Ms2015-007; Nguyen; Page
Narrator: Megan Nguyen
Interviewer: Claire Gogan
Date: March 16, 2016
Transcribed by: ???, August 31, 2016
Audit-Edited by: Kathryn Walters, May 28, 2019
Final Edited by: Anthony Wright, September 20, 2019
Claire Gogan: Okay, this is Claire Gogan. I am on the campus of Virginia Tech.It's March 16, 2016, and can you tell me your name, date, and place of birth please?
Megan Nguyen: Today's date?
G: Your birth date.
N: Oh okay, sorry. I am Megan Nguyen. I was born December 30, 1993 in Fairfax, Virginia.
G: Can you tell me a little bit about your family and your community and whereyou were raised?
N: Hmm. Wow. Okay. So, I was raised where I was born, and I lived in the samehouse until now in northern Virginia. And my family came here from Vietnam as refugees in 1975, and so they kind of stuck around the Northern Virginia area, kind of moving from apartments to that bigger house. They're a family of nine on 1:00my mom's side, so I have eight uncles and aunts and most of them stayed in the area as well. I lived with my grandparents, and so our house was like the hub of activity in terms of taking care of my cousins who are like a similar age and who go here now. And you know family get-togethers, Christmas, all that stuff a very closely-knit family, yeah. So that's what I would consider like my family. Did you ask about community growing up?
G: Yeah, like your friends and just who you spent time with.
N: Yeah. I mean honestly the bulk of my time was with my family, because when myparents split, when I was like 10 that became like splitting my time between two parents. And so we would visit my dad every other weekend, and so I know that a lot of my and my sister's struggles was like trying to balance our time between both parents, both parents' families and then also our friends, and 2:00extra-curricular once I got to high school, so yeah, it was a lot.
G: Can you tell me a little bit about your experiences in high school andgrowing up and things like that?
N: It's funny, 'cause I was having a conversation about this yesterday, 'causewe were talking about how inequities in higher ed are perpetuated through the lens of first generation students. And I don't identify as one of those 'cause my parents both of them came here. Most of my aunts and uncles came here and all got engineering degrees. So, we were talking about how pervasive college as a thing that was expected was a thing that was really part of my life for a bulk of my time in like middle school and high school. And so, when I think about high school now, I'm like well I did all the things that I needed to do to seem 3:00like a well-rounded student. I mean I did the things that I was drawn to, but I don't know if the pressure wasn't there that I would have done them all. Like I ran on the cross-country and track team and I did studio art for all of my time, both middle school and high school and took French as a language, went for three years and it didn't stick. I was really really really like the achiever was my identity, I need to get good grades. I did really well in all subjects, but mostly math and science and so that was the stuff that I was like oh, maybe that's something I should pursue in college. 'Cause right when they were like, oh, you should apply for a major, it's like what does that mean? I can't imagine myself dedicating my life to studying something, like only picking one thing. But yeah, I think most fondly, honestly, about the art people. Actually no. I remember my high school counselor, she asked- We were having a conversation, I 4:00think it was leading up to like college and talking about applications and who I was. And I remember telling her my favorite part about my high school experience was that I got to spend time with a lot of different kinds of people. I grouped them into the art kids and the ones who do work with sculpture and studio art and graphic design. That's like a whole group, and then there's the folks in the AP classes, like really intense all focused on the same kinds of stuff. There was- I took some classes that weren't AP, so just like we'd call them the regular classes, but they were just intended, the ones that were not indicated honors nor AP. And that was really different space too because it was much more racially diverse and it was a different kind of student that I wouldn't have otherwise been exposed to, but I really enjoyed that because the kind of learning environment was different. Yeah, I'd just say different in terms of how 5:00we worked with the information, 'cause I always resisted. 'Cause in that class I was still treated like oh, you're so- you do so well in school and stuff like that. I was like, please don't pay attention to me. Let me do my thing. And so there was those students and then there was like the folks who did sports like track and cross-country. It's very representative of the kind of person that I am. I like to be exposed to and engaging with a lot of different kinds of people. And it affected the relationships I had in high school in terms of- I had a core group of friends who were really close from sixth grade to, what do you call it? Oh, going to college. And a lot of the tension with that for me was just feeling like they only wanted to be in that group and I needed to be like the kid jumping around at different cafeteria tables seeing all the different friends and talking to everybody. [Chuckles] And so it's very me when I look back on it for sure. 6:00
G: So what made you choose Virginia Tech?
N: Um, I didn't want it to be like brainwashing, but honestly, because myparents and my family all came here it just felt comfortable. 'Cause I had visited the campus before. I knew the Hokie Stone and like everybody always talked about it so fondly. And really my only criteria for my mom was like you just need to stay in-state. For me I was like I knew I wouldn't be able to decide what major I would want to do, so I was like Virginia Tech has a lot of choices, and so that's what brought me here honestly.
G: So, what did you end up studying?
N: Well, so I did choose biology and then stuck with it throughout, and it was alot of turmoil. It would be like towards the end of every semester when course requests comes back around I would have a crisis and be like, what am I doing? Why am I doing this? 'Cause I wanted to be a doctor when I first came in, but 7:00then I was like, that's too much money and a lot of commitment for somebody who doesn't want to commit to something right now. So then I was like, well maybe I can stay in the health field by exploring public health, so I like dabbled around and tryin'a figure out can I do research, can I do clinical work or what kinds of things I would want to do, But none of them really moved me and I've kind of gotten to the space where it's like well, I'm gonna just finish my degree and see where it goes from there. But the school part really fell away pretty quickly within the first couple of years once I got involved with the LGBTA, now known as HokiePRIDE, our LGBTQ Organization. And so, through that process I learned more about what I did- like what I was interested in, what my skills were. 'Cause I view my experience mostly with like biology specifically 8:00and the kind of courses and the major as just kind of like taking in information and regurgitating it. So, in being involved outside of my courses I got to learn like what are the things I like to do. I am a creative person actually; like how do I integrate all these things together? Yeah.
G: So how do you identify yourself? What communities do you identify with?
N: The labels have definitely evolved over the years. Like starting with racialidentity, I used to be like, okay Asian American, Asian is fine, but then I was like more recently got more familiar with how--I don't want to say fraught, because it depends on who you're asking--but for me I use Vietnamese American or just Vietnamese as a way to claim my specific background. But then also hesitate 9:00with the American identifier as well because even though I know culturally, I was raised here and like am super American, especially if I were to go back, I'm putting quotes around that, go back to Vietnam, I would seem very out of place, but it speaks to that idea of like you don't fit in on either, in either country, so it's kind of like I don't know, so Vietnamese American works for me right now. And so, for other identities- yeah, it's been a lot. So queer is what I'm comfortable with right now in regard to like sexuality. And I came upon that early in my freshman year when I didn't even know- I was- in late high school was when I started questioning, but I didn't really take it seriously. And so, 10:00when I found the LGBTA it was literally before school started. And like I saw a flash of rainbow out the corner of my eye and I was like what's that? And it was an advertisement for the Hokie Hy LGBTQ welcome. They're like, everyone's welcome, and I don't remember if it said allies too, because I remember I like relied on that label a little bit to kind of have an entryway into the community without taking on a label and having to deal with that. But I remember having a lot of discussions with the people I met in LGBTA about the different ways they identified and why. I was really on to Tumblr at that point reading about other peoples' ways like they identified themselves. And I remember writing in my encrypted Microsoft Word document that when I came across queer and the different ways that people read that for themselves as a way to say, well, I don't like the idea of pinning myself down to something. I like the idea that I 11:00will just embrace whoever I am in the present moment and that one really resonated with me the most. And then as my political understanding of the term and the origins of it kind of became more- I was more conscious of that then I was like yeah, I'm going to stick with this one. And then when I think about gender, that part, I'm working through that right now actually because recently I have been--not a revelation, but I went to a conference in Chicago, Creating Change last January/February, and I was at a all-day workshop with other queer like Asian Pacific islander folk. And we were talking about gender and how it's tied up in whiteness, and so labels are not something that has been helpful for me because of that association and I haven't quite teased it out, pulled it apart and then brought it back for myself yet. But, I've not, like coming back 12:00from that also I was like okay, so the way I think about my gender might be limited and that might be why I don't feel myself drawn to any particular trans spaces currently that would be labeled as such. But I know that for most of my life I've presented in ways that are non-conventional, right. Like my mom tells me about how she really enjoyed dressing me up in sweater vests and little three-piece suits as a four-year-old. I've always had the short haircut and only middle school- when I like started growing it out to respond to social pressure to conform. And then coming back to college I just chopped it all off and it just got shorter and shorter and shorter with every year. So I've always been like, you know, woodshop and like the men's department, boys' department for clothes, but only more recently have I been like well, I don't know if like, 13:00'cause I used to say like soft butch yaas, as my aesthetic. And played around with like ooh gender non-conforming as a label for myself for a bit. But I don't feel drawn to any of those things 'cause it just feels like I have to pin something down and I don't really want to, 'cause like now I'm exploring what does it mean to be fem and what are elements of femininity that I can bring back into my understanding of myself, because I realize that my idea- Yeah, my idea of what it meant to be queer and how to enact that was also still tied up in this masculinity that was a toxic form. And I have been starting like that kind of reflection to see where it's popped up in my life, because you know I've always compared myself to like male cousins and trying to aspire to what does real masculinity look like. I'm never going to be good enough 'cause my body 14:00doesn't match theirs. And I remember there was like--been in and out--just like feelings of just deep discomfort with how I saw myself versus how I wanted to see myself, but never to the point of like I need to make drastic changes, more about figuring out how can I adapt my body--not my body, how can I embrace my body but adapt the way I present it in a way that will make me feel comfortable. And so I've been trying to play more about with like I asked my mom for pearl earrings 'cause I knew she didn't wear them, but I was like for me that's a way to start introducing aspects of femininity back into the way I present my gender to kind of confuse people. And I love it now. Like it used to mess me up a lot. It still does a little bit, but like the bathroom situation when I'm running around and people kind of do the double take. I scared a girl last night actually. She like had to collect herself because I opened the bathroom door and 15:00she was like, Aagh! I can't help but think it's a combination well I opened the door suddenly, but also like she didn't know how to register like who was coming out of the bathroom because my hair is super short these days. So I've had a lot of run-ins with that, but nowadays I just more likely like to mess people up. Like I've got my fingernails painted and things like that. And I notice that my voice is more high. It's like higher than my sister who identifies as like straight and is very straight passing I suppose. Well, never mind. And so things like that like bothered me, because I was like why is her voice deeper than mind? Like I'm the queer one here. I should have that. That doesn't make sense. But now I'm like no, this voice is great because people don't expect it. And then when it comes out of my body they are like what? I expected like a deeper butch voice from this person and here she is like flailing her hands around. But yeah, how did we get to that? 16:00
G: I asked you which communities you identified with. [Laughs]
N: Okay. I mean that's pretty accurate honestly.
G: Yeah. It was perfectly on topic.
N: Yeah, yeah. The only other like I mean formal communities, like I identifiedwithin the queer and trans people of color community the strongest, only because not to essentialize our identities, but more just because it's a higher likelihood for me to find people who are like politically-minded, like similarly to me and like understand the way we navigate the world as like people who identify as such. But yeah, yeah.
G: So can you tell me a little bit about your early experiences with yoursexuality and your gender identity?
N: Um-hm, um-hm. Ooh, what's early?
G: I know you already talked about your mom liking to dress you in sweater vestsand things like that.
N: Yeah, the gender- I- ooh! Sorry, I'm like wow, hm. I remember, like one of my17:00most vivid memories of being really young was like it was just like my mom was trying to compliment me and she was like, you're so beautiful. And I was like, no, don't call me beautiful, like I'm handsome. And so that is the kind of thing that I like pick out and remember. And for the longest time tomboy was a safe way to describe me, like you know, when family members talked about oh, she wears these clothes, it was like oh, she's just a tomboy. Or like other like my peers in elementary school and middle school it's like, oh, she's a tomboy. And then I started taking on like oh I'm a tomboy. But then I remember very vividly in like sixth grade I had a friend who really wanted me to like be more feminine. I think I spent so much time with her that I bought a shirt that had like a stripe of pink on it. Like it was a polo from the boys' side of the 18:00store, but it had like a single stripe of pink on it. And like the amount of excitement-- yeah, like how excited she was when she responded to like seeing that shirt she was like, you're finally wearing pink. I didn't understand why it was such a big deal, but I knew that it was important and so that I should try to keep going in that direction so that she could continue like rewarding me with praise and stuff like that. I remember getting like white shoes with also stripes of pink, and like I took the leap and got like a pink polo. And then my friends in sixth grade also introduced me to like Aéropostale, so that store had really form-fitting clothes, 'cause prior to that point I was wearing just like I guess people would describe it as baggy because it fit my skinny-ass body, like boys' clothes for a skinny person is boxy. And so when they 19:00introduced me to Aéropostale I was like, okay, this is where the kids go to buy the clothes. Like let me figure out how I can work this store's stuff onto me in a way that feels okay. So I bought a lot of like polos still 'cause business casual forever, but they were more the like body conforming ones and then had like shorter sleeves 'cause like feminine. And I wore that for a long time, grew out my hair. I waited for the longest time to like shave my legs. The same fucking friend in like middle school was the one who was like judging me for not shaving my legs. I don't remember when I did it. I think it was either right going into high school or like eighth grade or something like that, but I remember it was later than most of my friends, because I was like why, like leg hair is wonderful. And I'm upset now looking back, because it used to have a 20:00softer texture and now it's just like trash. [Laughter] Yes, and so like God, so now when I think about my gender presentation all the school dances like messed me up a lot in terms of what do I wear. So homecoming, like eighth grade, was the first dance that I went to. My mom and I went shoppin'--what the hell was it? I think it was Ann Taylor. I think it was Ann Taylor, because I remember we got like businessy slacks. Was it slacks? Good God. No, it was more flowy than slacks, but it was like basically I wore pants and this like blouse to like my dance. Everyone else was wearing dresses and there was only one other girl there who was also- she came wearing pants and I was like, yes! But then changed into 21:00a dress and I was like, Jackie why? And so that was like a space for me 'cause I was like, aah! like I know I'm so different right now. Our teachers are there, like they all see me as well and I'm just like I don't know what to do with myself. Like it's still awkward middle school also, so it's just like all that running through my mind. But the most part was like yeah, I was really uncomfortable in my clothes. Like I didn't want to wear that, but you know, trajectory. So we've got homecoming dances and also prom, all of those I wore and picked out dresses that were like really simple but I didn't- I only did it for the dances. Like I'm proud, like I used to be very proud of the fact that I've never worn a skirt 'cause I resisted. That was like my victory, like I never wore a skirt ever in my life, but the dresses I did for the dances, so aah. It wasn't until I went to college that I finally was like yeah, I don't 22:00have to do this. It was a really wonderful opportunity for me to re-invent the way I saw myself and presented myself to others. So I remember freshman year I went, like I tried a little too hard, so I wore a lot of blazers everywhere and really colorful pants. But like business-casual, but like soft butch business casual and that was good, but in terms of like--what were we talking about gender and sexuality earlier--yeah, so that's my trajectory for that one I guess. What? Hold on- I have to regather my thoughts again, 'cause I was like am I done with that? I don't think so, but I don't really want to anymore. "Sessoality." It's like late high school when I started, 'cause I had like--I 23:00can count them on one hand--like crushes on boys. Like there was the one boy who I had a crush on from like sixth grade to like ninth grade. He was the one that everybody loved, the popular boy, and that one was like I don't know, like unattainable. And then the other two I don't think they were really real when I think about it. I was like what is this? Are you just doing this 'cause your friends keep pestering you? Like, oh my God, who do you like? Do you like like them? Blah blah blah. God, they did that so much. Like sleepovers, like everyone talking about like, oh my God, I think I like this person. The back of his head is like a block, but like I love it. Like what? Gosh! I'm sorry. So annoying. But yeah, but then I started noticing I liked girls' haircuts that when they had it like short haircuts. I was like that's an interesting look. I'm into that. That's cool. And I started like trying to perform what I thought homosexuality 24:00was, in terms of like how I would notice like bodies and body parts differently. It was gross. I remember for a long time I thought that I had to be the misogynist like that my older cousin was in order to appreciate women. And so like for example he would be watching like a movie and constantly talk about like, oh Anna Kendrick, blah blah blah, her boobs this, blah blah blah. And I was trying to like it's really uncomfortable, but I was like I don't know, should I play along with this? And so it was fraught for a bit 'cause yeah, I didn't- I was just- It's hard to talk about 'cause it feels gross to me that that was me, but we're all our own problematic faves and it's okay, I'll make it through. God.
G: We're all affected by the way our culture is.25:00
N: Yes. Yes. And I tell other people this too, but then when I'm telling my ownstory again I'm like this is embarrassing. [Laughter] Oh God! Yes! I remember like looking at peoples' calves and like appreciating peoples' calves. I was like Megan what are you doing? I was like I don't know. I'm supposed to be doing this, right? It was confusing. And like when I got to Virginia Tech my first semester was really dark for me, like I had just broken up with my three best friends from sixth grade to high school, senior year in high school and they were also coming to college here, so I was like I can't associate with all the people from my high school 'cause then I might see them. I don't have any friends. Spent a lot of time in the dark in my dorm playing Tegan and Sara, and Missy Higgins, like trying to figure out who the hell I was. I wrote a lot, 26:00because my mom and I are really close and we talk most evenings, talked and talk most evenings, but that was one thing I couldn't tell her, like this struggle of trying to figure out who I was and if it was real. I remember policing myself a lot about what legitimate queerness was. Like if you don't do XYZ things then you're not real enough, so this is not real. Like is this an organic process if you didn't realize it your whole life, if you started thinking about it in high school are you legit? And so that made it really hard for me to kind of accept that I could be queer I think. And it's hard to pick out how then I became affirmed and like this is all right, but it really helped to be in this space with other folks who [sound of a door closing] identified as like LGB and queer, 27:00and kinda just like be in that space, like the culture of it. 'Cause it was so different. It's not something I was ever exposed to like out people or people who are confident in their sexuality and watching the different ways they express that and perform that for themselves. And I think that helped me develop my own identity trying to try on things that worked for me. I remember there was a lot of people that I wouldn't associate with now, but who were really helpful for my own identity formation. So yeah, it was a process of just really immersing myself and then going back to my room and writing about that stuff. And I came out to my mom and sister during Thanksgiving of freshman year actually. So I say this with surprise because it seems fast to go through a couple of months in college and go, mom, I don't know- I'm struggling with my 28:00sexuality, like breaks down into tears crying. But I remember writing in the months leading up to Thanksgiving, like I need to tell my mom 'cause I need to be able to talk to her openly. And if this is something that is becoming more apparent in my life then I need to be able to talk about this also. And there were some phone calls when I noticed she used neutral pronouns I think to refer to when we were talking about like my--she would say future spouse, future partner, to talk about future and like relationships and things like that. And like I accused her of knowing, but she was like, I've always been this way, and I was like I don't know how real that is, but okay mom, whatever. But the reason- so that was building up to Thanksgiving and the kicker was that one of my friends from cross country in high school, we came closer as I like went to 29:00college 'cause we kind of politicized in a similar direction, but he and I were like having a lunch, get-together, catching up and he came out to me like on the way home, and so that became our double coming out to each other. And it was really empowering and exciting because I was like oh my God, like I couldn't have planned that, to have like now my best friend also be queer is wild. I love it. But he was like, yeah, I've been in the closet about this for like- since I was thirteen. I was like I couldn't imagine what that was like 'cause I didn't even know until like high school. But that was like the energy, like his sharing that with me gave me the energy to go home and say like, I'm struggling. I don't have any answers for you, but I just need you to know I'm going through a really tough time. And so like my mom and I have been- like she has grown in comfort and like talking about that, 'cause she knew it was important to my life 'cause 30:00I was very involved in LGBT and HokiePRIDE and all that stuff, but in terms of like really talking about my like sexuality, me being able to comfortably talk about that took some time. But there was a moment when it clicked for her, like how differently my world is now. 'Cause like also of my gender presentation and how dangerous it is, and so I think after that point- 'cause she was really emotional. It was a phone call, I was in the HokiePRIDE office and she was like--Oh God!--It was after I gave a speech at Take Back the Night last year, spring I think, and it was about like queer and trans people of color and the increased rates of murder for that particular community, particularly for trans women of color and I tied in my own experiences. And it was a really intense 31:00process for me to like write that, because it was deeply personal and also so real. But I shared that with everybody on the stage and my sister was there too, and that was a moment for her as well. My mom describes it later as like the moment when it both clicked for them, like what my life would be like, like what I would be up against, when they could really see me I think. And so because my sister like was so emotional after hearing me talk she expressed that all to my mom and then I talked to my mom after that. Like I think we triangulated and like they were both like, oh, like we get it I think now, so it's been better with that. Yeah.
G: So other than your mom and your sister what was your experience of coming out like?32:00
N: Ah. This is less concrete for me when I think about it, 'cause like I am notone to declare that for my family. I see my family a lot and we spend a lot of time together. We'll get together. Like when I was home we would get together at least once a month like as a huge family just to like share a meal and hang out, and so we see 'em really often. But I never felt a need to disclose I guess. Ooh, I don't like that word, but I'm going to go with it, that information, that part of myself with them in a like very, I am queer, this is what this means to me. They are all friends with me on Facebook, so they know how very involved I 33:00am with like LGBTQ stuff, but no one has ever asked like directly. And nobody knows how to talk about or bring it up with me either, and there were a couple of awkward moments where people would bring up vaguely gay things they heard in the news or something. Like my aunt one time was like, yeah, I had this mentee and like I asked her about who is the lucky guy 'cause I saw she was getting married, and then she was like oh it's actually a woman. Megan what should I have done? And I was like, What? [Laughter] I was like okay, I don't know what to tell you here.
G: Buy them a toaster? [Laughter]
N: [Laughter] Exactly.
G: Say congratulations.
N: Good God. So it's like all great shit like that that had nothing to do withme, but they were trying to figure out how to skirt around asking me I suppose, 34:00'cause people just need to know. And like my cousins who I spent, like I grew up with my cousins, they're like one year younger, two years younger, and three years younger, so there's three cousins and then my sister. So we were a unit and we're all at college now together, I've not told any of them either except kind of like being very direct about it with my youngest cousin, Rachel, because it's just us girls and we're closer. And then my dad has only recently like directly asked me, 'cause he's a big beat around the bush type guy too, and so there were numerous occasions when he would like visit me while I'm in college and he would just say cryptic things like, you know I'll always support you, and I was like, okay. Thanks dad. Good God. 'Cause I mean I took him up to visit our 35:00office space and in Squires and showed him what we were working on, but I was never somebody to say like this is me. But he told me later, I was really happy to just see what you're doing in your life and what you're involved in and all the people that you've met, and blah blah blah. But it was funny, 'cause this past Thanksgiving he literally, we were having a really heart-to-heart 'cause he's been goin' through it, and there was a moment when he was like--oh God, I don't even remember how he asked the question, but it was very direct--and I was like, I'll say this- what did I say? It was something like, I'm open to people, or something like that to try and express queerness without using a label, 'cause to me it felt like I didn't want to give the nuance that I know I needed, so that was the easiest way for me to do it, to just say like, I'm open, to 36:00whatever, as a way to shrug it off, but also explain there's more to it than I could explain to you or want to explain to you right now, and so that's the best way that I think I can do it. But for him I think that was like maybe not enough, 'cause he asked my sister again over spring break like how does the family treat Megan, and Katie was like, what? So he's still on it, but he just accepted that as like okay, that's all she's going to give me I think, but yeah. But here, like because I am in this space I've been able to be out and about and running around doin' me, like running around the drill field with a rainbow flag type business. Like that part wasn't as much of a struggle because I have considered myself, like this is a different life, this is my life. It was only like early on when I would freak out about seeing people from my high school, 'cause it's like I don't want them to know about this part of my life or me 37:00'cause I don't want to know them anymore. But I also felt I suppose shame, I would think, I'm talking this out 'cause I'm sure, but I just didn't want them to know. It was like when I would go back home I didn't want anybody to know from my high school years. I guess because I so clearly wanted to have a divide between high school people and people I met in college 'cause it's just so different. But I got over that I think junior year or something like that, when I was just like whatever I'm doing my work and that's all that's important. Like I've got great people in this community. But I remember also being really careful about the language I would use on my Facebook post too 'cause I didn't want to like key people in. And it was only like two years ago that I started really just not caring and saying like, our community is great, and just using simple pronouns to include myself in what I was talking about, so little things 38:00like that.
G: So, what does it mean to be queer at Virginia Tech?
N: Oh God, well it depends on how queer and what that means and how people readit. I know that earlier in my freshman and sophomore year I was more concerned about you just need to meet people or know that we're here. We want to be visible and see us, but it was-- Like I felt very insulated with the community, and I've never had a situation where I would have to walk around with like a partner or something like that, so I never have dealt with something, like seeing it through that kind of lens. But for me what people see is the way I 39:00present like my gender, and so it's not really tied in with the queerness necessarily, except for how I behave might be or what I talk about might be--goodness--at Virginia Tech. 'Cause I've managed to do really well with staying and only interacting with folks from the community and then using that as a launching point to do the advocacy work with people for the most part who I knew would at least want to understand and like not give me a hard time. I think the only time I really felt like hella fear was when the anti-abortion folks came with their like displays, and we as HokiePRIDE or LGBTA, I don't remember what organization name we were under at the time, we were out there tabling as 40:00well and we had all our rainbow stuff. And like you know, with people who have anti-abortion views we assume they are the more conservative type folk and wouldn't be happy with our presence either and that was a really scary moment. Because when I heard they had like body cameras I was like I don't want to get near them. I don't want to have my face out on the internet somewhere, kind I'm very identifiable- I think. But at the same time that was one of the moments that was really grounding for me because a lot of people came out to support us 'cause we were like posting we need a unit. We need a community right outside here, like to be in solidarity so we can counter-protest or whatever, even though we weren't really protesting, we were just taking up space. And a lot of people who crossed the drillfield that day were thanking us for being out there, 41:00and that like really inspired me I think is the word. Queer at Virginia Tech. It's very interesting to me how I haven't thought about that, in that way or something. There's something about maybe the way the question is asked that I don't register-- [Long pause. Faint sounds of military drills can be heard in 42:00the background.] I think it's hard because queer for me has also been tied up with the work, and only recently have I, you know, stepped down from HokiePRIDE presidency and let go of a lot of commitments I used to have, obligations and I'm just existing, mostly, for this semester. And I don't know, I don't think what it means to be just me, a queer person running around, who is not the queer person like capital Q like advocating type person because that identity is different. It's one that is very knowledgeable, able to speak about a community 43:00and the different ways it affects the different aspects of the community with different--like what do you call it--policies or programs that we need to put on. Like I was really good about the up there, theoretical thinking, but when I'm tryna think about myself I'm having a lot of difficulty actually, 'cause the identity's really tied inta everybody else and everything we were doing. And that's okay though. Like that's really cool actually. [Laughter] Like my queerness is my community. It is understanding the ways we are different, but it's okay to be different. And then, 'cause I know--how many years? Two years, two or three--when Queer People of Color was founded that introduced another aspect of the way I could read queerness with race like together and the 44:00different ways that it looks like for me. And so I remember watching a documentary that was API Hair and Queerness, and they were all talking about the different ways they resisted white queerness in terms of like as a person who was assigned female, the white queers on tumbler all look a certain way. They have a certain haircut and they style it a certain way and we don't wanna do that. And like I knew that was something that influenced the way that I presented myself too, and so for me watching that documentary was really powerful. Especially because at the time I didn't have a community of folks that are accessible to me who identify as queer and trans like API folks, like Asian Americans and stuff. And I still don't really have that here, but I've been keyed into the community and going to conferences and then met a few couple 45:00people this year and just know they exist but. It's an ongoing thing I want to pursue 'cause it just feels like in the space where people get it you don't have to explain as much. It's easier to go deeper in terms of like reflecting on how different we all are with each other. That is so interesting. I will be thinking about that for a long time I think after this.
G: Can you tell me about some of the different things you've done in terms ofadvocacy work on campus?
N: Yes, yes. So it started with Zack's homecoming campaign I think in mysophomore year. 'Cause in my freshman year I went to every meeting and kind of like got exposed to all the work people were doing and was at the point where I 46:00was like I don't want to sign on to the exec board in a big position where I would have lots of responsibilities 'cause I just want to like be involved, but not in a way that's like ah, you have to do all these things. And so I was elected the student government representative, 'cause I heard all you have to do is attend the meeting every week and report back. And I was like that sounds like a good deal, so that's how I got on the board the spring of my freshman year. So going into sophomore year I got to go behind the scenes and figure out how everything worked, and like Zack's homecoming campaign fight for king was I guess a primer to kind of getting out there and being out and okay with like who I was and trying to get that equality narrative going and to get him elected. And like through student government that's when I learned about the governance 47:00structure at Virginia Tech. First I was confused because I actually didn't know that in being elected SGA rep I would be essentially in two organizations. And so I went to SGA meetings which were completely different than HokiePRIDE, or LGBTA at the time, exec meetings, because LGBTA they do educational programming. They have seats on the different governance levels and have community spaces for people and do stuff together. And then SGA was a mix of representatives from different organizations and like people who represented like their colleges, but it was like mostly like fraternity sorority life. And so being exposed to like new kinds of people I've never been exposed to before was really interesting. But anyway, I learned about the governance structure through SGA and we would 48:00write legislation to like push student initiatives and that was like an avenue for me to learn the ways we can advocate for like a student body and then kind of figure out if those are different ways that I want to bring that to my work with LGBTA as well. 'Cause I know that the bulk of my stuff in sophomore year was mostly supporting stuff, so I think that was a year when on Policy 1025 was being pushed through or at least worked on through the hierarchy. That was the one that included gender identity and expression in the anti-discrimination--non-discrimination--
G: The non-discrimination policy, yeah.
N: Yep, I was like there's another word in there I think maybe, but yeah. So inlistening to our president Caroline talk about all the different, like the 49:00resistance to like people didn't understand why they needed to add those words and the different ways her and Chad would like to work on trying to push it through the different caucuses or whatever, the levels of governance where kind of introducing, to what are ya'll doing up there? And like I just was really involved in student government because I loved the idea of contributing to something for all students. I got to serve on University Council in my junior year, I think, and went through the whole process of trying to be the Board of Visitors representative and I got to the last round and interviewed with the board. That was the end basically of my involvement with university governance really directly because I was like- actually, because that was about when I 50:00learned also that it's trash, because I felt like I didn't need to go through those hierarchies, those rungs to do the work I needed to do, which was more- I was more into on the ground stuff. I was very present at a lot of different groups like meetings, events, and programs in addition to our own. And so I would go to like black organization council things and like, yeah. I would spend a lot of time in the BCC [Black Cultural Center]. I felt like racial justice was like coming into like of big importance to me, and so I became the person that knew a lot about the issues, right, in a lot of different communities at Virginia Tech. What did my advocacy look like Megan? 'Cause I remember it used 51:00to be my dream to serve on the Commission for Student Affairs, 'cause it was a really hands-on way to shape policy for students. But once I got there in my senior year was it? Nope. Junior year. Nope. Senior year -- yep, when I was president I was like um, I don't want to do this anymore, 'cause there wasn't energy for it. What? How did I get there? I'm trying to figure out when I became disenchanted I guess with the whole university process. I'm really blanking with this. But I know a lot of people would talk about different things. Okay, let me put myself in other peoples' head.
Um, my advocacy looked like putting together programs that were really dope. So,I remember one of my crowning achievements was the inclusive classrooms panel 52:00when we brought like Dr. Bettina Love to came talk about queer black folks' experiences in higher ed, and like it was a panel with Dr. Fowler and a couple other professors to talk about inclusive practices and that was really fun. So it's like things like that, creating spaces to have discussions about identity was really a big thing for me. Like I knew that I wanted to be able to facilitate discussion and get people in a space where they could consider new perspectives and think about--mostly through self-reflection, right--like how do I show up and how does this relate to- bigger topic we're trying to get at. And so I would do like the meaning on gender identity and expression within the LGBTQ community. What's that mean for everybody?-- I'm just like it's so funny 53:00'cause I know I did things here, but I don't remember them anymore, which is so fascinating to me 'cause it's only been four years and three years being involved in that capacity. But what was I doing? I was in s- yeah. Oh, Megan.
G: So, who have been some of your major allies like faculty and otherwise whoyou've worked with?
N: Hmm. Who I've worked with. Oh, okay. So the LGBTQ Coordinator position, I'vehad a different advisor in that position every year that I've been here. So Catherine Cotrupi was our first one 'cause she made the position, good Lord. I only got to see her as an advisor in that capacity for a little bit, 'cause I was on the end of her run, but she was one of the first people who was introducing me into the space. Like the first face- I think one of the first 54:00faces I met at the Hokie Hy LGBTQ welcome, was really good about connecting with people and making sure they felt like they belonged, but she left for a while.
And then the next advisor was Danny and he was really good to encourage me tothink about different ways I could contribute. So I remember like making a display for Pride Week that was like a collage of like rainbow filtered pictures of folks from a photo campaign I organized that was like Proud to Be, and then people would write what they are proud to be and we would advertise Pride Week and stuff like that. And it spelled out like Hokie and it was rainbow and it was so cute. And so he was like good to encourage me to explore different parts of myself and like the way that I wanted to be a leader and what that looked like for me, 'cause I was in that space of I'm doing all this work, but I don't want 55:00any kind of title to come with it. And so when Mark Smiley came around last year as my advisor for HokiePRIDE, that's when I was like deep into the university structure and interacting with a lot of admin and faculty, and so he was really helpful with me like being strategic about stuff. We would talk strategy a lot and that was really good for me as well, and like Natasha this year is my advisor. I had known her when she was here as a grad student, so when she came back it was really important because I feel like it was meant to be for me 'cause she's helped me with my personal development and healing too, because very early on in my senior year I was like I'm done with this stuff. It's really been too much. Like I think I just pushed it too hard and I'm feeling burnt out. 56:00I feel bad 'cause I feel like I'm letting my community down. And so months of just talking all of it through, tryna figure out how I could feel like I can let go without letting people down. Because in my mind I would let people down, but in other peoples' minds it was like what? What are you talking about? You've done all this, but also people love you for the you type thing. So people like that have been stable presences for me, 'cause I haven't really built relationships with many like academic faculty that I have, because I just never- like because they were mostly like the science professors they were already like inaccessible to me, 'cause I was like why? Why would I want to talk to them about things? So like Dr. Barbara Ellen Smith was the first professors that I was like, yaas! 'cause she was my gender studies professor from freshman year. She was like the first professor I was like- oh, I went to office hours and 57:00really enjoyed talking to her as a person. But in terms of people who have been really big-- blanking. All I can think of is Tricia right now, so Tricia Smith the IEC [intercultural engagement center] Director, she came last year, yeah, early last year when they were tryna figure, out oh we need a new director and she like pops in to our retreat before classes started and she's like, hello, I'm Tricia, I'm the new director. Homegirl made me cry the first time I met her, cause whatever she was saying about the importance of diversity really moved me in that moment. And she has been-- ah, so much an emotional support, somebody who saw me, somebody who encouraged me. She's the kind of person you can like go 58:00to if it's just like too much, but who would also give you very thoughtful feedback for any issue or problem that you were working through. And it was really natural- the way that we became on good working close relationship type thing. But yeah, because- junior year was really tough because I was getting into like the racial justice stuff, and with Ferguson [Missouri] and all of that going on I was more aware. It was also like the moment when you realize like oh the world is actually awful, and so was a lot of emotional stuff to go through, so it was really helpful to have people who were like, yes, let me sit with you 59:00for two hours while you cry, because like whoever didn't get indicted. That was really important and stays important in terms of-- yeah, all of it. I don't know. I'm having trouble with words now, it seems.
G: I think you're doing fine. [Laughter]
N: Okay. 'Cause I have a lot of feelings around like different people and I knowthat there are so many people here who are very important to me. Like I was telling this to my mother the other evening if I was not in this community, involved in these communities, I--In my head they're a little different--so it's like Queer People of Color is one, and then also just LGBTQ as a whole here. Like if I was not involved in this way I would not have all these wonderful people in my life. So like Chad Mandala I wouldn't have met him. Who is he? He's someone who makes me cry all the time. Why? 'Cause he asks questions that make 60:00me really like-- 'cause he sees me in a way that is like not other people have, and he'll poke me in places to say like, Megan be real with yourself, and so that's caused me to be really emotional, but it's very necessary. It's really helpful to have people who really see you in that way. And so I wouldn't have met him. Jean Elliott, I love Jean. I see her as like my favorite gay mom type figure, and she just makes me laugh because she's so outdoorsy. For me she fits a little bit of the stereotype, and I think that's great. [Laughter] And I don't mean that in a bad way, it's just like she's been so present like in the whole years- I knew story and how active she was and it's just really inspiring because she just always carried herself with such positivity, and she was just very excited always to see me. I organized the Big Event thing at her house for 61:00the past year or two, and just like cultivating intergenerational relationships like that with the community is like my favorite thing about being involved here at Virginia Tech, like this Ex Lapide becoming a thing. Meeting Mark Weber has been excellent, 'cause I'm like look at this lineage we have at Virginia Tech. This is not something I would have known otherwise, 'cause I know that in working with the Alumni Association it is difficult to connect our students with alum because our students don't understand--Well, I don't know. This is weird. I don't like talking like that.--Anyway, the students that I am surrounded by right now I don't know if they care about alum right now. And at the same time 62:00it's also like the alum are a certain kind of white gay male that not a lot of people would relate to and like of an older generation. It's hard to figure out where we are with that, but for me I appreciate it because I'm like a person who loves people from all walks of life. And like oh God, John Gray has been really important for my life as well 'cause he's always been like a huge cheerleader. He would like send me opportunities for scholarships. 'Cause when he was working at the Career Center he had the emails to filter and send back out, and he was like, oh my God Megan, I think you would be great for XYZ thing. I got to go to Notre Dame for the ACC Leadership Symposium because of him, but he's always been like there. Like I would meet with him to talk about career stuff, but also like personal stuff, so I spent a lot of time in his office as well. Dr. Fowler is 63:00wonderful, Dr. Shelli Fowler, because she was the first person who saw in me--academically right--that I loved thinking about education, critical pedagogy and she encouraged me to explore that more and sent me readings and what to look out for. I had not ever come across that, and that was meaningful to me because I had been wanting to meet her since I heard Dean DePauw speak at Out at Work. Was that my freshman year? Whatever the first year of Out at Work was Dean DePauw was our keynote, and that's when I became familiar with her story. I was like yo, these people are amazing, they went through all of it and they are right here living history, this is awesome. And I remember when I was listening 64:00I was like oh my God. First of all I needa meet her partner and I need to get to know these people, and like goals, because I did it. [Laughter] Dean DePauw has been a steady presence as well. She would ask me to drop by her office sometimes and I would see her at least once a semester, if not much more because of us being in the same diversity things together, diversity spaces. But I really appreciated getting to spend time with her in her office as well, just like one on one was really good. Getting to know her and then also like, the thing that sticks with me most when I talk to Dean DePauw is like she, 'cause I come and talk about like career and she will be like, well, I still don't know what I'm doing and I have like three degrees. I was like, what do you mean you don't know what you want to do when you grow up? That makes no sense to me because you're a grown-up in my brain. [Laughter] My God. There's so many people, and I know that 65:00is the thing people talk about, like having their community is what will tie you to the space, and I love it. My favorite thing about being involved with LGBTQ stuff is like just creating a space for people to just be themselves and feel empowered and excited. Okay. Like I still do this now even though I'm not as involved, but there was a girl in one of my classes who came up to me and she was like, I know who you are. You emailed me. Can we talk? And so like for her she had only come out last summer, and it was a really tough time for her. Like that type of thing, like meeting up with people talking about our stories, getting to know people like one on one has been something that I have done a lot 66:00over my time here too. And so when you ask about advocacy like a lot of my work was really community-centered and focused. And so it was easier for me to just say like governance for what? As it got later and later, as I realized the priority was like these people are the ones that I want to be focusing on, not do you include me or not. You figure that out. That's your job. I'm gonna figure out how to make these people feel like they have a space, so. Um-hm. I became very self-conscious like midway between describing my favs, because I was like I'm not doing any of these people justice, because I love them so much and they've been very helpful. Like everybody has played a different role in me who 67:00I am today, and it's a feeling that is not words, [laughter] which is very common for me.
G: What are your thoughts on some of the changes that we're seeing right now inthe country as a whole, like with the Supreme Court decision over the summer and then like the recent national attention that's being paid to trans issues in particular, what do you think about them?
N: Um, for me I'm in a space where I'm like this is great, but do better-- It'shard to say. So right in this moment right now where I'm at it's been a lot of I 68:00need to heal myself so that I can go out and do my work whatever that looks like later. And so I haven't thought about these things in a while. I'll be very honest, I have not keyed into what this legislation did and what's happening over here. Because also in being very keyed in with the stuff that happens nationally it's a lot, because you're like this is some hella incrementalism here. Like I don't like the idea of traveling, like doing a road trip across the country because what if I have to go to the bathroom somewhere? So that stays in the back of my mind, but like I'm just- And I guess that is a reaction to how things are going. It's sometimes easier to not think about the state of things and focus on well how can I become more conscious about the way these things 69:00work systemically and structurally? How can I work on empowering myself by myself and live in this world that comes out with Supreme Court decisions over the summer, where corporate pride is a thing where we have forgotten our roots? We being the movement queer liberation.
When Reina Gossett [now known as Tourmaline] came to visit she talked about, orno, she didn't talk about it, she showed us and reminded us of the radical roots that the queer movement came from, which was the street transvestites- oh STAR [Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries], whatever that stood for. But she 70:00showed us clips, Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, all those folks, and like I remember being in that space. Like it comforted me to know that the roots were of radical origin because sometimes I feel out of place when all the people around me are talking about how excited they are about marriage, or how this X thing is very important. And I'm like no it's not because we've got prisons still. We have trans women of color dying because of all these things, and so it's hard for me to be- to say like, yeah, that's great, 'cause it's like, yeah, I know. It's good for some people, but only for some people. And so I'm just kinda like um, I'm not going to deal with that right now. I'm just gonna focus on how do I make myself better, given how we livin' right now. So yeah, that's where I'm with that.
G: Thank you. What have been some of the major queer social spaces that you've71:00experienced at Virginia Tech?
N: Ooh, favorite one hands-down Gay at Gillie's. So that's been a tradition. Ithink it would happen once a semester. When did I take it on? Like organizing it, I think maybe two or three years, I'm not sure. But it's my favorite space because I love to dance and I love dancing with gay boys because it means like there's no, what do you call it? There's no expectation, so I can just dance as much as I want and as wildly as I want just being free in that space. Like I feel safe with queer folk, so Gay at Gillie's has always been that--up until now--but has been that for me. So there used to be like the no pants parties 72:00thrown off campus with, that would only be queer people also. It would be thrown by the older gays and all the gays would come into town and dance without pants and it was truly wonderful. It was very crusty 'cause one of the pipes burst at one point. Oh God, everyone's gross, I remember watching, like these girls playing spin the bottle on the same floor that the sewer tank line exploded on, like a couple of months before. I was like, ya'll crusty as hell. But that was a thing, and that was really wonderful too 'cause I refused to like engage in college culture like party culture, because I was like I'm not going to a frat house, I'm not going to spaces with you straight people. Like what is that? I don't understand. So thank God I've never been in that kind of situation with straight people. Every outing I've went to--or party--which is very few, has only been like all queer, or mostly gay, whatever. But yeah, Gay at Gillie's is 73:00great. And I say only recently because I'm in a space like racially consciously where, I can't, I just don't want to be around white gays. That's not- I can't do it anymore. I think in becoming more critically conscious comes with noticing, and when you notice you notice a lot and you notice that it's just a space where you are more likely to be tokenized, more likely to be exotified, more likely to not be seen for all of who you are and it's exhausting. Like I remember walking by Gay at Gillie's this year and hearing like Beyoncé's Formation playing, and I was very angry because to me that represented a lot of different things, but also represented this is it. This is where we're at, white 74:00gays doin' it, not understanding the implications of the song and them dancing to the song and enjoying it without thinking about the context that the video existed and blah blah blah, like specifically to a southern black woman from New Orleans. Yeah. And that happened only in February, and so it's very recent for more. So I had a lot of distance now in this past year, more than before when it used to be like that space that I needed and it was good. Like I did need that for my identity. I don't like the word development, but yeah, when I was unconscious like it was good. [Laughter] It was good. It helped empower me in the queer part then when you bring the race back in you're like boop, let me do 75:00this all over. Yeah.
G: Thank you. Well that's it for my actual questions, but is there anything thatyou'd like to add that I haven't asked about?
N: Uh-uh. No. I needed to talk about Queer People of Color more. I feel like Ididn't touch on it enough, 'cause a lot of the work was through the structure of HokiePRIDE, 'cause that has a direct line to university governance. You know formal advocacy work looked like that. I would bring in my identities, all of 76:00them, right, because of who I was, but institutionally QPOC is not part of- well, only formally part of the institution, but not really. Like we don't get money from the institution like HokiePRIDE does. We request it if we need it for like programs and stuff. So anyway, when that group started I didn't think that I was allowed to be in the space, and especially once I- Like Natasha was one who encouraged me to- She was like, you're a person of color. Megan, don't silly. You are. You belong here. You belong here. And so I remember going into the first meeting which was like a speed friending and all the folks were queer black folks and I was like, I really don't belong here. Like I shouldn't be here right now. But you know, it was Natasha, she was like, Megan, yes, this is your space too. And so after I got over that I started to think about the different 77:00ways like race and queerness intersect and that was really helpful for my identity formation, because the space was very deliberately only for people of color. Like we talked briefly about like well we can't say no whites, but in terms of like asking folks to respect the necessity to have a space to relate without whiteness in the space was our way of saying that preserving the space, and it's worked for the most part. People don't really demand that 'cause they I think know better. And there was a time where somebody like tried to treat us like zoo animals. Like they had a project for their class and they were like, can we film you as b-roll and take over your meeting to ask you interview 78:00questions? And we were like, uh bye. But yeah, so that's been really great because I got to meet people and everyone I've met which is my theme for everything I love it. And it's just in a really good community space. Like it started off really heavily like programming, because Monica Motley and Natasha were like, what? We are visible. We want to let people know the space exists, but we also want to do education work around this intersection of identities, and they did great stuff. Lots of speakers and movie screenings. Monica was really good about trying to figure out ways to collaborate with other groups, to get our name out. She was the one who started us speaking at Take Back the Night. When Natasha left it was me and Monica and I got to work with her for a 79:00semester, and I learned a lot about organizing and the way to approach the work from her mentorship and friendship. And she like helped me in so many ways, and we put on like- just in having the discussions, not even inputting on the programs, but having the discussions about the way we wanted to approach our programming was really helpful for like thinking about myself and- I don't know where I was going with that. That's fine, but it was very helpful. I'm like speeding through it, but boy, we've come to a space where we are less heavy on the programming and more focused on building our community with each other, because a lot of the programming was like for other people, and we were like 80:00that's great, but how much energy do we have to do that? In recent years, also because school was just like so much for a lot of us it was easier to just say like okay. Like we reserved the BCC for two hours every week, let's just hang out, or let's go get brunch or let's do this and that. And that's been really good as well to just like be in each other's company and enjoy each other. And like we're small but we're here and we're happy with each other. And like I know that I used to worry a lot about like how to- what if people don't know about this space, but it's also like that's the reality of it, and like with the energy level we're at right now I don't have the energy to say like yeah, let me go figure out all the places we should table, so just in case somebody passes by and sees the flier out of the corner of their eye and goes on the website later, 81:00goes on our Twitter later. And it's sad to hear myself say that honestly, because I know it's important to have spaces like that, but then also to know the reality that we're actually because, and Natasha wrote a really great piece about it, but the exhaustion, the particular exhaustion that happens for Queer People of Color, because of the different levels at which we feel like we need to advocate for ourselves. And so a lot of the people who are in QPOC are also very involved on campus, and that's been a critique right of like the space in HokiePRIDE. Because it's mostly white gays just tryna have a good time, so with QPOC it's automatically more politically active and conscious and aware. And yeah, it's just very real. Like it's good to have the support, but it's also I 82:00see a lot of exhaustion and that's where we're at right now. So I'm just like I don't know what this is gonna look like for years going on, especially 'cause we have a lot of seniors, like with Natasha here, but also very like pulled one way to the next because she's the only person with LGBTQ in her title. Like how do you preserve that kind of space when it's not supposed to exist? Yeah.
G: And she's also finishing a Ph.D. program.
G: She's probably incredibly busy.
N: Yeah, yeah, very busy. Too busy. Yeah. So that's real. It's funny, I feel83:00good even though that's a lot of depressing shit, but I'm like but it's real, so I'm fine you know. I've got a good support network because of being involved. I have people who care who are not just like students, they are like faculty. They are grad students they're administration, staff, like it's good, because in doing all of the work you run into people who- not think like you, but who would get it more, so that's been a good way to kind of bring the right people around. So even when it's like awful I make it through. I'm good. I'm dancing. It's fine. [Chuckles] Hmm. Yeah. Thank you for offering that, yeah.
G: Well thank you. We can end there if you want to.
N: Sure. Sure.
G: I will hit stop then.
[End of interview]