ARLO & DRÉ
*Dré has changed their name since the time of this interview; their name has been changed inside the interview to reflect this.
What are your pronouns?
Arlo: I use “he/him” and “they/them.”
Dré: My pronouns are “they/them.”
Where do you work?
Arlo: I work at a non-profit in Jamaica Plain called Ethos. My title is a PCA Skills Trainer. I help people apply for funding through Mass Health to get a Personal Care Assistant. I really like it. I spend half the day in the office, and then half the day out doing home visits, so I meet people in their homes face-to-face, and I like interacting with people that way. It’s nice to be out and walking around. It’s new, I’ve only been there two months.
Dré: I work mostly as a barista, currently with a company called Intelligentsia. I’ve bounced from coffee shop to coffee shop because it’s difficult to find a safe space to work in when it comes to my gender and my race, but the current company I’m with has been amazing thus far. They do really well with building actual relationships with farmers and have a direct trade model, which is on the more ethical side of the coffee industry.
So it seemed to me like even though this isn’t what I wanted to be doing, at least I’m kind of in a spot that I feel holds some of the same values as myself. I got into the coffee industry on accident, mostly just willing to take any job possible when I moved here on a whim without much money. I fell in love with coffee. And in the city, it pays pretty well. I’m doing that and [am a] part-time musician. I’m mostly a vocalist, but I also play guitar and write. I go through waves, so it’s been about 10 years that I’ve been back and forth, and then the last solid year or so I feel like I’ve really been able to hold on. So hopefully it flows.
Do you have any hobbies or special interests?
Arlo: Yeah. I like to paint, and draw. I also really love music but I don’t really play anymore. I’d like to get involved, but it’s mostly a matter of finding instruments, and it hasn’t been a priority. I’ve been wanting to do more art since I moved here because I feel like since I’ve been working so much I haven’t had time honestly, but I also haven’t prioritized it. But since moving here I’ve been able to be around so much more art in general which has been inspiring and I’ve definitely had more energy or motivation to do it.
Dré: I am really passionate about music. I love writing. I love performing. I like to listen to music. I really love going to live shows. That’s my main thing that is just really helpful for me. Boston’s really good for that. That’s been one of the best parts about moving here; there’s so many small venues and small affordable shows, whereas where I was living before you would have to drive 3 hours to Portland [Oregon] and see a show, and then you’d be in a huge place that you would have to spend at least $100+ on. So that’s been really cool, that’s been pretty much my main hobby, is going to shows. I do as much as I can to find shows of pretty much any artist that’s cheap enough for me to just go to. I listen to a lot of artists who aren’t in the mainstream so that makes it easier as well. I also like to just watch TV. I like to chill. I watch a lot of shows.
Arlo: When it’s warmer I like to be outside too. I love hiking. There’s pretty good parks in Boston.
What do you do for fun?
Arlo: I would say art, being outside enjoying nature, and also watching TV. We like to binge shows when we have days off together. And we like to drink and listen to music and dance. Sometimes we go out to dance.
Dré: Mostly we stay in to dance. [laughs] We do watch a lot of shows together, so I feel like a lot of the time, by the time we’re having time to spend together and home, we’re tired from capitalism and having to survive in Boston, so we mostly just chill and cook. We cook a lot.
Arlo: I always forget about that when I say hobbies and stuff. I really love to cook.
Dré: I also really like to do magic and rootwork. That’s been something I’ve been getting into more recently. As an African American person, there’s a lot of roots in that, in terms of resistance and survival and lots of different African diasporic people in different places practicing magic and rootwork as a way to survive and push back against white supremacy. So that’s been something that’s been very new for me and I’m still finding my journey and relationship with that.
I feel like it’s important for me to learn more about magick and witchcraft, and specifically in context of the African diaspora, and Black Americans in particular given my upbringing. There has been an immense amount of white-washing, but there is so much history that points to magick belonging to Black folx, indigenous folx, and other communities of color. The way in which it has been whitewashed has created a genuinely false depiction of what it embodies and represents. I’ve been ecstatic to reclaim that.
How do you handle the issue of pronouns and being gendered when interacting with strangers / mixed company / etc?
Arlo: I’m fortunate to be gendered correctly by strangers when I’m out in public at this point. Although I don’t feel comfortable with being called “sir” and things like that. It happens and it doesn’t make me feel completely dysphoric like it would if it were the other way around, so I don’t really have to deal very often with being mis-gendered or anything like that with strangers. My family still mis-genders and dead-names me but I hardly see them anymore and the longer I am out as trans, and feeling more confident and secure in myself, the less painful it is. It’s more annoying than anything. But in my workplace I haven’t come out, partly because I already know it’s not really a safe place to come out for trans people. I usually don’t tell strangers that I’m non-binary and that I use “they/them” pronouns, because I also use “he/him” and it’s easier. And I hate that that is a fact. But sometimes it’s weird, because when people don’t know I’m trans and they use “he/him” for me, it almost feels like mis-gendering. I guess I feel like if people know I’m non-binary and they use “he/him” it feels less like mis-gendering because they still know. But sometimes people refer to me and they’re like, “Oh, he did this and that,” and I’m like, “Wait, who?” It almost feels like they’re not talking about me. It’s very weird. Kind of hard to explain.
Dré: Yeah, most people are like, “Oh, cool, I can use this [binary pronoun] I’m comfortable with, so I probably will.” Mis-gendering for me is very complex and nuanced, because I’m read as a cis woman. Oftentimes from people who have a limited understanding of queer identities and gender will read me as a cis lesbian. I also know that not a lot of people are intentional when they use “she/her” pronouns, which is obviously what I get most of the time off the bat. So it kind of depends. I am gendered correctly at work, within my trans household, and among my friend groups. And those are pretty much the main spaces that I’m in, is work and home. But a lot of the time, I know that people are just going to make an assumption, and so it’s more energy for me a lot of the time to correct people if it’s not someone that I think I’m going to be spending a good amount of time with.
Telling people my pronouns can be stressful. I find that sometimes it feels almost more okay to be ignorantly mis-gendered than for me to have to go through the process of being like, “Hey, by the way, these are my pronouns,” and then having people completely ignore it and just kind of blow it off. The people that are closest to me that I surround myself with use my pronouns, so for the most part, it works.
Arlo: I was thinking about how now that I am assumed to be a man by strangers that I get treated very differently by cis men. They constantly refer me as “bro,” “dude,” “man,” when addressing me in order to emphasize or acknowledge my perceived masculinity. Strangers, whoever. It is very annoying to me. Usually I just don’t respond at all. It’s something I’ve definitely noticed more that men do, the serious gendering, like constantly affirming your masculinity, and I don’t relate to that at all. I know some trans guys that talk like that or appreciate that affirmation, but again, I would be okay if [those friends] called me “dude” or something just because it feels so different. When it comes from trans people it is affirming.
Dré: “Ladies” and “girls,” that’s something that’s constantly happening to me. I feel like it happens very differently. It can either be like, that is how that person tends to address people, or I feel like I’m in a situation where it’s just me, or I’m with somebody who also looks very queer, that it becomes [an idea of], “Just reminding you of what you are.” There definitely is a difference between, again, that ignorance [versus] “I’m gonna be an asshole.” I can feel the difference. It’s very apparent.
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?
Arlo: I changed my name legally close to 3 years ago now, and for me, the actual process of changing it legally in the court was not too hard. It took about a month and a little over $100, but I just had to go back twice in the month and take down one paper and put up another one. They have this whole process. That part was easy. So after a month it was legally changed, but then I had the notarized paper that I had to take everywhere to change my name in other systems, which was the hardest part. Your name is in so many different places – schools, insurance, everything.
You’d think you’d have your name changed in all the systems and then you get a piece of mail from somewhere that has your old name. I had to do a lot of work. That was really hard for me to call places to tell them I had a legal name change. And I had a lot of different companies or agencies that would be like, “Okay, I changed it,” and for months I would call and change it over and over, and they would continue to send me mail with my old name. I continue to get mis-gendered sometimes in paperwork, because people will pick what they want because they think they’re right somehow.
And then there’s a lot of people who tried to make excuses for why I should give them more patience or time to get used to it, or ask if they could call me nicknames that they used to that were variations of my old name, and I just had to be like, “No. You have to get over it. Because I don’t care that you liked that and it’s nostalgic for you.” I also cut a lot of people off during that time of coming out and changing my name due to their transphobia. So luckily I wasn’t really in too much of communication with a lot of the people that were toxic, and all of my friends seemed to have no issues and were very supportive and loving.
Dré: My name change happened about a year ago. My name is not legally changed. I don’t know if I will get it legally changed or when. A few reasons. I’m super indecisive. I really love my name right now, but I just like having the freedom to know that I can change things with ease. I want to feel a little bit more married to this name for a bit longer before I really commit to it. I changed my name after moving cross-country, so it was a little bit easier for me. I have carefully crafted a circle of trans people in Boston. And that is something I didn’t have in Oregon. Everyone at work was really great about it, and all my friends have changed their names before for the most part and are familiar with changing names for people that we spend time with. So it’s been really nice and really validating.
Arlo: I had a list, when I thought of changing my name, which was the way I did it. I suggest this to everybody else if they’re thinking of changing their name – keep a list of the names that you like even after choosing so you can remember that time and process. I just wish I kept more things that were reminiscent of me finding things out about myself and my transness. I ended up throwing a lot of things away that could’ve been cool just to have, like the list of names that I liked and chose from. I had a really hard time with name change, so I didn’t come up with a name for a long time, even after I’d come out. I just didn’t feel like I connected with anything.
But it got to the point where I was on hormones and I really did not like my birth name, which was super “feminine”. As soon as I saw [Arlo], I was like, “This is it.” [The uniqueness] is part of why I really liked it, because I hadn’t heard it, and it felt like it was pretty gender neutral. It also began with the same letter as my birth name, which I was kind of looking for. I was having a hard time finding any ‘A’ names that I really liked, and then when Arlo came up, everything stopped and I was like, “Oh my God, this is it.”
Dré: I think the hardest part of changing my name has been that people will see my name and assume that I’m a cis man before they see me. I do a lot of e-mailing before I meet up with people, and people are always shocked when they see me. I don’t know if they’re picturing some corporate well-dressed white cis man or something, but I tend to throw a lot of people. Most of the time I enjoy it, though.
Sometimes it gets tricky with being agender because Arlo will be talking about me to other people and explain that I’m non-binary, but then uses the name Felix, and people who non-binary goes over their head, are just going to assume that Arlo’s dating a cis man. Or at least that I am a cis man. So that’s been a little bit weird that that’s what people are assuming, because when I chose the name I didn’t think about that. It seems obvious, but I was just like, “Yes. That’s my name.”
What word(s) would you use to describe your identity?
Arlo: Well “nerd” is definitely on there.
Dré: Definitely. [both laugh]
Arlo: I don’t know. I guess I feel like I’m introverted and an artist. But then in terms of my gender and sexuality I’ve never liked labels, so gender-nonconforming is what I really tend to relate to the most, because even non-binary actually for me has become something that I don’t relate to as much. I feel like it kind of assumes there is a gender, and for me I don’t identify with any gender at all even outside the binary. Which could also be agender, so I sometimes relate with agender, but if I have to pick one that I say I identify more with, it would be gender-nonconforming. But that’s kind of a big mouthful too sometimes.
It has also changed over time for me. When I first came out, I identified as trans-masculine, because I didn’t feel like [a] trans man and I still identified as non-binary. So I identified as non-binary trans-masculine. But now I don’t relate to being more masculine, nor do I feel more masculine than feminine. When I first came out being recognized as a masculine person was really important to me, and now that I am aligned more with what is recognized to be masculine, I feel almost more feminine or more connected to and content with the feminine parts of myself, and I like that part of my identity. It’s interesting how it’s changed and will probably continue to change. Then also with my sexuality, I’ve never been able to label it, or wanted to, even when I was younger and just starting to understand my queerness. So “queer” has been what I choose because it really can be defined to whatever you want. It can mean so many different things and be all-inclusive. I will always be open to changing how I identify. But right now it feels pretty solid because I feel like out of all the language that there is at this point, that’s what I identify with, but I think over time there will be more language and identities that maybe I’ll identify more with.
Dré: I also like “queer” for similar reasons. It for me is just a way to signify that I’m not the norm. I’m not cis or het, but you don’t need to know what it is, and I don’t necessarily even need to know, and I can shift and change within that. I also used to identify as a lesbian for a while, because I came out, knowing that I wasn’t straight when I was like 13. I was super out, and I remember the shift in my brain as I got older and began to learn more about gender and sexuality as a wider spectrum than I’d initially thought. It was a huge shift for me when I first learned about being agender and everything just clicked.
“Queer” I feel like gives me that space to not really have to know, but also be able to comfortably move in and out of what I want to freely. I identify as agender and have for the past few years. I feel like I’m constantly changing and feel very differently about my gender every day. A lot of my experiences of femininity and masculinity are oftentimes very separate or very together, or very a little of both, but it tends to constantly shift. I don’t really know what’s happening or what’s going to come, so I just feel like agender works for me because there’s no gender. I have nothing. I am just a person. And I definitely like having that.
Sometimes I identify as a brown boi, and that I use with specific people, similar to what Arlo was saying earlier – if I feel like you validate me as a human and you validate my identities, there are lots of certain terms and words of endearment that I feel like are validating for me in those ways.
Are there ways that you dress / act / speak / etc. to specifically make a statement to others about your identity? Why?
Arlo: I mean I feel like in the workplace – basically I want to be able to dress more feminine without being mis-gendered or even acknowledged by cis counterparts. In the workplace I wear boring men’s clothes, because there’s just not a lot of good business semi-casual or business casual clothing that isn’t a button-up. And women’s clothing doesn’t really fit me right. Sometimes I do like to wear makeup or do things that feel really affirming to my femininity, like painting my nails or wearing a dress. I don’t do it as often as I would like to. Sometimes in public it makes me feel dysphoric, because then I’m not sure how people are reading me and if it will lead to being mis-gendered. I don’t even like to admit that, because I wish that I never cared.
But I love going into queer spaces and being able to really dress however I want, and not feel like people are judging me for it. Generally I just really like to be comfortable and wear pretty loose comfortable clothing that makes me feel relaxed, and eventually some day, basically once I have top surgery, I imagine having a whole new wardrobe that I can basically just show off my chest and nice chest hair. [laughs] Wear a deep V, you know. I just think I’ll be able to feel way more comfortable to present and wear anything I want, whereas I can’t as much now with binding. Binding is restrictive and makes you want to layer to make it feel like it’s not showing, so usually that’s what I end up doing, is wearing loose relaxed clothing.
Dré: I find that because society is so set on non-binary looking androgynous, that if I’m in non-trans or non-queer dominated spaces, I have to dole down my femininity. Which I find interesting, because our experiences of being trans are so different, but yet we both feel like sometimes we have to dole down femininity. And I feel like that happens across lots of different trans people who identify in lots of different ways. Obviously there’s a theme there, with femininity not being valued in a lot of ways, or understood in the way that it should be. But I do feel like even at work with my staff and people who gender me correctly – it’s nice that they’re gendering me correctly, but that’s also kind of like, tip of the iceberg. I don’t know if they understand me or my gender.
So for me I do feel like I have to present less feminine in order to be seen as authentically trans. That’s how I feel people are going to validate me more in that way, or at least feel like it makes more sense, than if I’m super high femme. I do want to be sometimes. Sometimes I really don’t want to be. Sometimes I really do and then I feel like I can’t, because I can’t go into work one day in my everyday whatever neutral androgynous look, whatever you want to call it, and then show up in a wig and heels and a full face of makeup at work and have to explain to them why that makes sense. That’s why I go with agender, because I just don’t know. Some days I wake up and I feel totally comfortable in femininity, and sometimes I really hate it.
I’ve been binding for the past two years or so, and that was supposed to be something that was like, “Oh, this’ll be nice to wear when I’m feeling this type of way,” and then I put it on and I basically haven’t taken it off since. Even when I want to be feminine now, or present feminine how that means to me, I still have to wear the binder to feel most comfortable. I also feel like if I were to have surgery, I would have access to a wardrobe that I’m actually interested in wearing. More particularly when it comes to the femme clothing that I want to wear, or clothing that makes me feel feminine – [those] are a lot of things that just look awkward with binders. And now I’m so used to binding that the idea of putting on a push-up bra or just a regular bra just seems like I would feel very aware of what’s happening and further enhance my dysphoria. So for the most part, I take advantage of the spaces that are super trans and super queer, and get super feminine in those spaces, and that’s really nice for me.
How early on did you know or suspect that you did not identify within the binary?
Arlo: I think way earlier than I realized. Sometimes when I try and think of the first time, there really wasn’t. I think it wasn’t until I understood that there were options outside the binary that I understood that I was trans. Because I never really identified fully with manhood or boyhood. I just knew I wasn’t a girl, basically. And I think I knew that as a child, and I think that it was very suppressed by everything and everybody around me, and by being in a religious community. I know my parents turned to the church for answers for a lot of stuff that related to my gender and sexuality, and of course that wasn’t helpful for me.
So I understood my queerness before I understood it as being trans, and it took a long time, because I knew trans people existed, but I really had that one picture in my head of the binary swap, basically – going from one side of the binary to the other, and I’d never related until… I can’t remember, probably in college when I started taking Women Studies and Gender and Sexuality classes, Queer Studies, and then it was a revelation. There are words for how I feel, and community, and people that have studied this. But even as a kid I never related to one or the other, and I think my parents knew that, but it was like I was forced to pick. And it took a lot to really unpack and realize it was all untrue, basically.
Dré: When I was younger, I think it was probably my mom that just labeled me as a tomboy, and so I kind of went with that. I was kind of similar to how I am now, where I would want to be super feminine sometimes, and super not sometimes, and from a very early age, all I understood it as was “gay.” That was the only vocabulary I was given, and I wasn’t given much detail.
So I just sort of ran with that throughout my young teenhood, and then got to college, starting taking Gender Studies classes. By that point I knew trans people, I had a couple friends in high school who had transitioned, but they both at the time identified within the binary, so that was my only understanding. So when I looked at their experiences, which were the only trans experiences I had known, I was like, well that doesn’t feel like my experience, so I must just be in this weird limbo space. But I didn’t know that that was actually a real space that people occupy and talk about until I was 19 maybe, and I remember it vividly. It felt like I could breathe.
Do you think anything about the way you were raised or where you grew up affected how you drew conclusions about your identity?
Arlo: Most definitely. Like I said I was in a pretty religious home. I stopped going to church when I was 13 and realized I didn’t believe any of it, and that was when I probably started realizing my queerness a little bit. But I really hardly had any representation. I lived in the capital city of Oregon, but it’s still fairly small, and there are definitely some out gay and lesbian people, but very few, and I didn’t really identify with either, so I just felt like I didn’t really identify with anything.
I didn’t have the representation to know how to identify basically. I think Oregon is pretty conservative, even though it’s known to be Democratic and in some ways liberal. They’re progressive environmentally, but socially they’re not progressive. There’s not trans resources hardly anywhere. Especially in religious communities, being queer or trans is not okay basically. I know there are churches where it’s different, but where I was, it wasn’t that way. Anywhere outside of Portland is Republican, backcountry –
Dré: Backwoods tiny fucking towns. Cows for miles and miles and miles. You could drive 3 hours sometimes and all you see is fields.
Arlo: The land is beautiful, but yeah. It’s very white, very conservative, white supremacist, honestly. And the queer communities are small. Portland is one of the only areas where there’s actually some community. But I didn’t really like Portland that much. I didn’t have interest in living there. I had very small circles of queer friends eventually, once I understood my queerness and came out. But before that, pretty much all of my friends were cis, gay – a lot of them were gay, eventually, after high school and stuff. But even in high school, the GSA was very small, and I never really was too involved in it. There was definitely stigma. Because it was so conservative. It’s very transphobic and queerphobic in general. Especially if you’re trans there. Once I realized I was trans, I was like, I have to leave. The things I need are not here. That was a big part of me moving here.
Dré: I feel like growing up in Oregon really shaped my experiences in a lot of ways, and a lot of my identities. Particularly around being black and growing up in a white, conservative household. My mom was a single mother. My grandparents were nearby, and somewhat involved. They are ranchers and backwoods country folk. So for me that was a little bit weird, because my mom is much more progressive than they are, but it’s still so engrained and built in that there’s a lot to unpack together, but she gives adequate time and effort to doing so, which I appreciate. Still, the town I grew up in was majority white and conservative. I didn’t know any queer people growing up. I don’t have any siblings that grew up around me or anything like that, and have no access to my dad’s side of the family, particularly when I was growing up. So I didn’t really have much of that at all, until I hit middle school.
I was living in a really, really small town called Redmond. Pretty much everyone there, their parents had gone to high school with my mom and so forth. Nobody leaves. And when I got into 7th grade, I don’t even think I knew what gay or straight was. I had a best friend, and she was like, “Yo, I like you. Let’s date,” and I was like, “Yeah! I fuckin’ like you too! Cool, we’re dating!” And I never made that conscious decision of, “I guess this means I’m gay,” or queer, or not straight. We had no conversations about it. My mom never talked badly about queer people, but she just never talked about queer people or sexuality. I was so distanced from that that I didn’t think of it as anything, until we were at school being gay in 7th grade, and people were like, “Um – so are you gay?” and I was like, “What? Am I gay? Oh my God, maybe I am. I guess, I don’t know.” [laughs]
I feel like it was weirdly fine for the place that we lived in – there were a couple other queer girls, as we identified at that time, in our class, and we hung out with each other. People would occasionally say shit, but for the most part, we were fine. Obviously the young cis boys were disgusting about it, and that’s honestly what I remember, mostly just being grossed out and annoyed by their responses, but super blessed in the fact that I wasn’t ever really targeted or bullied for it. Except by my middle school principal, who decided he was going to take all of us into the office and make us call our parents and out ourselves. Or they would kick us out of school dances, stuff like that. So most of it came from administration. But that was never an issue until I got to high school, and then for some reason we all split up, and there weren’t that many queer people, and the people who accepted me were the punks and the emos and I was always all about that too, so I had my little group and everybody else was just super rude about it, but they didn’t fuck with me.
I feel pretty lucky, but even someone I used to date when I was in high school grew up just a couple towns over in an even smaller town, and literally was the first person in the history of her school to come out and was beat up all the time. That was weird for me – it’s so close, and the experiences were so different. But I feel like that’s probably pretty common in a place like Oregon for gay and queer people to experience.
Can you give any examples of misconceptions people have about those who identify outside the binary? Have you personally dealt with them?
Arlo: I think we always deal with them constantly. More often than not, if you’re having to explain what non-binary is at all, [people are] going to have some sort of push-back or questioning of it. At least in my experience. I’ve had a few people who [say], “Oh, okay,” and they just kind of let it sink in, and maybe they have thoughts and they don’t say anything. But I feel like most of the time people are like, “Oh – I don’t get that.” They blow it off immediately. I have to say, I’ve had to unpack a lot myself when I started learning about what transness was and how it applied to me, and wanting to take hormones but not identifying as a trans man or even really wanting to pass as a man. That was really hard for me to understand even for myself. And I think that people who aren’t trans at all, they also have a hard time understanding that. “Why would you want to try to be masculine or why would you seek that if you don’t identify with it” kind of. Just like people trying to continually fit you into the binary, and when you can’t, it’s really hard for them to grasp.
I think pronouns are one of the hardest parts. I feel like there’s the most resistance around using “they/them” pronouns from people who don’t understand transness at all. It’s like if they can still fit you into a box, it’s a lot easier to digest, but if you ask them to understand it as something outside of the binary, you have to really explain it, and even then they might not get it. Because it’s like if they can’t relate to it, then it must not be a valid, real experience.
Dré: I just feel constantly limited by misconceptions, or what people will think, basically. Especially when it comes to my appearance, like I touched on a little bit before. People have this misconception that non-binary or agender or trans or whatever, you have to look androgynous, or that you’re going to present differently than how you did before you came out, or before you realized, and that has been really frustrating for me. Androgyny is racialized heavily and it’s been shoved into a Westernized standard of beauty as well. The lack of understanding of how nuanced transness is exceptionally dangerous and exhausting. People assume that our experiences have to look one way and craft rules that kind of revolve around “being authentic” and this idea of what non-binary and trans is. So I feel like sometimes I have to work extra hard to try to align or assimilate to those so that people will take me seriously. It’s like trading one frustration for another.
Similarly, I have a complicated relationship with my gender because I feel very connected to Black womanhood, because my lived experience is Black womanhood for the most part when it comes to how I move through the world, how people treat me, how I experience my oppression, et cetera. And I have a really strong bond with Black women because of that. So for me to kind of separate myself from that is really difficult sometimes, because there are parts of that that I do want to engage in but also feel validated at the same time. If I’m sitting around with Black women that are queer and I know they’re people that I can trust and [who] respect my identity, them using “girl” in a way that’s endearing is fine to me because it’s cultural. It’s all very contextual. Because for me, that’s a deeper connection that’s saying something else.
I’ve had a hard time too [because] sometimes “she/her” would be okay for me, but then I know that that would just feel less valid to other people. They would be like, “Oh, if you’re okay with that, and you were told you were a girl your whole life, and you’re feminine, then how are you trans?” So I definitely feel like that hinders that. I like being able to use “they/them” because it literally screams non-binary, and it trips people up. And sometimes, even though it’s exhausting, I like that. I like to confuse people, and trip people up, even though it comes with repercussions and exhaustion. I’m constantly changing and shifting, and sometimes even surprising myself. So it would make sense that I’m also surprising other people.
In your own words, how would you explain that gender identity is different from sexual orientation?
Arlo: I mean, it’s so different.
Dré: How is it the same? [laughs]
Arlo: I guess I could see how people could find overlap in that, because I identify as queer in both my gender and my sexuality, but it means different things for each. But also, the reason I feel like I can use it for both is because I feel like it can be all-encompassing. “Queer” can be whatever you want it to be. It can change and be different for every single person. So I love that I can identify as queer in both my sexuality and transness, and it’s very personal to me, and it can be my own definition, while also connecting to so many people. So there’s that kind of overlap there. I guess gender has kind of informed my sexuality as I’ve come out as trans and realized that my sexuality used to depend more on gender, before I really identified as queer in sexuality. Basically I feel like a lot of terms that people use for their sexual identity are based on gender. You know, pansexual is kind of recognized as the all-inclusive – or queer as well – but as I have come out as trans, I’ve understood my sexuality to be more inclusive in the terms that I choose to identify with.
But I do feel like my gender is really personal and about me, whereas sexuality is about other people that I want to bring into my life that’s more separate from me because it’s more about who I love and want to be intimate and affectionate with. And I guess I feel like that has a little bit less to do with my gender in that I feel like my sexuality is showing what I like, or who I love and want to show intimacy, and it’s more about their gender and less about mine, whereas gender is how I identify. I definitely think there’s some overlap and that sexuality’s informed by gender. For me. As my gender has changed, my sexuality has changed and become more queer and more open and broad, and also more void at the same time.
Dré: I feel like I’ve been asked this question a couple of times, and I always weirdly have a hard time answering it, even though I feel like I know. I really relate to what [Arlo] said about how gender influences sexuality. Because actually the first trans person I dated was Arlo, and when they told me they didn’t identify as a woman, in my head I was just like, Well then I can’t be a lesbian. And to this day I have a hard time understanding why that doesn’t just happen for people. Not that I’m saying that should – there’s so much nuance to all of it. But for me, I didn’t even have to process.
And there’s a lot of controversy, right, even in queer spaces, around whether or not people should be able to hold their identities and date whoever they want. But personally, I just think that that’s bullshit, and I think that that feels very much to me like you’re just invalidating your partner. What makes you want to hold on to that identity so deeply that you’d be doing that, as opposed to maybe just finding a different word or not using a word. Gender and sexuality, I feel like they dance around one another, but for me I feel like they’re never fully intertwined. They’re separate but together, it’s all influence. I feel like gender and sexuality definitely are similar, but not in the ways that people think they are. They’re not the same thing, but they definitely interact.
It’s tricky stuff. A lot of people, when they realize they’re trans, and are dating cis people who either are cis and stay cis, or just aren’t super understanding, or they have to be also taught… It’s like having to train your partner through why they should gender you correctly. Your partner should be advocating for you with other people, when it comes down to that. I feel like if I walked into a space and I was dating someone who identified as a lesbian, people are obviously going to look at me and be like, “Cool, so that person’s a lesbian.” That’s how social spaces and our understandings of identities work. That’s why I feel like it gets tricky. But a lot of lesbian people that I know of or still have on my Facebook or something are very adamant about being able to date trans boys and still be a lesbian. And I’m just like, But why are is it so important to you though? That you’re posting so often? Like maybe there’s something deeper in there, like I don’t know, transphobia. [laughs]
Arlo: We’re also both non-monogamous. We didn’t even mention that.
We don’t really identify with “poly” though. But we do say non-monogamous, but it’s not something I really, seriously identify with. Like it’s not something I put as an identifier.
Dré: I kind of do. Now that we’re here. I mean, honestly, there are some people that I feel like do [think] non-monogamy is a thing that they can kind of float in and out of, so they don’t feel like it’s a part of them, but then some people feel like it is a part of them. Like for me, I feel like it is. I feel like I could never be monogamous.
Arlo: Me either.
Dré: Exactly. So to me, personally, that feels like an identity, because that has to do with my love for and connections with people and range of relationships and intimacy with friends, etc etc. And that feels very integral to me and my importance and feeling happy. And so to me it kind of does feel like an identity, but I really am, again, not a super label-y person, and I feel like “polyam” and all of these things have these misconceptions. I feel like people will group that, and they really don’t understand that every single non-monogamous relationship, whether they identify as polyam or not, it’s so different. So I just really hate the misunderstandings of what polyam is. It’s really frustrating for me, and also very white.
Arlo: We’re both dating other people, and have been since we met, and before we met.
Dré: Yeah. We’ve never been monogamous. And here we are. Four plus years.
How do you feel represented in media and society at large?
Arlo: Negatively. Like we’re portrayed negatively, and I also feel negative about it. [laughs] You know, here and there you get little glimpses of things, and it’s obvious that queer- and transness is becoming something that’s being capitalized on in the media right now. But usually it’s a sad story of trauma and relies on a super problematic storyline or idea. It’s also common that the queer or gender non-conforming character is the villain. But there’s some good shows we’ve watched, like One Day At A Time, and there’s this film that came out called Fantastic Woman, it’s actually played by a trans woman. [It’s about a trans woman.] She’s the main character and it’s good, I’ll just say that. You should see it.
That’s a complicated question, too. First, there’s not very much representation for trans people at all, and then even less for non-binary. But yeah, that show, One Day At A Time, that’s like the only one I can think of that has a non-binary character where they just come out, and everybody’s like, “Cool,” and they start using their pronouns, and it’s not a big deal.
Dré: It’s also a cast of color. It’s amazing. It’s really really good. That’s on Netflix. Yeah, there isn’t much at all. I like to watch cheesy dramas, so I watch this show called The Fosters. It’s super problematic in a lot of ways, but there are some really cool snippets in there, and throughout they show they’ve had several trans characters. It’s been very normal, you know. They don’t make a huge deal about it, they talk enough about it. There was one episode where a character talked addressed being nervous about having sex with her boyfriend for the first time, who was trans, and them having a conversation about that. I thought that was pretty cool. I would never think I would see that on TV. And they did all of it very well. It’s also really intense and really sad. There is a lot of trans representation, which was surprising, and maybe the first show ever where a trans person is dating the main character of the show. And that was for a few seasons, and he’s still in the show now. He’s also a trans actor. But yeah, the show itself is not something that a lot of people would want to watch, because it’s really sad and traumatic. But there isn’t really that much.
And the other one I think of that’s not good is The L Word, which a lot of people who formerly identified as lesbians have seen, probably all of it. It’s cultural, it’s transphobic – I re-watched it in the last couple of years, and I was like, “Oh my God.” And who else do we see on cable? Caitlyn Jenner? Great. That’s helpful. She’s the worst. We don’t want that for representation either.
[Laverne Cox] and Janet Mock, they’re amazing, incredible, but also they’ve both talked about how they have a very specific look that people expect trans women to look like, and how that’s problematic too, and how that’s got them the amount of success they have, and how that’s what they want people to be talking about. Because it’s like, yes we can pull them, but we’re put through so much that the amount of things that are successful to us are things that are just baseline. Like people being decent human beings. It’s just kind of frustrating that our bar is set so low for a lot of things.
What improvements would you like to see happen inside your communities, and in society at large?
Arlo: Oof. I mean, obviously as a white person, it’s really obvious that white people are not really doing enough for others outside and inside our community. It’s interesting coming from Oregon, where it’s mostly only white people in general, and then Boston is less white, but still there’s a divide, and the spaces that are queer are usually predominantly white I feel like. Especially publicly “queer” events and spaces, like the art scene here, really lack diversity. There’s obviously people doing social justice work, but I feel like it’s probably less likely that white people are doing the work. I think there’s obviously a divide because white people are still racist and not really addressing the racism and don’t care to. So that also speaks to the grander scale of society in general not doing the work. It’s going to take people doing work that they don’t want to do before anything really changes.
I think disarming the police is a huge necessity, as well as, challenging all systems of power and oppression, and redistributing power and resources – something huge has to change, because otherwise we’re all going down basically. I feel like everybody knows that at this point; everybody talks about it, and it’s super dystopian. I just feel like there’s a lot of tension, and people aren’t happy with the way things are, whether they’re conservative or super radical. The way things are is not sustainable, socially and environmentally, and I feel like the people that have the power aren’t doing anything, so it’s not changing. And I feel like that happens in the queer community too. It’s just like a microcosm.
Dré: Yeah, I think there needs to be a drastic change. Like [Arlo] said, we’re at this point where it’s like, is it going to be environmental turmoil or social turmoil? What’s going to take us down? But things feel heavy to me, and I feel like –not to be a downer, but realistically, environmentally we’re doing really awfully, socially we’re doing just as fine as we’ve been doing. This is how things have been.
I think things feel a lot more tense because we have access to watching them happen in front of our faces, and social media has been amazing for that, and also very traumatizing for a lot of people, but also has made everything very real. We’re able to peek into what’s always been happening, so to me, I just feel like as a Black person who has just fucking ancestors and ancestors and ancestors after years and years and years that have been doing this same shit, and saying the same shit, and dealing with the same fucking shit, that it’s not going to happen. Truly. It sounds super bleak and super fucked up, but that’s how a lot of us feel.
I can see and feel and read about these things that have happened, and literally see myself in these same positions. And nothing shifts but laws or maybe the fact that people aren’t super blatant about shit anymore, but that energy just redistributes into microaggressions or people hiding behind ballots and voting black and brown people into whatever turmoil it is. Gentrification or deportation or just so many things, basically. So I feel like there has to be a huge shift. Capitalism is not sustainable. Capitalism cannot exist without oppression. It literally cannot function without it. So we need fucking abolition and everything needs to be torn down and built back up, whether that be figuratively or literally or both – until capitalism is done, there’s no way that we can break free from oppression. It’s not going to happen. That is the only way it stands. And that’s something that to me feels very realistic, and I see it, and I notice it.
So nothing really feels like anything’s actually changed. It’s just shifted a little bit and moved, and technology and society and things do change, but not really. And I think that this country is too stubborn to fucking get it together before something truly detrimental happens. I don’t think all of a sudden the 1% is going to be like, “All right. You know what, we better unpack all of this shit. It’s time.” That’s not going to happen. It would be so easy, in theory, obviously, to overthrow this small group of people if you have the numbers. But you’ve got all these horizontal hostilities happening within all of the people. That makes it impossible, and that’s also I think very intentional and carefully calculated, and brilliant, and terrifying about capitalism. All that shit I believe has been thought through. So yeah basically burn it all down, in a nutshell.
And I know that that is complex too and comes with a lot of heaviness and a lot of needing to be careful because there are places in the world where that is happening right now, and real people are affected by it right now, and it can be understandably and super validly a really sensitive topic. But when it really comes down to it, I just feel like capitalism has to go. And it’s probably not going to happen in a super fun way. And it’s better for me to think of it as super bleak than to think of having children – which I don’t want but maybe would if I didn’t feel this way about the world – having children and then having to watch them live through the same shit, and re-living what you did through them, seeing that nothing has changed. That’s been happening. That shit literally kills Black people and Black women. There’s literal studies that say Black women and child-rearers die from stress about having Black children and worrying about the racism they’re going to face. That’s heavy. That kind of shit can’t just be reformed. You can’t reform that kind of damage and trauma. Maybe if you give all the money to the Black people. We’ll start there.
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.
Arlo: When my mom first found out that I was queer, she was really upset. It was this huge ordeal. And in that conversation, she told me that her worst fear was that I wanted to be a boy, and that was the one thing that she couldn’t handle. Then she questioned me, and at the time I said no, because I hadn’t really realized yet that her fear was my reality. But I think at the same time, in that moment, I realized that she understood something about me, and was able to vocalize it in a way that I had never thought of. I believe she knew that I was trans. So it was years later that I came out. I think that was partly why it took me so long to come out too, because I felt like her approval was the most important for some reason. So I came out to her before I came out publicly, because that was important to me. But we don’t talk anymore. We haven’t for a couple years. But anyway, that’s how that ended. [laughs]
Dré: I guess maybe getting a binder. Because I really was [thinking], Oh, this’ll be nice to wear every once in a while, if I wanna get dressed up. And I didn’t realize that I had any dysphoria until I put a binder on, which was really weird for me. And really jarring. A lot of people that I had known had experiences where they definitely knew, and that’s why they got the binder. And I had a really hard time grappling with that, and again this theme of feeling “authentically” trans enough and feeling like I didn’t really want to talk to other trans people about it. Even [those] that had similar experiences, because I didn’t want it to feel like I was taking that experience away from them, or whining about something that wasn’t as bad. But when I got a binder, I kind of realized, Oh shit, this is a thing, I want to wear this all the time, what does that mean? And it was like a whole other re-working of my gender when I thought I had already done that, and then I was like, oh shit, this is probably just going to keep happening. That came to a lot of different decisions and changes I want to make about my body that before even when I identified as the same way I do now, I wouldn’t have felt like I wanted.
So that was definitely really impactful for me in an empowering way, but also in a way that really sucked. Because I was like, oh, wow, that sucks, this is another thing that I thought I didn’t have to deal with, and there it is. Surprise.
But I guess it’s actually pretty common. You don’t hear about it as often, but there are a lot of people who identify as trans and don’t feel dysphoria and then 9 or 10 or however many years down the line they realize that they do, and that’s not talked about enough really. I was like, I can’t be feeling this because I don’t have dysphoria, and my therapist was like, “What you’re explaining is dysphoria, so like – you do though.” [laughs] So that kind of was eye-opening for me and impactful in a bittersweet way.
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.
Arlo: I have something recent that’s happening still. I came out as trans in one workplace and had some of the most transphobic experiences of my life from management and everybody, basically, so I quit. I’ve skipped around job to job just because nothing’s felt really stable and as I was transitioning it was just hard keeping a steady job due to constant transphobia everywhere I worked. So now I have this new job, and recently someone questioned my gender by asking somebody else if I used to be a girl. So I found out because the person who they asked is my friend, and they told me. This person also sexually harassed us both by insinuating we must be secretly “hooking-up” at work because we are both queer and are friends. So I thought about it and then I [decided to] go tell my boss this is happening and tell HR. It’s been about a week, and basically what happened is they ended up questioning everybody, and then HR and the main head person were out on Friday for vacation; but because everybody had been questioned, obviously everybody’s talking about it. So the person who had asked that question about me on Friday tried to start shit with me in the workplace. I completely ignored her. Then HR found it to be an isolated incident and nothing happened except that they moved my friend’s desk without notice and put them on a management program, which really made no sense. They quit and now I’m the only trans person in the office and it is clear that the administrators do not like or respect me, because they look at me with such disdain and anger. So basically, as any trans might expect, me reporting it to HR has made the whole situation worse. And it feels like HR is not going to be responsive in the way they need to be.
Dré: I do feel like it’s been difficult moving from a super white place to a city that I didn’t research very well. There are much more POC here than in Oregon by far. Oregon is like literally 96% white. And it’s ten times the size of Massachusetts, so that’s a lot of white people. So moving here has been kind of a bummer in that way, in that Boston is very white, and my dating pool is very white, and Arlo is very white. [laughs] Which is fine, but at the same time, not fine sometimes, because I’ve always wanted to branch out and date Black folks and folks of color that can relate to me in different ways, and give me different things, or just require less energy to be with or around sometimes. And that has been really hard to find here. It’s very small. It’s like each level goes down – you have queer, then queer and trans-inclusive, which generally just means trans, and then person of color, then polyamorous – there’s so many things, and Boston is really just not that diverse. So that’s been kind of difficult, is to find community here and feel like I’m getting out of moving here what I wanted to, even if it’s not as often or in the same ways that I thought it would be. That has been kind of challenging. I do have another partner, Alex. We’ve been dating for a few months now and they are also Black and trans. It’s been really amazing that Arlo and I have been able to cultivate community in the ways we envisioned when we first moved here.
Who in your life do you feel you can trust or depend on?
Arlo: My partners. And my friends. I have a few really close friends. Mostly trans people. I still feel like I haven’t made that many connections in Boston. Some of my partners have been my best friends. Also, my friend Frankie. Frankie’s great.
Dré: That’s really hard. Aside from the people in my life I keep around, I don’t really keep people around me that I don’t trust, which is why I don’t have a lot of people around me. As a whole, more abstractly, I trust queer and trans folks, specifically of color. I just feel like when I’m in those spaces, I just feel at my safest basically. Or that’s one time where I feel that way, and I feel like that’s really powerful. And there’s so much to be said about the healing that existing in community can bring. I certainly trust my partners.
How has your identity played a role in your relationships, romantic or otherwise?
Arlo: Neutral, I guess. I feel like we’ve said it a couple times too, like how understanding gender has changed our sexuality. Or that’s happened for me anyway. And in our relationship, I feel like me being white has affected a lot of our relationship obviously, and my growth, and has them doing a lot of work sometimes. And it also made me see a lot of things, like the stuff I was mentioning earlier. Things I maybe would not have noticed if I wasn’t really exposed or had a relationship with someone who has the experience of a queer trans black person. I just notice the divide more, because I have learned a lot through the experiences they share with me. We realized while at the University together how much it was just part of the larger institution and how oppressive they were to all of us, how racist and transphobic.
I feel like our [identities] have really strengthened our relationship. I think we’ve both become healthier people. Also understanding non-monogamy, and how to be more communicative has helped us be healthier together and separately. Suppressing transness and queerness is what you spend most of your life doing and it’s all a lot of work unpacking it all. I think we’re both way healthier as a result of all the unpacking we are doing.
And I definitely have a lot higher expectations in people I’m dating; I shouldn’t even say just dating, because it’s all relationships. I’ve had to cut so many people out, and at this point I don’t feel bad about it most of the time, and it’s not surprising to me. People just don’t care enough or at all. I’ve had people literally say to me, “I’d care more about transphobia or trans issues if I wasn’t so scared that I’d be called transphobic.” Trans people, and especially black trans people, are continually gaslighted, even by each other. It’s how our culture works-- gaslighting people who are oppressed to maintain power and privilege. It happens in relationships too. That’s how people are socialized and that’s a big reason why trans people are closeted and scared to come out, because people continually are gaslighting and mentally/emotionally/verbally abusing them. I think that’s what transphobia boils down to. It’s such a part of our cultural that it strongly influences everyone in all their relationships. And I now recognize how toxic so many of my relationships were in the past, even my queer relationships, that I didn’t realize [then].
Dré: Yeah, I definitely relate to feeling like it plays a role in all of my relationships. I’m very particular about who I let around me, and that’s not to say that everyone is just immediately disposable, but the amount of energy I have to put in, I feel like I need to be getting that back. So if people are down and willing to listen and grow, that’s what all of us should be doing, but any pushback from people, I just don’t let that shit slide basically. If people say or do really offensive things and aren’t down to unpack it and work through it, then I’m just like, “Okay, bye.” And that’s come up a lot, obviously, through my identities and people I’m interested in spending time with, because the people we spend time with, what we mostly do is talk, and these are the things that I’m talking about. And I don’t want to constantly have to be having to do that labor just to spend time with people. So it really makes it more difficult for me to find people that I want to have as close friends, that I trust, and people to date. It pretty much affects everything.
Even being non-monogamous can be a lot. Again, polyamory is really commonly known in the widescale for white people, but also white hets a lot of the time too. But at the same time there’s no large-scale discussion that I’ve ever seen anywhere besides a support group that I’m in about non-monogamous people of color dating white people. What it’s like that you’re having to deal with another white person, and so you’re not dealing with just the normal type of jealousy or insecurity or whatever it may be, but then you have this huge power dynamic of race on top of it, and having to maneuver and navigate through that, and that’s obviously a lot more trying. So that’s why I feel like my gender doesn’t really affect much, because we’re all trans and chillin’, and I feel great, but at the same time it can be more difficult because that’s more labor and work that you’re taking on. Especially when I feel like polyamory and non-monogamy is a lot more heavily viewed even in queerhood right now as well as white. And lots of queer people that I know who are POC know about it but it’s not super common. Even in Boston, most white queers that I’ve met are polyamorous. There’s so many. But a lot of the Black and brown people I meet are like, “What?” That’s bizarre to me. Even on dating apps, people who are non-monogamous – it’s majority white people. It’s really interesting. Also, it could be that there are less poc on dating apps in general. I’m not really sure.
But I feel like that has been something that’s really impacted my relationships in a way that I wasn’t expecting. Especially when everyone’s like, “Boston’s super queer and polyam,” I’m like, “Cool, let’s go!” And these things pop up that you don’t really think of until they happen to you. I don’t like to not talk about it, but at the same time I get so exhausted of explaining it to people, and explaining my gender to people, and exhausted of explaining my race to people, and it’s just so exhausting. And I feel again like people have these things they ascribe on you, and if they’ve met any of your partners – the misconception can really fuck everything up. That’s why I choose to date folx that share identities with me. It makes everything a little less tiring.
Arlo: People always think that you’re lying somehow, if you’re non-monogamous. Like you’re lying to some of your partners, or one of them. One of them must not know about the other one. Or it’s somehow not healthy. Like how many of [those people] are cheating on each other and not talking about it? Having affairs, cheating, getting divorced?
Are you able to find adequate medical care?
Arlo: No, not really. I mean, now, in Boston, it’s been a lot better. I feel like I had a pretty good doctor at my university, but I still have had transphobic experiences there. It happens mostly when I go in to emergency rooms or I’ve had to go in for testing for some reason to a place I had never been before. That’s when I regularly get mis-gendered. Basically it’s cis doctors not really knowing how to help me, and when I first went to try and ask about hormones and stuff like that, they sent me to a provider who was allegedly the one single doctor they knew of who was known to treat trans patients. Of course it was this cis man who when I got there [asked], “So I’ve been getting a lot of trans patients lately. Can you tell me why? Why did you get referred here?” And I [told him], “Well someone from my insurance told me this was the place to go.” And he [said], “Okay, I just don’t understand,” then asked me a bunch of personal and even transphobic questions about my life and transness that were really unnecessary and irrelevant to my health or medical care. To top it off, he ended up telling me he couldn’t provide me with the treatment I needed because he wasn’t comfortable with it.
Doctors continually ask me questions that don’t have anything to do with what I’m there for, and they want to know about my trans story somehow, because it’s on my record that I am transgender.
You can go online now and your medical record is there – it’s not public, but I can talk to my doctor through this website, and I can go view my profile, and it says “Transgender man” and it’s under “Problems.” Which is a weird tab. Why is this here and why would it be a problem? Why wouldn’t it be under, I don’t know, “Diagnosis” or say “gender dysphoria” or whatever. But I think it’s things such as that that show how the medical system is really transphobic, unsafe, and inaccessible. I needed OGBYN care, but all the offices are oriented towards women and people who are pregnant, and that was scary.
But I was fortunate here in Boston to have a doctor who had worked with trans people. Basically in Boston there’s been a lot more trans resources, and that was partly why I wanted to move here, was actually for the trans medical healthcare that I knew I could get here. But even still, some people will gender mark me whatever they want, often incorrectly. I’ve said something before, but it still happens, and it’s just an ordeal that I don’t want to deal with. I also hate being touched by doctors. You know, when you go to the doctor, you’re [mostly] naked, and then they touch you for whatever reasons, and having cis doctors that already make me feel anxious touching my body makes me even more anxious.
Dré: I mean, there’s definitely more access to medical care here than there was in Oregon, just in general for most people, I would say. Like I went several years in Oregon being uninsured, and I came here and they gave me an insurance card like, the day I applied, and I was shook. I was like, What even is this? I was honestly blown away. I immediately latched onto Fenway, because there’s queer doctors there. But I haven’t clicked with my doctor at all, probably because she’s a cis white woman, who will also ask me questions about people that I’m sleeping with. I have questions about if they need to ask that, but the way they word it – “Are you sleeping with a male-bodied or female-bodied person?” – it’s like, there are so many other words. What are you actually wanting to know? Because you could just ask. Just be blunt about it.
But I feel like the most important part of access to medical care I’ve had here is my therapist at the Meeting Point. It’s in JP, and it’s a queer counseling center. All of the therapists there, they’re separate but they rent the space together. They’re all queer or trans, and a mixture of POC as well, and a lot of queer folks in the Boston area go there. And for me, having a therapist that is a person of color who is non-binary who is polyamorous – it’s like my literal dream. [laughs] I’ve been in therapy for over 10 years, and I’ve never felt like it’s done anything, and access to a therapist who understands how I move through the world has obviously made such an impact. People can’t really help you if they don’t know what’s actually going on. Like they can’t know to dig into those ideas. So that has been honestly really life-altering for me.
How has your view of yourself changed since you were younger?
Felix: I just grew up really disliking myself in a lot of ways. A big part of growing up Black in an all-white state and in an all-white family, was that I really disliked everything about Blackness and being Black, and then that kind of came through everything else that I experienced in my identity, like being queer and being trans and being chubby. And I feel like now, having an understanding of all of those systems, obviously you don’t get to just be like, “Oh cool, now I know, and all of those things, I can just throw them away, how great, I am cured of all depression,” but at the same time I have an understanding of where they’re coming from, and that they’re not coming from me. And that has been pivotal to my survival, literally. Unbelievable shift in thinking, and in my health overall when I was able to really make that connection. I still have to deal with this shit, and it’s still there – which is also kind of a mind fuck, because you can understand that it’s really all crafted, but at the same time it’s still there – but I would definitely say, I’ve really learned to embrace and love the parts of myself that I actually really hated and wished that I didn’t have for a really long time, and that has been pretty fuckin’ cool.
Dré: I definitely was relating a lot to [what Dré said]. I didn’t love things about myself that I love now, and I think that was a lot of other people’s influence on me. I also have become way harsher and way less patient with people in a way that is actually healthy though. I think I have the patience for things that I need to be patient for, and I’m quick to remove toxic people. Learning about my transness was really where it all started. And my queerness too. It’s a slow rumble. But I’ve always hated injustice in any way I saw it and understood it, and the more I learn about it, the more radical I’ve become. And I feel like that’s the way I’ve changed the most, because I feel like I used to be a lot more passive and patient. And I’m still shy in a lot of ways, and quiet, but the way that I think about things is so different. And the things that I want to see happen are so different, basically.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Arlo: Get out, as fast as you can. Don’t do those drugs. Except for weed. [laughs] When I was asked this question before, I answered, “Trust yourself,” because I think I relied on so much of what other people told me about myself that I didn’t trust myself to know my gender, basically, and what I knew was right in a lot of situations. But I feel like just saying, “Trust yourself” is so short, like what does that mean really? “You are not a girl. But you’re also not a boy. Just like you knew. Explore this more.” I also think that it depends on how young. I had a really toxic family situation, so I wish that somehow I could’ve found a way out of that sooner. Or had some advice that would’ve really helped during that. Or even just, “You’ll make it through and will find people that will show you love that’s better and relationships that are better.” Because I think I went into a really dark place after moving away from family and being estranged. I ended up doing a lot of drugs and drinking a lot, and I had really unhealthy relationships. I think that if I had had more support or guidance or known that there was a future for happy trans love, then I would’ve felt better and not been so depressed for so long. “Love your body.” I just want to throw that in there, because I spent so much being unsatisfied or hating parts of myself. Before I realized I was trans, I hated all the “masculine” aspects of myself and hated that I couldn’t fulfill my role as a girl or woman. I had laser hair removal on my face and many other areas on my body before I realized that I actually wanted all hair and that gender roles and expectations are a crock of shit. But it’s fine. Now I have facial hair, again.
Dré: Hold out until your 20s. I hate the whole “it gets better” thing, and also how that’s been branded. But at the same time – I sometimes don’t know what I’m doing, because I was very suicidal. I never planned to make it to my 20s. I didn’t make a life plan. I didn’t plan anything. I never saw past where I was at that point, and thinking back on that is really intense. Being trans, being black, all these things that are really incredible and beautiful, and it’s hard sometimes to not just focus on the negative, because that’s what’s weighing on us all the time. But yeah, definitely just hold out. Because there was really a big part of me that had no plan beyond maybe 16 or 17. Which has been really weird as an adult. And that’s also a similar experience that people have shared online, people who never planned on making it to their 20s so they didn’t have a life plan because it was never an option in their heads. And all of a sudden we’re here, and now I have no plan. [laughs]
What are your concerns for the future?
Dré: I think everything is really scary right now. It feels like every single person that I talk to and am in contact with is scared right now. I was driving for Lyft for a while, and people would casually bring up that the world is going to end. It’s this thing that people are just throwing around. I know people have said that for forever – Y2K, whatever – but I don’t know, it’s feeling really real, and it’s like we know it’s real and things like climate change are no longer accepted as conspiracy but actually are understood to be grounded in factual evidence. I am worried for the earth and for the future of all living things.
Dré: Did you see that study that a large, large percentage of millennials aren’t saving for retirement because they don’t think that capitalism is going to exist by then? [laughs]
Arlo: I’m trying to avoid my student loans hoping that at some point they’ll be obsolete because I just cannot pay them.
Dré: A lot of people are there. Like you said, it is so casual.
Arlo: That’s my biggest fear, is that nothing is going to change and nothing’s happening fast enough to make a big enough change. It’s like every single thing needs to change, the systems that are in place need to change, our ways of living and learning needs to change. We have to start cleaning the planet that we’re trashing. It’s mostly just that things aren’t going to change socially and environmentally while those in power remain in power. Honestly I’m terrified of the US government, military, police, and I’m worried about what they are doing and continue to do with the power they hold, especially as people become more socially aware and the political climate becomes more hostile.
Dré: I’m mostly just scared of things staying the same. I’m just tired and over it though. I guess I’m scared of what’s going to happen with liberals fore-fronting these social movements, and how that’s going to backfire and actually disadvantage oppressed people. I mean problematic, racist, turf-y liberals. That’s kind of how I feel. [Who] I feel like could get us in a really tricky place. I’m not going to touch a ton on how I feel about this as a subject, but the whole gun reform thing, how that is going, and I’m just interested to see what the outcome is for that, because either fucking way, Black and Brown people are already targeted all the time, so for me, whether we can or cannot have guns, I don’t really fucking care. Because to me it makes no fucking difference. I don’t want to focus on that shit.
I have opinions on what types of things should be accessible. What it comes down to is what [Arlo] said earlier about disarming the police, disarming the military – that’s what I’m fucking concerned about. I’m not really scared of them, but I’m definitely scared of the way these movements can be misguided, even unintentionally, and then create more harm. It kind of freaks me out. And then people who are for gun reform, but then are working with the police to make it happen. Okay, you don’t get it. That doesn’t make me or my people any safer. So that’s what I’m really afraid of, is not only things staying the same, but then this type of reform activism just reinforcing things staying the same. That’s literally how it’s always been. And I’m just tired.
What do you look forward to in the future?
Arlo: I still sometimes feel hopeful for the future. I definitely feel like queer and trans people are being represented more in the media, coming out more, being offered more resources and access to care. Our community is growing basically because people are learning about what it means to be trans and some are finding, “Oh, this applies to me in my life,” and they are coming out, and living their most authentic life. It also allows the cis community to understand our experiences better and how they can provide allyship. I just feel like there’s a lot of good change that will happen as more people learn about the trans experience and social issues. It’s obviously not the fastest thing. But I like to imagine the downfall of capitalism and somehow a utopia of some sort happening as a result. I sometimes feel hopeful for something happening, but that’s so much work that I can’t really imagine what that process would look like. I’m hopeful for that change to start happening. I’m excited to see what changes do happen, even though it’s not really happening fast enough. I feel like that’s my best response.
Dré: I mean, I definitely look forward all the time to just building community. I just look forward to meeting more trans people, more QTPOC, more trans people, more people that are just having the conversations that I’m having, and mostly just sharing the experiences so that I can just exist with them. I feel like sometimes existing is just really exhausting, and it just helps to have other people. Super cliché, but it’s super true. We do better and heal better but also feel more human and more validated when we know that other people are going through things. So for me, that’s what keeps me literally grounded and here and thriving when I feel like I can thrive and when I can’t. So that’s what I’m always looking forward to, is just meeting more people that make me feel that way in a variety of relationships and ways, and basically learning from them. Learning how I can unpack shit too. Because it’s also really easy to get caught up in being oppressed, especially when you’re multipl-y oppressed like myself, and a lot of the time you still need other people to say, “Oh, but you need to be thinking about this too.” There’s so many other things happening too. I feel like community has been really powerful for me for that, like helping me grow. That’s all I want to do. Maybe leaving the U.S. ideally. Hopefully with both my partners and the circle of closeness we’ve cultivated together and separately.
What have been the important frustrations in your life, and the most important successes?
Arlo: I feel like I’m constantly frustrated with the environmental and social state of this country, which has been important in informing my political and social stance. But I don’t know. Successes have been the things that have been the most healing for me and which have led to my growth. Learning and unpacking things. An important success was leaving Oregon and the University setting. It has been amazing. Other successes for me have been getting hormones and access to trans healthcare. I’m going to be getting top surgery in August.
Do you have a philosophy of life? What’s your best piece of advice?
Arlo: Never stop questioning what you think you believe. Listen to marginalized voices. I don’t think I have a philosophy of life, particularly. Marxism is pretty cool. [both laugh]