ASPEN

Watertown, MA

What are your pronouns?

 

They/them.

 

Where do you work?

 

Greater Boston PFLAG. We do support, education, and advocacy for LGBTQ folks. I’ve been working there officially a little over a year, but I was volunteering and interning for two years before that.

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

 

I play a lot of video games. Right now I’m playing an MMO called MapleStory, and I’m also playing the new Assassin’s Creed game, which I know has bad things, but I’m ignoring those for now. Right now I’m just distracted by side quest after side quest after side quest. [laughs] I also read comic books, I watch anime, I’m just a big nerd. I read a lot of superhero comic books, a lot of the Batman series. 

One of my favorite comic book series was my first comic series, actually, and it’s called Runaways, which they made a TV show out of, which is completely off [from] the comics. But I always liked that series because it was about kids with evil parents, and going against their parents, so not anything I could relate to. [sarcasm] I wish mainstream media would catch up to web comic fan work and whatnot, because nowadays whenever I’m looking for something LGBTQ-related to absorb, I go to try and find a web comic, or try to find something that someone has put out on the Internet for free because the other stuff is not that great.

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

 

It kind of depends on the situation. I tend to go into any situation with people I don’t know expecting to be mis-gendered. But it kind of depends on how safe I feel in the situation, if I’m going to correct it; if I know the person; if it’s just me in a grocery store and it’s a cashier or something like that, certain situations, or if it’s someone I don’t really know or don’t really know what my safety is in the situation, I’ll definitely probably not correct. Just because I want to just get through the situation safely. But in other situations, I try to just say my pronouns and go on, and try not to make a big deal out of it. With a group of people, I mean it kind of depends on my [level of comfort] with the group. So if it’s a group of friends and I know that there’s at least one other person who is an ally in the group, I’ll feel more comfortable correcting it. but if there isn’t, or if I don’t know if there’s an ally in the group, then I’m more nervous and probably wouldn’t correct it just because I wouldn’t know about my safety in the situation.

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

 

Yes. So, when I first changed my name, it created all sorts of difficulties. I legally changed my full name. My last name too. I was a senior in college at the time, and my school didn’t know what to do. So they did this situation where they created two students. And one student with my old name had paid all of their schooling and was ready to graduate, and the student with my name had not paid any of their tuition and was not cleared to graduate. So I had to do this runaround with the school trying to be like, “No, no, this is me, stop changing it to two students.” So it created this whole big mess, and the school continuously messed up my name on everything.

When I had graduated, my friend Kal who was also trans, and I – he had very specific instructions about his name, because he was not out to his family. I was not out to my family either, but he was more concerned about his family finding out at graduation. So he had asked specifically for them to use his deadname and to make sure that his deadname was on everything. I wanted my real name on everything. They flip flopped our instructions. So his real name was in everything, and they called it out, and my deadname was in everything. But funnily enough, my deadname was in the place in the program where my real name should be, and they’re nowhere near each other in the alphabet, so it was like, you went through a bunch of E’s, and then all of a sudden B is there, and then a bunch of E’s. And that actually created more problems for me later, because through that and through my legal name change, my aunt had found out that I had changed my name – through her sleuthing – and decided to out me as a lesbian to my entire family. Because that’s – what that means? [My family was] suspicious, not really about trans stuff because they knew nothing about that, but they had thought that I was gay for a while, and they had done weird things to try to pull out my identity from me. Which equaled my cousin telling me on my 18th or 19th birthday that “We just want you to tell us now so that we don’t have to deal with you showing up on our doorstep and introducing us to your girlfriend.” So they’ve done things like that to me before this.

[The legal aspect of changing my name] was fairly easy. I just sent in a form and then had to go to a court date. I was really nervous about the court date, because I lived in New Hampshire, and it wasn’t known for being progressive, and it’s still not, regardless of what laws are in place there now. But I remember being really nervous and going in there and not knowing if the judge would accept it. You have to put a reason for why you want to change your name, and I put that I was trans, and I didn’t know if the judge was going to accept that as a legitimate reason. But thankfully the judge just called me up and said, “You know your reasons,” and then said, “You’re good,” and let me go. It wasn’t a big deal.

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

 

Compassionate. Well, I’m trans. I am a gamer. I’m a nerd. I have PTSD. I love my cat.

 

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

 

I mean, I dye my hair fun colors – and actually, it’s funny that we’re talking about this, because I recently had a conversation with someone about this because they had asked me, “Why do trans people seem to like to color their hair all the time?” And I was like, “Well I don’t know about other trans people, but for me, it’s part of controlling how people see me, and what they’re staring at.” Because I know that I don’t really pass as either binary gender, so I get a lot of the leering and people trying to figure out what parts I have or “what I really am,” but giving them something else to stare at and be weirded out by is helpful and makes me feel a little bit more comfortable.

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

 

That’s kind of a hard one. Just because I didn’t really know about anything beyond the binary for a very, very, very long time. But I remember being a kid and not identifying as a girl, and being uncomfortable with being identified as a girl, but not feeling that sort of tug to being a boy either. I was just kind of weirdly like, “None of this feels comfortable” for a very long period of time. And I didn’t really know about anything beyond the binary until college. Then I had played around with being genderqueer for a little bit, and then I had gone to a more binary identity, and that really didn’t fit for me, and I felt really uncomfortable in that, and felt sort of the same kind of way I was feeling when I was a kid with being gendered as a girl. So I was like, okay, this doesn’t fit for me. So I went back to being non-binary or gender nonconforming.

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

Yeah. I was raised in a very conservative, Catholic, Republican family. And how they liked to express that identity was homophobia and transphobia. So before I even knew what being gay or trans was, I had already heard so many negative things about those identities. The slurs, the “all gays are going to hell.” I remember – the first pregnant man [Thomas Beatie], he had come out some time when I was in high school I think, and I remember my uncle just going off about how unnatural and disgusting that was. And it was a time period where I was starting to question whether I was trans or not, so I was just like, “Mmmm – maybe not.” But I do think that if I had access to more information or just access to more open and welcoming environments, then I probably would’ve figured it out earlier.

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

 

Well, I’ve heard that non-binary people are just white women who don’t want to be women. Which obviously is not me. 

I’ve also heard that there are certain ways that you’re supposed to dress or present; like non-binary people should be dressing and presenting more masculine because that’s considered “neutral” for some reason, which I don’t really agree with. And though I tend to present masculine most of the time, I do present feminine on occasion. Like right now. And I like to mix it up. And also, you know, the typical, “There are only two genders.” That’s my favorite one.

In your own words, how would you explain that gender identity is different from sexual orientation? Do you think that they affect each other or are related to each other?

 

So, gender identity is who you are, and sexual orientation is who you’re attracted to. And that’s how they’re different. But I feel they can and do interact with each other and affect each other. Like I would say every relationship that I’m a part of is queer regardless of who I’m dating or what their orientation is just because I am a non-binary person, and that makes it queer. But also I think that gender and presentation has an effect on how we’re attracted to people as well. So it’s all connected.

 

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

 

I mean, there’s one character I can think of on a TV show that’s non-binary, which I guess is saying a lot, because 5 years ago I wouldn’t be able to tell you one character. But also it’s just one character. I don’t even know their name because it’s not a show that I watch or am terribly interested in, but I think it’s called Billions. I’ve read a couple books, but I can’t remember the names of them – I’m really bad with names of things – that had non-binary characters, but they’re usually a sort of side fairy character that is a magical mystical being or if they’re not literally a magical mystical being they’re this person that appears to be, or is somehow so obscure that you can’t tell which gender they are. Or something like that. I think right now we’re at that point where almost any representation is something.

 

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

 

I would like to see comprehensive Sex Ed happen. I found out recently my sister has never taken Sex Ed either (I’ve never taken it), so… that. I would like to see gender marker X become a thing in Massachusetts, because literally a ton of other states are doing it. I don’t know why it’s been a problem in Massachusetts. We’re usually the first on things, and we’re like – 15th is it now? I don’t know. I would like to see the roads improve. I don’t drive, but I would like to see them improve. [laughs] I would like to see more comprehensive knowledge about pronouns; using “they/them” pronouns, but also neopronouns as well. [Neopronouns are pronouns] like “xe/xem/xyr,” “ze/hir/hirs,” “ey/em/eir.” So I would like to see that as well as less pushback on those pronouns as well. I would like there to be a non-binary 101 for people in the LGBTQ community, because there are misconceptions with the pronouns “they/them” that I’m seeing becoming harmful, in that they’re called the “non-binary pronouns” now, which almost gives them a gender, which is not the point. That’s the opposite of the point. And I’ve seen that mostly from people outside the non-binary community that just don’t understand that it’s not for the gender, it’s just a set of pronouns that are neutral.

The asking pronouns thing is a great thing in theory, but when that’s the threshold of your activism or your advocacy – that shouldn’t be the threshold. Because that’s what I’ve seen a lot of, is people being like, “Yeah, I put my pronouns in my signature, I’m an ally,” and it’s like, okay, you did this one cool thing, but that doesn’t help with my human rights that are under attack by our president right now. I definitely don’t judge people for needing to not have their hands in everything, I was mostly [thinking of] the people that think that that is activism or advocacy; that is the only thing that they want to do.

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

 

So I had been on this panel, and it was my first panel as a PFLAG speaker, and I had literally gotten trained to do it the day before. So I was super nervous and super scared, and thought I was going to mess it up. It was a panel at a trans youth summit at Google in Cambridge to a bunch of parents on family acceptance, which I don’t have. So I went through my story, and it’s a story of family rejection and all these awful things that have happened that my family has done that has made me turn away from them due to my identity and due to not feeling accepted for my identity. And at the end of the panel, one of the other speakers who was a parent just turned to me and was like, “Well, you have an entire room of parents now.” And the entire room agreed and started clapping, and it was the most validating moment, and I was just like, okay, I know what I’m doing is good. I almost cried.

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

 

Well, a lot of difficult things happened in my life. But I think the most impactful identity-wise was when my dad had died. Because he was very violently homophobic and transphobic. He was very aggressively homophobic. I had friends who were gay that he was very not okay with, and we were constantly arguing about it. I had a friend who had come out as trans a little bit before me, and my dad wanted me to stop all communications with him and had this whole thing about how it’s going against god, and yadda yadda. I started figuring myself out the end of my freshman year, so for around 2-3 years I was sitting on this secret – I was sitting on the gay secret longer – but sitting on the trans secret, the non-binary secret, and feeling scared and hopeless. Scared that if my dad found out, he would kick me out, that I would get attacked – I didn’t know what would happen. So when he had died, I had felt this sense of relief because I felt like I was finally able to live freely as myself. So I immediately went and the first thing I did was change my name, which caused all those problems, but I immediately went and did that, and it was probably the most validating thing. We had this big name day party for me and it really began my sort of, for lack of a better word, transformation into Aspen and into this confident and active non-binary person I am today.

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

 

My friends, for the most part. I have a group of close friends who were with me in college when I was going through everything that I was going through who have kind of been my core chosen family for almost 10 years now. So they’ve been close, and I’ve been able to trust them.

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

 

My identity makes dating and relationships hard. I have been a lot of people’s experiment. People will date me because they think it’s not really gay, or it’s not totally gay, or something like that, or they just want to try dating someone who is of a similar body to them, or something like that. I’ll get those situations a lot, which is very invalidating and frustrating. I’ve been in a relationship with someone who had seemed like they were okay with me and my identity, but then would continuously mis-gender me and use very stereotypically female ways to refer to me and things like that, and I was like, okay, you’re not actually dating me, you’re dating this image of me that you’ve created. So I kind of have this almost wariness of dating anyone who has a binary sexual orientation – is hetero or gay. There’s a word for it but I’m blanking right now. Just because with someone who’s bi or pan – it’s not always safer or that people are respecting you, but at least I’m not having that worry as much. But it is difficult.

 

It played a role [in my friendships] in that I was always nervous to tell people. But I guess because I sort of publicly came out as binary trans first, and kind of lost all the friends I was going to lose for being trans through that, being non-binary hasn’t really affected my friendships that much. And new friendships – sometimes people are kind of weird or uncomfortable about it, but either they get comfortable with it or they don’t end up staying in my life.

Are you able to find adequate medical care?

No. So my first experience as a trans person in a medical situation was a nurse asking me if I was “transgendering.” It was at school, it was at the health center. I’ve had doctors mis-gender me, I’ve witnessed doctors mis-gender friends of mine. I just recently had this back and forth with a nurse, it wasn’t for me personally, but a friend of mine was in the hospital and this nurse kept mis-gendering him, and I kept saying “he,” “him,” “His name is this,” and the nurse had turned to me and was like, “Well you’re gonna have to work with me.” I was like, no I’m not.

But I actually had a situation where I was hospitalized for my PTSD back in November, and they denied me my hormones. Their first excuse was that it was Thanksgiving, and therefore everything was closed so they couldn’t call the doctor or whatever. Another excuse they used was that it [testosterone] was a controlled substance. And then my favorite excuse that they used was, “It’ll make you aggressive.” This was at Bournewood in Brookline. Awful place. Don’t get hospitalized there. I was there almost a week and a half. We asked if I could bring it in, no, we asked if we could get it sent there from Fenway (my pharmacy), no. Literally had my healthcare proxy knocking down doors trying to get me my T. 

Eventually the nurse came up to me and was like, “You’re not helping yourself by having your friend bugging us.” And I was like, “It’s my medicine. My necessary medicine for my health. How am I supposed to deal with my mental illness if I’m dealing with dysphoria because I can’t take my hormones?” [Bournewood] was the only place that had a single room. I pushed for leaving. I guess I decided when I left, but I still had to wait until after the holiday because “those weren’t real days.” [My PCP] mis-genders me sometimes, but it’s so hard to get a doctor who’s good and comprehensive and go through that system. He does his functions, so I just deal with it.

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

 

I mean, it’s not all negative. I think I had a lot of negativity and a lot of self-loathing that I’ve been able to get beyond and overcome, which is good.

 

What advice would you give to your younger self?

 

I think I would say to stop waiting for an end and focus on a new beginning.

What are your concerns for the future?

 

My concerns? Well, I have a lot of concerns, and lot of them have to do with our current administration. So I have concerns about the health and safety of my friends and their rights as more and more legislation and stuff comes out every day it seems like. More and more injustices are happening. And I’m also kind of concerned about a lot of the complacency I still see in a lot of folks. There was this idea when Trump was elected that nothing bad’s going to happen, he’s just a reality TV star. And we’ve seen progressively bad things are happening, bad things are happening, bad things are happening. And it still seems like, “Oh, well we’re not gonna vote for him again, that’s a given.” But is it though? Because that’s what ya’ll said the first time. So I have major concerns for my safety and most people’s safety. Anyone who isn’t a 1 percenter.

What do you look forward to in the future?

I look forward to teleportation. We need to get there, it needs to happen. I look forward to a time when people don’t have to worry about their presentation and how they go out in the world, and whether or not that’ll get them beat up or harassed. I look forward to more cats. Maybe a dog.

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

 

I think graduating college was an important success, though I’m not doing anything with that degree. I think that winning the Yes on 3 campaign was an important success. I think that finding a work that I’m passionate about is a success. And finding a way to do it. I had a choir solo in middle school. I sang everybody’s favorite singer, Sarah McLaughlin. But I look forward to more successes.

 

As far as frustrations, I think a lot of frustrations I’ve had revolve around not having a place to live or not having a way to get around, and having that limit my capabilities. Those have been frustrations.

And I think a frustration I have, which is kind of my identity as a PTSD person / child abuse survivor, is that I have a really hard time with small talk with people. Because they start asking about family and I’m like, “Well – I have a cousin that’s okay. Yeah. My dad’s dead, don’t get upset about it, he was an awful human being.” Things like that, because part of the work I do involves having to have these conversations and small talk with people, and that’s one of the first things that people go to. And it’s like, oh. Oh. I have nothing to say here. Or make it really awkward.

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

I don’t know if this is a philosophy of life or whatever, but I’ve been trying to sort of consciously live by the idea of not putting too much stress and anxiety into things I can’t control. Because that’s all that energy into something that I can’t control. And I could be not spending that energy, or could be using it on something I can control and have an effect on.