ZEPHYR

Brooklyn, NY

What’s your name?

Zephyr Daniel Merkur Herrera. I like to say the whole thing, because I worked hard for it.

What are your pronouns?

They/them/theirs.

Where do you work?

I work at a coffee shop in Manhattan.

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

I’m really into tattoo art, so I’ve been thinking about going in that direction. I’ve been in bands. I worked in the local music scene, part of the Punk Island Collective, which is an organization that puts on a sober all-ages punk music festival during the summer. It’s usually around Father’s Day. We work on that year-round. [I play] guitar, and I used to sing before I transitioned medically. [The way I sing now] is very different. It makes me feel really bad some days, honestly, and I kind of anticipated this, but it’s kind of like – happiness or survival, at this time. And sometimes you have to choose survival. 

I figure at some point my singing voice will get back to where I want it, but it’s not currently there. So that’s part of the reason why I’m focusing more on drawing arts, because you can be quiet during that, and that’s all right.

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

I usually just get mis-gendered and deal with it. A lot of people assume that I use “he/him” pronouns, but this has been an issue for me since I was 6. So it’s also kind of – old, in a weird way, where I know people are going to mis-gender me, and I know they’re going to make a lot of assumptions about how I grew up. A lot of the ways people read me back when I came off as a GNC [gender nonconforming] woman, I feel like they understood some of the things that I must’ve experienced. But now because a lot of people are assuming that I’m a cis [cisgender] guy, they make different assumptions. So typically I just end up getting mis-gendered. I think I was just mis-gendered all my life, to a point where I learned those who matter will know, and those who don’t know don’t necessarily matter. Like the grocery clerk – I don’t always have the energy to [correct them on my pronouns]. Though I need to work on that, because I get called “sir” a lot, and that’s been causing a lot of dysphoria for me. Because I’m still not being recognized as who I am. So I’ll come out to a select few people, or I’ll be open about some conversations. I used to work at the Grand St. Settlement, and they had me with a TGNC [transgender/gender nonconforming] advocacy group, so I did a presentation on genders beyond the binary outside the Western perspective in Massachusetts at Amherst for NEQTPOCC, the North East Queer and Trans People of Color Conference. It was really cool.

I work near NYU, so [one time] I was talking to a professor who was cool, so I [talked] to her and [was] open about it. But there was someone behind her who listened in on the conversation, and then proceeded to spend about five minutes telling me why her employees thought she was transphobic. And I was just crawling into my skin, but [also engaging with her] because I’m paid to do that. Work causes a lot of tension. I just got a new job at another café. So I’m in transition. [If I’m at a social gathering] I typically will ask people their names and pronouns, and then after that, introduce it for myself. I try to make it feel very normal. [I’ll say], “Hey, what’s your name?” and then [they’ll tell me], and I’ll say, “Oh, and your pronouns? Cool. Well mine are – ” I want to set an expectation of respect on both parties. I’m going to respect you, I really hope you respect me. Because that’s something I need. [If I don’t do that] people usually assume “he/him” pronouns. I live in a very queer household. No one on the floor I live on is cis. I try to have things where I’m not necessarily shouting my identity, but if you look, you can see it. Like this earring [I’m wearing has a tiny trans symbol on it] – it’s subtle, so from afar it just looks like a wooden earring. If you don’t know, you don’t know, but if you know, you know. And if you know, that matters.

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?

So, my birth name was very, very girly. It used to be a joke that my parents named me that to remind other people that I was a girl, since no one recognized it. So I was playing around with a few names. Zephyr was the second name that I really went with, and I did manage to legally change it. So with the advocacy group that I was with, one of the promises was [that they will] pay you for your time off to get top surgery, which they did, and that they would help me get my name changed. It took them about a year longer than they said they were going to, but I did manage to get it legally changed. I had it changed on my driver’s license, on my lease, on my social security card – I haven’t changed it on my birth certificate, because you don’t really need it. The next thing I really need to change is my passport so I can start leaving the country again. [The name of the organization that helped me] was GEM – Gender Exploration Movement, under Grand St. And I did it with a paralegal and an attorney from Sanctuary for Families, which does a lot of work with immigration.

"When a trans person changes their name, the birth name often becomes a slur to them. And I think the hardest part is most people don’t necessarily accommodate the change when it’s most needed. ... I think that’s an issue for a lot of trans people. When we need patience, we don’t necessarily have it."

It’s very easy for lawyers to do a name-change document, is what I found. Because I also interned at TLDEF, which is the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund. Honestly it was kind of my dream job – I would call trans people or anyone who needed to legally change [their name] and was under the trans umbrella, and I would get their information down on a form, and that would be handed off to a lawyer who needed to get pro bono hours at their law firm because it’s a thing that they have to do. It’s a really easy thing for them to do, but it’s so life-changing. Basically I would do that, and I would talk to these people, and I tried my best to be very calm and accommodating for everything, and I would hand that over, and later they would get their name changed. One of the people I worked with at Grand St., I was able to change her name. That was really exciting for me, to be like, “Hey, I got you. I can do this for you. I can make this easier, if nothing else.” So I was able to get my name changed, but I think because I was so much in advocacy. Now that I know about TLDEF, I like to promote it, because it’s very exciting. They’re looking for people who need names changed.

So at work, after I changed my name, I emailed the HR person and said, “I just want to let you know, I’m changing my name, I would really like it if on the clock-in thing it would have this name.” And he was very accommodating about it. I’m not the only trans person at my job, which is nice. I never quite said anything, I just showed up one day with a bag and a very large button that said “they/them” on it, and everyone just kind of slowly picked up on it. I didn’t necessarily come out, I kind of just was. But, we got a new HR person. And she decided to put my birth name, which was no longer my legal name at that point, on the clock-in thing, and I almost left because I couldn’t really work with it. It just triggered so much dysphoria.

When a trans person changes their name, the birth name often becomes a slur to them. And I think the hardest part is most people don’t necessarily accommodate the change when it’s most needed. Because nowadays my mom will fuck up my name every once in a while, but it rolls off my shoulders now, because everyone else calls me Zephyr. But when I really needed her to do my new name, [she would often say] my birth name. And I think that’s an issue for a lot of trans people. When we need patience, we don’t necessarily have it.

[So at work] I had to go above [this new HR person] and [tell them], “Hey, my name is legally changed, you can’t use this name for me. This is now an alias.” [laughs] So I [told them they couldn’t do that], and they were like, “Well you need your social security card changed.” This happened on my birthday. So for my birthday I sat at social security to try to get my document updated. Because I had the forms, I just hadn’t done it yet. It was a pretty miserable birthday day. I had a party later. I often don’t celebrate on my birthday anyway, because it’s 9/11. Turning 6 was weird. So that was a pretty miserable day. But I was able to get my social security card changed, and then [I went and told the higher-ups at work], and they [told me], “Oh we’re not going to be at work today, but you can show your manager your social security card.” Wait, so, anyone’s word that isn’t mine is okay that I updated my social security card? It definitely changed my perspective on the HR people. I was optimistic because I want to be, but to just realize how much my voice didn’t matter, or it didn’t really exist in any material way was really a letdown. I still work there.

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

For gender identity, I really like non-binary. I’m Latinx. My mom was born in Costa Rica, I had a quinceañera, Spanish is my first language – that’s always been very important to me, and my culture, how I cook, to understand my Latinidad. I’m also of Jewish descent. I was basically always kind of non-binary because I was already mixed. And I’m not saying people who are mixed, that that impacts their gender identity, but it’s always been part of my identity, it’s always been some of this and some of that. So I was born in New York, but I was raised mostly in California. So sometimes I call myself a Californian. I have a tattoo of California. [I’m from] the Bay area, outside of Oakland. Which I think helped with the fact that I kind of dressed like this my entire life. People had an understanding that something was going on, but they just didn’t know what it was.

Artist. Because I like writing, I’ve done poetry, prose, short stories – I’ve had a couple things published in different school outlets back when I was in school. I like drawing a lot. I’m in[to] music. I’m an athlete. I did soccer until I broke my wrist. I was a goalie. That messed that up. I did martial arts when I was younger, and I want to revisit that, because I miss throwing people and flying through the air. I am currently really into weight-lifting, because it’s accessible to me. I could pay for a movie or I could pay for the gym, and I can go to the gym way more often than I can go to [one] movie. It’s just cost-effective to be a fitness geek sometimes. I’m vegan, which is I think more of a concern to my parents than my transness, honestly. [laughs]

Actually a lot of people in South America are vegetarian/vegan. Argentina’s pretty easy for it. But my mom’s from Costa Rica, where most of the meals, if you just remove the meat, [are] basically vegan. I’ve actually noticed this about a lot of the food that’s indigenous to the Americas. There’s an Instagram page that I like [called] The Food Empowerment Project, which talks about veganism in relation to a lot of Mexican food. A lot of indigenous stuff. I’ve been really interested in squash, and corn, and beans, because those are foods that are indigenous to these lands, and I want to make an effort to eat more foods along those lines. And they taste good, they feel good.

[I’ve been vegan about] 3 years now. I kind of did it by accident. I was very much a carnivore and a meat-eater, and then, I don’t know what it was, I would eat food and then [realize], Wow, I haven’t eaten meat all day. So I just kind of accidentally went vegetarian. Part of it was I worked at a kosher Dunkin Donuts at the time, so there was no meat there. So I’d just be eating veggie sausage, and I got really used to that, and I would [wonder], How long I can keep this up? And then at some point I ate vegan sour cream and was like, cool, I’m done, and just went vegan after that. [laughs] I noticed that for the most part I just felt better. I always had a lot of stomach issues, especially if I ate very fatty foods. So I just kind of ended up accidentally going vegan, and now I just do that. I also like it because it has a higher impact on how much water I consume. I grew up in California during the drought, so not always being to flush the toilet, always having to take short showers. And I was like, wait, why am I drinking all this milk? Milk takes all this water to the gallon. So then I switched to almond milk, which [still uses] less than cow milk [but still uses a lot of water], so then I started using oat milk and pea protein milk. I would say oat milk’s probably the closest to dairy milk out there right now.

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

I think when it came to gender, I used to be very conscious of it, but now that a lot of people read me as a cis guy, I’m trying not to care about it and just dress in ways that make me happy. I’m really into denim. It’s a passion of mine. I think it’s really cool. I own two different pairs of raw denim, which is basically unwashed, it’s indigo dye, and sometimes it’s unsanforized, which will kind of make it stand up. But the idea is that your body is the moving piece, and the jeans become the canvas. So they become suited specifically to your body. So you know how sometimes you buy jeans at the store and they have the wrinkles lasered into them? So that’s based off of studies that people have done of other people wearing denim. So basically I buy the jeans and I wear them as hard as I can, and the knees change color, and the back get wrinkles. Right now, these are jeans that I’m really proud of – they’re not raw denim, but these are Levis from the 1980s. It’s different from jeans nowadays. Basically, I found these cheap in a thrift store and I was really excited about it because I think different denim’s very cool and I think that it looks very different. This is the kind of stuff that The Ramones would’ve worn. And I’m into punk rock, so I just think that’s really cool. I’m really into denim. [laughs] So I guess that’s what I do, I try to wear cool jeans that make me happy. Band T-shirts. One thing I like about [my pair of earrings] is that it wasn’t from a specifically queer shop; it just made me feel very normal that I went onto a general earring store and they [had gender symbols], and this was one of them. I’m not used to feeling normal in my gender identity, and it was very calming to just go to an “everyone” store and I was represented. I prefer shopping at queer businesses, but it just felt really nice to feel really normal for a minute.

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

At around 9 I was like, “I’m half boy and half girl,” and that should’ve been a heads up. But it wasn’t. And I remember when I was 15, one of my friends used the word “transgender” for the first time, and I jokingly said, “I guess I’d be a transgender guy,” and then I did nothing about it. [laughs] So it popped up a few times when I was younger. I remember in middle school one time everyone who didn’t know me thought I was a guy, and I was a little infamous for being this girl who looked like a guy. One time they tried to not let me into the gym locker rooms for PE, because it was a substitute teacher. I needed to get changed for class – which I hated, because I did not like having to change in front of all the girls – but I was trying to go into the locker room to do that, and she [told me I wasn’t allowed in]. I [told her], “I’m a girl,” and [another student backed me up], and [then she] had to let me in. When I was younger I very much felt like I was a different type of woman, and I was very proud of that. Like my parents don’t really have the most traditional gender roles, and I feel like that helped me, because I never had that expectation of [what I was “supposed” to do] as a girl. I just kind of did my own thing, and I also thought I was a girl at the time. 

But I was constantly having to correct people [who thought I was a boy]. Grocery store clerks would [say] “your son” to my mom, and she’d [correct them], and it became a sense of shame, the fact that I was constantly mis-gendered as a guy. I had to constantly correct people. So basically I’ve been mis-gendered my whole life and I don’t see it stopping any time soon from strangers. Like I said, the people who know, know, and that’s always been what I needed, I think. Or what I’ve decided I’ve needed. I’m not sure if there was another layer to that, because at the time, that’s just how I thought of myself. But in retrospect, it’s kind of traumatic to constantly have to be proving my gender to everyone. Bathrooms were always an issue. I used to hold a tampon, because a lot of people [think] men aren’t strong enough to hold tampons, so if I’m holding one, they must know I’m a girl. And that would make people leave me alone in the bathroom. People police other people’s gender constantly.

I did summer camp when I was a kid, and there were these two single bathrooms at this park, and one was “men’s” and one was “women’s”. And sometimes I’d go into the “men’s” because I just wanted to go, but other times if I felt like other people were watching me I’d wait for the “women’s,” just so I didn’t feel like a larger gender failure I guess. I had this conversation with my mom fairly recently – so my mom identifies as a man looking for a man in a woman’s body. But she’s a straight cis woman. So I think that might’ve messed up my understandings of gender for a minute. “Yeah, my mom’s a man lookin’ for a man in a woman’s body. I guess I’m the same thing.” My dad’s not super macho. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. He’s a social worker, he’s into writing, he like reading books, he likes to cook.  It was kind of like gender was never an option for why you would stop anything. I think part of it is my mom was in business in the 80s, so that was a man’s world, and she did it anyway. So I just never saw gender as a stop, which is why I think I was so proud of being a different type of woman when I was younger. And now I know I just was non-binary the whole time, I just didn’t know or understand it.  

When I went to college, I ended up around all these different queer musicians. Because I was in the punk scene, and I was part of Taking Back Queens. There were just a number of non-binary or genderqueer folks there who were performers, and doing the thing that I wanted to do, which was get on stage and sing and play guitar. I was just around them all the time, but I still identified as straight and het [heterosexual] at the time. And slowly I [realized], I think I might be non-binary, and slowly told a couple people I knew. What really got a fire lit under my ass was the Pulse incident in Orlando, when I realized that I was off being queer and stuff in New York, but my parents didn’t really know what was going on with me. So after that I [decided], I don’t want my death to be how they find out. Especially because it was Latinx night [at Pulse], and I’m Latinx, and I felt very tied to it. So I went home one day, and my mom was lying in bed, and I sat in the chair next to her and [asked if she had a few minutes to talk and then told her I was non-binary]. I hadn’t changed my name at the time, but I [told her] I would really like it if [she] could use these pronouns. I told my dad a few days later. They were just kind of like, “Oh. Okay.” Because like I said, I’d kind of always been doing my own thing with my gender, but it was always just me, just what I did. And in a lot of ways, a lot of that didn’t change. It’s just other people’s perceptions of me changed more than anything. They took the veganism harder honestly. Which I feel very lucky about. Because I know a lot of other people are way less fortunate.

 

And then after that I was like, cool, I can start doing the things that I want to do. I really needed to pursue top surgery, because my dysphoria was just way too much. Then after top surgery, I was able to decide that testosterone was the right choice for me. So then I did that, and I got my name legally changed, and just kept going from there. One thing I’ve realized with being trans is: my gender has almost no impact on anyone around me, when it comes down to it. Because I’m just doing my thing.

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

I think having grown up in California and having a number of non-cis/het [cisgender/heterosexual] friends in my immediate close circle kind of helped and hurt. I thought because my other friends were queer, I therefore must not be queer because of numbers. A close friend once came out to as bisexual me over Yahoo chat, the same night I meant to tell them I was bisexual. Once they told me this I assumed this meant that I was straight because I knew I had a preference for masculinity. I went into a pretty deep denial after that and maybe came out to someone on Tumblr I chatted with. In my afk (Away from Keyboard) life I was just this very butch looking tomboy.

"A common [misconception] is that [non-binary people are all] just white, skinny, with dyed hair, and [are] vaguely masculine androgynous. And I think that is very overplayed at this point. Non-binary looks like a lot of things. People can be non-binary of all different races, ethnicities, ages. It’s not just for teenagers and people in their early 20s. ... I think it’s just people living and existing and we should allow that."

“Gender is who you go to bed as, your orientation is who you go to bed with.”

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

I know a common one is that everyone’s just white, skinny, with dyed hair, and [are] vaguely masculine androgynous. And I think that is very overplayed at this point. People don’t have to look any one type of way to be non-binary. 

I think that’s something that I want people to think about more. Non-binary looks like a lot of things. People can be non-binary of all different races, ethnicities, ages. It’s not just for teenagers and people in their early 20s. I think non-binary’s kind of infinite; you can look like anything. And people shouldn’t narrow it down to a few things. I guess that’d be one. I think another one is that non-binary people never pursue a medical transition, which isn’t true. Some of us do, some us don’t. And whether we do or do not doesn’t make us any more of a “true trans” or anything. I think it’s just people living and existing and we should allow that.

In your own words, how would you explain that gender identity is different from sexual orientation? Do you think that they ever relate to or affect each other?

I think they can interact, for sure, but I do think that they’re separate. But they do impact each other. Like if someone identifies as a lesbian, then becomes a straight trans man, their sexual orientation is that they like women. So I used to identify as a straight girl or a bisexual girl, and now I identify as a bisexual non-binary person. So for me personally, my sexual orientation never quite changed, it was more like, did I allow other people to know about it. But I guess one [good quote] is, “Gender is who you go to bed as, your orientation is who you go to bed with.” It’s regurgitated but I think it’s fairly simple.

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

I don’t. [laughs] I remember, I was desperate for anyone who looked like me as a kid, and I never found it. The closest I found was Kristen Stewart, but she was too skinny. Because I was a bit heavier at the time, because I had hips and a little more fat on me. And the closest I could find was Kristen Stewart and even then she [wasn’t] like me. I remember in high school I found Tegan and Sara and I got really excited, because I kind of looked like them. But I just don’t feel represented in media. I saw Asia Kate Dillon was in Billions. I don’t want to watch it. It’s about rich people making money and one of them happens to be non-binary, and that’s not an experience I can relate to, because I don’t work in money. So it’s cool there’s a non-binary person, but this is so far outside of any understanding of my world. Where are the non-binary people who are on soccer teams? Because I was on the JV girls’ soccer team in high school, and I was the only one with short hair, and no one really liked me. And part of that was the experience of, they were all these rich mostly white girls who had pool houses and stuff, and that wasn’t my life experience at all. And they all kinda looked alike, and I tried looking like them, and I just felt like I was in drag the whole time.

I also don’t know what kind of media [representation] would feel good. I really liked Pose. It’s really good. It’s not about me, but I really like that it’s there and that it’s about queer people. There was this one professor I had who also writes fiction. He had a trans character in [his work] and that was exciting, because it was kind of subtly done, where by some point this character is binding, and he looks younger, and I was like, “Wait a second. He’s a trans guy.” I really like Against Me!; ironically it was a band where I [thought], Wow, I’m listening to all these different queer women – because I was listening to Joan Jett, I was doing my riot grrrl phase at the time. I [thought], I don’t want people to think I’m a lesbian, so let me find a straight band to watch. And it was Against Me! – and then Laura Jane Grace came out. I was like, all right, I give up. Queerness came after me.

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

End capitalism. I know my mental health would be a lot better without capitalism. I can think of a lot of people who would feel better without capitalism. I have a chronic condition and sometimes it can be hard to “human” some days, and the fact that I have to constantly, because capitalism expects you to be working and producing constantly, it’s a letdown. I feel lucky that I can mostly do the things I need to do. But I know some people who can’t. I don’t like that there’s this constant pressure of, “You’re only worth what you can produce.” So, end[ing] capitalism would help a lot of people, and a wider swath than just making all bathrooms gender-inclusive. Which I also feel would be easier – just change the thing, it’s just a room, it’s got urinals or it doesn’t, cool.

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

So I was part of this Battle of the Bands, but I didn’t really have a lot of friends in high school, let alone musician friends. I had one, but we weren’t in the band together. So I entered the Battle of the Bands as a band, but it was just me. I recorded a whole thing, I entered, they listened to the tracks, and [let me in]. And because of that I ended up meeting all these different incredible people. I met someone that I was in a relationship with for 4 years, and that was rather impactful. But I remember, I went to one of the other bands’ concerts later, and at some point after the concert, we all got in the car of one of the people, and we went to McDonald’s – California suburban life – and some 80s song [was playing], I think it might’ve been “Shout,” and it was just this moment of: Oh wow, I am hanging out with all these people and we’re all present with each other. And it was just a very big moment for me, because I never really felt that connection with my friends. I also got kicked out of my friend group at the end of high school. So it was nice to find this new community. And it wasn’t about anyone’s gender or orientation, it was just about our love for the same music. And that was really cool. So it’s a positive moment that I really like.

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

[Getting kicked out of my friend group] was really impactful for me, because there was this trend [where] about every 1 ½ years my friend group would ditch me because they were tired of making fun of me. So I’m not really sure I can call them a friend group. I didn’t know I didn’t have friends when I was younger. But people would just be mean to me, and then after a while they’d get tired of being mean to me and would be like, “Can you go somewhere else?” basically. So I remember that happened with a group of friends I’d been with for longer than ever, and I was so anxious that I was trying to find – as bad as it sounds – backup friends, [so that] in case I got kicked out of one group, I could go there and it would be okay. And I think those “backup friends” might’ve been better people in general, so I kind of regret it now. But I wrote a song about it, and it was one of the first songs I wrote, and it was really cool for me to get to write it and express it and be so present with music, and writing, and putting it all together. Especially because I learned how to play guitar off a bet. I saw someone play guitar who was bad, and I was like, “I bet you I can do that better in a month,” and then I did it. And it was one of the people in that friend group. So I remember, I wrote the song, and I posted it on my Tumblr, because we were all friends on Tumblr too, and [the message was], “I will change my entire personality, just let me stay in this friend group.” They responded with an image from Futurama that read, “Your music is bad and you should feel bad.” That song was the second song I needed to get into the Battle of the Bands, which ended up changing my life for the better.

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

My partner. I can really trust and depend on them. They’re there for me in a way that I don’t think anyone outside of maybe my parents has ever been there for me.

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

I kind of really don’t hang out with cis people anymore. Sometimes I do, and it’s [because] we’ll have something else in common, but – I live in a space that’s very trans, and my friends are all trans. So I think it brought me to a community with people like me, and where my gender isn’t a stop for them. If anything it’s almost a gateway of, “Hey, we have this in common, let’s talk,” and then we have other things in common. And it’s been really cool like that to have a community of people who love each other inclusive of, rather than in spite of, gender.

Are you able to find adequate medical care?

Sometimes. My primary care physician is great, but my clinic that I go to keeps sending me to someone who does not know how to care for trans people. I show up there and I have to tell him how to take care of me. They left me without my script for over a month. And I already have mental health issues, I have other issues, so all my meds need to stay regulated, and I’m pretty good about keeping them up, but my doctors wouldn’t let me. And that left me with a really bad winter. It really impacted my depression. I’m working on getting better now, but it made things very hard, because my doctors were playing around with my script. But when I do visit my primary care physician, I love her. 

One time I got mis-gendered, because [they] offer an HIV test to anyone who comes in for a gyno thing, and I [asked for the test] and then [I told them I was] trans and it just got worse. They were like, “Oh. So did you used to have a penis?” And I kind of shut down. Because I was already there for things I didn’t want to have to think about. And they also called out my birth name. Because they had a situation set up [on their form] of [the] birth name in all caps, and then the name to actually call a person, and then last name. So I told her what happened, and she went through and tore into these different people who just weren’t trained. They do have a transgender family clinic where I go, but the rest of it is just messy.

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

I think I have a lot less shame about queerness. Because there was a shame of, “It’s okay! – For other people to be gay.” And I still care a lot about shame, and I’m working on it. But I feel a bit less shame about it now. Because my mom made sure that I met gay people, that it wasn’t a weird thing. But it was always okay for other people. And I don’t know if they meant to say it that way, or if that’s just how I ended up picking it up, but yeah. I think it’s going to be a forever process. And in a lot of ways it hasn’t changed. I still wear the clothes that I wanted to wear, and I do the things that I want to do for the most part. It has and it hasn’t.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

You can start testosterone now, it’s okay. Because if I’d known younger that I could’ve just gone and changed genders like I’d have wanted to… I would’ve loved to have my voice mature in typical time. It would’ve been really nice to just go through those things with everyone else at the same time. Like I know it’s hell for everyone, but I was in the wrong kind of hell. I wanted the other hell. Because testosterone definitely makes me feel better. I feel like this is the way I was supposed to look the whole time. I’m getting close to [my ideal body] now.

What are your concerns for the future?

Can you be more specific? It just feels like everything’s on fire all the time. The world is on fire, and I really feel the hippies who were just like, “Fuck this shit, I’m gonna go live on a farm and be self-sufficient.” I’m on that page right now, [where] I kind of just want to get a queer commune and some farming area in Pennsylvania where we don’t really have to talk to anyone else around us, and just be mostly self-sufficient. I want to set up an outdoor gym. Like in 20 or 30 years, I want to have a reasonable plot of land, just live off that, and I want what feels like an honest living. And I don’t feel like I can have this in this capitalistic society. I just want to feel free to make art and not worry about constantly being productive. And – I’d like to have a weekend again. I have been [in the] service industry since I was 16. My life is just trying to work [and] recover from work. I really want to become a tattoo artist, because I think it’s something I can lean into. I have OCD, so I really like to research stuff, and I can really get into something, and I think with a lot of tattooing, that’s what you need. I’m really into Japanese tattooing. I have a half-sleeve that goes onto my chest. I’m really into tattoos. I was always pretty good at drawing, so I feel like that would let me live more of a life that I want to live.

I’m on Instagram too much, because I’m trans, and that’s where we all are now apparently. We kind of all follow each other online, it’s a little weird. I feel like there’s discourse on Instagram now. There’s people I don’t even want to follow anymore, but I feel like I have to follow them because they’re part of the community, and we’re going to end up talking about the different things that [are] brought up by it. I’ve been trying to go through an Instagram purge. I realized I was following like, 1000 people, and I was spending too much time on it. I’m trying to deal with my phone addiction. But this is where the discourse happens. It’s where I go to be fully trans all the time, and I can go through and “like” other people’s statuses, and we can all kind of watch each other. It’s kind of like meeting neighbors, I feel. But it’s just a lot of trans people. It’s kind of nice. But also – we live in a very visual time, and it can be stressful. I did not have Pretty Privilege in high school, and I don’t know if I do now, but I definitely didn’t then, and [I’m seeing] how much easier things would be when people are…fuckable.

What do you look forward to in the future?

This is going to be very specific, but the swallows that are the traditional tattooing imagery, every time I draw them they develop a little bit more. So I really like the fact that the more I draw it, the more I figure out how I want that to look. So I’m looking forward to how that will look in a few months. There is this trans guy [on Instagram] who lives in Chicago, he is white and does power-lifting and tattoos, and he went on vacation to Mexico. I want that life. I have 23 tattoos. I have a decent amount of work on me. And I always try to talk to people when I’m getting the tattoos, and it got to the point where I [realized] this is a lifestyle I want, with things that I have inclination towards anyways. And I don’t feel like [I’d be] wasting my degree with this, because I have an English degree, so I’m pretty good at doing research, and like I said, I think tattoos and research kind of go hand-in-hand in a certain way.

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

Important frustrations has always been [the idea of] duality. I’ve always felt like this and that. Because I’m Latinx and Jewish, but I’m also Christian and Jewish. I did track and field in high school – until I broke my wrist, that messed up a lot of my sport career – but I was a thrower and a sprinter, and most people are usually one thing or the other. And I never could dedicate myself fully to one thing. I was always doing too many things. I did martial arts in the winter, and then I did soccer in soccer season, and sometimes I would go do a competitive year-round one, and I just always had too many things that I wanted to do. So I guess the fact that I’ve always grown up with this kind of duality of, I am this and that… I’m trying to reconcile my mixed heritage in a way, where I [realize], I’m not just half. I am fully both at the same time. And trying to change my perspective in that way. So that’s been a very big frustration for me, is never feeling enough of anything.

And I guess – an important success? I’m still here. I didn’t necessarily think I would be, so I’m just like, oh! I guess I did it.

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

I have more a funny story about someone asking me that question. So, I often have colored hair – I have it now – and I don’t know what it is, I think it’s the hair, but people in public feel like they can just come up to me and ask me questions. So someone once asked me [something] when I was waiting for the train, and I didn’t feel like talking to the guy, because I didn’t know him, and I was [on my way] to do something. So I answered, “Gotta go fast,” as a joke. You know, Sonic? But then he took me seriously and I had to defend the position. I was like, “I don’t know. Keep moving, I guess?” So I guess my piece of advice is, “Gotta go fast.”

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

I guess it’d be, when it comes down to it, I really only represent myself. I can amplify other voices, but everything I’ve said here is about my experience, and not necessarily about anyone else.