"So I think that there is something really small but revolutionary about showing up for one another, and that is the foundation for what strong and resilient communities look like. I don’t think we need to have all the language and analysis all the time, we just need to have a fierce love for one another."
Doing social work, therapy, and activism, I feel like your identity can get lost because you’re so present for others. Would you like to take time and introduce how you identify?
So I identify as Trans-masculine, API, mixed race, and conditionally white passing. POC usually don’t read me as white but if I'm in a room full of Black and Brown folks, and a white person walks in, they’ll usually come over to me and assume I’m their people. I try to at least hold that I sometimes have access to that privilege and power. But that’s not consistent.
I do community organizing as my non paid work, and as my paid work, I am a youth advocate for a nonprofit that works with foster youth. So I basically walk with foster youth as they navigate foster care and other systems as well. This includes probation, youth living in juvenile hall, and other stuff. My contract is worded vaguely so I can work with any youth, but I focus on working with queer and trans youth.
You’re like a 24/7 activist.
It is really nice to get paid for the work I have been doing unpaid for years. The community organizing I do is essentially for fun.
How did you get involved specifically with foster care?
I originally applied for a LGBTQ+ center job community called Our Space (Hayward). Not many people know about it but it’s in Hayward. There was a position that I originally applied to but I got turned down. And then about a few weeks later, they called me again and offered me a position they thought I’d be great for. So they essentially just grandfathered me in because I already did the 4 interviews I needed for that position. It was kinda by chance. Many of my experiences before then didn’t work with foster youth, so this job has really been a place for me to discover all my growing edges. Really grow into a position I really love, and do work I really love.
Is this the community center mentioned at the bottom of your email? Homo La Flor?
Oh no, no that’s different.
Wow, you juggle so many hats.
The Youth Acceptance Collaborative is the name of the partnership that funds my paid work. So the YAC is a partnership between Alameda County Social Services, Our Space, and one other agency. Umm, through that I have a job.
What does a daily work day look for you then?
A daily work day looks like...Well I do community based work, and when you do community based work, it means you can meet people wherever they are. For example, if someone wants a confidential meeting at Starbucks, I can meet them there or I can meet them at their group home or in juvi, or wherever they are.
We typically have a 1, 2, or 3 hour session depending on what they’re needing, and usually, honestly, I think people feel intimidated by this work, but what people don’t realize is that with foster kids having so many adults cycle through through their lives, often times they just need someone who is reliable.
So a lot of times, all my job is just showing up and dealing with whatever the issue is. That could be parents who are actively rejecting them for their sexual identity, gender identity, gender expression, or dealing with microaggression at home. Any number of things. A lot of times I describe my job as therapy like, a counselor, a mentor. But I tell my clients off the bat I’m not a licensed therapist. But it looks very similar. We do active listening and reflective questioning. In a nutshell.
I love how you’re there for the youth. I worked in community arts and definitely agree with just being there for the youth, and hearing their voice. One problem working with the youth though is changing the minds of the parents or getting them on board. What has been your experience with that?
For sure. I have had to learn to speak multiple languages. Every family has its own love language. What might sound like triggering language to me might be completely normal love speak for another, and I think I’ve had to learn not to judge anyone. I try not to judge because they might not have my background, education, and training, and just meeting them wherever they’re at, and not faulting them for their lack of lenses or analyses around queer identities or trans identities.
And I think coming to the table with that openness and non judgement really opens the door for more understanding that wouldn’t happen if you told someone they were really shitty. You know?
It can be painful sometimes because it can seem like not being true to yourself or your politics or your standards, and at the same time, you can’t be that militant, Brown queer entering the house of homophobes, because the person who ends up paying for the price of your actions is the youth themselves. So I always have to question whose needs I’m centering when I’m speaking, and treading it really lightly, and being gentle with people who I sometimes think don’t deserve it, but function under the idea that no one is disposable and no one is worth giving up on. That is essentially what family is right? People who don't give up on each other.
I LOVE that definition.
Then I always think it’s doing the work. When no one is disposable, it is always worth having the conversation or addressing the issue or whatever.
Often times in the media we see these very fluffy acceptance stories. It gets better. Mainly white centric. I’m assuming you’ve had many experiences where the narrative isn’t as smooth. Where do you go from there with the youth?
I think the foster youth is in a very unique position. They are one of the few youth communities that aren't being presented in media and mainstream television and social media. Have you heard of The Fosters?
No. The Fosters?
It is one of the few times foster youth has been represented on the screen. But it is 2016 and foster youth have been waiting for a really long time to see their stories validated and represented accurately on tv, so I think they’re in a really unique situation where they don’t see themselves.
It can be disorientating when you go through life and never know there is anyone else in the world like you until you encounter other foster youth. What I’ve been working on is a program where former foster youth mentor current foster youth. What we’ll be doing is matching former and current foster youth with similar backgrounds.
For example, Black youth who are much more likely to have the police called on them, or reprimanded, or prescribed psychotropic drugs, and who have a very unique lived experiences. And often times go through their life never meeting another Black foster youth with similar life experiences. We are trying to address that in some small way by meeting adults who have similar lived experiences and connect on that level.
As what I do on my day to day, I just try to always be up on my understanding on what it’s like being told one thing and living another. Being told you should be so grateful to live in the Bay Area that's so accepting, then also living in a home where parents are actively rejecting you. Just how horrible and disorientating that can feel. And just trying to remind my youth that they are valuable, and worthy of love and care. That can look a lot of different ways but it mainly means showing up.
You mention you’re a Bay Area native and there is this assumption that the Bay Area is so accepting. What was your experience like coming out and coming to terms with your identity.
I wish I could counter that and say it was really hard for me, but I think for someone who was assigned female at birth, and for other Assigned Female At Birth (AFAB) folks, there is a lot of social cultural support for the way we bend gender in ways it isn’t for AMAB (Assigned Male at Birth) folks.
For example we have a lot of non-derogatory terms for AFAB folks who bend gender, like tom boy, athletic, sporty. SO when I was growing up I didn’t come to my trans identity till later in life, and I attribute that to all the support I had growing up. They were mainly like, “Oh, she’s a tom-boy,” whatever, you know? That’s totally socially acceptable, and it wasn’t until I went to Texas and met other trans folks and realized, oh, this is a thing. Like you know there are more accurate ways to express my gender that feel truer to who I am.
Growing up...there is a common misconception that trans people know like when they are three years old. That something is wrong. I didn’t have any of that which can be even more confusing. I had an amazing childhood and my story doesn’t align with the traditional trans narrative. It was when I surrounded myself with really cool and radical QTPOC that I realized I had the support I needed essentially. Coming out the first time was fine. The second time as trans was difficult because it wasn’t the typical narrative, but easier once I had my community and knew they would stand by me.
Yass. Chosen family is truly remarkable. They don’t give up on you.
No. They don’t.
And what brought you to TX?
So when I turned 25, I was sort of getting out of a tumultuous relationship and my parents were divorcing, and we were losing our family home and I decided I needed a change. I felt like I wasn’t being challenged here.
I would be challenged in TX.
I closed my eyes and pointed at a map.
OH MY GOD!
Well not literally. I had an uncle there which made it easier, and he always invited me and my sister throughout the years to come visit for SXSW and stuff. Then one day I bought a one way ticket and left. I really loved it. There I started Queer Qumbia En Tejas. Do you know Queer Qumbia here?
No. Enlighten me.
Well Queer Qumbia is an art collective that started in SF and they would hold house parties, and mostly QTPOC house where they would throw these parties, and they were normally fundraisers to pay for someone’s medical bills or housing or legal fees, and so now it’s really grown. It’s a much larger collective and they have much more economic power behind whichever cause they support. Every month they have a dance party and choose a cause to support. They have really amazing DJs, that’s where I essentially learned to DJ.
OMG! You do everything.
Haha I know. I’m an Aries if that explains anything. Kinda like spacy. But at these dance parties you hear everything from Bhangra to Reggaeton to Cumbia to Kpop, all side by side. Flowing in and out of each other. I really learned there, like wow, there is this common thread that goes through all of these cultures and you can really feel that, and hear that, and sense that in music. That sort of influences how I DJ now. Weaving all these common threads through all of these seemingly disparate sounds of music. ALL a rejection of white supremacy.
I forgot the original question.
Haha No! I LOVE these branches. Do you have any performances coming up?
Haha I just DJed a friends impromptu wedding. QTPOC couple in Vallejo and they own an art collective called El Comalito Collective. It is a retail and gallery space always highlighting QTPOC artist and centering that work. With the election, they got really nervous Trump would undo everything accomplished the past eight years and thought there is no better time than now. In just five days they planned this little wedding ceremony and it was really cute. All their friends and family and one white person there. I got to DJ there and their musical taste was really aligned. Latin diaspora and stuff. The next time I’m DJing is a quinceanera through a family I met through the GSA network.
It sounds like you never have a break.
You would think. But I’m a huge home body, so once I’m home, I’m home.
And what are your current musical influences?
Ummm musical influences. I honestly think some of my biggest influences are personal friends. There is someone really awesome I know from Austin named Qianna Qitt. She actually DJs in, oh gosh, where is she now? It’s killing me. I think she is originally from Philly and living in Jersey. Umm she basically introduced Austin to Jersey club and underground East Coast, queer sounds Austin never heard before.
The House of Shakur is a Black Queer art collective in Austin. I got to DJ with them a lot. What I love about them is, you know Black people are never allowed to be weird or alternative, and I think they brought a lot of that Black Weirdo aesthetic to the queer music scene in Texas, and you don’t see that. It was self-validating and they didn't wait for anyone to come and play. They just played it and people got on board.
Are you part of the Bay Area Queer Exchange already?
Yes! I googled tons of safe queer spaces and places before coming here.
Yeah. I think when I first got here, I had a lot more emotional bandwidth to go in on all the closeted white supremacists on that group, and would engage in conversations. The moderator who is a friend of mine, Diana Hernandez. Last Halloween she went online and posted an article asking, pleading, white folks not to use Dia de Muertos makeup on and spawned this whole conversation. And white people were like, we can’t have anything then. It set a precedent for what critical conversations should look like online, and established who the queer exchange would prioritize.
Yes! I am constantly blown away by the Bay Area’s ability to organize. I recently remembered that the Black Panthers originated here. History! This may seem off topic but what makes you happy?
Hmm. Well I recently got engaged! I proposed to my girlfriend last January.
It actually took like 3 months to plan because I had to secretly get to Chicago where her family is, and ask for their blessing, but I had to craft this whole lie about going to Creating Change. It’s a yearly conference by the LGBTQ+ task force. It was in Chicago around the time I wanted to ask her family and told her I had to go for work. I like went to the conference and asked for their blessing, and proposed when she picked me up from the airport. I had a bunch of friends and my sister there when it happened, and now we are knee deep in wedding planning.
It is stressful. We are doing our best to take it bite by bite. But I think at the end of the day, the thing we always try to remind us of is, if planning this wedding was as easy as the decision to marry, it would have been over already. Such an easy decision to marry. And so having conversations with my fiance about what's important to her and what makes her happy, and how can we reconcile what we love and what we don't love in a really intentional way.
It’s really stressful but it makes me ultimately happy to know we are getting close to the wedding of her dreams. Well, as close as possible. As someone who wasn't socialized as a femme, I didn't have the same conditioning around marrying as she did. There is a lot at stake for her with getting married and what it looks like, and so I remind myself there is a lot more riding on this just because of her social upbringing, and I need to leverage my privilege putting in more emotional labor into the planning.
What does it look like? I’ll close my eyes and you can take me on a journey of the theme.
It’s really gorgeous. We are getting married in Shelldance Orchid garden. Tons of orchids and succulents and greenery all around, it's on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Pacifica. I just think it’s gonna be gorgeous! You can see green everywhere. You can see the ocean. You can smell the ocean.
We’re trying to do this on a small budget. Miniscule. The average wedding budget is $10,000. We are trying to go for half maybe? Finding a venue for both of us was really difficult. Because places fill up so fast in the Bay area. We booked this place first but then cancelled because we didn't think we could afford it, but then my dad said he would help out. Then we went, OH, we need to go back to this venue. My fiancé just lights up when we think about the space. It wouldn’t feel right for me to not get married in a place where she lights up when she talks about it.
Omg. I am going to live vicariously through you two. Being with Nicole, how would you define your love? Are kids in the near future too?
Yeah! I feel like I have baby fever all the time. If we were to have a baby though, she would carry cause I try to rein it in as much as possible since it’s not my body. Not my choice. How would I define our love? I don’t have any words. It feels perfect to me. It feels like we just fit and lock into one another in a way that I haven’t had with anyone else. Ummm, we said we love each other within 3 days of dating.
Yeah. There was a knowing that was undeniable. Things were rocky and tumultuous when we first started, socially and because of a relationship I was getting out of, so we had to be patient with one another. Having to have that much patience when you first start really teaches you a lot about what you have to sit with, and the kind of feelings you need to make space for. The emotional landscape you have to navigate together. I think we learned how to do that hand in hand early on. Whereas a lot of other times you are functioning independently and you have your shit, and I have my shit, and like, let’s figure out how to make this shit work together. I think there was a lot more...it felt more nsync early on more than any other relationship.
SO HAPPY FOR YOU!!!
You’re so sweet.
She is really amazing. She also works with queer and trans youth. I think it’s important for us to do similar work because we have always supported each other, like always been the sounding board for one another. She’s a great listener. Great human.
One question I like to ask everyone is, what is one question you wished people asked you more often?
Ooohh. Good lord. One question I really like is, what do you do for your paid work and what do you do for your unpaid work?
Cause I think the first time someone asked me that, it kinda shook me. Yeah I have unpaid work that isn't acknowledged as work. And I never thought of it that way. And that was the beginning when I started self validating all the community organizing I was doing, and emotional labor I was already doing in my paid work. All that consulting work that queer and trans people of color often do in professional settings. We are the ones people run to whenever there is a HR crisis or whatever, or whenever someone is being a racist piece of shit. When someone asked me that, it really shifted my entire perception of what is considered work, and like who gets to validate that, and who gets to assign value to that.
Woah, I’m really going to think about this on the bus ride back. Then during the ride here, I was thinking a lot about radical acts. My brother recently asked what was the last radical thought or experience you’ve been through?
Hmm, Oh my gosh. SO I think probably the most radical act I’ve experienced. I'm trying to decide between two so I’m stalling. I can think of two.
So one has been working with Black youth as a non Black person, and sort of really getting a sense for how insidious anti-Blackness is, and all the coping skills Black youth have developed to navigate that. Like having to record every incident that is potentially combative, or every conflict they interact with because they know no one would believe them if they said they didn’t hurt or touch anyone.
The more nuanced thing is forgiving people who are evidently anti-Black because it’s safer than trying to have a conversation about their anti-Blackness. And also not having the emotional bandwidth. So it’s given me insight into all the skills and survival skills Black youth develop at a very young age because white supremacy. It's jarring because I don’t navigate anti-Blackness the way they do.
Another one was going to a fashion show...the line is escaping me..but the line was developed by and for disabled folks. All bodies. Do you know Caleb Luna? A really amazing friend of mine. Brilliant writer, graduated from UC Berkeley. I think they identify as non-binary and fat, and write about how being a person of color and all those identities converge to inform how they walk through the world.
They got to be part of this fashion show, and it was supposed to be part of Queer fashion week, but Queer fashion week didn’t compromise for accessibility, and so the models couldn’t access the venue, so they decided to do something completely off site. So I got to see this amazing fashion show with only disabled folks and neuro divergent folks, like displaying amazing pieces specifically constructed for them by someone in their community was mind blowing. You never get to see that. This must be so frustrating and liberating at the same time. You’re here because you got kicked out of a space, and on the other hand, this will probably never happen again, where all these folks get to dance to their favorite songs and be in community with one another, and celebrate fashion and art and community.
Yeah. It left me with a lot to think about.
Wow. So much to look up. Is Caleb giving a speech at SOMARTS tomorrow?
Maybe. They write for The Body Is Not An Apology and gotten a few pieces on Everyday Feminism. They also are on tumblr as queerandpresentdanger.
What is some advice you have for the younger QTPOC generation and/or for your younger self?