What are your pronouns?
Where do you work?
I am currently unemployed but I do a lot of connecting and coordinating work in the world of queer farming. In the spring of 2020 I am starting a farm with a friend of mine!
Do you have any hobbies or special interests? What do you do for fun?
I don't know if you noticed, but I'm very into plants. I wish that I had access to a garden living here, I don't. But that has always been something that I really love to do. Part of what I studied in school was [agriculture]-related. Each of my plants has a name. They're like my little children. I'm also really into roller blading. I just got myself a pair of roller blades at the thrift store during the summer, so I'm getting back into doing that. It's been really fun. And something else that I've wanted to teach myself for a while and I just got supplies to do was crocheting, which is cool.
My mom didn't really expose me to a lot of a media. I don't know if you know anything about Waldorf education, but I was raised in that kind of model. So my mom didn't really show me a lot of movies, and I didn't have video games and stuff, so being with [my partner who is more into video games], I've gotten more into that. I can't play violent games, they freak me out too much. We play adventure-related ones and ones that grapple with the end of the world like Horizon Zero Dawn which is really fun.
How do you handle the issue of pronouns and being gendered when interacting with strangers / mixed company / etc?
That one is always really hard for me. It's challenging. And it's something I struggle to talk about too, because I think that all the words we use to talk about gender are still really gendered. I wear dresses still sometimes and am not transition in any way and like pink so I'm read as a cis woman a lot still, which means I get mis-gendered a lot. Like at the grocery store or at gathers were pronouns aren't introduced as a thing people use in that space. And I kind of just grin and bear it in that sort of instance. If I'm with my partner, we do this thing after it happens and we're alone, if someone has either called me my old name or mis-gendered me, we'll affirm each other's pronouns and say that we love the person and their name now. It's kind of a reminder of, "I see you and you're valid" sort of thing, which is really nice.
My family’s still trying to getting it; messing up a lot but trying. They’re more the sort of crowd that I would correct. People that I actually know. Because with strangers I might never see [them] again, so why would I spend the time and energy outing myself and trying to explain pronouns when [they] could possibly get mad at me or be violent.
There’s this organization called the Praxis Group, it’s out of Chicago, and they made these cards – they’re like business cards, but you can get them in “she,” “he,” or “they,” and they now also have “xe,” and on one side it says, “My pronouns are – ” and it explains, and says, “Please do not refer to me as ‘woman’ or ‘ma’am,’ instead please use ‘mx’ and gender-neutral language.” On the back side it has a tweet from a famous psychologist explaining that when you mis-gender trans people you’re invalidating them, and then there’s a follow-up tweet about how if they correct you, they are inviting you to actually develop a relationship with them because they’re outing themselves to you or saying, “I care enough about you where you getting it right is really important to me.” So I have those in my wallet, but I’ve never given one out yet. I never know the situation, like I don’t want to just give it to the cashier at the grocery store.
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?
Before I changed my name, my name was very gendered, and also very common. So I wanted to pick something that was not as common and also a plant, because I love plants. Changing my name was a really interesting process. I knew that I wanted to do it, but I didn’t know how to go about that process. And I feel like that’s something that within our community we don’t really talk about. Like, “Here are some ways to figure out how to do that.” There’s information online for questions like, “How to adjust to using new pronouns,” and “How to fill out the name-change paperwork,” and more legal side of things, but there isn't any answers to questions like “here’s the personal exploration work that I did to figure out what I wanted my name to be and how I started that process.”
So last summer, my partner and I had gotten together at the beginning of the summer and they were living with me in California, and at the end of the summer we drove their car back all the way across the country to come to Hampshire [College] for my final year and their junior year. And on the car ride back across, I started compiling a list of names that I liked, and while I was driving they would look through all these non-binary or ungendered names, and we compiled a list of like 20 of them that I liked, and then I took that and I wrote it all out in a list. And it had been living on my desk for like a month at the beginning of the school year, and then slowly I waded through them, and then I had a list of 4, and it was really hard to choose. Because I liked all of them for different reasons. Then I was making a collage for a class that I was in, it was like a Manifesto collage, so we had to write something that was about our guiding morals in life. And I created a collage that was space and earth themed, and then it had found college poetry about the revolution all over it. It’s all about how we have to believe people’s visions of liberation and support speaking out. And one of the lines is, “What is next Aspen?” and I found the word “aspen” in a National Geographic magazine I think, and that had been one of the names on the list, and I went, oh well now I have to choose it because I’m literally putting my name in this manifesto! And it kind of just happened. The next day I was like, okay, my name is Aspen now. And I presented my thing to the class and it was a really small class – Hampshire’s kind of like a beautiful little trans home, I think we have the highest number of trans students, at least in Massachusetts. Most people I know from there use “they/them” pronouns. It’s great. So I just told the class I went by that name now, and everyone was like, cool, great! Which was awesome.
Then my dad came and visited me for October break or something, and I told him, and then I told my mom, and then during the Christmas holiday I went home and started the legal court order process in California, because that’s where my ID is from. They have slightly better laws there. Like in Mass you used to have to publish in the newspaper. In California you don’t. [I decided] to do it in California, because I don’t want to have to pay to publish this in the newspaper for multiple weeks. And California lets you do “X” on your driver’s license and birth certificate. The X or third gender option is really new though. I lived in a really really rural county in California and I must have been one of the first people to fill out the new paperwork in my rural county, because there’s not that many residents. It was an interesting process. It’s been a lot of mailing back and forth. It’s so much and the person in the court initially called and told me I filled out the paperwork wrong because they had never seen the new forms. But I knew I didn’t because I had someone from a gender clinic in Sacramento help me.
"I’ve gotten into wearing lots of cool fun textures ... and fun prints, and stuff like that – in order to [say], “Here’s my fun loud queer fashion.” ... So I wear my hair in these space buns or whatever, because that’s unusual. You’re not going to see another cis straight 22-year-old walking around with space buns with glitter on their face. ... I want people to see me and know I’m queer."
What word(s) would you use to describe your identity?
That’s so hard. My partner and I yesterday were having a really great conversation about this. They’re reading this book called The Emergence of Nurturance Culture right now, and the chapter they just read was all about gender and how trying to find a gender or an identity is like a dance. You get really close to it, and then you dance away, and then you come at it at a new angle, and I feel like it’s very shifty all the time. So I guess shifting, or a dance. But I also really love words like glitter or plants. Imaginative. Very political. And I’m an air sign, so I’m a big airy fairy. You can’t pin me down.
Are there ways that you dress / act / speak / etc. to specifically make a statement to others about your identity? Why?
I’ve always really loved fashion, I’ve had a very interesting journey with that. I went to a really small private high school and I was scared to come out even though it was liberal and it would’ve been fine, and I had friends who were out-ish. [laughs] Dancing with the queer thing, not fully saying it, but definitely being it. I kind of put on this whole other identity – I call it my high school drag show. I call it that because in high school I really pushed myself into a very intense super gendered preppy version of myself. I was wearing stilettos to school every day, and wearing a ton of concealer and foundation to hide my freckles because I didn’t like them, and intense eye makeup, and really preppy clothes or really short skirts. Really trying to be like, “I’m a teen girly girl,” you know. Whatever that is.
So much so that I kind of created this whole fake identity for myself, and when I was applying to schools my senior year, I applied to all fashion schools. I ended up going to Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in Georgia, and was studying Fashion Marketing, and after one semester realized, oh, shit. I’ve been lying about who I was this whole time.
The summer before college I did a very formative acid trip where I kind of realized, oh, I love myself for being queer, and I have known since I was 15 or 16 and I’ve just been really afraid to actually say anything or do anything about it. And I have always secretly had a Skins fandom blog for Emily and Naomi, the UK version of course, but I haven’t actually told anyone. So I guess what I’m trying to get at is I had that relationship with fashion, and then when I came out, it changed a lot. When I first came to Hampshire, I went through my whole flannel and baggy jean phase where I was like, “I’m a baby gay!” Because I transferred out of SCAD. And then now, having come out as non-binary, it’s like a re-embracing of things that would be perceived as typically feminine possibly. Like these pink trousers. But I’m not identifying that way, and I don’t see them as a gendered thing, I just love bright colors and plants and glittery makeup and it’s more of a loud “Here I am” thing than it is a feminine thing for me. Words about gender are so hard.
Something that I really struggled with is, I feel like sometimes in the non-binary community there’s this perception that masculine is neutral. This story that we should all just wear baggy jeans and T-shirts all the time, and that will be considered – fucking terrible word – “unisex.” When you Google non-binary clothing online, it comes up with masculine clothes a lot. But I don’t want to wear a tan boring T-shirt, I want to wear fun prints and colors. How do we find a nice balance? Does there even need to be balance? And there’s a lot of things that I know I couldn’t do, – for instance, I know I couldn’t wear a binder because I have really horrible back and shoulder pain already, and I know that binding can cause pain, so I can’t do that. I’m not interested in going on hormones, so I would never be able to grow facial hair because of that.
So I guess that clothing has always been a really big part of how I express myself. I’ve gotten into wearing lots of cool fun textures – velvet is a favorite in this house, and fun prints, and stuff like that – in order to [say], “Here’s my fun loud queer fashion.” I just got my undercut fixed up yesterday. So I wear my hair in these space buns or whatever, because that’s unusual. You’re not going to see another cis straight 22-year-old walking around with space buns with glitter on their face. That’s not normal. But I also don’t want to be. I want people to see me and know I’m queer. It’s my Aries rising; I kind of want to intentionally make straight people uncomfortable.
How early on did you know or suspect that you did not identify within the binary?
It’s been a really interesting journey for me. It took me a really long time to figure that out. I always knew that I was queer. I think I went through an “I’m definitely a lesbian” phase when I was in high school, because my first crush was a femininely-identifying individual. I was like, that’s what I am. Then I came to Hampshire and I was dating someone who was non-binary and I remember sitting on the Boston T going home for winter break after being with them for that first semester [thinking], Okay, I’m definitely not just gay. I think I’m probably pan. And then from there the train just kind of took off. No I’m not pan, maybe I’m just queer, and then I started having dreams about not being in the binary or people yelling at me about my gender, and I [figured], Yeah, this probably is a thing.
I have a little silly story about gender and realizing I was non-binary. So my partner and I have been together for like a year now, but we had started dating the Fall of 2017. They invited me to go stargazing for our first date. It was very queer. Then a couple weeks later I [told them] I’d been having all these dreams, and because they have been out and trans since they were in high school, they said to me, “I don’t think cis people really think about gender that much.” [laughs] That was their way to get me to realize I was having gender feelings. I was like, “Yeah, probably not.” During that whole winter break and following semester I really came into myself and realized, oh, yeah, I’m non-binary. Okay. That’s what this is. That’s what’s happening here.
Do you think anything about the way you were raised or where you grew up affected how you drew conclusions about your identity?
Yeah. Maybe? I was born at home in Mountain View, California, which is in Silicon Valley, and my parents didn’t want to raise me around the hustle and bustle of the city. They were kind of “back to the land” types. So when I was 4, with another family they bought this ranch in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and we moved there, and I lived in a really tiny cabin with them, and then they built a house on the land. I grew up there, and we lived there until I was in middle school, and then middle and high school I went to a private school in Sacramento. But growing up, I was a big nature kid. Every time I was bored my mom was like, “Go outside. You’ll find something to do.” Our next door neighbors were these 3 boys who were wild as all hell. Seaweed fights in the canoe in the Summer, and getting those big prickers stuck in my hair and having my mom have to cut them out in the Fall, and in the Winter I was riding bikes in the rain and stomping in the creek that flowed through the property. So I feel like I was always very outdoorsy, and whenever I think about who I am today, my childhood feels very formative, and I’m still kind of trying to figure out why. I don’t really know why.
"Gender expansiveness has existed across the world in so many communities, and then colonialism happened and it kind of shut it all down. ... It's all over the world. ... I feel like so much of what it means to be trans for me is remembering that and uplifting that, and recognizing that this has existed for millennia and that that might not be my history because I don’t carry that lineage, but it’s a piece of what needs to be recognized as part of what’s gotten us to this kind of fucked up place with patriarchy and misogyny as it exists within mainstream society today."
My parents were never deliberately like, “It’s okay to be queer!” But my aunt is a lesbian and that was fine and normal and it was never a bad thing, so I think it helped that I came from a home where it was more accepted. But I think part of the reason why it was so hard for me to figure out and why it took me so long to specifically come into the gender side of things was because I grew up really rurally. Sure I met trans people, but I didn’t know they were trans or they weren’t out, so the first time I met a trans person who was out and I knew was not until I came to Hampshire. I was 18 already. So it took me a long time to even know that being transgender was a thing. I remember touring Hampshire; I was a freshman in college at the time, I had done one semester at SCAD and then moved home and done community college for my semester in between transferring, and so I went on my spring break from community college to visit all the schools I had applied to. I had applied to all these kind of “design it yourself” programs in New England. And I remember staying at Hampshire and asking my host person, “So what is this whole ‘they/them’ pronoun thing that people use? Why do people do that?” and they said, “Well it’s people who don’t want to be seen as either,” and I [kind of got it]. Then I went to orientation the next year and really learning about it, and had friends who identified that way and transitioned while I was friends with them.
But until then, we didn’t learn about it in health class in high school; my health teacher was inclusive, but definitely not on a trans level. We talked about being queer and all of that, because I was lucky enough to not get abstinence-only Sex Ed, but we never talked about trans things. So I just didn’t know about it. Because I lived a really sheltered life and I wasn’t exposed to media, it was really hard and I think that was a really big piece of what took me so long. I feel like in the last 5 years there’s been this exploding of information about it only because at the state level there’s these amendments that are being passed, and you can go on Teen Vogue and read about what being non-binary is now. When I was in high school that was never a thing. I read regular Vogue – I remember that time in my life – and that would never have been talked about. I think a couple years ago this Black woman started editing Teen Vogue magazine, and everything changed. Then in teen media it exploded across the board I feel like, and with shows depicting more queer people; barely still, it’s like you’re searching for queer media, but even the last couple of years. That show Pose has made it so much more of a talked about thing. I see sex educators actually wanting to learn about it and then implement it in a school setting and talk about it. My roommate is an educator, and even with the little kids in early childhood education they talk about it now. At least if you’re in a queer area. I know here in the Northampton and Amherst area, if you’re going to a smaller childcare/education place, it might be a thing. Which is awesome.
I follow these parents online who are raising their baby without a gender, and they have thousands of followers. Their baby’s name is Azul, and they’re this mixed race kid living in L.A., and they’re the cutest thing in the world. I cry about them regularly. This way of parenting and growing up is the future. I feel like if we raised kids in a genderless way, if we just let them do what they wanted, I don’t really think that straight people would exist. Or maybe they would, but it would be not the norm. Because the way that we raise kids, every single thing that they’re exposed to, all the way from gender reveal parties to uniforms in school to what toys you play with to what section of the store you shop at, you’re told, “This is who you are.” And if you’re allowed to have it be open and be whatever, at a very young intimate age you’re able to see the world in a different way. And I feel like that would radically change the way that the world is.
I also had a really amazing opportunity when I was in school to work with a visiting professor who was also a famous reproductive justice activist. Have you ever heard of Loretta Ross? She’s a Black feminist reproductive justice activist, writer, and academic who stared Sister Song, which is a reproductive justice organization specifically arranged around Black women and their right to have self-determination over their bodies. She came and taught at Hampshire for a year. In her class she was talking about how that system of gender violence, whether it’s around our current gender dynamic between men and women and inequality there, or on a queer and trans level, it’s all rooted in white supremacy. Because ultimately when you break everything down it comes down to this idea of the less than and the more than, and those ideas, and the way that we force people into it. Gender expansiveness has existed across the world in so many communities, and then colonialism happened and it kind of shut it all down. I mean two-spirit people in Indigenous communities are an example of this, and I know that there’s a word for non-binary or like a third gender in Japanese and Hawaiian and in various different African dialects. It’s all over the world. These people were really really valued for their knowledge and for their wisdom and then colonialism happened and it was just like, “Nope. We’re wiping that out. There’s only two genders and none are the rest.” And I feel like so much of what it means to be trans for me is remembering that and uplifting that, and recognizing that this has existed for millennia and that that might not be my history because I don’t carry that lineage, but it’s a piece of what needs to be recognized as part of what’s gotten us to this kind of fucked up place with patriarchy and misogyny as it exists within mainstream society today.
Can you give any examples of misconceptions people have about those who identify outside the binary? Have you personally dealt with them?
I think there’s always that terrible idea of “oh this is just a phase,” or “you’re just gay and you’re figuring it out” and that sucks a lot. Also, I don’t want to talk too much about their experience, but I know my partner initially came out as a trans man and then realized they were non-binary later on. Something that we experience in our relationship is people will see us together and they don’t know how to read them, because sometimes they wear skirts or fishnets and sometimes they wear jeans and a t-shirt, and people are confused by that. My Parent has gotten to this place in their transition where they can have facial hair and wear a dress at the same time. And I think people get really confused with that and they’re like, “Oh are you de-transitioning from being a man.” Also as a couple because I am typically read as a women by cis-hets [cisgender heterosexuals] and on days when they are wear jeans and a t-shirt they are typically read as a man, cis-het people assume we are a straight couple out in public which feels like TRASH.
I’ve had people ask me really ridiculous questions about being non-binary. My mom just doesn’t understand. I always try to explain that to be non-binary is to be truly liberated because I’m throwing the cisheteropatriarchy out the window. Sometimes I tell her, “The patriarchy is stifling you. You could be free, but you’re not.” And she is just flabbergasted. She doesn’t know how to take that. I can be very feisty when I want to be. I have a lot of fire and air in my astrology chart.
I feel like on a personal level I really struggled with the whole “masculine is neutral” thing. It’s prominent in the community especially when it comes to – and I hate this language, but – the whole “FTM” [female to male] trans community. I feel really challenged by that language and the language of AMAB/AFAB, because it’s still so gendered. I know the gender binary is affirming to some trans people but I feel so stifled by it. It’s really hard to find community while also realizing there’s a lot of struggle with inter-community politics and words and ways that people talk about gender that can be so different across one community? Some people find gendered language to still be really useful and helpful, and then for me, I don’t even want to use the words “masculine” and “feminine” to describe clothing or hairstyle. Sometimes I use colors to describe the differences, but then I’m like, why do I want to gender colors? How do we get out of that and into a world where that’s not the case? It’s so challenging. There’s so much there to unpack.
In your own words, how would you explain that gender identity is different from sexual orientation?
I see my sexual orientation as who do I love, on a really basic level. Who am I attracted to, who do I see myself being with. And my gender identity is on a more personal level. It’s like, who am I and what does that mean for myself? I feel like it can be a part of your sexuality and it also isn’t. But for me it really is. I got this “T 4 T” patch over the summer, which is great. I was able to explore who I was on a gender level based on who I was with in my life. My first relationship was with a non-binary person, and my relationship now is also with a non-binary person. And I feel like being with other people who are specifically non-binary is a whole other world of joy, because for me it makes the love way deeper because I know that on a fundamental level they understand who I am – or maybe not, because maybe they’re having a totally different gender experience, but at least we both don’t align with the cisheteropatriarchy, and there’s that shared dream of one day burning it down. Now I use the word “queer” to describe my gender and my sexuality, because I do see them as really interconnected, because now I kind of only want to date other trans people because [they’re] the only [ones] who are really going to get it. Sexual orientation and gender identity very different but also intermixed. I think the two can affect each other in a really big ways.
How do you feel represented in media and society at large?
Not very. Which is part of why I was interested in this project. I feel like I’m searching for shows, that even just depict queer people, let alone non-binary people. Pose has been awesome because it actually has trans actors who are depicting trans characters which is great. I love Indya Moore very much. They are the character Angel on the show Pose who’s this amazing sex worker and dancer. I love their character. There’s also Tales of the City (the new version), which just recently came out, but it was a book that was written way back in the day, like the 70s, all about a queer home in [San Francisco]. There’s Sex Education, but the queer character is like a sidekick, and I feel like characters that depict us are still so often side characters. It’s never the main storyline. And so often cis people are allowed to act trans people and everything else under the sun while trans actors can only act trans people. I think that trans characters should always be acted by trans people but I also think trans people should be given the same opportunities as cis actors and be able to act cis people if they want or other characters.
I don’t think you can create queer media without it being queer people who are making the media. No one would be able to tell a trans story and do it really really well on a really intimate level and get down to the, “Oh my god, I’m in my room and I’m crying about who I am” sort of level unless it was another trans person. I feel like there aren’t enough people being signed to make media who are trans and doing that yet. So it’s not mainstream and it sucks. It’s hard not seeing yourself depicted in stuff. I feel like in alt-media scenes you can find better representation. But at large I feel like it’s not happening yet. It’s so slow. And so many times they mess it up, or they perpetuate stereotypes. Call Me By Your Name was beautiful in terms of cinematography, but then it’s a story of an old man with this young guy and it feels really pedophilic to me. I feel like I want there to be more genuine depictions of what it’s like to be queer. I would love for there to be a movie where there’s a polyamorous relationship. And media is not there yet.
"'What does community care look like?' is a really big question I’m always asking myself. I think it’s a really big struggle, and in some ways I feel like the way that we are taught to engage in the world is a kind of pattern that is also taught to us through media and school and all this other stuff. ... We’re trained to listen to respond with the right answer rather than, 'How would you understand this on a social/emotional level or a deeper level?' and that has got to change."
Could you tell me about an experience or moment in your life that was very impactful for you?
I mentioned earlier, that acid trip that I had when I was 18 – I was with my sister and her two friends at this river behind my house. And it’s really really beautiful, and I went there for the day. I just remember lying in this river and looking downstream and seeing this wave of water flowing around the boulders and creating rapids and stuff, and it almost looked like a femme person lying backwards in the water with their hair going down the stream, and they were telling me that it was okay to be queer. And that was really beautiful. And now every time I go to that spot, I see it. Even though I’m not on drugs. [laughs] I see the rocks and I see why I saw the figure I did in the water. It’s a very special spot. It’s my favorite spot on the south fork of the Stanislaus River in California. I feel like a lot of my formative moments have been in nature.
Could you give me an example of something difficult that occurred in your life and how you dealt with it?
My mother and my partner both are survivors, and that I think has been – I don’t know if I would call it difficult as much as a challenge and a learning process of, how do we create community care on that intimate level for interpersonal relationships within your own life? And how has that person’s experience affected mine? With my mom her trauma was affecting her when I was a child, so as a result it was affecting me because she didn’t have the best coping methods for it. And now I’m in this stage of my life where I’m dealing with that and trying to heal. The person who assaulted her was a family member, and so that’s meant cutting that person out, for me, because even though they didn’t directly hurt me, I was hurt through my mother by them. And I don’t blame my mother for that, I blame them for that, because they were the original creator of that hurt. Which has been a really challenging process, because they’re one of the few men in my family, so they hold a lot of power, and there’s a lot of patriarchy, and cutting them out means not being involved in really important family conversations or being thought to be rude, because I’m “ruining” a relationship I had with them even though we didn’t have a relationship. And then, you know, with my partner, exploring and understanding how insidious and how in so many parts of our life dynamics can be created that are violent like the way we have been taught to communicate and other stuff too, and exploring how those can be unlearned and recoded has been a really rewarding, and also at the same time challenging. Because it’s re-learning every way that we interact with people and learning how sacred intimacy is in terms of that, and how we have to really strive to be safe with a person. And I have a lot of trust issues, and so learning how to actually do that is – whoa. I am also a survivor and unlearning all the cisheteropatriarchy that has been forced on me is a really emotional process but I am learning how to trust again and how queer intimacy and sex can be so caring and just real and also scary because its so safe. I know that sounds backwards but it's this funky thing when you have trauma where the traumatic things feel more “normal” or “expected” so actually safe things can feel really destabilizing or overwhelming but also SO good.
Who in your life do you feel you can trust or depend on?
I have a really close small circle of friends. I really prefer to have that, where I can really develop deeper and closer relationships with people, rather than a bunch of friends where [it’s] like, “Oh, yeah, whatever, let’s go out!” So I have a really really deep relationship with my partner, and I really love my housemate. We became friends through this last academic year and got to know each other, and it’s been an incredibly rewarding lovely experience. I have a really dear friend who actually grew up in the area who I really deeply care about and love. And I have a queer friend who I went to high school with who lives in Boston now who I care about and love so much. And I have some really lovely mentors in the community as well.
There’s this organization over in Easthampton called the Survivor Arts Collective, which is a community of healing, empowerment and activism. The person who started it refers to themselves as a creatrex, and their name is Isabella, and my partner actually has an internship with them this summer and is going to be doing some of their thesis project at Hampshire with them. So that’s really cool. They are kind of this older, wise, queer person who I love. And then the person who I mentioned earlier who I’ve done this resonance work with, Teal Van Dyck, who works at Ethics & the Common Good, is such an inspiration. Also one of my mentors for my thesis, Lisa DePiano, is a permaculturist in the area and has been just a wonderful guide throughout my whole college experience. We still are in contact which is really great. I feel like it’s so challenging, because I love community care, but also am someone who’s very reserved and quiet and prefers to have a really small community. It’s this dichotomy of, how do you hold that?
How has your identity played a role in your relationships, romantic or otherwise?
I feel like for me, when I choose to be friends with someone, it’s important that they (obviously) get me. I don’t really choose to be friends with straight people. On a family level, I am trying to get people to understand. My parents are very much, “We want to love and support you in any way,” and they have a pride flag outside their house. I showed my mom what the non-binary flag looked like the other day and she was like, “We should get one of those. I don’t want just the trans flag, I want the non-binary flag.” But then, on a personal level, she really struggles to get my pronouns right and is challenged by me pushing her to see the world in a less gendered way. She has really started to grasp my name, which is lovely. She used to really struggle with that one. For the first six or seven months it was really hard. And like I said earlier dating other non-binary people feels really important to me and is a big connection point for me in relationships. There is so much lovely intimacy is finding what is affirming with another person.
Are you able to find adequate medical care?
I go to Planned Parenthood for basic yearly check-up sorts of things. The Massachusetts league has a gender-affirming hormone replacement therapy program. They have worked really hard to redesign their medical form, their intake form, all the questions they ask you in your pre-chat with the medical assistant before you see the doctor, and they hire doctors who are trans-inclusive. My partner gets their T prescription through them, and they’re great. They ask for pronouns, your chosen name if you have not legal changed it, and when you make an appointment in your medical portal everything is in your chosen name, and the medical assistant who sees you before asks you how many partners you have, so they’re polyamorous-inclusive; what are the genders of your partners, what sort of protection do you use – they also don’t assume anything based on the gender of your partner. So that’s really awesome. But that’s only in some states. Planned Parenthood everywhere doesn’t have it. It’s only the states that have put in the work to do it.
I just found a new doctor actually, because there’s this one doctor that all trans people in the valley try to see, she’s trans herself so she has a really intimate understanding of what trans healthcare is and what it needs to be, but her practice is full. So she posted on the local Queer Exchange earlier in the summer saying her practice hired another doctor who’s trans-inclusive and gets it, and she highly recommended them, so I called the next day and I have my first appointment in October. I’d been looking for a doctor all through college and never really had a routine one that I was going to regularly. I never had a PCP, because I couldn’t find one that was affirming. So it’s very exciting. It’s just starting to happen. And then in terms of therapy, I have a really great non-binary queer therapist.
"Be yourself. It doesn’t matter what other people think of you, it matters what you think of yourself, if you’re happy. Because at the end of the day, that's the most intimate relationship."
How has your view of yourself changed since you were younger?
I think that I have developed a much deeper relationship with myself, obviously through coming into my gender and sexuality. I think on a really deep level there’s still a lot of things that I really struggle with that are from my childhood. I have dyslexia, and so I have a really hard time seeing myself as someone who’s smart or has something to bring to the world. Which is funny because I’m leaving in two days to do a workshop centered around my thesis topic, and yet I’m still like, “I don’t know anything.” It’s a really weird dichotomy. So there’s things like that, where they haven’t changed or they’re still things that I’m working through.
I think coming out has been a process of learning to love yourself. Of course there’s still so much work that has to be done there. But I think that it’s a really big step in that direction. And sometimes I get down on myself, like, “Oh, I haven’t developed any self-love,” and then I [think], Aspen. Look at what the last 3 years has been for you. And I think now looking back on my childhood, I was so a queer kid. But at the time I don’t think I had that in my conscience, because I was shut out from media, so I didn’t really see it or was aware of it in such an intimate way. Or I didn’t understand it, at least in terms of the gender side of things. I think since high school it’s been a huge shift of coming into who I actually am. Because I had moved from this rural place where I was raised into the capital city of California, which is Sacramento, in middle school. Which is a horrible time to transition into the city from living in the rural place where no one had cell phones yet, and people weren’t really watching TV – suddenly starting 6th grade where everyone had a phone and was watching Gossip Girl and wearing makeup and talking about boys, and I still wanted to play Horse on the playground. Having to go through that transition; I think that’s part of what kind of pushed me into this really intense “wearing stilettos every day” and all this makeup and stuff, because I really thought I had to fit this perception of what I thought was the typical white wealthy private school life sort of thing, when really I was just a plant nerd who didn’t want to do all of that and just wanted to wear bright-colored clothes and pink trousers. But I didn’t want to let myself do that because it was scary and I was afraid of what people would think and now I’m like I hope poeple know im queer. So it’s been kind of a process of unlearning fear and self hate, I think.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Be yourself. It doesn’t matter what other people think of you, it matters what you think of yourself, if you’re happy. Because at the end of the day, that's the most intimate relationship. And if you’re doing something that isn’t making you happy then you’re not going to be happy. During my high school years I wasn’t. I was super depressed, and didn’t I have a diagnosed specific eating disorder, but I think I had disordered eating as a result of being around a bunch of other young people who had been raised in that sort of white utopia of “diet culture” and all of that. And I was really pushing myself into that, and it made me really unhappy. So now it’s been a process of unlearning all of that. Just remember to hold on to actually what brings you joy. It doesn’t matter what other people find joy in. It matters what you find joy in!
What are your concerns for the future?
The impending threat of a fiery death in the climate hellscape. [laughs] Just a small concern. Thanks Boomers. On a political level, everything that’s happening right now is so scary. And it has always been happening, but it is always changing, and the methods of execution of how it happens are shifting and changing. Seeing it through history and how it has progressed and changed is really wild and scary. So I think I’m really afraid of the dictatorship that is happening. Shit like [straight pride parades] is what really scares me, you know. Hate groups and things like that. I would be really scared to bring kids into the world. I think I would love to have a queer child and raise them in that beautiful way that we were talking about earlier with letting them explore everything and do everything themselves, and then it’s also like, oh my god, I cannot feasibly bring a child into this world because 1) finances and children are expensive, but 2) the violence and the extreme threat of that and climate crisis and all of that is – oh my god. Fuck. You know?
What do you look forward to in the future?
My futuristic dream is to cooperatively own a big house with a bunch of other trans people where we live cooperatively and have a little farm in the back that grows food to feed us but also medicine for the community, and is a radical political organizing space.
What have been the important frustrations in your life, and the most important successes?
Getting through this last year. Hampshire has a very demanding academic program for people in their last year, because it’s kind of like a graduate school for undergrad. You do a thesis project, but you’re only required to take two classes during the whole year, and the rest of the time you’re working on the thesis project, which is incredibly challenging. It’s so much writing, or art, or whatever it is that you choose to do. And I struggle with the “feeling intelligent” thing, so struggling with that has been a really big frustration but also really rewarding because I came out the other side and was like, Shit! I just walked across the stage and got a degree! Awesome! Never thought I would do that one! And I always got really down on myself and was like, Maybe I’ll just leave. Maybe college isn’t really for me. And then I did it. You know? Just coming into myself has been so important and rewarding. A journey of self-love.
Do you have a philosophy of life? What’s your best piece of advice?
Well I have the Manifesto Poem that I kind of live my life by. If you want to come look at it on my wall, I can read it to you.
The power of conversation
If only we had people of the dancing revolution
Believe witches’ visions
Support speaking out
A grassroots movement is underway
Explore what is next, Aspen
Trust grief circles
Revolution needs wings?
What does empathy look like?
I made it as kind of my guiding morals, because I really really believe in – kind of what I was talking about with resonance, and the power of conversation – believing that all revolutionary practices, whether it’s prison abolition or queer justice, all that sort of stuff, they’re all connected through this kind of dance. And through that is an expression of celebration. The line “Believe witches’ visions,” it’s kind of like, believe those wise elders and people who have historically been killed for being radical. “Support speaking out” is an obvious one. The second half after “explore what is next, Aspen” is about the work that I need to do to get free. Which is learning to laugh and transform and trust the grieving process and exploring what empathy looks like on a really intimate level.