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Gender Diaries: Steven & Erik

As the world continues to push against gender constructs, the conversation around how people are identifying themselves is constantly evolving. Each week, MILK.XYZ will feature a guest editor writing about their specific relationship with gender and, often, where it intersects with fashion. This week, we feature Steven and Erik, who host the podcast To the Stove and Back.

Steven: Hello. Hey Erik.

Erik: Hey Steven.

Steven: Yeah, so we’re doing this thing for Milk. We’re gonna be a part of the Gender Diaries collection and we basically wanted to do a transcript because I thought it was the best way for us to have both of our voices in this.

Erik: It’s fitting too, because the podcast you know?

Steven: Yeah.

Erik: We have a conversational relationship to media.

Steven: So the first question we came up with was, “When was the first time we questioned gender?” Do you wanna go first?

Erik: Sure, yeah. I always remember when I was younger only thinking in terms of binary of like, I must be gay because I’m not straight. I was probably 21 or 22 years old, and Servio, my cousin, asked me, “Have you heard of genderqueer?” I was like, “No what is that?” and he was like, “You basically don’t identify as the gender you were assigned. Like in your case we considered you a boy and you wouldn’t be that.” And a lot of shit just clicked. So yeah, that was my experience. It all clicked from there. From then on, having that thought stripped down, really opened a lot of other doors and made me question a lot that was going on in my life.

Steven: Yeah. I think same for me in terms of not being really able to conceptualize what gender meant for myself until I was older. I thought of it too as binaries when I was a kid, and like juts because I couldn’t participate in overtly masculine stuff. Like my parents were afraid that I was gonna turn out to be gay.

Erik: Same experience.

Steven: And obviously some internalized homophobia went with that. But yeah, it wasn’t until I gained the knowledge to engage in certain types of dialogue, like in college and meeting other queer folks, and having conversations about what that meant, was when I really started to question gender in my life and what that meant for me.

Erik: Can I ask the next one?

Steven: Yeah!

Erik: I think I remember it. When was the first time you recognized gender nonconformity in me? Should we talk about how long we’ve been friends on top of that?

Steven: Yeah.

Erik: I’ve known you for like five years now right? Around there?

Steven: Yeah!

Erik: That’s insane!

Steven: I know. So I’ve known you for like five years and yeah when we met I think we always were kinda drawn to each other as friends.

Erik: Yeah for sure. I was like, ‘This guy’s like me.”

Steven: [Laughs] And I think I really identified with Erik in a lot of ways as far as like feeling outside of their body like pretty immediately I think when we met. It’s been really great and wonderful to see how you’ve been able to grow into yourself and how you’ve been able to have conversation about this now, in a way that we weren’t able to when we first met.

Erik: Yeah I remember being super candid with you one day. You were like, “How are things?” and I was like, Steven’s on the real and I was like, “Not good man. I’m not feeling good about myself as a person,” and you were like right there with me. You were like, “Yeah, me neither sometimes.”

Steven: Yeah I think that came pretty immediately too, once we both understood how to have that conversation and how to talk about ourselves in a different way I think that was when you talked to me about it.

Erik: Did we have an actual conversation?

Steven: Yeah, definitely. It was like before we had even moved in together.

Erik: Really? What did I say? Because I remember you were with me when I told Isaac, but I don’t remember telling you. Do you remember the day?

Steven: I don’t remember the day but we had had a similar conversation before that conversation with Isaac. We were in a car.

Erik: Wow, I don’t remember.

Steven: Yeah, maybe we were outside a Taco Bell.

Erik: Most likely.

[Both Laugh]

Steven: When was the first time you recognized any sort of gender queerness in me?

Erik: I think same, I think seeing myself within you and like being drawn to you and wanting to have a friendship was like immediate. I was like Steven and I have a lot in common and I don’t know what that means and I’ve had that with other people and then they would come out to me and I was like, “Oh maybe that’s what it was.” But I think honestly the first time I thought about you outside of masculinity was seeing a photo shoot you did with Georden and Kendal. I mean at first I took it as like oh okay, Steven’s not afraid to experiment and perform but then a part of me was like I think this may have been more of a step for Steven. I think I was at New Orleans at the time and saw it on Facebook, and we hadn’t even spoken and I was like “Oh shit, good for you.” I was really happy for you. This is fucking cool.

Steven: Thank you.

Erik: Your hair looked dope too.

Steven: Yo, Po did my hair for that shoot and Po also did my hair for the shoot that we just did for this. Shoutout to Po. But yeah, getting into the last question, being raised as men in a Latino machismo kind of environment, how has masculinity, or machismo, affected our relationship to each other and, if you want to get into it, to other people?

Erik: I think for the longest time, masculinity was something I could never measure up to or felt comfortable in. Which was really a hard thing to deal with because I think I had a similar experience to you, that you had mentioned like feeling, I guess, judged by family and whatnot. Especially with my relationship to my father because I had cousins who like, I mean as adults right now they like run junkyards and stuff. I mean they’re like men. Not that they don’t have emotions but like they’re stereotypical masculinity. So yeah, I think having that be my initial relationship to masculinity has definitely made me weary of my relationships to men in general. That, and my mother is a victim’s services advocate for the state so you know nothing but horror stories about sexual violence that men commit. So yeah, I think it inhibits me in a lot of ways and it’s something that I spent a lot of time interrogating within myself you know and I think finally identifying as completely not that, I think I tried to salvage it within myself. To not abandon it, to feel as though like maybe, because it doesn’t matter if it’s up to us as  people to fix these roles you know, but whether or not these roles are kind of static or true. I think culturally we find ourselves falling in line sometimes. So I think for me, I just realized it just wasn’t who I was, and I think I wasn’t abandoning it, it just was never for me. Like it’s just not who I am, you know, and that’s been something I’ve come to terms with recently.

Steven: Yeah, I think masculinity is something that I’m just always grappling with and trying to restructure my idea of what it could mean. Specifically I think of my relationship with my little brother and it’s a very important relationship to me. He very much identifies in a masculine way, so my interests primarily right now in redefining masculinity is for, you know, kids who do align with that but really doing it in a way that’s different from the norms of what patriarchy and masculinity have–and thinking specifically what toxic masculinity and machismo have made kids and young men experience. As far as my relationship to masculinity and how that has affected our relationship I think is really interesting because when we first met we identified each other as men because that’s what we’ve been taught to do but I think it’s been a very beautiful journey that our relationship has taken in terms as me seeing you as a woman.

Erik: Yeah.

Steven: And basically trying to completely disassociate ‘manliness’ from you regardless of how you’re presenting, you know?

Erik: Yeah, it’s definitely been a journey. I think I’ve said it before where you know, our relationship was one of the very few tender sights of masculinity where I think even with you in a positive way I allow myself to have or sit-in masculinity. But I think it’s like within a safe kind of loving space because you know, I don’t think–I feel like this is controversial–there’s nothing inherently wrong with masculinity. I think it’s toxic masculinity but yeah I think our relationship, like you said, has definitely thrived in like kind of shedding those things but also still allowing ourselves that camaraderie because like you said it’s gender but also culture.

Steven: Yeah, and I think there’s this inherent fear in being emotional and being okay with spreading that and it’s been something that I think it’s taken me awhile to overcome but I think I’ve finally reached a place where it’s been okay to be emotional and still have masculine traits or have masculine tendencies. I think it’s something that men fear is this being emasculated in some way. That emotions do that to you, when that isn’t the case at all.

Erik: Yeah, you’re definitely like cutting yourself off from deep parts of yourself if you do that. I think it comes up here and there because I think we do have culturally, the machismo thing, I think you and me are like–we’re homies you know? So like that’s what I mean it’s like within a safe space but I definitely think about it sometimes because like you said, I appreciate that you try to disassociate those traits that I don’t identify with, but at times I definitely feel, you know, they just come up because that’s like who we are as people and that’s not wrong necessarily.

Steven: Exactly.

Erik: So yeah, it’s very interesting to to have that dynamic, and that’s why I appreciate our relationship too because you’re also Latinx, you know?

Steven: Yeah.

Erik: So we like–it’s complicated and we weave through different identities together and like, that’s something that I really appreciate and really gives me insight into myself and my relationships to other people and what they could look like and how you and me solve problems between each other you know? Like in trying to communicate those things.

Steven: Yeah, I think it’s something I’m still grappling with, within myself as far as letting masculinity control my relationships to people but it’s been such a positive experience having a relationship with you that I think transcends all of that and it’s really quite aa wonderful privilege to have this friendship and I think to be able to have the dialogue that we have and the camaraderie that we have. We can talk about anything and everything and still have this love for each other that transcends all of the gender roles and dynamics.

Erik: Yeah, for sure.

Steven: But. Yeah. I guess that’s it.

Erik: Yeah, I’m super grateful. We really lucked out, yo.

Steven: Yeah we did.

Images courtesy of Georden West

Stay tuned to Milk for more Gender Diaries and see our previous installments here.

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