All posts in Intersectional Essays

applovestory

Appalachian Love Story

When I was a teenager in the late 90s and very early 00s, I didn’t know about social justice. The people around me weren’t reading Gloria Anzaldua or Octavia Butler or Grace Lee Boggs or Assata Shakur. I don’t remember them talking about labor rights or prison abolition or gender self-determination or class or white supremacy or the intersectionality of all these struggles.

My Appalachian Love Story is: I left.

I went west. I tried to make sense of myself in different climates, among different hills, in bigger cities with more Asians and Pacific Islanders. It was there that I became politicized within a community of queer and trans artists and activists of color.

I passed through many names and genders, all of them true.

But something was always missing. I missed the humidity, the honeysuckle, the lightning bugs. I missed these mountains.

One day I woke up and realized I’d been homesick for years and years and years.

* * *

My Appalachian Love Story is: I’m coming home.

Because “there are no QTPOC in West Virginia.”

Because my relatives say heterosexist and racist shit at dinner.

Because the drive to Kanawha State Forest is paved with Trump signs.

Because I want to organize with black and brown and indigenous and queer and trans and nonbinary people here.

Because I want to honor the Shawnee and Cherokee people and the beauty of this land and preserve it against fracking and privatization and corporate greed.

Because it’s impossible to be a queer mixed race West Virginian.

Because it is possible.

Because blood. Because healing. Because home.

I know it’s going to be hard. I know I’ll feel isolated. I know I’m not going to be able to find the brand of coconut milk I like. I know there will be times when I’ll break down and cry.

But I also know these mountains will hold me, all of me, if I listen to my ancestors and just let go.

* * *

@ STAY Project
#appalachianlovestory

Special thanks to Rachel Garringer for feedback on this piece.
“Hope is a Discipline” card by Monica Trinidad

hollins

I’m a nonbinary alum, and I’m also Hollins

As a nonbinary alum of Hollins University, I spent many years not knowing how to talk about my alma mater. I don’t identify as a woman any longer, but I went to a women’s college. I would oscillate between diminishing the experience (“I went to a very, very small liberal arts college in Virginia; you’ve never heard of it”) or making awkward jokes (“I went to Hollins, back when I was a woman”).

The shame I felt confused me, because my years at Hollins were actually very formative and extremely important at the time. But now that Hollins has published their “policy on transgender issues,” I can’t continue to love a place that doesn’t respect us.

The policy requires that trans women undergo full medical, surgical and legal transition to be considered for admission, which is next to impossible for most 18 year olds. Trans men and transmasculine students who change their name legally (with the intent of identifying as male) run the risk of being expelled or “transferred” to another institution.

Hollins has the most restrictive policy among the “Seven Sisters” colleges in the United States, according to Vocativ. It creates a hostile environment for current nonbinary and trans students, and also masculine-presenting cis-women, on campus, and cultivates a culture of gender policing.

I believe that public conversation needs to move away from “who should or should not be allowed” at a women’s college, and toward questions of institutional access and privilege, toward discussions about the ways in which hetero-patriarchy, binary gender assumption and white supremacy are deeply embedded in systems of power, and toward loving compassion for nonbinary and trans youth today who are indeed “going places” and re-imagining our language, our world.

In addition, because I changed my name (and went through a legal name change process post-graduation), I can’t get my name changed on my transcripts or diploma. When I applied for an MFA program, I had to provide that school with transcripts showing my deadname. Hollins’ policy states that “The conferring of a Hollins undergraduate degree is limited to those who are women.” Is my degree no longer valid?

I have published two books and a short film that’s screened internationally. I’m queer, nonbinary and use they/them pronouns. I’m mixed race and the child of an immigrant. I’m broke. Will you celebrate people like me, Hollins, this Reunion weekend? #myhollins #alsohollins #stopgenderpolicingathollins

[Photo credit: Jai Arun Ravine, 2001]