Kai Jones and René Mendiola are the co-founders of Save Our Sons & Brothers.
Leaders are not born, they’re made, and sometimes all it takes is knowing that someone you admire sees your potential for leadership to help you take the next step. That’s exactly how Save Our Sons & Brothers (SOSB) came to be. Today, co-founders Kai Jones and René Mendiola are laying a foundation for transgender men and transmasculine people of color in Houston, with hopes that their local example will lead to similar safe social spaces throughout the country.
Jones, a Black trans male, was inspired by local trans activist Atlantis Narcisse to forge a path for trans men of color in Houston. Narcisse is the CEO and founder of Save Our Sisters United, Inc. (SOSU), which was created in 2017 to “develop safe spaces for individuals of transgender experience and women of minority communities to exist without the stigma that everyday society imposes on transgender individuals.” The seasoned activist was a godsend to Jones, who had also struggled to find his place in Houston’s trans community. “When I left the military, I couldn’t find [any groups] in California that fit what I needed, especially being a person of color (POC). When I moved back to Houston, I met Atlantis and started volunteering with her.”
When Mendiola, a Latinx trans man, met with Narcisse and Jones, it was a no-brainer that the three should collaborate. “I didn’t know I was going to be such a big part of Atlantis’ life. She became my mentor,” Mendiola explains. “Apparently she knew that she wanted to have branches of her organization that were not just for trans women, but for trans men and people who are nonbinary. When she met me and Kai, it clicked in her head to invite us to create Save Our Sons & Brothers (SOSB).”Narcisse recalls that Jones and Mendiola spoke often about their dream of creating an organization for Houston’s trans men of color. She chose the two to create Save Our Sons & Brothers because of their strong vision for what the group would look like. “Kai and René reminded me of me, and how I simply wanted a space to exist [where others like myself could share].”
During the initial push to start the group, the pair realized their combined leadership styles would make them a force for change within their community. “I was attending support groups, and that’s what inspired me to want to create a space for POC individuals,” Jones explains. “I’m still getting my name changed, because there’s no info on how to do that on the DD214 form [that verifies military service]. Going through what I’m going through, I know I can bring some value to the community.” Mendiola notes that their differences are what make them such a strong team. “I think Atlantis liked that we were so different from each other. She thought there was something beautiful to be made.”
So the dynamic duo set out to create safe social spaces where other trans men of color could gather. Jones hopes to bring resources and mentorship to other trans men who are coming out. “It’s hard to find trans men in Houston, at least for me. I didn’t know that many until this program was created.” The organization is a labor of love for Mendiola, whose Houston roots give him a sense of pride in his leadership role. “I love Houston, and this is my contribution to help improve the city,” he says. “Trans spaces are typically composed of white people. We collectively want to make a space for people of color, and particularly trans men of color.”
“Bringing visibility to this community is a big goal for me. Trans men of color in Houston need to have a place to ask questions.”
About 62 percent of trans Texans identify as people of color, according to a recent study by UCLA’s Williams Institute. Thirteen percent are Black, 44 percent are Latinx, and 5 percent identify as other non-white races or ethnicities.
“Bringing visibility to this community is a big goal for me. Trans men of color in Houston need to have a place to ask questions and talk about sensitive subjects—things that no one else understands because they’re so nuanced,” Mendiola explains. “We want to build a social network to share info about the best pharmacies for hormones, job opportunities, and other info. That’s the overarching goal.”
Discussion groups where people can share their experiences, ask questions, and enter a safe space of vulnerability are hallmarks of the new organization. Even though they are still in the early stages, the duo already has dreams of expanding, according to Jones. “I hope to see this spread out to other cities. I feel that everyone’s overall goal [is an organization that’s accessible nationwide].”
The two activists continue to look to Narcisse as their role model. “It’s an honor to be a part of something that is led by a Black trans woman,” says Mendiola. Jones summarizes the impact of the group as he reflects on his experience thus far. “Atlantis built Save Our Sisters off of family orientation. We are following that same model. I consider René and the other SOSB members to be my chosen family. I can always talk to them about things I’m going through, and they’ll understand. I hope others will gain the same thing through this organization.”
Keep up with Saving Our Sons & Brothers on Facebook at facebook.com/saveoursonsandbrothers.
This article appears in the February 2021 edition of OutSmart magazine.