DREW

Cambridge, MA

What are your pronouns?

I use “they/them.”

Where do you work?

I work at one of Boston’s many fine institutions of higher education. I work a customer service position. I’m into the college that I’m at, and that’s a place that I want to be. I’m not super into having a customer-facing job right now, in part because I don’t think I could have a reasonable expectation of setting up something where I could feel like my gender would be recognized by the people I interact with on a day-to-day basis. I believe I could probably get the people in my department to use my chosen name and pronouns, but I don’t think it would be reasonable to expect that of the dozens of strangers I’m interacting with once.

Do you have any hobbies or special interests?

Yes. I like to ride my bike. I actually rode my bike to get here today. And last year I learned to play the guitar, which I’m really into. I did the piano for about 20 minutes when I was a teenager, but I really, really love the guitar, and it was actually much easier for me to pick it up. And that was kind of a cool surprise, because most adults, especially out of their 20s, no longer try a lot of new things.

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

I’m out socially with friends and intimate partners. If it’s something that is not professional or to do with my biological family, I will say, “Oh hey, you know, actually it’s Hedge now, and I use ‘they/them.’ If I’m taking a class, then a lot of times in the first class I’ll say, “I’m Hedge and I use ‘they/them’ pronouns,” just to kind of get it off on the right foot. If it’s something at my work or with my family, I just let it go. I don’t really pursue it.

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?

So Hedge is not my legal name presently, though my friends and partners use it.  Most people have been great about that.  A few people have pushed back, either asking a lot of questions about why I changed it, or one person thought I was joking and said “That’s not your name!”  I’m hoping as the years go by that sort of thing will happen less often.

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

Polyamorous, pagan, reader, non-binary, queer, singer, curious. I sing and bring my guitar to music nights at people’s houses that are mostly folk music but include some other stuff as well. I’ve also had some involvement with the Butterfly Music Transgender Chorus, though I am not a member this season. [Note: the Butterfly Music Transgender Chorus was dismantled after this interview took place.]

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

Yes. At this point, I wear a lot of clothes from the men’s department. I have tried somewhat to change the way I speak. My overall goal was not to look like a guy; however, since my body is generally read as female, I tend to air on the side of presenting myself in a more masculine way to balance that out so people will read me androgynously. In addition to changing the clothes that I wear, I’ve somewhat changed the way that I walk, and I’ve changed a lot of the personal care products that I use so that I smell different. I also took a speech class for trans people, which was pretty interesting, about how to change the way that you speak to be more in line with your presentation goals, whatever those might be.

One of the first things that people who are transmasculine usually say is, “How can I lower my voice?” and people who are transfeminine say, “How can I make my voice higher?” But it turns out that between the pitches of cis men and cis women’s voices, there is not actually that much difference. There’s a lot of overlap. So it’s actually less pitch that gets somebody reading your voice as feminine or masculine and it’s more stuff like resonance, and emphasis, and how much fluidity you have in your voice. So for instance, one of the things that I’ve been trying to do is not to vary the pitch of my voice as much as I have done in the past, because then it sounds more neutral. It’s really interesting, even if you just watch a movie or a couple of Youtube clips thinking about how people are speaking, you start to notice it more.

If I’m walking down the street, and someone looks me over with confusion, then that gives me a good feeling.  If you can’t easily place me into one of the two most common gender categories, then you are reading my gender correctly.  

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

So, that for me is a super interesting question, because until last year, I felt pretty comfortable identifying as a gender-nonconforming cis woman. I was pretty happy in that identity. I was never very normatively gendered in that regard. I’ve never really been someone for high heels or lipstick or makeup or fancy hair care products or shaving my legs or anything like that, but my subjective experience is that last year there was a shift in my gender identity. My sense of my own gender changed. Now, in the wake of that, and all of that happening, I went back and put together a timeline of past gender-nonconforming behavior and signs that I might have had previously, and that’s interesting. There was some interesting stuff in there going back a lot further than I would have thought. But with all that being said, really my experience is that my gender identity changed. Not that it was just something that was always hidden and then recently revealed, but that actually it changed. Perhaps just by a few degrees, but since I was already pretty non-normative for a cis woman [sense], that was enough to sort of go past the line.

Last fall there was an article about women wearing menswear, and I was like, “Wow, this is a hot new fashion trend, this is so cool, I want to get in on this!”

And I went out and got a bunch of guy’s clothes at thrift stores, and then over the following weeks and months, I just started to notice that some of the feminine things that I had previously enjoyed were starting to feel downright uncomfortable. And other things that I had previously not been interested in or only experimented with for fun started to feel really important. I’ll give you an example. I mentioned I play the guitar, and I had been taking guitar classes at this time. One of the first questions I asked, on my first night of my first guitar class, was, “I like to have my nails painted. Is that going to be a problem? Can I still paint them or is that going to interfere with my ability to play?” So it was important to me to be wearing nail polish then. And a few months later, I stopped wearing it entirely and I didn’t want to, and the idea of doing so became uncomfortable. It sort of went beyond that from just “I don’t care” to “Well, this shirt used to be my favorite shirt, but now it feels too girly to me and I don’t want to wear it anymore.” So – I don’t entirely know why that happened, or exactly when it happened, but it definitely happened.

For the first few months of my journey, I didn’t care [about pronouns]. So long as someone knew that I was sort of exploring a new part of my gender identity, I didn’t care what pronoun they used for me as long as they were aware of that. And then I started to just not have a preference at all whether someone used “she” or “he” or “they.” And over the period of a few more months, both “she” and “he” got less comfortable for me. And then I started asking people to use “they.” It feels all right. I don’t know exactly what would feel the most comfortable. Right now, “they” doesn’t bother me the way that “he” or “she” did, so I’m going with it.

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 rural setting with parents who thought that television was bad for developing minds. So my siblings and I, I think, failed to absorb a lot of toxic patriarchal messages that a lot of people I know really absorbed, because mainstream media was not the constant presence in our life that it is in the lives of many people. It’s an even more constant presence now, but it was then as well. Also, in the country, I mean, gender’s sort of a big deal, but when everybody’s wearing turtlenecks, parkas, and galoshes, people don’t spend a lot of time putting on makeup out in the sticks usually anyway. There are a lot of more important things you need to do with your time. Also, I started to meet people who were out and queer by the time I was about 10 or 12, so at that point I started to encounter at least women who were more butch, men who were more effeminate, and those were some of my favorite people. People who I thought were really cool.

When I got to college, it was easier. Those people that I mentioned from my hometown that I knew who were queer, they were adults. So I didn’t really know anybody – maybe I can think of 1 or 2 people – that were out, but not even people that were close friends of mine, just people I knew in passing. But when I went to college, there were a lot more queer people there, and it was easier to connect with them and be open about myself.

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

Sure. That that doesn’t exist, that you’re confused, that you’re just trying to avoid transitioning and becoming a man, it’s “an excuse not to go through with it.” I literally heard that from binary trans people in the past month. I think this is mostly older trans people who had to go through some really grueling gatekeeping, and I think they internalized some of those messages about, “You’re not really trans unless you X, Y, and Z.” Somebody said to me, “You’re not really trans unless you do hormones and electrolysis, otherwise you’re just a man in a wig. You’re just a fetishist.” Which is a super problematic statement on many levels. Even outside of the fact I was assigned female at birth, and the question of non-binary identity, there’s some real privilege and access issues for impoverished trans women, particularly trans women of color, where they may simply not be able to access those resources, even if they would love to. But I think really the biggest misconception is that there are only two genders. That’s the most common one.

[These conversations are happening] primarily online. It actually bothers me a lot more if it’s within the queer and trans community. If it’s a cis person I feel like, well, they just don’t know any better, and I don’t really get too [upset] about it usually. Plus, generally in that situation, the things that they say are so ridiculous that it’s more funny than anything else. But when it’s within the community, it feels a lot more hurtful to me. Because I want to be understood, I want to belong, just like anybody else would.

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

Sexual orientation is about who you are interested in dating and/or having sex with or not. Asexual is definitely a sexual orientation out there, and in my experience most asexual people still have an opinion about the type of people that they are interested in having relationships with. Gender identity, I would say, is a felt sense of what your gender role in society ought to be, or what you would want it to be, and a lot of that is really arbitrary. It seems like gender identity is neither entirely culturally taught nor entirely innate. Because if it were only culturally taught and it was totally arbitrary, there wouldn’t be any trans people, everybody would just stay in whatever roles they were assigned. But if it was totally innate, we would not have a system where your gender assignment is typically done, at the very latest, within moments of your birth. So I would say that it has a combination of innate factors and cultural factors.

I feel like being any kind of trans, or especially non-binary, can make sexuality really complicated. There are a lot of issues. The language that we use to talk about sexual orientation is very binary; you say you’re straight, you’re gay, heterosexual, homosexual – that’s all based on the idea that everybody is one of two genders. Both you and the person you’re attracted to. Are you a woman who likes other women? Then you’re a lesbian. Are you a man that likes women? Then you’re a straight guy. If you don’t categorize yourself as a man or woman, how do you even talk about who you’re interested in? How do you even label your sexuality?  

And then, there can also be a lot of issues with cis people who are attracted to trans people, how they treat trans people. Same with non-binary people. People who want to have sex with you but don’t want to be seen with you in public, can’t imagine having a real relationship with you. Partly I have beat the odds on this at this point by choosing to date mostly other trans people, which has improved the quality of my love life a great deal and I highly recommend that to any of your readers who are in the same situation. But even once you get to that point, there can be a lot of issues of dysphoria, self-image, self-esteem, and trauma to work through in the bedroom. That can be very deeply challenging. How can you be intimate with someone who hates the part of their body that most people centrally involve in their intimate expression? And then multiply that by two, because both of you may be feeling that at the same time.  There are answers. There are ways to do that. It can be very challenging.

Even on something like OKCupid, which admittedly is one of the more queer-friendly dating websites that exists, while you can tell OKCupid that you are trans or nonbinary or genderqueer, you then have to choose something in your search settings where you say, “Do you want this profile to be seen by people who are looking for men or for women?” Well – no? Or maybe both, or maybe neither, but there’s actually nothing here on the back end to provide for this community. I feel like those things are really big issues.

Dating other trans people is great because we can validate each other’s identity and expression and view of ourselves. It can be really amazing actually, to have somebody finally see you the way that you want to be seen in an intimate context. That’s pretty astonishing. It can be really healing. But it’s pretty much like walking through a field of landmines and hoping to find a safe place to lie down.  Is it better to do it with someone you trust?  Of course.  But they can get hurt too.

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

[laughs] I do not feel represented. I mean, I think it’s great that there’s more of a trans narrative in the media at this point than there ever has been in the past. I think that’s terrific. But it’s a very simple and normative narrative, the sort of “born in the wrong body” narrative. “I was on the wrong side of the binary, and then doctors helped me fix it, and now you would pass me on the street and never know.” That is great for those people that it’s great for, and I am really glad that that representation is out there now, but I don’t feel included in it at all. I do not feel that I was born this way and I do not feel that I was born on the wrong side of the binary.

So I don’t feel that there’s much out there. There’s a little bit. There’s a few situations where I’ll read a book and be like, “Oh! This is a science-fiction novel where society has five genders. Fascinating! I will read more,” or you know, a few people who exemplify something that’s outside the gender binary a little. Prince comes to mind. In one of his songs he said, “I’m not a woman, I’m not a man.” Nobody really paid a lot of attention to that I think. Ruby Rose comes to mind also, the musician and celebrity.

Oh, and there are now two people who have legally changed their gender to non-binary in the U.S. which is really cool. One’s in Oregon, the other one’s in Florida. There are different ways that it’s being done in different places, but typically, it doesn’t say “non-binary.” Instead of “M” or “F” it’ll say something like “X” or “N/A.” They [had really uphill legal battles]. It is pretty cool. Again, a piece of progress I thought would not happen in my lifetime. I think a lot of people read me as a queer cis woman, and that’s fine. That’s an identity I had for a lot of my life, I don’t have an issue with it. But I don’t feel that there’s much of a model for non-binary identity that’s easy to find.

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

Well, we were talking a little bit about challenges within the trans community where the binary narrative is really overwhelming. I would like to see more specific inclusion of non-binary people in the trans community as a first step. Results for a survey of trans people recently were released and 35% of the respondents were nonbinary, so why isn’t space being held for that in the community?  That’s a huge number of people.  I would like to see more people in general using more gender-neutral language. I would like for there to be more legal options in terms of sex, now that a few people have done that and the world hasn’t ended I want that to be possible everywhere in the country. And I think media representation is actually really important. As the saying goes, “If you can see it, you can be it.”

And I think one of the reasons that binary trans people can sometimes come down so hard on non-binary folks who are coming out now, is that they might’ve liked to embrace that identity themselves but they didn’t have it as an option. If they wanted to access any transition resources, they had to present hardcore, “No, I’m a woman, I was always a woman, and I’m a straight woman, and I only like feminine things, and I always liked Barbies, never liked dinosaurs, always wore pink, never wore blue.” To transition, they had to present all of that, so I think the gatekeeping, at least in part, is coming from a place of regret that they didn’t have that as an option. So they want everybody else to follow the same rules that they had to follow.

I would like to see the end of patriarchy.  I was wearing men’s clothes most of the time for a few months, and then one day when I was feeling more femme and I wore a dress instead…people were suddenly bumping me and pressed up against me on the subway, and that was when I noticed that that hadn’t happened at all in a couple of months. People were literally giving me more personal space when I was dressed in a masculine way, and I feel like that’s not okay. It’s just not okay. Personal space shouldn’t be something that you only get granted if you’re presenting in a masculine way. Talking time in a conversation shouldn’t be something that you get more of if you’re presenting in a masculine way.

If ending the patriarchy is too hard or seems like too much work, it would be really great if we could stop killing trans women. That would also be super helpful and good. Especially trans women of color, especially those who are multiply marginalized. I’d be pretty content with that as a change.

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.

As an adult I’ve learned to do some things that I thought I couldn’t do - like riding a bike, baking, and playing the guitar.  It’s not true that an old dog can’t learn new tricks.  I think it’s amazing to me how much we can grow and change over the course of our lives, how many selves we can be and become.

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

I am a cancer survivor.   That was very difficult to get through. Unfortunately I did not have much support from my biological family in dealing with that issue. The poly community was pretty great though. And my friends were great. And my co-workers at the time were great. And then I made a lot of changes to my lifestyle. If you do stuff to beef up your immune system, it really decreases the chances that you’ll get cancer again. So it’s not like a random mysterious thing that just happens. Our immune systems destroy cells that are wrong every day, but they can’t do it if they’re too weakened. So I changed my diet, I became a lot more physically active, and I haven’t had a recurrence.   Still, it’s a good reminder that every day is a gift and tomorrow isn’t promised.

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

I have some really great partners and friends in my life. You interviewed one of my sweethearts. I have a best friend who is a queer cis guy, who doesn’t always understand everything that’s going on with my gender, but he really tries, and it means a lot to me. And despite what I was saying earlier, by and large, the trans community has been really welcoming and supportive and great to me. The first time I walked into a trans support group meeting, I walked out with five new Facebook friends that all said, “Write me any time you want to talk.” So I feel really grateful for that support. That being said, a lot of the friends that I had in my life before that were cis I’m not as close to now. Because there seems like there’s a real divide. Not that anybody has said anything mean or hurtful, but it seems like most cis people I know really do not get it on a fundamental level. I have one partner that that’s not true of. His mom is married to a trans woman. But pretty much everybody else is just like, “This is too confusing. I don’t get it.” They don’t say that, but you can tell by how they act.

And I know that in some cases I haven’t been reaching out to those people as much either. Maybe they would try harder if I tried harder. Maybe they would try hard to understand if I tried harder to explain, but how many hours of the day do I have to do that? With my friends? I don’t mind being that person [who explains everything] in a general space, but I don’t want to be explaining that to my friends and my intimate partners. I don’t want to have to explain to anybody that has access to my pants that sexism is a real thing, for instance. I’m not interested in that, I’m not here for that, it’s not happening.

Oh, and my cats. I have cats, and they have never judged me about any gender identity or expression that I have chosen to embody, not even one time.

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

Before my gender shift, I was in a long-term primary-track relationship. In polyamory, a lot of times somebody will have a primary partner with whom they have a high degree of life entanglement, like marriage, living together, kids, sharing finances, that kind of thing, and then they will have other partners maybe that are not primary. So, this was a very serious relationship for me. Unfortunately my partner was not able to get on board with my gender shift, and it eventually caused the end of our relationship.

In general, I feel like it no longer makes sense or feels appropriate for me to date people who are monosexual. Anybody who’s 100% straight or 100% gay, it wouldn’t make sense for them to date me. And I feel like if they want to date me, it’s either because that’s not really their identity, or more likely, they don’t accept my identity, or they don’t really believe it, or they don’t really understand it. Because if you identify as a straight guy, and you’re attracted to me, then that is telling me on a deeper level [that] you see me as a woman and I’m not on board with that.

Recently I have been dating other nonbinary people and trans women.  That’s been wonderful for me.  With trans women I feel we can play out some roles that we’ve never had a chance to before.  Like, it’s amazing to give flowers to someone who’s never gotten them before, and to get to be introduced as someone’s boyfriend and stuff.  And what I often say about the queer community, “All the acceptance in the world can’t compare to a few hours of being understood,” applies even more in intimate relationships with other trans people.

Are you able to find adequate medical care?

Yeah. I was already seeing practitioners at Fenway Health for most of the time that I’ve been in Boston, just on the basis that it’s an LGBT place, even before my gender shifted. I said to my doctor that I was exploring a different gender identity, and she was like, “Okay. Pronouns?” So that was pretty great. I have had middle surgery, which for those who are not familiar, is surgery that someone with a uterus can have in order to end the possibility of pregnancy and potentially stop menstruation.

There are different things you can do. Probably the two most common options are to get fallopian tube removal plus an endometrial ablation. Fallopian tube removal means you can no longer have children. Endometrial ablation, for a fair number of patients, stops you from ever having periods again. And the other option is to get a full hysterectomy, where your uterus is removed, which can now be done as a laparoscopic procedure.

Middle surgery recovery was hard. I was out of work for a week and a half and because of the type of job I have that was unpaid.

I was not allowed to lift more than 15 pounds for 4 weeks. And I felt extremely tired and depressed for about eight weeks. Really low energy. Ironically, you have a lot of bleeding and cramping and spotting after this procedure. Whether you get the ablation or the IUD, the first couple months can involve a lot of the thing you’re trying to stop. It really increased my dysphoria while that was going on.  But it’s better now.

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

So, in terms of gender, when I was little, my mom’s primary complaint of me was that I was not ladylike. I was very resistant to performing femininity – like, a lot. Once I was a teenager and then an adult, I started to find out more about the idea of gender as a performance, and that you can be making choices about this kind of thing. So then I started to say, “Well, I don’t feel like shaving my legs, but I like wearing nail polish, so I’m just gonna do that instead.” So once I moved away a little bit from the feeling that it was a hateful obligation, that was when I became more comfortable. And that is how for the majority of my adult life, I fit myself in as a non-normative queer cis woman. I didn’t have the terminology of “cis” until a few years ago though.  Now I would say, I don’t have to be a woman just because I was assigned female at birth.  I reject your system.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

I would say, “Once you get out of this small town you will meet more people who are like you.” That is not really something that I understood or believed at the time. I would’ve made some different choices if that was something I had known, I think. I also would say, “Don’t try to change yourself so much. Don’t feel like you have to conform to belong.” I feel like I spent a lot of my childhood and teenage years trying to be things that I wasn’t, really. People always thought I was weird for really liking to read, for instance. Now I just know a lot of other people who like to read, and we talk about books all the time. I would’ve wanted myself to know that it was okay to just stay weird, and that there would be more weird people to meet later on.

What are your concerns for the future?

I have some concerns about my career in general, and also about how my gender identity will affect that. I have a friend who is non-binary who presents at work as male who like me, was assigned female at birth, and the people that they knows well at their job, they tell that they’re a trans guy, but nobody there knows that they’re non-binary. And it’s not really working for them, they’re not really comfortable with it. And I don’t really feel like I could expect anything different. Again, I feel like I could probably say, “I’m changing my gender,” at my work and present as a guy. That doesn’t really fit with how I feel though. I don’t know if it would be better than the present situation. And if it wasn’t, it would be really hard to go back. So I don’t have a solution for that but I feel like that’s going to be an issue in the future.

Coming out to my parents – do I decide to do that ever?  That’s a hard choice for me to make. Those are concerns I have. I also worry about my parents growing older in general.  I have concerns about growing older - a lot of queer people do. I don’t know what the median age is for the people you’ve interviewed for this project. I’m 39. I’m not married, I don’t have any kids. I don’t plan to get married again, I don’t plan to have children or plan to raise children I didn’t have personally. So who’s going to take care of me when I get old? I don’t really know.  

What do you look forward to in the future? 


I want to learn to play slide on my guitar. You put something over your fingers and it’s used mostly to play blues guitar. Also, I’ve been getting back into meditation. I want to do that some more. It’s hard work but I really love that inner silence, when you can get to it. 
 

Next year when I turn 40 my best friend and I are going to take a trip together to celebrate, and I’m looking forward to that. We’re going to do a little tour and hit some salient spots [in Europe]. We had originally planned to go to Las Vegas, but he expressed a very well-founded concern that my gender stuff might not go over so well there and that we might have a better experience going to Europe. Which I’ve always wanted to do with him anyway, so that’s what we’re going to do. We’ll definitely do Iceland, Amsterdam, and Paris. As to where else, I’m not sure, but definitely those.

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

Well, I mentioned I was married. It didn’t work out. Ironically, I was married to someone who was a cross-dresser. So he actually would’ve had zero issues with my gender shift. But it didn’t happen in that timeframe. It wasn’t about that. He just didn’t love me anymore, and he didn’t make time for me, so I left. It was really sad and it was a really hard time in my life.

Important successes – last year I helped edit a book of folk music. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Rise Up Singing – it’s a book of folk music that’s really popular around campfires and at music nights at people’s houses. Last year it came out with a sequel and I got involved in proofreading it as a volunteer. The sequel is called Rise Again. That was a really big deal to me, to be involved in that. I feel really proud of that.

Also, I went from being a very introverted child to signing up for a group and learning how to do improv theater as a tween, which was a really amazing trial by fire.  A lot of the things that I’m able to do today are because of the experiences that I had in that group. The director was one of the first out gay people that I ever knew. And I kicked cancer’s butt, and if I hadn’t done that I wouldn’t be here today, and I wouldn’t have had any of the amazing things I’ve had in the past 10 years.

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

My life philosophy is: Try it the easy way first. If it doesn’t work out you can always try it the hard way. If you try it the hard way first, it’s possible the easy way could’ve worked, but you’ll never know.

Also I think kindness is important.  I saw the Dalai Lama speak at the Fleet Center (when it was still the Fleet Center) a few years ago, which was awesome. He said, “Whether you have a religion or what religion you practice, it’s mostly a matter of preference, but we all need kindness,” and I think that that’s true. So I try really hard to be kind.

My best piece of advice is to be yourself because that’s the only way that you can find people who will love you the way you are. If you’re trying to pretend to be someone else those people will not be able to find you. And my second one is to practice self-care. If you knew that you were going to be in a relationship with one person until the day you died, wouldn’t you want to have a good relationship with that person? Wouldn’t you want to be friends? That person is you.

*Since the time of this interview Drew has changed their name.