For Mila Jam, Every Day “Is a Trans Day of Visibility”

The activist and singer-songwriter premieres the music video for "Pretty One," her evocative new single.

Mila Jam, a singer-songwriter and LGBTQ activist, has spent most of her life fighting for representation, visibility, and freedom as a Black transgender woman. But in honor of today’s Transgender Day of Visibility, Jam is leaning in to her personal self-love journey with her new single, “Pretty One.”

Following in the footsteps of other glittering yet relatable divas before her like Beyoncé and Sylvester, Jam is a powerhouse of talent; she sings, she dances, she models, she acts, she writes her own music, and she produces. Her strong vocals and captivating lyrics make her a standout in her field, while her fierce activism and fearless visibility are testaments to what we as members of the LGBTQ community can accomplish.
 

Now, Jam is back with a music video for her latest single, “Pretty One,” a cut from her upcoming but as yet unnamed EP. Premiering exclusively on NewNowNext, the track is an exercise in self-affirmations, and an eclectic pop song that flits from fast bop to swooning chorus on a dime. The video — filmed during lockdown with strict COVID-19-related safety protocols — sees Jam and her fellow dancers writhe and bump to the song’s kick drum beat, while her impassioned lyrics about finding self-worth shine.

NewNowNext caught up with the singer to chat about “Pretty One,” the continued importance of Trans Day of Visibility, and what she feels is the future for LGBTQ inclusion in mainstream society.

How have you been doing throughout the pandemic?

Well, I was in my apartment for four months straight. But then I got asked to speak at a rally for the trans vigil last summer. Once I got out of the house, I think I marched every day for a month straight. And that’s when I discovered Citi bikes! I rediscovered biking around the city, and actually had one of the better summers I’ve ever experienced as a New Yorker. It felt great to get out of that usual city rhythm, take things slower, be outside more. COVID-19 did touch my family, and that was a really dramatic, scary, overwhelming time. My mother actually got COVID-19 back in August. She’s completely recovered, which is wonderful. She’s a lucky one in my eyes. She had a revelation about her own health too, when her doctor told her how close she was to not making it. I went to visit my family in Georgia about a month or so after she got better to help out. I have a small family. It was really worth it. That time with them was reviving, and it was everything I needed.

So it hasn’t been all bad for you?

It hasn’t, as weird as that is to say! I got to really start working on connecting the dots within and without my community. And now I’m having conversations with companies and businesses who are suddenly involved in Black Lives Matter and Trans Lives Matter and want to be held accountable and want to be a part of the conversation. So that’s all very encouraging.

Frank Boccia

Tell me about “Pretty One” — what’s this song all about?

It’s a little bit of a lullaby… a reminder to everyone that this life is hard for everyone, whether you’re Black or trans or queer or whatever. This is what I am saying to myself in my mind, when things start to get rough, when things start to seem really dim. Some self-motivation. We can all make ourselves look pretty on the outside, but what work are we doing with our inner child, to make you pretty on the inside? It’s a song dedicated to my inner self, to the little girl in me who grew up unable to live her life authentically. But now, it’s like, “I got this. You got this. You can be the pretty one!”

What was it like filming the music video during a pandemic?

I got together with my director Frank Boccia and my choreographer Paul McGill, and we had a conversation about doing something that had a theatrical vibe to it and was a little bit of an homage to dance and bodies and movement. Trying to bring some joy in this moment. We of course took all the steps to make it COVID-safe. We actually worked on this for about a month and a half in rehearsals, just going to the dance studio and then immediately going home after hours of practicing. It was a challenge, but it was worth it.

Today is Trans Day of Visibility. What does this day mean to you?

I think it’s a day for us to get people who are not hip to the situation on board. Every day is a Trans Day of Visibility in my life. But sometimes, you gotta give people a holiday for them to pay attention. More and more people are having relationships with trans people, whether it be family members, whether it be dating, whether it be friends, whether it be in the workplace. So I think that’s what it’s really all about: getting people on the quote “other side” to recognize us for who we are.

Frank Boccia

What do you hope other trans folk might glean, spiritually, from listening and watching “Pretty One”?

You know that feeling you get when you see someone do something that you hugely admire? And you think to yourself, “I wish I could do that. I want to do that. I could do that. I should do that!” That’s what I want other trans people to feel when they watch this. That’s my message: elevation, evolution, and self-love.

Speaking of evolution, do you think the mainstream world is doing a decent job these days in terms of supporting LGBTQ people the way it does for cisgender, heterosexual people?

A lot of our cis-hetero brothers and sisters were simply born into a system that works for them. It’s really about giving someone space and a moment to share their voice. That’s a universal need, and something we all should get to experience. But queer people don’t usually have those opportunities built into our lives, so it adds an extra layer. We often feel like we have to earn our humanity, but we shouldn’t have to work so hard to feel validated. That’s why days like Transgender Day of Visibility matter.

Do you see changes happening?

Possibly. I really love it when a cisgender, hetero person has a sudden revelation and realizes how easy it is for them — how much our systems have been set up for them, how it’s all been worked out in their favor. And we’re having those conversations even in our own community. Many cisgender white gay men are really starting to understand how privilege trickles down to them from places like the patriarchy and white supremacy. So being able to acknowledge that, in my opinion, is really where you start. There are a lot of cisgender and heteronormative people who are tapping into whatever level of queerness that they have. That’s great, but my only issue with that is, they’re now able to access queerness while simultaneously not having to stand up for it, not having to be a part of the conversation, not having to voice support. Because people like you and me, we can’t stop being queer or trans or gay or what have you. Acknowledging that it’s an unequal playing field is key to moving forward.

Brooklyn-based writer and editor whose work regularly appears in PAPER, Billboard, Civilized, and more. He is a former editor at Out magazine, as well as a social and political activist.
@alexblynn