THEY: Interview with Yecelica Jaime Valdivia

Posted on December 11, 2015

ill Weaver and Wes Taylor have developed and are sharing a new line of apparel for Emergence called “THEY”. “THEY” is a strategy for signalling one’s self-identification with the gender nonconforming pronouns “they” and “them” in an affirming and aesthetically bold way. As part of the launch of this new apparel, ill discussed the “they/them” pronouns with other inspiring individuals who use “they/them” pronouns.

Read on for ill’s summary of their conversation with Yecelica Jaime Valdivia. Read more thoughts from ill Weaver on the THEY campaign here.

About Yecelica Jaime Valdivia

Yecelica Jaime Valdivia (aka YJV) grew-up in Central Washington in the Yakima Valley. They're a child of a Mexican immigrant father and a mixed race mother from working class roots. They're a mixed race, genderqueer, masculine presenting, fat brown boi. They've been doing work at the intersections of individual, social and healing transformation and committed to the building of powerful communities that define themselves. They're currently working with Powerful Voices, an organization aimed to support the power and voices of young people socialized/identified as girls. They've also had the amazing opportunity to work with Seattle Young People's Project (SYPP) as a Co-Director. SYPP is a youth-led social justice organization that builds youth power through community organizing. They have worked with other organizations such as Solid Ground and the Northwest Network of Bi, Trans, Lesbian, and Gay Survivors of Abuse.

ill discusses THEY with YJV

Yecelica remembers a few years back, when they received emails from two friends. These friends were reaching out to community members to announce their name and pronoun changes, and asking for support. Both friends were people of color, and one was asking to be referred to by the pronoun “they”. Reading this really made an impression on Yecelica, because they had never before heard a person of color make such a request.

Previously Yecelica had associated the act of asking for support with gender identity and pronouns as a thing that only white queer people do. At the time they were working at a job in a radical domestic violence organization. One day, Yecelica decided that they would try “they” out for their own pronoun. It was scary to do it at first, but they built up the courage and asked their co-workers to refer to them using the pronouns “they” and “them”. Their co-workers were supportive, and from then on everyone referred to them that way. For Yecelica, it was almost confusing at first, “I’d be like, who are they talking to?” Soon though “they” became regularly used as their pronoun, and it became how they were accustomed to being addressed. After that shift, if someone referred to Yecelica as “she”, they got thrown off, and wondered who they were referring to.

They shared that as a mixed race person, they grew up feeling never Mexican enough, yet never white enough, and experienced a fluidity of racial and gender identity. To represent that fluidity they have a tattoo that reads “shapeshifter”.

“Genderqueer” was the language that was first available to them, so it's what they used to describe their identity at first. But to Yecelica that term seemed associated with white queer academic spaces. As time went on they learned about the term “gender nonconforming”, and that felt more fitting. It was a term they saw primarily POC using, so they related to it more.

Yecelica says they personally identify as gender-nonconforming but not trans, although they know that some people identify as both, or see them as part of the same spectrum. But “trans” doesn't fit the same way gender-nonconforming does for their identity.

Yecelica shared that as a gender-nonconforming, masculine-leaning person of color, there are so many questions that come up for them about how to navigate different situations.

Sometimes for them, using “they/them” seems like an entitled thing, or almost a white thing to do. They often have the same doubts when raising questions around ability such as scent and chemical sensitivity.  They said: “I think for me the ways or spaces I've learned about gender nonconformity or about access needs has often been in white dominant or white queer spaces. in my experience with other folks of color i feel like there's an association that queerness, like access needs/accessibility, and stating those needs sometimes is coded as "white" or associated with whiteness as if queer folks or folks with disabilities don't exist in communities of color.”

As a result of this dynamic, there are times when they are misgendered and they just let it go, and don't correct people. Yecelica reflected that this a survival mechanism, in order to not be rejected, or not take up too much space, but they noted that the feelings that come along with this repression can be really challenging. At the same time, Yecelica stated that it feels necessary to not always bring their pronouns in these instances, because it is important for them to remain a part of certain spaces that reflects other aspects of their identity, even if they have to set aside certain parts of who they are.

They expressed that of course it would be ideal to be seen for who they fully are in all spaces, but that's not always the case. As self-care or a coping mechanism, when they are in situations where they are being misgendered as “she”, they remind themselves that they also have spaces where they are fully seen and supported. They look forward to continue creating and investing in those types of spaces in Seattle and beyond.