DEVINA

Boston, MA

What are your pronouns?

They/them.

Where do you work?

I work at Core Music Tutoring at Berklee College of Music. I go to school at Berklee College of Music. I study Trumpet Performance and Composition, and then also I’m minoring in Contemporary Conducting. I really want to be able to just walk into any situation and be able to play any genre. I want to be a studio musician; I’d love to play in bands of different genres, which I do currently. But I’d love to just expand my technique, and my musicality, my breadth of styles, because I think you have to be really versatile. And I love different kinds of music. I love learning about different genres. And I’d also love to be able to compose. I’m learning a lot about orchestral composing right now, and the history of classical composing. I’m hoping I can use that for different styles too. And I think teaching is kind of inevitable as well, so that’s why I decided to get a job in teaching, and also to learn how to conduct.

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

I love reading. I like fantasy and sci-fi, those are my favorite genres. Sometimes I’ll read YA novels too. I’m really a crafty person – I knit, I cross-stitch. And I like hiking and camping, and just being outside exploring places. And sometimes I also bake. That’s fun too.

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

I think it’s a case by case basis. I kind of feel out the situation, and I decide whether I feel safe saying my pronouns, or I try to read the room and read the situation. I’m trying to get better at telling people my pronouns, because the more I’ve told people, primarily I’ve gotten a better reaction than I thought I would get. That’s definitely not true in all situations. The biggest thing that I did this summer was, in terms of telling people my pronouns –I told my (current) trumpet professor, and he’s in his mid-50s from a small town in Massachusetts, and thought he was just not going to understand. I got top surgery in May, and I had to take a month off of the trumpet, and that was really hard. Because when you take any time off, the muscle memory in your mouth literally stops working. I couldn’t lift the trumpet. I couldn’t do that action for a month, it was too unstable. So that was really hard, and then I came back to Boston from where I was staying in Illinois with a friend, and I worked for Berklee Brass Week over the summer – which was amazing.

It was a week-long event where we taught high schoolers. I knew I wasn’t going to be quite at the level that I was before, because of that time I had to take off, so I was like, alright. Time to tell my Trumpet professor my pronouns and this whole situation. And so I told him, and he was like, “Time for me to do some more research. I should be researching.” And I was like, you’re not even asking me to explain everything? Yes! So I know it’s going to take him a while, but I think really for me, if somebody has the intention that they’re respecting everything, I don’t mind that they mess up. But it gets to me more if somebody forgets or just doesn’t care.

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

Well, I would describe myself as non-binary, gender nonconforming, androgynous, queer. Definitely I’m a very driven person, I’m a very passionate person. I really love discovering new things and learning about things, and I’m very creative and musical, obviously. And I’d say I’m also a pretty emotional person.

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

I mean I definitely would say I wear mostly masculine-centered clothing. I don’t wear skirts, I don’t wear dresses. Anything that’s overly feminine, I don’t – do that. [laughs] I do wear earrings sometimes. I actually decided I wanted to wear more earrings after I got top surgery. Before I got top surgery I wore a binder a lot, but not too much because it’s not good for your lungs [if you’re playing] the trumpet. I don’t wear makeup. I think most of it’s for my own comfort. I have some trans pins or whatever, but I don’t really wear them, because sometimes I’m like, I don’t know if this is going to be okay to wear, you know? So I don’t think I’m really loud about it, but I also don’t think I’m really quiet about it.

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

Looking back on it… I was in a youth choir growing up that I loved, but we all had to wear dresses as soon as we hit middle school, and I was like, Why do we have to do this? But then I tried to fit in to that type of thing. I know this is kind of a stereotypical thing, whatever, but I never really wore dresses or skirts unless I felt like I had to, and then in high school I really felt like I had to do a lot of that stuff because that’s just what everybody was doing. I thought that everybody sort of secretly felt like they hated that, even though that’s totally not true. Then I started getting really dysphoric – but I didn’t know the word for it, I didn’t know that it was a thing and that it actually existed – about my chest. I read about presenting really feminine, and I had really long hair. I never hated my body, but I really [felt] like, This isn’t supposed to be here. What is going on? I was just really confused, and I really repressed a huge amount of that until I got to college.

So as soon as I got to college, I realized that I was feeling really dysphoric, but I didn’t know what it was called. I had a really close friend who came out as trans in high school, and I called him and was like, “What is going on?” and he [said], “Oh, this might by dysphoria. Maybe you can look it up.” So I started doing a bunch of research. But for about a year after that I didn’t tell anybody. I only told like two people [that] I might be non-binary, I might be trans – and I do identify as trans [now]. Some people who are non-binary don’t, but I do. So as soon as that happened, it took me a long time to come to terms with it, but the more I think about it, the more I’m like, Oh, this is what I was feeling in high school. I think it is a fluid thing in a sense.

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

Well, Portland is very liberal, and I would say I’m very liberal. My mom grew up being very open about queerness existing and everything. She’s bisexual. I knew that I was queer from a pretty young age. My dad is really not down. My parents are divorced. My dad’s been… He is always right about his beliefs in his mind, and he will never change them. So he is very rigid. I did tell him finally this summer, he’s the last person I told, and he was basically just like, “This doesn’t exist so I don’t care.” I was really wary about doing anything that might make him upset or anything. So there were these two sides where my mom was really chill and my dad – he thought he was chill, but he’s not. He thinks he’s liberal, but he has very conservative views about a lot of things. But my mom had also never heard of non-binary before. So she was super confused when I told her. It’s taken her like 2 years, but now she’s totally come around completely, which I really appreciate. And I have a younger brother as well, he’s totally chill about everything. Non-binary people have existed for a really long time, but the definition of it and everything – I hadn’t heard of non-binary until college or maybe late high school, but I didn’t know what it was.

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

I have had people think of non-binary like “on my way to being a man” and asking “so when are you going to use he/him pronouns”, or asking when I am going on T. I am very happy identifying outside of the binary, and have no intention of going on hormones. There are so many ways to be non-binary! In a way I am lucky because it is easier to be a white, androgynous looking person then to have a long beard and wear dresses! I guess that brings up the misconception that you have to look a certain way to be non-binary/gender non-conforming—which is super false!

Another misconception is that you have to have dysphoria to be trans or to be non-binary. Personally I have had experience with dysphoria, so it took me awhile to understand that this could be a thing, but the more I think about it the more I come to the conclusion that if a certain identity makes someone feel more happy or in tune with themselves, then that is totally to be respected!

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

Gender identity to me is how you perceive yourself, and maybe also how you want others to perceive you. Sexual orientation is who you want to date. They are totally different, but in a way, also connected. Because labels like straight, gay, or even bisexual get a little tricky when dating a me, non-binary person—I think it makes everything a little bit more gay/queer!

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

I follow a lot of trans musicians. It’s actually better than it was before, because there is something. [Shows like Pose.] And I think that’s better than nothing for sure. I don’t think that we’re at the point where the average person would know what a non-binary identity means, or know someone who is. But I think it’s on the rise. I try to be really conscientious about following trans musicians and supporting them and going to their shows. So that’s good, you know. [laughs]

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

I think people doing more education and making an effort, because I only have so much energy to really tell people my pronouns or whatever. And also just to know that it’s okay. Because it took me such a long time to be like, okay, this is my identity, and to tell people about it. For a long time I was like, I think this is maybe what’s happening and I’m freaking out. So to be queer and to be trans and for that to be okay, I would love to see. And even if people aren’t okay with it, if they’re okay with being not okay with it and still respecting somebody’s pronouns, I think that would be a great place to be too. That would be lovely.

This semester, my work just started having everybody say their pronouns when they’re introducing themselves for the first time. I would say we’re a pretty cool department, I love my department. It’s really nerdy, it’s really great. But even then, it’s slowly starting in Berklee, I’m seeing more and more people during introductions wearing a pronoun thing. So I would really like it if everybody could just do that. I know it can be kind of awkward, but at the same time it makes it so you’re not assuming somebody’s identity [or] pronouns, and I don’t have to play a game where it’s like, is it okay? When do I say this in the conversation, you know?

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

When I was a junior in high school I started taking trumpet lessons, and I hadn’t really had any trumpet lessons before that. I took some lessons with this one person, then he was going on tour, and he referred me to this other guy, and I just knew he went to Julliard, so I thought he was going to be really intimidating. And I’d gotten my braces off, and I couldn’t play a single note once I’d gotten my braces off. It was really bad. So I started having lessons, and after a few months he asked me, “Hey, do you want to be a professional? Because if so I’ll start going more intense with the lessons,” and I [said], “I can do that? You think I can do that?” and he [said], “Yeah. Totally. I see the potential in you.” It’s kind of a silly thing, but after that, I was like, oh, I can do that, yes! He was like, “If there’s anything else you can see yourself doing, you should probably do that instead of music,” and I was like, “All right! I’m ready to be a musician!” Because it’s a hard path. But it is totally possible. I’m not out of college yet, but I totally believe that it is possible to make it happen. Neither of my parents work in the arts, and no one was really like, “Yeah, you can do whatever your passion is and that can be music, and you can be in the arts and you can make it work,” or saying that I could actually do it. And my trumpet teacher [told me], Yeah, you can totally do it. And now we’re friends, we catch up, we grab coffee, we talk about books, we actually hang out. He’s still a mentor to me, for sure, but he basically changed the course of my life. So that was really cool.

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

This might be a cliché answer, but I think my parent’s divorce really shook me as a young teen. I was in a really privileged place, and I was really naive. Then everything fell apart and this veil came off and I noticed that my parents weren’t all knowing or all put together, or all perfect people. I learned that younger than some people, so after that I think I became a lot more independent. I am SO glad that they got divorced, but it definitely affected me in a lot of ways.

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

I have a lot of really great friends. I’m really thankful. It’s really awesome because two of my friends are from Portland and we grew up together, and now they’re both going to colleges in Boston. One’s at Berklee and one’s at B.U., and we’re both roommates, so that’s really cool. I have also made a lot of really supportive friends and bandmates in Boston. So I feel like I have a good support system. If something’s on my mind I can definitely talk about it, which I do. [laughs] So I’m really happy about that. And my mom, I’m very close with my mom and my brother. With my brother it’s less of a traditional relationship, but we are really close.

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

My identity is just another facet of life that I have to navigate in relationships, no matter what kind. In some ways, I don’t want it to matter or to affect my relationships, but in other ways I appreciate the space to be able to talk about my identity. Especially in this space I am in now of finally acknowledging and being fairly open about being non-binary. And it is really exciting to meet/interact with other people, in or outside of the community, that accept that identity and don’t shy away from having conversations about it!

Are you able to find adequate medical care?

So, I had medical care in Oregon, but that was before I really knew what was happening with my gender. I always hated going to the doctor, did not like it. Then in Massachusetts my healthcare didn’t transfer. So I had to pay for Berklee’s expensive-ass healthcare. Which is awful. Because you have to be living in Mass I think for 5 years to qualify for Mass Health, or something that I am not doing. I don’t know. It ended up being kind of a blessing in disguise, because [Berklee’s] health insurance is the only health insurance that qualifies for covering a bunch of top surgery in a lot of places. It’s Blue Cross, [and] according to my therapist Blue Cross is the easiest health insurance to get qualified for top surgery.

But I still had to call them so many times. It took me about 5 months to really get a confirmation that they would, besides some other money, cover most of the top surgery. And I started going to therapy for anxiety and gender stuff, and I knew I wanted to get top surgery, I didn’t know if it would be possible. I’m really happy that it happened. But it took like a year and a half for everything to get processed. And I still haven’t been to a primary care doctor. I have been going to the dentist at Tufts, but I’ve been paying it all out of pocket, and now my insurance won’t reimburse me. I put “they/them” in the pronouns and I crossed out the “gender” box and they just put a question mark, and I think that my dentist thinks that I’m a trans woman. [laughs]

The whole medical scenario is just a mess. And also when I got the top surgery, most of the people didn’t ask me my pronouns and mis-gendered me. But then at the end somebody said they’re trying to implement the new system. But other than that I had a great experience. It’s a really really mixed bag. I hate health insurance. It stresses me the fuck out, and it’s really confusing to deal with – all the time. But I’m really lucky, because I do actually have health insurance. And I think I’m really lucky that I was able to get so much covered for the top surgery. Otherwise I couldn’t have done it. It’s a mixed situation. I researched everybody in Boston, and it was cheaper to fly to Illinois, my partner (at the time) let me stay at his family’s house, he drove me to Wisconsin, got the surgery in Wisconsin, drove back to Illinois and stayed at his family’s house for 3 weeks, and then fly back to Boston. That was cheaper than getting it done in Boston. Because there’s these cosmetic fees that won’t qualify under the insurance. I did a lot of research.

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

I’ve never had huge struggles with body image, but I think I tended to disconnect from myself a lot when I was younger. I think because I was trying to fit into these boxes, I didn’t really have any positive or negative view of myself in a physical sense or anything. It was just very disconnected. And I now I do feel a lot more connected to myself. I used to not be able to talk about my body. I couldn’t talk about anything physical, whether it’s just style-related or talking about sex or anything. I was so terrified of talking about it. And now I think I feel a lot more comfortable. I think I was repressing a lot of stuff and really just confused. So I think I’m definitely in a better place now, because I’m a lot less freaked out about everything.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Take time for yourself, and to value yourself. The things that you are spending time worrying about will seem less important and significant later. You will get out of being caught up in family drama, so just hold tight! You will figure out so many things about your identity and it will be so liberating! Don’t be afraid to dream.

What are your concerns for the future?

Personally, or globally? I think people need to remember to get past their devices and to make personal connections— technology to me is a necessary evil. I need it and it is helpful, but as much as it can connect people it can also alienate people.  I am worried about US politics, thinking about Trump makes me really sad. I think sometimes humans are not good at prioritizing, and right now we need to prioritize our planet, so it is concerning that there is any backlash about human rights and climate change and allowing people to live or move where they want to.

I hope that I am able to be financially stable, and that my family can be too, and that financial worry doesn’t stop me from pursuing my passions in life. I don’t want to be ruled by money but it is something that I worry about all the time.

What do you look forward to in the future?

A lot of things. I’ve been really happy now that I’ve been more confident in my gender identity, and as a person I think it’s really helped a lot. And going to therapy and everything, it’s been really awesome. I’m excited to see where life takes me with music. I want to do a lot of traveling. I would love to travel and play music, and I know it’s not going to be easy, but I think I have a lot of options that I’ve kind of carved out for myself, and I’m just going to see where it takes me. So I don’t really have a concrete “I want to be doing ‘X’ in 3 years” or whatever, so I’m excited to see what the relationships I’ve made in life can do and where that can go, if that makes sense. I think a lot of connections that I’ve made have helped me in ways I didn’t know. Like I randomly subbed for a band 3 years ago and then the saxophone player hit me up and was like, “Hey, do you want to play with my band?” and we went on a West Coast tour to my hometown this summer, and now we’re really good friends. It’s awesome. So I think things like that, I never would’ve imagined myself doing 4 years ago. I’m excited to see what’s going to happen in the future. I want to be creative, I want to keep making art, and I’m excited to have the time to practice. Because at Berklee I’m always doing things and I’m always busy, and I’m always saying “no” to things because otherwise it’s just going to be a wreck. So I’m really excited to have time to practice and to feel more confident. And to teach other people too.

I think I struggled a lot when I was coming out as non-binary to a lot of people because there aren’t many women that play trumpet. It’s just not a very common thing. And if you are a woman that plays trumpet you face a lot of stigma. And there are even less non-binary people, because I don’t know any non-binary people who play trumpet, and I know one trans woman who plays trumpet, and she is phenomenal. Chloe Rowlands, she plays in one of my favorite brass groups, The Westerlies, they’re amazing. 

So I don’t know anybody else. But I think I can still be an inspiring trumpet player even if I don’t identify as a woman. I still have the background where I’ve been having experiences as a woman for 18 years. And when people think I’m a woman. It’s never going to get away from me, in a way.

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

Important frustrations – money is always a frustration. I’m financially pretty much independent. My mom was not able to give me any money for college, my dad didn’t feel like he wanted to give me any money for college. So I think a lot of people at Berklee have a lot of money, and don’t really think about things like money. I’m always thinking about it, I’m worried about loans, I’m worried about paying rent, I’m worried about everything like that. So that’s kind of a constant frustration.

I think I’m constantly battling myself, if that makes sense. I struggle with comparing myself, or beating up on myself. I’ve kind of set very high standards for myself, and so I need to not do that as much. And also I kind of came to terms with the fact that I don’t think I’m ever going to have a really equal relationship with my dad, because I finally told him about everything, and it didn’t go well. But he thinks it went really well. It’s a rocky time.

I’m really happy that I’ve had the successes that I’ve had, living in Boston and moving across the country not knowing anybody, and here I am now. I’m very happy with my life. So that’s a great success. And that I was able to come to Berklee, wow! That’s really awesome.

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

I really try to have other interests besides music so that I don’t forget why I decided to study music. I think that’s really good. I think trying to build good relationships with people, and trying new things, walking around – I don’t want to forget the things that make me really love life, you know. I think it’s really easy to get caught up in something. So it doesn’t always work, but I try to look at things from different perspectives and just keep learning. So that’s good. And being creative.

Don’t be afraid to set goals for yourself, even if you think they’re not achievable. If you set small goals that will then reach to larger goals – I have a strong medical fear, I have a strong fear of surgery, I didn’t think that I would be able to do top surgery because of that. But then I did it anyway, and I was okay. And it was really hard. I finished my semester, took all my finals in 3 days, flew to Illinois, and had surgery on the morning of what was supposed to be the 4th day of finals of my last semester. That was the only time it would work. Because their next available date was when I was supposed to be on tour a few months later. I’m really thankful for the support that I had in that time, oh my gosh. And my mom flew up for 2 days. I knew it was going to be worth it in the end, and that carried me forward.