SUNNY

Dorchester, MA

What are your pronouns?

They/them/their.

Do you have any hobbies or special interests?

Lots. Gardening is one of them. Playing music. Petting animals when I see them on the street. Music shows. Hanging with friends. Reading. Watching TV shows.

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

It depends on the situation and who I’m with. For example, I had this one job and came out there because I had a couple of coworkers that I knew would support me, so I felt comfortable talking to my boss about it. But with that job, I would often have to interact with a whole classroom of students at the drop of a hat, and would get mis-pronouned all the time. And because I had like 10 minutes to sell this program and get kids to sign up, I just had to let it go. Classroom time is so precious to teachers, and I felt that I couldn’t use up that time by explaining my pronouns first.  

It’s not like I could tell everyone I identified in the binary, I would’ve had to explain the binary first and then explain how to use the pronouns.  There have been instances where I was able to come out to a classroom, but those were during self-efficacy or LGBTQ workshops, and those were few.  I look back on it now and realize how heavy that all felt, to sacrifice a bit of yourself because you know how much time or space it would take up. It’s not a good feeling.

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 really changed my name. I’ve just asked people to use a nickname that sounds more or less gender neutral. I have a pretty big attachment to the name my parents gave me.  It has some nerdy Star Trek origins and it’s spelled differently so I was always correcting people growing up.  In a way my parents chose a very fitting name. I’m a huge nerd and I was constantly correcting people on how to spell my name, and I feel like that prepared me for having to correct people on so many other things in my life. All of my identities – it was like a foreshadowing, sort of.

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

I’m going to list a lot of words, and I kind of carry them all with equal weight. Some days I might pay attention to one more than the other, or I might like one more than the other. But I sort of just carry them all. I’m also working on being comfortable carrying them all at the same time, and being okay telling people, “Yes, I am equally  all of these things.” So I am multiracial, black and indigenous, Wampanoag; queer, gender nonconforming, non-binary, two-spirit and whatever word we come up with in Wampanoag eventually.

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

I’m in a trans book club, and we were just talking about “passing” and what that means...Sometimes, if I’m newly out to people, like at work or something, then I worry about looking “non-binary enough” Whatever that means.  So that is often on my mind. How queer do I look? But what does passing for a non-binary person look like? I don’t have an answer for that.  I do know that I am enough. And however I feel like dressing that day shouldn’t matter to anyone else but me. It’s hard to believe in that on some days though.

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

My first what I call “playing with gender” instance was when I was 16. I was going to my first anime convention. I was dressed as a male character, and we were at the train station coming up here for a convention, and this group of girls the same age as me saw me and started talking to me. And then later they looked at my mom and said jokingly, “We’re gonna steal your son.” I was like, All right, just gonna go with this. [laughs] It was really fun. I enjoyed that. I wouldn’t say I identified outside the binary early on, I didn’t know I had other options. I eventually found the words to describe myself, and the courage to own it. It’s not even courage really, it’s more like desperation. Like, if I don’t do something about this now, if I don’t begin to be comfortable with myself, I will lose myself. 

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

The length of time that it took, definitely. It definitely took having to remove myself from my home and being away from them to allow myself to form my own identity and explore myself. I’m an only child, so – all the attention. Which is really nice in some ways, I do admit that. Then the negative effects are all the attention’s on you, and sometimes that’s overwhelming. Especially since I hated disappointing my parents.

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

I think I’m always worried that people are going to think I’m trying to make myself some special snowflake or something. That’s always a worry in my mind. Or whether or not people just won’t get it.

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

The basic answer is sexual orientation is who you’re attracted to, and gender is who you are. But there’s overlap because sexual orientation relies so much on gender.

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

Not at all, ever. Nothing. There’s no mirror image. There’s no Native people on TV. Most people can’t name one Native actor. There’s no multiracial people on TV – or there are, but they’re few and far between. And then gender identity reflection in the media – the closest thing you get are those random people like Prince who have the space to do it.

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

Less capitalism in Pride. A lot of people talk about dismantling the patriarchy, but I think the patriarchy is also a symptom of colonization and colonialism. People talk about accepting gender and race and all this stuff as a progressive movement, but I always look at it as moving backwards. Because at least for indigenous people, gender fluidity – traditionally speaking – is very normal. Today, because of colonization, you have a little uphill battle in our own communities.

I just read this really great book called Transgender Warriors, and the author does in-depth research on cultures around the world. And every single culture, prior to being colonized, when you get down to each group of people’s indigenous or Pagan roots, whatever you want to call it – most of those societies were matrilineal and had some form of trans people accepted and often holding important spaces in the community. It’s been a very normal thing, but colonizing powers want control and to do that they’ve oppressed us.

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

I think it really paints a picture of a person. The ones who advocate for you and the ones who don’t. You can really spot the allies versus the ones who aren’t.

The ways in which some of my friends and family have shown up for me  have made me realize how much I need to be a better friend for other people too. It’s affected my relationships with some of my friends very well, because I’ve asked them to be this way for me, and I realize I also have to show up for them as well. In some ways it’s just brought me closer to people. Honesty will do that. Whether it’s honesty with yourself or honesty with other people.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

I don’t think I have any. I try not to have regrets on things, and I think every decision I’ve made, I tried my best with every single one of them with the tools I had at the time. So I try to exercise compassion on myself a lot.

What are your concerns for the future?

I’m really worried about finding a job. Now that I’m so sure of my identity, having to find a job and then make that split decision in the interview, Do I tell them about my pronouns or do I leave it and then tell them afterwards and fight that uphill battle? Or do I tell them ahead of time? Because I don’t want that to be the focus of the interview, because I feel like it’ll change the interview afterwards.

What do you look forward to in the future?

Continuing to strengthen the relationships I’ve made, and meeting new people, and continuing to enjoy the little things.

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

My philosophy of life is to always try to have beautiful experiences, or to appreciate the beautiful experiences around you. And that’s anything from having a really good conversation with somebody, or you made your tea really good today, and you sipped it right at the right moment. Open windows during the summer. Jumping into a pool on a really hot summer day. Or that feeling of a really warm blanket in the wintertime. Or that cute dog on the street that wagged its tail really adorably and made your day a little bit better. And sometimes even bigger things obviously, accomplishments like finishing school or getting a job and having security. Just being aware and present.