ALLY

Medford, MA

What are your pronouns?

My pronouns are “they” and “them.”

Where do you work?

I am currently working as a Teaching Assistant in a local public school system. I’m actually a licensed elementary school teacher, but I had the hardest time finding places that would hire a first-year teacher. I was an Education and Psychology double major, and then I also did the student teaching program. So I student taught in a first-grade classroom and in a sixth-grade classroom, and filled out all of the paperwork that the state requires. There are four or five exams that you have to take for the state to certify that you know enough to be a teacher. It’s a lot. It’s exams, student teaching, a lot of coursework. You have to have a certain number of math classes, and history classes, and science classes – to assure that you know the stuff that you have to be teaching. I’m working kind of as the middle person between special ed and the mainstream classroom, so I’ll be working with students when they’re in the regular classroom and when they’re being serviced by special ed, and making sure that all of the accommodations they’re supposed to be having in special ed also carry over into the regular classroom.

So basically making sure that all of those students feel supported and feel like they’re achieving to the best of their ability in all settings. So it’s really cool. I’m really excited about it.

Do you have any hobbies or special interests?

I hang out with my cat a lot. I have a lot of friends from school who moved to Boston when they graduated, so most of them live in JP, but we hang out around here, and in JP. We go out for drinks a lot. I’ve been trying to get into gardening. Last summer I had a pretty successful vegetable garden. I actually grew some stuff. I really like gardening and growing vegetables.

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

Strangers – I usually don’t address it, which is hard. It depends on the situation. All of my friends from school and from growing up, they all know what my pronouns are, they all know what my gender identity is, and they do the best that they can to kind of pre-inform people if we’re going to be doing something with people we don’t know or friends of theirs that I haven’t met yet. But in random everyday interactions, I don’t usually say anything, which is frustrating. My least favorite thing is when I go out for dinner with friends and the waiter or waitress is like, “Okay ladies,” or “What are we having tonight ladies?” And everyone kind of looks at me and they’re like, “I’m sorry.” [laughs]

One thing that I’ve been thinking about a lot is – I just did another housing search, and so I found an apartment where I’m going to be living starting in September, and actually signing a year lease instead of subletting in random places. And I wasn’t sure how much about myself I wanted to put out there when I first started talking to people in my apartment search. So I found a place, and I know where I’m going to be living, and I brought up the whole “I’m queer, is that okay?” thing. She seemed totally accepting and on-board, but I didn’t broach the subject of pronouns at all. I never have in any of my living situations. I went to Smith College, which is a very queer place; it’s super common when you first meet someone to [ask their pronouns]. So it’s been a weird transition back into the real world where that’s not a question that people ask. And I don’t know how to bring it up myself when that’s not something that most people think of when they meet someone for the first time.

In all of my teaching, I’ve always been very adamant about: anyone can wear anything they want, dress however they want – essentially present however they want. No one’s going to judge them for that, we shouldn’t judge other people. When I was student teaching in sixth grade, I came into sixth grade halfway through the year when they were doing their Human Growth & Change unit, so they were talking about bodies and sexuality, and they actually do a unit on gender. It’s a private school in Northampton, Massachusetts, so they can do whatever they want at that school, because it’s not regulated by the state. So I got to teach the gender unit to those sixth graders as my introduction of myself to the class.

So what’s interesting is that the day I finally decided to tell them about my pronouns, which was probably like three weeks into working with them, immediately they said, “Oh, okay.” Then later in the day they asked, “Do you still want us to call you Miss Tippet or do you want us to call you something else?” And I said, I’m open to suggestions, if you guys have any ideas, I would prefer for us to use something else. Immediately they came up with the idea of M. Tippet. So that’s what I became. I was M. Tippet to all of the sixth grade and all of the other staff in the school from then on until the end of the year. In this new job, I’ve been able to introduce myself as M. Tippett right from the beginning. We’re still working on pronouns. I was incredibly surprised and proud of the sixth graders that I worked with for how adamant they were about correcting each other on my pronouns, and making sure that everyone was using the right pronouns, and calling me the right name. It was awesome. So I’m hoping that that is possible in other settings as well.

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?

I haven’t [changed my name]. My full name is Allison, I go by Ally most of the time. I’ve been going by Ally more so, not because it feels any more gender-neutral, but I feel like Allison is a very classic female name, whereas Ally can be a nickname for many more names. For a really long time – and some of my friends still do – a lot of people called me Tippet because there are lots of Allys. I also dated another Ally for three years, so that was a way of telling us apart. There was Ally and there was Tippet. So being able to choose that people call me Ally instead of going by the name that I was given is a little bit more of my ownership over my name.

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

I would describe myself as non-binary, and I know that some people consider that to be under the trans umbrella, and some people consider it to be separate and don’t identify as trans in that. But I do. I would say that I also identify as trans. But not in a binary sense of the word; in the sense that I don’t identify with how people initially perceive me and how people initially gender me, and the way that I was kind of raised when I was growing up.

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

I think the first thing that I stopped doing to really assert who I am to the rest of the world was I stopped shaving, two years ago now. I only kept shaving for a long time because of the person I was dating at the time. She was raised in a household with a lot of sexism, but in the way that body hair is gross on women, it’s unhygienic, it shouldn’t be there. So when I made the decision to stop shaving, it felt really good for me, like this is just how my body is supposed to look. I also enjoy that it’s something that people notice when they’re gendering me, and that they’re figuring out who I am. So it’s something that I try to make more visible. If I’m going to a job interview, I’m not going to wear pants just for the sake of wearing pants so that they think that I shave my legs or something. I don’t shave my armpits either, and sometimes I’ll wear a tank top for the first time for the summer, and people are like, “Oh, I didn’t know you also didn’t shave there,” and it’s this weird thing. I’m just like, “I just don’t shave. It’s just not a thing that I do.” 

At that point I had been with my girlfriend for 2 ½ years, and I was really doing it for her. And it got to the point where – we were long distance because we were at different colleges – I wouldn’t shave until the day before I would go to visit her, and then I wouldn’t shave again until she was coming to visit me.

It was clear that I was doing this specifically for her. Then as soon as we broke up, I was like, Okay, I’m never shaving again. I feel good about that decision. Because I realized that it didn’t bother me. It wasn’t like I looked at my legs and thought, Oh, I have to get rid of that, that’s dirty, or something like that. It was always the person that I was dating.

 

I’ve had binders for maybe three years now, and I didn’t bind consistently until I started teaching sixth grade. I was like, Okay, I’m going into this student teaching experience, teaching them about gender from Day One. I really want to actively choose how I present to these students, instead of feeling like there’s this “teacher wardrobe” that I have to get or wear or whatever it is. So I was binding every day, I was wearing button-downs every day. All of the shirts that I wear are from the men’s section. Most of the pants that I wear are from the women’s section, because I’m 5’1” and I don’t have the money to pay for all my pants to be hemmed. [laughs] I have never found a pair of men’s pants that I’ve felt actually fit my body in a way that looks good.

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

I started thinking about it a lot my junior year of high school. I feel like it’s something that I’ve always thought about, but I didn’t know that I was actually thinking about gender. I’ve always thought about stereotypes, and the way that the media presents how people are supposed to look and things like that, but I didn’t realize that I was actually thinking about myself and how I identify with those stereotypes or fit into that mold. My junior year of high school, I was dating someone who told me while we were dating that he thought that he might be trans, and so actually having someone very close to me that was actively thinking about gender and actively thinking [they] might be trans, made me start thinking about, Okay, what does that mean for me? It also made me think about my sexuality as well. I came out as dating a girl in middle school, and still at the time I was like, Lesbian is a weird word, I don’t like that word, but that’s kind of how people labeled me. Because we were 14, and that’s a word people knew, and they thought, Well, you have a girlfriend and you like girls. So I dated him, and still at the time, he wasn’t ready to come out to other people and was still very confused. He ended up coming out fully in college and has now been on T for a few years and had top surgery. But his initial conversations with me about not knowing kind of got me thinking more concretely about how I might feel as well.

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

I don’t know. My mom’s side of the family is Jewish, and the expectation when I was growing up was always, Well, you have to find a nice Jewish boy to marry. So I feel like that was kind of this box of, “Okay, you’re a nice Jewish girl, you have to find a nice Jewish boy, and together you’ll have nice Jewish children.” I knew pretty early on that the nice Jewish boy thing was not necessarily the thing that was going to be in my future. I feel like that was a box that I was put in. Not necessarily a box, but an expectation for what my life was supposed to lead up to. I never talked to my grandmother about my sexuality, ever, and I think about two years ago she decided to take a more liberal perspective because she was in poor health and was panicking about family and not knowing what was going to happen. But it was interesting, because also at that time, she revealed to my mom that she’s known I was gay since I was a kid. Why was that still the expectation? But she and I have still never talked about it. She told my mom that she knows I’m gay, but we don’t talk about it.

I grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts. It’s a really liberal town, but it’s definitely majority-white, majority-wealthy, “you go to a good college and become a lawyer” kind of places. My mom sees herself as really progressive, and she tries so hard. My parents are both totally fine with my sexuality; when I came out, my mom got a rainbow bumper sticker for her car, and my dad was telling his co-workers – they were really excited about it, I don’t know why, but they were very proud for me. But they have not been very receptive to conversations about gender. It’s hard because my mom sees herself as a very accepting person. But for some reason when it comes to me, she just doesn’t do anything about it. We’ve had conversations about my pronouns before, and she’s only used the correct pronouns once. I don’t really know why that is. She’s good about my ex-boyfriend from high school, she calls him by the name that he goes by now, and the right pronouns. And I dated someone more recently that was trans too, and she always used his right pronouns and the right name and everything. But for some reason when it comes to me, it’s just like, “Well ‘they’ pronouns are just confusing. It sounds like a plural.” Does that really matter to you? I think that part of her hesitation is that she doesn’t know a lot about [it]. It feels like a work in progress, but it also feels like there’s been very little progress in the three or four years that I’ve been trying to talk to her about it.

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

Something I’ve talked about with other friends of mine who identify as non-binary is how a lot of people assume that non-binary people don’t have any sort of transition experience. That they don’t ever choose to go on hormones, or have any kind of surgery, or change their name, or anything like that. Which can be the case or cannot be the case. I have a friend who identifies as genderqueer and had top surgery, but we’ve talked about how they don’t want to go on hormones for the foreseeable future. And that’s kind of how I feel about myself as well. I would love to have top surgery, but I don’t think that hormones are something that are in my future. But I think that is a misconception, that if you identify as non-binary that you’re saying, “This is who I am but I don’t want to change it in any way.” Which is totally the case for a lot of people, but there are other people who do choose to have medical interventions to feel more comfortable in their bodies. I’ve also had other people say, If you’re non-binary and then you go on hormones or get surgery, it’s like oh okay, now you’re female-to-male or male-to-female. It’s like, just because there was a medical intervention doesn’t mean it changes how you identify or how other people should gender you or change the pronouns that other people use for you if that’s not actually what you were going for.

I think that the majority of people in my life assume that I don’t see hormones or surgery or anything like that in my future. I think they see me as, “Okay, that’s your identity, but you’re still the same person and you’re not going to change anything really.” Some of my friends at Smith know that top surgery is something that I’m actively thinking about, but I think that especially my friends from high school would be more surprised by that; they wouldn’t assume that that’s something that fits with how I identify.

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

There are many pieces to [gender identity]. It’s how you see yourself on some sort of gender spectrum, or gender binary, or gender whatever you want to think about it – however you think of yourself as a person individually. How you choose to present yourself to the world, in your body, your voice, your name, your expression, in the way that you exist in the world. Whereas sexual identity is who you choose to be romantically or sexually involved with. So that typically involves another person or other people. So gender identity is who you are, and sexual orientation is who you choose to bring into your life in romantic or sexual capacities. And for some people they can be related. Some people see their gender identity as linked to their sexual orientation; some people identify as queer and they use the word “queer” because of how they identify their gender.

I use the word “queer” to identify my sexual orientation, because it’s not a gendered word. Whereas “lesbian” or “gay” can be seen as a gendered word. “Lesbian” is women who like women, or women who sleep with women. For “gay” people can assume, Okay, you date people of the same gender or the same sex. Whereas using “queer,” for a lot of people they don’t know exactly what that means in general or exactly what that means for you, and I kind of like that in a way. Because that’s kind of how I feel too, like, Ooo, who knows what it means? [laughs] But it also means that I’m queer if I date men, and queer if I date women. But they’re not necessarily linked at all. You can be a trans man who dates women, and identify as straight but still trans.

Up until my senior year of high school, people were still labeling me as a lesbian, even though that was never really a word that I felt comfortable with. It was only when I started to be more adamant about my gender identity with other people that I also felt more comfortable being more adamant that I am attracted to men and other people who don’t identify with the binary. So it was only when I started being more explicit about my gender identity that I was also more explicit about my sexual orientation.

 

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

I feel like non-binary people aren’t represented in general. I feel like there are some trans people – more young trans people who are doing a much better job of explaining that trans is really a spectrum in and of itself, that it doesn’t really mean this old rhetoric of having a sex change and being stuck in the wrong body and all of that. But overall I wouldn’t say that I know of non-binary representation in the media at all.

Something about Ruby Rose that I really didn’t like in the response to their presence on Orange is the New Black that I saw from a lot of straight-identifying women was them saying, “Oh, Ruby Rose makes me question my sexuality.” I don’t know how I feel about that. First of all, there are so many queer characters on this show anyway, and there are actresses on the show who identify as queer and play queer characters, and there are straight actresses who play queer characters. So all of a sudden, this more androgynous actor comes in, and it’s that androgynous look that all of a sudden, women are [responding to with], “Oh, maybe I like women.” So if those attributes are expressed on a female-bodied person, then they think, Oh, these are characteristics that I like, but it’s on someone that I perceive to be a woman, so maybe I like women. Maybe you just find that one person attractive, which is also valid!

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

It’s not a community of mine anymore, but while I was at Smith I was actually really surprised to find out that there’s a really transphobic population [there] that really wants to uphold the Women’s College history that is Smith. A lot of those people are also racist, and [say things] like, “Well, this was historically for women of a certain status,” and it’s all-around fucked up. Those people really don’t think that trans men or people who don’t identify as women should be at Smith at all. There are a lot of trans people at Smith. There are a lot of people who identify as trans men, and then there are a lot of non-binary people, but it didn’t feel – while I was there – like non-binary identities were really seen as valid. It was one of those things where [people thought], “Oh, you’re just exploring.” There’s a lot of terms at Smith for people who are…just gay for college, who only sleep with women for the duration of Smith and then go back to being straight. And I felt like the exploration of gender at Smith was almost seen as the same thing. Like if you’re non-binary or you’re genderqueer, that’s who you are for your duration of Smith, and then you go back to being a cis person.

So it’s definitely a safer place to explore who you are and try on different labels and try different things, but for some reason it didn’t seem like I was valid in my identity; in the fact that this was my current, for the foreseeable future, identity of who I am. I have a really hard time finding a sense of community within trans communities, because people perceive me to be a femme-presenting non-binary person, when that’s not how I identify at all. Just because I have long hair I’m perceived to be femme-identifying. And that’s not at all how I feel at all. I wear men’s clothing, I wear men’s deodorant, I use men’s products in the shower. So I’ve had a really hard, hard, hard time finding a sense of community within trans spaces, which is weird. I feel like I don’t belong in [them]. I feel like if I cut my hair, then I would be accepted into those spaces. And I have cut my hair. And I hated it. I cut it while I was at Smith, so I did it for the sense of wanting to be perceived as more masculine. But then I hated it and gravitated towards really feminine clothing, because I thought, It looks horrible, I need to stick with what I feel safe with, that I know people are okay with me looking this way. And now I feel more comfortable in what I wear on a daily basis, so I’d feel comfortable cutting my hair again, and I’m terrified I’m going to hate it again. But it was also just a bad haircut. But yeah, I feel like I’m not perceived as someone who should be in a trans space, particularly because of my hair, which is weird. Because it’s just hair.

Could you tell me about an experience or moment in your life that was very impactful for you? It can be in regards to your identity, or not.

With regards to my identity, one of the moments that really solidified for me that I really can truly be who I am in the field of education was the first time that I heard my sixth graders correcting each other on my pronouns and my name when they thought that I was out of earshot. Kids get it. And kids get not only that I use different pronouns than I have been before with them, but also it’s important enough to correct each other. And it’s important enough to make sure everyone’s on the same page about it. So much of my life I felt like people only used the correct pronouns when they were in my presence, and then when they’re not in my presence, it’s like pronouns don’t matter anymore. “I only have to use the correct pronouns so you don’t get upset, but if you don’t hear it, then it doesn’t matter.” So seeing that 11- and 12-year-olds get it enough to understand, This is a thing that matters, and I’m going to tell my friends in the other sixth-grade class that don’t know yet that this is a new thing and we have to get on board with it. And it was so casual, the way that they talked about it. Someone mentioned something about me, and another kid said, “Oh, by the way, it’s M. Tippet now, and they use ‘they’ pronouns,” and the other kid was like, “Oh, okay.” It was just so normal.

They also would always correct the classroom teacher that I was working with. He’s in his sixties. He’s an incredibly liberal person, he’s on the board of a social justice high school – he’s kind of similar to my mom where he thinks he’s doing everything right but there are some older rhetoric and habits that construct his conception of what it means to be liberal. So there were a lot of times that he would mess up my pronouns or my name and then [say something] like, “Oh, I’m old, this is all new to me.” And the kids would say, “Okay, but you have to try. You have to actively be thinking about it, and it’s not okay that you’re not.”

Could you give me an example of something difficult that occurred in your life how you dealt with it? It can be in regards to your identity, or not.

 

I’ve struggled with mental illness my whole life. I was diagnosed with panic disorder when I was in first grade, and probably also should’ve been diagnosed with major depression at that age, but wasn’t until high school. I had extremely severe anxiety from the time that I was born up until right now. Coupled with that, there were also really high expectations for me to achieve really highly in school, because both my parents are really smart. My dad has this whole “American dream” mentality where he grew up kind of poor in Canada, and then went to Harvard Business School, and now works for the Red Sox, and has his dream job, so it’s like, “Oh, we’re capable of anything we set our minds to.” And then I wasn’t diagnosed with dyslexia or ADHD until I was 20, but those were clearly factors when I was a kid too.

So just existing as a person with super high expectations, dealing with mental illness and learning disabilities, and trying to be the most successful person that I could be my entire life has been exhausting. When I was in high school, I ended up being voluntarily hospitalized twice in psychiatric hospitals – well, technically three times, but two of them were back-to-back. Actually making the decision to not be in school for a little bit, and to realize how much that was going to make my academics suffer, but realizing that I needed to take care of myself in a substantially separate environment and not be at home was a really hard decision. It was really hard because I lost some friends during that time too during high school, because they thought that I was somehow showing them that they weren’t enough, that they couldn’t help me enough and I needed someone else. Sometimes you need a professional, or lots of professionals to help you. So that was a really hard time.

My first hospitalization was my sophomore year of high school, and I turned 16 in the hospital, and that was over Hanukkah. But I was also there with a bunch of people who celebrate Christmas, on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day; people who didn’t get to see their families, who didn’t get to celebrate the holiday. That was just a very eye-opening experience about how serious my mental illness really is in my life, and how much I really have to deal with it and address it and try to live a normal life around all of it. And now that I’ve gotten older, I know a lot of people who’ve been hospitalized in their lives. It’s way more common than I thought growing up. But it gets uncomfortable when it’s almost like people are pitying you, and making it a very big deal when it’s something that’s just a part of my daily life, that I don’t think about and just have to live with. It’s definitely weird to talk about with new people, especially new partners or people that I’m dating. “Hey, I have to take medication every day or my life gets really off-track.” [laughs]

 

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

I have a couple really good friends from college – one of them lives in New Mexico, and she’s one of those people that I feel like I can tell anything to. She’s also the kind of person that genuinely thinks that I’m a good person. I have a couple other friends from Smith that I feel like I could totally fall back on at any point if I needed to, and it’s also because I lived with those people for four years. I also have a friend from high school that I met through the person I was dating at the time. She’s one of my closest friends, and I’m just really thankful to have her. It’s weird because we don’t always talk about super personal things, but I just feel so comfortable around her. When we’re going to go hang out with new people, she always tells everyone about my pronouns, and has been really adamant with her parents about using the right pronouns – which my parents don’t even do. She’s a good person.

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

Unfortunately, it’s played a much bigger role than I was anticipating. The person that I started dating when I was in high school, it was one of the first things I ever told her when we first met. I [said something] like, “I want you to know that gender is something that I think about,” – and at the time I didn’t have a word to put to it – “I just want you to know that I don’t identify as a woman. Is that something that you’re okay with?” And she said yes, and then later admitted to me that she didn’t know what I was talking about, but liked me and just went along with whatever it was that I was saying. We dated for almost three years, and it was really good for the first two years – like really good. It was my most successful relationship, the longest relationship I’ve ever had.

But as I started to feel more concrete about my gender identity, she seemed to feel more concretely about her sexual orientation; that she was a lesbian, she really just likes and is attracted to women, and that was not compatible with who I am. So that was really hard, and we tried to stay together for a while longer when it was clear that I wasn’t the kind of person that she wanted to be with, even though I was still the same person I’d always been. That was really hard. But at the same time, I got it.

l knew what she meant, and I knew what she was saying, and while it really hurt me, it was also kind of validating, that if she doesn’t see me as a woman, that’s a good thing too. She was also the kind of person who would use my pronouns around me but then not when she wasn’t around me, which was really hard. So it was just very complicated. It felt like in some ways I was being validated in my identity and in some ways I really wasn’t. When that relationship ended, I felt like I could really be myself in a way that I hadn’t felt like I could be for three years.

That relationship was three years of my life, three years of college; huge loss, huge change. Then the relationship that I had after that, he and I met through OKCupid. He is a trans guy, and when we first met, gender was not an issue. Correct pronouns from day one. Our relationship was pretty serious pretty fast, and while he was always totally fine with my gender identity, it became more clear that his ideal life partner is a femme person. No matter their gender identity, is a femme-presenting person who wears makeup, who wears dresses, who does their hair, wears high heels, and that’s just not at all who I am. So I just felt uncomfortable feeling like there was this expectation that I was supposed to somehow be becoming more femme when that’s not who I am and that’s not something I feel comfortable with. And so that was really hard, because my assumption going into dating a trans person after I’ve been out about my gender identity was that gender presentation was never going to be an issue. And then that ended up not being the case.

You can’t help what you’re attracted to, or what your idea of who you want to be with is – but it was just really hard because I felt like somehow I was still invalid. I don’t know how to date people now, because most people still perceive me as female, because of my voice and my hair. It’s always hard dating women, because most of them are only interested in women, and then it’s hard dating men, because most of them are only interested in women. I never know the right time to bring up gender, but I know that it has to be pretty immediately in dating kind of situations. But I’m not feeling very hopeful and positive about the concept of dating.

Are you able to find adequate medical care?

I don’t usually talk about my gender identity with doctors, which is going to change because I am actively starting to pursue top surgery; something that is going to be within the next few months, that I’m going to start talking to doctors about. And I’m not exactly sure how I’m going to do that. I know that Fenway Health is a great place for people to go, especially to get referrals and things. I got a pap smear for the first time like a year ago, and that was the most uncomfortable experience of my entire life. Just the language that is used to talk about your body when you’re at the gynecologist.

When I go to the doctor and they ask, “Are you sexually active? Do you use condoms? Blah blah blah,” and when I was dating my two boyfriends who were both trans men, I would say, “I have a boyfriend,” and I felt like I had to jump through all these hoops. I didn’t want to have [to add], “Okay, but he’s a trans man,” because it felt so invalidating to say that. That whole process of, “How do you know that you can’t be pregnant? We should do a pregnancy test,” and it’s like, “Sorry, but I just know. Can we move on?”

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

I’ve been thinking a lot about who I am as a person, because I’m moving in a month, and I’m starting this new job that I’m really excited about, and I have a cat. I feel like a lot of things have been changing this summer, and I’m just feeling really good about the decisions that I’ve been making for the past year or so, and that’s something I’ve never felt before. I’ve never felt like I’m really the one in charge of my life. If I’m in a relationship, that’s the thing controlling my life. When I was in school, that was the thing controlling my life.

I just feel like I’ve never been actively proud of myself until very recently. And part of that is trying to live up to all of the expectations that other people have had, and now I’m not in school so I don’t have the expectations of my professors or my advisors or anything like that. I’m not in a relationship, so I don’t have those expectations. I’m not living at home, so I don’t actively have the expectations of my parents. I’m financially independent for the first time in my life, so I don’t have to worry about the financial expectations that my parents have for me and worrying about money and them. I’m just very at peace with where I am right now in my life, and that’s not something that I ever expected to feel ever in my life, and I’m kind of shocked with how I’m feeling right now. But I feel like for the first time ever I’m living for me and making decisions for me that make sense for me, and that’s really cool.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

When I was younger I really thought that adults knew everything and had everything figured out. Even people a couple years older than me now. I wish that I would’ve been more patient and kind and caring to people who were older than me, instead of feeling like their shortcomings were a reflection on them not having everything figured out. Because no one has anything ever figured out. I put so much pressure on myself to figure anything out, as soon as possible, whatever that meant for whatever stage of life that I was at. I always felt like I had to be the most mature kid. When I turned 8, I tried to convince my parents that I was 10, and when I turned 10 I tried to convince them that I was 12. I always felt like I had to be really mature, and I had to be really smart, and I had to impress them and prove to them that I was worth spending money on and worth caring about, and taking time away from my mom going to school and my dad running a business. And part of that is anxiety and just wanting to impress people, but my advice to my younger self would be, Be patient with yourself. Be patient with other people. No one knows what they’re doing, ever.

What are your concerns for the future?

Maybe this is just because I’m feeling really good about where I am in life and I want to share that with someone else, but I really feel like I’m in a good place to be dating someone right now, but I just don’t know how to do that.

Because I don’t know how to meet people. I feel like I’ve done both of the things that make sense to do; date someone long-term and discover yourself as you go, and that didn’t really work out, and then date someone and tell them very upfront about who you are, who seems like they would be the perfect person to understand who you are, and that didn’t work out. So I’m just kind of trying to figure out where to go in terms of: how do you meet people and have real, significant, sustainable relationships with people? I guess that’s a question that everyone has, but I don’t know, I feel like I’m really happy with where I am with everything else. I’m also at a point where I’m trying to figure out what my next five years look like, and I don’t know.

What do you look forward to in the future?

I’m really excited about this job that I just started. Because even though I’m a licensed elementary school teacher and I could have my own classroom, I really love working with kids one-on-one. So I feel like this job is going to be what I love to do, even though it pays almost nothing, and it’s going to be a really stressful year financially. I’m just really looking forward to this job and continuing to feel good about where I am in my life right now. And that’s a very weird exciting feeling that I’ve never had before. I’m hoping that after this year I might be able to have my own classroom, which would be really cool. I’m hoping that that is where I’m going. I am genuinely excited for this job and I think it’s going to be awesome, it’s just the finances that are going to be kind of tricky.

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

I think the relationships that I’ve been in have been the biggest sticking points in my life. Because I do put everything into them, and even when I know they’re going to end I try to do everything I can to keep that from happening. So it just takes everything out of me, and I still do it even when I know that I should stop putting as much energy as I am, or start putting more energy into being okay with what’s happening. Which is something that I’m trying to not do as much. For the first time ever, I ended a relationship this past year, because I was realizing that it was not making me happy in where I was right then. It was taking up so much of my time and energy that I wasn’t putting into student teaching, and it wasn’t fulfilling what I wanted to be doing. That was a huge thing. I’ve never done that. I’m always the person who gets broken up with and cries, and for the first time ever I was on the other side of that. It was horrible and broke my heart and was the worst thing I’ve ever done, but also the best thing I’ve ever done and the first thing I feel like I truly did for myself. The first big decision I ever made for myself. And I’m really proud of that. Then in the midst of that, I feel like I kicked ass at student teaching, and graduated from Smith, and got a cat. I honestly thought that I was going to fuck her up and not know what to do, be the worst cat parent ever. I’ve had cats my whole life, but for some reason doing it by myself I was like, “I’m gonna fuck it up.” But she’s my best friend.

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

No one knows what they’re doing. Whatever you feel passionate about, whatever gets you excited, even if it gets you zero dollars and it means that you have to buy all the cheap food at the grocery store, just do whatever it is that makes you excited to do it. Because no one knows what they’re doing. You just have to do what makes sense.