CAT

Oakland, CA

What are your pronouns?

They/them.

Where do you work?

I work for an organization that does trainings for medical providers and healthcare workers around topics of sexual health and health equity.

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

Well, choir is a big one for me right now. I’m in the LGCSF, which is the Lesbian/Gay [Chorus] of San Francisco, although it’s really an all-gender queer choir.  Also I just started with the New Voices Bay Area choir, which is a trans, intersex and genderqueer choir. Highly recommend.

I like art. I like doodling and sketching and painting, although I recently haven’t been making as much time for it as I could. Walking around in nature is also something I like. And the Pacific Ocean is great, and I love that it’s right here. And I like swimming in it even though I don’t do it super often, because it’s cold and you have to work up to doing it, but it’s important. I like acrylic paints, they’re a fun medium. Also because they can go on lots of different types of surfaces beyond canvas. Watercolor is less versatile in terms of surfaces, but it’s fun – the texture and flow of it is just its own thing.

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

That’s a good question. I think it goes differently depending on the company, and also, I’m out kind of recently, in the last few years, so I think I’m probably still evolving on how I approach that and how forward I am about it.

I’ve started putting pronouns in my work signature. I think I was inspired by a conversation at some health conference meeting where I think they asked us to put pronouns on our name tag, and I was like, “Well okay, here they are!” It was actually a cis person at my workplace who had her pronouns in her email signature, and I was like, okay, that’s a good practice, let’s promote it.

The places where people will use my pronouns consistently tend to be…basically [my close friends], and maybe my sister, mom, my family, who I’ve really specifically [told] I use “they/them” pronouns, and I always really appreciate that. And there’s a few people in LGCSF who are sort of attuned to that, and in general I think that group is making more of an effort to ask and use pronouns, so that’s neat.

But mixed company just out in the world with strangers, I’m going to be gendered as “she/her.” And so it’s like, well, am I going to push back on that? Probably not with someone that I’m just having a single interaction with. It’s more like I’ll do it if I feel like I’m in a group space where it’s safer. But there’s been certain meetings at work, or if we go to a workshop or something, sometimes because they’re in the reproductive health field, they’re more aware of [things like putting] pronouns on your name tag, and so then I do, and then with that group, we’re using “they/them” pronouns for me. That’s cool.

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

Non-binary for gender identity. Bi for sexual orientation. Or pan or queer. Queer is a good one, in general. I like it for me. Half-Chinese, half-White.

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

That’s an interesting one, right? Because, am I dressing to please myself and my own internal sense of gender identity, or to be perceived a certain way by others? I don’t present in a way that I’m going to be taken as non-binary by people out in the world. Not that people out in the world are really good at recognizing non-binary anyway, but… For example I don’t try to hide my boobs. I’ve tried a binder and it just didn’t really work for me, and that whole day whenever I had pain in my body I would wonder, Is that because of the binder? So it just wasn’t a comfortable experience. And for me, it wasn’t affirming for my identity. But going out in the world with boobs means that I’ll be gendered as “she/her” by strangers. So that’s just where that is.

I mean, I guess my hair looks kind of queer and I like that it looks kind of queer, and I like it for myself and I like how it’s perceived as well. But I think in general that I present more in a way to please myself than in a way about how I’m perceived, but I also will admit I am not free of thinking how I’ll be perceived on any given day, even [with something like], “How well does the color of my hair match the color of my shirt today? How many people will say, ‘Wow, you’re really matching’?” [laughs] Which is fine.

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

I think I didn’t learn that not identifying with the binary was an option until more recently, of non-binary as an identity. I think it’s been in the last few years. I mean, for me, coming out as non-binary has been in the last 3 years, but I think that before then… I don’t think that I had the conception of non-binary as one of the options. I guess I knew you could be trans. And I guess I knew that certain aspects of gender could feel ill-fitting. I don’t know, I think looking back I can always find things that didn’t fit and be like, oh, I could take that as me being non-binary in my childhood. But I don’t know.

My sister is trans. For a while she used “they/them” pronouns, and that’s when I would be at dinner parties with relatives arguing about the goodness of “they/them” pronouns, and why people should accept them, and how Shakespeare used “they/them” as a singular pronoun and it’s perfectly grammatically correct. And I think that that’s when I really started liking “they/them” as a pronoun.

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

It must have, but it’s just very hard to say why and how exactly. It’s hard to say also because I definitely came to this identity late, which is fine. And I think, in theory, even as a kid my family would have been accepting and it was more that I just sort of didn’t know it was an option. We’re just raised in a fairly heteronormative, cisnormative society just as a basic assumption, and don’t see models for how to do that differently. At least I didn’t until recently. I actually think that having a very loving family for my childhood probably helped me have self-confidence to come out when the time came.

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 obviously a lot, right. I think just not seeing outside the binary is a big one. Kind of just trying to shunt people into the binary automatically, and people just having a really hard time using the right pronouns, even people who have never met someone having trouble with their pronouns just because they knew they were trans. The thought of, “Oh but are you actually a man or actually a woman?” I think just the basic assumption that you get out in the world that everyone is binary, and so when someone’s not binary you just won’t see that, and won’t assume that as a first pass.

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

I guess on a sort of 101 level, sexual orientation is who you’re attracted to, and gender identity is more how you see yourself and your own gender. And I think there are definitely more interesting and subtle interactions for individuals, not on the 101 level.

I can only talk about myself and my own experiences with that. I think for me – it’s not just coming out as non-binary, but realizing that I am non-binary – it just sort of changed what I pay attention to and look for in people. I like the definition of bisexuality as “attracted to my gender and other genders,” but I think since feeling non-binary myself, I’m a little more attracted to genderqueer-ness and non-binary-ness in others. So that’s one interplay.

The dating cis men thing – that’s an interesting thing too, right? I used to do that, and I came out as bi – and when I say coming out as bi, for me, it’s more about self-realization than telling people, because I’m so old now, I just tell people. It wasn’t too hard to tell people. I’m an independent adult. It was more realizing for myself.

And I did realize that while I was in this long relationship with a cis man, a 6-year relationship. And…no necessarily blame on him, but there is a lot of freedom [in] moving away from the way that a relationship and that dynamics of desire with cis dudes is sort of defining for gender, and I think that now it’s easier for me to sort of recognize and realize that it was hard on me to be trying to present as an attractive cis woman. That’s even before that relationship, but it was always a mark that I always felt like I wasn’t really hitting in some way.

I think coming out as queer in sexuality definitely sort of facilitated me in coming out as queer in terms of presentation and my own gender, and it sort of facilitated me pleasing myself with my own presentation. I don’t know. I definitely do have the thing where my presentation is a bit about both who I’m attracted to and who I am. I look in the mirror and I’m like, “Yeah!”

Surfing Tinder, you see profiles that are like, “Only women!” And I’m like, well, you might think that I meet your qualifications, but I am not sure about this. [laughs] For me in relationships, it’s hard if the other person has requirements on me about what my gender needs to be to affirm them in some way. That’s hard. I think that’s something for me right now, is realizing that for myself, it would be hard to be with a partner who needs their partner to be some degree of butch or femme, because I don’t feel really settled on a presentation I guess. And I think maybe I am settled into liking having a bit of leeway to go either way.

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

Not a lot, but sometimes, a little bit different aspects of myself. There’s no representation so far that hits all of my specifics. I do appreciate that there’s more queerness and even genderqueer-ness in kids’ cartoons these days. Steven Universe is exciting. And I do wish that there was something like that when I was a kid that I could’ve seen, but then again I’m also really happy to be watching it now as an adult.

I read a book recently that had a non-binary character in it who uses “they/them” pronouns and I think that’s the first published book I’ve ever [read that had that]. It’s called Swordheart. Overall it’s a very cis/het [cisgender/heterosexual] romance at the center of the book, and that author I think identifies as a cis straight woman, but she wrote this non-binary character who was a good character. A clever, funny, lawyer-priest – it’s a fantasy book – who was fun to read about.

Oh yeah! The first book, I can’t believe I forgot, the first published book [I read] with “they/them” pronouns is called the Tensorate Series [by J.Y. Yang]. The in-world system of gender is, people use “they/them” pronouns when they’re children and young, and then at some point in their life they can decide on which binary gender, and then they’ll transition to that gender. It’s an interesting series, and also there’s characters within the series who are – who that system works more or less well for, or who are in some other degree non-binary. [The author] uses “they/them” pronouns, and they’re from Singapore.

But yeah, having an Asian author that explores genderqueer-ness in fantasy – I feel very represented by that, because that’s my genre. I don’t really care very much about fiction stories set in the real world. [laughs] I live in the real world all the time.

As far as feeling represented, I did see [N.K. Jemisin] on Twitter taking someone to task for refusing to use “they/them” pronouns, so it’s really cool when you see someone you admire speaking up. And the Broken Earth series, read it! And also the Tensorate series.

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

Universal health care. [By that] I mean health equity, for everyone to have access to the care they need. Dismantling that heteropatriarchical capitalism. Especially dismantling the prison industrial complex, and borders as violence, ending that. There’s a lot.

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.

I’ll tell you that one time I was diving in the Monterey Bay, and a harbor seal made eye contact with me from pretty far away, like 20 or 30 feet away, and then swam over straight to me and bopped my forehead with its forehead, and then swam away. I have no further explanation about it. That’s all. [laughs]

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

My mom and my sister most of all. I think that’s the core. And then friends. But also – building community is a hard one. That’s a big question for me about how to do it and how to do it better. That’s an ongoing process with room for growth I guess.

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

Oh, I think I ended up unintentionally answering that earlier. I think in a previous relationship, dating a cis guy who I knew was attracted to feminine women – feminine to a greater degree than I am usually feminine – that was a bit hard. Just the way that it can be hard to be in a relationship with someone where your identity matters to and affects their self-image. Or even where they just have a certain preference for your identity.

Are you able to find adequate medical care?

I will say there’s 2 layers to that, and one of them is: yes, I’m extremely lucky to have good insurance, and that I can get my basic medical needs met. And I wish that it wasn’t the case that that made me extremely lucky. That shouldn’t be true. The fact that my basic medical needs will be met, that should be a universal human right.

We have, you know, the wealth and the technology in this society for that need to be met for everyone and it’s a travesty that I’m saying that I’m so lucky that I have insurance and I have security around my health.

The other layer to that is – I think not always [am I seen the way I want to be by doctors]. The medical system does not really necessarily acknowledge non-binary people. Like when I’m filling out my forms in the doctor’s office; I recently started with a new dentist, and their form [said], “Gender: male or female,” and it’s like, Okay, first of all you’re my dentist, does it matter? But then also, I’m just going to fill out this form. So that’s one of those places where [I think], Oh, do I want to be having this conversation and educating my dentist on my gender identity right now? Even though I like that dentist, it’s been very good experiences with them, they’re very nice folks. And even I think with my primary care doctor – I remember one of their intake form questions [said something like], “Do you have sex with men, women, or both?” But even that was like, Well, I can tell you, and it’s not entirely going to get to the truth of the situation, but okay.

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

In certain ways, not that much. I feel a certain sense of continuity with my younger self. It’s more like my younger self just didn’t know certain things. I don’t know. My understanding of the world; learning about intersectional feminism, that has changed my worldview a lot. And so I’m sure that’s changed my thinking of how I fit into the world. But in another way I’m still kind of the same spaced out introspective curious person. [laughs]

"Be the person that you most want to be, and then find people that think that person is cool. That’ll put you in good stead, I think."

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Hey, maybe you’re queer. It’s okay, you don’t have to do anything about it right now, it’s up to you, but you might find it satisfying to look into. You know, keep an open mind. [laughs] That’s a big one. Oh, and look into intersectional feminism and feminism because you have a lot to learn, kid. [laughs]

What are your concerns for the future?

I feel like it’s just kind of a toss-up over whether it’s all just going to be an even more post-apocalyptic hellscape, or…

And with global warming, I don’t even know if this semi-functioning society that we have now will be limping along or… I don’t know how underwater our future is.  So preventing and/or surviving massive environmental collapse is one concern.

I don’t think environmental collapse is certain yet, and if it isn’t a dramatic collapse, then we have to work on changing and building with what is here. Because there’s a lot. [And] so if we are working with this system of [crap] – because I live in California in the United States of America. Here and now in California, we can’t pretend that giant structural inequalities don’t exist. So can this place be made less oppressive?

What do you look forward to in the future?

N.K. Jemisin’s next book coming out. There’s always good art on the horizon. Spending more time walking around Redwoods in Point Reyes. Doing the work. Continuing to learn more about health equity and trying to contribute. Hopefully doing my small part to help. Relationships with people I haven’t met yet, and continuing important relationships with people I have.

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

Be the person that you most want to be, and then find people that think that person is cool. [laughs] That’ll put you in good stead, I think.