KYLE ROCCO EAST

Philadelphia, PA

*Since the time of this interview, Kyle has changed their name. They have given permission for their old name to be used here in the direct text from their interview.

 

What are your pronouns?

They/them.

Where do you work?

I work as a nanny, and I also work as a Reiki practitioner doing healing work. Reiki is a pretty intuitive form of energy healing. It’s just channeling the life force energy that exists everywhere, through the hands. So I think anyone can do it, and I host monthly shares where I invite anyone to come and try it out. I became really interested in the whole world of energy once I came across the concept of empaths – empath being basically just a person who is very emotionally sensitive to energy to the point where we can often mistake other people’s emotional energy for our own. And once I learned about that it really clarified a lot of my own life experience, and learning to understand how energy works and how to work with energy has just made a huge difference in how I am able to live my life, and how I am able to manage my own energy and regulate my energy. I teach a workshop about it now because I’m so into these basic skills of grounding, and using energy boundaries, and being able to check in with our own energy. We have so much power to shift our energy, and I just want everyone to have those tools, because they’ve been very helpful to me.

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

What is fun? [laughs] I’m slightly rejecting your question because I’ve been trying to work on integrating myself to the point where most of what I do comes from a place of desire, and trying to not separate things out into work and fun and hobbies as much. But I will answer your question anyway. [laughs] I like to sing, I sing in two gay choirs in Philly; a more traditional LGBT choir, and then a new queer choir. That’s really fun. Singing has always been really important to me. And I’ve lately been interested in expanding the energy that I spend doing performing. I’m performing in a Purim spiel tomorrow. Purim is a Jewish holiday that is all about turning everything upside down, and it’s very queer inherently in and of itself, and part of the tradition of Purim is telling the story of Purim. And there’s this queer tradition that’s very strong, especially in New York and San Francisco and is starting up in Philly more, of queering the whole thing. So it’s like the story of Purim, political commentary, and then a third thing thrown on top of it. This year it’s a parody of R.E.N.T. the musical called RANT the musical, and it’s also a fundraiser for this family that my synagogue is supporting in seeking political asylum, which is really great. So it’ll just be this fantastic weird play. I’m playing Esther, who is auditioning for the role of Maureen, but I’m going to be in full drag, like Queeeeen Esther – it’s going to be really fun. I’m very excited about it.

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

It really depends on the situation. It’s interesting – I’ve been in sort of a journey with that stuff where for a while I was saying, “I use ‘she’ or ‘they’ pronouns,” and everyone used “she” except for like two people in my life, and then I started being a little bossier and [saying], “I prefer ‘they’ pronouns but ‘she’ is also okay,” and then people would click and in queer spaces mostly would use “they” pronouns, and then in other spaces [people] would use “she” pronouns. And I’ve now reached a point where I like “they” pronouns best, so I’m just going to say I use “they” pronouns. And that was scary for me, because I’m a very fighty person, I’m very ready to throw down and defend especially other people but also myself, and I was scared that if I just said I used “they” pronouns then I would have to get in a million fights all day. That turns out not to be the case. I think that what I’ve noticed is that when people use “she” pronouns for me, if I have the energy and I’m interested, I will correct them, and if I don’t, for me, it feels okay to just let it go and choose not to fight that fight. But I do see myself as a person who is both trans and also an ally to trans people, in the sense that the particular way that my identity and gender expression is situated in relation to the world is such that I’m not a target for violence or discrimination or systemic oppression, particularly because of my gender identity, in the way some trans people are. And so because of that I try to situate myself in an ally role. So I feel called to spend more energy educating people in a way that I do not think every trans person should feel like they have to at all.

So when I do Reiki shares, it’ll be at the studio I work at – it’s not a particularly queer space; a lot of people [there] have maybe heard a news story about people using “they” pronouns but it’s not a thing they’re familiar with. So I’ll do a whole speech, and I will give a demo, I’ll tell people that they can ask me questions about it – I also just like talking about myself, I like talking about gender, and it doesn’t feel that hard for me for all those reasons. So I feel excited about trying to educate people. But in certain contexts it doesn’t feel like a worthwhile use of my energy; it doesn’t feel like it’ll be effective, or it doesn’t feel like people are open to it, and so I just let it go. You don’t see me, but it’s okay. It’s totally valid for people to have dysphoria, or need to be seen in the gender that they feel they are. But that just doesn’t apply to me, so it doesn’t feel that bad when people see me as a woman.

Have you had difficulties with changing your name and the way it affects you moving through the world, being recognized how you want, or being mis-gendered?

I haven’t legally changed my name. My legal name – to me it’s more of a sleeping name than a dead name. When I go to the doctor and I have to use it… it has been starting to bother me a little more lately, just having it be the name I have to use when interfacing with anything official. So I’ve been thinking more about trying to legally change it. I had never thought that I would do it, because it just costs a lot of money, and it feels like it would be a nice thing but not necessarily worth the financial investment. I don’t know, now that I’ve kind of embraced my trans identity more, I know that there are a lot of resources for covering the costs for trans people changing their names legally, so it’s something I’ve been thinking about. So maybe I’ll feel like I’m worthy of that now. [laughs] And maybe I’ll actually do that. I think that for me, asking to be called Miles is very new, and so I’m trying to sit with that and see how that feels before I go ahead and do all that work to try to legally change it. But my high school friends and my family still use my birth name, which is fine, I’ve never told them that they have to stop. I’m sort of thinking it might be time. Again the same with the pronouns thing, it was very scary for me to be willing to own how much happier I feel when I am seen as a gendered-ness that is not woman or man, just another thing that is me, that is very fluid but never really lands on either of those particular binaries but flops around a lot in the middle weird world. It was hard for me to own that because I was afraid of what that would mean for people to not see me that way. And I think that it feels the same as it did before, it’s just I can see it a little clearer now, which is better.

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

I love labels, just accumulating as many of them as possible is my thing. So for gender words, I like genderqueer, I like genderfluid, I like transboi… In a rational way, I associate myself with non-binary-ness, but I don’t particularly resonate with that term just because I feel like I just have a lot of gender, and it doesn’t feel like there’s enough gender in that word. [laughs] Like if someone were to refer to me as non-binary, I’d be like yeah that’s fine, but I don’t get excited about that word. I’m mixed, I’m Jewish, I’m a witch, I’m a healer, I’m a feminist, I’m queer, I’m gay, I’m a Leo – that’s so important – I’m a performer, I’m a singer, I’m a writer. Those are the words.

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

[laughs] It’s funny because I just did this whole project in January – it’s this community art project where people do art things for every day in January, and then they do a community art show and everyone can put up their stuff, and I know it happens in a bunch of cities. Philly does it. 

So I did Gender-A-Day, and I did a different gender every day for all of January, which is quite rigorous as it turns out. Most of them are my own genders, but I borrowed a lot from friends too, which is really fun. Ironically, I did not actually do that to make a statement about gender or anything, I just did it because it sounded fun to me, but it became this whole thing and it ended up for me being a lot about exploring my gender in a structured way, and to think and feel about my gender within this nice container and share it with people. I love sharing, it’s that Leo. During January I was having one to three conversations [about gender] every day. I’d go to pick up a kid I watch from school, and a parent would [say], “Oh, your post, I wanna talk about it!” Or people would message me who I hadn’t talked to in years, or my friends, my parents, just everyone wanted to talk to me about gender. So I did a lot of thinking and feeling about gender. I think my favorite one was this parent at a school I used to work at messaged me to say that she really appreciated my project, and she had felt called to share it with her kid, who was in the class that I was assistant teacher for. So they sat down, and she showed her kid the different posts I’d been making, and the kid who’s probably like 10 now goes, “How many genders are there?” And that was my favorite thing. I just kept getting people [saying things] like, “This project has expanded the way that I think about gender and what I feel is possible and has made me recognize – ” and just tons of cis people [saying things] like, “You’ve made me recognize that I have different gender expressions that I express in different situations in different times.” That’s cool, right?

I made a separate Instagram account for gender stuff. It’s @genderous.xyz. Because I’m thinking a lot about gender all the time, and I like taking pictures of myself because I’m a Leo, as you can see, so if I’m feeling like it I’ll take a selfie and write what I’m thinking about gender that day. It’s this interesting thing though where on the one hand it’s something that’s intellectual, and super interesting to me, and I’m excited to talk about, but then there’s this other level that’s very very vulnerable. I was thinking about it like an iceberg the other day. There’s the tip of the iceberg, which is what I feel excited about sharing publicly, and then there’s the below the iceberg deep feels that I’m having that are very vulnerable, and as I process them – I’ve shared things with you that were below the iceberg even a few weeks ago, but as I process them they move up into the top of the iceberg and I feel excited about sharing them. But it’s been an interesting experience. I’ll want to share something, and I [think], Do I need people to validate this and hear this to feel seen and okay and worthy? If yes, then it’s not for public. It’s fine if it feels nice if people appreciate what I share, but [when that’s the case] then it’s something that I’ll share with my close people. If it’s like, No, I don’t need this to be reflected or validated or seen to feel okay but I’m just excited about sharing it, then I will go ahead and post it publicly. And yeah, I’ve made a few errors, but that’s okay. I feel like it’s fine as long as I don’t get in a trap of needing that platform to validate my experience. But it does help me process my experience.

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

Not very. It took me a long time because I really ultimately see myself as a girly boy, and when you’re an AFAB [assigned female at birth] person who is into being girly, all of that seems to line up. Everyone’s like, “Great, cool! You’re girly, you’re an AFAB person, you like to dress femme, that’s great. You’re doing great.” And I’m like, cool, great, I’m doing great! But it’s so subtle. I had no problem wearing the clothes I was prescribed to wear; I always had my own weird sense of fashion, but it was all very accepted and didn’t particularly challenge any norms or anything. So it was all fine. But I’m an oscillator – I was born on the cusp of Leo and Cancer and it’s called the Cusp of Oscillation – and so I’ve always been a big oscillator in different areas of my life. So there got to be a point in college where I [thought], How do I know I want to wear skirts and dresses and have long hair and wear a lot of makeup all the time if I’ve never tried anything else? So I just [stopped] wearing skirts and dresses, I never wore makeup, I cut my hair short, I wore baggy clothes, I was just pretty straight butch all the time. I had like 20 pairs of flats in different colors and I threw them all out, I exclusively wore black boots for like two years, even in the summer. I was so serious. And then I was like, okay, I did that, that’s cool, now I know how that feels. And then I [realized], oh wait, I want to wear a skirt today. So with expression for me there’s been these big arcs of femme to masc [masculine], and then within it there’ll be variation day to day. Right now I’m just in a masc phase where that’s what’s happening all the time. But it’ll swing back, and I’ll be totally into being femme a lot. But it’s always my own weird take on it.

So, basically, the first thing that I was able to identify from all that oscillating was that I was genderfluid. I came across that term and I [loved it], I loved not feeling confused, like I can’t pick a gender, or feeling like I’m just experimenting. This is just me, I’m just genderfluid, that’s it. Being able to call that variation and that oscillation the deal and not some kind of journey. The destination is genderfluid. I like that. But then I guess as I accepted my genderfluidity more, it’s made me start to question my underlying identity more as I started to realize that I do not see myself as a woman, but I’m okay with being perceived as a woman in a lot of contexts. But I started to notice, oh yeah, it never really gets all the way to “woman.” [laughs] I see myself as very in solidarity and aligned with womanhood in a lot of ways, and very strongly identify as a person who was raised as a girl, that’s very relevant to my experience. I went to a skateboarding class a few months ago, and this woman [said], “Nice. Another lady’s here,” and in that context, [where] everyone else is a cis dude, yeah. Skating ladies. I felt fine about that. In that context, you’re seeing the right thing. You’re seeing that I’m a person who was not raised to feel that I belong here, and yet I am here, and we are having a solidarity moment. That’s fine. 

But I guess just starting to realize that I’ve never felt like a man, I’ve never been interested in being a man, but the boi-ness I identify with more. [I’m talking about boi with an “i”], but sometimes with the “y” too. I’m just making this up right now, but I’m interested in it so I’m going to talk about it – there’s this weird thing where there’s just tons of queer people, I guess I’m talking about AFAB genderqueer people, who are aligned with boy-ness but not with man-ness. And is a boy just a younger man? I actually don’t think so, I think they’re archetypes, and I think there’s a very very different archetypical energy that is associated with “man” than there is that’s associated with “boy.” And I feel like it’s totally cool to just be an adult who is excited about identifying with those archetypical boy energies and living into that, and not about the man energies. You can still be an adult, and we can just queer boy-ness. I guess that’s what the “i” is for. But we can still have a “y” and still queer boy-ness. So that’s a thing. Actually doing the project in January, I didn’t quite realize before that the degree to which my boi genders felt less like drag as compared to my femme genders. When I do the femme thing, it’s great, and it’s definitely authentic, and it’s an expression that I desire in that moment, but I noticed that there was more an energy of putting something on top rather than just being the thing that’s there underneath. So that’s when I started feeling more like maybe “trans” applies to me more. I mostly feel like the most deep level myself when I’m aligned with boi-ness.

So it’s been very confusing for me, and I think there’s a lot of challenges to being the type of person who is very aware from a young age that your gender does not align with the one you were assigned at birth, there’s a lot of challenges there. And I think there’s also challenges with that not being apparent at a young age. I feel a sense of grief around all of the time I’ve not really felt as connected to that. I think I also started taking it more seriously when – this is some woo shit, some shaman stuff, but also I guess people do this sort of shit in therapy – but connecting with my inner child and realizing that my inner child felt like they were a girly boy, and I very distinctly remember the conversation that was very popular and still is, of, “Are you a girly girl or a tomboy?” And it being very clear to me that I wasn’t a tomboy, even though I was pretty aggressive and stuff, but I liked the girly stuff, so I wasn’t a tomboy. And girly girl also didn’t seem right, but I [thought], I guess if I’m not a tomboy then I’m a girly girl. I overheard some 7-year-olds having that literal exact same conversation a few months ago, and I [said], “Oh my god! There’s so many more choices, and you can switch all the time, and you can have different genders on different days in different places!” Because that’s what I wanted, I wanted someone to tell me there was other options. This one kid [said], “Well, maybe I’m a girly girl at home and a tomboy at school.” I love that. I love that you have slightly expanded your ability to conceive of your gender. 

So I think it’s been a spiral for me, where I felt like, “Oh, I’m this person,” and then, “Oh, there’s some fluidity,” and then, “Oh, my gender’s actually pretty queer,” and then, “Oh, actually maybe it’s so not aligned that I actually feel more like ‘trans’ fits,” and getting deeper and deeper into the ways I feel my gender is different from an AFAB cis person’s gender. Ever evolving. And I think 100% the most transformative moments for me have been other trans and non-binary people seeing me in ways that I hadn’t been able to see myself, and it just makes me appreciate community, especially the community we have here in West Philly. It’s really special.

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

I’ve actually been thinking about this and talking about this a lot. The worst thing is to be in an environment where people tell you that it’s wrong or shameful to be gay or trans, that’s definitely the worst thing, right. And so I’m not trying to say that my experience is more harmful than that because it wasn’t. I grew up in this very liberal environment where, growing up, even in my milieu it was explicitly okay to be trans and it was explicitly okay to be gay. No one would ever have said anything otherwise in the community I grew up in. I went to this progressive prep school in Brooklyn, and my parents were Buddhists, and no one would’ve ever said [anything]. But what was very insidious about that particular milieu is that while it was explicitly okay, there was a covert level in which it was very not. I mean there’s just larger societal messages, but also just thinking back, I was around tons of homophobic jokes and gender policing all of the time. It was very, very strongly engrained that the most correct thing for me was to be a pretty girl who dated boys and got married to one and had a kid with them. That was definitely the covert message that I received. I think that was very confusing for me, because I literally have a memory of saying to myself, “I always thought that I’d turn out more gay. I wish I was more gay.” Like what the fuck is that? That’s so gay! I just was gay, but felt like (at the time, identifying as a woman) I had to date other woman and be not at all attracted to men, and if I didn’t feel like that, then I must just not be that gay. But it’s like no, actually, all of the subliminal covert messaging had really affected me in ways I wasn’t aware of because it was in dissonance with the overt message [that] it would be fine if I was that way. So [I figured], if it would be fine if I was that way, and I was that way, why wouldn’t I know? But actually there was a lot more lower-level messaging that I had to work through and plenty of internalized homophobia that was very surprising for me to discover, because I had never been told that it was bad to be gay explicitly.

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

I mean, what correct conceptions does the general public have? [laughs] It’s this interesting thing where it’s just a trendy topic, where people are talking about it and trying to wrap their heads around it more. I think one of the things that is problematic is the mainstream obsession with the “born this way” narrative. I get it. It’s trying to [say], “This is valid, we’re just like this,” and negating choice is a way of trying to seek validation and acceptance and kind of argue against people [saying], “No, you should just try harder to be cis or straight, you should just choose to be this way,” and [being able to say] “No, we were born this way, we have to be this way or repress ourselves, and it’s harmful.” And that’s all true, but at the same time, I think that there’s the harmful aspect of that narrative, [which] is the negation of choice. Like some people, the way that their identity is situated in terms of sexuality and gender is such that it would be a death sentence to have to live in their assigned gender at birth or perform heterosexuality. That’s not the case for me. I did that for a while, and it was fine, and I’m happier now. It’s definitely a more authentic version of myself to just be gay and genderqueer, and that makes me happier, and it’s more deeply who I am, and it helps me be more connected to my general desire – not necessarily sexual desire, but just desires for what I want and who I want to be in the world. So it [begs the question], Do I need to be this way to be my best self and my most authentic self and to be as aligned with the natural flow of things and grace and spirit and my passion? Yes. Do I need to be this way to live? Not me personally, no. I could live the other way. I could live in a box of heterosexuality and cis-ness and survive probably. And some people can’t. And that’s also valid.

I think the “born this way” narrative is helpful, especially for people who are disinterested. There’s plenty of trans people who were not interested in being trans, who were like, “That sounds terrible, let me just try to be cis,” and I think the “born this way” narrative can be empowering for those people because [it says], “No actually I can’t, I just am trans, and even though it sucks, and I have to make all these changes, and I have to lose all these people and all this support, I have to. Because I was born this way.” So I get that. But then I think it can also be confusing for people to negate the fact that choice is an element, and it’s not as life or death for everyone. Sometimes it’s just worse and better life. And I think that’s a general misconception about gender and sexuality that people have that’s created by mainstream advocacy networks, and I’m not really trying to start that campaign. I’m not really sure that people are ready. I do think that it’s helpful to talk about that in queer community though, just invite that dissonance. Especially resistant parents of queer or trans kids, it’s like, oh your kid wouldn’t choose to be this way, because it sucks, because they live with you. Right? That’s real. Why would they choose to subject themselves to this much disdain from their own fucking parents if they didn’t have to? That’s real. So I think it is powerful and effective as a tool in that kind of way. But then also being queer and trans is definitely better. [laughs]

I think in a more repressive environment, I don’t know if I would’ve found my way to it. And that’s sad. But I’m glad that I live in the time and place that I do, and I’m endlessly grateful for my queer and trans ancestors, plenty of whom are still alive, who have fought so hard for the freedoms that I enjoy now, and done the work to build the community and the safety that I can enjoy. I wonder about these Gen Z people who are all gay and all trans. They’re also woke though, so maybe they will be able to appreciate. It’s wild to think what the world will be like when those people are voting and building institutions and challenging institutions. It’s very exciting, and promising. I like to imagine that the universal experience of “overcame trauma” of queer and trans people will become less universal.

In your own words, how would you explain that gender identity is different from sexual orientation? How might they affect each other and/or be related?

That’s another one of the things that the Muggles need to understand to not be confused. They are different. That’s helpful to understand the difference. But also they’re so related. [laughs] There’s plenty of real-life AFAB people who are butch lesbians, or people who grow up feeling very masc and not aligned with feminine gender norms, and are also attracted to women, and end up realizing that they’re trans guys. That happens quite a lot. It’s real. They can be very connected. But also, there’s plenty of AFAB people who are super masculine and then end up being straight. That also is a phenomena. Or they can end up being trans and gay and attracted to men. Those are all things that happen too. People can be whatever they want to be in all of the ways possible. There is a strong misconception that they’re always connected, that a feminine AMAB [assigned male at birth] person is going to be a gay man. That’s a strong conception. And that does happen a lot. It also doesn’t happen a lot. You can make assumptions, but you also have to be willing to let go of them.

"People just want to know for sure what the rules are. “I’m willing to change the rules, but I need to know what the new rules are.” Sorry, that’s what queerness is about, is that there are no rules, and you just have to be flexible and let people live their lives how they want to live them. There’s phenomenas and trends but there’s no hard and fast rules."

People want to have tools to understand how the world works, and so yeah, if you have a kid who’s AMAB and he’s feminine, you can [say], “Hmm, I wonder if this kid’s gonna be gay,” that’s fine. But then just be open to that not being the case, or that not being the whole story. Maybe your kid’s a lesbian. That’s fine. Maybe your kid’s gender-weird. You can’t really know. I have a friend who, at age 47, was living her life as a cis man, and always felt like something was off, but [thought], But I’m not attracted to men, I’m not gay. And I told her, “Did you know gender and sexuality are different things?” And for her, that was huge. That blew it all up. And now she’s living her life as a trans woman. So for her, having the knowledge that gender and sexuality could be separate was very powerful, and I think it is very important for people to understand that. But then the detractors [say], “But so many of the girly boys turn out to be gay men, how can you say that’s not connected?” And it’s like, well it is. That’s also true. That’s also a phenomena. And that’s also okay. You just can’t know. People just want to know for sure what the rules are. “I’m willing to change the rules, but I need to know what the new rules are.” Sorry, that’s what queerness is about, is that there are no rules, and you just have to be flexible and let people live their lives how they want to live them. There’s phenomenas and trends but there’s no hard and fast rules. Sorry. You just gotta expand your mind, Muggles.

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

Not. I’ve definitely never seen myself on TV. I’ve never seen a mixed genderqueer gay person, just on that basic identity level. I generally get excited when I see any kind of non-binary representation in media, or even just good queer representation I get excited about. I get really excited when trans people play trans people, and very angry when cis people play trans people. It’s exciting to me that that is becoming less acceptable. Like Scarlett Johansson recently turned down that role, she was supposed to play a trans man and everyone was like, “No no, that’s bad.” I appreciate that there’s starting to be enough cultural pressure around that kind of stuff that it becomes worth it to investors to seek out trans actors. It is harder, that’s real. It’s not that there aren’t plenty of talented trans actors available to play trans roles, but it is easier to hire the already well known cis actor that is going to bring people into the theater and [who] you already have connections with. Yeah, change is more challenging. But it’s pleasing to me that it’s starting to become a thing where they’re more motivated by the pressure, and the congratulations that they get from doing it right.

"I have to constantly release myself from feeling like I have to be doing something productive to be of value as a human being. I want to live in a world where everyone knows that they are inherently valuable, and worthy of love and attention and joy and pleasure and of connecting to and living into their desires, just because they were born. And that’s not the world we live in. ... I think that we can continue to grow those values in our subcultures, and from that place continue to work to dismantle the larger structures that try to interrupt that."

Someone I’m acquainted with in Philly, MJ Kaufman, was writing for the new Sabrina show. Because they [have] a non-binary character so [they hired] a non-binary writer. And I don’t know if that actor identifies as non-binary, but to me that’s a form of representation, is having good writing around it. And I think they do a really good job in that show. It becomes a plot point at some point but it’s not like that character only exists to be that plot point. That’s my favorite thing, is seeing queer characters or trans characters and they’re just people who happen to be trans or queer. That’s how my life goes. [laughs] In my life, it’s not like, “Hi. I have entered the room, and I am a genderqueer gay person. I’d like to talk about only that, and just generally be all about that exclusively.” That’s not how my life goes. So it’s fun to see it on TV. Like this show The Fosters – I’m going to call it a guilty pleasure because it has a very favorable portrayal of cops, but it also does a really good job with gender and sexuality stuff. In one of the earlier seasons there’s a trans character and it is very, “I am trans. This is a topic.” They’re at this group home, and people are mis-gendering him, and he’s like, “You have to use ‘he’ pronouns, because I am trans.” And that’s most of what the conversations are. But then in a future season there’s this character who’s just a boy who has a crush on a girl, and they kiss, and they hang out for a while, and they talk about juvenile justice and being a foster kid, and then it comes out in the fifth episode he’s in [that he’s] trans, and I’m like, “What?” Amazing! That’s what I want. I want more of that. I mean, stories about trans people being told, about the experience, is still needed. But I think what’s also needed is just trans people and queer people just being people and living their lives. We want to see that. It feels good for us. And it feels good to know that the young people are seeing that, and that the Muggles are seeing that. But also I want to see it.

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

Well, everything’s broken and wrong, down to the core, fundamentally. Capitalism is at odds with love and humanity and integrity and dignity. So that’s bad. [laughs] What I see as connected to my slice of that pie, is – this exists already, but I would like to continue to contribute to de-programming myself and facilitating in the deprogramming of my communities in the way that capitalism affects our sense of self-worth and our values in insidious ways. The high value placed on productivity, the low value placed on rest. I have to constantly release myself from feeling like I have to be doing something productive to be of value as a human being. I want to live in a world where everyone knows that they are inherently valuable, and worthy of love and attention and joy and pleasure and of connecting to and living into their desires, just because they were born. And that’s not the world we live in. And it’s very difficult to create that when the larger structures are very set up against that. But I think that we can continue to grow those values in our subcultures, and from that place continue to work to dismantle the larger structures that try to interrupt that.

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

This happened in January, which is much longer ago in Miles-time than it would be in other-people-time because I process things at a very quick rate. My friend who’s trans, we were hanging out, and she told me that she was thinking about starting a healer’s circle for trans healers, and she asked me if I wanted to be a part of it. And I [said], “Oh, thanks so much for thinking of me, I’m interested, but just so you know, I don’t really see myself as being trans per se. I definitely identify with being genderqueer and genderfluid and all that, and I’m not really cis, but I don’t really know if I would claim trans-ness because privilege,” and blah blah blah. Because I have the ability to move in the world being read as a cis person and that feeling generally safe and fine, so I feel uncomfortable claiming trans identity. And she [said], “Okay. I mean, I understand what you’re saying, and that makes sense, but – how does it feel if I tell you that I see you that way?” And then I just burst into tears.

So that is, I think, the archetypical story of what I was talking about before, just being seen by other trans people and other queer people. And I think that that is such a gift, and that was a big instance of it. I almost sometimes feel like we do have these magic goggles that are made of sparkles as queers where we can just see things that the Muggles can’t. We can see someone’s energy, and we can see what they’re presenting, and we can see what they’re serving, and we can see what they’re giving, and we can meet it at the level that they’re sharing it. We can see it, and we can validate it, and we can honor it, and it’s just such a balm against the discomfort of constantly being in the world where people don’t have those magic queer goggles on and they just can’t see. Or what they see is just so shallow and superficial and not nuanced at that level. I feel like they’ll just see “other.” That’s it. And it’s very special to just constantly be surrounded by “others” who are able to see the nuance of what I am bringing.

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

My life is very easy and very difficult. [laughs] There have been definitely external challenges and factors that have been difficult, because I’m a person in the world and that’s what happens, but I think the most challenging difficult things about my life have been just wrangling my own energy and what it is to be me in the world. I ended up being an adult with coping mechanisms that were completely non-functional, and so I had no choice but to change. And the gift of that is that I’m excellent at change, and I’m a very good catalyst for change in other people. And I bring that to my healing work, and to my public sharing lifestyle, and to my witnessing of my friends and loved ones. It’s been difficult to just exist with the way that my energy is set up, with all of my big feelings that I have all the time. I’ve dealt with it by spending a huge amount of energy constantly forever focused on healing and finding new ways of being in the world and new tools for working with my energy and my emotions. And sharing them with other people has been part of how I learn to refine them and use them in myself.

"I intentionally market myself as a queer feminist healer. ...it feels nice to be able to be like, Yeah, when you come in, I’m going to use your right pronouns, and if you talk about your experiences as a queer or trans person, you don’t have to translate that to me, and you don’t have to explain it. ... I can see you. That doesn’t need to be what we talk about. Unless it’s what you want to talk about, in which case I’ll get it. ... So I appreciate that kind of secret club life of being able to just connect with people."

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

My friends. I have great friends. I really love my friends. I think that there was a block that I had against intimacy and friendship that came from a place of internalized homophobia. Growing up as a girl with girl friends, some of whom I totally had huge crushes on, being afraid of that potential boundary violation, and afraid of that confusion. Just being confused and scared by that. So I think I always had a bit of a wall up – for other reasons too, but that was related. But in recent years, I’ve been really excited about valuing friendship at a higher level, and being willing to share more of myself with my friends, and being willing to ask for what I want and for what I need from my friends in a more vulnerable way. And I think a huge part of it is being willing to share with my friends when they’ve done something that I don’t like, or just something that bothers me. Stuff that I’ve always felt okay about doing in romantic relationships, but just valuing my friendships enough to be willing to [say], “We have an unhealthy dynamic around this,” or, “I want to set more boundaries around this,” or, “I need this from you,” or, “I need you to not do that.” I think that approaching my friendships in this way of being really willing to see friendships as relationships that can be intimate where we can share ourselves vulnerably and we can offer each other validation and safety and affection and where we can really ask for our needs to be met in certain ways, and it’s sort of sad to me how queer that is. It shouldn’t be, but it is. I love my friends, and I’m very grateful to have been able to develop that kind of intimacy with people I have and who see me. It’s very wonderful.

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

Definitely me being like, “I’m gay and trans,” caused my relationship with a cis straight guy to end. [laughs] So that was a thing that happened. It first caused me to want to be poly, and then it caused that relationship to end. Which is great. We’re best friends and we live together and it’s wonderful. It’s better now. Go us. Very queer! It’s brought me most of my good adult friends, being queer, and that’s wonderful. That’s great. I love queers. I love being queer. I love queer community, I love queer values, I love queer culture. I don’t know if it’s dramatically affected my relationship with my family. I’ve never really attempted to operate in the business world in my life. I’ve never had a desk job. So I’ve never really had to face that kind of struggle or fear of being forced to exist in an environment that wasn’t necessarily receptive of my identities. My current employer, the parents in the family I nanny for, they were the first people to use “they” pronouns for me regularly. I said I use “she” or “they,” and they just used “they.” So that’s rad.

I intentionally market myself as a queer feminist healer, so I’m connecting with people who are down with that. Mostly queer people I end up working with. There’s other wonderful queer healers in Philly. There’s a lot, but it feels nice to be able to be one of them and to be able to be like, Yeah, when you come in, I’m going to use your right pronouns, and if you talk about your experiences as a queer or trans person, you don’t have to translate that to me, and you don’t have to explain it. You can just say what you have to say, and I’ll have the goggles on. I can see you. That doesn’t need to be what we talk about. Unless it’s what you want to talk about, in which case I’ll get it. But if you just kinda skip that, I don’t need to interview you about it in order to understand you. We can just skip to whatever you want to talk about. So I appreciate that kind of secret club life of being able to just connect with people. It’s sort of silly to think about, How does being queer affect going on dates? Because it affects who you go on dates with. But I’ve been going on more dates lately, and it’s been really nice to just kind of have those magic goggles and be able to have some shared experience and shared understanding of what it is to be in the world, and that culture that’s kind of automatically shared. So I appreciate that when connecting with people, whether it’s on a date or with a client or just people I meet socially. I think that’s something I always as a young person really craved, is feeling like I was part of a subculture. Like I had a people that were my people, that understood me and that I could really get excited about the values. And I feel like I have that, and that’s really wonderful. I don’t appreciate that enough. I’m appreciating that right now.

Are you able to find adequate medical care?

I randomly have a really good therapist. I pay out of pocket though, and I would never consider just trying to find a random therapist who takes Medicaid. So that sucks, but I have a good therapist so that’s good, but I am having to pay out of pocket because I totally assume that I wouldn’t be able to find a good person otherwise, which is shitty. I feel like Medicaid, there should be a thing where it’s like, “If you’re part of a marginalized gender population, we will reimburse you for your therapist that you find because we don’t have any good ones who can understand you.” That should be a thing. I think I generally apply my “whatever, you can see me as a woman, that’s fine” approach to dealing with the medical system, which I’m able to do, and that’s a privilege that I have that not everyone has. So that’s fine. I haven’t really had the experience of feeling that my identities have gotten in the way of me accessing appropriate medical care that I know a lot of people have had.

I’ve never had a serious problem with it, but generally the medical system is very disinterested in the way that I understand my own mental health. I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, so they’re interested in seeing me as a person with mental illness who has this particular mental illness and should be treated in this certain way and given these medications. And some people are into that and that’s totally fine; some people like to [say], “Yes, I have a mental illness, I am bipolar, and that’s who I am and I’m proud of it, and I use these medications and they help me,” and that’s great. That’s not what feels good to me. I do not align with that. So that’s another reason why I would never consider just trying to pick a random Medicaid therapist because I don’t want to have to explain to someone that yes, I’ve been diagnosed this way, and you could describe some of my experiences this way, but that’s not how I see myself. I like to use Reiki and energy tools to deal with my emotions, and I’m disinterested in using medication. There’s not that many people who understand that.

I don’t see a psychiatrist because I don’t take prescription medications anymore, but I think that transition was fucked up because I’ve never heard of a psychiatrist that’s educated in and willing to help people taper off of them. Which is fucked up. Because people do it, and then there’s no medical support when there should be, because that is a medical fucking thing that’s happening to your body. And there’s no support around that. So that’s fucked up. I’d say more of my challenges have been around navigating that and having to be my own fuckin’ boss and know that I have to advocate for myself and know what I want and know who to get it from. I think that that is a very common experience that people have, is being told growing up, “You’re sick, you go to the doctor. You’re sad, you go to the psychiatrist. They are experts and they will help you.” And that’s just not how it works. You have to figure out what you need for yourself and you have to know where to get it from, and that’s the only way that it happens successfully I think is people advocating for themselves. And that’s shitty. I mean, there’s stuff that’s happening. There’s movements towards more community-focused models of care, and I like to contribute to that in the ways that I can. But once you get into the medical stuff it’s a whole other thing that seems a lot more difficult.

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

What’s cute is that on the one hand, I feel like I constantly am changing and just literally feel like a different person every fucking week, and I just am very obsessed with personal growth and have shifted so many patterns in my ways of being. So much of my identity has shifted, and so much about how I see myself in the world, so much about the way I relate to people, is just so different and constantly changing. But then at the same time, on my best days, I honestly feel like I’m exactly the way I was when I was like 9 years old. Like when I’m most connected to joy, I feel like I’ve always been the same person. When I’m just in presence and when I’m just appreciating being alive, I feel like, oh yeah, I’ve always been this exact same fuckin’ way. [laughs] And I appreciate that. It’s grounding. But yeah, I think I’ve unlearned a lot of messages that I was taught about how to relate to people, about how to relate to myself… There’s just so much. Even if it’s fine, we all just get one very specific version of how to be a person in our upbringing. And there’s just so many ways of being a person. I just think there’s so many opportunities for us to choose how we want to be, and do the work to shift into those ways of being. All while trying to balance it with trying to accept ourselves as we are, where we’re at. I think big changes is that I’m a lot more comfortable with stillness, and quietness – I crave those things now. I’ve learned how to connect with my own energy in a way I couldn’t when I was younger. I’ve learned how to notice and take care of my needs. I’ve learned what boundaries are, and how to have them. I’m learning how to ask for what I want.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

It’s interesting. Because on the one hand, I feel like they don’t need any advice, because they’re fine, and everything is going to happen as it happens, and it’s going to be fine. I guess though, the one thing that I think about a lot is I really do wish someone had told me that not all the feelings I had belonged to me. I wish I’d known that from a younger age. I wish that someone had said, “Oh by the way, the constant experience of emotional chaos that you’re constantly trying to sort through and deal with, only a quarter of that belongs to you. And you have the opportunity to release the rest of it and just feel a lot more calm and have a lot more room for yourself.” And that it’s okay to be still, and that it’s safe to be still, and that you don’t have to fix everything, and it’s not your job to fix everything, and you’re not a problem that you need to fix. And that it’s safe to just sit with what is. I would tell myself once it became true. It wasn’t always true. I guess if I was hanging out with myself when I [said], “I wish I was more gay,” I might [say], “It’s ‘cause you are. That’s what that means.” [laughs]

What are your concerns for the future?

I have lots of concerns about the future of humanity. I try not to get into that too much lately. Lately [I’ve realized] that’s not for me, in the “big picture” sense.

I feel very called to contribute to movement work in the ways that are for me, which is bringing that healing element, and also performance, and I’ll donate money to things. But I’ve realized that large-scale organizing work is not for me, and that’s a drain on my energy, and it’s best done by people who desire to do it, and that it’s best for me to do what I desire to do, which is other stuff. And I can be in support of that, and that’s great. So I have concerns, but I feel pretty disconnected from them. But I don’t think it’s in an apathy way. I think I do care. I think I just realized that there’s lots of ways to contribute to creating a world that I want to live in, and not all of them have to involve being super news-literate and super policy-literate and always having an opinion about exactly what’s going on and how I need to act. I think it’s fine for me to know that some people in my life like to do that, and trust them, and talk to them about it, and borrow some of their opinions and analyses. I think that’s okay. I’m okay with that. I think there’s this slight impending creepy doom feeling that I have about gentrification in Philly. There’s that fear that this precious community that I’m a part of will not be sustainable because of that. That’s a concern I have for the future. I don’t really have any concerns for my own future. I think I’m fine. I think I’m great. I think I’ve got excellent support from the universe and people and I think I’m good at re-aligning myself over and over again with what I need for myself. And I think I’ll continue to learn and grow and get better at being a person and living my best life, and I’ll be fine.

What do you look forward to in the future?

I look forward to my drag ambitions. I’m excited about that. I’ve always performed but I’ve ever really valued it. I’ve always thought of it as a hobby or a side thing. But then [I’ve realized], Oh no, nevermind, it’s something that I desire, and that’s important and powerful, and there’s no good reason to deny that or repress that or shut it out or [say], “Healing is more important,” or “Organizing is more important,” or anything I do is more important. So I’m excited about performing more, I’m excited about having an outlet for that, I’m excited about continuing to find ways to balance my very “out” expressive energies, and also my very inward watery-feeling energies, to continue to find outlets for those. I look forward to growing my healing practice more. I used to do shamanic healing and I recently stopped because it was too draining for me, so I’m excited to do more Reiki and connect with people more in that way. I’m excited for the work that Wellness Action Project is going to be doing in terms of both cultivating more space for healers to heal each other and also bringing that energy more into movement work.

I’m about to turn 30, and I’m really excited about being in my 30s. I think that my 30s are going to be my hottest and most gayest and most fun decade on record. I’m really into it. It’s going to be great. My cheekbones are going to become more prominent. [laughs] It’s going to be great. For a while there I thought, Oh, I guess I’m done being young and having fun, because I was really serious for a few years and very focused on developing my practice and doing inner work and I wasn’t very social. Which is fine, I’m sure I’ll be in a phase like that again in life because of the oscillating, but right now I’m very social and party boi all the time. I’m excited about just being queer and being out and about, and going on dates, meeting people, connecting with people on a variety of levels. I’m looking forward to a lot about life. I’m very looking forward to the Purim spiel tomorrow. That’s very exciting. I’m excited to be moving in with two of my best friends who are both very lovely people and creative types and magic-y, and be able to have more of that in my living environment. It’s exciting.

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

The answer is just again going to be, “It’s difficult to be me,” in terms of managing my mental/emotional well-being. I also have narcolepsy, so managing my sleep/wake cycles, and interstitial cystitis, which is painful bladder syndrome. Sometimes it’s just hard to be me. I mean I’m grateful to be me. I would never trade being me for being a person who can just go through the motions, whose coping mechanisms work just fine. Those people who are trained how to be a person in their childhood, and then they just do that, and they go to work, and they make money, and they come home, and they just have a family and they just do life, and it’s whatever. Maybe they’re not living their best life, and maybe they don’t feel connected to their most authentic self, maybe they don’t feel connected to their passion, but they can just get it done, they can just do life, it’s fine. Sometimes I kind of wish that was me, because it’s hard to be me; it’s a job to constantly manage my energy and the way it fluctuates and my giant feelings. It’s frustrating, I think, to just feel like it’s such a job to constantly manage my own energy.

"We’re trying our best to just survive and feel safe. And if you’re alive then you’re doing a great job at surviving. You can want more for yourself, and you can want to change certain things, you can want your life to be different – and you can do those things, and you can change yourself, and you can change your life – but also you’re doing a great job right now."

Successes are when I feel like I make exciting shifts in that. But I wouldn’t trade it. I wouldn’t rather be another way. Because I’m so appreciative. Even though there’s the shadow element of the energy and time that it takes to manage my own energy, and how it can just feel really hard and tiring and I just want to take a break, but I can’t because it’s me. But at the same time I really get to really enjoy life when I really enjoy life, and that’s beautiful and gives me a lot of power that I can appreciate. And I just get really excited about my successes in growth; ironically, one of the ones I’ve been most excited about lately is when I don’t make myself grow, when I’m just noticing something, and I’m not going to do anything about it. Or I have a fear, and I don’t face it. [laughs] I get major high-fives for that. I get excited about those successes. I constantly have thousands of goals for myself in terms of patterns I’m shifting, and I get excited about when I do a good job with them. Or for when I forgive myself when I don’t. That’s another one.

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

I guess I just want to [say], You’re doing great. That’s my best piece of advice, is that we have to hold ourselves accountable, and have certain expectations for our behavior, but also all of the shitty things that we do, there’s a reason. We’re trying our best to just survive and feel safe. And if you’re alive then you’re doing a great job at surviving. You can want more for yourself, and you can want to change certain things, you can want your life to be different – and you can do those things, and you can change yourself, and you can change your life – but also you’re doing a great job right now. And take a nap. You’re doing great, take a nap. That’s my life philosophy.

Are there any other questions you would have liked me to ask, or anything else you would like to talk about?

My favorite colors are purple and green. It’s a very strong part of my identity that I neglected to mention. That’s it. [laughs]