DYLAN

New York City, NY

What are your pronouns?

They/them.

Where do you work?

I work at a private Special Ed school on Wall Street. It’s very funny, because I tell people I work on Wall Street and they [say], “Oh, you must do finance.” And I’m like “No, I actually teach Special Ed.” So it’s very funny when I’m going to work at 7 AM with all the men in suits and ties and briefcases, and [it’s] like, We are going to have very different days, and get paid very different things for it. My school’s technically in one of the Trump buildings, but we use a different entrance than the people who work in the Trump building. I have kind of moved on from thinking about what building it’s in. Where else are they going to put a school down there? They had to get the space they could.

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

Oh man. Hang out with friends I guess. Try to do things that don’t involve work.

I think that people think that teachers have this 8 – 4 job and then we don’t think about it, but that’s just not correct. So sometimes on the weekends, a lot of us are often at work until much later, but I do a lot of outside organizing and activism which brings me a lot of joy. But sometimes I just want to be in bed with my cat and Netflix. I like to be outside, a lot. Does the gym count as a hobby? I go to the gym every day, which also brings me a lot of joy.

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

It’s actually very interesting, because pre-testosterone, people were…I don’t know if “better” was the word, but people I guess asked more. Maybe I seemed more uncomfortable with myself, which was definitely true. And now that I’ve been on T for two years, people use male pronouns for me all the time, they use male-gendered words. I don’t really correct strangers, it doesn’t really phase me when strangers do it, because I’m never going to see you again, why do I really care if you use the wrong pronouns? I’m very out and loud about it at work, and in most other places in my life, because I don’t feel like a man. I never have, I never wanted to be one, I just wanted to be not a girl.

And so I’ll do things that make people confused about my gender. Like wear certain things or put makeup on or put on earrings. And that usually gets people to notice that I’m not a dude. At work I just taught the kids. I [said], “Okay. You know how you would refer to this person and be like ‘she’s in the bathroom.’ You’d [say] ‘they’re in the bathroom.’” Some of the kids, due to the nature of their pragmatic and language issues, some of them really have a hard time with pronouns in general, so the students who really struggle, I know it’s not because they don’t love me or care. But some students really do get it and will yell at the other students for using the wrong pronouns. Either way they have totally embraced my gender identity even if they have a hard time with the language piece of it.

It’s funny, I’ve been using gender-neutral pronouns exclusively for almost five years, and still when I hear people do it correctly I smile. I’m like, “Good for you!” even though it should just be a thing that everybody can do. But I do now have to be much more active about doing things that make it clear that I’m not a cis dude. Which is interesting. Passing is a very weird thing, because I’ve never done it before. I was always very clearly gay. And now I’m not, and it’s very weird. Usually [other queer people can tell]. I just dyed my hair blond because I was bored, partially, and now I look a lot gayer. Usually other people will make gay eyes at me. I don’t think I pass nearly as well as other people seem to think I do. But I’m also very in touch with a lot of my femininity I guess. I think everybody’s bigger problem is with the way other people see them, not the way they see themselves.

 

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?

I graduated high school and changed my name the next day. I have a very gender-neutral name now. I did not before. I had a very gendered Hebrew name. Changing my name – Maryland is where I grew up, and luckily it’s pretty easy enough.

You don’t have to jump through a ton of hoops to do it. It’s just annoying because you have to change your driver’s license, and then you have to change social security, and you have to change your passport. But I didn’t really have any issues. I didn’t really have any problems with it. Which is lucky, because I know that’s not the case for everyone. I picked a pretty easy gender-neutral name. I got very lucky. And from what I know, New York has some even better resources who will do it for you. I did it myself, but you literally submit a form. The biggest barrier to name change I think is it’s expensive. I’m very lucky that I had the money to do it, and my parents helped. I don’t know about New York, but in Maryland it’s almost $200 to file for a name change, and then you have to pay for a new passport, [which] is like $300, a new driver’s license is like $20 but can still be annoying – there’s just a lot of red tape to changing your name. They do not make it easy, and I think they do not make it easy on purpose. So that’s kind of a pain in the ass. But I’m very lucky in that that was not a barrier for me. But I know it is for other people. Trans-related surgeries that insurance doesn’t cover – there’s just a lot of red tape and bureaucracy involved in getting things done. Really anything trans-related. Name change, surgery, therapies, hormones – there are hoops to jump through and ways that society does not want you to do it.

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

I’d probably say teacher, or educator, is the primary one. That’s something that I try to embody in all parts of my life. Then the fun gender words – I typically lean towards non-binary and transmasculine, because I feel like just non-binary doesn’t really encapsulate the masculine-leaning part of me, so I put them together. But it took me a while to settle on that. I’ve used a lot of words for myself over the years. And there are always more [words], like every year there are more, and I’m like, “Ooo, what about this one?” It’s funny, I saw something online the other day that was like, “The queer EGOT is when you’ve been all the letters of LGBT by the age of 21.” I was like, “Oh my god. I did it, where is my award?” But I feel like a lot of trans folks have been through the ringer. We’ve all identified as a million different things.

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

100%. Completely. Yes. Actively. I wear a lot of trans-related clothing. To work I don’t, usually, just because it’s like 6:00 when I’m getting dressed. I’ve been wearing makeup a lot more, and flashy earrings, which I like a lot, and other people seem to kind of get what I’m trying to say. But when I’m not at work, or [when I’m] at the gym, I wear very “out there” clothes. I have a shirt that says, “Trans is not a crime.” Yesterday I was at the gym in my “Trans is beautiful” shirt. Because I don’t care. People have asked me a lot why I do that. [It’s] because I’d rather people just know. I don’t want to have to come out 1000 times. I’d rather you read my shirt, and now you know. Now I don’t have to explain anything to you. If you have questions, you can ask them, but I’d rather walk into a room and have everybody just know.

But yes, I very much do things on purpose so that people know. It’s part of why I don’t shave my face. I’ll trim my beard, but I want everybody to know, all right, this person’s gender-something. Because when I shave my face I do not pass nearly as well, which I think is a transmasc thing in general unfortunately. But I keep facial hair and do makeup, because I feel like most people don’t necessarily know that those things can go together. I’ll wear makeup to work. One of my kids [told me], “I don’t like the sparkly eyeliner.” I was like, “What can I do instead?” He [said], “The black is better.” Okay. So they have opinions on it. But I can totally wear makeup to work, it’s not an issue.

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

Oh my god. I think I thought, for a while, that I did identify with the binary, it was just the other one. I think I knew I was not a girl, and I don’t think I knew that I was allowed to be also not a boy. When I left high school, I was like, okay, male pronouns it is, and then realized those didn’t really work for me either. I heard somebody use gender-neutral pronouns for themselves, and I was like, This is amazing. So yeah, that was kind of it. But I was 19, 20, so this was like 5 years ago that I figured it out. But I definitely knew very early that I was not a girl, I just don’t know that I had the language to figure out exactly where I fell. Or that it was a choice to not be in the binary. I can tell you exactly who it was that was using gender-neutral pronouns, and I [thought], Oh my god, if they can do it, I can do it. But I think I didn’t have the language. My kids now have the language, because they see it, it’s everywhere. But even 5 years ago, it wasn’t everywhere. Laverne Cox was not really a thing, and there were no famous non-binary folks, so I didn’t know. But now there are. And the kids know, and it’s really cool. It’s one of the reasons I love working with kids, because this is so cool to watch how quickly it changed. These kids are talking about race, and class, and gender, and sexuality, and it’s been 15 years since I was in elementary school. That’s not that long in history. That’s amazing.

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

It probably did. I grew up in suburbia. Maybe I would’ve figured it out sooner if I’d grown up in a big city, but I grew up right outside D.C. and I didn’t really have the words for it there either. I do have two younger brothers, and my parents were very good about like – there were no gendered clothing or activities in my home. So my brother wore a dress, and I played with trucks. And he’s super cis, and I’m super not. So I think it was just like we kind of did whatever we wanted in terms of gender presentation, and I’m sure that in some way or another that influenced the fact that I figured it out. Because I was not forced into playing with dolls or anything. And I do remembering [thinking], Why does he look like this? Why does he have that? So I definitely think that I noticed that I was not one of my siblings, and that definitely started some questions.

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

I think people think sometimes that it’s because we haven’t figured it out yet. And it’s like, no, I figured it out so well that I know that neither of these work for me. But people are like, “Some day you’ll figure out that you’re actually a man.” I mean maybe, I guess that’s a possibility for everyone, right, that some day they realize they were wrong about themselves, but – I feel like I did that, I went by male pronouns for a while and realized it didn’t work. But I think that people assume that it’s just a phase, or a stage between figuring it out.

In your own words, how would you explain the differences and/or similarities between gender identity and sexual orientation?

They’re just not the same. People conflate them all the time. It’s very difficult. Gender identity is very much how you see yourself in your gender, and sexual orientation is who you’re attracted to. Sexual orientation [is] way more about who you are attracted to, whereas gender identity is about you. People say one is who you go to bed with, and one is who you go to bed as. I guess that makes sense.

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

Much better, now. Now there are actual non-binary folks in Fashion Week and on the covers of magazines, and on television and in movies, which is awesome. Obviously cis people are still playing trans roles, so we’re working on that, but yeah – there are definitely non-binary folks in the media, which is cool. Not a million of them, but… Bex Taylor-Klaus is in a Netflix movie – a couple Netflix movies. Aloq is a poet who does a lot of spoken word, who’s amazing. Asia [Kate Dillon] is in Billions, which is a show on [Showtime]. Those are three that I’m thinking of off the top of my head.

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

I would just love, when people are talking about pronouns, to include gender-neutral pronouns in conversation. Also, saying “he or she” takes forever. Just say “they.” I would just love to see, linguistically, gender-neutral pronouns just integrated into normal conversation. And I don’t think it’s that hard.

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 feel like the first time I learned that gender-neutral pronouns could be a thing was a huge moment for me, because I had been forcing myself – I had kind of been between, I had used both “he” and “she” kind of on and off for a while. Neither of them felt right, I wasn’t sure what to do, and I was in a meeting and we all went around and said our names and pronouns and this person said [they used “they/them” pronouns]. I was like, “You use what?” Like tell me more, that’s amazing, what are you doing? And they [said], “I actually don’t feel like a boy or a girl,” and I [thought], Oh my god it’s me. And that was a really incredible moment, because I knew how I felt, but I didn’t necessarily have the language or the pronouns to reflect it. So that was a really cool moment.

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.

At the last school I worked at, I was told that the kids would not understand gender-neutral pronouns and that I had to pick one. That was kind of shitty. At the time I did go along with it; I probably could’ve given them some pushback, but I didn’t. I probably could’ve [said], “Actually, legally, you can’t ask me to do that.” But at the time I had just graduated from college and I was like, sure whatever. I ended up there for two years, and used male pronouns at work for two years, and that felt not great.

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

I’m very lucky in that – and this is not the normal trans narrative – as I have come out numerous times over and over again I have lost almost no one over that. So I’m incredibly lucky in that I have a really incredible family, my brothers and I are very close, my parents and I are very close, my grandmother and I are very close. I have some really incredible friends. I have some really incredible co-workers. I’m very lucky in that I have a very big support network, so I am very grateful for that.

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

It actually really doesn’t play a role in my friendships at all. I pretty much exclusively have female friends, because I was socialized female and then went to a women’s college, but I don’t think about that as much as I used to. This is who I want to be friends with. Romantic relationships are harder, navigating my queerness with other people’s queerness. Dating sucks across the board. Whatever your identity is, dating sucks. But my identity has not played as big of a role in why dating sucks, I just think dating sucks.

Are you able to find adequate medical care?

I’m very lucky in that my mom works in a hospital and has excellent insurance, so I don’t have to see shitty doctors because I can’t afford medical care. That is not the normal trans narrative, unfortunately. So yes, but most people don’t. I’m very lucky in that finding good surgeons was okay, and the community health clinic where I got hormones is really good. And I have an excellent therapist and an excellent psychiatrist. But it took a while to find all of those people. So that sucked. But now I do, yes.

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

I think I just see myself as a much happier confident person. I definitely used to be kind of shy, and quiet, and as I figured myself out I’ve gotten a lot louder. And I’m just much more in touch with myself and confident and happy than I ever was. One of my favorite stories is: my mom went to the college I went to, and I have two best friends from school, and my mom also has two best friends from school. She was on the phone with one of them, and the friend also has a kid who had just come out as trans, and the friend was [saying], “Do I let my kid go on hormones? What if it turns him into a different person?” My mom [said], “You know, I had doubts about Dylan going on hormones also, because I was like, ‘Is this something that they need? And then it’s been really wild to watch my shy, anxious kid become a happy confident young adult.’” And I think that that just spoke volumes to me that I was just really unhappy, and quiet, and didn’t really know what to do with myself. And everyone in my life who’s known me prior to hormones [says I’m] much more comfortable with [my]self, [I’m] happier, [I’m] more confident, [I] talk to people. So I think not only the way I see myself but the way that other people see me as a better person is cool to know.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

I have a lot of advice to give to my younger self. I think a big one would be, don’t be afraid of being different. It’s okay, and eventually you’ll love the fact that you’re different and quirky and weird.

I think I spent a really long time trying so hard to fit in that I really made myself miserable because I was not good at it, and all I wanted was to not be noticed and hide in the shadows. And that’s pointless and boring, and nobody wants that for me, and that I would be much happier if I don’t try to do that. Fitting in is overrated anyway.

"You know what is real fake news? The gender binary."

What are your concerns for the future?

Oh dear god. I’m very concerned that the president is going to make having some type of identity illegal – he can’t do that, but he is slowly stripping away rights of trans folks, medical care, military, really everything. And I think I’m just scared that that’s going to keep going. He’s going to make it really impossible for people to get the medical care that they need. Hormones, surgery, etcetera. A lot of people see hormones and surgery as elective and don’t really understand that trans folks are 8 times more likely to kill themselves, just in general, and not getting medical care is a huge part of that. And I think that as this presidency keeps going and he keeps making it more difficult to do and get these things, that’s just going to go up. So my concern for the future is we’re all going to die, and I’m not even being facetious, he’s just going to make it impossible to live if you are a person of trans experience and that’s very scary to me.

What do you look forward to in the future?

Fewer binaries. I was reading that 20 years ago people said 1 in 10 people were LGBTQ, and a couple years ago it was 1 in 5, and they’re now saying that for the current generation of people under the age of 18 it’s 1 in 3. Which is amazing. These kids just don’t give a fuck, essentially, about what other people think of them, and they’re just so true to themselves, and it’s so beautiful, and I’m so excited for them to grow up in a world that they have built for themselves where they don’t care about gender or sexuality. They are just who they are. I’m so sorry that we’re giving them the world that we’re giving them, but I’m excited for them to grow up and give their kids the knowledge that these things are fake. You know what is real fake news? The gender binary.

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

I think just figuring out that it’s okay to be frustrated by not getting to be yourself and then succeeding in being yourself is the most frustrating and the biggest success, kind of in itself. It’s frustrating to not know who you are, and then it’s really a beautiful success when you figure it out.

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

I think honesty is really my big thing. Be honest with the people around you, be honest with yourself. I know it’s hard. I try to be very honest with my students. I try to be very honest with myself. Like sometimes shit sucks. And that’s okay, and things don’t have to be perfect all the time. But being honest about reality even when I don’t like it has been really important to me. Being honest with yourself even if it feels hard to do. Somebody asked me what my teaching philosophy was recently and I said honesty.

"20 years ago people said 1 in 10 people were LGBTQ, and a couple years ago it was 1 in 5, and they’re now saying that for the current generation of people under the age of 18 it’s 1 in 3. ... These kids just [are] just so true to themselves, and it’s so beautiful, and I’m so excited for them to grow up in a world that they have built for themselves where they don’t care about gender or sexuality. They are just who they are."