Where did you grow up?
“We moved to Carroll County in Maryland when I was around five, which, despite Maryland being a blue state, is one of the few Republican counties. It was a little more than 98% white. In the ’70’s, there were still KKK marches going up Main Street, where we actually moved.
We didn’t stay there for long. We ended up moving to a new house where my parents live now. It’s a big farm house that was built the year of George Washington’s second inauguration. That house had been vacant for 17 years before we moved in. An old couple had lived there and there was an old addition to the house made in the ’70’s that was stacked with furniture. I remember burning all the peach baskets and tending to the fire pit. I wasn’t allowed to clear the barn because it was filled with hornets.
Overall, it was a good place to grow up. When I was young, I wasn’t very aware of the bigotry that was unfortunately in the foundation of that community. We didn’t have many neighbors. I remember spending the bulk of my time shooting basketball, walking around, exploring the creek, climbing trees.
As I grew up, I became more and more aware that not everyone in this community thinks like my family. I’m honestly not sure why my parents wanted to move there. I started doing musical theater a few towns over after sixth grade. Great experience. I always enjoyed dancing but that kind of made me realize that I have a talent for this. As I went into high school, I took that love of acting with me. I was actively involved but part of it was because I hated school. Always have.”
Why did you hate school?
“I loved the learning and reading part. Once I understood a concept, I was like, ‘I get it. Can we move on’? Despite my love of learning, there wasn’t a place that encouraged that love – at least personally.
I think how we approach education, as a whole, is backwards. Every human mind loves learning. A mind that isn’t stimulated is bored. It’s depressed. It’s not happy. What I think our problem is, is that we want to create well-rounded individuals. That’s great but we don’t go about it the right way.
The American school system is not set up to find out what people are passionate about. Most of their time in school, they’re introduced to math, science, history, maybe the arts – but you have to seek that out. A lot of learning in these subjects is a rehashing every year. It gets repetitive and boring.
Kids should be excited about school. Personally, I excelled at school. School was designed for a personality like mine. Someone who doesn’t have my talent for memorization isn’t dumb, but they’re taught that they’re not smart. Someone can memorize the entire dictionary, but is that knowledge?
In my opinion, teaching should be a conversation. It shouldn’t be a teacher dictating to its students. You don’t engage a mind just by reading facts off. That’s not learning.”
How do you believe the Internet culture is shaping future generations?
“They’re exposed to so much, so fast at such an early age. I mean, you have three-year-olds now that know how to work an iPad better than their parents.
With our generation, we never really read user manuals for computers and stuff. The generation above us always did. We grew up with computers being pretty commonplace, so our use of them was always intuitive.
Millennials grew up at the start of the Information Age. The difference between us and the generation below us is that they are growing up with screens everywhere. The world is literally at their fingertips. You can find your tribe via the Internet. I think that’s cool. It’s helped the queer community come together. We’ve seen political uprisings.
I know this sounds bad, but we don’t give people the space to be flawed. That’s the same dogma that we hate in religions or the right-wing. I think that’s dangerous to fall into. We don’t allow the space for actual discussion. We seek out people that will validate our views. We need to value the concept of looking at all the sides.
I grew up with very liberal ideas at home. In school, I was raised in a very conservative place. Despite realizing that I’m a queer person, when I was young, anyone with a queer identity was someone to make fun of. That was the culture I grew up in and without a doubt, I took part in it.
That worries me that if I grew up now and took part in that, someone calls me a bigot. That’s not right. I’m a loving person. But how would I be persuaded to join the side? You have to fight to persuade someone and find a place where you agree. If you can’t find that at all, where do you start”?
When did you start to realize you were queer?
“I had an easier time than a lot of kids. My dad’s mentor was a gay man. My dad is a hyper-masculine person. My mom’s best friend is a lesbian. My sisters are both super liberal. When I realized I was queer, I came out to my family. I wasn’t worried about it.
By the middle of tenth grade, I was out to my family and some friends at school. In an effort to be accepted, I didn’t change anything about my social interactions. I just wanted to show people I was still me. This is a small aspect of myself. It’s a huge aspect of who you are but not in the platonic sense in how people have to treat you. It shouldn’t be.
Because of that, I did repress all the aspects of my personality. I came out as much as I could. I ended up going to college for dance. I was first introduced there to the concept of non-binary people. I was introduced to a lot of people that I couldn’t tell what their gender was.
In the most liberal of the media, it was a joke. It was somebody to laugh at. I would be watching 30 Rock and there was a joke about making fun of a trans woman. When you saw trans individuals as they were depicted in the media, it was dudes in dresses.
In real life, they don’t identify as trans. It was some ugly joke at the time. I’ve never really connected with that. My family taught me to value myself. I was always confident in the knowledge that I had.
My whole life, in terms of how I want people to respect me, I’m pretty easy-going until someone approaches a certain line. Growing up with my dancing, especially in high school, I would receive compliments like: ‘You know what I love about your dancing? You dance like a man still.’
Half of it was I was a damn good actor. I haven’t been honest about who I am for a large majority of my life.
When I was 16, I put my dad’s rifle in my mouth. If suicide is a door, my hand was on the handle countless times. When you’re that depressed, it’s hard to even articulate what’s wrong. You’re in the dark and you don’t even have a flashlight. So, how can you see what’s around you?
I can tell you every time I’ve gotten to that moment, my mom would flash in my head and what it would do to her. Just ending things. I don’t want to hurt people. When you realize that you will be hurting someone in a powerful, life-changing way, I could not do that to the person I love most.
In college, I was introduced to people who were honest about themselves.
I was depressed most of college. I saw how these brave individuals were accepted in the community and if I was honest about myself, I knew I would be too. Coming from where I grew up, how would I interact at home and with extended family? I would directly be putting myself in physical danger going home.
My junior year, I fell into depression harder than ever before. I was definitely suicidal. A lot of that depression was never believing I could be who I am.
How do you continue as a dance major? It was like picking at a scab every time I was dancing. How do you express yourself when your paintbrush is your body and you’re not comfortable with your body and that body doesn’t represent you?
So, I dropped out. I couldn’t continue. It’s still really hard. I haven’t been able to watch any of my friends perform in the city. I feel like I could’ve had some success in the dance career. It was a pretty big speed bump.
One of the reasons I was tired of feeling suicidal was that it would be such an insult to all of my female role models to find anything embarrassing about being a woman. To all of the people that have come before me and to have lived in harder times. Less welcoming times and areas.
What an insult to their bravery. What an insult to all the trans women that put themselves in more danger. Don’t just think of yourself as a courageous person; be one. I think courage is the most enviable trait that anyone can show.
So, why not go after that? I think we all have it.”
What do you consider to be the views of these issues in modern society?
“The right, in my opinion, from what I have gathered, they think, ‘This is how society works. This is how society has always worked. It has to be this way.’
From my own self-discoveries, I’ve found if people are able to be more honest about who they are and outspoken about their personal truths, that helps your productivity. I don’t have to dedicate so much effort into hiding who I am. It’s a lot of wasted mental effort. How can you focus?
This use of loaded terms is another issue. ‘Sexist. Homophobic. Racist. Transphobic.’ If you call someone racist in the public eye or on the Internet, just by using that word, half the world thinks they’re racist now.
The problem with that is a person with good intentions can say something they don’t realize is bad or realize the implications. We need to take those phobic -ism moments as teaching moments. Options for conversation, not for name-calling.
I think with the trans issue, with the left, we’re just like, ‘You have to be cool with this.’ I really wish that was true but that’s not how it works. When people don’t agree with that, you can’t just call them a bigot or transphobic. You’re never going to make a friend if you fight with them. How do you make them an ally?
The fact of the matter is, it’s a hard thing to understand. If you’re not that [trans], not being able to understand not feeling right in your own body can seem pretty abstract. You can’t force that comprehension on someone. These people have been around forever. There’s no medical cure. The only way to deal with it is usually they transition in whatever form is comfortable for that individual.
People are so similar at their core. People just want to grow and get old. Some people are sociopaths but most people are not that. Most people are good in their lives and good to the people around them.
If you really believe that being queer is OK, don’t just yell that at people. Tell them why. The success of the queer community coming together via the Internet shows that like it or not, we’re in all of your families. You know somebody who is this.
When people realize that, it helps them. Acceptance isn’t a quick thing. You’re not going to persuade someone in one sentence or one talk.”
Do you mind talking about your transition?
“I don’t think of myself as a man at this point. I’m not ready to be publicly outed. At my store, people still call me ‘him’ and using those pronouns. Part of it is, I have a deep voice. I need to give myself time to work on that.
The other day, you had asked me if I was interested in getting SRS (sexual reassignment surgery). I will say, I’m not a very sensitive person in that sense, but I would advise against asking anyone that type of question.
It’s now understood to not ask a gay couple, ‘Who’s the man, who’s the woman’? It’s an assumption but is it OK to ask this person about their genitalia?
I also think intent matters. People usually don’t intend to be rude or nasty. I think if you’re a patient and understanding person, you can see the difference. I think that’s something the left needs to understand.
People are naturally curious. It’s like you’re a kid and you have no understanding of a certain subject. You ask questions. Let’s start from scratch. In teaching, we shouldn’t put in judgments.
For me, it’s a physicality. Gender is a social construct to an extent. If someone were to cut off your dick and balls, are you any less a man? No. You’re still a man. That region doesn’t define who you are and how you relate to society.
How I personally like to describe gender is that it’s how you relate to the world, how you relate to others and how others relate to you.
Part of it is, it’s not something tangible. It’s an innate feeling within you. It’s hard to put into words. I don’t think I could ever fully put it into words in a precise way.
The more I present as myself, it’s like the more I recognize myself in the mirror. I’ve never seen myself reflected in a mirror. I’ve seen a body. As I transition, that body is looking more like me than a man. That’s one of the best descriptions that I’ve been able to come up with.
Right now, I’m on testosterone blockers to inhibit the production of testosterone that my body naturally produces. My body processes it to make it into estrogen. That’s how your body chemically breaks down the medicine. With those in tandem, I’m basically going through puberty again.
My body hair will start coming in thinner and softer in some areas. It might stop growing. My skin will get softer and that has already started to happen – that’s nice.
One difference between men and women is that men have denser muscles. So, my muscles will get less dense. I’ll lose some strength. I’ll get a re-distribution of body weight and fat. I’ll become infertile.
Some of those changes, they happen on a different timeline. For all those changes to be complete, it takes about three years.
Eventually, I’ll get my birth certificate changed but I’ll keep my name. That’s a personal choice for everybody.”
Where do you see the trans civil rights movement heading?
“Bathroom rights are the battlegrounds for trans individuals right now. I think the issue we should focus on are acceptance in society. 50% of trans individuals commit suicide. That comes as we get more light and it’s also a generational thing.
I think a lot of the gay community was upset that marriage was the first battleground because you can still get fired in plenty of states for being gay. Your adoption options are much more limited. Arguably, those two should have been the first two battlegrounds.
Healthcare is the big one, I think. The average life expectancy of a trans individual woman of color in the U.S. is roughly 30-40 years. This is mostly due to lack of healthcare, AIDS, hate violence – the list goes on.
It’s very hard for trans people to get coverage. A lot of trans individuals are below the poverty line. That’s why a lot of them go into sex work. These issues need to be at the forefront.”