AYANA

Cambridge, MA

CONTENT WARNING: mentions of trauma, dissociation, mental health, misgendering, cussing

What are your pronouns?

I use they/them/theirs.

Where do you work?

I work at Jane Doe Inc. as their Education and Training Coordinator.  

Do you have any hobbies or special interests?

I like looking at free things on Craigslist and picking up stuff randomly to clutter more of my apartment. I also really like watching TV.

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

It depends. I think when it’s happening where I feel safe enough to say something, then I might say something. Also – I’m not out to everybody about my pronouns/gender, and so when it’s given family or strangers that I’m just meeting, then usually I won’t say anything. It all depends on the context and safety.

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

I usually say that I am an agender, nonmonosexual, mixed race, white and Japanese person, who has mental health stuff, trauma, and some physical/sensory disabilities I am figuring out.

Some extra descriptors include: My body feels like noodles sometimes, and my mom compares my head to a hard-boiled egg, so that’s part of my identity too. [laughs] And then if I was to emote a color when I was on a good basis with myself, I’d want to be a warm yellow.

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

Gender and binaries always messed with me-- as a mixed-race person coming from a mixed-immigration status given family with the privilege of still having ties to both sides of my family-- I experienced gender through a U.S. American perspective and a Japanese perspective.

My perspective was mostly grounded in the stories my mother told me as I was growing up, so Japanese ways of talking and thinking about gender was really prominent in my daily life. Gender through a Japanese lens, is really different from a U.S American lens, with the caveat that U.S. imperialism has affected the ways gender looks in Japan.

For example, there’s this awesome theater troupe in Japan that’s really famous called Takarazuka – they’re a group of all women that play both masculine and feminine roles. It’s a highly esteemed theater troupe in Japan, and people will go out of their way to go see them. There’s always one lead masculine person, who will hold that position for many years, and will have a huge fan group of middle-aged women who are head over heels; and their crushes are recognized as something that’s legitimate.

When I was growing up, my mom told me she was someone who wanted to be in that theater troupe.  She told me that when she was in middle and high school, because she was the tallest in her class, girls had crushes on her and would give her gifts on “valentine’s day”--which in Japan is a day that women give gifts to men to confess their love (in Japan valentine’s day is gender specific, white day is when men give gifts to women).  Her talking about her experiences of the theater troupe and people crushing on her, gave me the ability to kind of blur what gender looked like in the U.S.. I grew up thinking, Oh, I really like baggy clothes today, and tomorrow I will prefer something tight, and that’s okay because that fluidity also exists in my history and my people.  

I grew up having that complexity of balancing what gender looks like in the U.S. and what it looks like in Japan; like I knew that there were weird expectations of me based on my gender in both the U.S. and in Japan, so a lot of it just felt like performance and not really as a definition of my identity. I guess I had/ hadn’t been thinking about it for a really long time. It wasn’t really until I was in college that I started unpacking my trauma and finally thinking about how I was experiencing dissociation. I started to question the labels people had put onto me that I had never chosen for myself.

For a while I wasn’t sure if I didn’t identify with the binary because I struggled for a while with whether my dissociation was “truly” about gender or whether it was about trauma in general -- shit gets into your head when society is always saying BS about trauma, mental health, and trans people. And I eventually just came to a place where I didn’t really care if it was trauma or gender-based. Regardless, that was where I was, and that was how I was going to exist in my fluidity to continue my healing.

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

 

Oh yeah. I’m going to leave out names of things, but about a year ago I did a presentation about the gender binary to a group of young people in high school. The day after the presentation, I got a call from the principal or the advisory board or something like that, and parents were complaining that I told their children to be supportive and open to gender-expressions outside of the binary. They thought that one presentation was going to fuck up their children and were threatening to take their children out of the school, etc.

I think that if I wasn’t presenting in a certain way, and if I had fit their idea of what I was supposed to look like and act like and be a ciswomxn, then I wouldn’t have posed that kind of threat. So I [thought], Oh  gosh, this is the thing that I’ve been fearing all my life coming to reality, of parents thinking – I mean, this exists in homophobia, in transphobia, and in biphobia – that you’re going to harm their children. So that’s one thing.

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

So I think in the U.S. American context, folks will define them as different things. For example, in some East, South, Southwest and Southeast Asian cultures, they’re sometimes considered the same thing or like the act is what is defined, but not always the person’s identity. In the U.S. American context it’s very useful to be able to say, “Hey, gender and sexual orientation are different things.” But also I think that in a lot of different ways, oppression and violence has made it so that a lot of things have been separated out and siloed and lost, and when we get back to the things that are actually real for us, we have to make them so complex and layered to find ourselves whole again.

 

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

I don’t think that representation exists, and I also don’t think that representation is important to me. I know folks sometimes push for media representation. I think about the Asian community and how they say we need media representation, and at the same time I [think], Why do we even worry about that anymore? There’s so much oppression, there’s so many bad things going on, and when I think about the media that’s felt better to me, it’s folks who are making zines, folks who are taking back that kind of power and making it for themselves. [Representation] can be important too, so that folks can feel like it’s getting into normal mainstream culture and folks are able to recognize that we’re human beings, but at the same time, I don’t know if it’s worth the fight-- or at least it’s not a fight I want to invest in.

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

Where my heart is right now is definitely with Asian communities and trans folx. I think that what I’d love to see is for folx to recognize that trans and gender nonconforming folx have existed forever. And I think oftentimes folx forget that, because colonialism, imperialism, and global white supremacy has been very very painful, and still affects folx who move out here, and still affects folx who are back home, and/or folx who have experienced diaspora in many different ways.

Often people think that being LGBTQIA is only an American thing, or a “Western” concept. They forget that we’ve always existed. It’s not anything new. It’s not like, oh shit, we moved to the U.S. and now our kids are so gay. It’s nothing like that. So I hope that there will be a time where folks don’t claim it in a way where we’re still talking about it just as LGBTQIA which has been defined by U.S. Americans, or been defined by “Western” concepts, but taking it back into our communities and [saying], “We’ve always existed as these types of folx.” And saying, LGBTQIA terms can be useful for me, but also, I can look back at my communities and feel really whole from that.

It’s also kinda fucked up how it’s often defaulted to English when describing LGBTQIA identities. I know there are some really cool folx out there that are trying to destabilize those structures of how we talk about LGBTQIA identities within Asian Immigrant communities and I hope that folx then would be able to look at it and [say], “Yeah, this is something that has happened and even though it’s been erased and we’ve been displaced, at the same time, this has been happening, and we’re going to welcome you back with open arms,” and that would be beautiful.

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.

 

One of the most powerful moments in community that I’ve ever experienced was when I organized this three-day intensive retreat with some of my closest people at the time. We had this workshop where we had folx story tell what kind of relationship they had to power by speaking back to a time they felt powerless. It was a really hard and emotional workshop to get through, but in that moment I was able to share grief with people. As a queer, Asian, agender person – a lot of my experiences that have been the most painful have been moments where I haven’t been able to share grief with people. So when I was able to sit with people and share that grief, I felt that collective care and understanding, that was probably the most powerful and healing experience that I’ve ever felt. It was really beautiful.

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

I think oftentimes it comes down to dissociation. Because I’ve experienced trauma, that’s usually my first go-to -- separate from my body. When I’ve talked to folks about that, some folks have told me that it’s a gift to dissociate, which feels really funky when you think about it, because it’s a state of being that means you’re not really there or present. But it really impacted my ability to survive and is one of the reasons that I’m still here today.

I have started to realize how much my life and my survival means to me, and how much that self-value feels like resistance. So sometimes I just have to be like: I’m going to accept what my body is doing right now, and float out, and be okay with that for a second.

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

Chosen family. I don’t even know where I’d be without some of these people. I am very thankful for my community.

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

My expression is very fluid in a lot of different ways, and I was recently dating, and it was weird! A lot of people had a certain expectation of how I was supposed to act based on my gender presentation in my dating profile, and I would be like damn this is weird, and then be like, Am I falling into that? Or, Am I actually even enjoying this? Or am I just thinking that I’m enjoying this because I’ve been told that I’m supposed to enjoy this based on what that’s supposed to look like. You know?

Are you able to find adequate medical care?

No. I think when people – especially medical professionals – if they see me and they don’t respect me, or see me as a whole human being, then they’re much less likely to actually listen to what I’m saying. And also being someone who is read to be an East Asian, mixed race womxn, I think oftentimes folks think that they can tell me what my body is feeling like. So even if it’s things like – I have really bad wrist pain, they just say, “Oh, you just need to stand up straight, or have you tried ice?”

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

I think my view of myself has changed a lot. I’m still working on it, but it’s finally started to become my view of myself.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

I guess I would tell myself to be more patient with myself, and more kind. Because I think when folks weren’t able to give me that kindness, I also lacked in being able to give it to myself.

What do you look forward to in the future?

I’m looking forward to having a nice cold beer when I get home. Also I am looking forward to spending more time with people that I care about. Right now, future is very very close, and that’s all the future that I can foresee. And that’s the future that I hope for, is the next upcoming week.

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

Maybe allowing myself to be both/and? As a mixed race person, non-binary person, and nonmonosexual person, I have always been told, “Oh, you’re more of this than that” or “why can’t you choose one or the other?” And it used to really get to me, but I went to another mixed-race queer person to talk about mixed-race identity and queerness & they told me, "Why can’t we be 'both/and' and allow ourselves to have complexity?" Which isn’t always complexity because it’s just my lived experience-- but is seen as complex by other people. Allowing myself to be in my complexity has been the most important philosophy for me.