What are your pronouns?
Where do you work?
Right now I work at CommonWheels, which is a do-it-yourself bike repair organization. We help people fix their own bikes, and we also do community biking events. We have a music mystery bike ride that we do where you bike around, and at each stop a different band plays. I’m volunteering at [Girls Rock Camp] right now. I also have this other part-time job that’s with queer LGBTQ high school-aged youth in the suburbs, and that meets once a week, and I’m an adult advisor. I just recently have started helping with the programming, so I’m going to start five-minute history lessons about queer history. We’re going to do this queer stuffed animal thing where you chop up a bunch of stuffed animals and then sew them together and make a queer one. They end up really cool. I’m really excited.
Do you have any hobbies or special interests?
I make these different sound pieces with different recordings, such as the sound of an ice cream truck or my own voice, and warping it. I also write, and I also started trying to experiment with video and splicing shots in different ways. I learned to letterpress, which is cool. And I’ve done performance art, which is also something I’m interested in. So I’m pretty open in general around art. Oh, and I guess I run and exercise. And I like reading.
How do you handle the issue of pronouns and being gendered when interacting with strangers / mixed company / etc?
In my job, I go by Sophie. I had a job that I got fired from, and I went by Eugene [there], and it was this whole ordeal. It kind of felt like that was the first thing that got off to a rocky start by going by Eugene. So I [decided], I’m not going to do that in a workplace setting because it just draws so much attention to [my]self and it just makes things unnecessarily complicated, and it’s just easier to go by Sophie and to leave gender out of it. I’m not saying [to] assimilate, but I guess it just doesn’t feel like a battle that’s worth it. Having this whole conversation and then people who aren’t comfortable with it… It becomes this weird thing, and it made me really uncomfortable and feel shitty.
When I was working at an art museum, we lived with our co-workers, so I pretty much just went by Sophie, which is fine. I like some people calling me Sophie anyway, I’m not opposed to being called Sophie. But it was just interesting. There was really no one who called me anything other than Sophie.
Then here, for the first time, by having these multiple communities that I was mentioning before, it’s like: at the camp they call me Eugene, and my housemates call me Eugene, and then my work calls me Sophie, and my older friends call me Sophie, and I’m kind of intrigued to see how this plays out. We’re in a city, and so I think people are a little bit more open-minded. I’m kind of counting on people either on the Sophie side or the Eugene side to get with it. I don’t know. I don’t care enough. It’s not a strong preference I have to only go by Eugene. Initially I would [tell people] Sophie or Eugene, but that was too complicated. People don’t know what to do with that.
[The pronouns people use with me] really depends. Normally, I would say “she” or “they.” Some people are really pointed about using “they” for me, and then some people use “she” because that’s like the basic mode of operating for a female-bodied person. I also feel like I’ve just become a lot more feminine this year. I don’t know if it’s because I was in college before this year, and I feel like masculinity was valued more in college; whereas I feel like in the rest of the world, on my body, it’s either disgusting or not looked at as positively as it was at my school. My makeup would be super crazy at school, I’d do eyeshadow around my scalp, or sometimes I’d go to class with facial hair drawn on, or just do crazy shit – like why not? I feel like I still want to, and I can do it in performance settings, maybe if [I’m] feeling really amped one night at a party, but – you can’t go to work like that.
I guess once I got fired, it just made me a lot more aware and a lot more cautious. It was a whole ordeal. They sat me down and said, “We noticed you introduce yourself as Sophie or Eugene, you really need to pick one,” then I had seven conversations throughout that day, with seven different people. “What is your gender identity? What will we do if one of our clients is uncomfortable with your gender? You need to announce which name you pick to the whole staff.” It was too much, and it was seven conversations. And it was the middle of my second week.
Then when I made the announcement, we were all going around saying our names, and after we went around the whole circle, they went back to me and asked, “What are your preferred pronouns?” They didn’t ask anyone else. It felt shitty. There was other shit outside of gender around me not having a car, me riding a bike, professionalism (which totally intersects with gender) – things like that were also issues. Eventually they sat me down and said, “There’s a rumor going around that an employee would be getting a Mohawk, and we immediately thought of you.” I had just gotten a haircut and dyed part of my hair, and they said, “It’s fine the way it is now, but please don’t spike it or gel it,” and it was just very insulting.
I got fired and thought, I need to learn from this, and I got hired by the museum like 2 ½ weeks after I had been fired, so it was a really quick turn-around and great. But it was also hard to make that transition so quickly. I think they fucked up a lot at that first job, but also I need to not have that happen again.
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 thought about [Eugene] for a long time. I had friends at school who would try to come up with names for me. But I feel like there’s basic “trans” names, like Skylar or Quinn, and I feel like they were giving me names like that and I was like, no. [laughs] I guess somehow starting with the letter “E” felt right, I don’t know. I think Sophie has become a lot more common of a name. It’s been on the rise. So I tried to pick a name that captured a similar essence of what Sophie meant to me when I was younger. Now I feel like it’s closer to Sarah or something, kind of a generic name. But it didn’t always feel like a really generic name to me.
I interviewed my dad for this paper on Haiti – I’m Jewish, and our family (my ancestors) lived in Haiti at one point. So I took a class on Haiti, and for the final, I interviewed him about it. In that interview he talked about how you name the girl after the dad’s mom. It’s super sexist. Her name’s Jean. Then I have an aunt and uncle on my mom’s side who live in Eugene, Oregon. And it just seemed really interesting [and] ambiguous. I guess there’s a lot of ambiguous reasons of why I picked that name. I have thought about how, since I’ve moved to Somerville, I feel like I’m being called Eugene a lot more, and it does feel really good. I kind of forgot that it felt really good.
What word(s) would you use to describe your identity?
I think prismatic is the main one, because at this point I’m less into picking all these labels that I can check off or list. My friend was talking about a theory around having prismatic identities, and when I was telling him about my experience going by Eugene and that whole thing, he was saying how it was really interesting that [I] go by these different names because it’s super prismatic. I’m doing Girls Rock Camp, and then I’m doing this photo project for non-binary people, and being a female-bodied person – the implication is I’m a woman who is an example for these girls, so are those things in contradiction? Am I sending contradictory messages?
I guess I feel like [my female experiences] are still currently defining me and my life experience in the world. So a part of me does kind of identify with the word “woman,” even though there was a time when I really didn’t, and there’s a part of me that does also identify with “gender non-conforming,” and maybe tons of other things.
Are there ways that you dress / act / speak / etc. to specifically make a statement to others about your identity? Why?
Yeah, I guess I’ve become more feminine. I used to do this crazy stuff with makeup, and also I feel like in the summer it’s easier to dress more feminine because you can wear tank tops and sleeveless shirts – I can wear a men’s sleeveless shirt, but it still looks differently on me. So in other work settings I tend to dress more masculine, but I don’t feel like I’ve really been doing that. I tend to wear a lot of patterns and colors, which I feel has always been true. So yeah, I feel like I’m becoming more feminine, and I’m kind of okay with it. I’m kind of intrigued by it, because I don’t know if it’s because I’m not in college, or because of other things in my life, or because I’m in the workforce – I don’t know. I’m not really sure why. I get more stressed about what I should wear when going to the bike job. I just think more about it, but I feel like the end result might still be the same.
How early on did you know or suspect that you did not identify within the binary?
This is the memory that always comes to mind. I had short hair when I was younger, and I wanted to wear boys’ clothes, and I feel like it was definitely partially rooted in being insecure about my body or my mom making comments about my weight or something like that. I have a twin brother, and he was getting mad that we would be matching or wearing the same sweatpants or whatever. And she looked at me and said, “Sophie, you can’t do this.” So then I stopped.
But I feel like it’s something that I’ve always engaged with or thought about – the idea of masculinity and femininity and how to interact with them. In some ways being gender non-conforming does feel like a strong part of my identity, and in other ways it feels insignificant. Gender-nonconforming, for me, feels blended pretty indistinguishably from queerness. So for a long time I kind of just collapsed queer and trans into the same thing. I guess the idea of queerness feels more formative to me than gender-nonconforming, because that feels so much more performative to me than an identity. It’s more about bending gender than this fixed part of who I am.
I took a class called Transgender Theory, and we talked about how the idea of being a woman almost means experiencing some type of dysphoria. Just the way our beauty standards are or the expectations we expect women to live up to, produce dysphoria with your body. This is the conclusion I’ve come to: yes, gender is fluid and we should fuck it up, but also there’s power that comes along with how you’re read by people, and it kind of doesn’t really matter at a certain point how you identify.
Do you think anything about the way you were raised or where you grew up affected how you drew conclusions about your identity?
Yeah, I think so. How could it not? I went to school in a suburb of Chicago, and I’ve definitely had conversations about what that environment was like, because I feel like people talked about how it was an accepting environment looking back, but it was also pretty fucking conservative. So I feel like it instilled a good amount of shame. For example, if I am more masculine, it’s pretty easy for me to feel shame around that, and then not do that, depending on the environment I’m in. We were talking about the experience of growing up as a girl, and I feel like in some ways my family was more oriented around equality. I definitely was really aware of sexism and calling it out a lot, but also there was still a lot of sexist stuff, and I got made fun of for [calling out sexism]. I feel like even more so now I can see fundamentally fucked up things about the dynamic in my family and the town.
I had short hair in middle school, elementary school even, a little bit, and in middle school I was more masculine. I would wear ties in middle school, and eventually I felt like, Why am I doing this? I’m just doing it for attention, I’m just trying to be weird and trying to be different, just for the sake of it, and I’m not being genuine by doing this. I really think people instilled that in me. So I became a lot more feminine around high school, and I had very long hair down to my belly-button at a certain point, and I still wore a lot of patterns and stuff. I feel like by my junior and senior year I kind of experimented with masculinity, but in subtler [ways]. I stopped shaving my legs, and I wore my brother’s winter coat, but I was still wearing skirts. I feel like once I got to college, immediately from the very beginning, I didn’t wear any of the skirts I owned that I had worn every day in high school, and I felt so much more comfortable. And I was really trying to “masc it up,” trying to be so masculine, but I had such long hair. Eventually it was something I committed to. I cut my hair and I started buying more men’s clothes.
Can you give any examples of misconceptions people have about those who identify outside the binary? Have you personally dealt with them?
Especially when you’re not in a setting that’s really aware of trans stuff or queerness, people will just assume what your pronouns are, and it’s kind of like what I was saying before, it’s how you get read. So I think non-binary people can be erased in that way because it’s whatever you appear to be more of or what your body seems like it is or something. I think maybe even with non-binary people, there’s a desire to fit them in still. “Okay, you’re non-binary, but you’re still kind of like a man.” I feel like maybe people aren’t always sure how to engage. I think sometimes having cordial interactions or warm interactions almost require gender in the way that people are used to engaging. They want to affirm your gender so they try to do it by treating you really masculine-ly or however they think will affirm how they see you as falling.
I was involved in all-gender bathroom activism at my school. I remember someone a year later making a comment and then saying, “Oh, just kidding, I know you’re a boy, I didn’t mean that,” and they kept saying “boy,” and I was kind of surprised. It was interesting. They really felt the need to assert that I was a boy. I feel like that’s a good example.
Another thing I’m thinking of is: I’ve definitely heard people comment on how there’s this overrepresentation of non-binary female-assigned people. I also feel like maybe there’s only a few ways to be non-binary. I feel like someone who’s female-assigned and masculine is a really safe, clear way to be non-binary.
In your own words, how would you explain that gender identity is different from sexual orientation?
Well I guess I’ve kind of collapsed the two. [laughs] I think it’s possible to be non-binary and still identify as straight. Our sexual orientation system relies on gender identity. Even the straight thing, it’s interesting because I feel like heterosexuality plays out in gay or lesbian relationships – the butch and the femme, the top and the bottom, whatever. The heteronormativity. I think they’re all intertwined, but at the same time each person is entitled to pick what their sexual orientation and their gender identity is and to define them for themselves. There’s queer theory on this.
Another thing I’ve thought about is how I’ve been attracted to a range of gender expressions. I feel like at a certain point if you’re romantically involved with any type of trans person, then in my experience, sexual orientation has felt not useful, or you kind of have to expand how you identify. If you’re a lesbian but you’re with a trans man, it kind of undermines their identity to still say you’re a lesbian; stuff like that. Then the gender identities don’t work at a certain point. Also, with the man thing, I definitely have thought, Wow, I would be attracted to this man if he wasn’t a man, you know, if he was a masculine woman or something.
I did identify as a lesbian at one point, and it was a word I had so much shame around, and sometimes it feels like identifying as queer is a cop-out. I don’t know. That’s when I’m like, It’s all part of the same thing, let’s just collapse it all because why get caught up? I think thinking about these things is important, but picking out different terms to say, “I’m this,” starts to feel really un-useful to me.
How do you feel represented in media and society at large?
I just feel like there aren’t a lot of masculine female-assigned people in general in the media, and certainly not in a good way or where they’re seen as desirable or really cool. I feel like there’s really feminine lesbians that you see in media, or maybe they’re butch, they have short hair, and they’re overweight – but they’re not portrayed as being desirable. I do think you can have short hair and be overweight and still be desirable, but that’s not even anywhere that the media is going. Even just valuing muscles on a woman’s body, or something like that. Or body hair, for fuck’s sake. I feel like that’s huge.
What improvements would you like to see happen inside your communities, and in society at large?
$15 minimum wage. [laughs] No more police brutality. No more violence from men. No more men being violent towards women, physically and emotionally. I’m sick of seeing queer people get murdered, especially trans women. I’m sick of seeing income inequality and watching it reproduce itself in different ways. You watch [violence] accumulate in people’s lives, and it’s just so terrible.
Collectively, sometimes I feel like our larger discourses are not nuanced or not really that thoughtful, and I would like to see more. In terms of queer community, I think the coolest types of queer communities are across age or gender identity or experiences. I think that’s really awesome, and I would like to see more people investing in stuff like that. Queer connections across ages and across a range of factors. Investing in queer youth, queer elders, queer people of color, queer homeless people, trans people, and queer cis people. Investing in all the different ways you can be queer rather than tearing each other down. Investing in people who aren’t like you but are also queer and struggling.
I’d love to see people be more educated about domestic violence. How to spot it and recognize red flags. How to respond to it, how it works, how to support someone who’s experiencing it, and what you should say versus what you really shouldn’t say. To encourage someone in a situation versus what’s shaming them. And then personally, I’d like to see myself building the life I want [and] the relationships I want.
Who in your life do you feel you can trust or depend on?
I feel like I have good friends who care about me. I really love them, and in some ways I trust them, but I don’t think I depend on them, if that makes sense.
How has your identity played a role in your relationships, romantic or otherwise?
It’s interesting. I feel like the way my gender is, it comes across differently depending on who I’m interacting with. Romantically, I’ve definitely [been] with people who are trans who really asserted me being cis or something, and I never said, “No,” [to that] but it was interesting to see someone really assert that about me. So I guess that’s some of the ways I feel, in terms of romantic [relationships], it can play out in a lot of different ways.
I have friends who have known me for a really long time and I’m really close with, and it just feels weird to ask them to call me Eugene. Also it’s interesting because there’s this connection there, but sometimes talking about gender identity or pronouns, especially if they’re straight, just kind of creates a disconnect or friction. Sometimes it almost feels easier to not talk about it, or talk about it in different ways; this is maybe where the independent thing comes in, not going to straight friends about you struggling around identity. I’d much rather have conversations about that with other queer or gender-bending people.
Are you able to find adequate medical care?
I have my dad’s wife’s health insurance. I go to the dentist, but that’s about it. In terms of emotional health, I wish that was easier. I am familiar with this program that’s doing something like 500 hours of free therapy for 160 queer people, but you have to apply. I think it’s New York based, so I think it would be cyber [therapy]. I don’t know if it’s text or Skype. I applied, but I didn’t even get a confirmation email or a timeline or anything.
How has your view of yourself changed since you were younger?
I feel like I’m a lot more self-aware, and that can be for better or worse. Being more self-conscious, but also more self-reflective and trying to analyze things a lot more. Also just having a life with a longer past kind of informs things in a way that it doesn’t when you’re a kid, because you don’t have that to inform how you’re interacting with things.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I feel like I wouldn’t want to give myself advice, but I would really want to support my younger self. Also, part of me thinks, Advice is telling you “you need to do this,” and I always feel like I’m trying to take advice. But I feel like it would’ve been really nice to have more love or more support. I remember [this] teacher. I would misbutton my shirts so they weren’t buttoned perfectly straight, and she said, “Promise me you’ll never button your shirt properly,” and then I felt pressured to always misbutton my shirt, which is really dumb. She was trying to be affirming, but sometimes I felt like I had to live up to certain things because they had already seen me do that one other time before or something. So I’d like [people] to affirm things about me but not force me to be the same way.
What are your concerns for the future?
There’s so much violence that I’ve been inundated with recently, seeing people attacked violently on the street, the Orlando shooting, black people being murdered all the time, trans women being murdered. It’s so draining to look at all the time, and also really scary to go about and feel like people are getting murdered all the time who are way too young to [die].
What the fuck that we have so many Donald Trump supporters? I don’t want to talk about the election, but now I am. The misogyny around Hillary. It’s scary. I feel really inundated. That’s a type of violence, just the things that people have said about her. So I guess the concerns I have are having to do with the amount of violence I’m seeing happen, and how excessive it is, and constant, and how it’s impacting so many different people in so many different ways.
What do you look forward to in the future?
All the goals I was saying – those things happening. This is more personal, but I’m really trying to build a good life for myself. I feel like I’ve taken a lot of steps to try and accomplish that and make things better for myself, and I am in a lot of ways. Politically, I really do feel like it’s mostly bad stuff. I think that good stuff can come out of mostly bad stuff, I think that’s great material for a social movement, and I guess the Black Lives Matter movement is doing that. Seeing people like my mom be more educated or care more about certain things.
What have been the important frustrations in your life, and the most important successes?
I feel like I’ve definitely surpassed people’s expectations a lot of the time. People doubting my abilities with different things. I’m a really hard worker. I start out bad [at things] and then get really good at them. I feel like that’s a frustration and a success, being underestimated and then it’s really dope that I can then still be successful.
Do you have a philosophy of life? What’s your best piece of advice?
I watch a lot of Teal Swan videos – she’s this self-help Youtube sensation. I’ll give two pieces of advice that have been really helpful to me. It’s from her video “How To Trust Yourself.” She talks about the importance of trusting yourself and not abandoning yourself. So even when you feel shitty, still being there for yourself, not feeling bad that you feel bad or trying to escape those bad feelings. And then if you feel bad, that’s kind of how you can know what your boundaries are, by paying attention to your feelings. That’s why your feelings are so important, [to let] them guide you. Even you can violate your own boundaries, that’s part of what’s so important about listening to your feelings.