LAURA

Portland, ME

What are your pronouns?

I use “they” and “she.”

Where do you work?

Colby College, Waterville, Maine. Liberal arts college.

Do you have any hobbies or special interests?

All I got is I like my cat, and that just does not seem like a good answer. [laughs]

What do you do for fun?

I’m new to town, so what I’m doing mostly for fun is meeting people in Portland. Recently I’ve taken interest in reading dystopian futurism kind of novels. Those are all things I do. Sometimes I cook.

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

You know, because I use “they” and “she,” people usually don’t mess up when given those two options. 

I think over time I’ve moved more away from “she,” but not necessarily fully embraced “they.” But in general, pronouns are weird. “He” doesn’t fit either. So I find them all insufficient. I use “they” in academic situations in part to kind of make space for more “they”s – I was at Smith College before, and it’s like pronoun central, and then going to different kinds of spaces and having people not be familiar with “they” as a pronoun is interesting, and people struggle with it. But I feel like it’s important that it’s an option, because “he” and “she” is not.

[People] suffer [when given the choice between “they” and “she” for me]. It depends on who they are. I think the genderqueers amongst us use “they” very easily, and it probably makes more sense to them to use “they” versus “she” for me.

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

So I identify as being mixed-race, queer, genderqueer, non-binary… The non-binary stuff really started coming out within the last year or two, which I think is interesting how gender changes and how you understand your gender changes. You think you might figure it out, I don’t know, when you’re like, eight, or when you’re sixteen, or whatever. I have a friend who came out as a lesbian when they were 50, and I was like, “Wow, that’s amazing!” but I still don’t know what my gender is. You know what I mean? It could keep changing. And it could keep changing. So I think that that’s interesting. So being mixed is really important to me. My dad’s Japanese. And I have a disability, and I identify as having a disability as well.

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

So like I said, I’m still trying to figure it out, so it’s interesting what is in one’s closet. [There’s this thing in Gender Studies where] people are like, “Why do you pick these clothes and not these clothes?” But it’s talking about people who are basically cisgender who are making those decisions. But seriously, it’s like my closet literally shifted. There’s stuff that I used to wear to teach all the time that I don’t even put on anymore. And I’m not sure if I’m getting rid of them yet. So it’s like, how long does one keep those clothes? There’s all these dress clothes that I have where I’m just like, “Yeah, I’m not gonna wear those anymore.”

I’ve basically been wearing men’s clothes since I was in my teens. But I did look kinda femme-y sometimes. I had really long curly hair for a while, and then I cut it off. Then I grew it out again, then I cut it off. So having short hair definitely makes a difference in how I’m read. If I wear jewelry or not, it makes a difference in how I’m read. Making those choices – like going into the bathroom, or going into the dressing room or whatever; I was at a Marshall’s, and somebody was sending me to a [dressing room], and they’re trying to put me in [the men’s], and I was pointing to my chest area. It’s such an arbitrary thing. Before, my chest was kind of my way of signaling “just leave me alone” in the bathroom or wherever, I’m just gonna do my thing. But sometimes even with the way I dress people still can’t tell. It’s interesting to me. I don’t make a lot of conscious choices about binding or anything like that, but I do tend to dress more masculine-of-center. I used to wear more scarves, and I stopped wearing scarves. Things like that. I don’t know why. There’s a warm scarf, but then there’s the decorative scarf, especially as a teacher showing that I’m more dressed up, I’ve thought about it. So then I have all these scarves, and I’m like, “I don’t want this scarf anymore.” And it’s such a weird thing to be so gendered, but it is.

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

So I identified as genderqueer – I feel like “non-binary” is recent-ish – and so it was actually the go-arounds with pronouns that made me understand that I was non-binary versus genderqueer.  It’s a weird things to realize. For me I guess “genderqueer” was this place in flux – and I still think I’m genderqueer, right, like this in-between space – “non-binary” is something, just the way it’s constructed as a terminology, it’s as not something. And I am not binary. But genderqueer was just an “all of the things.” But I haven’t spent that much time thinking about it, to be honest. I used to write “genderqueer” all the time but now I just put “NB” because it’s the category given more than anything I feel deeply about. I think it’s often what categories are presented to us, and what area. Like often you don’t have a “genderqueer” category. You might get a “non-binary” category. Which is great, but it still just creates another category. Versus “genderqueer” might give you more room. Versus another box.

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

I was talking to a group of queer Asian-American students at Smith, talking about how the category of “Other” has always been very much in my life. So before a certain time, on the census, being mixed as [Asian-American], you weren’t given the category of being “Mixed,” and so you would put “Other” down, but the thing with the “Other” category was that they would just put it in “White” until a certain time period. I felt so ripped off all the time. So now I put “Asian” to be counted as Asian. But I think that my experience has just been “other” in so many different kinds of ways, and so it’s a pretty comfortable, consistent way of being. Both the gender/sexuality stuff and also the race stuff.

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

You know I think one of the stereotypes is what non-binary looks like. In the misogynistic world that we live in, femininity is being categorized as lesser all the time, and so people who identify as non-binary and are read as femme are then not seen as non-binary. People who are masculine-of-center are recognized as non-binary, but feminine-of-center are not considered non-binary. So I think that that is a misconception. I think also the idea that people will go to one end or the other of the binary eventually. People being confused, etc. Also people get all hooked up on “they” as not being a “proper” pronoun. I’m not dogmatic about it, but I will fight like hell for other people.

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

 

Gender identity is how I present in the world, or how I think about myself – sexual orientation is what I do or not do, depending.

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

I don’t think that I’m hugely represented in any of [my identities]. It’s fine. It’s been my entire life, so it’s fine. I mean one of the tropes is the tragic mulatta, but through different racial categories as well; like the person who’s mixed-race is also really dealing with identity issues, so you have that, and you could also do that with someone who’s non-binary. [But] I think also that probably helps, because then there isn’t tons of negative representation. Visibility, invisibility, where do we fit? What is better or worse? I mean, I think of my friends with non-binary kids, and how it would make a difference, it would mean something to them to have representation in some ways.

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

I would like prison abolition, I would like liberation, I would like wage equality. I would like all of these social things. Open borders.

Could you give me an example of something difficult that occurred in your life how you dealt with it? It can be in regards to your identity, or not.

I have a visual disability, and I think it really messed with my understanding of who I was in the world, because I always thought of myself as relatively smart, and what did it mean that I wasn’t able to make it through school for a while? So I think that was hard to think about what other options there were in life. I had dropped out of college multiple times, and reckoning with that, and thinking that there are other possibilities when going to college was always something that was really pressed onto me. So what does it mean when this idea about who I was supposed to be was no longer a possibility? So then I grew some politics, met some other people, and kind of got an understanding of what accommodations were and what kind of accommodations I needed, and [how to] ask for them and get them. And I think that was really useful.

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

My family. It’s not necessarily that they can help, that’s not where they’re at in their own lives, but I’ve got parents and siblings that are there. If shit went down, I’m sure I could find some people in some places. I’ve moved a lot in my life. The longest I’ve lived anywhere was 7 years. And I’ve moved a lot in the last 7 years. I’ve moved a lot. But everywhere I’ve been, I’ve created little groups of humans where if shit went down, they would be there to support me. And so that’s an interesting thing to do. I’ve been in different academic communities – and non-academic communities. But it’s worked out. People are good. I’ve met people everywhere.

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

So it’s interesting being someone who identifies as a person of color-ish, even though I’m read as white – race stuff has come in more than gender stuff. But I’m sure gender stuff comes up all the time in terms of who I’m with and how we desire. So I think it’s interesting, too, to be on the dating scene now in terms of being someone who presents more masculine. I don’t know, it’s all weird. It’s interesting how people desire, how gender plays such an important role in how people desire, and who they desire. That’s where I’m at. That’s fascinating.

Are you able to find adequate medical care?

So with medical care, because I move so much, I just need “good enough” instead of “amazing.” I’ve had amazing doctors, but I don’t have one now. The last time I went to see a doctor in Northampton [MA], they asked me stuff about gender in a way that I had never been asked before, so that was pretty interesting. It wasn’t bad. They wanted to know if I’ve thought about chest surgery, and all of those kinds of questions. It was a funny conversation, because [I was like] “I just want my prescriptions filled? But cool, thanks for opening the door if I wanted to have this conversation.” So that was good. Versus this one time I went to the doctor, it was hysterical. It was a nurse practitioner, I don’t even know how it came up, but she was trying to explain a dental dam to me, and as someone who’s probably never used one, and I don’t think she has, it was hysterical. But yeah, good enough. Not spectacular. Good enough. Just don’t harm me.

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

I think I thought of myself as more feminine earlier in my life. I was always a tomboy. I don’t know. It’s funny getting old. It’s funny growing up.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Go for it. Don’t let the bumps stop you, they’re just bumps.

What are your concerns for the future?

You know, they’re talking a lot – I mean, have been talking for years, but – talking a lot about the climate, like shit is going down. I think a lot about futurities, and one of the things I’m interested in academically and just in general is Native futurities. Indigenous futurities. And I think that that’s helpful to look at, to think about the future. But also I’m interested in dystopian film, and how they portray the future, and I think we just really have a limited idea of how the world can be and should be, and these moments tell us that.

Because we’re [saying], “Oh my god, we can’t continue the way we’re going,” it’s like [yes], we can’t continue the way we’re going, right? And so it’ll be interesting what comes up from that. So what do I think about the future? Climate. At the same time, all of these inequalities will play out who survives and who doesn’t, right. And that’s what so many dystopian films and fiction are trying to tell us.

What do you look forward to in the future?

I’m about to hand in my grades, and then I will be free [until February]. Happy to see my family soon. Stuff like that.

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

Getting my Ph.D. was kind of a big deal. That was a success. Getting a teaching job. That was a success. What are important frustrations in my life? The political scene as such. You know, I guess one of my biggest frustrations with myself and with the world is the things that we tolerate and we don’t rise up about. That is my frustration with myself and the world, is the things that we should do that we haven’t.

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

My mom will say – and it’s really annoying when my mom says it – but my mom will say, “Well it could be worse.” And it’s so true, and I immediately say it too. If something happens, like my car breaks down in Illinois, I’m like, “Well, it’s during the daytime.” You know what I mean? “It’s not snowing.” So “it could be worse” is like a horrible but also very useful thing. That helps me get through so much, I think, [to think], Well, this could be really bad, and it’s only sorta bad. I’m also really stubborn. But when I think about teaching, and being a professor, there’s many choices that you can make, and kindness is one of them, and it’s the one that I feel is the most helpful. I never regret being kind. Even if people piss me off, I don’t regret being kind.

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

The role of clothing. And what’s interesting is that there’s so many things historically with queer communities that we’ve done to fight against repression. Like the different ways you coded, so you would know that [a] person was queer. In a world where people are pretty open in a lot of places about being queer, we still have these ways of coding and knowing. I think that’s interesting.