Daphne: "I wanted to create a night celebrating the other women."

Daphne: "I wanted to create a night celebrating the other women."

If there’s a word to describe Daphne it’s iconic. The founder of Jolene, a trans-femme strip night in downtown Los Angeles, has welcomed dozens of girls into the scene. Whether by giving the girls a place to work, introducing them to their soon-to-be sisters, or bringing a care package to girls after they've had surgery, she's always looking out for her community.

Read the interview with Daphne where she shares her journey to becoming an iconic LA figure, finding trans girl community, and why she chose @ethicaldrvgs as her Instagram handle.

Kai: First off, can you tell us who you are, how you identify, and, what you do?

Daphne: I go by many different names. Everyone knows me as Daphne - at least the girls and many in the queer community. I use she/her pronouns, and since everyone's doing it nowadays, my Instagram handle is @ethicaldrvgs.

Kai: A persona is a big thing within the trans community. Where did the name ethical drugs come from?

Daphne: I've always been inspired by landmarks. When I started making art and showing it at galleries, many of my performance pieces were accompanied by videos capturing iconic LA spots. Like the corner of Santa Monica and Highland, that famous donut shop. I always thought it was funny that a pharmacy in Korea Town was named Ethical Drugs. That's where my handle comes from.

I wonder if it’s a loose translation of ‘good pharmacy’ or ‘good pharmaceuticals’ or something like that. You know how things get lost in translation from Asian languages to English.

I didn’t become a nurse. I'm avoiding the medical field. Sorry, Asian parents. Entertainment only.

Kai: I love the local vibe especially since there are so many transplants in LA. What kind of art were you making?

Daphne: I did a lot of performance art. When I first started transitioning, I incorporated a lot of the stuff I learned from kink. The fire eating is one of them. I used to staple things to my body. I used to do live play piercing on stage. I remember I performed in WeHo and they were like, “what the fuck is she doing?”

But doing it downtown and on the east side, people were like, “oh my God, this is it.”

Art doesn't pay much, and I eventually found a new job. I was going to work my way up the corporate ladder, and see if I could make something comfortable for myself. Then I just saw how disheartening these places were. These workplaces that claim to be inclusive and trans-friendly were not. I was working at Starbucks in a full beat, and still would get “He helped me”, “Thanks bro”, and “Thanks buddy”. The hard part about it was that a district manager would tell me that all I could do was customer service them because we didn’t want to be confrontational.

That essentially told me that I couldn't defend myself. I couldn’t correct someone and tell them “she/her”. Then I became a stripper.

Daphne posing in front of camera, photography by Texas Isaiah
Daphne for The Girls Book (photography by Texas Isaiah)

Kai: The artist to corporate doll to stripper pipeline.

Daphne: And then the stripper to DJ pipeline, right? I didn’t become a nurse. I'm avoiding the medical field. Sorry, Asian parents. Entertainment only.

Kai: And now you have Jolene. When did that idea start to come to life?

Daphne: Jolene came about when I started working and dancing for an event called [redacted] strip.

When I first started transitioning, I was also getting sober from hard drugs. And in the first year of AA, you have a watch party to ensure you get your one-year sobriety date. Instead of doing the typical dinner celebration, I said I wanted to go to Jumbo’s Clown Room. I remember going in there with my friends and being so enamored by the way these women own their femininity on stage.

That’s the energy I want to manifest for myself during my journey in pole dancing. I remember being in spaces that weren’t always trans-friendly and wishing there was a place I could invite my friends to. To be more public about it. At the time, I also advocated for decriminalizing sex work - not the legalization, the decriminalization. I got the name “Other Womxn” from the Nina Simone song, "The Other Woman", because many trans girls, specifically, and sex workers share that intersectionality of being the other woman. Just to be that fantasy that everyone wants to experience at the surface level. It comes with the territory of transitioning. I wanted to create a night celebrating the other women. And I got the name Jolene from Dolly Parton’s song. It sounds like that was Dolly confronting her insecurities about this other woman.

Eventually, I created “Girls Like Us” with Black Charmed - hopefully, we can do that again - and Gracie Cartier hosted. Then, at this venue where I was dancing one of the guys got 86’ed. He was hosting the strip night there. I contacted the venue and asked if anyone would continue the strip night. They didn’t want to do it but offered me the terms and agreements. I said, “Fuck it.”

I wanted a place to dance. Other girls still wanted a place to dance. I wanted to make it work. After celebrating our anniversary this year in person, it was super affirming to see that people want to come out and support the girls.

I also want to remind people that girls shouldn’t always have to be pulling stunts to be supported. It can be the most simple thing like taking them out to eat or giving them a ride to their gig. Little things like that are ways to show up for the girls.

I’m grateful that Jolene has brought up these conversations around destigmatizing the idea of the other woman and decriminalizing sex work. This is a reality for a lot of the girls.

Many of us do this for survival. This isn’t a “hehe, haha I’m gonna live my stripper fantasy for a night because a Cardi B music video inspired me.” People forget she did her time dancing in Jersey, Brooklyn, and all those places you know.

Kai: I love that, and thank you for sharing all of that. The vibe of Jolene felt super safe and affirming, and everyone was living for each other. I felt like I was in a Torrey Peters novel.

Daphne: I’m also [hella] grateful for the girls who come dance and work backstage. Even though I’m creating the table, they’re helping to create that vibe where we uplift each other. It’s not just one person making all this happen.

Kai: And you're so good at rounding up the community. Even the other girls that I've talked to have said “oh my God, because of Daphne, I found this community, or I was able to get gigs at Jolene.” Has this community organizer always been in your blood?

Daphne: I never expected to be in this organizing role. If you had told me this is where I’d be when I first came out or started transitioning, I would’ve called bullshit. And honestly, I’m grateful that people can see the work that I’m trying to do even though I’m not perfect or able to do it at the capacity that I want.

I also want to remind people that girls shouldn’t always have to be pulling stunts to be supported. It can be the most simple thing like taking them out to eat or giving them a ride to their gig. Little things like that are ways to show up for the girls.

Kai: So, how did you start finding community when you started to transition?

Daphne: I got lucky and found ballroom when I first started transitioning. I went to a banjee ball and walked runway. It was what I dreamed of growing up in a conservative area. I was first in the House of Chanel, and then eventually, Gia took me under her wing. I found community through all the femme queens and was raised by them. It was a really special experience to find that so early on and see trans women be celebrated in a space where you could be whoever you wanted. I was an awkward goth-punk girl when I started ballroom, and they embraced that. I didn’t have to change myself.

Kai: And now you’re the one that’s creating those spaces and being a role model. What’s some advice you’d share for the girls?

Daphne laying on sofa, photography by Texas Isaiah
Daphne for The Girls Book (photography by Texas Isaiah)

Daphne: Do your best to put yourself out there and find the community that you want. Sometimes what works for someone else may not work for you, and that's okay. Most importantly, don't compare your journey to anyone else's because your journey and your transition is yours.

When you focus on someone else's transition, you're gonna get lost in what they’re doing, as opposed to what you could be doing for yourself. You shouldn't be competing with anyone else because it ain't a competition between the girls.

Kai: I’ve heard that from a lot of the girls. And there are so many different pathways to being trans now. Whether it’s getting work done, hormones, no hormones, or keeping their facial hair.

So where do you want to see Jolene go in the future?

Daphne: Ideally it grows into a more consistent safe space for the girls. Multiple nights a month or even other cities to have the same safe energy for the girls to come and work. If the girls, including me, can just dance for a night and not have to meet with someone weird in their hotel room and be on edge is a moment of relief.

Hopefully, we can have more conversations about decriminalizing sex work so that the girls can thrive more fully. Eventually, that energy of supporting the girls carries over into corporate spaces for the girls who want to pursue that.

Kai: Absolutely. Where do you see yourself in all of that?

Daphne: I'm just trying to take it one day at a time as the world is slowly ending. My friend gave me a really good piece of advice when I first got started with sex worker advocacy and activism. She told me that you're not going to change the world overnight. You're not going to inspire world peace. You're not gonna be able to change the climate. Just focus on the little corner where you can create change and just continue with that. And that's just what I'm going to continue to do.

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