Our National TRUTH Council works to uplift the stories and truths of trans young people throughout the US. In this project, Northeast member Cruzilious supported their mentor a.t. in sharing this story. Meet a.t.!
*Special thanks to a.t. for sitting down and taking the time to dig deep and answer these questions. When talking, a.t. mentioned that doing so may even be healing in a way to answer them, I hope they were!
TRUTH is dedicated to storytelling from other trans youth, however the purpose of this interview was to showcase that even people who were once our age still stay connected with youth in this work, even unexpectedly. Whether you plan to work with youth as you age or need some direction/advice in organizing, I’m sure there are multiple things to learn from in a.t.’s wisdom! Much love + appreciation to you a.t. -Cruzilious
What is your name, where are you located, what you do, hobbies, any fun stuff to include, etc.?
My name is a.t., I’m from San Diego, CA and currently live in New York City. I love plants, flower arranging, decorating, Harry Potter, our bunny Mina, and sports.
When did you first begin organizing and why?
I started organizing when I was a teenager with my church. I left as I started to learn more about colonization and how I was participating in it through “missionary work”. While I am no longer part of a Christian church and have returned to my family’s Buddhist Temple, I do believe there are people of Christian faith who practice without oppressing others. I also learned a great deal on community organizing and care, I just prefer the secular practice.
Later, when I finally gave myself permission to explore my identities, I started organizing in LGBTQIA+ spaces. I was looking for community and looking to continue to serve the people. Moving around protests, learning from elders and peers, I was drawn back to working with youth. In 2015, a number of incidences happened that changed my trajectory to focusing on supporting LGBTQIA+ youth full time. An important part of the work I am involved in is supporting youth as solidarity work. As adults in this work, it is important to not only center youth voices, but let them lead in our movements and follow through with our commitments to them. They are not to be tokenized but valued as sacred members of our community.
What organizing work are you doing now? Is there an organization you work for now too?
I am currently managing national day of action campaigns like “Day of Silence” and curating GSA resources with students. I also do a lot of advocacy work with other adults. I currently work at GLSEN, which is a national organization that focuses on supporting LGBTQIA+ inclusive schools K-12. My roll is overseeing Youth Programs.
How is the work different now from when you first started the work as a youth?
Well I mean the context is pretty different lol. Also, when I first started organizing, I had so much faith and trust in the leaders that when they messed up, I was crushed and felt betrayed. I have had to invest a lot in what accountability looks like and that leaders are most definitely not absolved from accountability. The other thing that had a significant impact, was that I had the power to hold them accountable too. I’ve been studying and practicing Transformative Justice as a necessity in this work that focuses on transformation when harm has been committed instead of punishment and expulsion. This has been the biggest difference in my work in organizing.
As far as the LGBTQIA+ “movement”, sure there have been a lot of victories in policy changes within some states and more youth are “coming out”, but that does not mean things are necessarily “better” for everyone. While there are some safer spaces for some youth, we also know that classism, racism, abilism, xenophobia etc have tremendous impact on students that have many of these identities.
What advice do you have for young organizers? The difficulties, expectations, what to watch out for, self-care?
Take the wins as they come! As we continue to unpack the ways systemic oppression has robbed us of joy, safety, identity, connectedness with the Earth and each other, each reclamation is a win! Bask in that, take that moment of shutting down the oppressor (in whatever form it has shown up) and saying yes to you, yes to your people, yes to your spaces. Also, if you need to take some space from yourself away from organizing to rejuvenate and heal, it is imperative that you do this. The work will still be here, take care of yourself because it is easier to throw yourself into this work to avoid whatever it is you know you should be doing for you.
When did you first begin working with youth in particular? Did you always want to work with youth?
I worked with youth when I was organizing with my church at 16 until I was 20. I also started coaching Track and Field for about 8 years and worked with LGBTQIA+ youth for about 8. Most of this has been through volunteering. Most of these periods of different types of youth work overlapped. I did not think working with youth would be my main focus until about 6 years ago when I realized there has never been a year in my life that I was not working with youth. Huh, guess that means something? haha.
What are some of the difficulties you’ve encountered working with youth as an organizer?
Oof, SO many learning opportunities for me. 🙂 I think not taking things personally when a youth would go off on me about something else that was hurting them. It is not about me, this work is not about me. I also believe in holding the space for youth to find their voices in a safer way that does not punish them for speaking their truth. That said, I tend to absorb the brunt of whoever or whatever it is they are actually going off on. But the win in this is we get to talk about boundaries and effective communication. Boundaries are a form of respect and we value each other as people!
The hardest part, is seeing a youth suffering and not having the resources they need in that moment. Yes, hands down the most difficult. Like it gets me angry thinking about it. Our youth deserve better!
What’s the best part about working with youth?
Ugh, they’re so brilliant and powerful! Watching a youth come into their power (whatever that looks like for them) is the most beautiful thing I have witnessed in my life. BRB, going to go cry sweet tears now.
How has working with youth reflected in your narrative? Has it changed anything you wanted to do in life, future plans, etc.?
Working with youth literally changed my life! I was planning to working in academia, specifically on queer and trans Asian and Pacific Islander history in the U.S. that changed after multiple crisiss in 2015. I have never regretted this change and focus, there is so much work to be done! I will continue to do this work for as long as I am needed, contributing in a healthy and liberating way. I am not sure where or what they would look like but I am also ok with that. The movement will continue to grow and bend and I want to reflect this movement in my own work.
What can you say or what advice do you have for youth who want to work with youth when they’re older?
Do it! I hope my job is taken by youth I worked with! What a dream 🙂 My advice is to get involved in local grassroots organizing. Know your intimate community, find ways to make it accessible if you are able bodied. Practice accountability, figure out what it means to you and to others and build! If you are a youth, I would also suggest taking at least a year off from youth organizing spaces. I encourage you to experience other spaces and learn, collaborate and work in solidarity with other communities. Or take a year off and focus on healing, growing, connecting to your identities in community with other folks on the same path. If you can find a mentor, even better!