What are your pronouns?
Where do you work?
I work at a non-profit [called Tutoring Plus]. I do volunteer management there, and I lead a girls’ media literacy program.
Do you have any hobbies or special interests?
I really like dancing. I’ve been doing to the Sassy Hip Hop class in Central Square. It’s led by this really awesome queer man, and it’s a blast. So that’s my most recent hobby. People don’t usually accept this as a hobby, but I like volunteering, and I do a lot of different volunteering things. That’s what I do with a lot of my time outside of work.
How do you handle the issue of pronouns and being gendered when interacting with strangers / mixed company / etc?
It’s complicated. I don’t always ask for [my preferred pronouns]. I kind of gauge where people are at, if they’re going to be comfortable with that. I’m not completely out at work about that or with my family, but I’ve found certain spaces where I can be out about it and ask for pronouns. It doesn’t bother me too much, but I feel like I’m in a good place where I can at least ask for that in some spaces, and hopefully over time get to talk about it more in other spaces too.
What word(s) would you use to describe your identity?
I think I’ve come to describe my identity as gender fluid, which took me a really long time to get those words, and I really appreciate those words. I think because at certain times I feel really feminine, sometimes I feel really masculine, other times I feel really non-binary, it kind of fluctuates and has throughout my life. So I think that that’s the term that best describes how I identify.
Are there ways that you dress / act / speak / etc. to specifically make a statement to others about your identity? Why?
Sometimes. Depending on where I’m at with my feelings about my gender, I’ll change how I dress. Not necessarily how I act or how I speak; I think that’s pretty consistent. But I definitely change how I dress a lot.
How early on did you know or suspect that you did not identify within the binary?
I was probably 12, and I thought that – because this was a stereotype that a lot of people have – my sexual orientation was why. I thought that I wanted to be wearing more masculine clothes because of my sexual orientation. Because I was younger, I didn’t really understand the difference between sexuality and gender identity. But that’s when it kind of started, when I noticed that I wanted to be expressing myself in different ways.
Do you think anything about the way you were raised or where you grew up affected how you drew conclusions about your identity?
Yes. My mom is really interesting, she had three boys. They’re all about 15 years older than I am or more. And she really wanted to have a girl, so there was this obsession around having a girl. So she really pushed femininity on me a lot, put me in beauty pageants and dance classes – I love dance classes – but just a lot of these stereotypes that she put on me throughout my childhood really made it difficult when I was coming to terms with my gender identity. I had so many conflicting messages happening that were coming from my family, and then just what I actually felt about myself.
Can you give any examples of misconceptions people have about those who identify outside the binary? Have you personally dealt with them?
Yeah. I think there’s just this idea that people are confused, or they’re not sure about who they are. I think that’s a really big misconception that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. And I think the other one that I deal with a lot is that non-binary people can’t express femininity. I get the question a lot, “You don’t dress very masculine, so I’m kind of confused that you’re saying you’re non-binary.” I don’t really understand completely where that comes from. I think there are these feelings around expressing femininity in general, but for non-binary people too.
In your own words, how would you explain that gender identity is different from sexual orientation?
Well I think sexual orientation involves other people, and gender identity is about yourself. It’s how you identify yourself, how you express yourself, it’s really just individual. Whereas sexual orientation is more about your relationships to other people.
How do you feel represented in media and society at large?
I don’t. It’s very rare. I think that media representation for trans folks is becoming much more present, and there’s still a very long way to go. Something I think a lot about too is – I identify as bisexual, and that’s also not represented very well in the media. I think there’s a lot of overlap. It is represented in the media, but usually with very negative stereotypes. So I think there’s a lot to do to get beyond that.
What improvements would you like to see happen in and outside of your community?
I think just more openness to education. I’m part of this GLBT Commission in Cambridge, and we’re having this discussion about a change to our name. There’s this big discussion we’re having about: do we change it to LGBTQ+, do we change it to LGBTQIA+? My feelings are that if our job is to be educating people and providing advocacy, then we need to be educating ourselves too, and taking that step to actually acknowledge other peoples’ identities and be really inclusive. So I think that within the LGBTQIA+ community, just more education and exploration of identities and really giving them visibility.
Could you tell me about an experience or moment in your life that was very impactful for you? It can be in regards to your identity, or not.
I recently started volunteering at The Network La Red, it’s an anti-partner abuse organization. They work with LGBTQ folks. I had just left an abusive partner, and then got to know this organization. I can’t think of specific moments, but – the training is very intense, it’s like 40 hours – just the entire training felt so good to me. I had been closeted for a while, I hadn’t been around the community, and just being in that space changed my life entirely and really just got me more involved with people in the community and helped me be myself more. It was amazing.
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 coming out to my parents was really, really difficult. They reacted really horribly. I had never been grounded in my life, and they grounded me for being gay. [laughs] And just that relationship, and that response, was really hard and led me to be homeless at certain parts in my life. And more recently I’ve been reconnecting with them and trying to build my relationship with them again, and that’s been really, really positive. I didn’t think that would ever happen. But it is and I’m really happy about that.
Who in your life do you feel you can trust or depend on?
My older brother, Jeff. He kind of took me in when my parents rejected me. He took care of me, and always pushed me, and has been my number one supporter in life. I can always trust him, I can always give him a call and talk to him about anything, I can always ask him for anything. He’s amazing, just absolutely amazing. He knows about my sexuality, and I’ve talked a little about my gender identity. I [said], “I’m thinking about doing drag,” and he said, “Oh, I don’t know about that.” But it’s really funny because he keeps texting me these questions like, “So this bathroom situation, I’m confused, can you explain it to me?” He’ll ask these little questions. It’s really good. Because I come from such a homophobic family, all that stuff is ingrained in him, but I think through our conversations he’s become more open and really wants to ask a lot of questions.
How has your identity played a role in your relationships, romantic or otherwise?
A lot. It was really complicated for me when I was younger, because as I said, I thought my gender identity and my sexual orientation were the same thing, and they weren’t. And that became really complicated in relationships, and then when I got into this abusive relationship, all of my identities just went into hiding for a long time because of the abuse that I was dealing with. I think that said a lot about all of this internalized shit that I had around it. Then when I left that, just growing into these identities I’ve been able to have really positive relationships, romantic or friendships – because I can be more honest with myself. So that’s really awesome.
Are you able to find adequate medical care?
I haven’t had really negative experiences, but I’ve been thinking about changing my healthcare just so I can go to Fenway, because I went there to do the intake process and all the forms are really inclusive, and that felt really good. So I might try that out. But otherwise I haven’t really had negative experiences at all, fortunately.
How has your view of yourself changed since you were younger?
Like I said, I’m more honest with myself about who I am. I have more confidence in who I am. I really didn’t like myself a lot when I was a young person. I think that’s why I love youth work so much, because young people are struggling with all these different feelings, all these mixed messages that they’re getting from the world. If you don’t have someone to tell you that it’s okay to be yourself, you really miss that message, and I didn’t really get that a lot as a kid. So I think just practicing that a lot more as an adult has really changed how I see myself.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
To really value your voice. I was really quiet and scared of my voice. I think that had a lot to do with my confidence. So just to trust in my voice and my identities and who I am.
What are your concerns for the future?
The whole political scene of our country and how things could change. In my personal life, I guess just figuring out what it is that I want to do next, just continuing to grow. I really want to be a youth worker that works with LGBTQ youth, and I haven’t done that yet. So that is scary and exciting.
What do you look forward to in the future?
Positive changes in our country. There have been a lot of really exciting things happening, with the passage of marriage equality and things like that. I think that really excites people, and also leads to people forgetting what’s happening, like what happened with Orlando recently. It just really highlights all of the issues that are still happening. So I really look forward to continued activism and hopefully some changes, especially around violence towards people. In my personal life, spending more time with my family and my partner, because I work a lot. So trying to make that a priority.
What have been the important frustrations in your life, and the most important successes?
Most important frustrations have been around my identity, and all of the things that happened with my family because of that. Like having to be financially independent from 14 on. I think that’s been one of the biggest struggles in my life that I’m actually thankful for in this weird way, because it’s really helped me to be independent, to work really hard. It’s given me a lot of those skills and it’s made me really thankful for everything that I have. At the same time, it’s been really hard too.
I think greatest success would be going to college. I was the first person in my family to go to college. Pursuing social justice work, and just really sticking to what it is that I’m passionate about has been a huge success and something I’m really proud of.
Do you have a philosophy of life? What’s your best piece of advice?
My philosophy of life is compassion and love. It sounds really hippie-dippie and cheesy, but it’s real. Everyone has their struggle they’re dealing with, so many people have traumas in their life, and I just really believe in approaching people with compassion and love no matter what. That also comes up a lot in youth work, and it can be really challenging sometimes with behavior; I always approach it with, “I really care about you, and I really respect you.” I think that’s how I try to approach relationships in my life.