KRISHANA

Queens, NY

*Content warning: sexual assault

What are your pronouns?

My pronouns are they/them.

Where do you work?

I work at a veterinary clinic in Richmond, New York. In Queens. I help out with basic procedures like surgeries, and check-ups, and just kind of help out the doctor wherever I can. I guess you could consider it super deep in Queens where no tourists would really come. I live in Richmond Hill, which is an Indo-Caribbean / West Indian ethnic community. So basically that’s where all my peoples are from.

Do you have any hobbies/interests? What do you do for fun?

Yes. I’m kind of like a grandparent. I enjoy crocheting, and hanging out with my pets, my dog and my cat, just lazing around all day. And messing with yarn. I guess that’s all I do nowadays. Oh, I also do graphic design occasionally. I’m not really good at creating art, I can’t draw for anything, but I like taking photographs and rendering them digitally in Illustrator or Photoshop. So taking a picture and making it trippy looking.

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

Honestly, I can’t defend myself. If I’m alone in a group of strangers who don’t know, then I’ll just let the mis-gendering happen, and never broach the topic. Especially if I know these are people I’m talking to in passing. I’ll just kind of let it happen. But if I have my friends with me, or I know I have supporters, then I’m more likely to [say something] or kind of look at my friends, and [they’ll say something for me]. When I’m by myself, I don’t do anything. I clam up. It’s been harder with my middle school and high school friends. We grew up together, we’ve known each other for like 15 years now, and so they’ll slip up occasionally. But even then they’ll correct themselves almost immediately, or even if it’s like an hour later, they’ll be like, “Krish, I’m so sorry.” So they’re working on it. With my high school friends it’s a little harder, but they still try. And for me it’s the effort that counts. But then my college friends, those are my queer community. They always get it, and they [always defend me].

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

I’m a queer, non-binary, Indo-Caribbean American. Boom. That’s the general tagline. But I also definitely love animals. That’s my whole thing, you know. I used to be a full dog person, and then I got a cat, and [realized] I’d been missing out. Like I’ve just met some bad cats in my life, and I generalized, and then when I had my own when I started working at the clinic, I was like, “Not all cats,” you know? [laughs]

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

Yeah. In college I definitely was more forward and more able to experiment with my fashion and appearance. I started growing out my body hair in college, but not as a statement, mostly because I got tired of the pain. The physical pain of removing my body hair, which was something that was engrained in me from [childhood]. I was always that hairy brown person, you know. So in middle school I was hearing about, “Why do your legs look like that?” and stuff like that. But then in college I [realized], I don’t care anymore. I don’t want to bleed and epilate and wax. Fuck all that shit. So I stopped. And then I guess people see me and they politicize my hair, but for me it’s just living and being. And maybe that in itself is political, but I don’t know.

But in terms of after college – moving back home has been kind of weird. I’ve talked a little bit about being non-binary to my parents, and they kind of don’t get it. But they’re not against it, either. They’ve never said anything negative. For my veterinary school applications, I wrote a lot about my gender identity and being non-binary, and they read them, they were receptive to them. But it’s also something I think they’re afraid to talk about or really acknowledge. And so since I’ve been home I’ve been kind of dressing in a way that makes my parents feel comfortable. On the one hand I wish I could experiment, but on the other hand it’s also like – my parents are old, and I do want to respect them to a certain extent, and just make them feel comfortable. Because I know I’ll be my own person eventually. So as for right now I’m kind of okay with living in their expectations. Which aren’t necessarily explicitly given to me by them, I just don’t want to make them feel any kind of way.

And by any kind of way, what I mean is: I have a cousin who’s transmasc [transmasculine], and my parents are extremely supportive and very vocal about using their proper pronouns, their “they/them”s. So my parents are really supportive of my cousin, and again, we don’t see that cousin a lot, but whenever my cousin posts on Facebook and stuff like that, my parents always like the post. It’s the little things, you know? So they’re supportive in that sense, especially because they realize that my cousin’s immediate family are really shitty, and so they go out of their way to be as supportive as possible. And I think what scares them about me professing or embracing my gender identity is I think they don’t want me to experience the kind of backlash that my cousin has. I feel like a lot of their unwillingness to talk to me about it stems from fear, and general concern for me. As opposed to, “What you’re doing is wrong.” They’re not super traditional. Because I’m Indo-Caribbean, my ancestors went from India to the Caribbean for a couple of generations and then here. So, slightly different from Indian national people. And even by Caribbean standards, my parents aren’t as conservative. And just living and working in New York City, they’ve met so many different people [with] different gender identities and sexual orientations. So growing up they’ve always been really pro-LGBT. But living in this country they learned more about sexual orientation, and now is their first time really being exposed to trans issues and trans people. So I think this is something they’re still learning, so they’re being more quiet about it.

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

I guess as early as middle school. I was always super tomboy-ish. I played lots of sports and did lots of stupid boy things, you know what I mean? Especially when I moved from elementary to middle school, I moved from a middle school that was more suburban – and a lot more white people than I had ever experienced in my life, especially coming from Richmond Hill, Queens – so there was a lot of things going on, where I wasn’t necessarily fitting in. But then once I found my crew, it was like mostly the sporty dude-bros in 6th grade, which turned into the nerds in 8th grade. So yeah, I didn’t really think about it in a gender-fucky trans way, but also I didn’t have the language for that. I guess the boyishness or the tomboyishness came about as early as 6th grade, but then it was only when I went to college, and took classes, and met out trans people that I was like, “Wait a minute. Pause. I’m interested, what’s happening? Are there words to describe what I’m feeling?” And so college is when I really started to have language around [what “non-binary” and “genderqueer” were]. And having that language and having the space and the community, primarily, is what allowed me to figure out what I’m working with and what’s going on.

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

Yeah. I don’t want to say that femininity was ever imposed on me, but just growing up and watching the Indian Bollywood movies, and going to my temple of worship, and the way Indian women dress versus the way Indian men dress. I hated wearing those skirt suits, those lehengas, and you know, when you go to church on Saturday, I had to wear it. So I remember from a young age I hated the fact that I had to grow out my hair, and that I had to wear these skirt suits. Again, this wasn’t my parents imposing this on me necessarily, it was just [the idea of], follow the norms. Wear what you have to wear, do what you have to do. So growing up, in Western clothing I could wear whatever the hell I wanted. I used to wear my brother’s old jeans and old polo shirts to school. 

"...Some days I might wear a skirt, or...eyeliner. But none of that is inherently gendered. ... just because somebody looks a type of way doesn’t mean you should assume pronouns or assume gender identity... But then for people who haven’t been exposed or who don’t necessarily have the resources or the language that I was lucky enough to have, I don’t want to [say], “Well you should know better.” Because it is a privilege to have the language about these things."

But again, in the cultural aspect, going to my place of worship and to pujas, which are ceremonies that people have at their homes to bless their homes or their marriage and stuff like that – in those environments I did have to be hyper-feminine in ways that [I hated]. But I had no choice. So growing up I was kind of like, “Whatever. I’m a tomboy. This sucks. I can’t run around in a skirt, but I’ll do it for now.” But then my parents were also really cool when we’d go shopping for Western clothes, they’d let me buy my light-up Spiderman sneakers. Those were my favorite sneakers, and they were from the boys’ sections, but my parents weren’t very imposing about that kind of thing. So I think growing up, in a Western sense, they kind of let me explore my boyishness or my non-femininity, whatever. But in a more cultural aspect I kind of struggled with, “Well how do I be Indian and how do I go to these things without feeling like a stranger in my own skin?”

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

Yeah. So I think the biggest thing for me is that gender expression is not gender identity, and that’s something I have to reiterate all the time. Because today, for example, I’m feeling like I like makeup, and I like wearing pretty jewels, but I don’t necessarily think those are inherently feminine. And so on days like today, I kind of get self-blamey where I [think], Well you deserve to be mis-gendered if this is what you look like today. But then I have to [tell myself], “Wait, back it up, this is you. You can be a certain person and look a certain way, and those things can coincide or not, but either way your identity is still valid.” So my biggest thing is, yeah, some days I might wear a skirt, or some days I might wear eyeliner. But none of that is inherently gendered. So for me, I just want people to realize that hey, just because somebody looks a type of way doesn’t mean you should assume pronouns or assume gender identity or use certain gendered language. But then for people who haven’t been exposed or who don’t necessarily have the resources or the language that I was lucky enough to have, I don’t want to [say], “Well you should know better.” Because it is a privilege to have the language about these things. Just relating back to my community; the Indo-Caribbeans in the country in New York are pretty underprivileged academically and financially. So when I go back home and I talk to my cousins who haven’t gone to college or who haven’t really thought about or talked about these things, I also have to take a step back and realize, well what sort of privilege do I have that I can [say], “Hey, this is who I am, this is x, y, and z,” and they can stand there and [say], “I have never heard any of these words before.”

In your own words, how would you explain that gender identity is different from sexual orientation? Do you think that they’re related at all in any way?

Your gender identity is who you are. That exists independently of who you’re attracted to, which is sexuality. And are they related? Question mark? I don’t know. I guess everybody might have a different answer for that. For me, I’m pansexual, so even before I figured out that I was trans non-binary, I had already realized I like anybody, I don’t really consider gender as part of the factors when I’m attracted to somebody. I realized I liked femmes and girls in high school. But I figured that out separately from my gender identity, so for me those are two separate things that don’t necessarily co-exist. But then I’m like, gender’s fake. So if I can crush on anybody, then isn’t that related to the fact that gender doesn’t really have that [many] confines on my ability to attract? I had a recent interaction in Tindr – I had swiped right on this cis brown man, and he was talking to me for a minute, and then he read my profile and he was like, “What do you mean ‘they/them’?” And I [said], “Oh, I’m trans non-binary,” and he was like, “Gross,” and unmatched me immediately. So you were attracted to me when you thought I was a cis woman, but now you’re not?

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

So as a queer person of color, especially as an Indo-Caribbean – you don’t really hear about Indo-Caribbeans in the first place. But then even queer South Asians, how many can you name? I know Alok Vaid-Menon is one of my idols, but they’re also the only queer South Asian icon who has a lot of following, and people know about them. So I’m glad that shows like Sense8 and Queer Eye have been showing more queer people of color, but at the same time, I do want more non-binary, in particular, representation. I think we see a lot of conversations compared to a couple of years ago, more conversations surrounding trans binary people, which is amazing and awesome, but I also want the general community to realize that there are so many different ways to be trans. You know? There’s so much in-between and beyond the spectrum and the binary. So in terms of representation, I think more non-binary representation is needed.

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

Oh my god. In my community, again my Indo-Caribbean community – first of all, we need to get past the homophobia. So in the Caribbean itself, in places like Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad – is an insane amount of homophobic violence. And it’s mostly directed towards gay men. And so before we can even begin the conversation on queerness and transness, we need to get over this barrier first. So I really wish that my community could be better about addressing homophobia in the temple. There were times when I went to a puja, and the pundit or the priest, they were basically talking about how being gay is against the Bhagavad Gita, our sacred text, and I’ve read those texts. That is not true. And in our texts as well, the Hindu texts, where this is Shiva or male energy, there is Shakti, female energy, all intertwined. And the gods switch from this and that all the time. The gods have so many forms and constantly fuck with gender, but it’s never seen like that. It’s “Oh, the almighty can be whatever it wants to be.” But that’s us too! We are god! Hinduism teaches we all have god in ourselves. So first thing, we need to work on the homophobia, and we need to raise our children and teach them that our religion says, “Love all, serve all. Help ever, hurt never.” That includes gay people. Step one. And then step two, all right, what is gayness? It’s a form of queerness, and let’s talk about all the forms of queerness, and it’s okay to be queer and brown. And then a step further, trans and being non-binary. I don’t know, there’s just so [many] phobias in the community. We have a lot to work on. [laughs]

I live in New York City, so I live in a different kind of liberal bubble. So I’m happy that we have an incredible queer community out here, and you go on the subways and you see advertisements with queer people in relationships, and it’s cool. This is awesome. This is on display in public. So as a New Yorker, it’s like, we’re doing pretty all right. Obviously we’re not perfect – we do need to address police brutality against queer and trans people, primarily, because it’s the violence against our community that is the first thing that we need to address. 

But, in terms of baby steps, I like what New York City is doing, I like how it’s become a haven in a sense for queer and trans people, and performers, but I think we need more legislation. Particularly for protecting trans people. New York recently did this thing where now you can make your gender identity an “X” on your ID, which is awesome and amazing, but at the same time, how is that going to be respected when you go to the voting booth? Are people going to turn you away? Aren’t they not allowed to ID you in the first place? I’ve been IDed at voting polls. Legislation is important.

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

In my sophomore year of college, I [decided], Fuck it, I need an animal companion. So I went to my local Petland Discount, and I purchased a little feeder mouse for $2.99, and for the next year-and-a-half, my little mouse-o Russell Breadcrumb and I hung out and had a great time. He was so lovely. It was like when I got Russell, that was when I realized I didn’t need romantic companionship. I felt so fucking fulfilled after I got my mouse. So when he passed – I remember he wasn’t pooping for a day, and mice don’t have sphincters, they can’t push their own poop out themselves, so where was the poop? Unfortunately, he passed a day later, because I just did not have the money for an exotic vet. And also he was a feeder mouse, so they’re not bred to be genetically healthy. They’re just bred to be food. Which is also so sad. But when he passed, I was in class at the time, and I went to work after, and I came home, and I was so excited to see Russell Breadcrumb, and I opened his cage, and he was on the floor lying down stiff. It was so fucked up. It was my first time really dealing with loss, and I just felt really guilty. I felt like I could’ve done more, I should’ve gone to a vet. I wasn’t even there when he passed. And that was one of the harder things. And so that was really, really rough on me. But you know what, I’ll never ever forget the time that I had with Russell. People may think, “It’s a fuckin’ mouse, what do you mean?” But no, that was my baby. He would always sit on my shoulder and hang out with me, and whenever I say cross-legged he liked to curl up by my knee. That was my son. So when he passed, it was definitely very difficult. He’s the reason why I wanted to be a vet. I was like, I can’t let this happen anymore. I’m not just going to have pets and not be able to provide them with perfect amazing care. I wanted to be a doctor initially, but fuck humans, you know what I mean? They don’t deserve the love and the care and the attention. So that was when I was like, I definitely need to be a vet. And so because of Russell, I’m going to be an exotic vet and work with mice, rats, rodents, snakes, all those.

There’s only like 28 [vet] schools in the U.S., which is not a lot, it’s not even one per state, so I applied to a whole bunch of places. A primary concern for me was being in a place that was relatively diverse. I didn’t want to be in Bumblefuck Illinois, because I have no idea what’s out there, and also racial tensions nowadays – I just wanted to be where I could be most safe. And so my top schools were Royal Vet College in London, and Tufts. I had gotten into both, but for London it was a 5-year program, and obviously here it’s a 4-year program. And 4 years is better than 5. And even though London would’ve been the dream, I was like, you know what, my grandparents are getting up there in age, my dog is getting up there, I need to be around. So ultimately what made me make the decision to go to Tufts, it was family. I need to be here, I need to be present. As much as I want to go adventure, I have the rest of my life to do that. I only have a couple years left with my dog and my grandparents. So that was ultimately why I made the switch to Tufts. But it’s totally worth it, it’s still an amazing school.

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

In college, I was dating this guy for two years, and it was my first long-term relationship, and in retrospect, there were so many red flags from the beginning. I’m a very, very forgiving person, and I like to believe in love – not just romantic love, but friend love and family love. I’m very much “love will prevail.” And so for those two years, I kind of let a lot of shit slide in the hopes that “he will improve, things will improve, we’ll get better.” But there was a moment like a year into our relationship where – he had assaulted me in the past, but it was in ways where I could’ve shifted the blame to myself to an extent, and so those were things that I excused. But then when he really r-worded me, I was asleep at the time, so there was no way I could put the blame on myself. So I remember that was a really poignant moment. And I remember, I was in his dorm room, I had spent the night, and he had woken up early to study, and then he kept looking at me, and he was feeling a type of way, and so he just decided that he could just do what he wanted. I woke up in the middle of it, and I was really confused, but just in shock. Deer in headlights. There was nothing going through my brain at the time. And then as soon as he was done, I realized I was bleeding, and I told him about it, and he was like, “That’s weird. Are you on your period?” And then he left and went to class. And I immediately started crying, and I didn’t really get it.

It took me like a week – I was thinking about it for like a week, and the word “violated” kept going through my head, but then I was like, “No, that’s too strong.” I like to communicate, so I drafted an essay, essentially, on what I was going to tell him, and I was in my dorm room at the time, and I had drafted this whole thing, and as I was going downstairs on my way to go tell him that we needed to have a conversation, my [suitemates] walked in and were like, “Where are you going? We were about to go out and get drinks, come hang!” And I [said], “No I need to go talk to my partner,” and they [asked why], and then I finally told them for the first time. And I finally really cried, like bawled about it, for the first time. And they [told me], “Krish, you were raped.” And that was the first time anybody had used that word, and that shit really got me. So I went to his place, I told him all about it. And he kind of made it about himself. First he yelled at me for using the word “violated,” [saying], “Well you make it sound like I’m a monster.” And then I spent the rest of the night comforting him and telling him, “It’s okay, it’ll be fine, I know you didn’t mean it. I know you’re a good person.” And then it happened again months later.

And of course I stayed with him. Because [I’m] very forgiving. I stayed with him, I said we’re going to work through this, it’s okay. Then the next time that it happened, the night before, I had opened up about it to our mutual friend, and it was the first time I had talked about it in months, and then the next morning it happened again. And even then I didn’t immediately end it, it was like a month later. It took a lot of courage, and it took a lot of bad experiences for me to realize – because this was only a fraction of the shitty things that were happening in this relationship – but it took so long for me to finally put my foot down and be like, “This is over.” And throughout the relationship, any time anything bad happened, I problem solved. I like problem solving. So I would immediately be like, “Okay, x, y, and z happened, this is how it made me feel, what can we do better, let’s move on from here.” Very teacher-y. And every time, the biggest problems wouldn’t change. And so when I finally got fed up with it, he kind of flipped out on me, and I [thought], Thank the lord I escaped this. That was the last straw. I’ve blocked him on everything since.

Since then, I’ve definitely been a lot better to myself. When I broke up with him, I [decided], I’m done prioritizing other people. This is my life, I’m going to do what I want. And I’ve started to rediscover my own interests. I didn’t realize how much I had sacrificed for him until I was alone again. I can pursue my own interests, and I can go see my friends instead of going out of my way to see him, and doing 80 when he was doing 20. I can live my life and be myself again. Learning to date myself again, and spend time with myself again, was really empowering. Since then I have no desire for romance or those kinds of relationships, but I’ve been really really valuing my friendships and my family relationships. My cat and my dog are honestly my best friends. So yeah, I would say that’s one of the more difficult things I [experienced], but I got over it, got past it.

Who do you feel you can trust or depend on?

Definitely my best friend from college, Isis, who lives in Oakland, California. It’s funny because I have a lot of friends from college who live on the East Coast, and I feel like I talk to Isis the most. We had the same problems in college. We were both anorexic, and we both were like, “Fuck it, we’re gonna do better together,” and got over it together – as much as you can get over something like that. I can tell them anything, and there’s never any judgment. And vice versa. They tell me the darndest shit, and I’ll be like, “Damn bitch, you crazy.” But at the same time, I would do it too. [laughs] And so I feel like Isis is definitely somebody I really, really trust. And even though they’re out in Cali, I could hit up Isis today and be like, “Some shit is going down, I need you,” and they would [say], “What do you need, I have people in the area / I will fly out to you right now.” I definitely believe Isis is a ride or die.

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

Oh my god. So part of the reason why I broke up with my shitty ex-boyfriend was because when I told him I was queer, and I was thinking about getting to know other people romantically and sexually – you know how straight men are. “Oh, so you wanna have a threesome?” Shut the fuck up, no. 

So part of the breaking point there was when he started to really fetishize the fact that I was queer. And when I even mentioned being non-binary he’d be like, “Okay,” and completely ignore it and move on. So I [realized], all right, well clearly there’s no room for growth here. So that conversation happened like a week before I broke up with him. So that was really one of the final moments. And since then in terms of romantic relationships, I haven’t had any, and again I’ve been very happy with that. I’m just very content with my life right now, and I need a break from the fuckin’ drama.

 

With my friendships, again like I said, my college friends are all super, super supportive, and they really get it, and when I talk to them I can just be unabashed and I don’t have to explain myself. I can speak in ways about gender and sexuality and I don’t have to explain myself. Whereas with my high school friends, again, I commend them, they’re learning so much, and they’re trying to be as supportive as possible, but they fuck up every now and then in terms of gendered language and pronouns, and say low-key problematic things and I have to [tell them], “Yo, you can’t say that because x, y, and z.” So they learn, but it still requires a little labor. But they’re learning. And I believe that in a couple of years we’ll be chill. And ultimately they’re still amazing friends.

Are you able to find adequate medical care?

Absolutely not. Unfortunately I’m on Medicaid, which is a really crappy insurance. I recently had a really bad experience with a gynecologist. She was just really shitty. Last year I had a papsmear, and it was mildly, mildly abnormal. This was my gynecologist at my [college]. She [told me], “You’re probably fine, just get it checked in a year, it usually doesn’t mean anything.” So this year I get another pap and I get the same exact results, and [she says] “You’re on your way to developing cancer.” Use those words! This was like, my second time meeting her. The thing is she was very rushed. I would see her for five minutes at a time. And she went and lectured me about how she knew this 22-year-old who was irresponsible and slept around too much, and now she has cervical cancer. Thanks, I feel great, this is fantastic. Eventually did the next diagnostic exams that come after the papsmear, and it’s still fine, it’s just mildly mildly abnormal. So in terms of just good bedside manner, I haven’t even been able to find that, let alone a doctor that’s willing to even talk about my gender identity. Or even sexuality. All of her language was penis and vagina sex. [So] I don’t even want to broach talking with you about this, because one, you don’t give me the time of day, and secondly, you already said so much problematic and hurtful shit that I don’t even want to bring up anything else. [Medicaid only covers a certain amount of people I can go to.] Especially in the area, and close enough that I can take the subway to and not have to travel 2 hours, and then people who have time for me. Because there’s so many people in New York on Medicaid. All of these doctors are booked.

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

Honestly, mostly confidence. In terms of my general interests – I’m still too loud, and I’m still too annoying, and I still love animals way too much, and nerdy shit like anime and comics way too much – but now I’m like, that’s cool. I’m down. It’s okay. You know? So [my] confidence is definitely amazing.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Just chillax on yourself. Nobody’s scrutinizing you. And you’re doing a lot. I definitely had an inadequacy problem as a kid. But yeah, if I could say anything, I’d be like, “Chill. It’s gonna be okay. You’re doing okay right now. Just calm down and take every day as it comes.”

What are your concerns for the future?

Oh my god. There’s so many. First of all, let me get through grad school. It just seems so daunting right now. Four years at vet school. But, if I can get through that, then ultimately, financial stability. I hope I have a place to live eventually. I hope I can afford to have pets eventually. It’s honestly money. Money has always been the biggest concern. But hopefully I’m on the path where it’ll all work out. I have hope. I definitely want to be an exotic vet, which means working with anything that isn’t dogs or cats. Tufts has a really awesome wildlife center where we work with local wildlife, like birds, lizards, chipmunks, all those kinds of things, but ultimately my biggest thing is I want to give back to the rainforests of Guyana. Guyana in South America, that’s where my parents are from; it has part of the Amazon rainforest in it, and there’s also a lot of oil and gold mining happening in the Amazon and in Guyana. 

And the Amazon is all we have left of the rainforest. So I really want to do conservation medicine down there and work with the local wildlife down there, which is obviously very different from North American wildlife. But ultimately, conservation is what I want to be in.

What do you look forward to in the future?

Honestly, traveling, exploring, just getting out. New York City is a big diverse place, but there’s still so much more of the world out there. I went to Tokyo twice, and I’ve been to Guyana. That’s pretty much all I’ve traveled outside the country. I want to see more. I want to make it to India one day. Because I have ancestry there, you know? I might not be able to speak any of the languages, or the culture might be slightly different, but – you know when you feel nostalgia for something that you’ve never known? That’s how I feel when I listen to Bollywood music or watch the movies. I feel like I’ve lived this in some way, and I want to go experience it in some way.

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

Oh my god. Okay, so mostly frustrations with my parents. I’m the youngest of three, and my older siblings are kind of golden children. They didn’t dorm for college, which was a big deal for me [when I did]; they commuted, and were pretty standard. Going to [college] from Queens to Manhattan was a big deal. I didn’t leave the state, I wasn’t hours away, but it was a lot of trouble in our relationship. Because my parents are very overprotective, and understandably so. They grew up in Guyana, they moved to New York City in the 80s when shit was really going down – they were very concerned for me. And at the same time, my brother and sister have always been homebodies. But when I went to college, god forbid I didn’t call them twice a day. Literally, I’m not even exaggerating. I had to call them in the morning and the evening. It would be a problem. I would get told off in my voicemail, they would call me and yell at me. And I’m struggling to keep up with my classes. So I think college was a lot of tension between me and my parents, but we have since evolved a lot. Basically what happened a lot was: I’d [say], “Mom and dad, I will text you. It is really hard to call you. I’m really struggling to keep up with life, I’m pretty fucking sad, this shit sucks kind of.” I had to assert myself in a lot of ways. Stop yelling at me, I will text you, I can’t call all the time. Sometimes I’m not in the mood. And eventually, after two years, junior year was a lot easier.

And it was like that with other aspects. I remember when I came home at the end of freshman year for the summertime, I had a hickey. My parents are good people, and they’re very supportive, but they said some things that really hurt. Called me a whore, and a slut, and I was like, “Pause. These are some big accusations.” I remember that day, I was crying, and I was like, what are your priorities? Here you are labeling me, but have you asked yourself the important questions? Am I okay? Am I in a relationship or environment where I feel coerced? Am I on birth control? What are your priorities? Is it for my safety, or is it for your standards? That was such a tough conversation to have. I don’t know if they understood, or they got used to it, and now they’re really understanding. Again, growing up, I grew up in a household that was really supportive of everybody else. LGBTQ, awesome. Pro-choice, awesome, amazing. Feminism, awesome. But as soon as it was their own kid, it was a little different.

So the main frustrations were tensions with my parents. But with persistence and conversation – I refused to lie to them. They’d [ask if I was smoking weed] and I’d [tell them], “Yes. I know you don’t like it, but I’m going to keep doing it because it helps my anxiety. I don’t drink, I don’t party, I just like to hang out and smoke with my friends.” And that was like a two-year-long contention. But I was like, “Look at the alcoholism in our community. Would you rather me be like that, or do you want me to be taking care of my anxiety and actually taking care of myself?” So eventually, now it’s like a joke, like “Oh, I’m gonna get you some weed for your birthday.” How far we’ve come. So definitely my parents.

I would say that the successes are honestly overcoming those points of contention. Because like I said, family and friends are what matter the most to me. So the fact that I have a good relationship with my parents – I don’t think my 10th grade self would believe that. And it’s great. We can talk about anything. Yeah, I’ve done shit in my life that I’m proud of, academically or whatever, but ultimately when I think of my own successes it has to do with my family and being happy with them and being able to talk with them.

Do you have a philosophy of life or a best piece of advice?

Yeah! So I did acid a couple of times, and at the end of those trips, every time, all I realized was, the only thing that matters in life is love, and loving the people around you, and being as good to the people around you as possible. And so if I can make somebody else smile, or be as positive as possible, then that’s good. You know? Spread that chain reaction. [laughs]