*Since the time of this interview, they have changed their name to Era. These questions were answered via email.
What are your pronouns?
Pronoun use is still something that I find super challenging—I wish we lived in a world in which we didn’t have to use gendered pronouns at all. That being said, I feel most affirmed by "they/them" and "she/her" pronouns. Still, lots of family and strangers use "he/him" pronouns for me and it’s always weird being gendered differently depending on who I’m around.
Where do you work?
My experiences of gender-based dating violence led me on a journey to domestic violence prevention movement work. Since my coming out as a trans person about two years ago, I have politicized my gender identity to continue to make visible the work that I do and the communities I come from. Right now I work for the Family Violence Law Center in Oakland, California. Specifically, I do dating violence prevention education with queer and trans youth. Being a role model for younger Q/T youth is extremely important for me; it feels more like my calling and less like a choice. In addition, I am a graduate student in the school of education at SF State working towards a degree in Equity and Social Justice.
What do you do for fun?
I love spending time with friends and laughing. Laughter is such an important part of my life; it fills me up after a hard day and reminds me that I can still have experiences beyond my gender identity. I also love cross-stitch, watching goofy television, and playing with animals. Lately, I have really been enjoying practicing putting on makeup. It calms me down, reminds me of how beautiful I am, and allows me to feel connected to legacies of trans-feminine folks who have come before me.
How do you handle the issue of pronouns and being gendered when interacting with strangers / mixed company / etc?
With strangers it’s interesting because I can always tell what pronouns or words someone is going to use with me by the way they look at me. Some people look and see me and choose not to gender me, but most often people call me “sir” or “man.” It’s a reminder that we still have a long way to go if someone uses hyper-masculine language to refer to a femme like myself. It does sting though, being referred to with masculine language, although I hardly ever correct strangers because of fears around safety.
I would much prefer everyone use gender-neutral language. If I get mis-gendered by a friend or family member, I usually do nothing about it in the moment. Reminding someone of my pronouns every time someone messes up is quite exhausting and almost impossible. Usually I’ll unpack it with friends or my partner, and sometimes I'll ask someone to follow up with that person to remind them of my pronouns and identity.
What word(s) would you use to describe your identity?
I use the word trans most often. I also like transfemme, genderqueer, gender expansive, genderfluid, and gender diverse. To be honest there are probably others and my use of language depends on who I’m around and the reasons for which I’m being asked to define my gender. How do we put absolute language to something that feels so nebulous?
Are there ways that you dress / act / speak / etc. to specifically make a statement to others about your identity? Why?
Yes! A lot of trans people transition medically so that their bodies more closely align with a gender identity and expression that feels validating for them. I have not at this point started any medical transitioning, which means that my femme adornments are less permanently fixed to my body. Because of that, I usually am wearing lipstick and earrings and clothes you might find in the “women’s” section of a clothing store. I also try to keep my face shaved as often as possible because of the ways that people assume things when they see facial hair. Without my femme-belishments, I get mis-gendered way more often and feel less myself. It’s really hard though to look in the mirror and feel like “damn girl I’m really rocking it today” and then walk down the street and get stares, looks, whispers, and straight up transmisogyny. I confuse people. Sometimes it’s fun and feels like a game and sometimes it’s scary and feels really threatening.
How early on did you know or suspect that you did not identify within the binary?
I love the wording of this question. After watching home videos of me as a kiddo, I now realize that my femme identity was absolutely present in baby Aaron. However, it was only a couple of years ago that I started to live my life as an affirmed out trans person. I remember Skyping with my friend who lives in D.C. and I said to her for the first time out loud, “I think I’m genderqueer” and she said “that makes sense.” It’s been quite the journey since then.
Do you think anything about the way you were raised or where you grew up affected how you drew conclusions about your identity?
Absolutely, but I don’t think that that is specific to my life. We grow up learning that there are two gender categories, and we see this everywhere from the way we line up in kindergarten to the boxes we check on our driver’s license forms. Just because I’m non-binary doesn’t mean I wasn’t subject to that same socialization. Internalized binarism is so tough and something I am working on internally and externally.