What are your pronouns?
My pronouns are “she/they.”
Where do you work?
I work at Generation Citizen, which does civics action education in schools all over Massachusetts.
Do you have any hobbies or special interests?
I love to play music, find new music to listen to, go running, work out, and go to breweries and find new beers to drink.
What do you do for fun?
Because I’ve only been out here for two years, I really like just traveling around New England. I’ve been to New Hampshire and Maine recently, and that really awesome. I’ve never been there before and I’m hoping to go out to Vermont and other places around here. I really want to go to Portland and Ogunquit. We’ll see.
How do you handle the issue of pronouns and being gendered when interacting with strangers / mixed company / etc?
I use the pronoun “they,” but I also use the pronouns “she” and “her,” so I think it makes it easy for me to not address it pretty often. You know how they have the “Hello my name is” tags, and those don’t ever have pronouns on them? I add them on there just so that people know what my pronouns are. They can either talk to me about it and we can have a conversation about it, or I mainly just know what my pronouns are. I don’t think I go out of my way to address it – if I am mis-gendered, then I do. It depends.
I cut my hair about three months ago, and it’s been interesting. Things that I knew about but didn’t ever encounter before when I had my long hair, they just started happening right away. So I have been mis-gendered a lot more often now, so that’s when I have to [tell people] I’m a girl, you can call me “she,” “her,” “they,” if you want to… It’s mostly been a fear of going to the bathroom and being either mis-gendered or being thrown out or just having to deal with someone being frantic about it. I literally think about that every time I go to the bathroom. Every single time. It hasn’t happened yet, but the fact that I expect it to is kind of crazy, and it brings this anxiety. And I know it stems from me hearing my friends’ stories of how they’ve been thrown out or how they’ve been kicked out of a bar because the security guard thought that they were in the wrong bathroom.
The Welcoming Committee recently have put signs up on the bathrooms when they have events at bars because the security guards and the people who work there aren’t used to an array of queer folks and gender nonconforming folks being at the bar, and so there have been issues where people have gotten kicked out of the bathroom on those nights because security guards don’t know. And also people look at me every time I go to the bathroom, or do a double take or something like that. So I’m just constantly on the defense, like, If this happens, what am I going to say to de-escalate the situation or defend myself? I try to not think about it and just go with the flow; if it happens, it happens, and I’ll learn from it and at least I’ll know how to face it next time, instead of having this anxiety of like, It’s going to happen today. So far so good, three months in. [laughs]
What word(s) would you use to describe your identity?
I think of myself as androgynous. It’s something that has been kind of transforming since I discovered my queerness in college. I’ve always been pretty gender-bending since I was a little kid, but my mom was very against that. So I kept flexing back and forth between, Okay, I should be femme, so I should dress femme and try to appease my mom. And I just hated it. So then I would go between blending both femme and masculine identities, and in college the same thing, back and forth. Even though I knew that feminine didn’t really fit me and didn’t really make me happy or comfortable. I think now there’s still some femme aspects that I really like, but I feel mostly comfortable in more androgynous ways of presenting myself. I could say, if gender is a spectrum, more on the masculine side.
"I think people just are afraid of “different.” I think they’re always going to be afraid of “different” or things they don’t understand that are outside the social norm."
Are there ways that you dress / act / speak / etc. to specifically make a statement to others about your identity? Why?
Yes. I think the biggest one is the way I walk, that’s something that I’ve noticed. I think I’ve pronounced it a lot more, being out here, because in L.A. I’m in my car and I don’t have to walk around and have people harass me or say things to me on the street. Whereas here, I walk everywhere, and I can easily be cat-called or have anything said about me. So my walk is my way of being like, You can’t fuck with me. Don’t fuck with me, if you come at me, I’m going to fight back. Actually yesterday, I was walking down the street taking my lunch break and I was walking back to my office, and this guy was like, “You look good,” and I ignored him. Then he said, “Could you at least say thank you?” and I literally said, “What?” and he said, “I said you look good today,” and I went, “Okay. I don’t have to answer you if I don’t want to,” and he was like, “Okay, okay!” He realized I wasn’t going to let him talk to me like that, but I was still like, “What the hell?”
I sometimes think presenting myself like this will stop that from happening, and it doesn’t. it just keeps happening. I think that’s why I’ve become so much more attentive to how I walk and making sure that my presence is powerful, to hopefully fend that off even though it never works. You just gotta ignore it, but at some point it just gets so annoying, it’s like, I have to shut this down. Sometimes you’re just like, No, it’s not okay for you to stand outside your car and harass women who are walking by. Go somewhere else. Do something else with your life.
How early on did you know or suspect that you did not identify within the binary?
I think I didn’t label it or categorize it until I learned more about [the concept that] there’s a spectrum, and gender, and nonconforming, and all that stuff so late in college, but I’ve always been a gender-bender since I was little. My sisters would wear their dresses, and I was like, Nope, I’m not gonna do that today mom, I’m gonna wear my baggy shorts to this wedding. [laughs] But yeah, I guess from a young age, but I wasn’t conscious of it until late in college.
Do you think anything about the way you were raised or where you grew up affected how you drew conclusions about your identity?
I think my parents both [thought] their daughters have to be gender conforming. My dad has always said women look better with long hair. So I always fought against that. I would always have my hair short, or think about cutting it short, and I just always fought against that. My parents were the only two people in the world who were upset that I cut my hair, which is interesting. I think them hammering that into me definitely had me fighting for [the idea that] I should hold onto these feminine things, even though I don’t like wearing makeup or having to wear a short dress when I go to Las Vegas, or something like that, and thinking that I had to do those things to make other people more comfortable. If I do this, I don’t have to deal with this conversation, I don’t have to deal with my parents asking why or being upset. I came out to my parents last year, so it’s very recent, and that’s when I was like, Nope, I don’t care anymore, I’m going to be who I want to be, dress how I want to dress, and not conform to what people want or what my parents want, basically.
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 just are afraid of “different.” I think they’re always going to be afraid of “different” or things they don’t understand that are outside the social norm. I think people think, Why can’t you just conform to this? And they just freak out, even though it doesn’t affect them in any way, shape, or form. I think they’re afraid of it being infectious, is the other thing. I think that’s the biggest thing, is that people think that if gender nonconforming folks or androgynous folks or whatever, people who don’t abide by the gender binary, are exposed, then their kids are going to learn to be that. Your kid was probably already that. Gender nonconforming people have existed forever, they’ve just been oppressed, so they had to hide.
In your own words, how would you explain that gender identity is different from sexual orientation?
Gender identity is who you are, and who you feel you are, and who you’re comfortable with, and sexual orientation is who you love. Those are two very different things. You can be a gender nonconforming person who likes feminine people, who likes masculine people – that’s two very different things, it’s not one combining thing.
How do you feel represented in media and society at large?
I don’t. Being queer, being a woman of color, gender nonconforming – I can’t really think of anyone in the media who represents me. it doesn’t exist. But hopefully that changes. I think it’s slowly changing.
What improvements would you like to see happen inside your communities and in society at large?
I would like to see my generation doing protests and solidarity meetings, those are really important. I participate in those, and I think they’re essential for advocating for what we want and what we need in our communities. I also think we need to step up and have that next step of like, Okay, so how are we actually going to change this? How many times are we going to have to have a meeting about how affected we are by this issue, but not actually have a meeting of like, All right, today we’re all going to get together and do a phone banking to our senators about this issue. Whether it’s fighting for queer rights, fighting for the trans bill, fighting for gender nonconforming people to be able to use the bathroom – I want to see that in our generation. I think only older people are doing that. And then we complain about why things are the way that they are.
If you also think about who is voting on the other side of things, there’s way more people, because they all actually do it, they all actually vote and talk to their senators and go to hearings, and we don’t do that. We just post on Facebook and Twitter and complain, and don’t go out there and show up. I wish people knew the impact they have.
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.
Coming out to my parents. When I realized I was queer, I wasn’t hiding it. I was in college, I was living outside of my house, all my friends knew, but the only two people I hadn’t told were my parents. That went on for five years. Then I moved out here, so it made it even easier to not say anything, just living my life out here. But every time I went home to visit every six months, I was like, Okay, this is the time I’m going to tell them, it’s weighing on me, I think about it all the time. I went back two times and still didn’t tell them. Then I went back a year ago and I was like, That’s it. I can’t anymore. I told them. They did not take it well at all. They were still like, “We love you, and we’re not going to disown you or not let you come home, but that’s not what we wanted for you.” And that was really hard to hear, especially because I expected my parents to be a lot more supportive for some reason. I don’t know why.
My dad at least says things that are a lot more open-minded and is supportive of policies that have to do with queer folks, and he just had the opposite reaction of what I was hoping he would. I think for him it’s more of the fear that [my] life is way harder now, [I’m] making it harder. And it’s like, No, the world is making it harder. I’m not doing anything. So I understand him, I understand his fear, but I do wish he was a lot more supportive and could just talk about it. They never ask me, “Oh, are you seeing anyone?” or anything like that. But they ask my sisters that. It’s a work in progress. It takes time for a lot of people. After that happened, for a while I didn’t talk about my identity as much, and then after I reconciled with it, that weight just felt so lifted. I’m just going to do what I want. I’m going to dress how I want, and I’m going to be happy. I’m going to do whatever I want. And it’s just nice to be able to go home and have my mom look at my haircut and not worry about it so much. Deal with it, mom. It is what it is.
Who in your life do you feel you can trust or depend on?
My sister, who is two years younger than me. I literally can tell her anything about anything I want, and she’s there supporting me. I literally call her every other day to tell her about something new that happened in my life. She’s just so supportive, and so there every time I need her for anything. She’s my one person that I can go to for anything, no matter what it is. When I first realized that I was queer, I was in Australia, and as soon as I got off the plane back home, I called her and I told her, and she was like, “Oh my god, yay!”
How has your identity played a role in your relationships, romantic or otherwise?
I think I definitely don’t hang out with people who are not open-minded about gender, or who can’t have those conversations, or can’t have conversations about how gender is a spectrum or don’t understand how gender is a spectrum. I don’t keep those relationships, and maybe I should, to talk to people who don’t understand it, but I definitely live in a bubble, and I know that. But I don’t mind it. I think just by how I present myself, I send a message. “If you don’t like this, then you probably shouldn’t be my friend, or ask me out on a date.” I really like that about myself. But I also think there are opportunities to have conversations with people who don’t understand why. Since I got this haircut it’s been good with romantic relationships, so that’s nice. [laughs]
Are you able to find adequate medical care?
The most I’ve had to deal with is doctors not reading my profile, and realizing that I have sex with women, so then they ask me all these questions about heterosexual sex, which I hear happens pretty often. And I’m like, No, you don’t need to worry about that. I don’t use condoms because I don’t need them. [laughs]
How has your view of yourself changed since you were younger?
It’s changed dramatically. I think young me would’ve looked at a picture of me today and been like, “What happened, Ellie?” [laughs] But I’m very happy that the image I had of myself when I was little isn’t who I am. I think that image was my parents’ image for me, and not my own. Thankfully I’ve been independent enough and done my own thing that I’ve grown to be myself and be okay with whoever I am, and having that image be different. I think little me is proud of me, hopefully. People are so afraid of talking about queer folks, or saying that they exist, to young kids. Whether you want to or not, kids are going to be gay, kids are going to be trans. They understand.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Listen to your instincts. I definitely think I knew things about myself and just didn’t question them, or go for them. Which is why it took me so long to discover myself and who I really was. Whatever your gut is and whatever your feelings are, go for them. Acknowledge them, accept them, and learn about them. I definitely wish I had known my queerness way before college. It would’ve been nice, but it also would’ve made my life a lot different, so maybe it was just destined to work out that way.
What are your concerns for the future?
That things won’t get better in my lifetime, because I think it’s very likely that they won’t. But that’s fine, as long as eventually that changes for other people. But it’d be nice to see things happen while I’m alive. It’s scary and crazy, but I still hope.
What do you look forward to in the future?
Learning more things. Since I was little, I’ve always wanted to be older. I want to know more things, I want to go through more experiences. I hate not being taken seriously because of how young I am. And every year passes by and I’m like, Nope, still feel really young, still not being taken seriously, still trying to figure things out. So I’m looking forward to growing and learning and experiencing more things. I’m happy with what has happened and my growth so far.
What have been the important frustrations in your life, and the most important successes?
I’ve always been worried that I would get stuck in my little city in L.A. I have a lot of friends who don’t ever leave there. I think that was my motivation for being so independent and moving even when I was so scared to move across the country, and even though it’s really hard. So I have been frustrated with being stuck in a certain place, or stuck under what my parents think.
But success is being able to recognize that and see that I don’t want that, and being very driven to achieving these other things that I wanted to attain. I think it’s really helped me be me, just figure things out on my own and not have to worry, or rely on anybody else for anything. It’s a great feeling. I love that feeling.
Do you have a philosophy of life? What’s your best piece of advice?
I think everything happens for a reason, no matter what it is, good or bad. I think bad things happen so that you can learn from them, and good things happen because you deserve them. I believe that if something goes downhill, then you’re going to get back up. You’re going to be okay, and you’re going to learn from it, and it’s going to be part of you forever in a good way, no matter what it is. Hopefully. I think that’s the biggest thing. Because you have to be okay with what happens, because it happened. You just have to move on from that and make it a good thing.