgement and shame. We accept people no matter who they are, no matter what stage they’re at with understanding what trans means. In my experience, the people who are vehemently against trans people may be struggling with something and use that as a shield. Those people tend to be the ones who actually change lanes eventually. I worry more about the indifferent people who don’t really care. As long as they’re willing to learn, we’re willing to teach them.

When I worked at TGRC, I did the youth and family support groups, and worked with parents and caregivers of trans people. Typically cis parents of trans kids. I heard a lot of stuff from the parents' groups that would hurt my soul. But I knew that at least they came to a support group, which was a step in the right direction. But there would be some language used, where afterward I’d just have to cry, you know, as the trans person in the room. I’d have to remember that these people love their kids and want to do better but they just don’t know how to use the right words. I always try to meet them with love, understanding, and kindness, and that has always worked really well. I always try to not be defensive because that helps them leave a little calmer. I’m here to teach, not defend a cause.

What resources do you wish were available when you came out? And how was that experience for you?

S: I realized I was trans at the age of 13. I was literally scrolling down my YouTube home page one day and saw a video about what LGBT means. It was a five-minute-long video and by the time they got to the T, I was like oh, there’s a word for it. Once I figured that out, it was cool, but what do I do now? For the next four years, I tried so hard to keep it under wraps because I knew that no one talked about it. And because no one talked about it, I thought no one would take it well. I would tell a few of my friends if I felt like I could trust them. Sometimes it went well and sometimes it didn’t. I graduated high school early, and thank god I did because my mental health was tanking. The fact that I had to be closeted just to feel safe in high school and keep attention away from me was really terrible.

In that year when I graduated, at 17, I was going to go off to college and I just thought, I don’t know how much longer I can keep doing this. That summer, I spent a lot of time with a friend of mine. She was a rarity in that she actually accepted me unconditionally and treated me like who I was, like the gender that I am. One day she texted me out of the blue and asked me to go shopping and buy the clothes that I actually wanted to wear, and I was like, yeah! We hung out a bunch that summer, and she taught me how to do my makeup, paint my nails, and all these wonderful things that I never had the opportunity to engage in because I was stuck at home with my parents having to pretend that I was a boy. Once we had hung out a few times, I thought I think I can do this, I think better things are possible. I ended up coming out to everyone I knew except for my parents. I went and lived in the women’s dorms at UNM and I didn’t want my parents to find out until much later, not only so they’d take me a little more seriously but I was so dreading them finding out because I didn’t know what their reaction was going to be.

I suffered from a great lack of resources, especially when I was in school. I was unable to express who I was and didn’t have the space to carve out what my gender was. There was no break from being a boy. I had to embody it all the time. If I had had the opportunity to start taking puberty blockers and estrogen when I was younger, I would have jumped at it. The fact that I couldn’t do that until I was 18 has led to certain features of my face and my voice that sometimes cause some dysphoria. I feel like if I had received the help I needed early on, my mental health wouldn’t have suffered so much.

Meow Wolf and TNET collage with the words "There's more than one way to be trans"
See the mini zine "There's More Than One Way to Be Trans" made by TNET

C: I grew up in a very conservative house and went to Southern Baptist Church. I was always forced to go to church and learned early on that we don’t talk about anything like that. I always knew that I was definitely not a girl. But I also knew I wasn’t a boy. I was called a tomboy growing up. I didn’t have any community that was queer. The first queer person I ever met was in middle school and it was my classmates who were dating. They referred to themselves as a lesbian couple and in my mind I hated them. I realized that was because I wanted that. I was like, I’m that. But the church taught me otherwise. So I said to myself, I’m definitely not that. I’m a girl. So through high school, I wore a lot of very interesting outfits. I had long blond hair and swoop bangs and I tried hard with my make-up. I was trying really hard to be a girl.

When I was 17 years old or so, I had a blog and posted something wishing everyone a happy bisexuality day. My grandfather somehow found it and figured out it was me. He ended up calling the entire family and telling them I was bisexual. He said I was a disgrace. I came out as a lesbian. Then one year later, I came out as non-binary. A lot of my queer friends, especially my lesbian friends were upset with me. It was difficult to find community. I think resources that would have been important to me would be education. I had a lot of hardship because I didn’t know I could be anything else.

My mother wouldn’t let me go on birth control and I ended up getting pregnant in high school at age 17. I wish I had had access to sexual education resources, and learned more about boundaries and consent about myself and my body. To be more in tune with my body. My mother also didn’t have resources, and education would have helped her and the rest of my family. Once I had top surgery that was it for two of my main family members. They didn’t understand and now I don’t have them in my life. Had any of these people grown up with access to educational sources about queer people perhaps they would not have so much contempt.

What do you want cis people to be curious about?

C: Sometimes I wish there was a little less curiosity. I want to be able to just say my name and pronouns and then that’s fine. But I love when people want to learn and are willing to change their language and adapt to a more inclusive vocabulary. I’d love if cis people were more curious about how to be respectful and accepting rather than knowing what surgeries we’ve had or what our genitals are.

S: I’d love people to ask more questions about what they can do to help. About what they can learn. I’d also like people to be more curious about trans culture. I wish cis people were more aware of passing: appearing to be cis or assumed to be cis by outside observers. I wish they’d have a more nuanced understanding of it. So I don’t have to explain things over and over again.

Meow Wolf and TNET collab on "How to be an ally to trans people"
Check out some best practices on how to be an ally to trans people here.

How has being trans affected the way you raise your kids?

C: It’s been a very positive experience. My older kid is ten and a half now and they’re also non-binary. I get to have lots of conservations about it with them. They were there when I had top surgery. My little child asks me questions. I correct how they gender other people and they won’t fight about it or anything. They’re very respectful of other people. And sometimes they correct me! My kids have seen me defend myself and them. That has caused them to learn a lot about empathy and also learn how to stand up for themselves and other people.

What’s coming up in the future?

S + C: We’re looking forward to supporting the trans community with our new web store. We want to support trans artists and sell their stuff online. We also have two upcoming zines called “Tucking and Stuffing” and “Binding and Packing”. We’re really excited about that. We want to do more zines on topics like HRT (hormone replacement therapy), surgery, and coming out. We’re also doing the Trans Love project: a video series of interviews with trans people about their relationships. Getting to engage in relationships that make me feel safe, understood, and welcome is really instrumental for my current mental well-being. I want more people to have that experience even if they’re not experiencing it firsthand. And realize that trans people can be loved and experience pleasure too.

Want to get involved? Schedule a training or attend a public session. Fill out their interest form. Check out their website. Follow TNET on Instagram @tnet.trainings or email them at [email protected].