Morgan Dean (they/them) on drinking water, touching plants, and dancing in the rain

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Morgan Dean on drinking water, touching plants, and dancing in the rain

Arielle: Like many millennials, Morgan Dean grew up in a world controlled by a generation who were taught that feelings are private, and mental illness is shameful. As a child and into their adolescence, Morgan bounced from doctor to doctor, many of them suggesting that their symptoms were the result of various totally out-of-left-field physical ailments — when the truth was actually very simple: Morgan, like many young trans and non-binary people, was struggling with mental illness.

Today, after finally gaining access to proper medication and therapy, Morgan is happier than they ever thought possible. They move through the world with a simple mantra: “be who you needed when you were younger.”

Whether you like to cry at work, on the train, or compartmentalize until you can cry in private, Morgan wants to remind you that it is okay to struggle. And it’s also okay to get help.

This episode mentions depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, eatings disorders, drugs and alcohol, and societal stigma about mental illness and sex work.

This is Morgan Dean on drinking water, touching plants, and dancing in the rain

Hey Morgan, welcome to the show!

Morgan: Hello!

Arielle: Hello! Why don’t you kick us off by sharing a little bit about yourself?

Morgan: Uh, my name is Morgan. I currently, um, I live in… in Queens. Uh, the unceded land of the Lenape people, and I use they/them pronouns. 

Arielle: Awesome. Umm, so thanks for being here, I’m really excited to have you. Umm, so, plants! You have a lot of plants…

(both laugh)

…which tends to be a very trans thing. Umm… 

Morgan: It is. 

Arielle: Uhhh. People talk about their pets, people talk about their plants, it’s like, the two most common topics on this podcast thus far. And you have a fucking abundance of plants, and I have to know—do you talk to your plants?

Morgan: I do talk to my plants. A lot. 

(both laugh)

I’m also, like, a Gemini Rising, so I just talk— 

Arielle: Yeah.

Morgan: —to myself in general.

Arielle: Totally.

Morgan: So, it’s probably a little better that I have, like, something to talk to besides, like… I mean, I have a cat, umm, so I talk to her, but she’s a Leo, so if I’m not actively paying attention to her, she gets annoyed. So…

Arielle: Oh god, yeah. Freaking Leos.

Morgan: Yeah, I know. Leos. She’s probably gonna, like, get jealous while we’re recording this, and, like swat at my headphones. But, yeah, I think it’s probably good that I have something to direct my talking to, umm, I do talk to my plants. I … well, you’re, you are a coffee person, so you get it, I was about to justify my life choices, but I grind my coffee beans by hand every morning, and

Arielle: Yes.

Morgan: Yes.

Arielle: I understand, I’ve done that.

Morgan: Yeah. And while I do that, I walk around my apartment, and I talk to all my plants, and I say, “hello? Hello, my beautiful angels! Hello, my little plantitas!

Arielle: (laughs)

Morgan: And I say hello to all them, and I see how they’re doing. There’s like, some stray cats, like, feral cats that live, like, around my apartment building, so I always check on them, see if they’re outside, see how they’re doing. Yeah, I have a whole little morning routine that involves me talking to my plants. 

Arielle: Do they talk back?

Morgan: Umm, not in English.

Arielle: Okay.

Morgan: But in their own little plant languages, I… I can hear, you know, I can see what’s… what’s up. 

Arielle: Okay.

Morgan: You know, if they’re… if they’re looking sad, I kind of talk to them, I sing to them, and be like, “it’s okay, like, you can do it, I believe in you.” 

Arielle: (laughs)

Morgan: And if they’re doing really good, like, putting out a new leaf, I’m like, “oh my gosh! Look at you go! You are thriving. I’m so proud of you.”

Arielle: That’s so encouraging and beautiful.

Morgan: (laughs) Thank you.

(both laugh)

My neighbors are definitely so confused by me if they… I’m sure they can hear my, cause the walls are so thin, but I think that between me, like, yelling at my cat in a loving way, and then like, talking to my plants in a loving way. And then, like, my music choices, my other activities that I do in my apartment… people probably just really have no idea what my deal is. 

Arielle: I feel like if your neighbors are queer, they will understand, but if they’re not, they’ll be like, “who’s this person?”

(both laugh)

Morgan: They’re definitely not. 

Arielle: Oh no. 

Morgan: But it’s okay.

Arielle: So they think you’re uhh… they’re questioning you, probably, which is fine.

Morgan: Yeah, but you know what? I am exposing them to a different culture. So…

Arielle: Yeah, exactly, they need a taste of queer culture in their lives.

Morgan: Yeah, I’m educating them.

(both laugh)

Arielle: So how… how did you get into collecting plants, cause you have, like, over 100, right, you said?

Morgan: Yeah. I do. I have a lot of plants now. I always liked plants, but…

Arielle: Yeah.

Morgan: Um, and I always had, like, some around, uhh, starting, like, in college, umm, I… for one summer, I was doing this Shakespeare festival and where we rehearsed was at this school, and part of, like one of the classes or ways that they, like, you know, the kids, like, stuff that the kids did was that they had, like, a greenhouse and they would, like, grow, like, houseplants or, like, take care of houseplants, and they would always be selling them.

So when I was in rehearsal, I would just, like… and they sold them for super cheap, cause it was more probably to just like, cover, like, just the cost of soil and, like, the planters, so it wasn’t… they were like $10 for, like, giant plants.

So I just would, like, get a couple plants, cause they just were, like, there. Um, and that kind of started my plant collection. But then I really got into plants, obviously, during the pandemic. Umm, and like, a little bit before that, I just started kind of getting into them, and yeah, during the pandemic, I got super into them, and I would, like, use dating apps to do plant clipping exchanges.

And I would, like, bike around New York City on my, at the time, single speed bike, and like, exchange, like, philodendron clippings. So yeah, so I have a lot of clippings from random… literally random people, like I don’t really talk to any of the people that I exchanged clippings from, it was purely a transactional experience. But yeah, I have a lot of clippings from them, and they’re doing well, so…

Arielle: That is definitely a trans-action-al experience. Very… there’s no queerer use of a dating app than plant exchanges. Umm, that’s amazing. That’s so hilarious. 

Morgan: One of my partners, like, literally is like, “you use everything in a completely different way than it’s supposed to be used.” like, I use dating apps to, like, make friends, and go on plant adventures. And then, like, I feel like… I don’t know. Yeah, she was just like, you do everything in an opposite way, so I was like, “okay, well, I’ll take it.”

Arielle: Are there other examples of that?

Morgan: Umm, probably. I mean, like, I feel like I use, like, I don’t know, I make friends in very weird places… people a lot of times feel like they can… like they wanna tell me their life stories. I remember, like, once when I was in high school… I played tennis growing up, and I still play tennis, like competitively, so with my high school varsity team, we would go to the US Open, and I was literally, like, me and the refs of the varsity team, and we were sitting in a section. And this older woman comes and sits next to me, and just literally, like, I am legitimately like, 15 years old, and she, like, starts telling me, she’s like, “yeah, so you know, my son, blah blah blah blah blah, like, is like going through a crisis,” and I’m just like, “mhmm. Yeah. Wow.”

Literally, at the US open, like, a tennis match is happening, like, my other teammates are, like, right next to me, and this complete stranger is telling me, like, her whole life story. And that happens to me pretty frequently. So, I feel like that’s one thing that happens, it’s just in the weirdest places, people like to… like to open up.

Arielle: Do you feel like, it’s like an energy you exude? 

Morgan: Yeah. I think I… it must be. I don’t really… I don’t really know what it is. I think that I… I know that some people, like, using this word can be, umm a little divisive, but I do think that I’m an empath. So, I think people sense that, and like, can sense that I’m gonna listen to them, which sometimes bites me in the ass personally, but umm, I… I’ve… I am grateful that people, like, feel like they can talk to me, even if it’s really, like, not consensual in… energy-wise. 

Arielle: Yeah. 

Morgan: But.. I know.

Arielle: Well, you are the queer empath that checks in on your plants every day, so you must be giving off some sort of energy.

Morgan: Apparently. I… people are like, “you have such a green thumb,” and I’m like, “I don’t feel like I do, I just have a lot of plants. And I just water them, and like, try not to kill them. Like, I don’t think I do anything special, necessarily, but I guess I do

Arielle: I feel like… I feel like there is a certain level of, like, people that have a deep connection with plants, or are able to connect with plants. Cause, like, I’ll overwater things, I won’t give them enough sunlight, like, I’m just, like, I’m not… I’m not a good plant owner, cause I just, like, don’t have… I don’t know, I feel like some people are like, connecting with their plants, like, I don’t know if you relate to this, but they like, look at their plants, and they’re like, “this is what my plant needs right now” or “this is how to take care of this” and it’s like, you understand, like, how much water, how much sunlight, like, does that, does that, is that a thing for you, is that something you experience?

Morgan: Yeah, I mean but also, to me, like, I feel like I learned it while doing it. Like, now I definitely know what my plants need. Like, I can look at them, and be like, “yeah, they need X, Y, Z.” But I think that’s just because, like, I’ve basically been collecting plants for, like over a year now, and like, I’ve… of course, I killed a lot of plants at the beginning. But now, like, you know, I kind of know what they need. 

I think what was really helpful was… was getting more into growing clippings, because, you know, you… it’s like raising, like, a little baby… like, you kind of, like, raise them from, like, when they’re young, and they kind of… I feel… this is my completely not scientifically-based opinion, but I… I think, like, cause I just moved recently, so now I actually have direct sunlight. 

Cause before that, I had literally the worse possible sunlight, which was north-facing, so if I can do it, I really feel like anyone can do it. But I think that starting, like my plants from clippings helped, because I was able to introduce the plant to the light that I had, which wasn’t great. But I was able to kind of nurture them from babies, so like, they were more used to the conditions than, like, buying a full-grown plant that was used to getting, like, direct sun or whatever, and then taking it to my apartment and having it be like, “what the fuck? Like, this is not what I need…”

Arielle: Yeah. 

Morgan: So, yeah. And I feel like there are really, like… like… I… I would…I had, like, grow lights everywhere, but they were, like, fun WiFi lights that had, like, a grow light setting, so it was like also lighting my room, but I would turn them on, like, if I was leaving or whatever to give my plants some, like, extra sun, or whatever. So I feel like there are things that you can do.

Arielle: Do you feel like there’s something uniquely queer about, like, cultivating a space filled with life in the way that you have?

Morgan: Definitely. I… I think so. I mean, I feel like a lot of queer people didn’t get nurtured as kids in the way that they needed, and I think that that also has to do with pets as well. Um, and so I think just, like, reclaiming… reclaiming that in a way, like, pouring that kind of nurturing that you never got into something else, and also just, like, reclaiming, like, your home, like, I think a lot of queer people, growing up, didn’t feel safe in their homes, or didn’t feel like they could be themselves in their homes. Like, I know that I am extremely, extremely particular about my home, and like, it is literally my haven. Like, my home is everything to me, and so I think part of it is that, too.

And so, like, filling it with…with life, and filling it with just living green, to me feels very, like, affirming, I guess, in a way. Umm, and being able to, like, successfully, like take care of something. I don’t know, I feel like… I feel like growing up, too, a lot of queer kids, like, didn’t… you know, didn’t necessarily know what life was gonna look like, or like, maybe didn’t even feel like they were gonna last a day more in the world. And so, like, to have responsibilities with living things, to me, is like really important. Umm, you know, to be like, “I have to, like, be home, because I have to, like, feed my cat. And like, I can’t go away for too long, because I have to water my plants…” Like, it feels like a very tangible, like, “I am going to be here next week.”

Arielle: That’s really beautiful. That’s really really beautiful, yeah. Like, being intentional about creating your space… filling it with life because we weren’t able, to like, have a space that felt like home as kids… a space that felt safe, and like our own, and like we could sort of just, like, be comfortable.

Morgan: Mhmm.

Arielle: Like, having a space you want… you want to go back to. That’s really beautiful. So, you’ve also been super open about your mental health journey on social media, uhh, in particular your eating disorder, and, you know, this can be a really scary thing to talk about, especially because there is so much stigma about, uhh, mental health, and specifically eating disorders… umm, so before we get into specifically your journey, uhh, obviously, like, there is a lot of mental illness within the trans and non-binary community, and something that I’m personally really tired of hearing is this misunderstanding that we are mentally ill because we’re trans or that transness itself is a mental illness. 

Morgan: Mhmm.

Arielle: Umm, so, as a mental health advocate, is this something that you hear a lot, something that you deal with?

Morgan: Uhh, I would say… I don’t know that I’ve ever, like, personally had someone say to my face, like, “being trans is a mental illness,” but I do think that people think of it in… they’re not thinking of it, in my opinion, in the right way. Like, I… I am mentally ill because the gender binary exists, I am mentally ill because of white supremacy, and like, the cishetero patriarchy. That is what caused my mental illness, and like, the generations of people who, you know… it’s not just me, it’s like my whole family, like, my whole community is affected by this. Like, the whole world is affected by this, umm, and so, I think that people just don’t think of it in that way, umm, they don’t think like, “these systems are what’s causing this. It’s not because someone is a part of a marginalized community that causes mental illness.” It’s because we can’t be ourselves, because of these oppressive systems. That’s why we suffer from mental illness. Obviously, of course, like, genetics plays a role, et cetera, but, you know, genetics, scientifically, are affected by environment. And if you have generations of people suffering from the same conditions, that’s gonna create genetic… like, a genetic mutation that is going to cause people’s brains to behave differently.

So, I have not come across that personally, but I think what I have come across is that, like, just the stigma of mental health in general and, you know, I didn’t even… I wasn’t believed when I initially realized that I was mentally ill. Like, people were like, “you don’t have anxiety, you have, like, intestinal cancer.” And I was like, “that literally makes no sense.” Like, the likelihood of me being mentally ill is so much higher than the likelihood of me at like 20 having intestinal cancer, or like whatever they thought I had. So, I think that’s something that I’ve come across more than the queer aspect of it, although I know that does exist. 

Arielle: Yeah, totally. Thank you… thank you for sharing that

Morgan: Yeah.

Arielle: So, I’d love to hear a little bit… you know, you touched on it a bit just now, but I’d love to hear more about your personal journey, and also like, what… what led you to want to share so openly about this with folks in your community?

Morgan: Yeah. I… I think that I am so open about my mental illness because I didn’t have that growing up, and I didn’t… I had no idea that that was a thing, and like, mental illness runs rampant in my family, and I’m sure probably everyone’s families, and yeah… I just truly had no idea that it existed, and I… I have dealt with mental illness for literally my whole life, but it really started to affect me, I would say, in Elementary School, and then moving forward. 

And it… it, al- it, uhh, I mean, I had an eating disorder very young, but the… I do consider eating disorders mental illnesses, but you know, the more classic, like, anxiety, depression, that kinda started to manifest itself in middle school, and I had really physical manifestations of it. Umm, so, like, I would get really bad stomach pains, umm, my heart would race, like I would get really physical manifestations of it, and I just, you know, I would go to the doctor, and they would be like, they would say that I had some random thing that made no sense. 

Umm, and I dealt with that literally throughout my whole life, until I was in college… yeah, college, I think my sophomore year of college, umm, and my mental illness was just terrible. Like, I was legitimately dysfunctional, like, I couldn’t walk, umm, I couldn’t eat, umm, like I… I was so weak, like, I couldn’t walk because I was so weak. Like, I literally couldn’t walk to the bathroom, like I would have to, like, crawl. And so it got to this point where I just couldn’t function. And that’s kind of when I… it had always kind of affected me, but I was like, “okay, like, something is really wrong, and I need to know what’s wrong.” And so, yeah, I went to the doctor, and the… my, uh, the general, like, physician that I went to, like the GP, he was… because I was having all these physical manifestations with stomach pain, and not being able to eat, and weakness, umm… you know, my GP, like, he said two things to me, he said, one, like, “you need to have a colonoscopy and endoscopy because you are having these physical pains, and it could be something serious.” And then, he kind of like, as an aside, was like, “or it could be anxiety,” and like, I just remember, like, when he said it’s anxiety, I just knew. I was like, “that is what’s wrong. Like, I know that that’s what’s wrong. It’s anxiety.”

But, you know, my family didn’t want to believe that I had a mental illness, so I went through with the colonoscopy and endoscopy…came back totally clean, of course. And I kind of still had to struggle with these debilitating symptoms. And yeah, I told my parents, I was like, “I think that I have anxiety.” And they…they literally just said, “you don’t have anxiety,” and I was like “okay.” And then I secretly went to therapy through my college for like a year. While it was, you know, still really bad, I had a lot of trouble doing everyday tasks. I was self-medicating with, like, prescription drugs, and alcohol… like, I just, like, literally… I…I had to use them to function.

Like, to this day, I don’t know how I did it. Like, I truly don’t know how I did it, but finally, I convinced my family that I was indeed mentally ill, and that I had been diagnosed… and so, you know, very luckily, they agreed to help me with therapy, like, pay for therapy. So then I… once I graduated, I moved to the city and I started seeing a therapist, and I’ve been in therapy ever since. And…and I, uhh, about almost two years ago, I think, I started… I started taking medication for my mental illness, which has for me been super helpful and necessary, but I… I wasn’t on medication for a while, so I, you know, definitely support peoples’ decisions, whether or not they want to go on medication. 

But umm, yeah, I have noticed a huge difference and as of today, I feel great and I feel like my mental health is really, umm, is really, like, kind of on the up and up. So, yeah, that’s my journey.

Arielle: Thank you for sharing all that. Umm, yeah, first of all, thank you. Umm, and I’m… I’m curious… so, I know like, the obvious answer here is stigma, but why do you think it’s so much easier for doctors and parents and families to think that someone has, like, a serious, umm, like, physical condition, rather than believe that someone is struggling with mental illness. Why do you think that’s… that seems to be so much easier for people?

Morgan: I think that… I think that it’s hard because people… when you have a mental illness, that means that… I mean it doesn’t mean this, but I think what people think is, “this person is anxious and depressed, I caused that.” Umm, I think it’s very much, like, it’s hard for people to take responsibility for their actions, and I think that that sometimes is what is hard. 

You know, because for example, you know, if your parents, you know, hit you growing up, and now you have, you know, anxiety or depression and a lot of it stems from the fact that your parents hit you, you know, like, it’s way easier for your parents to be like, “oh, you have this rare kidney disease,” than to say, like, “oh, something that I did affected you so deeply. And it’s gonna affect you for the rest of your life.” I think that people have a lot of fear when it comes to having tough conversations, and yeah… just sitting with the fact that they… that they might have caused that. Umm, and you know, like, I mean, I’m of the opinion that, like, everyone hurts people… like, you can’t go throughout your life without doing that. 

Like, if you have kids, you are signing up to affect them. Umm, it is my opinion that everyone should be in therapy, cause you literally… people are going to affect you—that is how humans grow, that’s how humans learn, is that we have life experiences and so, I yeah, but I think it’s really hard for people to be okay with that and to be, like, “okay, I hurt this person.” Umm, so I think that that’s why it… I think that that’s a nuance to what makes it difficult for people to… to want to admit that… that someone in their family has a mental illness, and help them, because it requires them to also face difficult truths.

Arielle: Yeah, I think that’s a really great point, and I think, umm… yeah, like everybody hurts people, and we sort of exist in this culture that is, like, anti-feedback, and like, super perfectionist, and feels like it’s a… if you did something bad or fucked up or hurt someone, then you’re a bad person. But the reality is, like, yah, we all hurt people, that is not what defines us. What defines us is where we go from there, once we’ve found out that we have hurt someone—once we’ve realized that we’ve caused harm, what do we do from there? 

But we live in this society that hasn’t really normalized that, and so when we hear that we’ve caused harm, we’re sort of taught to, like, retreat or shut down or deny it, or to like, go into this sort of shame cycle, which feels really shitty—but shame is a terrible motivator for change.

Morgan: Yeah. Yep. 

Arielle: So, if you could go back and do one thing for your younger self, for little baby Morgan, umm, or another little young trans or non-binary person or just a person in general struggling with mental illness, umm, to lighten the load, what would it be, what would you say, what would you do?

Morgan: Hoo, umm. That’s a really hard one, cause I feel like… I feel like peoples’ mental illness journeys are… are so… it’s just, in my opinion, anyway, it’s just something you have to discover for yourself. Umm, but if it was just for me personally, I think my… the model that I live my entire life by is, “be who you needed when you were younger.” And I live that every single day, like, if I ever feel unsure or I’m doubting myself, I just think to myself, like, “what…” you know, “what did I need when I was younger?” and… and, “what was the life that I imagined for myself?”

Um, and, you know, I… I can honestly say that my life now is better than I could have ever imagined as a kid. Umm, so I think being able to go back to my younger self, and just saying, like, “this is the life that you’re going to have, and I want you to be there for that.” And I would offer a hug, and just be like, “I love you.” I think that that’s what I would do, because at the end of the day, like, I would still have to have that journey. Umm, even though it has been really hard, and I don’t wish it on anyone, like, I love who I am today, and I know that I wouldn’t necessarily be that person, potentially, if it weren’t for the stuff that I went through. Umm, so, I don’t regret it, but umm, I think it’s a very individual journey. 

And some people, umm, you know, I’ve known people that they… they don’t want to feel better. Umm, they don’t want to be happy, they want to be sad, and that’s…that’s, you know, also a choice. Umm, I am personally glad that I didn’t choose that I wanted to be, umm, like, you know, I… I didn’t necessarily want to be alive at certain points in my life, and I’m glad that I don’t feel that way anymore. But, you know, I also respect that that is the way that some people feel, umm, and I think it’s also important that… that people be allowed to feel that way, too, not just… you know, happy.

Arielle: Yeah. As a Pisces…

Morgan: (laughs)

Arielle: I lean very hard into the, like, “feelings are meant to be felt!” kind of framework. Which is, like, true…but I do it to a fault, especially when I’m like, really in my mental illness, where I’m like, “don’t make me happy, don’t cheer me up… I just, like, I need to be sad right now to process and feel my emotions.” And like, okay, like, “you’ve done your processing, Arielle, now how do we… how do we work on, like… how do I cope with my mental illness, like what do I do now, like…” There is a point at which it is time to, like, work through something rather than just sit in it. Umm, and that is something I’ve been working on as, like, “no, I actually don’t have to make myself, like, sit in a really shitty place for weeks at a time in order to, like, process.”

Morgan: Yeah. I’m a Sagittarius, so I have a very different, umm…

Arielle: Yeah…

Morgan: …strategy.

(both laugh)

Arielle: We’re getting into astrology, now. This is good.

Morgan: And I’m an Aquarius moon, so I, like, I feel like I’m probably the opposite of your Pisces self. It’s like…

Arielle: Okay, in what way?

Morgan: Well just because, like, my Aquarius moon, like, I literally… I mean, I’m a Sagittarius with a Gemini Rising, and everything else is in Sagittarius, so I’m a very go-with-the-flow person. I don’t really plan things. Like, I’m not a planner, umm, at all. But the only time… the only thing that I really do plan — which is my Aquarius moon talking — is that I literally plan when I’m gonna feel things.

Arielle: (chortles)

Morgan: Like, I wish that I was kidding you, like, if I’m having a bad day… I mean, I’ve gotten a lot better since going to therapy, but it still is just, like, how my body works is that if I’m having a rough day, I’ll literally be like, “okay, when I get home at 6, I’m gonna walk in my door, I’m gonna, like, feed my cat, get some food, and then I’m gonna cry.” 

Arielle: That takes some serious compartmentalizing.

Morgan: (laughs) Yeah, I didn’t say that I don’t disassociate, like, the rest of the day. Like, that’s just how my, like… I mean, I have gotten a lot better, like I cry on the train, like I cry on the sidewalk. But like, if I’m, like, trying to have, like… if I’m having a really tough day, and I’m like, “I need to process this,” like, I literally wait, like, I wait ‘til I’m, like, in my home, like, in comfy clothes. And then I just, like, think about all the shitty things that have ever happened to me, and I cry really hard. And then, like, “okay, that was good.”

(both laugh)

Arielle: Like, I also wonder if that was a learned pattern of behavior, cause you said—

Morgan: Oh, for sure.

Arielle: –when you were younger, like, your parents… it took them a while to understand and recognize that you have mental illness, like, I wonder if that’s uhh… contributed to you learning that behavior.

Morgan: Oh, definitely. I mean, like, yeah, my parents…umm, I don’t think they’ll listen to this, but if they do—I have a done a lot of analyzing of your behavior, and I have determined that… I think that, you know, for whatever reason, I think that my parents didn’t really grow up in places where showing emotion was okay. Umm, and so they kind of repeated that pattern with me growing up, so I definitely felt like I couldn’t show emotion in front of them. Um, you know, I was often told that I was being dramatic, umm, because, you know, I liked theatre, even though I, as I mentioned, like, I literally, like, schedule time to cry, like, and I’ve always been like that because, like, yeah, it wasn’t…it wasn’t normalized to be vulnerable. Um, you know, you kind of had to save that, like, if you were gonna cry, you had to go to your room, like, that was very much, like, how I grew up. So I think that it is partly a learned experience, umm, but I think it also is partly just kind of who I am, umm, as a person. Like, I definitely—

Arielle: Totally.

Morgan: I definitely feel like—yeah, I’m not…I do not necessarily wear my heart on my sleeve, for better or for worse, so I think it’s… it’s definitely, like, part learned behavior, as well, but also just like, you know, sometimes I really wanna, like, cry. But I just am like, I know that I won’t be able to until I’m home. So, I just kind of, you know, I’m like, “well, okay, guess that’s not gonna happen.” 

Like sometimes I’ll… or sometimes, I’ll really wanna cry, and then I just can’t, and I’m like, “okay, well, I guess I’ll just have to wait until, like, the feeling comes back.”

(both laugh)

Arielle: Whereas I will sometimes, like, work through my crying. Like, I’ll be like, in the middle of my work day, I’m like, “I’m crying, but this is fine, like I’m just feeling emotional”, but I’m like, writing a serious something, or like, I don’t know, like scheduling social media posts, and just like crying, just having a good cry in the middle of my work day, it’s fine.

Morgan: That’s so good. I’m… I’m a little bit jealous of that. But, you know, the grass is always greener.

Arielle: That grass is always… I was gonna say, the grass is always greener, because sometimes I’m like, “this can wait until later, this is not a ‘right now’ problem.’”

(both laugh)

Like, compartmentalizing is not a skill that I ever learned. Umm, but yeah, it’s… it’s all a journey. And the grass is definitely always greener.

Morgan: Mhmm

Arielle: So you’ve also been really open on social media about your involvement in sex work.

Morgan: Mhmm.

Arielle: So, you know, as a society, like, when we talk about sex work, it’s generally with this really narrow and negative focus. You know, specifically with trans folks, we hear a lot about, like, trans folks being painted as criminals for being engaged in sex work, or as the victims of crime, and so I’m kind of, like, curious to sort of flip that narrative on its head. Like, I wanna hear what you enjoy about it.

Morgan: Yeah, I think. I think it’s just a Catch-22. Umm, for sure, because, you know, historically, obviously, a lot of marginalized groups are the people that turn to sex work, and it’s because we couldn’t get work elsewhere. And then, when we found jobs that were the only jobs that we could do, then people were like, “you’re bad for doing those jobs!” And we’re like, “okay, cool, can I have a job as like, a secretary?” and they were like, “no!” and so we’re like “okay! Guess I’ll just die. 

Like, you know what I mean, it was kind of like, “okay, literally nothing that we could do is right, so…”

Arielle: Yeah.

Morgan: I… I definitely came to sex work…umm… after I quit a job because I dealt with insane transphobia from a cis gay man, so that was especially frustrating. Um, and yeah, I just was like, “I wanna be my own boss. I want to feel like I have complete control over my job, and the people that I interact with.” You know, I… I, like I said, I do consider myself an empath, so umm, before that I was bartending and in customer service and, you know, sex work I guess is a version of customer service.

But, you know, you get to choose who you interact with, you get to choose the emotional labor that you put in. Like, everything is very consent-based—well, not always, but you know, if you’re able to create that space, it can be just very consent-based, and you know, you always know what you’re signing up for, and the other person or other people involved always know what they’re signing up for. 

So, I found it to be very liberating. And, you know, I mean, but it also, I think… I also don’t want to romanticize it, like, it’s a job. You know, like, I think that people are kind of, like, “ahh! It must be so nice to just, like, orgasm all the time! Or just like, always, you know, all you have to do is just post pictures.” Like, you know, it’s still a job, like, it’s still hard, like, if you’re not… you know, I grew up with an eating disorder, so like, taking pictures and videos of my body is not easy for me. Umm, it’s actually very difficult to… to not look at myself in a, you know, hypercritical way. 

So, you know, while I found it very liberating to not be tied to a boss or, you know, I was my own boss… I found that really great, especially after having to deal with super transphobic people in the workspace, it was great to feel like I was in charge of who my clientele was, and I was in charge of what I was making. Umm, but it was also, it was hard, umm, and, you know, it’s a job, it’s definitely not something that anyone could do. 

Arielle: Yeah, and I think you raised, like, a really good point here that sort of adds this, like, nuance to what I was saying earlier about, like, people criticizing sex work is that on the other end of it you have people romanticizing it or making it out to be easy when, like, it’s hard work.

Morgan: Yeah

Arielle: Like, it’s work.

Morgan: Yeah, like you are literally an entrepreneur, like, I don’t…

Arielle: Yeah.

Morgan: Some of the people in the sex work community… well, I mean, all of them, but the people that I know in the sex work community, like, are literally the hardest workers I know. Like, the hardest workers, and you know, there are people who do sex work as their main job, but a lot of… you know, I would say a majority of sex workers are queer people.

Arielle: Yeah.

Morgan: And a lot of them, you know, they are also artists, like they’re also involved in other things. Like, they’re in it for the paycheck, they’re in it because, you know, it’s a job, it’s the same as someone goes to a temp agency. Like, you know what I mean, it’s literally just a job, and so a lot of people like, they, you know, support their livelihoods through sex work. 

People like…a problematic choice, but Cardi B, like, you know, she was a dancer. She danced and she worked her way, and now she’s this giant star, and I think that it’s really important that people don’t lose sight of the fact that, like, she’s… she was able partly to be where she is today because she was able to do her job really well, and like, she worked her ass off, like, literally, you know, to make money and to, like, be able to get where she is, and you know, same with FKA Twigs. Like, FKA Twigs was also a dancer, and like, showcases her talent in her music videos. Like, I think it’s very important that people recognize that, like, of course there’s survival sex work, and that is, you know, also totally legitimate, people that are doing it as their main job. But it’s, you know, it’s also just a lot of people who are doing it to support other passions that they have.

Arielle: Awesome, thank you so much for sharing all this today. Do you have anything else that you’d like to add before we sign off, any words of wisdom?

Morgan: Oh, umm. Any words of wisdom. Uhhh (laughs), I have so many things. I would say—

Arielle: Say all of them.

Morgan: Say all of them, oh my gosh, I mean I’m a Gemini rising, I could talk forever.

Arielle: I’m also a Gemini rising

Morgan: What? I didn’t know this!

Arielle: Yeah!

Morgan: Oh my goodness! Family! 

Arielle: Family!

Morgan: Aww. I would say: drink water, which I need to do right when we’re done with this.

Arielle: Yes. 

Morgan: Drink water. If you’re listening, drink water. Even if it’s just a sip. It doesn’t have to be a lot. 

Arielle: Yeah, pause this episode, drink water right now then listen to the last minute (ocean sound audio track plays over next few lines, followed by a “glub glub” drinking sound)

Morgan: Yeah. You can do it. Okay, great job! You drank some water. I’m really proud of you. Umm.

(both laugh)

I would say: touch a plant or a tree, or just go touch a living earthbound thing, and just say “hello.” You can just say it in your head. And then my third thing would be to dance in the rain.

Arielle: I think, umm…I think that’s gonna be the title of this episode, it’s gonna be, “Morgan Dean on drinking water, touching a plant, and dancing in the rain. 


Morgan: Honestly, I love that. I feel like that’s a pretty good description of who I am as a person. 

Arielle: I, umm. One of the things I do, like, as I’m, like… I take notes a lot when people are talking, and one of the things I do is, like, “episode title, question mark?” like, when people say certain things.

(both laugh)

So, if you’re curious, the other tentative one was, umm, “on being who you needed when you were younger.” 

Morgan: Aww, cute. Those are both cute options, I think.

Arielle: Umm, cool. Thank you so much. Hope everyone is drinking water, and touching plants, and dancing in the rain. And, do you have any social media or any projects that you would like to plug, oh! Or payment handles before you sign off?

Morgan: Oh! So, yeah. I do have social media. I am kind of off social media right now, but please follow me. Maybe I’ll be more active on it at some point. Right now, I’m not feeling it, but it is @_morgandean_. Umm, and you can visit my website, which is Umm, currently don’t have many projects happening, because of the state of the world that we’re in, but I would say, if you want to, you know, send money someone’s way, I would say you should definitely check out a pal of mine and a cofounder, they founded this organization called Hudson Valley Amps. So, I grew up about an hour and a half upstate in New York, and that’s where this is located, and it’s an Arts and Activism programming for girls and gender expansive youth located in, umm, my hometown. So, highly recommend donating to them, umm, so you can support music education for girls and gender expansive people in a fairly conservative area.

Arielle: Ha-mazing. I love that, and I will have that linked in both the transcript, and in the episode description for this episode, if you would like to visit those links and social media that we just mentioned.

[ID: Morgan Dean, a white non-binary person with short blond hair, wears a white t-shirt and looks at a camera. White text on a pink and blue background reads, “Trans and Caffeinated The Podcast.” and “Episode 17: Morgan Dean (they/them)... on drinking water, touching plants, and dancing in the rain.”]

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