RIPLEY

Somerville, MA

What’s your name?

Ripley.

What are your pronouns?

“They/them” and “she.”

Where do you work?

I work over at a seam shop. It’s called Visual Design Associates, or VDA Productions. I’m a receptionist, so I am the grand controller of the front door, and the grand controller and director of the phones. The company makes scenery for trade shows and corporate events. But a seam shop basically just means a single, usually warehouse-style location, that has metal fabrication, carpentry, paint shop, storage, and has the capability of producing sets.

Do you have any hobbies or special interests?

All of them. It’s funny, beginning of last year if someone asked me what I did for work, I would rattle off: performer, composer, arranger, freelancer, theater professional, audio technician, theater technician – just all of that, and that has very much changed in the last two years to now where I have one full-time job.

But I still have all of my other bonkers-in-every-single-direction interests. I’d say, specifically right now, there’s the music studio that we’re in right now, which is attached to my house, so it’s perfect. It’s every musician’s dream to have a room that they can go into at 3 AM to make really awkward noises in. This is largely in use right now by teachers, but the overall goal for the space is to have it more geared toward, not studio-level recording, but a space that isn’t your bedroom, if you want to go and record some of your own songs or your own work, since musicians in this age are very much about the home studio and the ease in access.

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

For me, because my desire around pronouns and my gender identity needs are very variable dependent on who I’m around and what part of my life I’m in – if I’m around my friends and my partners, if I’m at a festival setting or a party setting, something that’s just in my social life, then I prefer “they.” However, at work, I absolutely strongly want to be “she.” Because that’s what I want to have appear on the census. I want to not just be a woman in the workforce, but I also very much for a lot of positions that I’ve had. Like theater tech, unfortunately as with many things, it’s a man’s world. And so I want to be a woman in those situations. So it’s weird. I’ve kind of accepted the fact that since pretty much all of my genders are femme-y, I’m most likely going to be perceived as feminine or female most of the time. That’s just most of the time going to be the case unless I explicitly and specifically manipulate other people’s perceptions of me. Which I love doing, and I love fucking with people, so that’s fine. And that’s when I really specifically want to hear someone say, “Excuse me, sir.” Then I just make sure that I am in that presentation setting, and usually can get people to follow my lead.

You have AMAB [assigned-male-at-birth] men for who gender expression, especially if you are going to more femme persuasions, is downright dangerous. You will be very explicitly hurt. Because you are doing things that are, by societal standards, abhorrent. (Fuck societal standards.) And you have more acceptability around an AFAB [assigned-female-at-birth] women going for more masculine presentation. And yet the man who picks up feminine characteristics has more universality. There’s more validity in a drag queen instead of a drag king. And a woman in vest and pants – unfortunately a lot of people are going to see “waiter” before they see masculine persuasion.

"I would never tell any of the men in my life that frills aren’t manly. ... If that was part of their manliness, being in frilly booty shorts, that is the damn manliest thing that they’ve done all day. ... And I’m never going to tell one of the women in my life or any other myriad gender combinations that something about the way they experience their gender isn’t actually part of their gender."

Of course then you can go ever further into the ouroboros of gender into, what actually is feminine and masculine persuasion, and it’s one of those things where the more you stare at it, the more it just slithers away from view. And then you’re at the point where it’s like, Well I would never tell any of the men in my life that frills aren’t manly. I would never do that. If that was part of their manliness, being in frilly booty shorts, that is the damn manliest thing that they’ve done all day. Fine. I’m never going to say that. And I’m never going to tell one of the women in my life or any other myriad gender combinations that something about the way they experience their gender isn’t actually part of their gender. So it’s complicated, is probably the short version of the answer.

I think what has been important to me is having people in my life who actually do see me the way that I see myself. Because if I can come home to my partner, to my housemates, to my friends and my community that actually does see me and knows what I’ve been doing through, then the fact that someone I meet on the street says a pronoun that doesn’t feel right in the moment, doesn’t really matter as much to me.

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?

It’s been totally fine. It’s made life easier, because I used to do – and still do on less frequent occasions – a lot of networking in really overwhelming and loud environments. So then yelling, “Madelaine!” they never would hear, but Ripley, I can just say, “Like Aliens!” and everyone’s fine. Get it immediately.

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

So I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently, what with the stage of transition that I’m in, and the medical necessities of my general life recently, and I’m an artist. So how am I going to process that shit? I’m going to process that by making a lot of weird art. I had a theory, and I think it worked pretty well, that if I gave my brain a lot of rituals to show myself that I was about to do something big and what that big something was going to be, that hopefully it would make the transition into my different new body easier. So the words that have been really striking my fancy recently have been “masculinifemme,” or “femmasculinity,” where it’s just a pure sort of duality. An ever-present in-all. Except my ticker is a bit more on the femme side.

I had a bike accident while I was off at a radical marching band festival in Texas. I was biking to an afterparty and a pickup truck did a U-turn that went into my path of travel and I flipped over the handlebars and hit my head real bad, got a wicked concussion, and if you have not had one of those, it’s a trip. I learned a lot about my brain from that experience. Going into top surgery brought up a lot of interesting feels around the fact that I honestly don’t personally think that I ever actually would’ve taken the step or the plunge to go for top surgery if it wasn’t also necessitated by some physical thing. Because after my accident, I have determined from a number of different data points, that I have a separated rib. And so the weight of my chest was constantly pushing down on the rib that wasn’t fully seated in the socket. It doesn’t pop all the way out of socket, it just was constantly getting pushed. Having your rib pop out of joint is actually not that uncommon of a thing. Having a rib that just stays in a constantly aggravated state is less common, but, funny thing, way more common in people who have breast tissue.

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

I really specifically like things that take the extremes and mash them together. I like hyper-gender. I like taking things that people have a tendency to separate and categorize differently and smush them together. So I like the really butch-femme and the really femme-y butch, and once again it just depends on what mix you have. A really great example is my partner, who is definitely a man. He is a cis man. He is a mechanic. He has a lot of strength. He also has very long pigtails and a beard that is tipped with hot pink. And one of his favorite things in the world would be working on someone’s car, and having them come into one of the shops he was working at or his own shop, and for him to give excruciating detail of the work he had done and show precisely how knowledgeable he is in the work that he does in this industry that is hyper-masculine, with a hairstyle that is perceived as being on the far end spectrum of girly. And he’s had that hairstyle for 13 years or something.

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

It’s weird. I have a whole bunch of different snapshots that just flashed through my head. Like for one thing, I have found that when I think back to the things that in my youth, say pre-teens and under, that I found upsetting – especially when it comes to cultural and gender expression wise – the things that I found specifically weird, they’re the things that I deeply love now. I remember, probably one of the first Pride events I went to, had a drag queen performing who had a full beard. And I was very trained. I was disgusted. I had no idea what I was looking at, why a performer would want to do this. And now when I look at the drag performers that I truly love, it’s all of the performers that really, explicitly, are mashing gender into a blender with itself that I love the most, that I find really interesting. So there’s things like that.

I grew up in a theater family, and when I was young enough, I would play both male and female characters, and my mother referred to me as her beautiful boy. In high school, I was always in my family the one who was doing a lot of chores and carrying things in and out of the house, I was the pack mule, taller than my sister… Cut my hair short, started bringing girls home, and so I was affectionately referred to for a while as my sister’s older brother. The funniest thing is that my sister’s actually older than me, and people still think that she’s younger than me. Then there’s just every character that I kind of strongly attached to in my youth was either hyper-femme or that character that, if it was a stage production, might maybe be played by a female or AFAB actress. Characters like Peter Pan, and Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Those were always the characters I felt most drawn to.

And I was raised by a wild woman on five acres of land in the woods, so the idea that there were expressions of myself that I couldn’t really do, that didn’t fit under the umbrella of just me, came up because, I mean, she’s awesome, but she’s not perfect, and societal training is such a thing. I think we all have to deal with that constantly. But still, she was extremely supportive of any possible direction I wanted to take my life. I came out to [her] as a lesbian at 8, and when she asked why, I started crying and said, “All the boys I like look like girls!” And then I turned 15, and I came out to [her] again as a lesbian. My attraction to female energy, women, femme-types, that turned on first. So I came out again, and [she] told me, “Oh no, dear, we already did this. You did that when you were 8.” So yeah, it’s been one of those things where I remember all of the ways that I felt entirely comfortable behaving and acting before my body changed into, very rapidly, the swelling of the bosoms and the hips and – puberty. And then all of that changing.

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

Oh, absolutely. My mother raised me to question just about everything. Like if I feel comfortable with something, it’s probably about time to question it. Just to make sure that I’m really cozy, because you might never know, it might be possible to be more comfortable. Coziness is a very important thing to me, in terms of life. It is a thing that I aspire towards, is coziness. She raised me to challenge everything, to question, and so I’ve never settled into a definite absolute of what I am. The longer I live, definitely, certain things become more clear and more crystalized. But life is a work in progress and so am I.

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

Well, there’s that non-binary is not actually a thing that exists. There’s that one. Of course, you also have people who say that trans doesn’t exist, as well. Honestly a lot of it – having just gone through the process of talking to all of the doctors and insurance companies around what the medical and legal perception of what the trans identity is – is purely, by those standards, seated in self-hatred. Like, a trans identity does not exist if you do not hate yourself. The perception that genderqueer identities are things that other people have to deal with. This I actually ran into with my mother when I was talking about things to do with my overall identity. She at one point said in an exasperated tone, “Oh, you’re not going to go by one of those weird pronouns, are you? That’s not something you’re gonna make me deal with, is it?” I didn’t realize that you were the one dealing with this. I think I’m probably dealing with it more intimately on a day-to-day basis than you are. And it seems like a lot of people just don’t connect with that.

I feel like non-binary identity is, for me at least, very much tied into trans identity. I know that I’ve talked to people that have a lot of different feelings there. I’ve talked to people who feel like non-binary is a very separate term to trans, and trans is a very specific thing, whether you have an asterisk on it or not. But for me, it’s a very enmeshed sort of concept and gender wibbly-ness. And because of that, the history that we have, not that far in the past and existing all around us, is one where trans people are fooling the normal people. Tricking them, shall we say. And probably a very upsetting thing that I can say is that the trend of trans women being murdered, which is horrifying; an additionally horrifying trend that I feel like I’ve noticed in just scanning over the pictures, is how traditionally attractive they will look. That to me is just evidence that the idea that a trans woman deserves violence if they’ve tricked you is alive and kicking. I really think that we’re going to look back on the portrayal of trans women that we have in media for the most part and as time goes on, that portrayal of the worthlessness of a trans woman’s life is going to be the really uncomfortable blackface of our era.

So I think probably the misconception about the only trans identity being one that is born out of self-hatred is one of my least favorite. Because it just further stigmatizes and puts gender identity that deviates from cis-normative into a camp of being a mental deviation. You have textbooks that you can go back and see specific words [with] the definition, “the deviancy of a man who gets sexual pleasure from dressing as a woman.” Now, it’s entirely possible that under that umbrella would be considered a woman who dresses like a man, but once again, it’s really deviant when a man is dressing like a woman, because that is somehow lowering yourself. Whereas if you are going in more masculine directions, you are actually gaining social status and privileges. So that is definitely one of my least favorite perceptions. I am much more part of and devoted to the wave of trans thought that is more about wanting to live as yourself, your ultimate self or your pure self, or just to live as you want to live your life, and that you are taking steps to live your life more authentically.

[There are a] number of people that I’ve talked to who have “completed” their transition and landed at a spot that is very, very far into either masculine or feminine, and have told me afterwards that they never actually really felt as super-girly or super-masculine as they have now ended up being, but that to stay safe in society, that’s what they’ve had to do.

I don’t want to tell anyone ever how to experience themselves or their surroundings, because the world is way too weird and messed up to think that that holds any water. But I don’t think anyone ever truly lets go of how they were raised and what they interacted with while they were being raised. The ways that a little girl is socialized versus the way that a little boy is socialized – the way that is going to impact the way that you look at the world and the way that you interact with the world, and how you interact with yourself, is profound. There’s a really wonderful spoken word and poetry group, Dark Matter. They’re great. They very explicitly center non-binary POC [people of color], concepts around your identity, your gender, not being about what clothing you’re putting on, that it’s yours. And there was one quotation they have that I’m probably going to butcher and paraphrase. It goes something along the lines of, “What aspect of yourself did you destroy to survive the world?” And in terms of gender identity, “What were the moments you had that burned those pieces of you?”

[I] was jumping through hoops for top surgery, and stumbling upon this really angry part of my head. I was specifically getting pissed off by talking to all of these doctors and all these insurance people, and I realized that my anger was this part of my head that was just furious that getting top surgery meant that people were going to think I wasn’t a woman. It was like, Okay. You are a woman. It is okay. You can be a woman for as long as you want to be a woman. It’s going to be all right.

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

Sexual orientation has to do with more of how you are interacting with others, and gender identity has more to do with, in different camps of the definition of gender identity, how you see and interact with yourself, and also how society sees you for performative gender. You also can break that down further into, are we talking about romantically, sexually, purely? What forms of intimacy are we looking at there? Because there are so many different kinds of ways we can organize relationships and things. And so that’s more about who you’re attracted to, who you are partnered with, who you get swole for or who you don’t get swole for, if that is your sexual identity. There’s a lot of affirmation to be found in rejection.

Gender identity is in different layers, because gender is really weird and fractured like that. It’s how the rest of the world is interacting with you. A lot of people will transition because they want to get a specific experience out of the world. Say you have a woman that wants to transition to be a man. They want to experience the interfacing that a man experiences as they go through the world, if that is the way that they view their transition and that is what they want in this hypothetical situation. Then there’s also what you personally define as yourself and your relationship with yourself. A lot of dysphoria and discomfort in identity with self can often stem from having an internal gender identity that does not fit the external interactions that one is having with the world.

So this hypothetical woman who wants to go through the world interfacing as a man, being seen as a man, being treated as a man, being talked to as a man, is instead constantly being talked to as a woman, constantly being seen as a woman, and that is the interactions that they get. That is a constant microaggression in being mis-gendered because they know themselves, they know what they feel like, they know what feels good, they know what feels bad, because that’s one of the few things we as humans know. And that’s where that hurt and that pain and that anger comes from, is just not feeling seen. Not feeling heard. And when you don’t feel seen, you don’t feel heard, you don’t feel like you matter as a person. You don’t feel like you exist. And even if you have an outer shell that exists in the world, if your inner self is constantly being made to feel like it does not exist, or it will never be seen, then you start going down some really dark alleys.

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

Well, I mean, there are definitely characters that I feel represented by because I have found myself resonating and feeling close to characters I have seen. But it’s certainly not a majority. I just want to see a group of people that’s actually like the group of people that I see in my life. That would be great. That would be awesome. But it’s rare, and honestly a lot of times, the characters that I would feel closest to would be characters that are categorized typically as bad or wrong. The villain.

"What I want to do with my life is just try to create as much as possible to throw my own experience out there, because as humans, we are each and every single one of us an individual beautiful snowflake inside a blizzard of individual beautiful snowflakes. And those individual snowflakes, if you organize them, have a lot of similar characteristics. It’s just what is permissible at that time. And I’m a progressive, which means that the goalpost should always move. Always."

I take representation very seriously as a performer. I think even just giving someone one night or one hour of seeing or being around someone or something that reminds them of themselves reflects back something that they are experiencing, or bits of themselves. I mean, that’s what art is all about. It’s about communicating humanity on a level that is a lot more immediate and a lot more impactful than words can often be. And there’s so much power in naming things, in having the words for things. Having the term “non-binary.” Having “they” singular in the dictionary. These are all things that are extremely empowering, because now you don’t have someone flipping through and saying, “Oh, well, that doesn’t exist, because it’s not in the book, which means I don’t exist.” And that’s why, ultimately, what I want to do with my life is just try to create as much as possible to throw my own experience out there, because as humans, we are each and every single one of us an individual beautiful snowflake inside a blizzard of individual beautiful snowflakes. And those individual snowflakes, if you organize them, have a lot of similar characteristics. It’s just what is permissible at that time. And I’m a progressive, which means that the goalpost should always move. Always. Complacency is absolutely the enemy. “Mission accomplished” is the end of the road.

So I want to throw copies of myself out into the world. It’s narcissistic, and that’s also what art is. 

But if there’s even just one person that, while seeing me perform or while listening to my music, thinks or feels in the moment, or whatever moment they’re having, which honestly has nothing to do with me, which is also the beauty of art – that that’s what it’s all about. I really take representation as one of the higher callings in life. Representation and documentation. Libraries? That’s a chapel. We don’t have that, we don’t have ourselves. We don’t have our narrative. Because a story is not a single point in time. It’s what created that situation, and where you’re going to go after it. It’s important.

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

I feel like a lot of the scenes that I’m in and the communities that I will interact with will be queer-friendly and POC-friendly, and to some extents handicap-friendly. It’s really difficult to say that with the burner community. Because radical self-reliance will just turn into, “Why can’t you do that yourself? You look fine.” So less of that, and more actively encouraging. Actually holding the door open. Because that’s what you’re supposed to do, in my worldview. When you have the ability to hold the door, you hold the door.

"If you don’t tell the dominant paradigm that it is not welcome, or that it is not the important focus, it will take over everything. So having queer-friendly things, that’s still like getting coursework from your school that was modified so you could interact with it, but it’s not actually about you at all in any way. The language that is there is different, the way that you approach the material is different. 'But we’re open to your kind. So we’re going to give you access to this thing.'"

[I once asked a friend of mine] how to create a party environment, because honestly, his parties were always really populated with these wonderful very genuine people, and his parties tended towards a more adult environment, and would feel very safe and very supportive of whatever expression people were going to go into. What he said is that, if you don’t tell the dominant paradigm that it is not welcome, or that it is not the important focus, it will take over everything. So having queer-friendly things, that’s still like getting coursework from your school that was modified so you could interact with it, but it’s not actually about you at all in any way. The language that is there is different, the way that you approach the material is different. “But we’re open to your kind. So we’re going to give you access to this thing.” So I’d really like to see that in my communities.

I have that similar sort of gag response when I hear people intoning along the lines of, “Oh, well, isn’t it racist if you’re trying to specifically find POC to bring into your work environment or your performance scenes or your music or your schools? Isn’t that racist?” No. You hold. The damn. Door. Whatever privilege you get, you hold the door. And sometimes, people are so extremely pushed away from whatever privilege you have, that you have to do more than hold the door. You have to actually shout for people to follow your voice.

Overall I would like to see the government stop using the trans identity and narrative as a red herring and as a distraction for people to yell at. I would like to see a greater focus towards the concept that a consenting adult is a consenting adult. This idea that we have to define what humanity is, like what kind of people deserve humanity, is the most abhorrent concept that we have. This idea that we’re going to start with this very rigid definition of what being a person is, and then we are going to slowly add on more things. Why are we going from that direction? We can start from the other end of the spectrum, which is that everyone has the inalienable right to be a person, and then we modify based on what things are damaging or actively hurting society. That, I would love to see. I would love to see more trans and non-binary people in positions of authority, power, and government.

We’re in the middle of a wave. And of course there are many waves. But we’re in the middle of a particular wave. There was the late 90s, early 2000s, when the perception of homosexuality was becoming more public. And I remember at that time, seeing some completely ludicrous number that was saying like, under 8% of society is gay. And it’s like, guys? You can’t really get an accurate bead when you’re killing people for being something. And so now we have, “Oh well trans identity is one of the most marginalized, least common identity to have.” No shit! Oh gosh, I am shocked. You mean we’ve been conditioning our humans since grade school to punish each other when we deviate from norms? No shit. Man. This is blowing my goddamn mind. So I’m really interested to see what those numbers are going to turn into as we move in the direction of the trans narrative and the trans identity being more seen and more understood. More normalized.

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.

Usually what my mind jumps to at questions like these is, I had heart surgery when I was 10. It was a heart defect that I was born with, so it should not have become life-threatening. It totally became life-threatening. And it was when I really learned how much you have to manipulate doctors to actually be able to have access to information and access to the things you are going to need. Because I as a 10-year-old with chest pains and fainting spells, the doctors were telling my mother, “Oh well, she’s so dramatic. I mean, she’s probably just making everything up. You shouldn’t be feeding into her behavior. You’re just reinforcing it.” A heart defect that I was born with, that they knew about, was in my medical history. Coarctation of the aortic valve. The aorta is the super highway that takes blood to your organs and lower half of your body. By the time they opened me up there was no blood getting through that. All of the blood was getting routed through the minor vessels in my lower back. Which was creepy, because I was a very energetic child, and I had a pot belly that disappeared after surgery. It was a pot belly made of blood and organs.

I recovered relatively quickly, I was out of the hospital in under 36 hours. I had a few weeks further of recovery, and then I had like a month of being back to being a kid again, and then I started having massive growth spurts. I looked like I was in college by the time that I was 14. I grew an inch overnight. I went through 3 shoe sizes in a month, which ended my skating career. My 13-year-old molars came in when I was 12, my wisdom teeth came in when I was 13. So by the time 14 hit, I had double-D boobs and looked like I was in college. So that very much has affected the way that I look at identity and the world and how I interact with other people, and the personality I’ve developed.

It’s impacted so many things because I was actually a year younger than my peers in high school, because in middle school I did 2 grades in one year while home-schooling. I was really bored. But I looked older than everyone. I looked like I had been held back multiple years. I was always the kid that parents would put in charge of things. And always the student that was being given further work and being pushed harder, and given more responsibility, and more pressure, because teachers would just think that I was older. [They would] be like, “Well, I obviously need to make this harder for you,” and then my mother would come in and be like, “Could you please stop making my daughter have all of these problems? Please? She’s really young.” [laughs] So that definitely impacted a lot. Being able to really recognize just how much my physical appearance was changing how people interacted with me. And growing up in a theater family, my concept of identity [was] purely born out of that.

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.

From the growth spurts, I had tendonitis from the waist down and had to stop almost all of the physical activities that I had been doing for most of my life. I kept doing ballroom dancing, because I had a very patient teacher, and tap dancing because I didn’t have to bend my legs too much. But that was crazy difficult. Having a string of abusive men archetypes in my life definitely also one of the other great life challenges. Thankfully I have really broken that streak. My bio dad is my bio dad, and is a special flavor of narcissist that is one of my least favorite to deal with. There are certain people whose personality is the worst ever, on par with being sociopathic. Which by the way, not all sociopaths are evil. That said, there are some narcissists that I dearly love, myself included. But goddamn.

I think that I learned a lot of not healthy things about relationships from him that then just carried over into my adult life. So I had to really re-learn my perception of how relationships actually work. Something that I’m fairly reasonably proud of is that I started out with my first relationship being extremely controlling and a version of open or not really poly, but open, that was extremely controlling, and this concept that your partner was someone that you knew precisely where they were at all times. If I saw things going in a potentially sexual direction, I would have to make contact first to get permission. And now I am extremely pleased with my life where I have multiple partners that I very dearly love, I do not own or control any of them, they have the ability to see anybody they want to see. [And] I have the power to say, “I have seen that person do extremely damaging things, and I do not feel safe in their presence.” Or, “I do not feel safe with you opening up your intimate life to them.”

So that took a number of uncomfortable evenings of sitting with myself and feeling extremely insecure and scared and jealous and all number of things. But totally absolutely worth it in the end because I really trust the people that I’m with. I trust that they’re going to hold me in their thoughts when I’m not around them, and that they’re going to factor me into their lives. And if they don’t, or if they don’t do so in a way that is respectful to our relationship or to me or whatever, then that’s an issue that we have in our relationship that we need to work on, and has nothing actually to do with the fact that they are putting their face on other people, as it turns out. I have actually never been in a monogamous relationship.

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

My housemates. My partners. I have so much gratitude and warmth to my close friends, and to my loved ones, and to my housemates, and family members, blood and not blood. But specifically, in this case, the people who have been around for me in the last year while I’ve been walking through the valley of hell. The amount of patience that people have had with me, and the amount of love and support. Going into top surgery knowing absolutely 100% that there’s not just a person in my life who understands and supports and is excited for what I’m doing with my life, but that I have a friend group. I have a house. I have probably more friends than I can name on both hands that are truly loving and supportive to my life. And it’s definitely a two-way street. I try to spend a lot of time giving what energy and time that I have to my friends when they need support. Sometimes you just need someone in the room with you. That was a lot of it with me, in the rough spots that I’ve hit. I don’t need someone to wait on me hand and foot, I just need someone to be in the room so that I am not the only person who is in this room.

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

Well, romantically speaking, it’s been interesting to sort of feel out and suss out the changing and shifting of my understanding of myself, and how that relates to the sexual identities that I have with my partners. It definitely has changed things. I’m really thankful that it seems the kind of people that I’m attracted to are ones that find change really exciting and interesting, and have been wonderfully supportive in exploring and seeing wherever this goes. So that’s been fun. It’s definitely added some different fun flavors to both dating life and bedroom life. Like coming to understand that my submissive side is gendered far more masculine, while my dominant side is gendered far more feminine. If I sit in myself, the submissive personality is pretty much always boy. And the dominant is always – well, I was about to say “mistress,” but I also go by “sir” because you know, gender wibbly “sir.”

So it’s definitely been fun and interesting. I definitely noticed my medical and surgical needs making some of my cis male friends make some interesting faces. That’s been amusing. I’ve also had some cis female friends who have been like, “Oh my god! But I can never imagine going without my boobs!” and I’m like, “That sounds great for you.” But the particular look of confusion and horror, I’ve really only seen from some of my cis male friends. “How could you possibly want to get rid of that vital part of you?” …Cause it’s mine. I’ma do with it what I want.

Are you able to find adequate medical care?

Yes. Absolutely. Largely because I have the white privilege suit, and the higher education language to be able to make sure that doctors actually talk to me. Because that is not something that everyone gets. And I used to think that was just because I’m a special person, but it’s because I’m special in specific ways that make it so that doctors are more willing to listen to me. I didn’t have to [jump through a lot of hoops to get my surgery done] because figuring out a way to pay for the surgery – it’s not paying out of pocket, but the full debt is on me. It’s one of those medical credit cards. Because I’m a control freak and I wanted to be able to choose exactly, specifically which doctor I got to work with, which I would’ve had to give up some level of control around with insurance companies. And the surgeon I found was completely comfortable working with genderqueer people, which a lot of surgeons and doctors won’t be, because once again, genderqueer doesn’t exist. It just doesn’t. “You just like to dress up, right?”

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

I feel like it’s changed and become entirely different and then also stayed precisely the same. It’s just which parts of my personality have been more thoroughly explored at that given time. Because I can totally remember as a kid really loving approaching the stories I would tell with my dolls from every character’s perspective. I didn’t want to be princess always, I also wanted to be the rogue, and I also wanted to be the dragon. I wanted to be all of the characters. And that’s very much my life overall, is wanting to have all of the angles. Wanting to see the things I like from as many sides as possible.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

I don’t know if I could think of advice to give myself that would impact anything or would’ve stuck. I would probably time travel back in time to the point where I started simplifying my personality and decided to try and soften myself to see if I could get people to stop being threatened by me. Because a very frequent response that I have from people is intimidation, and I’ve tried. I’ve honestly tried. And I can’t. Either I destroy myself and don’t intimidate people, or I live as myself and intimidate people. So I’m going to go with that one. But for a while I was trying. I grew my hair out long, [with] natural colors, and just tried to really focus on normalizing. Or at least having a more normal shell. I’d go back in time to that point and tell me that that voice in my head saying it wasn’t going to work is right. It doesn’t work. And that it’s dumb. And it’s especially dumb to do for a boy.

What are your concerns for the future?

This is a great time to have concerns for the future. That is running hot and cold all over the place.

The way that the candidacy and presidential race is shining lights on the hatred and bigotry that has always been part of the red, white, and blue, because that is what we are. I am scared or afraid of the light being shone on the hatred not actually being enough to make people push against it, and instead just inviting hatred out into the public and into accepted normal life. I’m really afraid of that. You know there’s the whole fear of Trump with a button that would kill the world. And that’s totally awful. But I almost feel like I’m more afraid of the normalizing of hatred. Because then the government doesn’t have to lift a finger to punish, and to keep people kept. Because the people are managing themselves. I would prefer the Earth not be a frozen ice ball hurtling through space, but you know.

What do you look forward to in the future?

I look forward to the progression and modernization of society, and the further spreading of information that tools like the Internet have brought forth, continuing to push towards things that actually make goddamn sense. Because there’s all of these things that we live in all the time. Like the concept that one has to have a job to have the worthiness of a human life in society. Because that’s what we have. If you don’t work a job, you’re not allowed a place to live, you are not allowed food to eat, you are not allowed your health, you are allowed nothing. We don’t say this out loud, we don’t have big fanfare for it – but it’s getting exiled. You are banished from society. You are a leper, no one will touch you. And that concept has a lot of problematic sides to it, but one of the worst things is just: bureaucracy was invented by this concept. Because there aren’t actually enough jobs. There just flat-out aren’t. There are fewer and fewer jobs. And that’s okay. The fact that we have robots that are handling assembly lines, that’s good. Humans and children should not be on assembly lines. A human is a multi-tool. And if you’re using a human to pull a crank 500 times a day, that is a waste of that person’s time. There are more efficient ways. So we go for the more efficient ways. And unfortunately, we have people railing against destruction of jobs. Which is valid, because we live in a society where the destruction of jobs is the destruction of lives.

But we need this progress, because I really hope at some point it will force the conversation of: what if a human life isn’t explicitly linked to the job it is working? What if humans work jobs because jobs are still going to exist, but we actually support human lives, and let people work on the things that they want to, as well as the jobs that they have to do? Because time and time again, what’s found is that building something correctly, even if you have to do it over from scratch, is less expensive, less negatively impactful, than having to constantly maintain something that is crumbling. Homelessness. I think I did actually read that it is 3 times more expensive to leave homeless people on the street than it is to give them homes. Instead of I don’t know, teaching tools and helping people integrate into society, and helping people rehabilitate. The information is out there, but unfortunately, when you read something, it doesn’t mean that everyone else has. And so it’s this slow stagger forward. I want the question to be forced. I’d rather it not be too forceful. Ideally it would just be like, “Hey. This is a way-the-fuck-better way of doing things. Man, why haven’t we been doing this for ages? We could’ve saved trillions of dollars!”

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

Probably the last year of my life would be the most extreme important frustration I can think of. In a year I lost access to my physicality, to doing things with my arms – you really don’t realize just how much you do with your arms until you can’t really use them. My band, my work… I had an impactful relationship end, a best friend and on again-off again long-term partner move out to Oakland, my childhood pet died, and my grandfather died. So it was I think a year where I lost probably the most personal definitions of self and pieces of my life all at once. It was devastating for months, where I would largely just go to work and then come back home and sit down and not do anything. As the year went on my pain levels – I take my pain meds at night when I go to bed – would start escalating around 4, and then as the year went on, my pain levels would start escalating at 6 PM. And now my pain levels start escalating around 10 or 11. That’s when I start noticing that the medication is hitting its dregs. So no ability really for nightlife. No ability really for crowded environments, because getting jostled would be excruciating. The list goes on, the amount of impact this one event had on my ability to cope, and then my ability to cope in a year that just kept on kicking. It was not that great.

Important good thing? Probably meeting the community of artists and weirdos in Boston. Really when you talk about the weirdo circles in Boston, there’s the goths, the poly, the kinkies, the burners, and they’re all the same people. It’s like a Venn diagram that just keeps overlapping. Which I kind of honestly like, because it creates this net where everyone, for the most part, either recognizes or really knows each other. And from living and working in larger cities, when you have larger cities where these social circles are much smaller but very separate from each other, people drop in and out of the scene, and it doesn’t matter. But around here, each weirdo is like, “No, you are not going to fall. You don’t have a place to live? You are going to live on my couch. I have a bedroom. Your food stamps ran out? I am going to make sure you have food. And I’ll keep track, and you can pay me back some day, because I don’t want to make you uncomfortable. But you’re going to eat.” And that, I honestly had never really experienced. I don’t think I actually believed that the word “community” existed until I came into this group of weirdos that accepted me.

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

The answer is less important than knowing how to ask the question. I think probably the most practical model of this is simply: education in America focuses on answers. What this unfortunately means is we are raising people who actually don’t know how to problem solve. People that just do not know, because what they were drilled in for their entire lives was rote memorization and tests. Which [the] practical world does not give a shit about. The wild world out there throws problems faster than you can think. And it’s not always about what the right answer is. It’s not about being right, it’s not about being correct. It’s about knowing how to navigate, or how to ask the questions that are going to give you the tools so that you will be able to navigate.