AARON-EMILIANO

Hadley, MA

What’s your name?

My name is Aaron-Emiliano Portillo.

What are your pronouns?

“He/him” pronouns or “they/them” pronouns.

Where do you work?

I work at Texas Roadhouse as a server and as a bar back, and I also work at Amherst Coffee as a barista and bar back / training bartender. And I will be going to school at Holyoke Community College this summer to finish my degree in Biotechnology.

Do you have any hobbies or special interests? What do you do for fun?

I am not much of a person for going out, but I do like hanging at home. I’m very much a homebody. I just like cooking and cleaning. I like hanging out with my friends. And I do tend to drink a bit, because I love craft beer, especially being in Western Mass. So that’s what I spend a lot of my time doing. I’m very much a dork, and I love learning. The way that I keep a handle on my ADHD is that I constantly have to engage my brain otherwise I’m just overstimulated or under stimulated, it’s either/or. So I really love learning things. I really love physiology and anatomy, so I’m usually doing that. I’m obsessed with – it’s going to sound a little weird but – I’m obsessed with aortas and stent graphs and technology that goes into repairing the body. That’s what I want to study, so a lot of the time I’m watching surgery videos on stent graphs, which is a little bit of my obsession. I know it’s a little weird. [​laughs] ​That’s what I would ideally like to go into eventually and study. Mechanical engineering. So I spend a lot of my time doing that. 

My housemate/friend works at a makerspace and runs [it] and a lot of the time I’m there building little projects. I like to attend community events. I haven’t done very much since I moved out here, but when I lived in New York I was a part of an immigration group. I was part of Cocesha in Boston, which is also another immigration group. There’s Youth on Fire in Boston that I volunteered at. So I love doing things like that. There was recently an event in Holyoke at the Holyoke high school where they were raising money to bring back a student’s father who was deported. So they had a little event where people were coming over and speaking their experiences within families of what deportation and immigration looks like for them. Which is really chill, because I actually have a history with that myself. But I love doing stuff like that. I’m not much for clubbing and going out and doing stuff that most people my age are doing. It’s too much social interaction and anxiety. I’m also on the spectrum, so I don’t like all the noise. It’s not my jam.

How do you handle the issue of pronouns and being gendered when interacting with strangers / mixed company / etc?

That’s an interesting one. I’m really great with it in terms of checking people when it’s anybody else but​ me, and I will quickly shut somebody down who is using the incorrect pronouns, or I’ll correct them, and if they continue to be a dick then I will attack them a little bit. And I’m very quick to do that for other people, but for myself, it’s very different. It’s really hard to navigate that, especially being here in Western Mass, because it’s a bit of a conservative area, especially when you work at Texas Roadhouse and everybody shows up in MAGA hats. So it really depends on what space I’m in. Roadhouse specifically I just let everybody do what they want to because it’s not worth that. It’s not worth stating myself in that space. My co-workers are pretty chill, and they respect me for the most part, and I’ve tried to be very open about that; sending out an email when I first got there being like, “Hey, here are all the questions you probably have, here’s my pronouns, if you have any questions approach me.” And they were really accepting of that. Amherst Coffee is a lot more chill. It’s not super queer, but [is] queer-friendly. The Boston locations were a bit more queer-friendly, which is where I originally worked. And so they know my pronouns, and they have a bit more respect towards me, but they’re also all cis [cisgender] people except for one person so there’s still that weird dynamic. But I try. A lot of me is very genderfuck though, so I very much enjoy when people assume and I’m just like, “Heh heh, you don’t know the truth.” And luckily my identity is something that I’m very ​ ​confident in, probably the thing that I’m the most confident in, so I don’t fortunately seek that validation through my work space. Which a lot of people unfortunately do, which is really hard to achieve. I know that I did at one point, and I’d go to work and I’d be mis-gendered and it destroyed me. And now I go to work and get mis-gendered all the time and I’m just like, whatever. I come home to my loved ones and then I get called a cute boy and stuff like that, so it’s fine at the end of the day.

Have you had difficulties with changing your name and the way it affects you moving through the world, being recognized how you want, or being mis-gendered?

Yes and no. I have not had any experience with the legal aspect of that. Just because I’m not ready for that yet. I will be at some point. I have an issue with my name, because it’s Aaron-hyphen-Emiliano, but [no one can pronounce it the correct way], and since it’s hyphened I would expect people to say Aaron-Emiliano, but often times it’s butchered or just too much, “too long,” as people like to say. So it’s generally just Aaron, especially in my workplaces, or when I just meet somebody. When I get more comfortable with them I tell them it’s Emiliano, or Aaron-Emiliano if they feel it. But typically Emiliano if we’re comfortable. My partners will call me Emiliano. So that’s a bit of a thing. So my work tag will just say “Aaron.” Which kinda sucks because the Aaron-Emiliano is very much tied to who I am and my identity, and then it gets shortened to Aaron. So there’s a whole thing with that, with just having to use this very white name, especially as a white-passing Latino. 

But generally people do respect me, although I did have one co-worker a couple days ago ask me what my “girly” name was because she just had to know, and she was giggling, and it was just a weird thing, and I walked away from her and told her she needed to mind her business. But most of my thing is just around my name being a Latino name, and in the trans community it’s pretty hard to be Latino. Especially in Western Mass. It’s very interesting. It’s a very white-populated area. Which is fine. I don’t really have many issues with it because I am very white-passing. But, for example, my queer housemate is not white-passing, and they’re also POC [person of color], so there’s a weird dynamic with that. A lot of times if I tell people my name they’re like, “What? What did you just say?” Emiliano’s what my first name would ​be, if I…didn’t need to get jobs. Aaron is very much a work name. Actually if I do legally change it, if I ever work up the gumption to do that at some point – I’m in no rush, I’m 18 – it would be Matteo-Emiliano. But…work. That’s a whole thing. Although honestly, my deadname is also very Latino and hard to pronounce as well, so it’s not much of a difference if I go from my deadname to Matteo-Emiliano because either way people don’t really know how to say that. But I’ve also been Aaron for four years, so it’s a little hard to let go of that. I don’t love it, but I’m so used to it, y’know? It annoys me, but it’s also exactly how I set it up to be read. So it’s kind of on me, which I’m aware of, and I’ll own that space whenever I’m ready to own that space. But for now, people who get to know me and are closer to me and are POC especially get to know the truth.

"It’s very important to me to be seen as a queer Latino, since I am Latino, I’m Salvadorian, and Spanish was my first language, and people don’t see that when they see me. So that’s very important to me."

What word(s) would you use to describe your identity?

Very fluid. I think I have a very fluid identity. I think I identify as a trans man, but I often times call myself a feminine-presenting trans man when people ask me “what I am” (work space) so they’re a bit less confused. Because when I say trans man, they’re just like, “Wait, what does that mean? Trans to what from what?” So it’s a lot easier for me to say a feminine-presenting trans man, and then they take a second, but I guess it makes a bit more sense. But I do also like that because I feel like there is a huge push on hyper-masculinity within trans men and that’s not me at all. I took T on and off for a couple years, and I’m done, and I’m definitely not what you would consider “passing.” 

So there’s a whole thing with that. So being feminine is very big in my identity, but also very fluid. So yeah. Trans man, I call myself trans boy. There’s a lot of things. It also depends on the day. I can identify with genderqueer sometimes. It’s not a very set thing for me. In terms of presentation too, my wardrobe looks very different day to day. Unless I have to go to work and I have to wear my uniform. So I will often times mix things that people see as a genderfuck, so I’ll wear a button-down shirt and a skirt and Docs or Tims or stuff like that, just mix it up. Although that sounds like a terrible outfit, but you get my point. [laughs]  

Are there ways that you dress / act / speak / etc. to specifically make a statement to others about your identity? Why?

Yeah, definitely. Like I said with the genderfuck style, I try to aim for that. I’m very stereotypical in the whole Docs thing, I’ve got like five pairs. It just is what it is. A very important thing to me, which isn’t necessarily part of just my queer identity, but my queer Latino identity, which is very much tied for me, is my hair. Which is why I’m very recently letting it get as long as possible and just letting it flop over. My curly hair is very much a statement for me, and it draws a lot of attention. Which is annoying at times, but it’s fine. It’s very important to me to be seen as a queer Latino, since I am Latino, I’m Salvadorian, and Spanish was my first language, and people don’t see that when they see me. So that’s very important to me. I do have Latinx pride buttons on my jacket and my bag and stuff like that. 

Another thing is – I guess my queer identity very much is professional. I know that sounds so silly, but I try to look a bit more dressed up, if that makes sense. But another thing too is I will constantly just walk around in my binder. So I think that’s a very queer thing. For sure. A big one too – I got my bellybutton pierced like two years ago, and I love showing that shit off, because nothing confuses people more than a happy trail and a bellybutton piercing. It’s the best fucking reaction. So I wear a lot of crop tops and just my binder, and it’s great. I love it. And you know there’s the rolled up pants and the ankles, because I wouldn’t be gay without showing off my ankles. There’s rainbow socks that I happen to be wearing. It’s probably the only rainbow thing that I own, but I really love them. I got them at Pride last year in Western Mass. That’s the most eventful thing that happened at Western Mass Pride. [laughs] ​So that’s the stuff of my identity. There’s rings. I happen to be wearing only one, but I like rings, especially this one, because it’s very much a mix between feminine and masculine, to love jewelry like that. 

How early on did you know or suspect that you did not identify within the binary?

Oh, very early on. I’d say about 7 or 8. I very much ascribed to the whole tomboy thing, and I definitely knew I was gay from the fucking start. I had a friend of mine who was my best friend, and we lived in the same building, in the house that my dad owned. I lived on the first floor, she lived on the second, and she was my girlfriend, and I was very attracted to her, and I was only like 3 or 4. We grew up until we were like 6, and she was my girlfriend the entire time. So definitely very gay from the start. Around age 7 or 8 I started dressing in boys’ clothes, and I started going by the name Adrian, which is not very far off from my deadname, and it was just a whole thing. I ended up doing that for a couple years until I was like 11, and then suddenly I just got really, ridiculously feminine. So ​ ​feminine. But it was also the whole emo feminine thing, so I had the teased hair, and all these really cute accessories, and I really fucking dug into it to the point where all my money was going into accessories. But I’m sure I’m not the only one. And I was just hyper-feminine to the point where it made me very uncomfortable. But I very much felt the need to, which is very interesting looking back on that now. 

Then I think around age 14 I realized that I was queer because I met other queer people who were very fluid in their identity, and then not too long after that, maybe a couple months after, I met a community of QTPOC [queer trans people of color]. I was so fucking excited, because – it’s one thing seeing a queer white person, but it was another thing seeing queer Salvadorian people. I lost my shit. So that’s when I started exploring things, and I was like, I’m queer, but I don’t really understand what that means, and I was trying to fit into the whole “being a trans man” and what that’s supposed to look like, and it didn’t work. Even though I did do that for a while, and I started T almost immediately. I actually started T when I was 8 years old. And I was taking that on and off for quite a while. Because I just had access to that from other people. It’s very interesting. And then I got really comfortable with the term “trans man” without the things that come with that, and I started just doing whatever the fuck I wanted. And that’s how my identity was formed. I just grabbed whatever I wanted, and didn’t do whatever I didn’t want to do. In terms of processing trauma and building comfort within myself, this was a really, really big thing for me. So that’s why very early on it was very important to me, and why it’s the thing that I’m probably the most confident in.

Do you think anything about the way you were raised or where you grew up affected how you drew conclusions about your identity?

Yes. I mean I grew up in Boston. I grew up in an area that was not very queer. It was I guess kind of gay – but it was a very Latino community, and they’re not the most accepting, especially being first-gen and being from an immigrant family and being surrounded by other immigrant families. I think later gen [generations] might be a little more accepting, but definitely immigrant Salvadorian families are not ​very accepting. 

So if you ask my parents right now they will tell you that I am a cute little straight Salvadorian girl. Even though I have never, ever been that, and they know everything that I’ve told them time and time again, and they just keep forgetting. I’ve probably come out to them over a dozen times. Part of the way that that influenced me was just hate. I had a lot of hate for Latino people. And that’s something that’s really hard for me to admit now, but I really hated them and I wanted nothing to do with Latino folks and being part of Latino community, and I would tell everybody that I was white. I was very white-passing, it was easy for me to do that. I actually ran away from home when I was 14, and I’ve never been back. And now it’s something that I’ve accepted, but it’s not until I was able to get away from the toxic community that I was able to find myself and then go back and re-present myself. And even though I’m constantly being shut down there’s the queer ​Latino community, so we’re good. But it’s definitely been a very toxic space for me to navigate. But it’s also great now, because I learned a lot from it, and I now have a 3-year-old sister, so now I talk to them. They just moved to Tampa, so I’m sending her all these toys, whatever she wants. She wants a pink fucking airplane, she’s gonna get a pink fucking airplane. And that’s just how it is. 

So very toxic, but it’s made me very – open. But not before making me very spiteful at first. It’s a mixture of being seen as white, but also just not being seen as POC. Not being POC ​enough, ​which is a whole fucking thing. But it’s just all about owning that space. But it’s also because I identified as white and wanted nothing to do with POC for so long until maybe three years ago. And I didn’t start saying my last name correctly until two years ago. It’s very weird navigating those spaces. There’s a lot of assumption with identity and what you pass as and what you don’t, and what that means. What spaces you’re allowed in, even if it ​is ​your space, if you ​look​ like you belong in the space. There’s a whole thing with that. And there’s a whole thing with privilege too. Navigating spaces within privilege is very weird.

Can you give any examples of misconceptions people have about those who identify outside the binary? Have you personally dealt with them?

Yeah. I think one of them is the whole thing that you have to be androgynous, like people gotta look at you and not know what’s in your pants. That’s one that I definitely experience a lot. And a lot of that has been very – aggressive. Because people just come up to me and [say], “What’s in your pants?” Just straight up ask me, “What do you ​have?​” “What were you born as?” And that makes me very uncomfortable. So that’s definitely a big one. And having to be very uncomfortable with that, and I don’t know if it just happens to me a lot more than other queer people or it’s just that it has a very big effect on me, I think it’s the second one. But again as someone who has experienced trauma, it’s very hard for me to navigate that space, especially as someone who’s trying to advocate for themselves and other queer people, it’s very uncomfortable navigating spaces like that and having to educate people of why their assumptions are wrong while you’re extremely fucking uncomfortable. But I feel like I have to because I can. It’s uncomfortable but I can, and I know there’s people who can’t. So there’s a lot of assumptions like that, just based on appearances. People are going to assume where you grew up, who raised you, what your partner is probably like, what your sex life is like. That’s a big one too. Your sex life. I get a lot of assumptions on my sex life because I’m queer, especially people assuming that I’m hyper sexual, when I’m actually asexual. So that’s a big one. Which is also probably why I don’t go out. Because everybody’s hyper sexual in spaces like that where I would go out. 

A lot of the work that I want to do is within disability work, so that’s a lot of the stuff that I research, and I think that one big thing in being queer, especially genderqueer, genderfluid, something off the binary, a lot of assumptions are based around disability. So the stuff that I’ve seen, especially being an autistic person, is that I’m queer because I’m autistic, and there’s a lot of that. There is a ​lot ​of assumption that all queer people are autistic. And I know a lot of queer autistic people as well who actually have spoken on panels about this, and there’s just a lot of hate for autistic people in general, but then when you partner queer and autistic ​and ​POC, it’s just – spiteful. And people are very aggressive about those things. So actually a huge thing in having to navigate that is I don’t actually tell people I’m autistic. So nobody in my work space knows that I’m autistic, because I just feel like there’s ​so ​much negativity already, I don’t need those assumptions as well. So that’s one huge thing to navigate. Or there’s just assumptions that if you’re queer there’s ​something ​wrong with you, like you have ​some ​kind of disability. That’s something that I’ve seen a lot.

In your own words, how would you explain that gender identity is different from sexual orientation?

Oh, good lord. It’s really hard to explain, especially because while I’m explaining these things and how there’s a difference, people want to know my ​personal identity. A lot of what I really just try to explain to people is that your identity is your identity, and just getting that past their heads can be a little complicated. And just explaining that your sex is what you’ve been assigned at birth, but it doesn’t really fucking mean anything, and your identity has nothing to do with your sex. So that’s one huge thing for me, because my identity very much doesn’t have anything to do with my sex, but a lot of people assume that because I’m a trans man that I want to change my sex, or they will call me a “male.” “Oh, so you wanna be a male?” No, not really, to be honest. I very much don’t. Explaining that there’s a whole thing with your body, your identity, and your attraction. Three separate things. But they’re so intertwined, and there’s so much assumption with them that it’s really, really hard to explain them. And I try. I will spend a good hour with people trying to explain how these things differ. But yeah, it’s complicated. That one’s a really hard one to navigate for me.

"We really tend to neglect the concept that intersectionality is a thing, and that people can have multiple identities, and not just make assumptions based off of one, or the one that’s most prominent, or the one that people are most comfortable talking about or accepting. ... It’s really hard for me to enter a space as one thing in the space and bring my other identity to it."

How do you feel represented in media and society at large?

I don’t. I go to see a lot of queer poets for this reason. I also love poetry. Representation is something I don’t have. It’s a huge fucking pet peeve of mine when they do those icebreaker questions in groups and stuff, and [say things like], “Who would you select to be your celebrity if you were in a movie or something like that? Who would play you?” And I’m just like, I don’t fucking know. Spongebob? I hate those questions. I’ve gotten them way too many times. I never feel like I can find someone who can represent me. 

It’s wild that I have an intersectional identity, so I have to pick and choose from different celebrities: this ​autistic person, this ​Latino man, this ​Latina woman, we have someone with ADHD over here, someone with OCD, and here we are, we have a person. But I don’t feel like I really have representation. I feel like it’s definitely gotten a lot better recently. I think that if I were to choose an identity it would probably be based off of She-ra​ ​, one of those characters, because they’re so queer and so cute. But that’s definitely something that’s lacking for me. But I try to make those things up. Not for myself, but again, for my little sister. A lot of my queer identity is stuff that I’m learning for her, too. That’s a really big thing for me, so I’ve actually made her a little comic book. She’s so gorgeous, she has these beautiful large curls, so there was one where her curl was her superpower, and fueled her superpower, and she really likes pink planes for some reason, and so she rides this pink plane and she saves lives and her hair fuels her power. 

What improvements would you like to see happen inside your communities, and in society at large?

Everything? I think that a huge thing is just intersectionality. We really tend to neglect the concept that intersectionality is a thing, and that people can have multiple identities, and not just make assumptions based off of one, or the one that’s most prominent, or the one that people are most comfortable talking about or accepting. That’s a really huge thing for me. It’s really hard for me to enter a space as one thing in the space and bring my other identity to it. I feel like that’s a huge thing. So I don’t know, I think that’d be nice. That’s why, again, a huge thing for me is disability work. Disability studies. That’s why I’m trying to get in that and just queering up disability a bit more. Make things more accessible. So that’s probably the main thing for me.

Could you tell me about an experience or moment in your life that was very impactful for you?  

I think that meeting my partner was a big one for me, which led to self-discovery. A lot of me having to navigate my identity and being in toxic spaces growing up led to me completely neglecting my education, and also people not seeing the fact that I had ADHD at such a very young age, so I did terrible. A lot of having to navigate my own identities; that’s a huge thing I had growing up too, that I was so queer and so trans and so gay that nobody was like, “Oh, you’re struggling in school, not because you’re gay, but because you have these disabilities.” Fucking wild. And so that’s another thing where intersectionality comes in. My partner was really important to me because I was at the start of noticing what exactly my queer identity was to me, ​ ​and what my Latino identity meant to me, and within those spaces I was able to navigate that with them. They also are huge into academia, they have three Master’s right now and are a mega dork, and so they were able to get me back into that, and now I’ve gotten my GED, since I actually never fucking stepped foot in high school until I went to drop out. I got my GED at 17, I finished a year of my Associate’s, so that was a huge thing. Another huge thing for me was – there was a Treehouse commercial, which is a coding website on Hulu, and I was watching [a show], and I didn’t know what coding was, so when I saw that I was immediately like, “I don’t know what the fuck this is, but I’m signing up for a free month.” And my free month ended up being like six months of paying for it, which led to me getting into programming and web design, and that’s all led to technology and disability work. So it’s funny how that escalated. But those were really big things for me, things that have shown me that my education and research is something that’s really important to me and a really big part of my identity. That’s for sure.

Could you give me an example of something difficult that occurred in your life how you dealt with it?  

[laughs] ​I don’t know which one to talk about. They’re all very complicated. I’m just going to go with trauma. I’m not going to get into details, but I have a lot of trauma history, and that is something that’s been very hard for me because – you know, this started when I was 4 up until age 14. So that’s something that I am just now starting to navigate, and how that’s unfortunately so tied with my identity, because I literally fucking grew up with it, so that’s something that’s really hard for me to navigate now. And now I’ve started therapy, which is a whole fucking thing because of insurance, and being queer, and people assuming that I’m queer because of my trauma – my therapist, which doesn’t make it any easier – I’m in the process of getting a new therapist. I’ve been trying to start to process that. I think I’m in a way better space than I ever have been, and a lot of that has been through exploring these spaces with the help of my partners. 

One really big thing that happened with that was I ended up developing an eating disorder, and I just recently left treatment for that. So that was a really big thing for me, just going into treatment, and being in therapy, exploring all these spaces.

It’s kind of like AA for eating disorders, but it’s not really just about eating disorders, it’s really whatever your history is. So you just go and you talk about these things. And that’s been a really big thing for me.

Who in your life do you feel you can trust or depend on?

My cat. [​laughs] ​My current partner. I’d say that for once in my life I can probably say me, which is chill, because that’s probably new as of a couple weeks ago. But trust is something that I tend to give out until it’s fucked with, and then it’s gone, versus having people earn it, which is something that I’m trying to re-learn. But I think that for the first time ever I can finally trust myself to make better decisions and have better intentions over my life. But I can definitely say that I very much trust my current partner. But definitely my cat. He’s a big boy. He will fight people for me. 

How has your identity played a role in your relationships, romantic or otherwise?

I have absolutely no relationship with my family. So, that way. The only reason why I’m now in contact with my parents is because I’m in college and I need their tax return forms. I wish I was lying. And because I have a little sister, and she’s 3 years old. So now I have to keep in contact with them – well my mom mostly – to see her and talk to her. Although she now understands how to use tablets so I can just Facetime her, which is really chill. In terms of friendships and acquaintances and people like that, I tend to not have many friends. I’m also a little bit of an introvert, so that’s how I like things a little bit. But I tend to not give people the benefit of the doubt, and as soon as they say something problematic I’m just like, goodbye. I’m very good at being fake, I’ll say that. So I’m actually really good friends with all my co-workers, but not really, not as what I ​​would see as friendship, so I have maybe three good friends who are all queer radical people. But it’s just really hard. As soon as I hear one thing that’s problematic, I immediately distance myself. So that’s hard. I feel like a lot of the times I’m just struggling to connect with people because I have such high fucking standards. But it’s chill. Because the few people that I do let into my life are very important to me. My co-workers don’t know shit about me. But they really love me. And that’s the way it has to stay. They don’t need to know more than I tell them. 

Are you able to find adequate medical care?

I’ve actually had pretty good luck with the medical care that I am able to access. I do have Mass Health though. I was going to Boston Children’s Hospital for a really long time except for the four years that I ran away, because I wasn’t seeing anybody then, but Boston Children’s Hospital is very queer, and I love that. My doctor immediately asked me things about my pronouns, my identity, how I wanted her to refer to me, what questions I didn’t want asked, what my boundaries were, she just asked me everything. And before asking me everything, she asked me if she could ask me a couple questions about it. So they’re very chill, they definitely get very great training with that. One of my PCP’s interns who helped with my ADHD diagnosis stuff since I had to do that for myself, she’s a queer woman who went to Mount Holyoke and is actually a friend of my partner’s. So it’s really funny how the queer community’s small like that. I actually volunteered to be a part of an interview there that they had in terms of queering up the space and making things more accessible and radical in a sense. I definitely gave a lot of feedback, especially since that queer intern was the one who was conducting the interview. Boston Children’s is the shit. There’s a couple things, but it’s fine for the most part. I even told them my preferred name and they were like, “Yeah, we’ll change all the documents.” So that’s nice. But in terms of accessing shit with Mass Health, it’s trash. I’ve been here three months and I still haven’t found a fucking PCP. And my therapist is “queer-friendly,” but has asked me if I’m trans because of my trauma.

How has your view of yourself changed since you were younger?

I’m still pretty young. I think that it’s very much been past, and now we’re finally in present/future, if that makes sense. So a lot of my self-discovery and myself has really come through in the past two months. So it’s still very new, but I’m starting to take ownership of my space, and what that means. And I thought I had boundaries for myself but I didn’t, and now I have boundaries for myself and I’m much more open with it and stating my needs. That’s something that’s very important to me. And my identity’s something that I feel like is pretty established, if it can be. The most established that I feel like it’s going to be. So I think that for me it’s figuring out my identity and then taking ownership of it, and bringing that into spaces. And that’s something that’s in practice right now. I’m still pretty quiet, but no longer just quietly sitting in a room.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

I’d probably ask for help. I feel like there was a lot that I could’ve done with my education. I was actually on track for a scholarship where they watch you from 5th​​ grade to high school and you get a full ride to everything and they pay for everything down to the dime. And I did not ask for help with my ADHD and my autism and everything and nobody knew that, and so if I could’ve asked for help then I could’ve probably not been in debt. But it’s fine. I would probably ask for help in a lot of different things. I thought I didn’t need help, because I’ve always been very independent. I’ve been working since I was 11. Help’s a big thing.

What are your concerns for the future?

I’m concerned about my student debt. I think there’s a lot of issues right now with jobs. I mean there’s always issues with jobs, but that’s something that I’m currently in the process of working on, not just for myself, but attending protests and stuff like that. So I think that’s a really big thing for me right now, and I’m currently in the process of advocating for a raise for me and everybody else at a job that I will not state, but one of the two. 

What do you look forward to in the future?

 

So much. I really want to get my Master’s at the University of British Columbia. I would never have any interest in going to Canada if it wasn’t for the school, but they have a Mechanical Engineering Master’s program that I really, really want to be a part of. I’m very excited for that. So a lot of me doing the fucking most in my Associate’s, and then transferring to hopefully Amherst College, fingers crossed – so I have huge hopes for my education. Because again I’m a first-gen kid. So that’s something I’m looking forward to. One of my goals in life is to be able to pay for my little sister’s tuition. And I think that we’re moving in that direction, so I’m pretty excited for that. I already got her the monthly STEM packages. Little STEM toys, she builds stuff, I’m like, “Be an engineer! You can be whatever you wanna be, but be an engineer!” It’s really cute.

"Do what makes you uncomfortable. So just constantly pushing yourself and when you don’t think you can do something, try it anyways, figure out a better way to do it. Most of the time when I tell myself I can’t do it, most of the time I can do it. It just takes me longer, or it takes me a different way of doing things. ... It’s such an empowering thing to think that you can’t do something, and then you get that little push, and you can."

What have been the important frustrations in your life, and the most important successes?

I think important successes are just education stuff, which is clearly my main focus right now. Frustrations, I have a lot of them, but it’s just been about learning from those frustrations and how to navigate spaces. I think self-awareness and emotional intelligence is a big one for me right now. I feel like a lot of the issues that I’ve had obviously were not going to be solved by emotional intelligence, but it would’ve been important for me to process things younger and not wait until I was 18 to start processing my entire life. So now emotional intelligence is a big one that I’ve learned from past frustrations in which I will literally question everything and be like, “I’m anxious,” and sit down and be like, “Why?” and process that. So that’s a big one for me, because it’s helping with not getting overwhelmed and overstimulated or falling back into old habits, and just falling back in general. There’s no falling back anymore.

Do you have a philosophy of life? What’s your best piece of advice?

Well there’s one thing that I always tell myself, which I take with a grain of salt as well: Do what makes you uncomfortable. So just constantly pushing yourself and when you don’t think you can do something, try it anyways, figure out a better way to do it. Most of the time when I tell myself I can’t do it, most of the time I can do it. It just takes me longer, or it takes me a different way of doing things. That’s something I liked to do with my little sister as well, when I lived with her for a little bit, she would constantly tell me she couldn’t do things, or it was too much. I’d be like, “Just try it. Three seconds. Ready?” And then we’d try it, and she would do it, and it’s such an empowering thing to think that you can’t do something, and then you get that little push, and you can. I think that’s a huge thing for me too, especially since I never thought I’d go to school, and now I’m in school, and I’m pretty fucking good at it. Because I’ve been able to get control over my ADHD, and before I thought that I couldn’t study, I can’t focus, and now I’ve been able to get control of that and I can hyper focus on whatever I please. So I learn a lot. So that’s what I tell myself all the time – just do what makes you uncomfortable.

Are there any other questions you would have liked me to ask, or anything else you would like to talk about?

I think just acknowledging that “queer” is very broad. Very​ ​fucking broad. It can mean everything that people talk about and everything that people don’t. And I think that’s something that I’m navigating to this day, especially when you asked me what I identify as, I was like, I don’t know, fucking air, I just move through it. I think that’s one really important thing, and that’s something that I’m trying to teach little queer babies these days – just do whatever the fuck you want. Which is great, because I went to Pride and there was this baby wearing two different rain boots, and I was like, Yes. That’s what I mean. Wear different colored shoes. That’s what queer is.