Celebrating 10 years and 500 episodes
In this episode we connect with activist and advocate for the trans and nonbinary community, Addison Rose Vincent. We explore Addison’s journey and their experience with understanding their own gender identity. They share how important language is to identifying and how we still have farther to go. Addison shares their story about seeking gender affirming care and the obstacles that stood in their way and the support they received from finding a community. We also discuss the importance of representation in media of all kinds, and how trans and nonbinary folks are reflected back to the audience and seen in a positive light.
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Addison Rose Vincent (they/them) is a 30-year-old transgender and nonbinary advocate, educator, and influencer based in Los Angeles, CA. They garnered national attention in 2013 as the first openly transgender participant in the Chapman University sorority rush process, and again in 2014 as the first openly transgender candidate in the Delta Queen pageant, leaving with the title of Miss Congeniality.
Since graduating from Chapman in 2015 with a BA in Peace Studies, Addison has worked with various nonprofit organizations across the state and country advocating for the LGBTQ+ community, including the Victory Fund, Los Angeles LGBT Center, Strength United, TransLatin@ Coalition, Asian Pacific AIDS Intervention Team, and Nonbinary & Intersex Recognition Project.
Addison currently serves as the Founder & CEO of Break The Binary, their consulting firm which provides DEI and LGBTQ+ training and supportive services to organizations, schools, and businesses around the world. Addison also serves as a Board Member for LA Pride and as the Project Director for History Reimagined, an organization focused on breaking cycles of domestic violence and the school-to-prison pipeline by empowering youth with their own family and community history.
"...terms like genderqueer, terms like non-binary, terms like trans-feminine just really sat with me and that it really helped me identify who I am. Even now, I sit with those terms and go, 'Okay, are those terms really the terms that align best with who I am or can I come up with my own term? Are there other terms that community are coming up with, or that we're rediscovering that were erased and hidden through history and through time, that we can reclaim?'"
Engaging the World: Leading the Conversation on Health Equity is a series of interviews with activists, artists, educators, historians, and journalists about accessibility, cost, prejudice, and the human experience of healthcare in America.
Guest: Addison Rose Vincent
Host: Jon-Barrett Ingels
Produced by Past Forward in partnership with Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences at Chapman University.
[00:00:03] Addison Rose Vincent: As long as people have been around, gender has always been fluid in some way. The thing is, is that just because you don't see it represented in history books, just because you don't see it represented in media, it doesn't mean that it never existed. In fact, there's many other marginalized communities that have been erased or not even represented in terms of history books, in terms of movies, and television. It's no wonder that a lot of people maybe didn't realize that this was an opportunity to identify with or a community that existed because it's just not shown.
[00:00:35] Host: Chapman University's Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences and Past Forward present Engaging the World: Leading the Conversation on Health Equity. In this series, we explore the historical, cultural, social, and economic disparities that interfere with the access to health and healthcare and examine how these challenges can exist in one of the most wealthy and technologically advanced nations in the world. We engage with journalists, historians, artists, activists, and educators to look at accessibility, cost, prejudice, and the human experience of healthcare in America as we look for the pathways to health equity.
In this episode, we connect with Addison Rose Vincent, founder and CEO of Break The Binary, a consulting firm providing DEI and LGBTQ+ training and supportive services. We discuss their journey and their experience of understanding their identity and the challenges and the support that they received along the way. Here is Addison Rose Vincent.
I want to start with the basic, and I'm thinking about the listeners. I want to just start with the remedial explanation of what non-binary means and how that can be expressed.
[00:01:59] Addison: Of course. My name is Addison. I use they/them pronouns. I'm a proud non-binary person. For me, being non-binary means that I don't fit exclusively into the binary of man or woman. I'm somewhere in between, somewhere outside of that binary. I'm a whole other gender category. For me, it's really fabulous to know that it's not something new either, that the idea of being transgender, meaning that you don't identify with the gender you were assigned at birth, or being non-binary, meaning that you don't identify exclusively with man or woman or male or female. That originated way back thousands of years in different cultures around the world.
Now, we didn't use terms like transgender or non-binary, which came out of more Western gender theory but I would say that the idea of more than two gender identities existing or seeing people express themselves and identify with masculinity and femininity or somewhere in between outside of it has existed for thousands of years in different cultures around the world. We've seen that in indigenous populations here in North America. We've seen that in Mexico. We've seen that in India, in Malaysia, in the Samoan Islands. It's all over the world that trans and non-binary people, even though we didn't use those terms, have existed. We're back and we're proud and we're here and we're not going anywhere either.
"I try watching movies, I'll think about it with my partner or my family, I'll be like, 'Oh, remember that movie that was so cute? Let's rewatch it.' Then a scene comes up that's mocking, specifically trans women or trans feminine people, that's always the case. I sit there and I go, 'Damn, I didn't realize, and I don't remember a lot of those moments,' but they sink into you, and you learn that. You learn that, what's that word for it, I guess, ridiculing of trans people. You learn that transphobia."
[00:03:25] Host: Even though it's existed for thousands of years, it's the understanding of it, especially here in the West and in our modern society, is a newer- within maybe 50 years, but definitely within the last two decades. What did people do? I'm thinking about, when I grew up in the '90s, we had, especially in school, kids who were gay and lesbian and bisexual, and they really had to figure out who they felt confident or comfortable coming out to. Without these terms of non-binary or transgender, I'm just wondering how did that get expressed, especially without the understanding or the freedom of being able to express it?
[00:04:31] Addison: Right. You're talking about language. You're talking about access to language. You're talking about representation too. I think that for a lot of people, when I talk about that we've existed for thousands of years, that we're nothing new, that as long as people have been around, gender has always been fluid in some way. The thing is, is that just because you don't see it represented in history books, just because you don't see it represented in media, it doesn't mean that it never existed. In fact, there's many other marginalized communities that have been erased or not even represented in terms of history books, in terms of movies, and television. It's no wonder that a lot of people maybe didn't realize that this was an opportunity to identify with or a community that existed because it's just not shown.
When that happens, it's because of decades, of centuries, when it comes to colonization and Western imperialism, of suppressing a lot of identities that didn't fit into not only a gender binary but a sex binary, also, too, when it comes to racism, xenophobia, classism. There's so many communities that are pushed aside or erased. That includes the trans and non-binary communities. For a lot of people, for decades, you would meet people through word of mouth, or you get to know people just by interacting with them in person or seeing them in person.
I think, too, for myself, when I was coming out as trans and non-binary, this is back in 2010 to 2013, I was on a mission to really figure out my gender identity around that time. For me, that was really two parts, one, doing research, going online, finding chat rooms, finding community that way, reading certain books, two, on gender theory that certain non-binary trans people had been publishing, or even aspiring allies who wanted to work with the community were publishing. Then also, too, meeting people in person, going to spaces and finding them myself because I didn't see trans and non-binary people represented in film and media in a positive way, especially in the '90s and in the early 2000s.
I try watching movies, I'll think about it with my partner or my family, I'll be like, "Oh, remember that movie that was so cute? Let's rewatch it." Then a scene comes up that's mocking, specifically trans women or trans feminine people, that's always the case. I sit there and I go, "Damn, I didn't realize, and I don't remember a lot of those moments," but they sink into you, and you learn that. You learn that, what's that word for it, I guess, ridiculing of trans people. You learn that transphobia. For me, I had to find community other ways because it wasn't always represented in the most positive way but knowing that this is who I was, and this is what I was going to become as well.
I'm really glad that we're in a time now where there's more trans, non-binary representation that is positive, and more and more youth. People also of all different ages, I know people in their '60s and '70s, are finally coming out as trans and non-binary and transitioning in their own ways. I'm just so glad that we live in a time where there's more visibility for people to be able to find themselves and have more access to language, to representation, to know, okay, if I wanted to transition, there isn't just one way to transition now. I can transition however I want. I can look however I want. I can be however I truly feel and not feel like I have to put myself in a box, whether that means having to identify as a cisgender man or woman or identifying just as a transgender man or woman either. There's so much possibility now and that's great.
[00:08:17] Host: It is. I know it's just language, but just having a word that connects with you, that like, "Ah, it makes sense." Is that how it was for you? Was it like “non-binary” or “trans-feminine,” and, all of a sudden, there's this aha moment of like, "Yes, there's this other way," and that it fits like a glove or a beautiful outfit?
[00:08:47] Addison: Yes. No, that's what it was for me for sure in my research, in talking to people, and really sitting with myself and realizing that terms like genderqueer, terms like non-binary, terms like trans-feminine just really sat with me and that it really helped me identify who I am. Even now, I sit with those terms and go, "Okay, are those terms really the terms that align best with who I am or can I come up with my own term? Are there other terms that community are coming up with, or that we're rediscovering that were erased and hidden through history and through time, that we can reclaim?"
For myself, even the term non-binary, I love that as a term because it's so vague, it's so open. It's a big umbrella term for anyone who's just not exclusively identifying as a man or a woman. Even that term is an absence term and saying that I'm not binary. Then what am I, right? That's where I'm on a journey to right now, trying to figure out what term do I want to use instead of non-binary to really say, instead of saying, I'm not this, but instead say, I am this.
“Everyone is complicated. Everyone's multifaceted and you can't assume anyone's identity journey or experiences just based on how they look, talk, walk, whatever that be.”
[00:10:00] Host: I would love for you to talk about through this discovery, through this understanding of identity, when was the decision for you to seek gender-affirming care?
[00:10:16] Addison: Well, I would say gender-affirming care isn't just my medical transition. It had to include my mental health components. It had to do with also my expression. There's lots of things that went into that gender-affirming care for me. When I was at Chapman still, this is when I was actually first exploring my identity, not only with my sexual orientation but also my gender journey. I remember, I believe it was my junior year, going and seeking counseling at the on-campus mental health, I think, whatever [crosstalk]
[00:10:52] Host: I utilized it as well. [chuckles]
[00:10:54] Addison: Here, perfect. I went there and it was interesting to say the least. I would say that I was working with people or I had a session with someone who didn't quite understand the community. I think at that time in my life, and I actually support this with other people who maybe take this approach, is that it's not your job to educate the person that's providing care to you. They should already know the basics at least. They should know, if they're working with a trans or non-binary person, to use their proper name, to use their pronouns, to not focus in and hyper-fixate on their genitals or surgeries, whatever that be, and not reduce them just down to mental illness, but to really understand that when we're working with a trans or non-binary person, when you're working with anybody, that you're working with a whole person. Everyone is complicated. Everyone's multifaceted and you can't assume anyone's identity journey or experiences just based on how they look, talk, walk, whatever that be.
That was my experience, unfortunately, was that I didn't have someone that was affirming. I didn't seek therapy for a while until I wanted to start hormones. I didn't start my hormone journey though until about 2017. I was going through a little breakup moment and I was like, "You know what? I need to rediscover myself." It was something that I had been wanting to do but not allowing myself to do because I didn't think I could do it. Then I was like, "You know what? I don't have to be a trans woman to start estrogen." Just as with trans men you don't have to be a trans man to start testosterone. You can do whatever you want. Your transition as a non-binary person, as a trans man or woman, as anybody. Your transition is up to you.
I decided that for myself I did want to try estrogen and I loved it. Started taking the injections, doing them every other week. I saw immediate changes with my body and I loved it. Then a couple of years later I had some facial surgery just to feminize my face a little bit but I also wanted to keep my beard. This was throwing people off too about why do you want to have that surgery if you're not going to try to look like a woman. I said because my femininity is my own. It's my own to decide. If I want to have a beard and know that I'm feminine, then that's perfectly fine for me.
[00:13:23] Host: Is that a challenge to, and this is a science that I don't know anything about, but is that a challenge of balance to maintain enough of the testosterone for the hair but also-- How was that process for you of learning the equilibrium of estrogen?
[00:13:46] Addison: I think that for me I've learned that when it comes to hair growth, when it comes to your hair on your head, as well as hair on your face or your body, that a lot of it goes back to genetics and it sometimes doesn't have anything to do with your hormones. I know plenty of trans-masculine folks that are taking testosterone and some of them will begin balding patterns on their hair on their hairline, others don't. I know some that grow facial hair and some that don't.
The testosterone may or may not impact when it comes to hair growth. With estrogen, too, someone like me- I have not had electrolysis or laser on my face and I've only been on estrogen. In fact, my body no longer produces any testosterone because of a surgery that I had. With just the estrogen I'm still growing facial hair. I know for a lot of people too that if you want to get rid of your facial hair or get rid of other body hair it's not about hormones. It's more about having to have laser hair removal surgery and electrolysis.
For me, I've been lucky with having a nice full beard while on my estrogen. I feel like I've got the best of everything that I've wanted together. I got my long hair, I've got my beard, I've got my more feminine face. I've got my body the way that it is and I love it. I'm like, "Perfect. It all worked out for me." I'm happy. [laughs]
"It was very binary when it comes to transition, medical transition, when I first started because it was-- I remember the endocrinologist telling me like, 'You need to identify as a trans woman if I'm going to work with you.'"
[00:15:11] Host: Were there challenges or hurdles that you had to jump through to seek this care, or was it easier here because we're in California?
[00:15:25] Addison: Yes. I was born in Canada and raised in Michigan. Back in Michigan, there was a point where I was thinking about starting hormones in Michigan and it was so difficult to try to figure out which endocrinologist would be affirming, would be open to working with a trans or non-binary person like myself, especially, a non-binary person at that time. It was very binary when it comes to transition, medical transition, when I first started because it was-- I remember the endocrinologist telling me like, "You need to identify as a trans woman if I'm going to work with you." You're going to have to do this, this, and this. I'm going to need so many letters of recommendation from your therapist. I'm going to need X, Y, and Z. It does create hurdles and creates barriers for a lot of people.
Thankfully, for myself, I had at that time a partner that was working in a transgender health program who was able to connect me with a therapist for free, all these different medical care providers too that I needed in order to get my hormones and start my surgeries. I know of so many other trans and non-binary people that don't. Thankfully in Los Angeles, there is insurance like LA Care, Health Net, Kaiser that all provide programs that are for trans and non-binary people. People can go through that in order to get the care that they need but there's still barriers with paying for insurance for people.
There's many trans non-binary people that I know that are struggling with income, especially during this recession. They maybe have lost their jobs. They don't have a consistent form of income. They don't have access to maybe vehicles or transportation. It's difficult for a lot of people. Thankfully I've been blessed and very lucky to have the opportunities, the people around me, and the privileges that I have in order to access transition in the way that I have.
[00:17:14] Host: If it was available, is there a part of you who wishes you were able to start earlier even prepuberty and do the hormone blocker? If there was a magic time machine you were able to do it all again, would that be the way that you would approach it?
[00:17:33] Addison: Well, if I had a magic time machine I'd be doing a lot. I just imagine, right? One of the things I would do is probably, well, yes, I would've loved to be able to start my journey earlier. I think that if I was a kid in today's society I can understand it would be easier. Even if I could go back in time and start an earlier age I would know that the obstacles that I would've faced socially would've been probably still very, very difficult. I think that I transitioned when I was ready to, when I was feeling safe enough to do it.
When I look back at middle school age, in high school age when I could have transitioned-- I was at an all-boys middle school and that was rough. That was rough. Going into high school too, I felt that the more that I hid who I was and put on a performance of what other people wanted me to be that was my way of surviving. When I moved out to California from Michigan when I was 17 going on 18 to start my freshman year at Chapman, that's when I was like, "Okay, now I'm ready. I'm in a safe space," or what. Time is pretty conservative so it was [crosstalk]
[00:18:54] Host: Still Orange County, yes.
[00:18:57] Addison: -but it was California so I was like, "Duh." I tried it out and even though I faced a lot of backlash on community, I knew that I had more access to community in the area that I was. In Santa Ana, there was fabulous and queer and trans organizations and communities that were being built. I'd go up to Los Angeles a lot from Orange County in order to connect with community members. I knew that I wasn't alone like I was back in Michigan. At Michigan, I felt there were so few resources and it was so hard to find community and I wasn't ready to find community. If I could go back in time absolutely but I just wish that time was now. You know what I'm saying? [laughs]
“I think that visibility is a huge thing too, so having representation of trans and non-binary people online, on TikTok and social media, on Instagram. That's huge right now for kids to just be able to see our community and to know that we're normal people, that we're just the same as them, and that we just identify a little bit differently, and that we're not these monsters or predators that the right is trying to push right now, that we're just regular people.”
[00:19:37] Host: I want to talk about the now. I have a daughter, she just started in high school, and from my perspective as a parent it seems like the gender non-conforming, non-binary, transgender, gender fluid numbers in her age range are huge in comparison to-- Again, I had friends who were gay, lesbian, and bisexual and that was about it. Those who were out were few and far between but now-- Again, we're in California so it's a little different than the rest of the United States and the rest of the world but would you attribute this to having the availability of these terms to describe oneself or the visibility and the acceptance in media of the LGBTQ plus community or, and this is my hot take, an evolutionary move away from the binary?
[00:20:45] Addison: I think it could be all of them. I think it could be all of them. I think that part of my identifying as non-binary is not only how I internally identify but it is a big part of my political, social, cultural approach to life and our society too, is understanding that gender is so nuanced. Gender and sex are both so nuanced that for me to really feel like I am 100% the other doesn't really make sense for me at least personally. I do love that I've been able to advocate for and encourage other people, inspire other people, not saying that I'm recruiting people or that I'm making people identify this way, but inspiring people to think about themselves and their own gender identities and to question am I 100% the other? Can I see there's nuance in that and see nuance within myself?
There's political aspect to it. You're saying too about a push away from the binary. I think that visibility is a huge thing too, so having representation of trans and non-binary people online, on TikTok and social media, on Instagram. That's huge right now for kids to just be able to see our community and to know that we're normal people, that we're just the same as them, and that we just identify a little bit differently, and that we're not these monsters or predators that the right is trying to push right now, that we're just regular people. I think that they might see that and see themselves in us. I think that that's really beautiful to see too that they're connecting and seeing a possibility of who they could be and who they want to be or maybe who they already are.
Then on top of that too, like you're saying with language, I think absolutely having more language that's available to parents and caregivers to talk to their kids about. I think that right now I'm seeing a-- What's the word for it? Maybe a divide right now in parents and caregivers right now with some parents really pushing gender reveal parties, really pushing having to be the gender that I've given you at birth and what I tell you that you are is what you are period. Then I see a lot of parents and caregivers right now being like, "My child is a person, not an extension of me. My child is a person who has every right to identify however they want and they should have autonomy in deciding what they want to identify as, how they want to express themselves, and if they want to make any changes to their body to be more aligned with how they feel on the inside."
I think that that's such a beautiful approach that we're seeing more and more parents and caregivers taking that approach of seeing their child not as potentially bringing shame to them for identifying as trans and non-binary or having to tell them that it's a bad thing or doesn't exist, but to say it does exist. If this is how I identify, let me support you and embrace you with that too. I think that all of those things happen at the same time is what's allowing, I love this word, allowing more trans and non-binary kids to self-identify this way and to explore what transition can look like for them.
"I think about when youth are seeing such negative things being said about trans and non-binary people, and not it just being said in one news segment, but constantly-- Even, in fact we have presidential candidates right now that are running on the basis of trying to eradicate trans people. I think that that says something to a lot of trans kids too, that maybe this isn't a safe world, maybe that not everyone's going to get it."
[00:24:00] Host: Do you think there's an element of I think of the Barbara Streisand effect? That's where Barbara wanted to keep her home off of a website and because of her action, more people were drawn to look and see where her home was in the central coast or something like that. Do you think there's an element of that with the political fervor that's happening in the United States that it is drawing more attention? Not to take away for the trauma that it's causing, but that it is drawing more attention and now it's becoming a part of the conversation and that is opening up the possibility for this younger generation to say like, "Oh, wait, I didn't even think about that and now that makes sense to me and that's how I identify."
[00:24:56] Addison: I think I can say yes to that. I would say it's a "yes and". What I'm thinking that comes up for me is thinking about that the more that we see trans and non-binary people talked about on the news and in media and in film and television, whether it's being debated or whatever that be, yes, it's bringing more attention to the community. I think that that's when people talk about visibility being a double-edged sword. It's talking about seeing that visibility comes with such great things that people seeing themselves, connecting with the community, getting that language, getting ideas or impossibilities for themselves.
Also, too, having a lot of people now focusing on this community and a community that was typically maybe hidden or erased and may have been able to live in somewhat of a peace in that sense too of knowing like, okay, we exist this way, but no one's staring or gawking or making it a big deal. Now it is a big deal. If a trans and non-binary person walks into a certain space, you don't know what's going to happen. Maybe before people would stare or just whisper a little bit or not really bring a lot of attention to it. Now it's a big thing. Either you're being celebrated and being applauded for being who you are or you're being ridiculed now or being bullied or punished or harassed for it, and in some cases, too, being killed for it.
I think that, yes, it's bringing some positivity to that. Even though there's conflict or there's debates, having that attention is great because more people can see us. My heart does go out also too for the kids that are watching those news segments or reading those articles or seeing far-right pundits talk so negatively about this community.
[00:26:47] Host: Dehumanizing, yes.
[00:26:49] Host: Dehumanizing that you do internalize that in some way. For a lot of us, I'll speak for myself at least as a trans and non-binary person, as a queer person, I carry so much transphobia and queerphobia that's been internalized because, like I said earlier, of years of films and television of stories of going to church, of going to schools, going to these places, being around people that were transphobic and queerphobic. Having all of that constantly normalized within me was a lot of work that I had to undo. I had to undo a lot of that transphobia within myself in order to really see myself and embrace myself. I still, to this day, 10 years after identifying coming out as trans and non-binary, still have to unlearn my own queerphobia and transphobia.
I think about when youth are seeing such negative things being said about trans and non-binary people, and not it just being said in one news segment, but constantly-- Even, in fact we have presidential candidates right now that are running on the basis of trying to eradicate trans people. I think that that says something to a lot of trans kids too, that maybe this isn't a safe world, maybe that not everyone's going to get it. In fact, there might be people that are going to be out to get you or hurt you.
I really hope that those kids have parents and family members and caregivers and friends or teachers and supportive spaces at school and beyond in order to know that they belong, that that shame that's being spoken to, that they can work on that and that doesn't have to be that way. They can be celebrated instead of ridiculed or shamed, that they know that they're not alone and that there's so much community out here that is willing to support them, love them, embrace them, and make sure that they can be who they want to be.
[00:28:45] Host: I think it is important to recognize how far we've come too, just like in my lifetime, for decades of existence, how far we've come that care is accessible, whether it is therapy or hormonal care or whatever, that we are having this conversation, that there are out trans and non-binary people in film and in tv. It gives me hope. Again, looking at my daughter's generation and the kids that she goes to school with, it just like, where are we going to be in the next 40 years?
[00:29:32] Addison: When I study different civil rights movements and different communities that are advocating for their rights, there's always about-- It always feels like when you take three steps forward it's five steps back and then sometimes it's six steps forward and two steps back and it's this dance of going back and forth of progressing and then things regressing. I think that we're in a time where there's both happening at the same time with the trans and non-binary community. I really, really hope that people will come around and will be more open to working with, supporting, loving, caring for trans and non-binary people.
When I talk about us existing in cultures around the world thousands for thousands of years, trans and non-binary people or people who've expressed themselves or identified beyond a gender binary in those cultures are typically upheld as leaders, as cultural, spiritual leaders, as caretakers for children. They're usually there for religious ceremonies too when it comes to birthing and when it comes to blessings. We have a sacred role in our communities.
I feel that as we continue to decolonize in our society, as we continue to really understand that capitalism isn't really the answer, when we really understand that White supremacy doesn't reign supreme, that we'll understand that trans and non-binary people in that decolonization work are a value to society and deserve a place. Not only deserve a place in society but deserve to be celebrated like anybody else. I hope that over the next 40 years that happens.
[00:31:24] Host: If you would like to continue the conversation, visit chapman.edu/wilkinson to learn more. To access recommended books from our guests for further learning and for more socially conscious content, visit us at pastforward.org or follow us at Apple, Spotify, or wherever you podcast.
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