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ARTS Interview: Embracing A Creative Career and Gender Transition

ARTS Interview: Embracing A Creative Career and Gender Transition

This interview has been edited for clarity.

YUNZHE

Hello, Marty, welcome to the ARTS podcast.

MARTY

Hello. It’s so great to be here. Thanks for having me.

YUNZHE

Yeah. We were just catching up a little bit before we started talking, and we were saying how it’s been about three years. This is our first time reconnecting since then, which is super exciting. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and what career you were in, and what you’re up to now in terms of being even more unconventional?

MARTY

Back in 2018 — which, mentally, I am low-key still in — I moved across the country to the Bay Area to pursue a career in software engineering. I thought that coding was my dream job, that it was absolutely what I wanted to do. 

My parents actually never pushed me to do this. I was really self-motivated. Working in Silicon Valley was literally the only thing that was on my mind: goals, goals, just getting there and being this person and doing this work.

Two weeks after I graduated college, I moved to California to work at a startup. Silicon Valley culture tends to be very intense to the uninitiated; it can be really overwhelming, even if you’re expecting such a thing. I was the only junior engineer at this company, and I was expected to do senior engineer level work. Obviously, that didn’t pan out very well. I got burnt out at work, and with Silicon Valley in general.

To get me out of this rut, I turned to the things I always loved before, which was storytelling and art and photography. Basically, I replaced those old goals with new ones. Now, I am mostly focused on creative writing and taking pictures to go with those stories.

YUNZHE

You described yourself as a writer and photographer who tells unconventional stories. What kind of stories do you tell?

MARTY

All of my stories are set in the same universe, where homophobia and transphobia just don’t exist. It is and always has been fine to be who you are, to love whom you do. I focus on femmes, women-loving-women, and men who reject stereotypical masculinity. There aren’t a lot of love stories, but if there is any sort of partnership going on, it’s usually between two women or two femmes.

That being said, I love writing about horrible people — liars, scammers, cheaters, so on and so forth. I like to center people we don’t normally see in the center of society. What would it be like if they were always allowed to be there? I think that everyone should be given an equal opportunity to be horrible and human, just like any white cis dude.

YUNZHE

I was actually looking at your Instagram and I saw this section that I was intrigued by. It was titled Scammer. I clicked on it, and apparently that’s one of the books. Is that also one of the books that you’re writing that you were just describing?

MARTY

Yes. Scammer is a book about a girl who goes to Silicon Valley. She’s always wanted to be famous and she becomes an Instagram influencer and kind of falls into this circle of founders and becomes one of them. And it shows how this pursuit of fame and ambition kind of leads her down the wrong path.

YUNZHE

Going back to delving into the past: you mentioned to me that you had a post-undergrad existential crisis, which I think we all have at certain points. I’m so curious to hear about yours. How did you realize that you had to do your own thing?

MARTY

When I was going through the existential crisis, I was already thinking about how I could write things down and make it into this whole story. But everything felt so incomplete, so I stopped trying. Two years later, I realized that being obsessed with productivity and success wasn’t the whole story.

To be more concrete, I was already interested in writing. At the same time, I was into software engineering and I wrote a series of essays about my post-grad existential crisis, about kind of, you know, “oh, I’m having all these panic attacks at work. I’m not really enjoying myself at all. I’m becoming really burnt out.” But a crucial piece of that puzzle that I didn’t realize at the time was how many gender identity issues I was having.

Those didn’t really come to mind until about a year later, when I realized that my gender identity issues were that final piece. Because a big reason why I was going so hard on the STEM career and ignoring my artsy side was because I thought that writing and art were too girly — that if I pursued them seriously, no one was going to see me as a man.

YUNZHE

Oh, interesting.

MARTY

Yeah. I knew I was unhappy with the career path I was taking, and I knew what would make me happy, but I was refusing to let myself take that path because of these gender identity issues that were standing in the way. Once I came out and once I went through it a little bit more, I was able to accept that my interests don’t make me a man or a woman. It’s just me. And those things are separate. After that, I felt very free to admit everything that had been going on. From there, I was able to fully go through it.

YUNZHE

This is all in hindsight, right?

MARTY

Yeah.

YUNZHE

In the moment, you didn’t realize that you were doing all these quote-unquote “more manly” things to overcompensate for that feeling?

MARTY

Yes.

YUNZHE

Gotcha. What you mentioned earlier about the productivity part is super interesting, because it’s definitely more of a masculine energy. And when we met, I was actually more of a productivity coach. We made action plans and all that stuff. So it’s really interesting to see how we have evolved over time as well, because I think back then I was also trying to prove something. I felt like I wasn’t doing enough. So I would also drive myself down to burnout and was just really optimizing the productivity part because I attached so much of my identity to accomplishments.

MARTY

Yeah, and so did I. What’s really interesting now is that I’m still super obsessed with productivity, but for totally different reasons. Now, it’s because I realized that I have all these stories I want to tell, all of these pictures I want to take. There’s so many ideas that I have, all the time, just crashing around in my brain, demanding to be let out. And I’m mortal and I can’t, you know … I have a finite amount of years left to be alive.

I don’t know if all of these ideas will get out in the right way at the right time. That’s what drives me now to be quote-unquote “productive.” But I also have to keep in mind that resting is super important, because the stories could just go away and die on me if I don’t rest. So it’s a little more holistic and a little more healthy, I think.

YUNZHE

Right now, you’re creating for the sake of expressing yourself, versus creating for the sake of proving something.

MARTY

Yeah, exactly.

YUNZHE

How did you realize that you’re an artist? I thought that it was so interesting where you wrote this, because to me it feels like, of course you are one. So tell me a little bit about that, and also what made you decide to pursue art seriously.

MARTY

Do you remember when we first started talking, and you were saying there’s all these projects that you could be doing — these one-month projects — and then you were suggesting that maybe I could write this thing, or maybe I could draw this thing? And I was saying, “no, no, I’m gonna code up this thing, I want to do 30 days of LeetCode.”

YUNZHE

[Laughs]

MARTY

At the end you would say “so how did this month go?” And I would say “Well, I absolutely did nothing, because I feel like doing it.” You know? It was pretty obvious to me — and it was obvious to me that it was obvious to you — that I was not doing the right thing and taking the right projects. That actually got me thinking that maybe there are things that I should be pursuing that I’m not letting myself pursue. I started asking myself: What am I doing when I totally just want to relax? Where does my mind go? Does it go to — I’m not saying that software engineering isn’t interesting, because I still really enjoy that part.

But I thought … “Does it go there when you’re just in bed, I don’t know, smoking a blunt and just chilling out? Is that where your mind goes? No, Marty, that’s not what your fucking mind goes.” That’s not where my mind was going. My mind was going to all these books I’d read during childhood, these kids going through these magical worlds and finding things, and there are no weird ass expectations that they’re expected to adhere to, and they could be themselves. It was going to colorful dresses, and fashion, and these cool animal fables that I had always loved.

Once I started exploring that, it still took me a really long time to accept that that was what I liked. I started journaling more. It’s really interesting looking back at these journals, because in the ones where I’m first starting to explore art, the entries go something along the lines of “Today, I will allow myself to take pictures for thirty minutes because it’s my break time.”

YUNZHE

Oh my goodness.

MARTY

I was so attached to this idea of me being this very efficient, rational, whatever the fuck you want to call it. You know, one of those typical Silicon Valley bros. I was trying to make it seem as though art was less than a side hustle to me. That it was something that I just pursued when I had a little bit of extra time.

YUNZHE

It’s kind of, like, “today I will let myself enjoy thirty minutes,” and that’s only thirty minutes.

MARTY

“And we’re just going to be miserable and pretend that we’re having fun for the rest of the twenty three hours and thirty minutes that we exist.”

I guess my artistic side was more demanding than I thought it would be, and I would find myself just taking whole days to make art. And I wasn’t letting myself admit that I liked that either. Eventually, I guess I just sat myself down and said, “Dude, you know what you’re doing to yourself, right? Because this is actually what you like. You could just admit to yourself that you just like fluffy dresses and reading and writing and art, and, I don’t know, practicing your signature in cursive and bunny motifs and shit like that.”

Then another part of me said, “Well, I don’t want to admit that.”

And then the first part of me said, “Why not?”

The other part said, “Well, because they’re so girly, you know, I don’t want people to see me as a weak little girl. These are weak little girl things.”

The first part of me said, “Well, you know, there are guys who like this kind of thing. What if you just happen to be one? What if … just because you like these things and just because you like wearing dresses doesn’t make you not a dude? You have all these trans friends, you know, and they’ve been telling you things! Maybe it’s time for you to listen and just admit to yourself what you’ve always known all along.”

That’s when I simultaneously realized I was an artist and that I was trans.

YUNZHE

Was this more of a journey, or did you have an “aha” moment?

MARTY

Looking back, it felt like a journey that I didn’t want to go on that led up to an “aha” moment. In the moment, it felt like an “aha.”

YUNZHE

I’m curious what the inspiration for you to be writing so much was.

MARTY

When I was a kid, I loved reading and writing, and I was that kid who never liked going to recess and playing with people. I would go to the library and sit my ass down and read two entire books. By the end of the week, I’d read an entire section of the bookshelf. That kind of person. Then I would take all these notebooks and write these stories.

I was not popular in elementary school by far. School counselors were concerned about the lack of friends I had. But whenever I wrote stories, people would literally try to hack into my locker to grab them so they could keep reading them. And these were people I wasn’t friends with.

YUNZHE

Oh, wow.

MARTY

I kind of just realized that this has always been something I’ve loved doing, and it’s not even something I’m doing for other people. I never wanted people to read these stories when I was a kid. I locked them in my locker. So if it’s something that I love and it’s something other people love … I mean, why not just do it?

YUNZHE

You decided to not turn your art into a business, like doing that full time. What was your decision-making process there, in terms of deciding to have a day job that supports your art versus going full time on it?

MARTY

I have had a few friends who are artists who have decided to go full time with their jobs. They very candidly told me that once you make something your full time job, it is a Job, and there are things that you will have to do that you don’t necessarily want to just to keep the money rolling in.

I thought, “Okay, I can see that.” I could see, for example, if I were to sell my stories to magazines, they would say “You have too many queer stories. Make one of these characters a man.” Or something like that. And I’d probably have to do it just to get the money that they were offering me.

There was one friend of mine who was writing a personal essay about something that she was going through, and she was writing the truth about everything. But this magazine told her that they weren’t going to accept it unless she changed the ending into something more positive. And so, at least for the creative writing part, I decided that I don’t really want to sacrifice anything there. I want full creative control over everything.

Then I decided that if I wanted to go into business for myself, there could something else I could do. Maybe I could take pictures from other people, I could write their ad copy for them or whatever. But I landed a pretty good job in tech that is very writing-focused, so I’m actually doing something I enjoy and getting money from that. With this job, I don’t need to worry about making rent while selling out the things that I believe in.

YUNZHE

When we finished coaching, you got a role as a technical writer at Google. Are you still doing similar things there?

MARTY

Yes. Right now, I still do technical writing at Google. I’m the only technical writer on my team, so I also get to have a lot of creative control there. So right now it feels really good to me to have to have this setup.

YUNZHE

That’s awesome. I also know you creatively write a lot. Tell us a little bit more about your publishing schedule and how you balance inspiration with consistently creating.

MARTY

I’ve admittedly been pretty bad about this recently. For example, I have a chapter of Scammer coming out every week, and I try really hard to stick to that schedule. But sometimes life gets in the way, and sometimes I skip a week. It makes me feel really bad to do that. 

On ideal weeks, or ideally speaking, I have this fifteen-minute writing session every day where I have to write something completely new that’s not something that I’m currently working on. That keeps the creative juices flowing. And I usually just use prompts for that. I also make sure that I have at least thirty minutes to work on a piece that I’m currently working on. I don’t always do the thirty-minute one, which is something I need to work on.

I made a pact with myself a few months ago that whatever inspiration strikes, I’m going to prioritize writing that inspiration down, even if it means that I have to be a little late to certain things or not do certain other things. I really want to make sure that I’m capturing that lightning in a bottle, so to speak.

YUNZHE

That reminds me a lot of one of my favorite books I read, which is called Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.

MARTY

Oh, yeah.

YUNZHE

She says that inspiration comes to all people, and it makes a home or a nest or whatever on the person who is open to it and who is able to nourish that seed of inspiration.

MARTY

I read Big Magic a few years ago and I loved it also. I think about what Elizabeth Gilbert said every time I get a new idea. I think that my flashes of inspiration is an idea saying “Marty, maybe you want to manifest me into reality.” Basically, I make it a point to say “yes” as much as possible.

YUNZHE

In these fifteen-minute writing sessions, what’s the purpose of that? Is it to get your juices flowing? What if you want to continue? What if you really get really into it? Then what happens?

MARTY

If I get really into it, I just keep going. I’ve actually had a lot of cool stories come out of the fifteen-minute writing sessions because they’re so in the moment. You  don’t really have a lot of time to be precious about anything. A lot of these tend to be really surreal. I pull random things out of my ass. As soon as I think of something, I just write it down, and the plot takes wacky turns and there’s super weird characters that almost always are not human beings.

It just really is just a lot of fun. I feel like a little kid throwing paint around on a wall when my parents are home.

YUNZHE

When do you usually schedule these writing sessions? Is it early in the morning or at the end of the workday?

MARTY

It depends on how my day looks. Basically, I just tell myself, “You always have fifteen minutes in a day that you can take out. You take fifteen minutes to take a shit, okay? You can take fifteen minutes to write some random story.”

For example, I’m actually moving next month to a different state. So today, besides this interview, I’m also just packing up all my stuff and getting it ready to go. I know that my mind is going to be focused on moving and packing all day, so I scheduled my writing session for the very end of the day right before bed. When it’s a more chill day, I know that I’m going to wake up full of ideas, so I’ll schedule the session for the first thing in the morning.

YUNZHE

That’s so good. It’s like scheduling according to your energy and also your creative energy.

MARTY

And trying not to be that person who says, “I have a schedule, so I must stick to this all the time,” because every day is different.

YUNZHE

What advice do you have for people who feel like it takes them a while to get into the mood of writing? For people whom fifteen minutes feels really short to because they’re just getting into it?

MARTY

Hmm. I would probably schedule those fifteen minutes right before a block of time where you don’t have anything else to do. So that you can afford to keep going and not feel bad.

YUNZHE

Yeah, that’s pretty good. What are your thoughts on writer’s block?

MARTY

I actually get writer’s block pretty often on stories that I realize I’m too precious about: you know, I want it to look a certain way and it has to be this way. And that’s why I can’t write it, because I don’t have the words for that. I can’t force myself to do that. So my cure for writer’s block is always just to write something completely random. I was having pretty bad writer’s block with Scammer, and I decided to just write a story where the main character just goes off on a random party vacation somewhere else and it’s just not related to the main plot at all.

That brought me back into her universe and made me reconnect with why I wanted to write the book in the first place. And then, because I had a chapter due, I just made it part of the book. [Laughs] And now it’s an integral part of the story!

YUNZHE

That’s fun. Super spontaneous. It sounds like perfectionism is a huge cause of writer’s block.

MARTY

Yeah. I think it’s such a blocker because you have this idea, and you just really want to realize it. But the process of realization is messy. If the first thing that you come up with isn’t perfect, then you tend to say “Oh, I can never do this,” and then you get discouraged.

YUNZHE

Is there anything else about your writing process, or your writings, and what you’re working on, that you want to share here before we move on to your gender transition?

MARTY

My writing is really image-focused. I think that if I don’t have a literal picture in my head about something, I can’t write it down. A lot of times, I’ll do a photoshoot before I write anything down. Or, if I have a story in my head during these fifteen-minute writing sessions, I try to take a picture for the story as soon as possible. To me, writing and photography are intricately linked and there are two parts of the same whole. A story needs both.

YUNZHE

Switching topics now — you mentioned earlier that pursuing your art seriously also led you and helped you to come out as a transgender man. Can you kind of talk about that journey more, especially since it’s not a very widely discussed topic in the Asian community? 

MARTY

I couldn’t pursue art seriously and I couldn’t let go of my previous somewhat toxic dreams until I realized what was driving them: gender dysphoria and gender identity issues. They were two halves of the same toxic beast. Until I came out, I just couldn’t let them go. And so a portion of my art now … one of my goals besides just writing fictional stories is telling my story about being a gender-nonconforming trans man through personal essays.

When I was in the closet, I wanted to see trans dudes who liked girly things, like me. I could never find anything. When I was eighteen — during my first year of college — I’d just come out as queer, and I was looking for queer stories, or women-loving-women stories. Every single one I found followed this formula of “If she wears a dress, then she must be super girly, and she wants someone to pursue her.”

I despise falling into any predefined narratives, people conforming to some set standard. That’s why I write a lot about my experiences, no matter how personal they are or how uncomfortable they make people. There’s no one “correct” way to be trans, and you can’t tell someone’s personality or identity just by looking at them. That’s the main message I want my art to convey.

On being trans and Asian — I’ve already had top surgery, and I was really on the fence about going on testosterone and fully passing as a cis man to strangers. One of the things that stopped me was how little respect Asian guys get in America. I come from a non-traditional Asian family — my family members have taken my transition in stride — but I didn’t know how I would feel being perceived as an Asian guy by others. There’s a lot of toxic masculinity in the Asian community, for sure, and I didn’t want to fall into any of that, and quite honestly, I’m still kind of working my way through how I feel about all of this. How do I want to tell my story? How do I want to be perceived?

YUNZHE

Right.

MARTY

I guess it’s more about my own comfort level, you know, do I really want to be perceived as a man in society, as an Asian man in society right now, because especially with all these hate crimes against Asians?

YUNZHE

Yeah.

MARTY

I haven’t worked out any of that at all.

YUNZHE

When people look at you now, like, do they see you as an Asian man, and are you being treated as an Asian man?

MARTY

Unless I’m wearing a dress, it could go either way. My voice is pretty androgynous and I tend to present fully masculine when it’s cold out. The other day I was going to the airport, and I called an Uber. The driver came out and insisted on helping me with putting my bags in the trunk because he said “I always help a woman with her bags.”

I said, “Oh, well, I’m not a woman, I’m a guy.” He looked at me, and I just happened to be dressed in all “male” clothing with no makeup on. And I have this mask covering half my face. My hair was up, and I was wearing this hoodie, and he goes “Oh, my bad, dude, I never knew. I’m so sorry.” And the whole time, he just absolutely thought I was a cis guy.

I was so euphoric. When people assume that I’m a cis guy, I feel very free. I feel really good. And I actually haven’t experienced a lot of or any anti-Asian hate towards me personally. I live in the South right now, so I feel pretty good about that. Just for me, though, I can’t speak for anyone else. And I never know what will happen in the future.

YUNZHE

Right. I saw pictures of your top surgery when you had it in December. That was a really huge moment. I remember reading the caption, too. You mentioned that you’ve waited nine years for that moment. That’s a really long time. So you’ve known for nine years?

MARTY

Well, I didn’t always know that I was trans, but I definitely hated having breasts, period. Always. I just remember … I think that this was early middle school, maybe late middle school. My mom said, “We’re going bra shopping.” Ever since that moment, I’ve hated absolutely anything having to do with my boobs whatsoever.

My friend was recently telling me that there are people with gaps in their vision who can’t see the distance between certain points. Their brain just kind of bleeps that empty distance out, and after a while, they have blind spots. If they can see really close and really far out, but not in the middle, and you hold up an object at the exact spot that they can’t see in, then they actually can’t see that object there. I was like that with my breasts, just because I hated them so much. I literally blocked them out with my mind. They gave me so much dysphoria, but I didn’t know that was what it was. After I got top surgery, I finally realized how long I’d been waiting for this, and how much I really needed it.

YUNZHE

In your writing, you also talk about body dysmorphia. Can you share a little bit about that for others who haven’t come across it before?

MARTY

By the time I was old enough to really take stock of the things that people were telling me, such as “oh, you have such a nice body, you should show it off more” … you know, my mom was saying that, and it was kind of weird — 

YUNZHE

It’s not very Asian mom of her.

MARTY

Exactly. She’s great, and I love how nontraditional she is, but she definitely would buy me all these tops that were super revealing. She would say “why aren’t you wearing them? Why don’t you like showing off this part of your body? You look so nice.” I would think “wow, this makes me feel horrible. I hate looking in the mirror. I just want to go home and change out of it as soon as possible. Cleavage is the devil.” All of these things. And I really didn’t know what to do, because I would look at the parts of my body others said I was so lucky to have, and want to get rid of them more than anything. They weren’t a part of me, in my mind. I didn’t want anything to do with them.

Whenever I read about other people’s body dysphoria now, it’s so relatable. How much they not only just hate their body, but also just how much they feel a distance from it. “This isn’t really me. I want to hide it away. I feel separate from my physical self.” That’s how I felt about it, before I got top surgery.

YUNZHE

I know you just recently got the top surgery. Are you complete with your gender transition, in terms of the physical stuff?

MARTY

I think that most trans guys don’t get bottom surgery. I’m not planning to do that myself. But I am on the fence about testosterone, not because I necessarily want to look like a cis man, but because I would love for my voice to just drop a little bit more, so that people would always unanimously think that I’m a dude on the phone. Whatever I explain this to cis people, they usually give me a look, like, “why does that matter to you at all?” But it does. It’s just one of those things I want to do.

YUNZHE

Yeah, that makes sense. Like now, when you look in the mirror, you can see that image of yourself that feels really aligned with what you want to see. And you also want other people to see you in the way that you want to be seen or heard.

MARTY

Absolutely.

YUNZHE

What are a couple things that you wish the community knew about transgender people or that you wish they knew when they interact with you?

MARTY

Personally, the thing that grates on me the most is just point-blank when people assume others’ genders. Maybe it’s because I have a lot of genderqueer friends and we all share this, you know, “why are you doing this again?” kind of moment. So generally, whenever there’s a person I don’t know, I use they/them pronouns to refer to them, period. And instead of saying “this man” or “this woman,” I say “this person.”

Instead of saying, “sir” or “ma’am,” I just say “excuse me.” “Excuse me, you left your wallet behind.” It’s kind of weird how you expect people to respond to certain honorifics. When you say “excuse me,” everybody turns around, and that’s really nice.

YUNZHE

I’m so glad you brought that up, because “sir” and “ma’am” are usually used when someone’s trying to be polite. So they could have good intentions, but then there’s that assumption going on.

MARTY

For a long time, I was thinking about what to use as an honorific instead of “sir” or “ma’am” because it is used to convey respect. “Excuse me” tends to work really well.

YUNZHE

You’ve been through a lot of transformations, both figuratively and physically. I’m curious where that confidence or courage comes from. What drives you to be able to live the life that you live now?

MARTY

Quite honestly, I think I just don’t really have a need to be liked very much. I do enjoy being liked, and it does feel really good to be liked, but I don’t think I really need it. 

I’m used to not being liked. When I was a kid, I had no friends and I had people shoving me into lockers, spitting my face, calling me a freak, calling me a tranny, calling me a lesbian all the time when I was a kid. I was just incessantly bullied when I was little. And I kind of found a way to insulate myself from that, because even when that was going on, it felt as though I was always sitting in my little cave with my book and my flashlight and it was warm inside. It was storming outside, but I didn’t give a fuck.

Now, whenever I run into situations that are reminiscent of those childhood moments, I still find that I have that inner cave that I can always just go into, where what others say or do doesn’t bother me.

YUNZHE

Sounds like you were able to build up strength from those interactions.

MARTY

Yeah, totally.

YUNZHE

This is a question I ask every guest on the podcast: Back in the day, what did success mean to you, and what does it mean to you now?

MARTY

My mom likes to say that before I went to college, I was sleeping and I never woke up, because I had no idea what I wanted to do. I didn’t really care about personal success at all. Then, the moment I went to college, all of that changed and I became a goal-oriented machine. In college, success to me meant a lot of status, a lot of money, a lot of respect from people. So, “Marty is a CEO at a successful company” was quote-unquote “more successful” than “Marty has written three books that he’s always wanted to write.”

Now, it’s the complete opposite. Back then, success was very external. Now, it’s very internal. I think that there’s no way to measure yourself against — that’s another thing. I was always measuring myself against other people, but I realize now that there’s no way you can do that. Now, to me, success means that I am doing everything I want to be doing, truly.

YUNZHE

That is so grounding and so great to hear, Marty.

MARTY

Yes, it’s taken me a long time to get here.

YUNZHE

The person you are now, I’m sure it takes a lot to get here, even if you’re just going through a career change. You’ve gone through a career change as well as a gender change, and there’s probably been a lot of ups and downs and doubt and uncertainty and unsureness that’s not present in the person that I’m talking to today.

MARTY

Oh, definitely, yeah. I will say that good friends and therapy helped me a lot.

YUNZHE

That was actually going to be my next question: what would you say is the one thing that has really helped you to get to this point?

MARTY

Two things: good friends and therapy. But I guess if you wanted to extrapolate from that, it’s been really honest with myself about who I was and kind of telling people about that.

YUNZHE

Can you elaborate a little bit more on that?

MARTY

There are a lot of things. It started with the whole “I’m an artist and I’m trans” thing. There are a lot of things I just needed to admit to myself. In the back of my head, they had always been there, and every time they’d come up, I would squash them down saying, “No, no, not right now, not ever. You’re going to go away and hopefully die if I push you down far enough.” Whenever these things popped up after I started being more honest with myself, it was really helpful for me to go to my therapist and say “Hey, this thing came up for me today.”

I realized that I, for example, have been really lonely all the time. I wanted to find friends who could relate to this feeling. Or I would say to the friends I already had, “Oh, I just realized … these gender things came up for me today. I want to experiment with this and this and this.”

Just finding people who are actually interested and are willing to listen was really important, because it made me feel as though the things I was saying had significance. It wasn’t just me talking to a wall.

YUNZHE

Was the therapist that you were seeing specialized in anything, or were they more of a general therapist?

MARTY

My therapist specialized in gender stuff. It was one of the things he listed on the website. I was looking specifically for a gender therapist, not only to talk through my issues — although that was important to me — but because I needed a letter for top surgery. So I needed someone who specialized in that.

YUNZHE

Oh, gosh. Okay, cool. That’s good to know. I think that being honest with ourselves is one of the most magical things that we can do, versus denying ourselves of these deeper truths. So I’m curious for you, since you’ve had experience with it for so many years — what’s that feeling like when you’re denying yourself and are not being honest with yourself, and what’s that feeling like when you are honest with yourself?

MARTY

When I’m not honest with myself, the world kind of just turns really gray. The less honest I am with myself, actually, the less I feel connected to reality. It feels as though I’m just dreaming and kind of walking through my life. I remember at my most dishonest — I think this was somewhere in the beginning of college, I would dissociate for whole days at a time. I would just go through the motions and then I would snap back and see reality.

At a certain point, I looked around my room and saw all the things I had been doing. I was really productive, but not in a good way. I would look through my LinkedIn. I would say, “What the fuck? Did I really do these things? I don’t remember this. I don’t remember at all.” Other people would tell me things I was doing. “Oh, you gave this speech,”  or “Oh, you wrote that thing.” And I wouldn’t remember it. It was as though someone else did it.

Being honest with myself, on the contrary, feels like having this dream in your head and making it into a reality. So it’s … how do I describe it? It feels like stepping into your destiny, almost. You are so grounded that everything feels real, and you feel everything, and you remember everything. It almost feels as though the entire world is coming together to help you along that path.

YUNZHE

That’s so good. What you describe to me — what I got from it — is that we’re not being honest with ourselves. It’s kind of like you’re sleeping, or you’re just going through the motions. And then when you are being honest with yourself, there’s that sense of aliveness going on.

MARTY

Exactly. Very eloquent.

YUNZHE

What you just just described, too, feels like living a really aligned life, right? What’s one piece of advice you would give for someone who wants to live a more aligned life as an artist? And what’s one piece of advice you would give to someone who has lots of doubts, or maybe struggles with their gender identity, and would love to live a more aligned life with how they truly see themselves?

MARTY

For both those things, the core of it is you’re going to have to be very honest with yourself and others. With that comes a lot of sacrifice, especially in personal relationships. There are going to be a lot of big life changes for either one. For example, just prioritizing your art if you have a partner who just really wants you to spend all of your time with them, or if you have a job that really demands a lot of your time, you have to really think to yourself: “If I want to prioritize my art, am I willing to take less time for these things I have previously thought as very important?”

With gender it’s similar, but it’s also “Am I ready for this kind of fight for the rest of my life?” Especially if you’re gender nonconforming. “Am I ready to sacrifice the kind of certainty that I have to live a more aligned life?” It’s always completely rewarding, but there are also so many challenges. And you have to be honest with yourself about the challenges as well.

YUNZHE

Lastly, what’s one small step that someone could take, if they are contemplating whether to go for that less conventional life?

MARTY

One of the small steps they could take is to get really aligned with exactly what they want, or maybe even just doing a little bit of … I guess if you’re still in that “rational” mindset, you call it future planning, strategizing. But I like to just call it daydreaming. Just get out your journal or whatever. You don’t even need to do that. I don’t know, get out your pen. Something that makes you comfortable and ready to be honest with yourself, and just kind of think: “If I were to do something I liked more, exactly how would I feel once I got there?”

YUNZHE

I love that you said, instead of “future planning,” which feels so heavy and meticulous, you said “daydreaming,” which just feels so nice and open, spacious, playful. And it’s like one of those things that’s like, “oh, yeah, it could be really nice if I did this,” which means that you really want to be able to do it. So that’s the direction that you can create into reality.

MARTY

Totally. And then while you’re doing that, things will come up, all these doubts and all these things, and you can just write those down and address them, too. So a big one for me, for example, was what I was thinking about my gender identity and using he/him pronouns. I was thinking, “This feels so good to have people validate this part of myself.” Then I would think “Oh, but what if a random stranger doesn’t know, and they call me the wrong pronoun? I’d feel really bad.”

Then I would say, “Well, in this situation, I would just go and journal or go on Reddit, or I’d rant to someone else about it, or I would just correct them. And it’s not really something that’s going to deter my day. Ultimately, at the end of the day, I still feel really way better using he/him pronouns. I feel aligned with who I am.”

YUNZHE

Yeah, it’s kind of like shedding light on that worst-case scenario. I also love going through scenarios in my head. I call it “self-coaching.” I love doing that in the mornings. Just like, “what if this doesn’t work out? What if this happens?” And I write down all the things I would do, and it’s like, “Okay, I’m totally fine. I’m good.”

MARTY

Yeah, exactly. I call these things “visions” and “anti-visions.” An anti-vision is something that you don’t want to happen, whereas a vision is something that you do.

YUNZHE

I love that. Thank you so much, Marty, for coming on today. I’m so grateful for you for sharing your story and highlighting the importance of being really honest. It’s just so amazing to see you really thriving right now, and I’m super glad that we got to connect after three years.

MARTY

Yeah, me too. Thank you so much for having me again. I really enjoyed this. ✦

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