What are your pronouns?
So when people ask me this question I like to say, “The only pronouns I need are you and me, baby.” [laughs] ‘Cause I’m kind of apathetic to the whole thing. But most people use “she/her/hers” or “they/them/theirs” for me. I don’t care.
Where do you work?
I work at Brandeis University. I do a lot of things. I am a slave to academic theory. I also am a writing tutor, and I’m a teaching assistant there.
I’ve said this before; it’s weird that I’m a social scientist, because it’s the most antisocial profession. You research and go talk to people, but most of what I do is just sitting around reading and writing all the time. But if I were to finish my PhD, I’d have to read 400 books and then do an exam over it. Some people do closer to 200, but my advisors are pretty intense, so my list right now is 400. Usually people dedicate a whole semester to doing it, and they just read, day and night, at every moment, in coffee shops chugging coffee, taking notes, writing things down – and then at the end of it, you have like three essay questions, and it can be about anything in the 200-400 books. I didn’t have to read quite that many to get the Master’s degree, but I did have to read a fuckload. [laughs] So I’m just a little burnt out.
I would say maybe for English programs it’s probably even more than that, because they have to know everything about books, basically. But maybe for other fields like Chem or Biology it’s not as many, but I think it’s still a lot. Everyone that I know that’s done it, I’ve been like, “I don’t know how that’s humanly possible. Kudos to you. Are you okay? What did your therapist say about all of that?” [laughs] ‘Cause you’re not even like, reading the Harry Potter series; you’re reading like, everything that Foucault’s ever written, or all of Marx’s Das Kapital, or Judith Butler. I have a lot of feelings about this, because I think that queer theory and all academic theory is important, but I don’t get why it has to be so hard to understand. Especially when you’re talking about feminist studies and things like that; I think it’s really very counter to the goal of the discipline to make that information so inaccessible to other people. So that’s another frustration that I have with academia.
Do you have any hobbies or special interests?
I actually just started a band. We don’t have a name yet, though I have been pushing for Proletariat Cum with an album called “Hard to Swallow.” [laughs] I think they want me to be the singer, which is not what I had bargained for, but I play rhythm guitar and bass mostly, and do some songwriting.
We’ll see what happens. I worked with one of them at the writing center at Brandeis, and I knew he made music, and I also play instruments. I was just like, “Hey, we should collaborate,” and then we met this other guy, and then we just decided to have a band. I don’t think it’s as hard to start a band as a lot of people think it is. [laughs] You just have to show up.
How do you handle the issue of pronouns and being gendered when interacting with strangers / mixed company / etc?
Normally, I just don’t even bother. I guess for the record, I do identify as agender, and sort of very apathetic to the whole thing. I feel like there’s this big pressure around pronouns, but in a way it kind of centers gender even more, if everyone’s so obsessed with pronouns all the time. So I respect other people who do insist on different pronouns and think it’s really important, and I think that’s great, but for me personally it’s not how I feel. I think what happens more often is I’ll tell someone after knowing them a while that I actually identify outside of the gender binary, and they’re like, “OH um uh them uh right?!” and I’m like, “It’s whatever you wanna do, I didn’t tell you because it doesn’t matter to me.” So I think it usually ends up that they’re just kind of freaking out. [laughs]
What word(s) would you use to describe your identity?
I don’t know. Just agender. I don’t care. I used to get coded with masculine pronouns when I was a teenager a lot, though I wasn’t really butch. It happened a lot. I don’t know.
Are there ways that you dress / act / speak / etc. to specifically make a statement to others about your identity? Why?
Yeah. So that happens in a lot of different ways, because when you’re an academic you have to dress a certain way, so what I’m wearing right now is maybe very different than what I would be wearing at Brandeis. And even today, I was going to have my class deconstruct the outfit that I was wearing. It was a button-up with a different bolo tie and a Houndstooth vintage blazer and very masculine Oxfords. It feels like you have this pressure to kind of invoke a very academic middle-class identity, but that’s very different than my own, so I kind of look slightly trashy but also academic on purpose. And then it’s like this weird blend – it’s definitely masculine clothing, but in colors that would be super weird if in the gender binary a guy was wearing it.
I guess I’m sending a lot of messages about gender and class and even with the shorts I’m wearing now, a statement about body size and stuff like that. So I think maybe even sometimes gender and sexuality isn’t the central thing that I’m trying to convey. It’s about a lot of other different parts of my identity.
But I’m aware of how people code me. I have long blonde hair and tits, so now maybe I get read as feminine much more often, but when I had shorter hair and if I wore baggier clothes, especially when I was younger, I can see why people thought I was a boy. Even the hair – I wanted it to look really fake and trashy. It’s not supposed to look real. People were like, “Oh, so you want that platinum white-blonde silver thing, right?” and I’m like, “No. I wanna look like trash.” And it’s for a reason. Because I’m in this very uppity, yuppity, academic culture, and I want to be a force to be reckoned with. Like a bottle-blonde, trashy, denim-clad bitch. I think more [students appreciate it] than don’t. [laughs]
How early on did you know or suspect that you did not identify within the binary?
You know, I’ve been thinking about this, and I think I should re-read the book, because I was reading Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. He’s a famous Japanese author who has some notoriety in the United States, but a lot of people don’t know who he is. But I was reading Kafka on the Shore when I was 17 years old, and I don’t remember why I thought this, but I remember having this thought that nothing about me felt like a girl but really nothing about me felt like a boy either. People use the word “lesbian” for me, and that’s fine in a statistical sense, but I don’t identify as a lesbian. But if you called me a lesbian, I wouldn’t dispute it, because I’m a gold star. I have only gone down that path. [laughs] But it just kind of was this weird feeling that I didn’t have the language for at the time because I was so young, but now that I’m a queer academic I [do].
Do you think anything about the way you were raised or where you grew up affected how you drew conclusions about your identity?
I guess it would have to; I mean, I’m from Kansas. And being a non-binary queer person, at least in 1990-2009 when I lived there, was kind of unintelligible. But I think moving to New England and being from there… There’s things about Boston that are problematic to me too, but – I don’t know, maybe being so different than anyone else makes you realize it sooner? Everyone’s so crunchy here, I guess is what I’m trying to say, so I guess it would be harder to know that I was different because of that. Does that make sense?
I came out when I was 12. For a lot of people, I think I was the first gay person that they knew personally, and there’s so many people who – we haven’t had a conversation about it, but I’ll figure out later, after they’ve come out and it’s been like 10 years since I’ve seen them, and they’ll message me and [say], “I just need you to know that you were so important to my transformation,” and I’m like, “Oh my god, I wouldn’t even really know you, it’s just that I was gay,” and they’re like, “Oh my god, that’s a possibility.” [laughs] And I wonder what it would be like to be 15 now. It seemed so abysmal when we were [that age]. It was like the war on terror and George W. Bush, and I was like, Shit, I’m gay on top of everything else that’s happening, and there was the Defense of Marriage Act, and it seemed like it was never going to be accepted. And then when they repealed that and then gay marriage was legal everywhere, it seemed so anti-climactic, because at the same time people had moved ideologically so much.
When the Orlando shooting happened not that long ago, it was hard for me because a lot of people in the queer community that I knew that talked about it were [saying], “This shows that we’re never gonna fit in, no matter what happens, we’re never gonna be a part of U.S. society.” But then for me, I understood that, and I thought it was a tragedy, but at the same time, that kind of dynamic – it’s because it’s so much more accepted that people are reacting so violently against it. You have to be so much more extreme to achieve it. They have statistics where in societies where women have relatively equal rights to men, there’s also a much higher rate of violence against women, because women occupy a space where they’re more equal, so then they’re more of a threat to people who have different feelings. So I think maybe the hatred has intensified in the people who have it, but I think in general, the fact that that was happening is actually a sign that more people disagree with it than agree with it. Does that makes sense? It’s really making the people who are very hate-filled and discriminatory more intensified. Which, it still sucks, it’s very sad, but I think it wasn’t as much of a sign that things were going backwards as much as people made it sound like it was.
Can you give any examples of misconceptions people have about those who identify outside the binary? Have you personally dealt with them?
I think that people who are used to it, even people who are in the binary, who are around it a lot, I think just kind of accept it even if they have difficulties with pronouns. I think it’s like how I was saying earlier; they’re like, “Oh my god, did I fuck up?” But for people who can’t conceptualize it at all, like a lot of people in Kansas, I’m not even sure what the misconceptions are, because the misconception is that it doesn’t exist.
And then I would say for me – and I don’t think that this is necessarily a misconception as much as it maybe isn’t always true – I think that there’s this mentality that people who are non-binary are all social justice warriors who are going to bite your head off if you say anything. And I do know a lot of people like that. I don’t think everyone’s like that, and people seem more surprised by me when I say that it’s a way that I feel, but also it’s more that I’m aware of gender and the history of gender and everything that gender does in our society, but I feel outside of it, but not enraged by being outside of it. I’m very apathetic to the whole system, and don’t give a fuck about it. And they’re like, “Aren’t you so pissed about – ” and I’m like, “No.” [laughs] Just whatever. Fuck it. I ordered this shirt [through] Kickstarter, and it says, “Gender is over if you want it.” It’s like the John Lennon “War is Over” thing. It’s like, we don’t have to have it at all, if we just agree to not have it.
In your own words, how would you explain that gender identity is different from sexual orientation?
So, sexual orientation is about who – or what, depending on what you’re into – you do or don’t want to be involved with sexually or romantically. Gender – people have a lot of opinions about this. It can be how you identify personally, it can be ways that you perform gender as it’s coded by society, it can be how other people read you. From a lot of my students I get, “Well gender shouldn’t be anything other than what I say it is,” and I’m like, “Okay, if that’s what you want your gender to be, it can be that.” But for example, since I don’t really identify as anything, I feel like my gender is more about what other people are perceiving me as than myself. So I don’t want to say, “Gender is who you are and sexual orientation is who you love,” because I feel like part of who I am is who I am into, also. There is an identity that comes with sexual orientation as well. I don’t dispute “lesbian” when people say it, but I think I’m more attracted to femme-identified people just in general.
This is kind of going off-script, but I saw this image on the Internet; it was like a line graph, and it was Genders on the one axis and the Years on the other one, and it was at the bottom until 2010, and then it just shot straight up. [laughs] And I was like, “That’s kind of how it feels.” Before it was like, Well I guess I’m a woman because I have boobs, even though I don’t really feel like one, and then all of a sudden it was just so many things. There’s so many ways to be in the world now that I didn’t have when I was growing up.
How do you feel represented in media and society at large?
I mean I’m white, so relative to a lot of people, probably pretty represented. It’s more the types of representation for queer people in general, especially queer female-assigned-at-birth [people], that if you’re in the show, you’re either going to die, or you’re going to commit suicide, or you’re going to have a horrible break-up that makes you go crazy. I would like to see more characters that just happen to be queer, and then what happens to them; like what it’s like to be a person. [laughs] But I don’t feel really not represented, because of other aspects of who I am.
What improvements would you like to see happen inside your communities, and in society at large?
We all say this, it’s like LGBTQIAA-whatever-the-rest-of-it-is, I don’t know, correct me on whatever there is, but it really is more fractured than I think we like to pretend it is. Like I still feel weird tensions when I’m hanging out with capital G Boston gays, or tensions with people who are non-binary in maybe a more impassioned way than I am, even capital L lesbians. Like I’ve had lesbian friends talking about how every man should have his penis cut off. I get feminist rage, whatever, but we shouldn’t be shaming other bodies and things like that. My community would be as violence-free as possible. But I think really coming together more is what I would like to see, and then also as I alluded to before, I think a lot of it has to do with race and class and other things like that. But even without those things factored in, I think we’re more fractured than we admit, and then of course working-class trans women of color are getting killed very frequently, and then white upper-middle-class gays are making tons of money. I would like this notion of “queer family” to be more truthful to what the situation is like, if that makes sense.
Could you tell me about an experience or moment in your life that was very impactful for you? It can be in regards to your identity, or not.
I don’t know. I’m kind of in a weird place right now, so maybe this is my impactful moment and I just can’t tell that it is. I was on this road trip coming back to Boston from Madison where I was doing my thing this summer, and I stayed with someone from my life in every city that I stopped in, and it was like a two-week-long thing. So first of all, I was very impressed with myself that I have made enough friends that I could do a cross-country road trip and not have to pay for an AirBnb, but it was also this kind of weird thing where it was almost like being a ghost. It was like I would be in a person’s life all the time for two days, who I hadn’t seen in maybe two years, and it was weird to see how people had changed and everything that they were going through. And then at the same time, I was having a lot of social activity, but then be alone on the road for maybe like 7 hours a day. So I was doing a lot of thinking, and then I got back here, and I don’t know, I guess I was ready to make all the changes in my life that I knew that other people had made from all of that. So looking forward, I’m not quite sure what that looks like, but a lot of it is just getting the guts to jump, I think. So maybe we should have another interview a year from now and we’ll see what happened. My impactful moment is the here and now, I guess.
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.
Simultaneously, with all of this, I did recently get a PTSD diagnosis. So that’s the official reason that I’m leaving [Brandeis], I’m saying it’s for medical reasons, but I’ve been thinking about this for a lot of time even before then. And it’s coming with some chronic pain problems, and – the PTSD is whatever, shit happens to everyone, I just have to deal with it – but the pain part has been a little bit more intense. I don’t know if you’ve ever had chronic pain at all, but when it’s happening, it can really change the way that you see. Mine’s a back thing, so I can feel it kind of everywhere. I’ve had it for the last couple years, and it’s been this thing where it’s really hard to enjoy myself when I feel it, but then in contrast when there’s days when I don’t feel so much pain, I feel so grateful that I’m just not in agony. So in some ways, it’s been a blessing because I feel like I am so much more aware of my body and my health and all the things that my body does for me that I’d taken for granted before. But it has been really hard to deal with the pain aspect of the disorder. But I just got put on medication, so maybe it’s over now. [laughs]
Who in your life do you feel you can trust or depend on?
I think I have a lot of friends. Hopefully they agree. [laughs] You know there was that study that came out recently that like, half of the people that you think are your friends actually hate you. Did you see that? It was like a New York Times article, [saying how] especially because we have social media, and we have so many more social relationships then we used to because of the Internet, that a lot of them are fake. For me, I do have a lot of friends, and I really value those friendships, and I think that they’re real friendships, and I think that for queer trans non-binary etc. people, chosen family is really the thing.
How has your identity played a role in your relationships, romantic or otherwise?
So I’ve really only been in maybe 1 ½ relationships where I was really more candid about my gender identity because I think it hasn’t been until recently that I have known what I was, or what words to use for it. So with [a recent ex], it never really came because I didn’t really identify that way when we started dating, it sort of happened as we were together, and then it wasn’t a big thing.
And then this last relationship I was in – it was a bigger deal I think, because she identifies as cis and bisexual, but I was the first woman that she’d really been in a relationship-relationship with, but then it was also like, “Am I actually a woman or not?” So then she was like, “I guess I’m not bisexual because you’re not a woman,” and I was like, “You’re thinking too hard about this. It’s chill. Just calm down. Stop freaking out.” She wasn’t not accepting of it, it just kind of fucked with all of the logic that she had around gender and sexuality. We joked around a lot about it; if she was pretending to be jealous of someone, she’d be like, “Um, that’s my non-binary partner.” So for the most part, it hasn’t really been an issue. It hasn’t come up in a lot of times, and even when it did, it wasn’t that big of a deal.
I haven’t even really bothered explaining it to my parents or grandparents or anyone in my family because I think the fact that they accept that I am not straight is enough, and that’s all they really can handle. For friendships, it’s usually fine. No one has like, stopped hanging out with me because I told them that I was outside the gender binary. Sometimes I wonder if people do think it’s just because it’s cool, but even then, so what? People do lots of stupid shit because they think it’s cool, and I do lots of stupid shit that is cool that I’m just doing because I’m doing it. So that’s not that big of a deal to me. I’m just trying to live my truth here. [laughs]
Are you able to find adequate medical care?
It’s been the same thing that I was describing earlier, where if a doctor just doesn’t understand gender stuff, they kind of are just like, “I don’t know what that means,” and then just goes forward [with the idea of], Okay, she’s got tits and a vagina, so we’re just gonna deal with those aspects. But then for doctors who – especially in mental health – kind of have a sense that there’s some gender stuff going on, they’ll be like, “I see that in your file you marked that you do not identify as – what pronoun should – ” and I’m like, “Just whatever you want,” and they’re like, “So ‘them?’” and I’m like, “Whatever,” and they’re like, “Them,” and I’m like, “Sure, fine, if that makes sense to you we’ll go with that,” and it’s this thing where I think that they can’t wrap their heads around me not caring. [laughs] It’s like there’s this pressure to care so much about it, but – I don’t know, it’s kind of the theme of this whole thing, is that I don’t give a shit about it.
And I’ve thought about it myself, like, Am I maybe not really outside of the binary because I don’t care? But then I know people who strongly identify as women, and they’re so committed to women’s issues, and they’re like, “I’m a woman, and I’m oppressed, and shit sucks, and men suck,” and I don’t really feel that energy either. I do think that women are oppressed.
It’s weird, because I guess people who identify as cisgender and then some people who identify as trans – things have changed where people are more fucking with the binary rather than just transitioning within the binary – like this deep connection to your gender is something that I don’t feel. You know what I mean? And then, because I don’t feel a connection to it, I don’t care about it. I can see why someone would be very adamant that they were being mis-gendered if they didn’t feel like they were a certain gender, but I don’t feel anything in that capacity.
How has your view of yourself changed since you were younger?
I think I’m more compassion and accepting of myself. I think I understand more things about my gender and sexuality than I did before, but in general, in a lot of ways I think I’m just more compassionate and comfortable with who I am. Not as exciting of an answer as some of the other ones.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Eh, I mean – like some shit got better. A lot of shit didn’t get better. I guess – don’t spend so much time trying to cultivate relationships of any sort, romantic or otherwise, that are actually harmful. I knew this a little bit, but I was in denial about it. If I could go back in time I’d be like, “Yo – bitch just listen to what your heart says. You know this shit’s wrong.” [laughs] I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. There’s a lot of shit I would change, and I’m not going to lie about it. I think I’m okay, but like, if you had the power to go back in time – and of course, sans the event where you ruin the world through the Butterfly Effect – but like if normal shit happened, there’s a lot of shit I would change. There’s a lot of stuff I wouldn’t say to people when I was in a bad mood, and stuff like that. I think life in general works itself out, for the most part, but I think people who say they wouldn’t change anything about the past are just being hippy-dippy losers. [laughs]
What are your concerns for the future?
In the long-term, I am nervous about getting a job and the economy, because that’s the climate that we live in. And I guess student loans is something I’m concerned about for us all, but again, it’s like I was saying before; I think if I could change those things about life, I would change them, but hopefully things work out, so I’m trying not to stress about them.
What do you look forward to in the future?
I guess the point where everything doesn’t seem so hard anymore. And maybe that will never come, but I’m hoping that things at least seem easier than they are now. It’s a lot harder to be in your 20s than people say it is. Or maybe I’ll get to my 30s and be like, “Fuck, I didn’t even know what I was talking about.” [laughs] But it’s a very tumultuous time. I think I’m ready for things to be more steady and set in stone.
What have been the important frustrations in your life, and the most important successes?
I guess I have a lot of class frustration. Last Halloween I went as class warfare. And that was awesome, because I was wearing this vintage army-green Commy T-shirt with fake bullets around me, and an army vest, and I had a fake gun, and then my friend who is an extremely wealthy Jewish girl from New York wore her grandmother’s real Prada shit and real pearls, and the whole night was me pretending to kill her. So I am frustrated that in this country and in this world – like we can’t even feed people. Like we don’t recognize that access to food is enough that we should be structuring our society differently. Ideally, we would have no income inequality, but I’m a realist, that’s probably not going to happen, but we don’t have to be so unequal. We could be a lot better.
I guess I feel like, despite the fact that I’m going to leave academia, it is a success that I have gained all the knowledge that I have, because I’m the first person in my family to go to college. So the idea of me getting a PhD was always crazy to everyone, including me. And I think that there maybe is a certain point where you can know too much, or maybe too much relative to what it does to your mental health. That’s something that I’m struggling with. But yeah, I think it was a success that I learned so much and I got to be so woke, as they say. Because I can’t imagine what my life would’ve been like if I didn’t learn all the things that I learned. So hopefully I can apply them to something else even if it’s not a Doctorate degree.
Do you have a philosophy of life? What’s your best piece of advice?
A philosophy of life. I think that can change, but lately I’ve been saying to myself, “Play the hand you’re dealt,” a lot. And again, this notion that, as much as we like to pretend that it’s not this way, most of the things that happen in our life are not in our control. But I think that we can control how we respond to those situations, and it takes a lot of maturity and emotional growth and humility to do those things. I think that there is a way that we can make it easier on ourselves relative to the situation. It might not be easy, but we can do the best we can.