Agender People Debunk Myths About Their Identities

Agender people often do not feel a desire to perform within gender roles, as they often feel they exist outside of them.

“A person who is agender sees themselves as neither man nor woman, has no gender identity, or no gender to express,” Dr. Meredith Chapman, a psychiatrist at the Children’s Health Genecis Program told Teen Vogue.

In order to continue the ongoing conversation and growing knowledge of the various ways in which gender exists, it’s important that we shed more light on agender people’s experiences — so that the cisgender and the LGBTQ community alike can better understand how this community exists. It’s especially important for others who may be questioning if they are agender to find any resources that can to help them navigate their identities.

INTO interviewed eight agender people about the myths they would like to debunk about their identities, and what society should know about what it means to be agender.

Tab, 29, They/Them

When I was in sixth grade, my head was shaved for medical reasons — and I had a lot of identity crisis issues. I hadn’t hit puberty or anything like that and a lot of kids called me a boy, as if it was sort of an insult. They knew I was one thing and they called me another and it was just sort of a teasing torment. And I remember not wanting to have to dress overtly feminine just avoid getting labeled as a little boy by all of my classmates, like I shouldn’t have to wear pink to not get called a boy. I don’t want to get called a girl, but I don’t want to be called a boy.

In high school, my mother gave me a science fiction book called Commitment Hour. It’s Sci-Fi but [in a] more fantasy setting. It follows the characters in a village where they can basically change their sex every year until their 18th birthday and then they get to choose what they want to be. And if they choose, they’re called “neuts” and so I was like That is me! I don’t want to be one or the other, I don’t want to be anything. From that point — it was around 2004— I was calling myself “neut” and then as I got older I sort of went into hiding.

I guess I’m considered closeted by most standards of identity stuff because it’s kind of hard. My mother’s the only person who’s really supportive of this—the rest of my family is religious. I’m married. My spouse is supportive, but my spouse’s family probably wouldn’t be. So it’s just a weird struggle to self-identify and be proud of who I am, and at the same time, I don’t want to have to get into arguments.

And now there’s words for it — non-binary, gender nonconforming, agender. There are so many names and I’ve been calling it neut for the last 20 years.

Being agender is really hard because even in circles and communities that you think will be supportive, especially LGBT circles or supposedly sex-positive and open communities, you still receive a lot of questioning. I can’t wear anything that shows off my female sex characteristics or whatever because people are like “Oh, how very agender of you” and it’s like what do they expect me to be? Some sort of lifeless blob you can’t identify? Am I supposed to look like an alien with no human features whatsoever?

Even places where you think there’s spaces for you to identify this way, it’s still kind of difficult.

The biggest misconception of being agender is that you have to be completely androgynous.  A lot of people go for androgyny because it’s the closest they can get to sort of registering on both scales, it’s kind of like a compliment for somebody to go “Are you a boy or a girl?” because that legitimately means they cannot identify your sex based off of your looks, which a lot of genderless people try to seek. But by no means do you have be completely androgynous to be agender.

Gender expression is a personal thing — it’s our personal identity. And, yes, we want to be validated and have people accept us when we say “Yeah, I don’t have a gender” — but you can have a full beard and be agender. You can have massive breasts and be agender. Some people feel more comfortable to remove their breasts or shave their beards or grow their hair out long to achieve a balance of whatever their sex traits are, but we shouldn’t have to.

Older people have felt this way for years. The concept of being genderless has existed but we are just now only getting terminology for it. So just understand we do exist, we’re not a bunch of crazy people, we’re not a bunch of young kids just wanting to stand out — most of us are just trying to fit in and be accepted without leaving our comfort zones or going beyond ourselves. You want to be yourself — you don’t want to be somebody else just to be valid.

Dee (Daniel), 33, Any Pronouns

I have been in feminist and in LGBT circles for a long time, and my roommate came out as non-binary years ago. My husband started using they/them and identifying as non-binary about a year ago.

Talking about gender and such with them, I debated a long time whether I counted as cis anymore, because I have never really had a problem with people IDing me as a woman (usually online because I have a beard IRL). I still usually say cis-adjacent for the simple fact that because of my beard, I’ll get IDd as a cis man regardless of if I wear makeup or not. This means I benefit from cis male privilege, even if I don’t think any gender expression feels particularly right to me.

There is a lot to think about and discuss around agender, non-binary, and presentation versus identification. I paint my nails and wear some light makeup, but I still present mostly masculine.

I think one of the misconceptions is that agender folks are trying to force everyone else to be agender — that it’s somehow invalidating trans folks’ or non-binary folks’ lived experience — which couldn’t be farther from the truth. We are all trying to figure out what we are doing with these meat sacks we call a body and live our best lives, as short as they are.

My biggest personal struggle is finding ways to express my lack-of-gender since I don’t like how I look without a beard, but it’s seen as a huge masc identifier. Most of the androgynous tips online are for thin white folks like David Bowie. I’ve started wearing my hair asymmetrical and more gender-neutral in an attempt to get some semblance of androgyny.

Society should stop focusing on others’ gender expressions, and if someone asks you to use certain pronouns/name, use them! Everyone’s gender/expression will be different. Even among cis folks, there are huge variants on how people present their gender.

Talk, think, and try things out. Try on different gender expression, try out different pronouns. You’ll probably know when something suddenly feels right, though not always! I’ve been trying out going by Dee instead of Daniel (it was a childhood nickname and more androgynous) and I’m not sure if I like it better or not. And that is OK!

Nicky, 20, He/They

I discovered I was agender when I was in tenth grade. I never felt correct identifying as a woman, nor did I feel like I was a binary trans man. I made a failed attempt to force myself into the binary when I was first exploring what it meant to be trans, and proceeded to bring more misery upon myself. I couldn’t figure it out. If I wasn’t a woman, and I wasn’t a man, what was I?

When I discovered the agender identity, it felt like a breath of fresh air. There were people with similar stories to mine, and what they saw themselves as aligned with what I could see in myself. I first came out as agender when I was 15, and I will be 21 this June.

There’s no correct way to be agender. Being agender doesn’t require androgyny, and androgyny isn’t inherently masculine, as mass media tends to show us. There’s truly no concept of passing when it comes to identifying with no gender at all. You can be agender and present how you want, no matter the gender you were assigned at birth, as agender people’s identities are all incredibly unique.

My experiences as an agender person have been met with confusion. There’s still a long way to go in education about gender identity, as many people I’ve come out to along the way have questioned me endlessly about my gender, often assuming I’m a confused woman, or equating gender exploration with puberty. Sometimes, this is the case, and I’m all about allowing gender to be explored, and no limits or boxes for what it means to identify. But, this is who I am, and who I am proud to be. I’m not a man, I’m not a woman, I’m extraordinarily Nicky James Ballard.

It’s not always difficult, though, and I’m thankful for the people who take the time to understand where I’m coming from, the ones who have met me with open arms and continue to support me.

I can only hope that as we continue to spread the word of gender identity, the concept of identifying with genders other than male or female becomes more normal. I wish that being taught about gender identity, expression, and gender dysphoria was more accepted in the sexual education curriculum in high schools. I want people to know that there is nothing wrong with questioning gender, learning about gender, and exploring their own, and what gender, or lack thereof, means to them.

On, 31, They/Them

There was never one pivotal moment for me in knowing myself as agender. It started four or five years ago when I revisited some of the feelings in my youth, because back then there wasn’t really any equivalent terminology around gender. In hindsight, I would say I was experimenting with gender expression by putting on makeup or more traditional feminine clothing.

I guess it came from a different place but gender definitely played a central part in it. After a while, the pendulum swung in the other direction. I was performing masculinity, and then over time I grew more uneasy with fitting either masculine or feminine identities.

It wasn’t really this one moment where I really realized I was agender. I knew I didn’t know how to really navigate any of those binary genders, and I realized nothing really fits and that it may just be neither. It’s not that I’m in between or somewhere outside, but none of those identities are applicable for me. I wouldn’t know how to position myself in either way.

I definitely pass as a cis male and most of the time I’m just read as a cis male, but it depends on the space and how comfortable I feel in expressing more of my ambiguity. It’s been a difficult experience, but my partner is really supportive and she’s helped me a lot to be more affirmed in who I am, and feel more at ease, and that kind of led to me opening up to my friends a bit more.

It’s still difficult because it’s already hard to even explain what binary trans means to people, and so to explain what an absence of gender means is challenging. It’s been the same with my family as well, they are always assuming that I’m in between two genders.

The most important thing is not to pressure yourself; a lot of the narratives that are circulating about agender people are focusing on this journey that ends at some point and the person feels at home with themselves or they feel more complete and affirmed. And that could put a lot of pressure on people because from my experience that journey slows down and you have a little pause here and there when you think of your gender identity — I believe if you identify as agender today and you realize “Oh, I actually might be cis” the next day, or whatever, that’s completely fine. These different labels can put on a pressure to choose and settle on one identity.

But it’s okay for your identity to be temporal as you begin to know yourself and allow yourself the agency to move around within your own fluidity.

Winter (or Winston), 20, They/Them

It’s funny: I discovered my agender identity in a similar way to how I realized I was asexual about two years prior. I was having trouble understanding who I was and how I wanted to express myself, and how the two connected. I felt like I was missing something that other people seemed to be in touch with. I knew of the term agender for some time in high school but never thought much of it until my senior year, when I suddenly realized that it was actually the perfect word to describe myself.

There are so many misconceptions about agender people, and many of them probably apply to other non-binary genders as well, but here are some that I’ve come across in my day to day life:

People (mostly bigots) tend to have this idea in their minds that agender people just don’t understand nature, biology, psychology, or science in general. I actually excel in biology and psychology. I’m currently working towards a bachelor of science in psychology and started doing undergraduate research in my college’s neurochem lab at the start of my sophomore year. And I identify as agender. So I’m basically living proof that this myth isn’t founded in fact, but prejudice.

People seem to believe that because we are genderless, agender people’s experiences of our genders, how our internal experiences affect how we interact with the world, and how the world treats us, are basically the same as men and women, because how can a gender that’s not there affect a person’s experiences? Our perspectives tend to be ignored in favor of a more gendered, binary world view. However, I think agender people can have very special perspectives that should be taken into consideration when discussing gender-related topics, especially topics like gender discrimination and the patriarchy. I think there is something unique about seeing a world so heavily influenced by gender through a genderless eye. People living in a society that uses gender so heavily to control people, and being still strongly affected by this system even while being genderless, are worth listening to.

When people imagine agender people, they usually picture someone who is AFAB and dresses sort of masculinely. I think this is usually somewhat rooted in two types of sexist thinking. The first being the idea that all AFAB people are weak-minded and easily-influenced girls who can’t be trusted to understand their own experience of gender and must be protected, lest they are tricked into no longer wanting to be girls. The second is that masculinity is seen as a sort of default, while femininity is seen as other, so something that is genderless must be masculine, because if it were feminine then it would be “girly.” However, AMAB agender people exist and feminine agender people exist, and quite frankly I believe they’re too important to be forgotten about.

Agender people are often seen as touchy, angry, confused people who are obsessed with gender. People believe that because we identify in a way they are not familiar with, agender people must spend too much time thinking about gender and must be confused or distressed by it. In reality, I’m very comfortable with my identity and I don’t spend much time at all thinking about anyone’s gender. I feel much more comfortable with myself since coming to realize my agender identity than I did before I knew I wasn’t cis. Really the only time I am reminded of my gender is when I am misgendered, either by a person who uses the wrong pronoun or something, or by a place, like a bathroom or clothing section that is labeled either for men or for women.

As an agender person, all I ask is for people to show me basic human respect. Using the pronouns a person asks you to use for them is basic respect. Calling a person their name is basic respect. Not saying things that would be inappropriate to say to anyone (like questions about a person’s genitals) is basic respect. That is all I want. I don’t ask people to be experts. Allowing yourself to respect people, even if you don’t understand them, is probably the best way to come to understand them in the long run.

Khalypso, 19, They/Them

I knew I didn’t identify with womanhood though it was assigned to me and I certainly don’t feel connected to masculinity. I did some googling and discovered an article about being agender and the descriptions and definition are almost exactly how I feel.

I think with identifying as anything non-binary, especially agender — people see it as some sort of political stance and not an identity. We’re treated like we’re rebelling against the whole world just for existing, and things simply do not work that way. My identity does inform my politics but I shouldn’t be made to feel like a walking protest just for existing as I am.

I’ve experienced a lot of misgendering and harassment since coming out, especially because I made the choice not to seek any hormonal or surgical gender-affirming treatment. It sucks to say that most people are not only ignorant, but hateful towards me for simply wanting to exist and be validated. People take it as a personal affront that you don’t subscribe to a binary so it’s kind of rough just expressing myself.

Society must understand we’re regular people and we do everything people with binary genders do. Stop being afraid of us and stop endangering us. Stop misgendering us and take the time to learn more about the history of gender especially as it pertains to violent Western colonial politics — we’re human beings and we really do just wanna live like everyone else.

James, 28, They/Them

I transitioned to male when I was 19, mostly because I knew I wasn’t female and male seemed like the only other option. I have never been especially uncomfortable with my body or being perceived as either binary gender, but somehow, even at the age of 19, I knew that I would be more comfortable in a body that is as nonbinary as my gender. I discovered nonbinary genders when I was 23, and it was that classic ‘aha’ moment. I have used a lot of different labels to try and define my agender identity, and these days I tend to use gender-null, which is the closest I have gotten to describing how, where most people feel male or female — I just have a void. For me, being agender is not a gender identity defined by the lack of gender, but the lack of any gender identity at all. It’s also possible that I won’t always identify this way! But I am not a time traveler, so I can’t be sure.

Being agender doesn’t mean that you don’t have anything to do with gender or gendered constructs. There are a lot of different ways to feel and be agender. Like any identity category, people who identify as agender have different ideas of what that means (even if the term seems straightforward). They may prefer gendered pronouns, or not. An agender person may present solely femininity or masculinity, or may move between the two, or may blend them to create a sort of nonbinary style. They may pursue transition (and that will look different for everyone) as I have, or they may love their body as it is. Their gender identity may be a significant part of an agender person’s life, or the lack of gender may mean that they don’t think about it at all. Everyone is different, obviously.  

Even though it makes me uncomfortable, I know that providing a space for everyone to name their preferred pronouns is actually really affirming for most people, and I think it is an important practice. Otherwise, what can society do? I honestly think that is just a matter of understanding that there are gender identities and experiences that go beyond male/female. There seems to be some movement toward making nonbinary identities visible, but even then I think there needs to be more emphasis on the fact that there are so many different ways to be nonbinary that the experiences we see in the media don’t even scratch the surface.

There are about various ways to experience gender (or not). They are all valid. Not identifying with any gender at all is valid. Experimenting with gender is the best part about gender, and if you end up at “My gender is agender,” that is cool and you are cool.

Ruth, 39, Any Pronouns (as long as you’re respectful)

I’ve known I was different than my peers since I was four years old. I didn’t know that not being male or female was an option, so at first I thought I was just “weird” or different. I felt like I never quite fit in with my peers. The other girls in school often seemed like a different species from me, but I didn’t feel like I was a boy either.

Then I learned that I’m queer, and I thought that was the answer to how I felt differently than my peers. (I’m open to a romantic relationship with any gender.) I’ve always been interested in “gender-bending” at times, like wearing masculine clothes and having a gender-neutral hairstyle.

It was when I learned about younger people identifying as non-binary that I felt like I found a term that matched how I felt.

A big misconception with being agender is that we’re asking for anything special by trying to get non-binary birth certificates, driver’s licenses, and passports. We just want to be legally acknowledged as who we are, the same as anyone else. (I got my California birth certificate corrected last year and now I’m trying to get my current state – Arizona – to change its laws and issue non-binary driver’s licenses so this topic is on my brain.)

Being non-binary or agender is not a fad and it’s not new. Non-binary people have always existed, but it’s been more recent that we’re being acknowledged.

It’s challenging and draining to be non-binary in a binary-centric society. There are everyday occurrences that people who are cisgender probably don’t even think about but that tell me that I’m excluded as non-binary:

  • Locker rooms (only male and female options).
  • Public bathrooms that have more than one stall (labeled male or female general).
  • Referring to someone as “Sir” or “Ma’am.” There is no gender-neutral option.
  • Ditto for other situations like what am I to my sibling’s baby. I’m not their aunt or uncle. I adopted my own term: “Oggy” (rhymes with “doggy”).
  • When I sign up to run a race, I have to specify if I’m male or female. In my head, I’ve renamed them the testosterone and estrogen divisions.
  • When you buy a plane ticket, you have to specify if you’re male or female. There are no other options and you must pick one.
  • Buying clothes, especially a business suit, can be a nightmare because nothing seems to fit right. I want a masculine style suit, but items in the men’s section aren’t made for someone with my proportions and the women’s section doesn’t have masculine style suits. And my feet are too small to get men’s dress socks in most stores and that’s where the patterns I want are.
  • The TSA – I seem to always set off the spinny-go-round scanner. They’re supposed to give a patdown by someone of the same gender. Every time I’ve asked, they haven’t had a non-binary person there to touch me.

Here’s what happened when I tried to get my travel ID, which everyone in AZ is required to get by January 2020. I brought the required documents, including my non-binary birth certificate, and they couldn’t process the application because the computer can only process a person as male or female.

The risk of being physically attacked or killed is much higher for transgender people, including non-binary people. I’m definitely more aware of my surroundings now.

I find this video by BBC Three titled Things Not To Say To A Non-Binary Person validating when I need it.

There is no one way to be non-binary, so what works for one person may not work for you, and you both may be non-binary people. It’s OK to be confused and questioning. There are websites, online forums, and books you can read as well as LGBTQ groups where you can meet people who are similar to you.

Clarkisha Explains: On Happiness, Survival, and The Rejection of Self-Destruction

I am…happy.

I know what you’re thinking.

That’s great, Clarkisha, but how is that relevant? And what does that have to do with me?

As always, that is an excellent question and maybe to you, I am just spouting straight nonsense and uttering unintelligible musings. But if you are any kind of survivor who has encountered the mental fuckery that ensues when you no longer have to just “survive” anymore….this is relevant to you and you know what I’m talking about.

The TRAUMA!

So, where to begin? Ah, well, if I were to give you the equivalent of a roundabout ESPN highlight, I’d say that I spent the first couple of days this year dashing all my petty fears and it paid off in a *major* way. A surprising way. And a fairly romantic way. All ways that are foreign to me and usually elude me.

I slid into someone’s DMs. And it…worked? I was NOT roasted. And now I cannot believe that my Chicken Run ass took this long to say something, mostly because saying that we have good chemistry and that good times await would be such an understatement.

Now fast forward to some weeks later and a bitch. just. can’t. stop. smiling.

It’s…odd! I should be relishing this newfound giddiness, right? And the stomach flips should be fun, right? And what of the butterflies?

Shouldn’t I be leaning into that too?

I should. Normal people would. In fact, normal people wouldn’t question such happiness. Or elation. Or straight-up JOY! But my depression and my PTSD have equipped me with an [un]healthy suspicion when it comes to good things happening in my life. In whatever part of my life. Some, like Teen Wolf, call it regression to the mean. Except in the case of Teen Wolf (and you know, psychology), the phenomenon has more with extreme things happening in a singular place or time in your life and eventually swinging back to a place that’s more neutral, so to speak. This means things won’t always be terrible but also won’t be great 24/7. For me, the negative side of this phenomenon is usually what I experience and it manifests itself when life is either going great or okay, but I can’t help but think that shittier times are ahead and that I would be naive to not prepare for them. That I would be remiss to just throw myself fully into my happiness because I don’t want to get caught off guard by something catastrophic because I was too busy being a sap.

I CAN’T STOP.

I call it the “When Will The Shoe Drop?” Syndrome. And because I’m me, I take it further. There’s always a question of how long my happy situation will last. If I’m projecting. Whether this is truly a reality or just an illusion. And if there’s a person who is one of the focal points of said happy situation (be they a friend or whatever), there’s always the additional question of how long it will take before they grow tired or annoyed with me. Or if someone put them up to this. Or if, quite frankly, they took a wrong turn and simply ended up here. With me.

This string of unhealthy hypotheticals always threatens to rip me from the happy situation I’m currently in and put me in some of the darkest corners of my mind. I know this because it’s a pattern of mine (and perhaps yours, too) that I’m fairly aware of and that I have been trying to break and not succumb to, for a very, very long time.

I remember when I first discovered this was a thing (college). At first, I thought it was a normal thing and that it was just my way of looking out for myself and not being so quick to fall for the okie doke. You know, because I was being wise! Emotionally cognizant. Wiser beyond my years.

Basically, all ways to tell me that my trauma had effectively changed my life but, you know, make it fashion!

Still. I thought I was so smart. I thought I had life all figured out. And then someone on Twitter succinctly stated that there was no way for us to thrive (but mainly me) with the coping mechanisms we had developed and refined for survival. And that doing so was a recipe for ultimate failure, and most importantly, self-destruction.

It left me shaken for a really long time.

I say this because normally I would have ignored such a fairly topical and pointed tweet (because I’m so fucking headass), but because I had briefly dabbled in therapy before I couldn’t afford it anymore, my therapist had made it clear fairly quickly that some of the coping mechanisms that I had used to draw lines of demarcation between me and my family or to emotionally shield myself would bring me nothing but misfortune in the future.

“You have a tendency to be self-destructive, [redacted],” she once said. And this is before she dragged my life by pointing out how weird I get about happiness. And how I eventually isolate myself from the person or thing who is bringing it to me. Compare this realization to that oddly-specific and well-timed tweet and I found myself asking myself why the fuck I was like this and how the fuck I could possibly fix it.

If you’re anything like me, maybe that’s something you have been asking yourself too. And the truth is…I don’t have an easy answer for you. I’m lucky because my person in question has known me for a minute and is semi-aware (semi because I’m not so sloppy that I’d reveal all my good and bad quirks all at once LOL) of how…neurotic…I can be sometimes. And they’ve also made it safe enough for me to talk about this shit with them so they that they have the chance to reassure me when I’m doing the absolute most. I realize everyone doesn’t have that and I don’t really take that lightly.

#Blessed

But still. What are we, recovering survivors, to do in the interim as we attempt to return to “normal” and untraumatized lives? With or without help in tow? Again, that’s a good-ass question. Part of me is sometimes self-defeatist and wants to accept that this is just my reality and that I have to come to terms with the fact that happiness, if it doesn’t elude me, will never sit well with me. But the other part of me knows what a crock of unhealthy bullshit that is and how it is ultimately imperative for me to unlearn all this shit.

And that’s the thing, too. Unlearning unhealthy survival coping mechanisms is a tall order and it doesn’t happen overnight. But it must be done. Because one (unless you’re a bigot) deserves nice things and one can either
develop new ways to truly handle said nice things (like happiness, contentment, and joy) or they could face the possibility that the various ways in which they “survived” in the last couple of years will surely destroy them if left unchecked.

It’s your move.

20 Queer Q’s with Matt Rogers

The 20 Queer Qs series seeks to capture LGBTQ+ individuals (and allies) in a moment of authenticity. We get to know the subjects, what makes them who they are, and what they value. These intimate conversations aim to leave you, the reader, feeling like you just gained a new friend or a new perspective.

This week, get to know comedian, entertainer, and co-host of the Las Culturistas podcast, Matt Rogers. Learn about his hopes for the LGBTQ+ community in the future, what his queerness has given him, what he feels insecure about, and more.

Name: Matt Rogers

Age: 28

Preferred Pronouns: He/Him/His

Sexually Identifies As: Gay

1. What do you love about the LGBT community? The various point of views you get within it. I think something you think before you’re actually in the community, is that everyone is the same. You see a kind of antiquated image of the gay community on television, especially in the 90’s when I grew up. The community is so varied, interesting, dynamic, and I’m happy to be a part of it.

 

2. Do you think it’s hard to make queer friends? I don’t think it’s hard, but I definitely think you have to get over yourself. We make it harder for ourselves, and I think one of the symptoms of being gay is that you second guess yourself all the time because that’s what we’ve been told to do and that doesn’t make friendships easy. I’m lucky I’ve had my friends that I’ve been close with for 10 years and having people to go out with and meet people with has made it easier, but when you meet someone new when their super interesting, you feel like you want to make sure you’re good enough for them and I think the insecurity that we all have that is ingrained in us just due to the experiences we’ve been through. That’s what makes it hard to open up to people in terms of friendships and romance.

3. What does pride mean to you? It’s the sense of safety in operating in your full potential as a human being and that’s expressing your joy to the max and having that received by the people around you.

4. Do you think LGBTQ+ youth have it easier now? I don’t like this hierarchy of struggle. Every individual is going through something and I think we need more compassion across the board. I don’t like it when my generation scolds the younger LGBT community. I think we have a lot more in common than we think. I’m so reverent and appreciative of the older generation. They had to go through something I couldn’t even imagine. It’s tragic what this community went through during the AIDS crisis and I think that’s trauma that’s with this generation and they’re angry because they never had to go through that.

I think we look at the younger generation and think, “Wow you’re allowed to be gay at 11 years old.” But at the same time, we don’t know what it’s like to have social media surround us at all times. When I say I don’t like the hierarchy of struggle, I don’t like to compete in terms of pain. I think everyone is entitled to their experience and what’s important is that we have compassion, it’s not that we remind each other that we’ve had it harder than anyone else, even if it’s true. Because it is, there are sects of this community that have had it extremely difficult. Specifically speaking about trans women of color, [they] are the most persecuted, disrespected, berated, and pursued negatively people on this planet. I think it would be ridiculous on this planet to say that they didn’t have it rough every single day. But I also think we should have compassion for everyone. In terms of these younger kids, they’re still grappling with their identity and are still in the minority and still need compassion.

5. What advice do you have for LGBTQ+ youth? Don’t be afraid of other individuals that are also different. Foster relationships with people that you find a connection with. If you feel a connection, foster that, because your community is going to be your family one day.

6. Do you believe in love? Yes.

7. What are values that you look for in an ideal partner? Patient, non-judgemental, gets it in terms of humor. You don’t have to be funny, you just have to get it.

8. Describe what being queer is like in 3-5 words. Girl, we are getting there.

9. What are your thoughts on people who say “masc4masc”? They’re people who are not going to get my attention or anyone’s attention who’s worthwhile. It’s a ridiculous thing to say which is a gross symptom of our community which is the app culture. It’s one of the ways in which the ugliness in our community is living out loud. It’s so gross and we’re so much better and [more] beautiful than that.

10. What hopes do you have for the LGBTQ+ community in the future? Happiness. I hope that for everyone, I hope that everyone can just get to a point where they say I love myself as much as I pretend to or as much as I see. I hope we can walk the world and be safe.

 

11. Is there a LGBTQ+ TV show or movie that has had a great impact on you? RuPaul’s Drag Race had the greatest impact on me, because the concept of “You’re born naked and the rest is drag” changed my life. … I realized that there are no rules, the only rules that you make are the ones that you impose on yourself. And that is so liberating.

12. What’s your earliest memory that you felt you were different? When I was little, the characters that I wanted to act out in the yard were all female — and my parents acted weird about it. My mom even asked our doctor about why I was doing that and the doctor said,  “It’s because he’s very smart, he wants to take on different personas.” I was perceptive enough to understand that my instincts were not “normal,” and it was gauging that from the reaction they had.

13. What do you feel most insecure about? My body,

14. What do you feel the most confident about? My sense of humor.

15. What’s your relationship with your family like? Very good, very positive, I’m very lucky in that regard and I see them often.

16. Have you found your chosen family? How do they make you feel? Absolutely 100%, and I’m so lucky. Oftentimes when I’m at Thanksgiving with extended family I’m like, “Why aren’t i with my real family?” It’s so true what they say, it’s such an integral thing for a gay person is to find those people

17. On a grading scale from F-A, how is life for you right now? A-. In the grand scheme of things, I can eat, I’m out here pursuing my goals, I do what I want, I have good family, my family and friends are healthy.

18. Have you ever felt/do you still feel uncomfortable holding another guys hand in public? Yes, unfortunately because no matter where you go, you are exposed and you hear horror stories. This is something I think people need to understand. You cannot fully understand the full experience of someone who is different or a minority because you don’t have those small instincts. Like when I hold someone’s hand in public, that’s marking yourself vulnerable and there’s a lot of crazy people out there.

19. Who is someone in your life who gets you? Bowen Yang, my best friend understands me 100%. We have a sort of sixth sense with each other, we’re very empathetic to each other, we often speak in the same cadences at the same time.

20. What value/quality has being queer given you? What have you gained? It’s given me my sense of humor and that’s everything to me. It’s given me my point of view which is great to pair with a sense of humor.

Listen to Matt’s podcast Las Culturistas wherever you listen to podcasts. Keep up with him and his upcoming shows in NYC and LA on Twitter and Instagram.

Traveling Solo as a Trans Woman in London

It was when the cashier converted my US Dollars into British Pounds that I knew the trip was real. I was going to London, alone. I had never been and didn’t know anyone there. How would people react to me? My accent? I considered adjusting my look. How do British people dress?

The one thing I couldn’t adjust was my transgender identity.

The UK and I have always had a long distance relationship. We stayed connected through my obsession with Robbie Williams, Doctor Who, and British Bake Off. We needed to be together. One morning, I impulsively booked the cheapest flight I could and secured an Airbnb. I was going. Not even Brexit or reports of increased violence against the LGBTQ community could keep me away.

My makeup was perfect and I wore a feminine floral dress. I was afraid to disturb binary gender standards while abroad. After the six-hour flight from New York, the first person I spoke to was an immigration officer. I feared being detained and somehow ending up in a cell full of men. Mercifully, I breezed through and had my passport stamped.

One of my first stops was Buckingham Palace. I felt compelled to take a selfie. As I took the photo, I noticed a man staring at me. I followed my first instinct and fled. Through the Canada Gate and past Green Park, I thought I lost him. I was wrong. His clothes and demeanor told me he was a business traveler looking to get laid. He matched my frantic pace and wore a diplomatic smile.

“Are you a man or a woman?

“I’m a woman, obviously.”

“I’m so sorry, I was on a trip to Thailand before and needed to know. Can I walk with you?”

“…..”

“I’m so sorry I asked you that. You are very beautiful. I wanted to meet you. Do you live here?”

“Yes. On the other side of the Thames. I have friends coming soon.”

I walked fast but he kept up. He grabbed me and forced me to locked arms. I considered if I should pull away and risk a struggle. I decided to lead us to a public place. We ended up in pub called the Silver Cross. As long as we stayed in the pub there was nothing he could do.  We sat down and he ordered a bottle of Italian Rosé.

“I want to fuck you. I have a hotel nearby. If you are a woman, I want to fuck you.”

His eyes slowly scanned my body as if he were making a map. He took another sip. I hardened myself and look him in his eyes.

“I only have sex with people I love. Unless we have an emotional connection, that would never happen. Have you ever been in love?”

I disarmed him. His forehead started to sweat. I figured he was married and I made him think about it. I started to mention children. How wonderful they are. How I want to have a child.

“Excuse me for a moment. I have to go to the toilet.”

I intentionally sat close to an exit. As soon he was out of my range of vision, I ran out the door. I ran several blocks until I was comfortable with the number of people and buildings between us.

Shaken, I made my way to the Hungerford Bridge to see the London Eye. While taking pictures from the bridge, a man with a German accent must have clocked me as a tourist. He put a necklace in my hand and asked me to help him put it on. While I was savvy enough to keep my valuable near my breasts, I made the mistake of clasping the necklace around his neck.

The man turned to me screaming, “Thank you!” He wrapped his arms around me tightly. I put my hands on my boobs. My wallet and passport were safe there. A warm, prickly kiss touched my cheek and he walked away.

My valuables were with me but my sense of safety was gone. What’s next?

I headed back to my AirBnB. With the door locked behind me, I was safe again.

My eyes glazed over as I stared out the window. The view of the apartment parking lot became darker as the sun went down. I couldn’t stay hidden in my room forever. I decided to venture out again.

Close to my building was a place called Paya and Horse. I mistakenly assumed it was a restaurant. Immediately, I was offered a drink for five pounds. I couldn’t refuse. The owner was a Serbian man with a collection of hats hanging behind the bar. I noticed him change hats at least three times although he wouldn’t admit it.

One by one, a regular would approach the bar. Each time, the weathered pub owner would introduce them as sketchy or shifty; not to be trusted. Then the owner would playfully encourage them to flirt with me.

“Don’t be shy! There is a pretty girl here! Talk to her!”

Each time, they would walk off, red-faced and defeated. I was equal parts flattered and terrified. Halfway through a pint of Fuller’s London Pride, a younger man with shaggy blond hair and thick-framed glasses walk in. He carried a confidence that the other men didn’t. I watched him walk to the bar and hoped that the pub owner wouldn’t tempt him to talk to me. He did.

As he approached me, I noticed his Tapout tank top gently draping over his muscled shoulders. Fighting sports are very popular in the UK. Through conversation, he revealed that he was half Scottish and had been living in London for the last decade. His eyes revealed that he was attracted to me.

We shared stories about Mary Berry and Simon Pegg. He gave me a tutorial on how to speak with a proper British accent. We revealed that we both scream-sing “Angels” by Robbie Williams on car rides. Our eyes met as we both reached down to play with his friend’s dog. I was disarmed.

My sides started to hurt from laughing and the pub owner had to quiet us several times. My mind was playing different scenarios. One was of another life where I was born a cisgender woman and we had several blonde, muscular babies together. The other was me fighting for my life because he learned I was trans.

Several beers later, my legs were shaky. Beer is stronger in the UK. It was time to escape. I knew the way back the Airbnb, but I needed to get there without being followed. I was planning different scenarios when the pub owner started to turn off the lights. He was closing early.

We were all outside and my new half Scottish friend stayed close to me. The entire pub said goodbye and I was alone with him, his friend, and their dog. So many of my rules were already broken and I was incredibly vulnerable.

“Let’s see the Buddha! It’s in Battersea Park! We can take the dog for a walk, then take you home. We have a job in Scotland tomorrow. Where are you staying?”

“Um… around the corner. I can just find my way.”

“Don’t worry, we’re going that way, too. We can walk together so you won’t get lost.”

It was like being confronted by a coiled snake, I was afraid to make any sudden movements. I decided to walk with them.

Battersea Park at night is pitch black. The lack of visual clues allows other senses to take lead. The texture of the ground. The cold crisp wind from the Thames River hitting your skin. The smell of hay from the park zoo.

As we walked down a trail, I felt his shoulder and elbow touch mine. He wanted to lock arms. I pulled away and asked about the zoo. Anything to create space while we walked home. We walked through darkness and I used his friend’s dog to divert any physical contact between us.

My voice. My pitch. We were engulfed in darkness. I had to raise it higher than usual. Under no circumstance could I be read as a trans woman. I never hide my transness. I’m proud of it. This was different. I had to keep it a secret. My life could depend on it.

We started to see street lights and I asked questions about the city. As long as they are talking, I’m not the focus. I’m safe. They started telling jokes about movies like The Matrix. Lilly and Lana Wachowski’s transition from masculine to feminine came up. I braced myself.

“Maybe I’ll cut my balls off. Then I can make a solid film.”

I looked at them and burst into laughter. Laughing at the situation I was in, not the joke. I couldn’t believe what I heard. This wasn’t the place to defend my position on transphobic jokes.

Finally, we made it through the park. It was time to say goodbye. We all hugged and I said goodbye to the playful shepherd dog.

My half Scottish friend wrapped his arms around me and before I could react, kissed me on my lips. It was a gentle kiss that begged me to move to London and start a new life. I stood in shock, I watched them walk away.

He was so sweet to me while assuming I was cis. Would he still be sweet if he learned that I’m trans? I’m still the tall, olive-skinned beauty that sings “Angels” in the shower. I never want to know the answer.

I made it back to my Airbnb in one piece. Behind the locked door, I sat on the bed and fell into a trance. My mind had trouble processing the day. All the adrenaline flowing through my body made my hands tremble. Hundreds of what if scenarios speed through my mind. I started to question whether solo travel abroad is a good idea. Would I ever travel like this again?

The answer is a resounding, yes. Is it more dangerous for a transgender woman to travel alone? Absolutely. I can’t stop being transgender. The dangers I face are real everywhere I go although they change based on the environment and the culture I’m in. I won’t let discrimination based on my identity stop me from living life.

I will see the world and the world will see me. Trans-identity included.

George is Tired…Of Terrible-Ass Apologies

We have already been in the month of January for 525,600 minutes and we have not only brought the B.S. of 2018 with us but compounded it with even more foolishness. However, since I love social media, petty moments, and celebrities’ inability to find good PR professionals these days, you could say I’m in heaven.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I was tired of Kevin Hart. A few weeks later I am STILL tired of Kevin Hart. Kevin Hart’s timeline from the past five weeks has sort of read like this:

“I apologized for being homophobic so I’m not going to apologize again, but then I lost the Oscar hosting gig so I then apologized again, but it was found out that the apology after losing the Oscars gig was actually my first apology and the myth that I told everyone was an apology was really me calling LGBTQ people too sensitive for my humor which has now sent me on a promo tour about my new boring ass movie where instead of talking about the movie I talk about how I have moved on over, and over and over again, proving that I haven’t moved on but that my ego is too strong to let it go because I’m used to getting away with everything — look at both my marriages!”

Where is the damn PR industry? One thing about social media is that a story that usually would last a day or two at the most can now last for a person’s entire career if they handle it wrong. Kevin Hart’s story has been going on for 10 years now. However, this is a story that won’t die because of his own doing.

Now listen. I am not expecting every straight person to want to be LGBTQ people’s best friends, nor do I want to be the reverse of that. What I do expect is respect, and for you to understand the damage that is done when you talk badly about a marginalized group in your own community. Had Hart, when initially questioned simply apologized, this would not be a thing. Unfortunately, people have become so ego-driven that they think they can operate above the law because they have wealth and some power. That’s not how any of this works, though, and being un-humble and disrespectful could end your career.

Because, honestly, If people began addressing things when they happened, if they ever popped up again they could simply repost the original apology and then reiterate what was once stated. But that’s not what we have anymore. What we have is a system where people do things that are dead-ass wrong, and then they remain silent until an opportunity is threatened by it years down the line.

Which is how we get to Lady Gaga, who decided to pull out her Notes app and apologize to herself more than anyone else. And the timing, four days after a shocking loss of the Golden Globe to Glenn Close and shortly before the Oscar nominations, is questionable.

I understand people need the time and space to grow. People who may have been misogynistic, homophobic, etc. in the past can definitely show growth over the years and become advocates in places where they were once abusers. However, that doesn’t absolve you from addressing your original mistake.

It was 2013 when, at age 27, Gaga decided to work with R. Kelly. Yes, the R. Kelly who at that time had 20 years of sexual abuse allegations under his belt. Not only did she work with Kelly, but when questioned about it, she made a statement saying, “R. Kelly and I have sometimes very untrue things written about us, so in a way, this was a bond between us.”

First of all, yuck. Secondly, her decision to double and triple down against Black victims of R. Kelly was very telling. However, by 2014 Gaga started talking about her own sexual assault and became the voice against it…still never talking about the R. Kelly situation. A situation that she has been questioned about in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and the first week of 2019 prior to her apology, which conveniently came during award season.

And then there is the apology. A very long explanation saying everything except “I messed up.” There was legitimate talk of her own bouts with sexual abuse, but sweeping generalizations of apology towards others and no specificity towards the Black women she hurt.

So last night I saw a question posed about what would be an acceptable apology. The first step is timing. The closer to the offense the better.

A great apology should follow these six steps:

  1. I messed up
  2. This is how I messed up
  3. This is who I harmed by messing up
  4. I apologize to all that I hurt by messing up (not that “may have offended” crap)
  5. This is what I have learned since messing up
  6. Moving forward I plan on doing these things to fix it and not mess up again

Easy, breezy, beautiful APOLOGY. I hope folks move to a place of sincerity and accountability, with the understanding that all may not forgive. If you are giving apologies simply looking for praise afterward, then the apology wasn’t real to begin with.

Queer Abby: Rapid Fire Dog Advice

Dear Readers, because this is a queer column, I get a lot of questions about pets — dogs in particular. This week, I present a cache of rapid-fire dog advice, written from a home full of tennis balls and chihuahua fur.

Dear Queer Abby, 

Why is my jack-chi such a dick on his leash and such an angel off of it? What’s the fix?

Wacked out in Wyoming

 

Dear Wacked, 

Leash aggression is real! 

As time-consuming as it may be, I do believe in positive reinforcement training. When you see another dog on the street, I want you to take out the best treat in the world (something stinky and chewy and meat-like that your dog will go bananas for), get your dog’s attention, make him sit, and then say some word, like “FRIEND,” in a nice voice as you give your dog the treat while the other dog passes by. 

It will take a while, but your dog will eventually get the picture that when a dog appears, it means he sits and gets a treat. 

In the meantime, project calm, assertive energy as your speed-walk past other dogs, and if people’s off-leash canines run towards you and they let out an easy-going “He’s friendly!” I want you to yell “MINE’S NOT!” and furrow your brow as them as you calm-assertively power-walk away. 

There is no reason to let your dog sniff strangers if your dog isn’t having a good time doing so. Sorry, strangers. 

Good luck. 

Q.A.

Dear Queer Abby, 

My dog is like Beija (Queer Abby’s anxious former dog, as described in the book Fetch: How a Bad Dog Brought Me Home, of 16 years who disliked men and children, who barked and jumped at people and peed on the floor with regularity). 

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed. How did you cope?

Signed, 

Stressed in Schinecktate

 

Dear Stressed, 

There are no bad dogs. Perhaps your dog isn’t doing the things you wish she could or fulfilling the destiny you’d hoped for her, but I know for absolute certain that there are times when she is comfortable and happy. She may be a terrible candidate for the dog park, or for babysitting, angry at posing for photos and hard to hug, but acceptance of the things she *can* do is going to offer you more than counting her losses ever will.

Focus on those moments of dog joy and appreciate her for who she is. If she’s like Beija, those are times when she gets to go for a walk in an unpopulated area, when she furiously wags her tail for a really good breakfast, or when she gets to roll on her back in the sun, grinding the scent of grass or a rope bone into her fur. 

Part of accepting these moments of joy is setting your dog up for success. If there are things she faithfully fails at, don’t make her do them. If she is going to pee in the house while you’re away, confine her to an area with puppy pads. If she is always going to bark at the door at 4 p.m. when the mailman comes, keep her in a different part of the house with the radio or white noise. 

Your anxious dog doesn’t mean to be bad, she’s just, in the greater scheme of things, reacting to a giant frightening world.  

Your dog is so so lucky to have you. Keep the faith!

Q.A.

Dear Queer Abby, 

My 4-year-old dog has a mast cell tumor and the excision is going to be really big. She also has six other growths that are growing, and the cost of the excisions is around $1200. The other growths may not be mast cell tumors, it’s possible it’s just the one. 

The biopsies are $200 each, and the vet says sometimes they grow back faster after removal. I don’t know what to do. 

Signed, 

At the end of my rope in Ann Arbor

 

Dear End, 

I’m so sorry to hear about these tumors in your very young dog! There is almost nothing worse than the feeling of your finances intersecting with monumental decisions regarding your loved one’s health. 

A sentiment that serves me in many situations is: More Will Be Revealed. 

Note: I am not a veterinarian. I’m not even a vet tech. I’m just a person who has handled dog cancer and end-of-life decisions for several senior pets. Please consult with a  professional, and just take my word as a sympathetic friend & dog-comfort advocate. 

With the vet’s approval, I think you should get all the tumors biopsied. Your dog is young. This is information worth having. 

If you can get rid of the tumors in one sweep and know your dog stands a good chance of being cancer-free, then wonderful, and it is worth the money to save your dog’s life. 

If your dog is just riddled with malignant, cancerous tumors that will continue to return no matter what you do, and if these tumors foretell the slide towards the rainbow bridge in spite of medical intervention, then I don’t see the point in putting your dog through unnecessary surgeries.

If this hospice-leaning scenario is the case, I think you should make your dog as comfortable as possible and give her the absolute best year that you can. Invest some of that would-be surgery money in the best raw or homemade food, dog walks, beach trips, and the fluffiest dog bed imaginable. Get a dog toy with the loudest squeak, and treats with the strongest smell. 

I’m rooting for both of you. 

Ponyo and I hold our wands to the sky for your pup. 

Sincerely, 

Q.A.

Dearly Beloved, Should I Let My Boyfriend Go?

In this week’s Dearly Beloved, the advice column from author Michael Arceneaux, our dear reader is wrestling with whether or not to break up with a boyfriend. It’s not just the distance between them harming the relationship, it’s that they come from two different worlds. In one, it’s legal to be gay. In the other, not so much.

If you want Michael’s advice, just email him at [email protected] with your question. Just be sure to include SPECIFICS, and don’t forget to start your letter with Dearly Beloved!

It’s a thing.

 

Dearly Beloved,

A few years ago, I fell madly in love with a guy I’d never even met. I’m not this type of guy. I’m always the one who would tell my friends in long distance relationships that they were acting stupid, so it took me a long time to accept that this was what I was doing, and that this guy was more than a friend to me.

Things were going great up until last year. We had plans to meet, we talked about a future together, but it was all derailed when he was pulled for mandatory service in his country.

Where he’s from, it’s still illegal to be gay, which also played a factor, because the army found out about our relationship. It was found he committed no crime, but he still doesn’t talk to me the same way.

A lot of stressors before this led to a breakdown in the relationship, which led to a period where we would do nothing but fight, despite having had not a single fight for the almost three years up to that point. He’s become someone I don’t know. He’s angry all the time and constantly trying to blame me for things that aren’t my fault to make me feel bad. He’ll tell me he couldn’t call or text because his phone was confiscated because they saw me texting, when in reality it didn’t happen. He’ll tell me his service got extended because of things going on between us, when in reality the whole batch got extended.

Right now, I just want to be able to give up on this relationship. I love him incredibly, but I also can’t stand it anymore. He wants it to be over, but he keeps saying things like “maybe in a year” or “maybe when this is all over” and all I can think about is getting back the sweet, loving, caring guy that made me fall in love from thousands of miles away against all my better judgement.

I don’t know how to deal with these emotions, and I feel I can’t really open up to my friends about it. I really need some advice.

Thank you in advance.

Love,

Jamie

Dear Jamie,

What I learned as a teenage boy with feelings for other boys I couldn’t communicate with in person out of fear — so I turned to the internet — is that you can absolutely fall in love with someone you have never physically met. If your mutual attraction gives way to real intimacy, it can absolutely happen. You’ve admittedly learned that now, though I am very sorry about the situation you find yourself in.

Unfortunately, you two cannot be together — at least not when he is the military, and arguably, his native country.

As for his hardened character, it may be frustrating and it may hurt you, but forgive him. It may not be right, but one imagines he has taken on this harder exterior as a means of protection. He knows who he is. He senses those around him know, too, thus he faces imminent danger at every second of his life. That is an impossible situation to be in.

I’m sure, he, too, loves you, but you two just aren’t good for each other. It is neither of your faults. This is the fault of his nation and the homophobia that informs its policies.

Maybe one day you two can reunite and have the relationship you both deserve. But if not, at the very least, you got to meet someone that made you feel. Don’t let how it burned out blind you to that.

I realize none of this will comfort you in the interim. That is understandable, so I will just feel the sadness until you think it’s time to let it go. Just don’t blame him or yourself for how this turned out. You both were wrong, and for that, again, I am sorry.

Signed,

Beloved!

Advocating For Myself As a Black Trans Woman

It may be a new year, but it’s never too late or too soon to pursue more fulfillment in your life. For Vanessa Warri, continuing her education and seeking knowledge was a big part of becoming the best version of herself. She writes about it in this op-ed and shares how Point Foundation, the nation’s largest scholarship-granting organization for LGBTQ students, is helping her achieve that for herself.
 

Having a vision of how to improve things can be hard when you feel like nobody thinks of you as capable or intelligent enough. When that sort of negativity comes your community, it can be a defeating experience. However, existing in a world that criminalizes and dehumanizes the existence of Blackness, transness, and womanhood, the achievement of our liberation must be procured through persistence, resistance, and the continuous challenging of authoritative truths about our lives.

I have always considered myself to be something of a futurist, who wants to see my community thriving. I believe this begins with education, specifically with the kinds of knowledge that have been historically gatekept and denied to communities who may be able to use this knowledge to inspire effective advocates, visionaries, and strategists in the movement toward our liberation.

My own lived experience served as a powerful educational tool in creating my identity as an advocate, and in creating my mission. As a Black transgender woman, the only opportunities for professional development that were available to me were in non-profit community-based organizations revolving around HIV prevention research and direct services. Belonging to a historically marginalized and struggling community and being in a position to provide direct services to my community was deeply challenging. I struggled to provide holistic support to transgender people far older than me, while simultaneously trying to provide the same for myself in a rapidly gentrifying Bay Area. It was during my time engaged in what many call “the work” that I came to see how, despite best intentions, community-based organizations and academic entities were facilitating the maintenance of disparity among trans and non-binary people of color.

In focusing so intensely on transgender and non-binary folks through the HIV prevention lens, almost to the exclusion of all other areas of vital need, we created a codependent relationship that stifled the opportunity for major growth. As a provider, I was pushed to sell a reality to a community with multiple systemic, spiritual, emotional, and physical barriers to success that engaging in your health was the first step toward improving quality of life. My advocacy was almost always silenced and ignored. In addition to being told to be grateful for the work I was qualified to do, I was told I was “too young” to really know “the way things work,” and finally that I simply didn’t have the credentials to be taken seriously.

During my time working at a CBO in San Francisco, I was fortunate enough to work alongside Point alum Erin Armstrong, who even before I had decided to pursue my educational goals had mentioned Point Foundation and offered her assistance in helping me apply when the time was right. Throughout my time in community college (about four years), every Fall she would check in with me to let me know that it was time to apply for Point Foundation, and for a while, all I could respond with is “Not yet, almost.” Nevertheless, she said she would reach out to me next time, and when the time finally came she excitedly provided feedback and support to prepare me for what lay ahead.

Applying to and then competing for the Point scholarship was the most intense experience, but it was also one of the most empowering experiences of my life. The questions they asked, and the precision with which they wanted answers forced me to think deeply on my mission, and my commitments both to myself and community. Being invited to be a finalist, where I would meet amazing LGBTQI people who embodied academic excellence, made me feel like for the first time someone was listening to what I had to say, and wanted to hear more.

When I received the call about a month later that I had received the award I was overwhelmed with emotions. It meant that in a society that usually ignores the voices of Black trans people, especially within the LGBTQI community, that I had been heard and considered worthy of investment. This process helped me begin to heal from the trauma of having my experience reduced to being just another angry Black trans person and helped to solidify myself as a professional whose expertise and vision was necessary to add to the future discourses that will hopefully uplift the transgender community and propel our larger LGBTQI community into the future.  

Having a vision of how to create change can be tough when you feel like nobody believes in you. Point Foundation exists to provide an opportunity for you to be heard, supported, and invested in as you seek to bring your vision to life through the pursuit of education. If you are not used to having a team of supportive LGBTQI people, and wonderful resources to aid in your development, then a Point Foundation scholarship and all the wonderful experiences that come along with it should be your next stop. I look forward to reimagining and recreating the future with you.

 
Point Foundation (Point) is the nation’s largest scholarship-granting organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) students of merit. Point empowers promising LGBTQ students to achieve their full academic and leadership potential – despite the obstacles often put before them – to make a significant impact on society. Point promotes change through scholarship funding, mentorship, leadership development, and community service training. A total of 97 scholarship recipients are receiving support for the 2018-2019 academic year. 
 
To apply for a Point scholarship, LGBTQ students can submit an application at pointfoundation.org/apply. Applications are due January 28, 2019 at 11:59pm.
 
Header image via Getty

Coming of Age at Camp

I don’t want to write about camp.

Well, I do want to write about camp. I’m scared to write about camp. Even 17 years later.

I can write about the beautiful tie-dye shirt I made that summer. Yellow and green and blue and pink splattered together.

I can write that it was 2001, and I was nine years old, gay as can be, and didn’t know it yet. Others did.

I can write that I was wearing a large blue T-shirt on Visiting Day and posed with my mom and sister for a photo during lunch. All of our hair is blonde and we are smiling. A perfect family. My mom is wearing a name tag. She is an adult. Her identity is formed.

It is amazing, then, isn’t it? How a handful of photos can tell us so much about each other, about ourselves, but how they can’t actually tell us anything at all?

Because these photos don’t bear the most remote resemblance to what I experienced that summer.

The summer that altered my perceptions of sex.

**

I wrote a letter to Marco before camp started. He was my bunk pen pal. I’m sure they called it something else but that’s what I’m going to call it.

I was going through a phase of experimenting with every font Microsoft Word had to offer. Fonts that curved obnoxiously. That wasn’t something most boys did at that age. But I didn’t do many things most boys did at that age. I wanted to act, wanted to sing, wanted to dance — theater. That’s it. I didn’t understand that it was different, and my parents didn’t do anything to dissuade me from pursuing it.

My mother will tell you that she had an inkling of my feminine tendencies from a young age.

I was part of a playgroup of Jewish boys and girls when I was about a year old. In the beginning, my mom says, there isn’t too much interaction between children. It’s called “parallel play.” We all played within the same area of the room but didn’t interact with each other. Picture a singles mixer, except with blocks instead of cocktails.

We met once a week for a few years. When I was closer to two years old, and interactions began, it was clear I favored the girls over the boys. “You weren’t interested in the more aggressive play,” my mom tells me as we’re walking on a brisk November morning in suburban New Jersey, an awkward time as any to be discussing the events of 25+ years ago. “You weren’t interested in the ball play.” Oh, Mom, with the word choice.

Anyway, I wrote Marco this long letter, which I don’t have now, and can only assume was talking about how excited I was to meet him and be friends at camp. I included a graphic of some kind of performer – perhaps an opera singer? – mouth agape, bursting into song off the page. Like me.

That was my first mistake of the summer.

**

Camp Lohikan was – and still is – a sleepaway summer camp in Lake Como, Pennsylvania for girls and boys ages six through 15. Its mission statement: “Camp Lohikan is a warm, welcoming community of children and adults who come together summer after summer to experience the FUN and personal growth of ‘camp.’”

I wonder if they know that the experience was anything but warm or welcoming for me. That the scars of my experience have yet to fade. That my brain is like a broken etch-a-sketch – no matter how many times I try and shake it, I’m stuck with the same design that can’t erase.

My mother kept letters I wrote home then and those written to me. They’re in red and white envelopes, covered in star and rollerblading stickers and aged postage marks. They’re in the best condition they can be for what they are.

I empathize.

The letters tell a story – several stories, really. But there’s a lot missing. The tye-dye shirt is missing.

As 9-year-olds our minds were still so malleable – more like tar, instead of concrete. Whatever appealing thing anyone said to us, or told us was right or wrong, would stick to us and stain our brains.

We didn’t know the consequences of our actions. I didn’t know the consequences of others’ actions. Of my actions. Of my inactions – not telling my parents what was really going on.

A sample letter:

Dear Everyone,

Sometimes, we get to sleep ‘till 8:15! Otherwise 7:15.

This actually sounds great.

Today, I went horseback riding. It’s very cool. I learned how to control a horse!

A bit of a stretch there.

Here, we have something called canteen. It’s where we get two pieces of candy for free! As in (M&M’s, Nestle Crunchbars, etc.)

… OK this sounds like a lot of fun, why wasn’t I having fun again?

My camp bunkmates are nice.

There it is. Lie.

There is Matt – (MY BEST FRIEND)

Chris – (HE LIKES TO READ)

Marco – (HE’S SEXY)

Chase – (Loves “Skating & Skateboarding”)

Matt E – (He likes COMICS)

Jordan – (HE’S NICE)

& Cody – (THE ANNOYING ONE)

The nice counselors are Dan, Alex, Alex, and Ben. I still love and miss you!

It’s time I filled in what was missing.

**

Marco and I didn’t talk about my letter, or if we did, it wasn’t anything meaningful. Most nine-year-old boys wouldn’t think to discuss the virtues of fonts, like Curlz MT vs. Arial (ugh) vs. Comic Sans (double ugh).

But at some point, Marco and I did talk about something. I called him “cute” and everyone heard.

I must have been goaded into saying so, or trying to take part in the conversations about sex that were swirling around me that summer.

My parents tried to tell me about sex before I left for camp. They plopped down on my tiny twin bed and brought me a picture book. They often read to my sister and me at night so I didn’t think much of it. Except for the fact that it wasn’t bedtime yet and my sister was purposefully not in the room.

They opened the book and there they were: Naked male and female cartoons. Hair over body parts I didn’t know could have hair. Bushy, curly, like the hair on my mother’s head.

GROSS.

“I don’t want to talk about this,” I recoiled.

They didn’t push. We never talked about it again.

I should have let it be awkward and let them tell me things. Why didn’t I?

Maybe a part of me didn’t want to know, because it would’ve been confirmation of what I knew somewhere in the rainbow recesses of my mind. Maybe I wasn’t ready to know.

My admission that Marco was “cute” led one of my bunkmates to accuse of me of wanting to have sex with another bunkmate. I didn’t know what sex was, and here someone was telling me I wanted to have sex.

“You think Marco is cute. You want to have sex with Jordan,” Chase, this red-headed, heavyset bunkmate told me. He looked like a typical bully.

I don’t know what his intentions were. Why do little boys say things like that? Why does a bully say anything at all? Was he really a bully or was he being a boy? What did it mean to be a boy? What does it mean to be a boy? Is it OK for boys to make fun of other boys over the fact one of them might be gay? Boys boys boys boys boys.

It’s easy for me to say that he was malicious. That he took something from me.

But I don’t know if his thoughts were that concrete and intentional. It’s more that homophobia stuck to us like an invisible tar.

Chase passed it on to me.

He changed how I thought – and still think – about sex. That now when I think of sex and relationships I don’t think of myself and what I want, but I think about what he wants. He being any man, any partner.

His attempts to shame my supposed sexual proclivities worked two-fold. I learned that thinking boys were cute was wrong, and that I was incapable of exerting any kind of sexual power of my own.

I never went back to camp. But it always went with me, even though I didn’t realize it.

Any inkling I had of any boy from that point forward I scrunched up like a wad of notebook paper.  I rationalized away jealousies I had when a guy friend I had in middle school started dating a girl (why was I jealous? I liked him too). I rationalized away everyone thinking I was gay in middle school by asking girls out, and rationalized away my own lack of experience in high school by doing the same. No one said “yes.”

I rationalized away my first kiss to a woman early in college, which wasn’t even a first kiss but me ending up with a clump of her hair in my mouth. I just told everyone it was my first kiss to say that I did it.

I didn’t even know there was porn to watch because I didn’t know I could seek it out. One of the chief reasons I came out at all is because I finally did away with rationalizations, gave into feelings and let myself feel pleasure for the first time. It wasn’t until then that my memories about camp came bubbling to the surface – a reckoning of my past I had to deal with, unleashed in tandem with my sexuality.

It took me even longer to actually have sex, partially out of safety concerns but more so out of a fear of rejection and otherwise weakness. I had the power to come out, but would I have the power to come on my own terms?

Yes, it turns out. And even more now that I’ve channeled Chase’s taunts from my past into something self-affirming instead of self-deprecating.

**

I became an outcast. A walking gay cliche.

No one in my bunk talked to me much after all this occurred. I kept busy with the camp circus (yes, really), which involved me balancing on a bike with campers and trained performers. Otherwise, I was mostly interested in art. Mainly because I could cry there.

I spent most of the summer crying to the art teacher, who felt so bad for me that she awarded me third place for art at the end of the four-week session. Out of the whole camp.

My stick figures don’t have necks or ears. I didn’t deserve this award.

I didn’t need to be pitied. I needed a friend. A real one.

I sought escape by observing other people. I watched this cute boy Teddy sit in front of me during our camp’s version of the X-games, and talk to two girls smitten with him. Kids were doing tricks while Teddy skated on the half-pipe of pre-adolescent romance, sliding back and forth between these two and praying he wouldn’t slip.

He bumped into one of the girls in the cafeteria once, a “meet cute” straight out of a Nora Ephron film. Trays collided, food fell all over the floor. Everyone stared and laughed. Both leaned down to pick up the remains of their camp dignity, awkward and embarrassed.

I wanted that. I wanted Teddy. I wanted the meet cute. He would never talk to me. Look at me. Would anyone?

That was never going to be me. But I didn’t know it was OK to want that to be me.

Was that all because of Chase? No. Was it partially because of Chase? Yes.

It would be easy to blame him for everything, but I can’t. He was acting the only way he knew how, and so was I.

**

I made a tie-dye shirt that summer. Yellow and green and blue and pink splattered together.

I was walking with some fellow campers back to my bunk. We passed by some newly paved blacktop, the tar still fresh and black, black, black.

It somehow got on my shirt. A small spot, but a spot nonetheless. I was still a 9-year-old after all.

My rainbow tie-dye shirt, stained with tar. For as long as I had it, even years later, the stain wouldn’t come out.

Tips on Getting Healthy for the New Year from Mina Gerges

In 2019, we are aiming to be healthy and in shape — and body positivity advocate Mina Gerges is here to help us out.

Gerges, a proud proponent of loving the skin that you’re in, joined INTO for a video to talk about how you can be happy and healthy in 2019. The goal isn’t to look like the Instagays that fill your Explore tab, but to get to a place where you really love your body.

“Let’s get to the point where thinking about our body isn’t the only thing that we do,” Gerges says. Amen to that!

In the video, Gerges shares tips for getting to a healthy place in the new year. Watch the full thing below.