KATHRYN

Allston, MA

What are your pronouns?

She/her.

Where do you work?

UMass currently! I teach Literature.

Do you have any hobbies or special interests? What do you do for fun?

My fiancée and I like hiking a lot. I also enjoy learning anything new! I went axe-throwing for my bachelorette party, which was last weekend. You know Union Square in Somerville? They have this place called Urban Axes. I didn’t know any of it was happening, my friends just walked me down, I thought we were going to go get a donut at Union Square Donuts, but no, they walked me down and there was this axe-throwing place. It has the coolest mural outside, and inside they have beer, obviously, because you want to be drunk when you’re throwing axes. It’s very, very fun. So, I’m planning on taking my fiancée back there for a date.

I play instruments sometimes, but I always do that thing where I learn an instrument to the point that I’m proficient, but I never push through the boundary to becoming excellent. But I have never done it. I have too much else going on, but I think once I’m done with the PhD I’ll make more time for things that I enjoy. My biggest hobby throughout my life was drama, which might be why I study it. I did it from the age of 7 until I was 22 and graduated college, and I did a lot. I did some voice acting in college for advertisements, but I haven’t done anything since because grad school eats your life. My fiancée really loves drama too, so I think when I finish we might both try and join some amateur drama group. She’s the type that always get the leading lady role, and I always get cast as a weird side character that has a strange monologue. So, I think it would be pretty fun if we did that together.

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

That does actually affect me, because of the way I look. I get mistaken for a boy a lot. Usually a teenage boy. I have tried to up my dress game, because it usually happens in the summer when I’m wearing shorts and a T-shirt that people see me from behind or from the side or something and they just assume I’m a 17-year-old boy. In the mall two years ago, a mall cop came up, and he said, “do you two know that you’re not allowed to be in here under 18 without parental accompaniment?” And I turned around, and I looked at him, and he saw my face, and I saw his face, and he started to splutter, and I said, “I’m 27. Would you like to see my ID?” And he was like, “Uh, no, I was just informing you. I was just letting you know, so…you know.” And then he excused himself and wandered off. So that was awkward. 

Usually it doesn’t matter too much, though. In mixed company I’m just very clear when I introduce myself. If people ask that is always nice, but I sometimes think that if they ask me but not my fiancée (who is more traditionally feminine looking), it is pretty rude, because there are a lot of assumptions underlying their isolation of me as genderqueer.

With strangers it can be funny, or it can be scary, or it can be uncomfortable. Some people are convinced that I’m trans and that I’m going to have a male name, and they look so shocked when [I say], “Kathryn.” They seem shocked or confused. For example, at Urban Axes I was with my other friend who’s very butchy but has long hair, and the person who worked there went around asking our names to write down. My butchy friend said, “Oh I’m Anabelle,” and she wrote down “Anabelle,” and then she looked at me and I [told her my name was Kathryn], and she looked at me, and [said], “That’s long.” And I [said], “Yeah. I mean, sometimes people call me Alix, but – ” and she was like, “Oh, Alix.” Clearly the name Alix felt better for her somehow. It’s my middle name, so people sometimes call me that, but it has no real bearing on my gender identification, which is what people assume. While sometimes it rankles me when people get confused, I also really like encouraging people to be confused and sit with that confusion, because it means that I’m disturbing their binary; it means that they are uncomfortable with something and that have to take that discomfort and sit with it. Suddenly something that seemed simple, that they want to be simple, is revealed as deeply complex, which is great. I don’t hate that. It causes some uncomfortable instances and scenarios but doesn’t impact my sense of self.

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

I went through many terms for myself internally. I used to have long hair that was kind of anime style – I looked pretty cool – until about 5 years ago when I cut it. But I had long hair my whole life, and I just dressed slightly more masculine-of-center. Now I dress in a masculine way and have short hair, but I do still wear women’s clothing, it’s just you wouldn’t know because it looks masculine. Like items from The Gap can go either way depending on who’s wearing it, you know? People have tried to characterize me as butch, but I don’t feel that way. I think it implies a specific kind of way of interacting with the world. If you identify as butch, that usually comes with some ideas about behavior, and the way that you’re going to treat people that I don’t personally identify with.

Androgynous is a big word for me primarily because it is my way of expressing that I don’t inhabit or intend to express masculinity of femininity. Genderfluid doesn’t sit right with me, because I’m not moving between two points on a spectrum at all (I am not fluidly oscillating between masculine or feminine). I don’t like that there’s this idea of two fixed points still that designate man/masculine and woman/feminine. I personally don’t identify with that idea at all. So, I’d just say that I’m a person. I use “she/her” pronouns because I’m used to it, not because I particularly identify in any way with it. Androgynous (for me, at least) is like a way of saying “if you need a spectrum I’m in the middle, but really I don’t fit in it at all, and you’re not going to be able to figure it out, because it’s neither. It is something different and completely outside of that spectrum.”

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

So, I do dress in more masculine attire and it does make a statement about my identity. I don’t intentionally expect it to, I’m just comfortable this way. I’ve thought a lot about it and I do think that part of it is that I’m more comfortable with a masculine aesthetic; I like the different emphasis on shapes emanating from my body. So instead of having curves I prefer having more straight lines. That’s just what I think looks good on me. As a child I recall I didn’t like when guys started looking at me, so perhaps some of my clothing sense began to form out of finding things that shaped how I was seen by others, but I don’t think it has ever been really to make a statement. Recently I’ve been attempting to look a bit older, but aside from that I don’t think about it too much.  

On a different note, one of the major behavioral things I do differently now is, as a masculine looking person, I try to be sensitive to women’s feelings of safety, because I know that while I am a woman myself and have no ill intent, if people see my shape on a dark street, they don’t know anything about me. And there have been instances where in a professional setting I might need to share a bedroom with an adult – it’s really weird, there’s like a dorm-style thing at a rare books library in D.C., don’t ask me why – but I used to try and stay there, and I would only ever stay there if they had a private room, or I would go for an Airbnb. Because I was very acutely aware that people from all different cultures and places come. And while I’d be comfortable and just fine staying in a room with a religious woman, she may not feel comfortable with me, and you can call that homophobia if you want, but I’m not going to tell a woman how or when she can feel safe. I’m not going to dictate people’s comfort levels when they have to get changed and when they have to sleep and be in vulnerable positions with a person that they don’t know and might emanate elements of masculinity. I’m not going to make anybody feel uncomfortable for that reaction because masculinity is often dangerous in our society and in our lives. I don’t care if they’re actually homophobic or not. But I’m never going to try and dictate that for people, and I think that can be a really difficult conversation to have sometimes. It is just important to understand that it isn’t about you as an individual, it’s about the kinds of things that are associated with masculinity, and I personally carry some of those masculine things with me. It’s female masculinity, sure, but it’s indistinguishable for the majority of women, and again, it is not my job to tell people when and how they should feel safe, or to be indignant if they don’t feel safe in a world where masculinity is wielded violently every day.

 

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

Soooo early. My mum wouldn’t let me cut my hair; she hated that I wore baggy jeans all the time. The second that I had a say in my clothing and I wasn’t being dressed identically to my sister, the second I could opt out of dresses, I was wearing unisex Pokémon T-shirts and shorts. Everything was red. 

See, I never shy away from attention, just specific kinds. I wanted people to pay attention to me because I was a giant ham, not because I had boobs. I liked lime green, and I liked un-feminine colors. And my sister was the opposite, she was the perfect little girl. England was in the 1998 World Cup, the team captain was Alan Shearer, and all I wanted to wear all the time was a red Alan Shearer jersey with his signature printed all over it. That’s all I wanted to wear, and my mom just hated it. She thought “Oh my god. That Shearer jersey is ghastly. This child’s different! And now she wants a short haircut? No!” So, of course, I internalized her horror and didn’t get one until I was in my 20s.

Honestly, when I was young, I thought I wanted to be a boy a lot. I think a lot of people who identify as lesbian or something later in life and have more masculine inclinations when they’re young think so because it’s the only (binarized) way to push back against all the horrifying expectations being hurled at you as a little girl. Some (like me) think that they want to be a boy when they’re really young. And sometimes that’s actually legit, and they do, but other times it’s like a way of explaining how we feel from a very young mindset – because we just have the structures we’ve been given as kids, (i.e. the binary). My logic went: “so if I’m not a girl because I hate the girl things, I must be a boy. I wanna be that because they have the things I want. Right?” It made complete sense to 8-year-old Cath who couldn’t articulate the things she wanted and couldn’t imagine being allowed to have them. You can’t have it because you’re a girl, so you want to be a boy. Simple. For a while I really thought I wanted to be a boy, but I’m not trans. I never was. I just wanted to manifest in a way that I wasn’t allowed to. Now I have wonderful friends who are parents and who do a much better job with their babies. If you let your kids manifest however they want, I think that’s so much healthier for them. Because they get to explore and they get to choose, and they don’t have to make any grand identifying statements—they can just be themselves—whatever that looks like.

 

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

Of course! In the secular culture of my English high school, the only time LGBTQ words were used were when people were calling each other gay. “Oh, you’re so gay. Don’t be so gay.” It was just a thing people said, and it took me some time to realize how detrimental that language could be. No one in my high school was out, I didn’t meet another out lesbian until I was 18. And then on TV, there were a few series; I think there was one called Sugar Rush, it was a TV show about lesbians, but it wasn’t very good. Then there was Xena: Warrior Princess. I remember this scene where, in one Xena episode, I was maybe 12. It was the episode where Gabrielle was turned into a man, and she married Xena (I know, it sticks to the binary M/F bigtime to make the romance palatable, but it was still a little queer). All I know is there was this kiss, and my mum walked in right as it happened. She took one look, turned the TV off, and she said, “You don’t need to be watching things like that.” That’s all she said. That was the only message I got. And then things like The L Word were coming out in America, and I’d heard about it online, and so I bought DVDs and watched them alone, when I was about 16 or 17. I didn’t kiss a girl until much later, but I had known forever. Everything about being queer felt incredibly illicit and seemed taboo. There was always this undertone of: it’s a sexual deviancy, it’s not the norm, and we don’t talk about it. It felt bad, but I also didn’t put much stock in what people thought because I’m pretty practical, and I felt like “that’s just who I am.”

That said, I was dealing with religious elements too, as I was brought up going to Sunday school. All my friends in middle school were going to this youth group at the local church. I lived in a tiny village, and it was a 20-minute drive to this church hall. I lived amid the fields. So, it was really cool to get to do that, and the only thing you had to do was listen to them for 20 minutes of the 3 hours as they talked about God in some very vague, soft way. By high school the Christianity was clashing with the self-identity crisis. The religious camps did not help – I went to one called Soul Survivor – but even there they wouldn’t talk about it. They would talk about almost everything, because it was a youth camp, so they’d [say], “Let’s talk about sex before marriage. Let’s talk about how I was saved, and I used to be a druggie and have sex, and now, I am with God, and here’s my testimony, and I got married, and everything’s great now!” And there’s all these born-again young people trying to get you jazzed about Jesus. BUT, they never talked about homosexuality, ever. Not once. I now think they knew they’d alienate people, and that being LGBTQ was divisive enough in the UK that they’d run into issues. The only time I ever heard anyone in a church mention it was this one kooky guy who was part of a church group at somebody’s house said that the dinosaurs weren’t real in the same PowerPoint lecture that he said homosexuality was bad, and I was like, “Honey. I know that dinosaurs existed, so I’m not taking you seriously.” In all seriousness though, not talking about being LGBTQ was truly terrible because I was also deprived of language to talk about my experiences, my feelings, and my identity. The practical knowledge of “this is just me” was comforting, there wasn’t a question there, but in some ways it was harder because I couldn’t hide from it, I just had to feel it alone. I came out when I was 16 to a close friend because I wasn’t doing well, I wasn’t sleeping and I kept getting migraines, so I was just like, screw it, I just have to say something.

 

Can you give any examples of misconceptions people have about those who identify outside the binary? Have you personally dealt with them?

I think it depends what kind of genderqueer we’re talking about. Because as much as I might be mistaken for a boy, I’m not “outside the binary” in other ways (or outside of other binaries). For instance, I’m not covered in tattoos, I don’t have a ton of piercings, and I don’t look particularly “alternative” in other ways. Class is also a huge component when it comes to “misconceptions” based on cultural binaries. I think when you get funny attitudes, it tends to hit people more who “look different,” (in a variety of ways) rather than just gender normativity. For me, people may be surprised when they realize I’m a girl, but I “fit” whatever assumptions they have in other ways. I’m not challenging every conception, and I think the people that do challenge more of those conceptions get a lot more flack than I do. I can’t pretend I know what it feels like to be attacked for those things, I just support my friends who go through it and let them know they are amazing and brilliant.

Personally, I deal with the *basic* misconceptions like “who’s the man in your relationship,” which just comes from people attempting to fit traditional patriarchal power dynamics onto queer people and their relationships. There has to be a dominant and a submissive, and the dominant is the man, and the submissive is the woman (lol, talk about that binary). People often assume because I look a specific way that I’m “the dude.” Nope! I don’t play that game. There are different levels of personal dominance/agency that people carry with them that shift in relation to your partner. People figure out their own rhythm.

Often what people are trying to say when they make statements about queer people being “confused/ing” or “weird” is that they themselves feel confused. What they’re doing is reading their feelings of confusion onto the object/person that elicits those feelings, because it’s uncomfortable for them. All of those feelings that get put on people like us, they’re just other people not processing their own feelings properly and trying to figure them out or purge them by putting the burden on the stimulant. It is a broader issue in general for people who always expect others to deal with their emotions for them.

In your own words, how would you explain that gender identity is different from sexual orientation? Do you think that they ever affect each other?

I guess gender identity is more to do with how people are comfortable dressing, interacting with the world, and being viewed by other people, whereas your sexual orientation is what you are sexually attracted to. If you meet someone who doesn’t fit into one of the gender binaries, that doesn’t necessarily directly indicate their sexual orientation. It can. But you could meet someone that, to you, seems very much “average,” (whatever that means) in terms of gender identity, but their sexual orientation could be different to what you’d expect. “Orientation” is used in a way in society that makes it seem very easy. My orientation is either straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, right – and it’s ways of describing the kinds of bodies you’re attracted to. And sexual preference within that can take many different forms. Gender identity obviously intersects with this in some complex, personal, and deeply private ways.

 

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

I honestly couldn’t say—I don’t feel super strongly about needing to be represented. I definitely didn’t feel represented growing up, whereas now there are a lot of people you could say look like me, but in some ways I find it more frustrating because you see an essentialism creeping in. The first time I ever really felt like I saw someone who looked like me was when I went to see Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home the musical. I saw it when it was still on Broadway, and now it’s touring. It was really good! But it was uncanny, because the actress who played Alison Bechdel, my fiancée turned to me and [said], “Kathryn. That’s you in 20 years!” But she was so right. We looked uncannily similar. It was very weird.

"Maybe you won’t ever fully understand why your kid is gay, or why that person dresses a certain way and calls themselves queer. But do you really have to? Maybe you could understand they’re a human being, and that as a human being, they are worthy of respect and kindness, and that you don’t have to act any differently toward them. You just treat people like people."

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

In terms of communities, I just want people to keep trying. Trying to be kind and see human beings as human beings and know that you don’t always have to understand. A lot of these questions you’ve asked are like, “What do you want people to know?” and some of it is, maybe people aren’t going to understand it. Maybe you won’t ever fully understand why your kid is gay, or why that person dresses a certain way and calls themselves queer. But do you really have to? Maybe you could understand they’re a human being, and that as a human being, they are worthy of respect and kindness, and that you don’t have to act any differently toward them. You just treat people like people. If you have questions, Google it first and then if you have a good enough friendship, maybe ask.

I realize that I’m very idealistic. I recognize that. I’m sure there are people who have very clear ideas of what needs to change, and they may be right. So that’s my caveat.

Could you tell me about an experience or moment in your life that was very impactful for you?

I guess the big one for me that really was pivotal in a way I really didn’t realize is when I did a term abroad at 19 and ended up transferring to a US school and leaving England permanently. I had started school in England up in Yorkshire, and I did my first year and it was fine. I always knew I wanted to go abroad, so I started doing a class in Japanese, because I wanted to go to Japan. But they cancelled the term abroad to Japan. So I [thought], where else can I go? Oh, America. Because I had been dating this America girl. And they had this list of schools, and I didn’t know anything about them. I didn’t know about liberal arts schools, I didn’t know about R1 [research] institutions… I didn’t know about any of it. All the schools on the list had different approvals for different subjects. I asked the woman who was running the term abroad [if I could] do a year abroad, and she [said], “No one does a year abroad.” And I [said], “Yeah, I wanna do a year abroad.” She [said], “I supposed we do have a few schools that are technically approved for a year abroad. We could see. Do you want me to send you those over?” “Yes.”

So, after sifting through the list and looking at classes I ended up choosing a school in upstate NY because they had a class on Geoffrey Chaucer. When I got to college in England I thought I was going to do Shakespeare and early literature. No one in my family had gone to college, no one had really even finished high school except my sister who had gone to a community college for nursing and she lived at home and everything was just very insular – and so I was going away to college in Yorkshire, and that was cool. But it turned out the college was not great. And I found out that they did one Shakespeare class in 3 years, and there was basically nothing offered for pre-1600. So my criteria for picking a school in the US ended up being, do any of them do a class on Chaucer? I ended up at a school that would let me learn about Chaucer, take two Shakespeare sections, and read a bunch of pre-modern stuff, Medieval literature. When I arrived it was like stepping into perfection, in the sense that I had never imagined that college could be so supportive.

It wasn’t easy staying for the rest of college and now grad school. I experienced a lot of culture shock. The first three months weren’t so bad, because I had other English people with me, and they were kind of my core friend group, and then I was friends with the international kids. After the first term, the English kids went home, and after the second term, all the international kids left. And then I was alone with the Americans. I had a lot of moments where I would experience culture shock over something silly like wanting a hug from my parents or missing the taste of something or being able to see my sister and I would freak out and cry, but it gradually happened less and less often. By the end of 3 years, I was fine. Ish. I very rarely have a full-on culture shock now because it’s been 10 years, but in grad school I made it a project to know and help incoming internationals because having someone that understands can make all the difference.

Could you give me an example of something difficult that occurred in your life how you dealt with it?

I keep thinking about the future, and the more I mature and the more I put down roots here, the harder it’s going to be to maintain a strong relationship with them and to go home often and things like that. My sister and her husband have kids, and when each of their kids were born, I tried to fly back. For my nephew I flew back immediately — the second he was born, I had already gotten my plane ticket and I was there —and for my niece I got back after three months, because it was the middle of term and I couldn’t just leave. But with me, if we have kids or something, I don’t think my sister would drop stuff and come out in the same way. They have kids and it’s harder. I think my mum would, maybe. Probably. And I think my dad would want to, but I don’t know if he would. Money is always a problem. My parents didn’t grow up rich, and even if you do have enough when you’re older, you don’t always know that because of the frugal mindset you’ve grown up with. I also have to sit with the fact that I’m the one that made the choice to be 4000 miles away, so I’m always going to be the one that has to put in more effort. But when I have kids, and when I have a job where I get three weeks vacation a year, which is the norm in this country, I’m not going to be able to go out for two weeks to see them. That’s just not how it’s going to be. And that’s going to be really difficult.

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

My human (my fiancée). I have developed a good friendship network here. And one of my best friends lives in New York, we used to work together, and she’s the person that if ever I feel worried about something or stressed out and my fiancée can’t talk, I talk to her. She’s very centered and able to be calm, but she’s also really generous and boisterous and loving. It is clear to everyone she meets that she’s brilliantly loving. She’s officiating our wedding. Aside from her, I have a few close friends that I are truly wonderful; I tend to go for quality and strength in friendships rather than quantity (although I’m very friendly so you probably wouldn’t guess that).

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

For my parents they had to kind of recalibrate a bit, but my mom kind of saw it coming. I think my dad especially went through some shock when I cut my hair, and you could tell, because he kept saying, “You looked so pretty with long hair!” Do you think I wanted to look pretty, Dad? Then you don’t know me, do you? He was just clearly experiencing some kind of crisis of how he saw me. But that’s fine, he got over it eventually.

Every now and then you get the odd comment, but whatever. I think that being a queer person, once people get to know you, it kind of doesn’t factor in, it gets normalized in a way that’s really healthy. So I don’t talk about it a lot unless people want to. I think everyone knows it about me in a way that’s very natural.

 

I think my queer identity is obviously always there as an undercurrent, but it’s just a facet of my life. My queerness is there but it’s not my primary identifier. I think for some people it really is. They forge their communities through being queer. Sometimes in places where it can be hostile you find this really resilient queer community; it kind of ends up being a very clear identity point because that’s how you find your people and maintain safety. And I love and support that completely. The only reason it is different for me is because I am privileged in terms of the spaces I inhabit.

Are you able to find adequate medical care?

Yeah. I’m lucky I’m a grad student, I have student insurance. I can go to the doctor’s offices, I can pick who I want to see, and they have specifically a women’s health clinic, and it’s only women that work there. And it’s so nice, it’s so safe. And they see everything. Literally everything. Anything you can imagine, they’ve seen it. The doctors are really nice, too! If I have to deal with anything sensitive I go see them. So I have never had a problem with that. I have good enough health care that I just pay low copays for my therapist. Honestly, I think I have the best health insurance, as a grad student of anyone at the college. We have better health insurance than the professors. And it’s because we have a union that fights for it. I haven’t met anybody who wasn’t willing to treat me.

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

I feel more confident. I think when I was younger I felt like I had to fit, to a certain degree, with what was expected. And it didn’t necessarily mean gender norms so much, but it kind of did. I didn’t cut my hair for a long time for a reason. Because I was already alternative in how I dressed, and in terms of my sexuality. So I could do those things, as long as I was still sweet and friendly, and as long as I still had my long hair, and as long as men still didn’t feel threatened by me. Right? But now I don’t care. I do care if people try and get aggressive with me, but I feel more comfortable being comfortable in myself. I do always worry though that if we move, or if we end up in the wrong place at the wrong time, that something bad could happen. So I think I just have accepted that the world is the way it is, and me flitting through it in the way that I am, I don’t want to do it any other way. So if stuff goes down I’ll handle it if it comes, if it doesn’t, great.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Keep going for every opportunity. The only reason I’m in this country is because I decided I’d ask at Admissions one day if I could transfer. There’s a point where sometimes you have to stand up and say, “No, I want this thing. How do I get this thing?” and unless you ask those questions and do that work, you don’t get anywhere. I’m glad that I had the complete ignorance that I had, where I just didn’t know that it was weird to ask, because I didn’t have that kind of education or class background, so I just went for it. And people kept telling me yes. So my advice to myself would be to keep doing that.

What are your concerns for the future?

Climate change. The abortion rights bill. The world slowly devolving into populism. Those are too big, aren’t they? I just think that cultures go through waves of acceptance that usually come with backlashes, and we are on a wave of a backlash right now. I just hope that I am living in a period where we do something, and I don’t start seeing millions of people dying because of climate-induced migration. Scientists are saying in 30 years, over 12 million will be displaced because they won’t be able to live safely in places on this planet. One of the big problems that the whole Syria crisis caused is, mass migration makes everybody freak out because their country’s systems are overburdened. And it’s fair to say they’re overburdened, and it’s partly due to immigration. But it’s also not fair to say that those migrants don’t deserve help, and that we aren’t all going to end up in situations like that sooner than we think. So yeah, I have large order worries that affect my small order worries. Is it really responsible to even have kids? Maybe not. We’ll see about that.

General worries in the near future are just how to keep living a good enough life that I can help other people. Because we’re all in a capitalist system, so if I live a good enough life that I can help other people, I’m also contributing to what’s keeping those people bound, too. You know what I mean? Like if I’m working a good job and earning enough money and have good health care, and they don’t, I am literally participating in the system that’s making it impossible for others to be secure.

What do you look forward to in the future?

Getting married. Spending my days with my fiancée. Having kittens. I’m excited about that. I’m excited about having a job and learning something new, and I’m excited about meeting new people. And one day – ooo! – I’m excited for when I get citizenship, so I can vote. I’m very excited to be able to vote.

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

I guess important frustrations are things like desperately wanting to drop out of grad school and just not doing it. Having terrible relationships, so you can learn. I’ve learned a lot about health stuff, alcoholism, all kinds of stuff from dating in grad school, which is where I’ve had a huge lesson in humanity and the kinds of struggles that people deal with as they’re trying to go through life. I’ve learned a lot. It makes me more compassionate.

Success-wise, I think getting to stay in the US was a really good thing. I know America’s a complicated place, but it’s made me a better person. Somebody that’s more open and direct and thoughtful, I think. Maintaining friendships when you graduate from college. That’s hard. That’s a success. I’ve kept a few. There are others that I wish I could’ve kept, but now it’s too far out. And also, people have changed a little bit, and you can’t save it. Since college I’ve seen friends who were once really engaged relax into a strange place where the dominant notion is a lack of interest in anything intellectual, and a total comfort in doing what’s fun rather than doing what is kind, or thoughtful, or hard. It’s as though they don’t want to do the hard thing if they can give themselves a placating excuse. I hope for their sakes that they have more “important frustrations” that help change that attitude.

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

There is no one rule or philosophy that will work for everyone. Kindness and love like MLK and many since him have argued for are cornerstones. I think there are so many different kinds of people in the world, and there are so many things that are important to different people for different reasons that you just need to do your best. Whatever that may be.