DANNI

Philadelphia, PA

What are your pronouns?

They/them.

Where do you go to school and/or work?

I go to the University of Pennsylvania, and I’m studying Veterinary Medicine.

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

I used to brew beer, at least before starting vet school, since that kind of occupies all my time now. I used to home brew, and then I was also a certified beer judge. So I would judge other people’s home brew. I just don’t really have time for it now, which kind of sucks.

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

I feel like I don’t deal with it very well. I tend to avoid telling people my pronouns, and I wish I could have more confidence in myself to [say something] or I wish I had more confidence to stand up when people use the wrong pronouns also. I guess most of my social interactions are with classmates, and it’s pretty much all cis straight girls, and they’re kind of clueless. Sometimes if it’s a random person it does bother me; there are some days I feel like I may be passing as masculine and expecting to maybe get called “he/him” instead of “she/her,” and that doesn’t happen, so that can be frustrating. So sometimes it does bother me when strangers mis-gender me. I feel kind of hopeless with my classmates at this point. When I introduced myself, I never introduced myself with pronouns from the beginning, so I guess people just assumed “she/’her” pronouns are fine, and now it’s been like 3 years and it’s kind of hard to change that at this point.

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?

Changing my name went really well for me, because I moved to Philly and changed my name. So no one here knew me as my old name. I really like my name, because when people read it, it’s not particularly gendered, since the spelling is a bit unusual. Or especially if I say my name out loud, people are like, “Oh that could be a boy or a girl name.” So I’m pretty happy with the name that I chose for that reason. But yeah, I didn’t really have any problems with people using the wrong name, except for my parents who still haven’t come around to it.

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

I would just say non-binary transmasculine. I guess also agender kind of resonates with me too.

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

I don’t think I’m particularly trying to make a statement, I think I’m just trying to do what’s comfortable for me. I guess like I mentioned before, sometimes I want to pass as more masculine, but I feel like that’s more for myself. I don’t think I try to walk around openly being like, “Oh, yeah, I’m trans, look at me.” But I don’t know if people think that or assume that when they look at me. Maybe they do, I don’t know. I like to think that most decisions I do for myself. I feel like I kind of look like what your average person thinks of as a stereotypical non-binary person, and I don’t feel like I tried to do that on purpose, it’s just my body shape and…I don’t know. But I feel like people tend to imagine that non-binary people look like me, somewhat. Sometimes people do ask me my pronouns, but usually it’s either a queer person or someone who has a lot of queer friends, and they’re more informed about trans issues and stuff. So it’s appreciated when it happens; it’s not often though.

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

I don’t know – I guess not so much identifying as non-binary, because I feel like I didn’t know what that word meant for a while, but – at least being not a stereotypically female since I was pretty young. And then I wanted to change my name to a more neutral name for a long time, probably since I was in college. I’m kind of old now, so it’s been a while since college. But I wanted to change my name to a neutral name for a while, and I didn’t really have any reasoning for that. But I guess the reason was that I feel like I don’t identify with either of the binary genders, but at the time I didn’t know that. There’s not a lot of non-binary representation. And that was something I wish I saw when I was growing up, so that I could be like, oh, that makes a lot of sense to me. I barely knew anything about binary trans people when I was a kid. I knew about Chaz Bono and that was about it. That’s like the only trans person that existed.

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

Possibly? I think my dad raised me as a boy when I was younger. I think he probably wanted his first child to be a boy. So I was working in his garage with him, working on cars, or building things – we had probably an acre-sized garden – so working in the garden with him, raising animals… So I was mostly raised by my dad. That maybe played a part in it? I don’t know. I had a younger brother. I grew up in CT.

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

I guess what I mentioned before, that non-binary people look androgynous assigned female [at birth] like me. I feel like that’s the biggest misconception, probably. Non-binary people that are assigned male [at birth], I feel like there’s not as much representation on that side. The older generation, they [say], “Oh, you just wanna be special.” I don’t know that I’ve particularly dealt with anything like that. I mean my parents definitely don’t understand. It’s just completely foreign to them, and – I don’t know what would make them understand, but it’s just very hard for them to grasp for whatever reason.

In your own words, how would you explain that gender identity is different from sexual orientation? Do you think that they’re related at all?

I feel like gender identity and sexual orientation are completely different. They’re so different. Orientation is just who you’re attracted to. Gender identity is just your sense of self, so it has nothing to do with other people, really.

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

It’s difficult navigating relationships with professors or faculty members at my school just because I don’t know how they’ll react, if they know that I’m trans. I’m worried that, oh, maybe they won’t want to write me a good letter of recommendation, or…I don’t know, if I applied to a residency program, and they get a letter of recommendation that has “they/them” pronouns in it, how is that going to be perceived? Because I feel like that is probably something that’s not very common. I feel like especially in academia, it’s just still so – traditional, and filled with old white men, and I have to wonder sometimes if my identity maybe plays a role in me not getting accepted for certain positions and stuff like that. In general I guess I’m afraid of those people knowing. So I guess I struggle in dealing with the older generation.

At school, at least in my program, it’s very small. As far as I know I’m the only trans person at the vet school. My class, I think we have maybe 4 other queer people. We do have an LGBT potluck once a semester, and it’s supposed to be for the whole vet school, so faculty, and nurses, and whoever. And it’s still such a small group. And even in that group, people aren’t necessarily respectful of pronouns, which is shitty. I’m definitely not someone who’s good at socializing and making new friends. I would say most of the queer friends that I have that are outside of the vet school were made through my partner, who’s maybe a little more social than me and has lived in Philly for longer. But I know the queer Philly Facebook groups are probably a good resource for me if I want to meet people and stuff.

Are you able to find adequate medical care?

I would say that I’m very lucky that I’m a student, and that UPenn has very competent healthcare workers when it comes to trans issues. The nurse that I see that prescribes my testosterone and helped me with some of my post-op bandages, she’s really good and amazing. So I feel like I’m very grateful to have that resource. Outside of student health is not so great. I see a rheumatologist, and I had to get a clearance letter from her in order to get top surgery. I told this to her, and she basically asked me what top surgery was. She had a resident with her there that was able to explain, which was nice. [And the doctor wasn’t] that old. So her resident explained what it was so that I didn’t have to do that luckily, and then the resident asked me what my pronouns were, and I told her, and then the doctor just continues to write up my letter for top surgery with “she/her” pronouns. So that was a pretty shitty experience. I guess I just go to student health and to rheumatologists, I don’t really go anywhere else. Also at that office, before I legally changed my name, they were very reluctant to use my preferred name, even when I told them to please use it. “Oh I don’t think we can do that.” I don’t know why that would’ve been so difficult. So I’ll see how things are going forward once I’m no longer a student, and if that changes.

Oh, also when I had top surgery – they called me “he” the whole time, and they never asked about my pronouns, and I guess apparently everyone who gets top surgery is a trans man? Which was really weird, because that’s a place where I thought, oh, clearly they know that non-binary people get top surgery. So that was uncomfortable. I didn’t bother bringing it up because it wasn’t that big of a deal, but they should’ve asked. I don’t think there’s an excuse for that.

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

I would say when I was really young, before I was a teenager, I had a positive view of myself. I didn’t feel so self-conscious and anxious and afraid, and I feel like towards my teenage years, I felt a lot of pressure to dress more feminine… And that part of my life was really rough, and I was just uncomfortable all the time. So I feel like just now I’m getting back to that point of being comfortable again [like I was] when I was younger. When I was younger I didn’t have all these expectations put on me and I didn’t feel that pressure so much. I feel like I’m getting back to a place where I’m able to do what I feel like doing, what makes me comfortable again.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

I would give myself a dictionary of some sort, of queer and trans terminology and what it means. I would just try to tell myself to not feel so pressured by other people, and that it’s okay to just do what I want to do and be who I want to be. Because I feel like for so many years I was living as someone who I didn’t want to be, but I felt pressured to be that way. It took a really bad toll on my mental health also, and just getting past that point, things are so much better now.

What are your concerns for the future?

Personally, like I mentioned before, I have concerns about working and academia. I don’t know why, but I guess the veterinarian profession doesn’t have that many queer and trans people, so I worry about how that will be perceived by clients, or by other people that I work with. I wish I didn’t worry about it so much, but I do worry about how others perceive me. I worry about that if people start reading me more as male – I worry about having male privilege and what that means, and how that would potentially change things for me. It’s something I feel like I need to think about more. Because even if I don’t consider myself to be male, other people may see me that way. That’s something I worry about. I don’t want to talk about political things – yeah, no, I don’t want to go there. I guess things are getting better for trans and non-binary people, but I don’t know that there’s going to be as much progress as I would like in my lifetime. I’m more optimistic for the future, but in the next 10 years I guess I’m not super optimistic.

What do you look forward to in the future?

Having my identity be recognized, and having people ask me about my identity before making assumptions. That would be very nice. We talked a little bit before about representation in TV shows and stuff like that, and more representation would be nice, and I think we are moving in that direction. I definitely look forward to graduating. That will be a very happy day. After vet school I am planning to do an internship, which is one year, and then a 3-year residency, so I feel like I can’t do all of that at the same school, and I feel like I have to move away for at least one of those parts. And after that, also getting a job too. I like the Philly area, and I like Penn, so I definitely wouldn’t be opposed to coming back or staying here.

I feel like there are just very limited options as to where I can go just because of my identity. There are probably like 25 vet schools in the U.S., and only a handful of them are in areas that I would consider living in. California, there’s UC Davis, Cornell, Tufts – other than that a lot of them are in the Midwest, in the South, and – it’s just not a good option for me, especially if I have had issues related to my identity going to a school like Penn. I can’t even imagine how much worse that experience would be in an area where there are a lot more religious or right-leaning folks. Some of my classmates [say I] should just be willing to move anywhere, and they don’t understand I could get beat up just for existing if I lived somewhere else. People don’t understand that.

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

I already talked about top surgery being really important. I think all of vet school has been full of frustration but also success at the same time. They make us work a lot. So usually, at least during the first two years, we have class for about 8 hours a day, and a ton of exams, and it’s just really shitty. Then at the same time I’m moving towards a career that hopefully I will love and it will be wonderful some day, and I also get to do things that I do really enjoy. I do spay and neuter for one of the city shelters, and I love doing that, so it’s definitely a mix of good and bad. I’m proud of myself for just surviving school, especially since I’m as far as I know the only trans person, and just making it without too much support. I moved here with a partner, and then we broke up shortly after, so I’m basically here on my own and doing okay, and I guess that’s somewhat of a success. I just feel frustrated sometimes with not being where I want to be, in multiple aspects of my life; like with transition, taking testosterone is taking forever for it to make a noticeable effect; I’m going out on dates with these people, and none of them like me, and everyone just ghosts me, and that’s shitty. So those are small frustrations I guess.

"Non-binary people don’t have to do anything in particular in order to be non-binary. You don’t have to transition. You don’t have to have top surgery. You don’t have to go on HRT [hormone replacement therapy]. You don’t have to look any certain way. If that’s how you identify, that’s how you identify, and people should respect that."

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

I just try to be – not too extreme, no offense to anyone who is. I’m just not someone who gets super worked up and angry about small things. Just be good to yourself. I feel like that’s something I didn’t do for a long time also, and it’s something that I’m trying to get more on board with. Taking care of my body and being appreciative of it. That’s been something that’s a little easier for me to do after top surgery.

Are there any other questions you would have liked me to ask, or anything else you would like to talk about?

Non-binary people don’t have to do anything in particular in order to be non-binary. You don’t have to transition. You don’t have to have top surgery. You don’t have to go on HRT [hormone replacement therapy]. You don’t have to look any certain way. If that’s how you identify, that’s how you identify, and people should respect that.

Another thing is I wish there was more solidarity among the trans community. I feel like all the fighting among trans people is really pointless and stupid. Especially with the debate of “you need to have dysphoria to be trans.” I feel like that comes up a lot, especially online, and what is the point of this conversation? Why are we attacking each other? Why are we invalidating each other? We already have the whole rest of the world trying to invalidate us. So sometimes I wish trans people weren’t so shitty to other trans people. And then I feel like, along that same line, a lot of times people enforce specific stereotypes. In a lot of the FTM [female to male] groups, people get a lot of praise for being hyper-masculine, and then there’s less acceptance for feminine trans men. So I feel like trans people need to stop hating on each other. There’s no reason for that.