BRIAN

Waltham, MA

What are your pronouns?

He/him. I’m actually pretty happy with any pronouns… but I’m proudly following the example I saw from a younger person. He was about 7 or 8 and in a fashion show at a transgender convention, and he used a male-sounding name and male pronouns. I saw him and his mom shortly after and asked him “Can you remind me again your name and pronouns?” and he was just glowing as he said his name and told me he used “he” pronouns. And I learned that I can be feminine and still use “he” pronouns, too.

It’s easy; it’s comfortable. I like the idea of being very visible, and I think that helps me be visible. I’ve thought about changing my name and using a different name, and it never really stuck. I’m okay with my name, and again, I feel like it helps me to be visible.

I feel privileged because I can afford to be visible. I know other people may not be able to.

Where do you work?

I work at Cimpress, the parent company of Vistaprint. This is a really great place for me right now.

Do you have any hobbies or special interests?

I have a lot of special interests, and the question is finding the time. I enjoy square dancing; for a while I was doing that 3 or 4 nights a week. It’s a very nerdy activity within its community; it’s not what people think of as square dancing if you did it in your gym class growing up. It’s not very much like what my parents did when they square danced twenty-five years ago. It’s a lot of fun, and a good combination of math and exercise.

I love playing board games. I play some pinball when I get a chance; video games; and then I’ve also been more involved in the trans community lately in different ways. I’m helping to organize a convention this Fall.

There’s a lot of ways in which I’d like to be more involved in the trans community… but I often feel like I don’t fit in. There’s a lot of ways in different places in the trans community that I feel like, Man, I really wish I could find a support group – but this isn’t the support group that I’m going to be welcome at, and this isn’t the group I’m going to be welcome at. There’s a lot of self-wall-building, I feel like. And I wonder, is it just me doing this, or do other people also feel unwelcome by default?

There’s a lot of times where it takes me a while to feel comfortable within a community. And it takes effort.

And then I’m also vigilant on the other side of, “Are we doing everything we can to make people feel welcome, because people aren’t going to feel welcome unless we really try hard to make them feel welcome.” So I sort of feel like on both sides of that I push a lot in that direction.

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

Mostly I go with it. Sometimes there are weird interactions. People who see me very briefly assume that I’m female; people who see me longer assume that I’m male; people who hear my voice assume that I’m male. I don’t really mind any kind of pronouns particularly, but I hate “sir” and I hate “ma’am.” And I know that the people who say “sir” or “ma’am” often have to say that for the job that they’re in, but I find it really difficult.

The other issue that I know comes up a lot is bathrooms. I mostly still use men’s rooms, I don’t particularly mind, I don’t feel that unsafe, although I know there could be issues. But I remember being in a men’s room at a rest stop on the Turnpike, and washing my hands. It was pretty deserted, it wasn’t peak rush hour or anything. Someone walked by and said pretty loudly to me, “This is the men’s room.” And I said back, still washing my hands, “I don’t really have any good options here.” And he said, “Oh, I’m really sorry.” That was the interaction. And it was perfectly fine. I did have one case in Maryland; I was at an Olive Garden or a Red Lobster or something, and I was at the sink washing my hands and the guy came over from the urinal to the sink next to me, saw me, and said, “Oh my goodness I must be in the wrong room,” and walked out without washing his hands. I tried calling, “Sir, it’s okay!” but he was gone.

I don’t know what to think about all this. There was a moment at a church that my mom goes to – the church I went to as a kid – and one of her friends saw me and said, “Who is this young lady who’s with you?” to my mom. It actually freaked me out that she had identified me as female; I did not expect that to be a problem. I fear the violence that can follow the combination of toxic masculinity and the “discovery” of a transfeminine person… the “You made me think I’m gay” reflex of violence. So suddenly being identified by someone as female by default actually scared the crap out of me. My mom handled it very well. She thought for a few seconds and then said, “This is my son. He’s transgender.” I felt really seen and loved by her response.

People have been very respectful at work, although it is mostly a hetero-cis-normative environment. There are a few other queer people who work here, but it’s not something that’s talked about a great deal. We’re trying to change that. We want to be more visibly inclusive… not being visibly inclusive costs us. It costs us in diversity, it costs us in talent. I can appeal to people at work by saying it’s the right thing to do, but I can also appeal to people by saying, “Look this is hurting us, we need to do better.” It’s happening, slowly, but it’s definitely happening.

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

I use genderqueer and I use non-binary – mostly I use non-binary. I’m a software engineer, so it fits well with the terminology that we think about. But of course that’s just one aspect of my identity. I’d try to think of a word for sexual orientation, for example, for me. For a while I was using gynoflexible, which is – I mostly like kind of female-identified people. But I’m not even sure that’s the right word anymore. I’m not even sure why discussions of sexual orientation start out at gender… why not say that I’m attracted to nice people or people who like board games?

I am polyamorous, which is also a new identity for me, and not something I necessarily really would’ve thought before, and that’s actually a pretty tough one. Because being raised Catholic and actually being Catholic until a couple months ago, that’s kind of a tough thing to hold both of those things in mind at the same time. I started dating someone who has another partner almost 2 years ago. So did I identify as polyamorous as soon as I started dating that person? Yeah, kind of, but not really. I read More Than Two and I figured out how to navigate, I loved being open to forming friendships with people without the fear of becoming too close. But it also still felt like it was a mono/poly relationship: I’m here by myself, and I have this partner who happens to have another partner. So the identity of polyamory didn’t really feel like it fit me.

And now I have a new person in my life, and I’m like, Oh, it really is me. There is no escaping this identity anymore. It probably was there before, but I didn’t really understand it before reading that book and before starting this relationship. And now it’s somehow more real, and – my family has been pretty good about me being out as trans; being out as poly has been harder for them. Having another partner is another loss of normalcy. Not that normalcy is all that valuable, but we value it highly in society for some reason. And there’s a degree by which I identify as kinky, although I don’t really have the right language to describe exactly where and how. There’s all of these different pieces that I am still working on, I would say.

One of my favorite workshops ever was at Transcending Boundaries [www.transcendingboundaries.org]. The workshop was about coming out, but coming out turned on its head is inviting in – who do we invite in to this part of our lives? Then part of the workshop was: Write down on these Post-It notes all the different identities that you have, and then we’ll post them up on the board in clusters. And it gave a sense of not being alone. People put up all of these identities. Some people put up the identity of Parent, or Polytheist, or this wide variety of things, and it just made me feel community in the room. There may not have been anyone who had the same set of identities that I had, but every Post-It note that I put up was joined by others… often many others! That level of connection with people was just really cool.

Language creates a barrier to community because the language is still new and developing. And I don’t want to tell people how they need to identify, but I want to leave people open to the idea that they might share a concept, even if they don’t share a name for that concept.

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

The clothing that I wear is more about keeping me alive and happy than it is about saying something about my identity. I don’t really understand this, but I know that it’s really, really important to me to be able to wear dresses and skirts all the time. It’s like I wasn’t able to, I wasn’t allowed, it wasn’t okay – and then when I slowly started coming out, I would just wear dresses in a few places. I didn’t realize how important it really was to me, but anytime increasingly I’d feel more and more uncomfortable and unhappy whenever I was wearing more traditional “men’s” clothes.

I do worry about fitting in sometimes… especially at events with a lot of other trans people. There are days when I’m worried about looking ugly, but increasingly I feel like: “Fuck it. I am who I am.” I’ve gotten to the point of accepting it. For a while I wouldn’t wear dresses or tops that showed any chest hair. I’d look for something with a high collar, and sleeves to hide my armpit hair. But I realized… I don’t even hide my facial hair, so it’s not like a little bit of chest hair will really surprise anyone. And I’m really not willing to go to the trouble, pain, and expense of electrolysis or laser hair removal.

So over time I’ve been getting rid of all of my pants… and it’s been hard. The way my body is shaped, it’s actually easier for me to find women’s clothing that fits than it was to find men’s clothing (especially pants!) So it’s been hard to get rid of them, just because it was hard to get them.

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

I’ve known my whole life that I wanted to wear really cute, girlish clothing. My whole life I wanted to wear dresses and stuff like that. And I got really quick reinforcement that that was not okay. But I can’t remember a time of not thinking that. I think about all these things… If it had been now, or a few years ago, would that mean that I would’ve transitioned to female at a young age? I don’t know, exactly. I think if it had been like right now, then probably not, because it is increasingly becoming okay to just be a feminine boy growing up. And like I said, now I feel like I’m drawing my role models from kids age 5 – 7. Because that’s where they are. But yeah, my whole life, and I really didn’t have any way to deal with it, most of the time. But I don’t think I ever felt like I was necessarily a girl, exactly – although it’s really hard to remember how I used to feel.

When I went to a therapist finally for the first time for all of this I said, “I have all of these feelings, and I don’t think that I’m a man, so that must mean that I’m a woman.” He said “Why do you think that?” Like, why does that follow automatically for you? And this immediately opened me up to the idea of, Oh, you don’t have to classify as man or woman specifically. And really, people had not said that to me before. That was a new idea. And then he pointed me to Kate Bornstein’s books and all these other things about gender that were not binary-centric. (And sometimes some of them that were.) I worry that there may be a lot of other people like me who are looking for the same advice, but haven’t found it. It’s part of why I’m happy to be so visible.

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

I grew up in a relatively conservative area, and went to a Catholic church. I feel like I was sheltered. My community believed boys who were allowed to be feminine might become homosexuals (and that, of course, was the worst outcome!) so my family and my community constantly reinforced messages that restricted access to anything feminine. Even if my parents had supported me approaching anything feminine, there was enough other messaging in society to make it clear that it wasn’t OK.

I left the church now, and I actually met with a priest at the church that I was going to, which was a fairly inclusive Catholic church, but still subject to the restrictions of what they could do. And it’s in the course of thinking about having kids and saying, “You know, I don’t want to raise kids in an environment where they’re going to feel shame for who their family is. When other churches are offering an environment that’s very affirming and offering much more individual messaging about all of us being who we are. So why would I go to a church that provides mostly a detriment when I could find a church that actually provides something valuable?” 

So as I started thinking more seriously about having kids, which has sort of been the past few months, [I realized], I can’t stay here. And my thinking was, I can stand this, but I cannot put my kids through it. Now that I’m a little more distant, [I think], Why was I standing this? Why was this okay? And I think that’s just a healing process now.

I have a cousin who is older than me and is gay, and she told me that when she was younger, the possibility that she was gay was never really even open to her. This is just what you did: You grew up, and you got married, and you had kids, and whether or not you were happy didn’t matter, that wasn’t really important. And there’s a degree by which I lived my life that way. I was always dating people with the idea of, I’m going to get married to this person and have kids. Skipping by a whole bunch of things mentally that really should have been first. And I didn’t have good healthy ideas about relationships, about my own life, my own sexuality, my own gender, any of that stuff growing up, which is pretty scary.

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

The biggest one I’d say is the idea that there’s a “typical” trans person, or a typical trans experience. The idea of a typical trans person erases the idea of non-binary. I’ve met lots of different trans- and non-binary people and there’s as much diversity as anywhere. There are men who love to wear dresses, watch football, and drink beer. That isn’t me either. Gender is very diverse.

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

If I’m dating a cisgender woman, am I straight? Or am I gay? I don’t know how to answer that question. Sexual orientation exists all over the place. I happen to know someone who is more sexually attracted to people who like math.

Society commonly ties sexual orientations to gender, but I don’t think that matches our reality. Gender may seem like the sweeping criteria, and maybe for some people gender is the primary criteria. But often, there’s something else which is actually more important… and for which they would break their gender rule if they found someone in that criteria who didn’t happen to match the gender thing. I really don’t think the majority of people are even naturally gay or straight… I think we’ve socialized it to be a much stronger force than it is. This is especially true of people socialized male. One of my friends said, basically, that their criteria is, “You smell really nice. I’d totally sleep with you.” It’s not all along gender lines.

I’ve had a question: What does it mean that gay marriage is legal when I’m living non-binary? Well, it means that the world still wants to put me in a gender box and then tell me whether or not I can marry people of that or a different gender box. It’s kind of an artificial idea all the way through. I happen to find some feminine characteristics kind of attractive, but it’s not really feminine exactly. Pretty much all the women I’ve dated are less femme than I am. That’s just how it’s always been. So I would’ve thought that I would’ve wanted to be with someone who’s really feminine, but no, I want to be the person who’s really feminine.

So I do tend to like people who show some amount of not being in a gender box. That’s something I’ve noticed in myself. I guess that makes me gay in some way, because I like people whose gender is like mine. But I don’t think we really have the right words for it, and also, if we really get people to look at it, it’s not a gender they’re attracted to. I mean, it’s never that universal a thing. And it’s not a body part we’re attracted to either. I mean maybe for some people that’s a really important thing, but I don’t see it that way. I think that we rate different kinds of sex as being more valuable and more important than other kinds of sex, but if you look at it, sex is a very broad thing. There’s a lot to be explore there, and there’s a lot that’s fun, and we just haven’t trained people. We haven’t educated people well, we haven’t socialized people well, and that’s why we get the notion that straight relationships are “normal,” or that guys will say, “Of course I’m only attracted to women.” But then you dig a little further, and they’re not attracted to every woman. I wish I had a nicer way to say all that, just in general. That’s such a thing that people need to get, but I don’t have the elevator pitch version.

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

Completely invisible. Name a TV show with a gender expressive male character in it who is not an axe murderer. I've got one.

They’re not the nicest character. But there’s a show called The Riches, it’s from 10 years ago and lasted a season and a half. It’s about this family, they’re basically white-collar criminals, they’re cheats and sneaks and that’s what they do. The boy in the family often wears dresses and looks very feminine. I don’t like the show that much, but I’ve watched it just to see how they deal with gender. And it’s already 10 years old, so it’s kind of behind, but for when it was on, they actually dealt with it remarkably well, I thought.

So, that’s what I’ve found. And I feel like… since the whole family consists of unlikeable characters, maybe it’s not a positive example either. So where do I have to look? I have to look at actual real people (not that this is such a bad thing). Most of my role models are people younger than me… many of them are kids. There are a few adults, and even some older folks… There was that one person who lives in Oregon who's kind of like me in a lot of ways… they do not hide the fact that they have a male body, they wears dresses all the time, and they’re a college professor. They actually use the first name Sissy. They totally reclaimed the word. They’re married, have been married for a long time, and their wife is okay with it, and they talked about how one day, all of the kids in one of their classes regardless of gender wore pink shirts and ribbons in their hair just to show support for them.

There’s a few more examples of assigned-female-at-birth non-binary-ness that are starting to show up, but again they’re just starting. Tig Notaro – stand-up comedian, has a new Amazon show. I think she identifies as a woman. When I first went to Fantasia Fair, one of the performers was Kelli Dunham, who’s a stand-up comedian from New York who’s an assigned-female-at-birth non-binary ex-Catholic nun, a great comedian and a wonderful human being. There’s a webcomic called Rain... it’s mostly about a trans girl going to school, but there’s other gender and sexuality diversity. There’s a lesbian couple and a genderfluid person and a variety of different gender and sexuality minorities. So there’s some representation there.

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

Inside the trans community, I think we need to get our act together in terms of understanding one another. We still have a lot that we need to address in the world, and we need to do it without in-fighting.

In the world, there’s a lot. Making gender a less important, salient part of who we are. Fixing the problems that come with toxic masculinity. Ending the message we give to young girls that tells them they can’t be scientists.

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.

The first time I came out in a more public way … I went to my regular square dance club dressed in a skirt and a shirt and looking the best I could with the limited clothing I had. I knew the community would probably be accepting and that would probably be okay. I thought, I have to do this. I’m running out of options here. And the reception that I got was pretty unbelievably positive… someone even told me I looked cute, which was about the best I was hoping for. I was really scared, and yet, it was smiles everywhere, and people were happy for me, and people were happy with me.

I had told my mom about being trans the year before, and I had started therapy in the meantime, and this was the first time that I was out some place. The dance was right before Thanksgiving, and afterwards I drove directly to my mom’s house. She was also supportive and happy. I could not have believed how well that day went. I didn’t plan to do in advance… I only decided about an hour before the dance. There were other challenges that happened later, but for that moment there, not only did I feel good about myself, but other people around me reinforced that feeling so strongly. It was like, Okay, my friends support me, my family supports me, I’m done. This is it.

I think Easter of that year I had gone home to see my mom, and she had bought me a sewing machine as a birthday gift, and taught me how to sew. She said, “Well, it’s probably going to be hard for you to find clothing that works for you, so – let’s go.” So it moved pretty quickly from then of my family knowing and being okay with it, and I wasn’t going to stay closeted anymore. I did lose a girlfriend of several years after coming out, but it is hard for me to figure out how much my identity had to do with it.

 

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.

 

When I think about the things that have been difficult now, it’s mostly been the huge amount of change in my life. I’ve worked with a therapist for about five years, and that has been incredibly helpful. I’ve had to rely on friends and family for support, and I’ve had to take time to actually feel what I’m feeling.

When I think about this, though, I feel like there’s so much more worth saying about wonderful things that have happened. I’ve gotten occasional street harassment, but not very much. I’ve actually gotten way more random street kindness than street harassment. I had someone walk up to me in a gas station. I’m standing there pumping gas, and someone’s walking over to me – and this is not something you generally want to have happen – it’s a guy who’s walking over to me, and he doesn’t get too close, and he says, “Hey I just wanted to let you know, I suspect that your life is pretty difficult, and I’m really happy to see that you’re able to live your life the way that you do.” He was in his late 30s, early 40s, just a random dude. I think it was in central Massachusetts somewhere. I’ve had things like that.

I was sitting in a restaurant eating with friends, and this mom comes by and is kind of staring at me with her kid. And she said, “Wow, I really feel weird saying this, but I just wanted to come over. My son was just saying how much he really liked your dress.” Actually I think the kid said it. There’s been a lot of good moments. Mostly the only ones that have been bad have been awkward. I went to Read Aloud at a friend’s school. They have a Mystery Reader Day where they get someone, usually it’s one of the kids’ parents, who comes in to read. My friends asked me and I said yes, and it turns out I was the only non-parent who did it. But of course I look like I do, and this was a class of third or fourth grade or something. So I didn’t realize it, but I’m sitting there reading and the teacher’s sitting next to me, and there’s another person in the room sitting next to me too, and I don’t know what’s going on. It was the Vice Principal of the school. They wanted to make sure that everything went okay, so they had the major authority figure sitting next to me to stare down the kids so they wouldn’t say anything inappropriate. [laughs] I had no idea. It was supportive.

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

There’s a lot of people. There’s my parents. My mom I’m still very close with; my father passed away when I was in college, but my mom has remarried, and I can trust my stepfather too. My siblings, who have been great. My partners. My friends. My partners’ partners… all part of what feels to me like my chosen family. People here at work. People in the communities; like the square dance community, there’s a lot I can trust. I rely on that.

A couple years ago, I can think of a time when things were tough and I had this list in my head: Okay, it’s 2 in the morning, this is the friend I can call; okay, it’s 8 in the morning, this is the friend I can call. And I had to trust people, because I had to get through it. I feel incredibly lucky in that the times that I felt incredibly alone, I can look back on and say, “No, I’m not alone.” I just have to be willing to ask for it, which is also something I’ve had to learn to do.

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

This is where I don’t want to speak for other people too much. But my girlfriend is mostly straight. She identifies as straight, she identifies as a kind of butch cis woman who likes men. And I asked her at some point, “Well, what does that mean? Because I don’t really identify as a man,” and she said, “Well, as long as your voice is under a certain point, then it’ll work.” That’s what it was. Now, she pretty much only shops for clothing in the men’s department, I pretty much only shop in the women’s department – but now that she’s with me she’ll wear dresses more often than she would’ve before.

The other person that I’m with – it’s a new relationship and so I’m still not exactly sure how to navigate everything – they’re non-binary; they use “they” pronouns; they have a compound first name. They are more visible than I am, which is saying a lot, because I’m pretty visible. The thing that we probably bond over the most is the intersection of finding our way in a gender world and finding our way in a Christian world. That’s a challenge, and right now they are a Theology student. And I’m someone who’s trying to find a church to call home, although I think maybe I’ve succeeded at that. So we have a lot in common in those ways. In other ways too; they’re doing a huge amount of valuable trans activism community work. Not “lobbying government” work, but trying to bring people together in the community work, which I am also doing.

And both of these people in my life have very different ideas from me about what it means to be a boy or a girl or not. I feel really affirmed by my partners in my gender identity. It’s not that they like me despite my gender identity, but that they like me and my gender identity is a part of who I am, and they see it as a valuable part. And thinking about churches, there’s a church in Michigan with the tagline, “Worship where you are celebrated, not tolerated.” And I would say the same thing about relationships. Be in a relationship where you’re celebrated, not tolerated.

Are you able to find adequate medical care?

Yes… my primary care physician and their office is awesome. I’ve had conversations with them about treatments I’d considered and they’ve been happy to research them when they didn’t feel they knew enough already. I’ve decided not to pursue hormones or gender-confirming surgeries. The only thing I’d really seriously considered is doing something to reduce hair loss… This has been a tough thing to think about, but I’ve decided in the end that my concerns for losing my hair may have almost as much to do with fear of mortality as it has to do with gender. If there was truly something that I could do that was easy, inexpensive, likely to work, and had minimal side effects, I’d probably do it. But… probably lots of other people assigned male at birth would, too.

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

I think the biggest thing is… when I was younger, I thought that there was only a narrow way in which I could live my life. Even though I didn’t want to live it that way, I didn’t see other options. I didn’t think I could express myself as I do today, and I didn’t even think I could ask for help. One thing that provided me some comfort was a voice in my head that imagined a situation that was different. But it wasn’t really a happy situation… basically, it tried to imagine a way I could be feminine without be honest that it was what I wanted. I think that’s where a lot of the appeal of “forced feminization” comes into play.

Now, I don’t have to hope for that… but old habits die hard. And I can’t get past that inner voice that’s still a scared child looking for a way to survive, not seeing any way out, not really believing that it was going to get any better. Trying to get that voice to stop bothering me is the challenge that I’m facing right now. Trying to change that voice to say, “No, this is who I am, and I get to be this person. Isn’t it great  that I get to be this person? I respect that I needed this feeling to stay alive, and to survive, and to get through that, but I don’t need it anymore.” To find a way to comfortably let it go is my biggest challenge.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

I’d want to say, “It will get better. This will be okay.” But other than “hold on,” there’s literally nothing I could say. I mean, could I teach myself a huge treatise on gender theory that could be explained to my parents and community members that they could then internalize and deal with? That doesn’t seem very realistic, even in a time-traveling scenario. How many books can I bring with me?

I guess what I’d want to say is: “This thing that’s bothering you, it will eventually happen. And otherwise sit tight.” And that’s it. Maybe that message of hope would’ve made me crazy. I don’t see a lot of ways that I get here alive that are different from what I did. Maybe I would tell myself that I’m not a bad person just for being a boy. That would be a nice thing to hear.

What are your concerns for the future?

Past [November 2016]? [laughs] My immediate concerns for the future are backlash. [They] range from the kind of governors who think it’s important to rush in laws that mitigate the civil rights of people to parents who are still skittish about their own kids being safe in the world. I see lots of trans kids who are doing much better than I ever did. That makes me envious. And then that envy immediately goes away when I see lots of kids who don’t have it better than I did. Who don’t have it better enough. So I think backlash is the scariest thing in the future. That the forces that hate me just for being who I am are present; some of their headquarters are in this city that we’re sitting in right now. One of the big “family” organizations in Massachusetts is based in Waltham; the people that went to the State house to fight for preserving the status quo.

When they debated the trans bill in the house, we had 36 amendments that had to be debated, I think. I didn’t go there, and I’m really glad I didn’t go there, because I wouldn’t have emotionally been able to handle it. And I am spectacularly joyful and supportive of the people who did go. Religious viewpoints are strong things to deal with. I know this, I’ve been dealing with it. There’s a lot of power held by a relatively small number of people over a lot of people that is very hard to break, and it wants to stay in power. They want to stay in power. So that’s probably my biggest fear.

What do you look forward to in the future?

I look forward to our actually defeating these gender boxes that limit our aspirations as human beings. I don’t know that it will happen in my lifetime. The youngest generation right now are game-changers to the extent that they’re allowed to be. But I know we still have a long way to go.

 

I just want to see people affirmed for who they are.

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

Being out and being who I am is a huge success, and getting the support from the people that I have. All of that is huge. And there’s a part of me that still tries to downplay it a little bit, like, “Oh, I could’ve survived.” No. It was building and getting worse. I particularly could not be closeted in a world where other people were out. Once other people were out, it was like, No, I’m going to be out then too.

Challenges? I think trying to get past the negative feelings I’ve had about my own sexuality, my own livelihood, and my own self. Trying to overcome the messages that I grew up with. That stuff is tough.

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

I often feel like the best thing I can do is to tell someone that they are beautiful and worthy of love.

Beyond that, I pass on something I’ve learned from reading Hello Cruel World by Kate Bornstein. The idea is that… there’s a lot of things in the world that try to shame people like me just for being who we are. And she gave a tool that I find valuable: a “Get Out of Hell Free” card. As long as the reason you’re in hell isn’t the result of being mean, she’ll do your time for you. And that’s a big part of the message I needed to help understand how religion was used to oppress me. So if I get to pass out a second piece of advice, it’s to think about why it is that a person may feel like they’re not worthy of love.