What are your pronouns?
Where do you work?
Right now, I work at the University of Massachusetts’ Department of Theater as a visiting professor, and I also freelance pretty much constantly in theater. Freelancing is the most unstable career and work-life balance. [laughs] I’ll have a month where I have like 12 gigs, and then a month where I’ll have nothing. In the past I have known that I was going to adjunct, but not known how many classes I was going to get, and you get paid per class. It’s a mess.
Do you have any hobbies or special interests? What do you do for fun?
Mostly I do more theater and more artsy things. I have two dogs, I like to hang out with them a lot. I’m not really an outdoorsy person, I’m more of an indoorsy person, but I really like reading trashy smutty sci-fi and watching trashy sci-fi. [laughs] So I do a lot of that.
How do you handle the issue of pronouns and being gendered when interacting with strangers / mixed company / etc?
It’s changed a lot over time, but I’ve gotten to the point where I’m pretty lazy, so if I’m not going to see someone again, I may not even correct them or even bother, because it’s just too much labor for me to deal with. But if I’m going to have to see them again, then I’m always very blunt from the beginning, and I assume that if they don’t make the effort from the beginning then they’re probably not going to make the effort to be my friend or actually be a good colleague for me. But any time I introduce myself I always use my name and pronouns, and I try to model that with people, so I’m always a little confused when they heard right at the beginning what my pronouns are and they still don’t get it. I even put pronoun pins on my jackets, and people still walk around and tell me they don’t know what my pronouns are. Anybody I introduce myself to, it’s pretty much a spiel. “Hi, I’m Finn, I use they/them pronouns, how about you?” It’s just a habit at this point that I say that. I think for me the weirder ones are students, because I’m a professor, and it’s on my syllabus, I introduce it on the first day of class, but I’m constantly in classes where there’s like 60 or 70 students and they never remember my pronouns, and I’m telling them over and over again. I just want to make it so that when they do my evaluations they use the right pronouns. I feel like I was so much more hesitant about it when I first came out, and I was trying to test the waters of using these pronouns. But I’ve been using these pronouns for 9 years now, and at this point I’m like, just do it. Just figure it out.
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?
Names are a huge part of my work in theater and research. I came out and was about to move to a new city, so I sort of desperately looked for a name over the span of like, a month, and was in a really big hurry to find one, so I put very little effort into it and no thought, and sort of just pointed to a name on a list and went with it. I’ve never actually liked my name, and I don’t know why I even picked it. I just was in a hurry I guess. So I’ve spent the last few years creating this theater workshop where trans people can explore their names deeper and sort of figure out how to find a name that connects to your cultural heritage and your familial lineages and actually sounds like you. Kind of doing the labor that I should’ve done myself. And I feel like once I got it changed, as an academic and as a professional, my name is on so many things that there’s no going back at this point. I can change my name again, but I will still have to always use this name to remember the work that I’ve done under it. I think it’s weird that everything’s under my nickname now, too, because I changed my name to Finley Lefevre, and people just started calling me Finn, and I’m not even sure how that happened, but I just am Finn now everywhere. And you know, I didn’t even tell them I had a nickname of Finn, but somehow it just became a thing. And that’s my website now. That’s my business card. It’s everywhere. I don’t know how it happened. [laughs]
"I feel like gender is such a weird and confusing thing to me still that, I don’t know, some days a hairstyle might be my gender, and other days the way I’m walking might be my gender. I don’t even know if I can ever hit the whole thing."
What word(s) would you use to describe your identity?
Genderqueer, and queer. I like femme a lot, and I think it’s really fun that it’s being contested a lot lately, and I think that makes it even more interesting for me to use. Lately I’ve been thinking about words that are thought of as gendered, but have no real gender to them. Things like “beautiful” or things like that, and trying to figure out which ones of those I like, and that’s been really interesting. I feel like as a non-binary person, there’s no such thing really as “passing,” and passing is already a contested thing in itself, but for my particular identity, if people can’t figure out what gender I am, that’s the closest I get to actually being read as my real gender. [laughs]
I use genderqueer a lot, but I think the way that I like to describe it is sort of a la carte gender. Sort of like pick and choose different things. I feel like gender is such a weird and confusing thing to me still that, I don’t know, some days a hairstyle might be my gender, and other days the way I’m walking might be my gender. I don’t even know if I can ever hit the whole thing.
Are there ways that you dress / act / speak / etc. to specifically make a statement to others about your identity? Why?
I’m not sure if what I’m doing is ever to make a statement to other people. I think I used to do that a lot, I think especially when I lived in Indiana. I was what I call “masc-ing up” to try and fit in in the spaces where I was trying to live, in a very conservative area, in a very masculinist area. So I definitely performed my gender there, but it was never really my actual identity. I feel like now I’m much more aware of picking things for myself rather than for other people, but I feel like I’m also doing a lot of performative things that are intentional too. When I took testosterone for many years, my voice lowered, and this is not the natural timbre of my voice now. My natural voice that it’s dropped to is much lower than this, but I’ve chosen to find a pitch that’s somewhere between where I was and where I am now. It feels more normal. So my voice dropped in like, two weeks. It was very, very sudden, and then it kept dropping for another two or three months, but it was a big drop. It was a huge difference, and my dad has a really deep voice, so I was like, “This is what’s happening. I see what’s happening.” [laughs] I think it’s always interesting to see people who haven’t seen me in a long time versus people who saw it every day, because there are people who are around me constantly and didn’t even notice any of the changes, because it’s so gradual. But then I would go back to visit my parents once a year, and they’d be like, “What is happening on your face?” because they just hadn’t noticed it along the way.
How early on did you know or suspect that you did not identify within the binary?
That’s a good question. I struggle with this one because I grew up with very progressive parents who didn’t really enforce any gender binaries in our household, so I don’t think I really understood that gender was this intense “law” thing out in the society until high school, and then I was like, “What is going on and why?” I knew during puberty that I felt like, This thing that’s happening with my body doesn’t feel like what I want to be happening, but I definitely couldn’t articulate why or what I wanted. And I think it wasn’t until I got language for it near the end of high school, early college, that I figured out that I could be something other than just transmasculine, because people kept telling me, “If you’re feeling like you don’t identify as a woman, you identify as a man,” and I [felt], That doesn’t seem like the right thing, but I can’t quite figure out what else there is or where to go with that. I can’t imagine what it would be like to grow up where you could just go online and see a thousand people with these identities and labels and just very easily pick one. I didn’t have role models, or examples. I remember as a kid thinking Nathan Lane’s character in The Birdcage, I identified my gender so much with him, and I didn’t know why. And there were several movie characters like that where I just couldn’t figure out what it was that was drawing me to them.
"[People] have constantly asked me why I would transition my body in a traditionally masculine way and then wear things that are feminine. They don’t understand that I can want multiple things or carry multiple identities. People always expect all of your parts of your identity are going towards one thing and one direction. ... There are a lot of weird expectations. Why is masculinity considered androgynous?"
Do you think anything about the way you were raised or where you grew up affected how you drew conclusions about your identity?
Sure. I mean my parents were super progressive and feminist and things like that, so I was exposed to a lot of things that people around me didn’t know about, so I felt like I had more access to academic knowledges, but also queerer knowledges. I also spent a good part of my childhood in a very conservative area. So I also spent a lot of my time not expressing any of those things outwardly, despite the fact that I could learn about them and read about them, I couldn’t really be any of those things in the public world. I feel like I made a lot of weird choices early on in my transition as a way of keeping myself safe, and sort of pretending to be more binary masculine than I actually felt so that I could get access to hormones, and surgery, and try and survive. I spent a lot of time passing as a cis dude, just living that life, because of where I was living. It was a ridiculous lie.
I came here for grad school in 2014. I do [like it here] in some ways. It’s definitely been a space where I’ve been able to be more myself, it’s the Queer Valley, so I’ve been able to dress the way I want to dress, and sort of live the gender that I want to in that way. It is a weird area because it’s so rural and small, and it seems disconnected, and it’s also very assimilationist here, so I always feel like I can’t find any separate spaces for queer folk. There are no gay bars. There were like four when I moved here and there are none now. They have one monthly gay dance night at a bar in Northampton and that’s about it. And even the conservative area I was living in in Indiana had three gay bars, so it just feels weird to not be able to go to a space and know that this is our separate area where I know is just for my people.
It’s weird. There’s queers everywhere but you can’t find them. Or you have to know somebody. When I first moved here I was asking this woman who was on this queer planning committee, “Where are all the gay bars?” And she [said], “We don’t need gay bars because we can go to any bar.” “Okay but I don’t wanna go to any bar. I wanna go to a gay bar. Where’s that?” [laughs] I knew I was screwed.
Can you give any examples of misconceptions people have about those who identify outside the binary? Have you personally dealt with them?
There’s always an assumption about non-binary people looking a certain way, and I think that people expect non-binary people to often look masculine in a lot of ways, which I don’t understand. They also have constantly asked me why I would transition my body in a traditionally masculine way and then wear things that are feminine. They don’t understand that I can want multiple things or carry multiple identities. People always expect all of your parts of your identity are going towards one thing and one direction. I also spend most of my time in the gay community, and I’m married to a gay man, and people are like, “Why? What is happening?” There are a lot of weird expectations. Why is masculinity considered androgynous? A T-shirt and jeans is not a gender, okay? [laughs]
In your own words, how would you explain that gender identity is different from sexual orientation, and/or do you think that they ever affect each other or relate to each other?
Gender identity is about yourself, and sexual orientation is about your relationship to another being, so those are two different things, and about two different people or more. I think that they are deeply related, and especially for me they’re very related, because my gender identity itself means that I operate sexually from a position that a lot of people are not sexually attracted to or understanding of or respectful of. So my sexual orientation leans me towards people who understand and see me as my gender. So that’s always very connected. And I think also because of my trans identity and queer identity, I’ve never been interested in straight dudes. Cis/het [cisgender/heterosexual] men are just not on the table. [laughs] And I feel like sexuality is also a space where you can explore gender in a lot of ways, and I think we have gender expression outwardly and in terms of our clothing, but we also have gender expression in terms of how we relate to another person, both romantically and sexually, so I think that they are connected in that way. You know, you have a race and a gender, and those are obviously different things, but they relate to one another.
How do you feel represented in media and society at large?
Very terribly. Constantly disappointed by representation. The theater community is moving towards a lot better representation now, and I think because I have sort of made a name for myself as the token trans, I get called to work on a lot of cool trans projects. They’re not making it to bigger stages or making the headlines as much as some plays are, but I feel like I’ve been able to find a good community of trans theater makers. The digital media world is pretty terrible still. I can’t think of any shows that really feel representative. I feel like I’m always searching for crumbs. There’s some musicians that I feel are doing good work and really interesting stuff, like Lelf and Umlilo and Angel Haze – there are a lot of non-binary artists making cool music, but even that is hard to find. You kind of have to do some digging on the Internet. I feel like lately I’ve been so impressed by non-trans artists that have been incorporating trans messaging into their music. Lizzo just came out with the most amazing album of 2019 and probably ever, [called] Cuz I Love You, it’s amazing. The entire album is about self-love and self-acceptance and feeling yourself as a fat femme, and there’s this one song that says, “If you feel like a girl then you real like a girl.” And it’s just tossed in there, and she’s saying, “There’s no reason that anybody who identifies as a woman shouldn’t identify with my album and my music.”
And when Janelle Monae did the music video for “Pynk,” she even had people costumed in such a way that [it’s showing] not all women have vaginas, so the song that’s supposed to be about female genitalia is recognizing that female genitalia is not just vaginas. So I thought that was really cool.
What improvements would you like to see happen inside your communities, and in society at large?
So. Many. I need to just start a to-do list. “Finn’s Plan To Save The World.” You know, right now I’m so focused on the things that I need to change at UMass that it’s hard to even think beyond that. But UMass I think of as a microcosm of the world, and so you know, we’re seeing a lot of issues of racial disparities and acceptances into the institution as well as funding in the institution as well as who the faculty are, and so many of these different things that I’m seeing at the UMass level I’m seeing on a much bigger scale in the country right now. And we see a lot on campus with hateful graffiti and some acts of violence, and things I’m seeing there really feel just like what’s happening in the world, and it doesn’t make me happy. But I feel like as a large-scale thing right now…I don’t even know how to distill it into anything more than empathy. I feel like we just need more empathy in all realms.
Could you tell me about an experience or moment in your life that was very impactful for you?
I just finished working on this show called Queer & Now, and it was a two-year long project, and we are now sort of in this transition year trying to figure out what comes next for this company. It was a devised lip-sync spectacular dance physical theater piece, and the one that I just finished – because we’ve had multiple productions – but the last one that I just finished was called Sync or Swim and it was about the end of the world, and what happens when our water rises and our borders shift and we have to sort of figure out this new queer future. And working on that project felt like practice for the world. Like we were actually coming up with ideas and strategies to handle patriarchy and climate change and oppression, but through fun dance. And it just feels like it combined all of my interests in one space. I got a little tattoo from it.
Could you give me an example of something difficult that occurred in your life how you dealt with it?
Sure. When I came out as trans, my mom did not handle it very well. She had handled it very well when I came out as queer many years before that, so I was very confused and shocked and did not know what to do, and we had a lot of arguments, and a lot of strange fights, and it took her a while to decide that she was going to come around and support me, and when she did, the way she did it was through this ceremony that she had read about where you give a funeral for your dead child and then celebrate the new child that is born. It felt very traumatic for me, and it took me like 5 years to process why I felt so traumatized by that. Because she really felt like she had found that as a way to heal herself and move past her not understanding and her confusion and frustration with me. So it was really healing for her, and for me it just created this rift. And that exact rift and issue was what led me to do my grad thesis work around trans naming ceremonies and created that work that I was telling you about earlier. So it was a method using theater to heal this sort of long ongoing thing that I carried. She has since figured out a lot more, and I even wrote about that incident in my thesis and made her read it, and she cried a lot and has grown a lot.
Who in your life do you feel you can trust or depend on?
My dogs, first and foremost, always. I have two mutts, one that’s a Pitt-Lab-Beagle mix who’s giant, and then I have a tiny one that’s like a Jack Russell something, probably also a Pitt mix, and she’s feisty, and they’re both so damaged. The big one just had ACL surgery so he’s limping, and the other one had back surgery, so she’s – floppy. One’s 8 and one’s 9. So middle-aged floppy children. They’re just a mess. [laughs] And then my partner. He and I have been together 9 years, and I literally came out to him right after we started dating, and it was a quick turnaround that he got involved in this relationship and then was suddenly in a different relationship than he thought he was, and he was 100% supportive and on board and has been really helpful in kind of pushing me to listen to myself more. Because I carried a lot of fear after living in Indiana that I was not ready to actually explore any of the things that I wanted to, and he’s been very helpful in encouraging me to push myself and try things and stick to things that I like even if people are confused by them. He’s definitely a problem-solver, and he’s a Capricorn, he has that daddy energy. He takes care of me while I’m totally a mess most of the time. [laughs] He’s from Indiana, and he never lived anywhere else, and then I moved him all the way across the country right after we got married and stole him from his family. They’re sad, but they were totally okay with it.
How has your identity played a role in your relationships, romantic or otherwise?
So I’ve been out as queer for a very, very long time, since I was 12, so I’ve pretty much exclusively kept to a queer friend group for most of my life. So I didn’t really have a lot of problems with my friend group when I came out as trans, because they were all in the queer community. It’s been different here. Strangely my community here is mostly straight people, but because I’m working in theater they’re more open anyway, but they’re straight people because I found them in theater, not because I intended to make straight friends. But I think being trans has been a really interesting way of narrowing down potential friendships, and I really quickly can tell if someone’s going to put in the effort or respect my identity, and if not then I’m not going to bother trying to be friends with them. And I’ve actually tried to make that a boundary for myself. I think it’s been really interesting as a professional to develop colleague relationships as a trans person. I’m always being tokenized as the trans person in the space. But it’s fun because a lot of my colleagues that are also being tokenized for other reasons, like the women of color in my department, we’ve sort of all ganged up together as the people that are being asked to do more emotional labor for our identities. So that’s been interesting. It hasn’t really changed my romantic relationship. He was on board.
Are you able to find adequate medical care?
Until I moved to Massachusetts, I don’t think I’ve ever had a doctor pronoun me correctly or know anything about my body or my hormones or my needs. I had a series of really horrible disrespectful doctors in Indiana, and I even had to lie to several to get hormones, because they only believed in transmasculine binary identities. And then when I moved to Massachusetts I found that my health insurance at UMass afforded me a lot more trans care, so that’s been really great to get some trans surgeries because of UMass. But still the doctors here are impossible to find. I go to one doctor here who sees I’d say 90% of my friends, because she’s one of the only people that sees trans patients here. I even considered leaving her practice because I’m no longer on hormones, I’m post-op, I’m not medically transitioning in any way, so I was thinking about leaving her practice to offer more space to another patient, and then I had a meeting with another doctor and I was just instantly reminded of how shitty it is to be mis-gendered, and they have no idea what parts I even have, and how to talk to me about my healthcare. So I feel like I’ll have to stay with this doctor forever. [laughs]
How has your view of yourself changed since you were younger?
I was a very outgoing and energetic vivacious loud youth person, and somewhere around the time that I started transitioning and came out, and because of coming out in Indiana, I started developing a lot of anxiety and social anxiety and depression and fear and paranoia and panic. So I think that my identity has led to a lot of dealing with mental health that I didn’t really start to untangle until I came here and started to separate from the spaces that were causing those feelings, although it took me a long time to figure out that it was those spaces and that it was not just engrained in me. I feel like I always knew that I didn’t understand being a woman, but I spent a lot of time thinking that meant that I had to explore masculinity, and it wasn’t until 4 or 5 years ago when I moved here that I started realizing how much better and more myself I feel when I’m feminine, and when I can explore that part of my identity. So I think my understanding of my own gender has shifted a lot.
"Play. There are no rules. You don’t have to have a reason to want to do something. That’s been a really hard one for me, thinking that I had to justify all of the things that I was interested in doing or trying. You don’t have to know why you don’t like your name or why you don’t like your chest or whatever. You just have to know that you don’t. You don’t have to figure out the entire identity, you just have to know on a person to person basis who you’re into. I think you don’t have to know any answers, really."
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Play. There are no rules. You don’t have to have a reason to want to do something. That’s been a really hard one for me, thinking that I had to justify all of the things that I was interested in doing or trying. You don’t have to know why you don’t like your name or why you don’t like your chest or whatever. You just have to know that you don’t. You don’t have to figure out the entire identity, you just have to know on a person to person basis who you’re into. I think you don’t have to know any answers, really. And I think when people ask you questions that you don’t know the answer to, it’s fine to say that you’re figuring it out and that you’re not sure.
What are your concerns for the future?
I think the world is going to end. I think that’s an inevitable thing. Whether it be by fire or ice or water or people or epidemic or whatever, I think we just need to figure out how to work together as people because whatever comes next is going to require a lot of cooperation and collaboration to survive, and a lot of adaptation.
What do you look forward to in the future?
I’m really excited to be on faculty this year and explore what that means, to have a little bit more power to make the kinds of changes I want to make. I’m really excited to see what happens with Queer & Now, this ongoing queer project I’m doing. I’m excited to make some cool art this summer. I’m making some fun theater this summer. We’ve done four productions of Queer & Now, we had two at UMass, one at Amherst, and one in New York, and each production has been based around different ideas but ensemble-based. So the first one was vignettes that were each about a specific person’s identity and experience, and then this last round were about using mythology to explore the end of the world. And this next one we’re working on, sort of long-term, we’re trying to figure out what it would mean to combine spoken word with lip-sync, because the primary mode we work in is lip-sync. It’s all physical-based, but what does it actually mean to use your voice in a lip-sync production?
What have been the important frustrations in your life, and the most important successes?
Important frustrations – currently I’ve been on the job market for a few years as I’ve been freelancing and adjuncting, and I’ve been trying to find full-time work, and I have had so many weird experiences in this process related to being trans, that I’m so over it. I’ve had so many people say that trans work is too niche, or someone was like, “Are you just into trans theater because it’s trendy right now?” I’ve had multiple people ask me, “What do you do when students don’t like that you’re trans or talk back to you because you’re trans?” That’s literally not a thing that happens to me, it’s just you. [laughs] It’s just you doing that right now. So just figure that out for yourself. That’s really frustrating.
"There are a million different ways to be non-binary and trans, and all of them are exactly right, and wherever you are in that process is not linear, and you’re doing it exactly how you need to."
Successes – I feel like I’m actually finally just now getting to the point in my career where my work is getting out there, and I’m connecting with my community more, and I was just offered a book deal a couple months ago. It’s very exciting. It’s called Trans Theater Toolkit, which is a very practical step-by-step guide on how to produce trans narratives on stage. And because of that project, the editors have connected me to a lot of other trans theater makers, so even if the book is a terrible disaster, now I know all of the trans theater makers in the world and we’re just going to be best friends. [laughs] I went to this conference [USITT, a theater tech conference], I did this workshop, and the workshop went way better than I ever expected, like 150 people were in this tiny room to hear me, which normally when you do social justice workshops like 6 people show up. So it was amazing, and people kept asking me about it afterwards, and one person sent me an email and [asked to get coffee], and she said, “I saw your workshop, I want you to write a book.” [I have] two years to write the book.
Do you have a philosophy of life? What’s your best piece of advice?
I feel like in terms of my relationships with other people in my community, my motto is always, “Show up.” You just have to show up for people. You just have to find a way to be there and be supportive in whatever capacity you have, if it’s financial or time or love or care or cuddling or whatever it is. We need to find ways to show up for people. And I think for my personal philosophy, I have it tattooed on my back, I have this quote that says, “Flying, all it requires is simply the ability to throw yourself forward with all your weight, and the willingness not to mind that it’s going to hurt.” And that’s been something that I’ve really tried to live by, that I have to take risks and I have to just jump in, and it’s probably going to suck, but you just have to go for it.
Are there any other questions you would have liked me to ask, or anything else you would like to talk about?
There are a million different ways to be non-binary and trans, and all of them are exactly right, and wherever you are in that process is not linear, and you’re doing it exactly how you need to.