Kyira: “What is it about this movement that made you decide that you wanted to sign up or that this was something you needed to be a part of?”

Sawyer: “Yeah, so I think right now I’ve been in this, this healing stage. And I’m like finally coming to the end of that stage. And it’s like a, it’s a perpetual stage where it’s a lifelong thing, but I went through this really difficult, challenging year or two, long healing phase. And I’m at the end of it where, like, things are really like golden again and really beautiful. Um, so I would’ve never done something like this a year or two ago, and this is like a celebration for me – a celebration of getting like, ‘Oh, I’m happy again!’ You know, and getting to visibly do that and do something big to celebrate that.”

Kyira: “Yeah. And how cool to do that in a way that you are now also connecting with so many other people – at different points, too, at where they’re at in their journeys and celebrating the next steps everyone’s taking.”

Sawyer: “Yeah. Yeah, and I really want to be available to people as, like, a visual sign of like, ‘You can be happy, too. You can share experiences that I’ve had, and you can be happy.’”

Kyira: “Yeah. So how do you think, you know, so the question always talks about culture. But I think culture means something different to everybody. So whether it’s like the family you grew up in, the neighborhood or community you were in, being in Madison, being within whatever identity groups are important. How do you feel like these identities and cultures have really impacted you and your ability to feel beautiful in your skin?”

Sawyer: “I think it’s been a point of conversation, like ugliness vs. beauty in my life. And I think about like, um, so I identify as trans and I primarily date women. I think about when I first was coming out in high school, I would tell people that I was interested in women. I didn’t necessarily come out as trans, but people would always like be shocked and that would be their thing, ‘But you have like this beautiful hair. Like you’re stunning. I can’t believe it. Like you’re so pretty.’ And it was like almost a point of pride for me that, like, ‘Yeah, I’m gay and I’m beautiful.’ And when I, when I wanted to cut my hair for the first time, like I built up this courage to do it and I really wanted to do it, and I cried. Like I cut it all off, I went to this short pixie, and I went back to my car and I looked in the mirror and I sobbed. Because I was like, ‘I’m ugly now.’ Yeah, and what does that mean? Like suddenly I’m fitting this stereotype.”

Kyira: “Right.”

Sawyer: “And the challenge there is, of course, you can never get away from that. Because either you’re like, either you’re playing into the stereotype or you’re obsessing about not playing into the stereotype. So either way, you’re being is revolving around that stereotype.”

Kyira: “Yeah.”

Sawyer: “So, it’s caging that you have to constantly be adhering to that. Um, and I think that’s what made coming out as trans really challenging for me, in that, like, I spent a lot of time around other trans people, I celebrated their beings and their lives. But I had this obsession about being pretty and, like, because being pretty is being seen as worthy, and I wanted to be worthy. So I couldn’t come to terms with something that I knew would make me happier, because I would rather be seen as worthy than happy.”

Kyira: “Wow. I’m very stuck on the, well, I don’t know that you were saying it as a metaphor, but it’s very – it cages you in. And I’m just like, I’m imagining the feeling is almost like, I don’t know, like claustrophobic feeling – for each of us in different ways that happens – but what that must have been like for you, especially at such a young age to have experienced that and to feel such a heavy burden and load that wasn’t yours to carry. And the deepest desire was just to be connected and feel worthy enough of being loved and connected to others.”

Sawyer: “And to take on the burden of being a performance.”

Kyira: “Yeah!”

Sawyer: “Like not to do anything I loved or not to celebrate this body that I’ll always be with …”

Kyira: “Right.”

Sawyer: “But to be like on a stage perpetually.”

Kyira: “Yeah. And so when you talked in the beginning about, you know, this piece of like healing and celebration, how do you see yourself relating to that stage now? Is that still something you still have to perform a lot on, or not as much?”

Sawyer: “Not as much. I think there’s like the old whispers. And I think that’s something that, like, nobody ever gets away from fully.”

Kyira: “Yeah.”

Sawyer: “But I think they’re a lot quieter. And I’m really happy about that. And like I’m pursuing transition right now. And I couldn’t do it for the longest time because I wanted to be worthy and I wanted people to see me as not a ‘freak,’ you know.”

Kyira: “Wow.”

Cindy (Another Warrior): “There’s a lot of powerful words. Like how we, when we say, ‘How can you be gay? Because you’re pretty.’ And I’m like, why are they mutually exclusive and why …”

Kyira: “Right.”

Cindy: “And we say these things and they’re hurtful, and we don’t even know they’re hurtful because we just say these things that have become ingrained. Like, ‘Well, you can’t be gay and pretty.’ And I think that’s so sad. That’s so sad for any person that would want to come out but they don’t feel like they can because then they can’t be pretty.”

Kyira: “And that transitioning would make you, quote, then turning into a ‘freak.’ And the fact that that is a perpetuated fear and that’s that piece of, like, how do we create a society that’s safe for everybody to be whoever they are. Because it’s ultimately – it needs to be as important as it is for that person. But it doesn’t need to be the only way that we define it for them. Does that make sense? Like however that fits into who we are, those different components of our identity, we decide how powerful that is and how much it stays at our forefront, we don’t need to define everybody else by it. So what would you say has been the hardest part of that and of moving away from – I’m using the term you used now – the whispers? Because we hear those, and our past and what kind of plays into those, what’s been the hardest part for you in moving away from some of those things and making these decision for yourself?”

Sawyer: “Um, I think a transition towards self-compassion has been monumental for me. And it’s something I never really thought about. I spent a lot of time in communities where, like, they harped on self-esteem. Like thinking, ‘I’m great, I’m amazing.’ … But I could never fully internalize that. Like I would say these things or even do like self-affirmations in front of a mirror, but it never resonated, it never – I didn’t feel it in my gut. But what I could feel in my gut when I started thinking about self-compassion was like, a lot of other people feel this. And I have a place in that family of people who struggle with this as well. And, like, I can be gentle with myself and gentle with my body and view my body as my lifelong companion and lifelong friend. And I think like starting to find things that made me feel genuinely that it was my lifelong friend and my home. Like getting tattoos is really big for me, because it’s like, I heard it compared once to painting the walls of your house. It’s like putting up pictures of your family. It’s, whatever it is, it’s claiming that space and making it feel warm and safe.”

Kyira: “Yeah.”

Sawyer: “Or, like, I swim and I see what it does to my shoulders. And it makes me feel amazing! (Laughing.)”

Kyira: “Well, and I think what you just said really pulled me back to someone else I talked to that’s a dancer. And she went through a lot of periods of times of getting to the point where she was really loving and accepting of her body. Um, and she talked about her body being, again, like her friend and her companion. And she was like, ‘I couldn’t have done these things or learned what I learned about myself without this body. And I could spend so much time hating it, and it’s worked for me for a period of time, but at some point it’s gonna limit me from being able to go to these other places that I wanna go to, physically and metaphorically. Because I’m hating something that is my companion in getting me there, and it’s my vehicle and my vessel.’ So you saying that really brings that up for me to, of, it is that piece of, like, we are with this body no matter how we evolve it and change it with tattoos and making it feel safe and making it feel whatever we need to, we are within this body. And we have to find a way to love it and make it our own in a way that can feel good for us.”

Sawyer: “Mm, hmm.”

Kyira: “So what piece of advice, next time the whispers start to become a little louder, or even screams, what do you want to hold on to?”

Sawyer: “In an odd reversal, sometimes it’s helpful for me to not strive to reclaim what has been defined as ‘beauty,’ but rather to be OK with being ugly, or what society would describe as ‘ugly.’ So, like, I know I’m beautiful by my own standards and by friends’ standards, um, but to be OK with like, by society’s standards, being kind of disjointed or like, ‘I shouldn’t have short hair. I shouldn’t be trans. I shouldn’t – whatever.’ And, like, that so-called ‘ugliness’ has permitted me a sense of community and it’s permitted a lot of courage and strength and I’m grateful to be ‘ugly,’ you know.”

Kyira: “Yeah, which is cool cuz, like, in a sense you’re reclaiming the word ‘beauty’ so that it can include this possibility of – or, like, almost making ‘ugly’ not a bad thing. That if, like you’re gonna define ‘beauty’ as this, then I’m gonna embrace what you’re saying everything else is, and that is my beauty by my own standards cuz I choose that.”

Sawyer: “Mm, hmm.”

Kyira: “So in what ways have you or will you take steps to really nurture those growth points that you’ve made and the next steps you’re going to take in your journeys as you move through the world?”

Sawyer: “I think I wanna pursue more joy in movement. Like exercise gets painted like this, ‘Oh, I have to go to the gym and I don’t want to, I’m gonna be on this treadmill for like 45 minutes and I hate it.’ So I’m a big believer in find ways to move your body that feel good and feel joyful. So like I don’t wanna be stuck on a treadmill. I don’t like being on a treadmill. But I like swimming and I like biking. And I’m gonna move my body in a way that makes me feel connected to it, makes me feel real, makes me feel like I’m in my body, um, and that my body can do incredible things and take me to incredible places. So I’m gonna keep chasing that feeling cuz when you get that feeling, it’s like a glowing expanding, like it feels incredible. So I’m gonna chase that.”

Kyira: “Yeah! There have been several nuggets that you have said that I’m gonna like use in future things – like ‘joyful movement’ and ‘caged in.’ (Laughing.) It’s very much explaining things that I think a lot of people have talked about in interviews, that like it’s really – the language that you’re using is really fitting for some of those things. And I think there’s a unity in that, too, if we can adopt something similar, like what does that mean for us? And so I appreciate the – is ‘linguistics’ the right word?”

Sawyer: “Probably (laughing.) …”

Kyira: “Thank you so much for sharing that and for sharing so much of your story with us.”

Sawyer: “Absolutely. Thank you for making this space possible.”