JAMIE

Quincy, MA

What are your pronouns?

They/their.

Where do you work?

I work at MIT as a communications coordinator. [I do] a lot of graphic design and web design. Some data entry, but I went to school for graphic design, so I try to take on as many design projects as possible!

Do you have any hobbies or special interests?

I play roller derby for the Boston Massacre. I have been on the team for 5 years.

What do you do for fun?

Roller derby. [laughs] Lots of roller derby. And I like to play board games. And I train my parrot to do cool tricks. I taught him how to fetch. It was a long process, but he knows how to put quarters into a piggy bank. I don’t know, step three: profit? [laughs]

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

I don’t bring it up unless somebody at least knows enough to ask about it or start the conversation. Most of the people I spend time with have picked up on my pronouns just from hearing other people talk about me. If they don’t, they’re probably the kind of people who would require a longer explanation. I don’t really feel comfortable going into situations where somebody isn’t curious or doesn’t think to ask, because then it kind of runs the risk of turning into, “What does that even mean? Isn’t that grammatically incorrect?” or any number of things that would require a larger explanation. And I’m usually not up for that.

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

Genderqueer is usually my go-to word. It’s really non-specific, but I don’t have a lot of specific feelings about my gender identity other than that it doesn’t really fit into whatever expectations I grew up with.

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

Not very consciously. I mostly wear men’s clothing, especially to work. I’m sure that makes some kind of statement. It’s just more comfortable. And more practical most of the time… Girl pockets are incredibly frustrating.

I don’t know if this is really related, but a quick story. My brother was in the Sochi Olympics, and I went with family to watch. So there I was, looking the way I look, in Russia — where “gay propaganda” had just been banned and LGBT activists were being beaten and arrested. The officers at security checkpoints kept reading me as male, but every time I spoke, everyone around me became visibly confused and uncomfortable. So I stopped talking to strangers. But then I noticed that the thing I stopped myself from saying the most was “Sorry.” It changed my life to understand that I didn’t have to apologize for existing inconveniently. Ever since then I’ve made a conscious effort to stop myself from apologizing for my presence by default. Just thinking about that makes me stand taller, to feel okay about taking up space. I’m not sure what kind of statement that makes, but I’m sure it affects how I interact with others.

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

Probably way earlier than I would ever give myself credit for. I was always a weird kid. My mom tells me that I was really obsessed with wearing dresses for exactly one year when I was about 6 or 7 years old — never before, and never again after that. (It was worth a try, I guess?) When I was 9, I got a really short haircut. I was always happy about it when people confused (“confused”) me for a boy. As a kid I was always a little bit masculine of center, but I never thought, I am a boy in a girl’s body. So, like, must be cisgender, right?

Then I was a figure skater for 12 years, and that totally fucked up my perception of gender.

My parents signed me up for all kinds of sports as a kid. Figure skating was one of them, and for some reason it stuck. For 12 years, the bulk of my day was skating or training or travel to and from the ice rink. I loved skating; I really just hated being a figure skater. In retrospect, I don’t think anyone else was fighting their gender identity quite as hard as I was in order to wear makeup, and put highlights in their hair, and put up with being told that they can’t skate to “boy music,” and wear dresses during competition because girls don’t wear pants. The girls had weigh-ins. I used to wax my eyebrows because my coach once told me they looked like caterpillars.

 

It was a struggle. But I figured that struggle was just something you had to go through to be a figure skater. (Everybody else must feel like their life is a performance 24/7, so I’ll just do it too!) And I got really used to shutting down the part of myself that said “HEY. THIS MASK YOU’RE WEARING? IS SUPER UNCOMFORTABLE.” I had to be away from the sport for several years before I figured out that voice was worth listening to.

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

Yes. I was homeschooled from a young age, which got me used to the idea that “normal” societal structures aren’t necessarily best. My mom was an entrepreneur, which made me aware at some level that it’s possible to forge your own pathways in life. I liked being the creative weirdo. Looking back, I was definitely on a path towards being a giant queer at an early age. I have a photo of myself around age 10 wearing a light vest over a black turtleneck, a rainbow beaded necklace, and a trucker hat with the logo of my softball team. Flannel was my favorite color.

But when I was around 13, figure skating culture definitely threw a wrench into everything. I often wonder whether I would’ve drawn different or earlier conclusions about my gender if I hadn’t grown up in the most heteronormative sport ever invented. The culture around it makes so many assumptions about its participants: [that] there are only men and women (and obviously nothing exists outside those two roles), men are stronger and more capable and display EXCITING ATHLETICISM while women are glittery pre-pubescent flowers that smile all the time — that’s just how things are. So much of it is about your appearance and your ability to perform.

I felt like my whole presence was a performance, always, even at home or among friends, and I grew up thinking that feeling was normal. I had no idea that my identity existed outside of how I chose to perform. If I hadn’t tried for so long to fit into this culture that just… didn’t have a place for me, I don’t know what would have been different.  

 

In your own words, how would you explain that gender identity is different from sexual orientation?

I think of gender identity as being separate from sexual orientation, but related. Gender identity is you looking at yourself—or maybe looking at yourself through other people’s eyes? And sexual orientation is more like you looking out at the world. Gender identity is almost a prerequisite for sexual orientation I think, because most labels for sexual orientation have to do with your own gender identity versus somebody else’s gender identity. Even though I think of myself as “queer,” I also do think of myself as “gay” in some sense, even though I’m outside the binary and that’s kind of a binary term — because I tend to be attracted to other people who are also outside the binary, so in a way their gender identity is the same as mine. [laughs] I don’t know, the weirder my gender gets, the harder it gets for me to pin down labels for my sexual orientation.

 

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

[laughs] I don’t. I mean, a lot of the media I consume is on the queer side of mainstream. But even there, you don’t get a lot of visible genderqueers. In the world at large, there’s probably even less. There’s few and far between, to the point if I see anybody who seems to represent me in any way, shape, or form, I still get really excited about it. “Oh look, there’s a queer person and that’s not the only thing we know about them!” I’ve really enjoyed Sense8 a lot. A LOT. (Seriously, go watch it right now.) I’m watching Orphan Black too, which has some pretty great queer characters. In the podcast Welcome to Night Vale, some characters in the show just use they/them pronouns. It’s never excused or explained — it just is. Little, barely-noticeable details like that are really exciting to me. There’s also a queer relationship that basically only exists as a side story to talk about how people relate to each other — you know, like human beings. I like when queer people are whole characters (more than just “the queer one”). I like seeing proof that some people in the world believe treating queer people with respect is not a burden. It’s a low bar, but things are getting better.

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

I’m lucky enough to be part of the roller derby community. As far as gender-related issues go, they are ahead of the curve compared to other sports, and also compared to society at large. Back in 2010, our international organization (explicitly a women’s organization) had a gender policy that explicitly included trans women. It wasn’t perfect, and it still excluded anyone who didn’t identify as a woman. Now, both the men’s and women’s international roller derby associations now have policies [that] essentially boil down to, “We are not going to set minimum standards for [maleness/femaleness], so if you feel like this is the version of flat-track roller derby that you want to participate in, then you’re welcome here.” It would be neat if the whole world did stuff like that. [laughs] But I’m not holding my breath.

Bathrooms are often an issue. Whenever I walk into a public bathroom I have to sort of brace myself. I usually just don’t make eye contact with people. Even at work, I worry about running into someone new who gives me that look of silent shock and horror: “OH GOD. WHICH ONE OF US IS IN THE WRONG PLACE?” I count myself lucky that I haven’t had any real confrontations (yet).

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.

I think the most difficult thing I ever had to deal with was when my dad died. It was 2008. He had brain cancer. I lived in Delaware at the time, and I had just quit ice-skating after having done it for 12 years. My dad was in New Orleans, working for FEMA to clean up after Hurricane Katrina. I had a plane ticket to go visit him for several days, and I was excited to spend time with him as a friend, not just a parent. The day before my flight, he had a seizure and was rushed to the hospital. All the time I was supposed to spend hanging out in New Orleans with my dad I spent waiting in a hospital with my mom trying to figure out what the hell was going on. And I never actually got to spend that time with him.

In some ways I dealt with it by picking up my life and starting over in a new place. I had already quit skating, so I wasn’t in that environment anymore; I moved away from my home to go to RISD, and that was also a really intense experience; my family was a 4-5 hour drive away, so it was kind of an experiment of being out on my own. Which didn’t go that well at first—in my senior year I went into a spiral of depression/anxiety/ADHD.

But then I started building a support structure of friends and family. Oh, and started taking all the right kinds of drugs to balance out my brain. Antidepressants don’t fix anything, but they did make it possible for me to start fixing things and building a life for myself. That was 7 years ago, and in some ways it’s still an ongoing process.

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

My trusty sidekick, Nicole. She’s my teammate in everything that I do. I’m also her trusty sidekick, it’s a mutual thing. Several years ago when we started dating, she said, “I wanna have a word for you. Girlfriend isn’t right. But boyfriend isn’t right either…” We talked for so long and couldn’t really settle on anything. Eventually she said, “Well we need to pick something. I can’t just call you my trusty sidekick.” —and it was perfect, so it stuck. Every hero needs a hand once in a while. So sometimes I’m the hero, a.k.a. the one who needs help, and sometimes it’s her. But no matter who the protagonist is, we constantly try to lift each other up.

And also my mom. She has always been one of my biggest supporters, forever, for my whole life. When I was a kid, we fought a lot over silly, meaningless things. But now she’s one of my best friends — always there to listen, and always incredibly supportive. Even with all this gender stuff, she is always very open to discussing [it]. And I feel like I’ve opened her mind in some ways in talking about all kinds of queer things. She makes me a better person every time we talk.

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

Nicole and I talk about gender stuff a lot, but I don’t know if it’s really a defining feature of our relationship. It’s maybe more of a subconscious thing than anything else. The more I’ve grown to understand myself and my gender, the more I’ve surrounded myself with other people who are genderqueer, or at least queer to some extent. Because when I’m spending time with the right people, gender sort of becomes… not a thing. Or at least it becomes a thing we all have in common. [laughs] Whenever gender does become a central object of my concern or attention, it’s usually stressful.

Are you able to find adequate medical care?

Yes. And I know that I’m lucky, and that many people can’t. It’s easy to access, and convenient. I lucked out with my PCP, too. She is very easy to talk to, and was actually one of the first few people ever to ask me what pronouns I preferred. I still hate going, but the doctor’s office is there if I need it.

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

I think I’ve become a lot more self-centered. In a good way, though. When I was younger, especially when figure skating was my life, I looked at myself from everyone else’s perspective before considering my own experience. I thought that looking a certain way was more important than being a certain way. I’ve definitely become more grounded – maybe grounded is a better word than self-centered – in myself. This might seem kind of simple, but now I know to ask myself things like: Is this what I want to be doing right now? Is this something I want to continue doing? How do I want to respond to this situation? What would make me feel better in the long term? Who do I want to be? Instead of focusing on what would make everyone else around me feel comfortable or happy.

I used to get caught up in what I should do, or what I was expected to do. Now, the things that I’ve committed to, I try to make sure that I’m choosing them every day. I don’t force myself to go to derby practice. I don’t sacrifice anything to spend time with my friends or my pets. I choose to do these things, because they’re important to me.

I guess the short version is that I’ve learned to value my own perspective.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

I would say that no time is wasted as long as you learn from what happened. I’ve spent some time in terrible situations. I’ve spent some time in awful relationships where at the end of it, I was like, Wow, why did I do that, that was wasted time, it literally only hurt me, and I don’t have anything to show for it. But I feel like as long as you can learn from something – like if you’re in a bad relationship, and you learn how not to end up in that type of relationship again – then it’s not wasted time. In fact, it’s time very well-spent because you won’t accidentally end up doing the same thing again. As long as you’ve learned from something, then you can’t have wasted your time.

Also, HEY, YOU’RE SUPER GAY, and it’s okay!

What are your concerns for the future?

Donald Trump is all I can really say. I feel like that sums up a lot of my concerns about the type of environment that our country is becoming.

I keep thinking, What resources would I actually need if I were to move to Canada? How long would that take? How soon could I be living somewhere else if I had to leave? People are getting more and more polarized over everything. There’s really very little in this world that can be explained in terms of black and white, but I guess sometimes it’s just easier for people to frame the world that way. Especially in a two-party political system, what other colors are there besides black and white? There’s no room for anything in the middle. But that’s not how the world actually works.

Also, climate change is gonna kill us all, everybody run for your lives, etc.

What do you look forward to in the future?

In the immediate future, going to Montreal for roller derby playoffs in a few weeks. I’m really looking forward to that, it’s always a good time. I’ll get to meet new people and play against teams that are way better than us, and get my butt kicked probably. I was a lot more optimistic about the future before the, uh, recent political shift. Really struggling with our new Commander-In-Cheeto.

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

For most of my life I thought that I just didn’t understood what other people were thinking or feeling. In general, most social interactions have always been frustrating for me, because I would interpret people one way, but then the things they said would indicate something else. I only recently realized that most people don’t strive to say the most true/accurate thing. More recently I’ve come to trust my intuition about what other people are thinking or feeling, even if it doesn’t match what they’re saying. So I guess that is also a success, in a way. I think that’s also part of becoming more centered and more grounded in myself – learning how to trust myself when I think or feel certain things about a situation, and not necessarily trusting other people’s words over my own gut.

I also have a lot of trouble communicating with people, especially verbal communication. Since I was little, I was never very good at explaining or expressing things out loud, which became a big struggle in my early 20s  – turns out it’s hard to maintain friendships and relationships without really talking to people. But I didn’t know that. For a long time I didn’t have a support network, and I also didn’t really know why. 

I’m still learning how to talk to people and actually express important things, and be okay feeling vulnerable, but the process has been kind of torturous. [laughs] People who haven’t known me long tell me I’m a great communicator, which always surprises me a lot. I still think of myself as being quiet and disconnected. It’s still an effort to connect with others but I feel like I’m a little more successful at it every day.

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

I think that everything is connected, and that contradictions only exist to indicate what we don’t understand. I always try to learn and grow in everything that I do. Everything is always growing and changing, and if you try to stop it or hold things the way they are, you’re always going to get left behind. I always overanalyze. I would love to understand the entire universe, but unfortunately I don’t think I’ll have enough time for that.

My best piece of advice right now is, for whatever you’re doing, to focus on the process. Whatever it is that drives you through that process is always going to be more important than the result. The important part isn’t finishing the project or winning the race. The important part is how and why you push yourself to reach your goals, and how you treat yourself and those around you in the meantime. Every finished product, every gold medal is just a reminder of what you put into it. So make sure your work is something you’ll be proud of, whether you achieve your goals or not.