Trans and Caffeinated, Episode 12: Cheyenne Xochítl Love (she/her) on rejecting your bullshit “inclusive paradigm” is now available on:
iTunes (Apple Podcasts)
Personal IG: @cheyenne_xochitl_love
Business IG: @queerwavecoffee
Arielle: It’s never easy to navigate the dichotomy of upholding anti-capitalist principles and beliefs while running a for-profit business—but Cheyenne Xochítl Love remains mindful of this balance, while learning new skills along the way.
Cheyenne is the Indigenous, two-spirit, non-binary trans girl behind Queer Wave Coffee, where she roasts Honduran coffee on Chochenyo Ohlone land or precolonized Oakland, CA.
For her, being queer means that we create new avenues that allow us to break free from the straight, binary, and oppressive path we have been taught. This goes not only for gender and sexuality, but also for the fundamentally anti-nature manner of existence to which we are expected to adhere.
Cheyenne contests the notion that diversity and inclusion efforts are a panacea for workplace oppression, instead challenging employers to emphasize which groups they exclude. She proudly displays “1312” in the bottom corner of each of her bags, and publicly shares her commitment to dismantle patriarchy, white supremacy, and other oppressions in both her professional and private life.
This episode mentions police violence, white supremacy, violence toward and erasure of Indigenous people and identities, COVID-19, and patriarchy.
This is Cheyenne Xochítl Love on rejecting your bullshit “inclusive” paradigm
Hi there, Cheyenne. Why don’t you kick us off by telling us a little bit about yourself?
Cheyenne: Oh, hi, oh. First of all, thanks for having me. Super stoked to be here. My name is Cheyenne Xochítl Love. I’m an Indigenous, two-spirit, non-binary trans girl, living in Chochenyo Ohlone land, which was colonized in 1772 and later called Oakland, California. So, the East Bay, as you probably know it. Yeah, I’m here. I’m super stoked. Thanks for having me.
Arielle: You’re good. Yeah, so, for those of you who don’t know, Cheyenne runs a coffee company called Queer Wave Coffee. And for those of you who aren’t big in the world of coffee, especially the world of coffee roasting can often feel like a big ol’ boys’ club. But your company, Queer Wave, is pushing back against that paradigm. So I’m interested to hear, what led you to start Queer Wave Coffee?
Cheyenne: Oh, jeez. So, I’ve been in the coffee industry since 1993. I started as a barista back then, and I basically just needed a job because I’d just graduated high school, and I didn’t have anywhere to go. It was really hard for me to get a job anywhere. Nobody wanted to hire me straight out of high school, and no experience. But my friend got me a job at a café called Java City in Sacramento, and I didn’t know what the hell a barista was—I just thought it was a really cool, fun-sounding job, and I took it.
And basically was a barista for a few months, and decided that I needed to make more money because I wanted to have my own place to live. So I pushed for a warehouse job, and got that. And found my way in that way. And that’s kinda how it all started, and it happened pretty quickly for me. But as the years went on, I became—just to kind of cut this whole story out, I’ve told this story so many times—but, as time went on, I became really involved in the industry, being a part of the Specialty Coffee Association, which is the association that steers and encourages coffee professionals, and steers the future, the projection of how the coffee industry is.
And, as I was going through my growth and all this pretty political stuff, I was realizing that it was very patriarchal. And I’ve always been more on the “very punk rock” and more on that side of fighting patriarchy and homophobia, and this was when I was still identifying as a cis male. So, I definitely had some insight from that side of the profession, of the industry, and saw how that worked, and I didn’t like it.
As I began to crawl, slowly, into learning more what was happening around me, I started standing up a lot more, and being a lot more vocal about the issues, and what I didn’t like, and found myself to be really unheard and/or told that’s just the way it is kind of stuff. And that just never sat right with me. So, it’s been a struggle for me in the coffee industry. It probably, to be quite honest with you, it would be a struggle for me in just about any industry as far as that’s concerned.
But I love coffee. And coffee has always been something super important for me. So I always felt the need to kind of fight for more justice and more inclusivity, at that point. I got to a point where I started transitioning, and I received a lot of really good, positive feeling and support from the community, from the coffee community, and it was great. But I noticed, on the professional side—to my face, it was very… I was also supported, but I really wasn’t behind the scenes. Wasn’t really allowed to be who I was, and I mean, it was fine for me to be trans, but to be more of who I really was inside didn’t match with other peoples’ professional ideas of what they wanted me to be. Which, to me, professionalism is just another word of making white people feel comfortable—straight, cis, white people feel comfortable in their world. So I did not feel good about that.
And I finally, through all this struggle—I did a lot of self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, and that really got me down, as drugs and alcohol does, and kind of fucked me up pretty bad. So, I ended up leaving coffee, actually, and I started working in a bar, at a gay bar here in the Bay Area. And that was not helpful, lots of alcohol and drugs in that scene. And I finally got tired of it, I got sick of it.
I started back in coffee because—it was kind of a coincidental match-up with a coffee company in San Leandro, which is a small suburb right outside of Oakland—and it was woman-owned, so I felt really good about that. So I wanted to work for her, and she’s been absolutely the best employer I’ve ever had. I was their Director of Operations, so I was helping with growth within the organization, with sales and marketing and all kinds of stuff to help take them to the next level. And they’re great. Then COVID hit. And when COVID hit, I was out of a job on March 15th, and it was the best way I’ve ever been let go from a job. Even though I felt like I lost my job, I felt really good about it, and I felt supportive and supported, and I still am supported by them in doing what I’m doing now.
I’ve been out of a job since March 15th, so I started doing sex work and doing some stuff there. And coffee came back to me because a friend of mine really wanted me to roast coffee for them, just cause they wanted it—they wanted coffee roasted by me, and I thought, “Eh, maybe I’ll get a bag of coffee and start roasting it and just give it to friends or whatever,” and then it just kind of snowballed into this thing of like, “Wait, why don’t I just start my own business, and start a coffee roasting company, where I get to be in charge of the way I want to market, the direction I want to see coffee going in?” In other words, my ethics and my ideals, in not just coffee, but in social interaction, and how a business or an organization can run that’s against all the stuff that I’ve worked for, and tried to make everyone feel included and safe. And I thought, if I was gonna have a company, it would have to be this way.
And I was pretty scared. But I’ll tell you, something that really was encouraging to me was seeing the growth of the BLM movement and the way law enforcement was starting to get realized. Cause this is also part of my—you know, for years, I always have been privy to this stuff, and everyone just looked at me like I was on a soap box. No one wanted to believe it, what was happening. Once it finally hit the mainstream media, I felt like I had a lot more support, and I was like, “Okay, I’m not this person just screaming and no one’s paying attention”—the whole world is paying attention now to what’s happening.
And that’s where I was really like, “Okay, now’s the time, now is when I need to get out there and start doing this.” If I would have done this five years ago, it would have been crickets. No one would have wanted or been interested, I believe… maybe a small group of people, but now, I have a lot more support. It was more about timing. I’ve been doing things my whole life, and starting projects, and the timing has always been off, especially with playing music…. I’ll start a band, and nobody gets it until 5 or 6 years after we break up. So, it’s always been like that for me. And now I was like, “okay, I have to do it.” And I had to have a partner in doing it, because there’s so much about this industry that I despise and can’t do, not just because of the political part, but accounting, and working on a website, and doing all that stuff, I just don’t want to do it. So, anyway, to make my short story really long, that’s basically why I started this coffee roasting company. It was merging my ethics, my beliefs, with the work that I like to do to earn or to have money to pay for my living here in the US.
Arielle: One thing that you shared a while back that I found really thought-provoking, and you sort of touched on it within that, is this idea of inclusivity in the industry and how, for a long time, you wanted to make the coffee industry more inclusive…but something that you shared a while ago made the statement, “We are not an all-inclusive organization.” And I kind of wanna break down what that means to you, and why that was an important statement to share.
Cheyenne: Yeah, of course. So, yeah, I did want to make it all-inclusive, at the time. And then, what happened was, you started seeing all these companies come up with, I forget the acronym for it or the word for it, but they started, within their human resources department, coming up with these policies that include all people. And in their paperwork, and in their policies, they started adding things, like how they encourage people of color, and all gender representations, and all this stuff into their work. And they made it really a big deal.
Now, if you know anything about people in HR and what they do—companies make a big stink about, “they’re there, they’re called Human Resources,” and it’s really sneaky….”they’re there for the employees.” But in actuality, they’re not. They’re there to protect the employer. And what they do is basically have to come up with ways, and realize things—and they go to seminars, and learn all this stuff, and go to school—to learn how to make sure the company they work for doesn’t get sued by employees.
So, that’s the main goal. I mean, they’re helpful with issues that you have—you go to them when you have a problem with someone else, because all that needs to be documented, again because you can come and sue the organization for not doing what they’re supposed to be doing to protect you. So, I started seeing more and more of these organizations doing these things. And like I said, I forget the name of it, it’s all bullshit anyway. But basically, I was like, “wait a minute, I see this happening.”
And as I see these corporations do it, I’m like, “well, I mean, shouldn’t any race, creed, religion, and/or gender identity, or sexual identity, would be a given… we should be able to do that, why are we making this a big deal?” And what we really need to do, is let’s talk about what we exclude and what we don’t want in our organizations, rather than what we do want. That makes more sense to me, because it’s a given—you’re a trans girl, and you’re a lesbian, awesome! That shouldn’t even be a, “oh, we accept you, too!” You go to restaurants, and you see signs that have “trans-friendly” or “everyone’s bathroom,” and I’m like, “really? Why do you have to say that? It should be already.”
Arielle: Well, and if you have to put that up there…I mean, sometimes it’s nice to see that, but other times it means that it’s performative. They’re not doing a good enough job showing that they’re being trans-inclusive, or inclusive in general, so they feel the need to put signs up that say it explicitly so people don’t have to question it. And I’m not saying “don’t put signs up that say that you’re an inclusive place,” cause it is a nice thing to see, but it can’t just be that.
Cheyenne: Totally. And to me, when I see that… to me, it’s not for me. It’s for people who are maybe homophobic or transphobic to see and think, “oh shit, maybe I shouldn’t be in here. This isn’t a place for me, I don’t feel comfortable with this and I’ll go somewhere else.” That’s how I look at it, that’s how I feel about it when I see that stuff. So I’m like, why don’t we take it a step further and say “fuck that”—we’re exclusive, and these are the groups we exclude. Because I think that might be what people are thinking, are too scared to say. I don’t want to do business with people that have been a racist, or homophobic, and I don’t think anyone really does that have those values, but why not say it? Why not just put that out in front, and be like—”if you are gonna be this person, or if you associate with this behavior, then you’re not welcome here.” And that’s basically taken from a hardcore, or punk rock ideal—everyone’s welcome, yeah, but if you’re this, this, that or the other, you’re not gonna be welcome here, and you should go somewhere else. Go to the Top 40 places, or whatever, go somewhere else where that is more normalized, and it’s not this space.
I’m the same way about law enforcement. If we’re all sitting here up in arms about how people of color are treated in this country by law enforcement, why don’t we do something more about it than just march in the street and yell and then go back home and do whatever? My organization is up-front about that—on our coffee bags, actually, on the bottom right, it has our logo and everything, it talks a little bit about us, and then on the bottom right it’s “1312” which is basically “ACAB” on the front.
There was a coffee company here a few years ago that got a lot of bad press over not letting them come into their place because they wanted to make sure that the people that are inside felt comfortable that were enjoying their time there. And that was a big thing, and I thought that was just an incredible thing to stand behind. Someone’s gotta do it, someone’s gotta start, and the people who do start doing that stuff end up taking the worst of it. They end up getting all the pushback. And I’m kind of feeling like I may in that position as well—by saying stuff that I want to say, I’m not censoring myself, I’m being completely who I am, and when you buy your coffee, this is what you’re doing, this is what you’re supporting, and this is what you’re not supporting. Being exclusive, to me, is the way I have to be, rather than inclusive. Because I include a lot more people than I exclude, for sure.
Arielle: Well, and I think that’s a really important distinction to make—we don’t want to include people who actively perpetuate white supremacy, who perpetuate capitalism, or ableism, or transphobia. We don’t want to support those people, and I think a lot of companies are a) worried about the criticism that they’ll face from those types of people, if they put out statements that actively push back against oppressive norms, and b) are worried about losing money, and that goes back to the whole, “capitalism is white supremacy and all these oppressions in action.” It is actively valuing profit over peoples’ lives—and, in valuing profit over saying, “we exclude white supremacy, we exclude all these forms of oppression,” people are just perpetuating the system that they claim to be against.
Cheyenne: Mhmm, it’s totally true. And, quite frankly, it’s almost impossible not to. But I feel like what I’m doing is I’m actually taking a stand against it, and at least making that. You know, even though I have to pay taxes, even though I’m still having to fall in line with this white supremacy way of living through capitalism and a colonized country, we don’t really have a choice in that, if we’re gonna live here. So, by doing what I’m doing, I feel like we have to take a step somewhere in breaking this shit down. And if we don’t, and you’re just that armchair revolutionary, then nothing’s gonna change.
So someone’s gotta put themselves out there—the coffee company, they were called Hasta Muerte, and they put themselves out there, [put] their necks on the line to do something that they believed in, to create the community they wanted and what other people wanted. And they got ridiculed, and they got shut down. If that’s not white supremacy, then I don’t know what is, like right in your face.
And I get a lot of that, too. I get a lot of white people who want to argue with me and say that they’re not racist, and they’re not white supremist, and they argue with me. And just the act of arguing with an Indigenous person about that is a sign of white supremacy. They just don’t see it, and by doing this kind of thing—what I’m doing—I’m hoping that that starts a, “wow, this person is saying ‘we openly do not accept this society, and people that act this way” and will think about it more. And maybe, hopefully, they will look at themself, especially people white people, and other people who have a lineage of colonizers, to really look at that and see and understand what was there before it was colonized—and just learn, educate themselves, and break it down.
Arielle: Yeah, and I want to touch on a point that you made a minute ago, which is about being anti-capitalist within a capitalist system, and as someone who’s running a for-profit business. I’m curious to see how you have found that balance for yourself, how you have been able to start a for-profit business, while still maintaining your beliefs and still fighting against capitalism as a whole.
Cheyenne: That’s a really great question. That’s something that I’ve been battling for a long time, and like I said, there’s always ways that you can’t really get around. I have a child, I have an eleven-year-old trans daughter, and she needs care and support and needs to be healthy, and I need to provide for her. And in order to do that, I have to go by these certain rules and regulations and white supremacy in order to do that, to give her that, a life where she’s healthy and feels safe.
I know that that’s a given. The other thing is—it’s something that I’ve always struggled with in my employment history—we did talk about, me and my business partner whose name is Sparrow, Alexander Sparrow, they and I talked about, when we first started chatting about this business and what we wanted to do—did we want to do a cooperative style, or did we want to do a more for-profit or to make an LLC—and that was a really hard decision for me.
And what it came down to was: I’ve worked for a co-op before that was actually a coffee company, and in doing so, the democracy of it can be challenging. If you’re in a co-op, and this is gonna sound pretty egotistical, but if there’s ten people in this co-op, and six people want to do something or go in a direction that’s not really supporting the main goal or the way the company’s wanting to go forward, then majority rules.
I’ve seen some really bad stuff happen in that way. I mean, I’m for people, I’m for democracy, believe me—but in this instance, with what I want to create here, I felt it was gonna be a lot better to have this be, for lack for a better word, for me to be the final person to make a decision on things. And although, when we get to that point when I do get to hire people, and they start working for me, I’m going to follow a whole different model for that. It’s gonna be full democracy, it’s gonna be run like a co-op, they’re probably gonna be owners in the company as well, invested in it. I haven’t gotten there yet, that’s pretty far away.
I want to get more into how I live in this paradigm. There’s basic shit you can do, that everyone can do. The way I look at it is patriarchy is basically the reason why capitalism exists. So I live my life, and I want to have this organization Queer Wave Coffee to kind of look at: What is patriarchy? And what would we do that would be opposed to patriarchy? In most cases, being vulnerable, being honest are all ways you can break down patriarchy. It’s just simple things like that. Being kind to each other, not being competitive, all these things that. Even within the paradigm that we can’t escape at this moment, there’s still ways you can break that down.
Arielle: Can I add to that—not policing each other in the way that people often do in workplaces.
Cheyenne: Hierarchy, yeah.
Arielle: And not enforcing this white, cisheteronormative, patriarchal idea of professionalism, as you mentioned earlier.
Cheyenne: Yeah, and I think that’s super toxic, and I don’t want to do that. I want people to be who they are, and who they feel they want to be. Just who they are as a person, and not have to conform to what’s gonna make other people feel comfortable, especially white people.
I don’t want this to come across, and I think a lot of people misunderstand this, I’m actually not anti-white people. I think that’s something that people also need to realize. I love all people. It’s these values and this patriarchy that’s been fucking pushed into our heads and into our lives forever, it’s the fault of that—and we fall for it, and I fall for it, and you fall for it, and everybody falls for it. Because that’s our social name.
Arielle: So if I’m understanding correctly, it’s not being against white people, it’s being against whiteness as the norm, as this central point that people have to conform to in order to “be successful.”
Cheyenne: Yeah, like they set the rules. That whole paradigm, the rules are set in that way—it’s majority white people here. That’s what people also don’t really look at is, this is a white majority here in this country that didn’t start that way, and it is. So, everything from the clothes you buy, the way the clothes are cut, in the way they fit, in the way television is made, everything around you is constantly this supreme whiteness. And how you run a business, and how a business looks, and how uniform everything looks, and how that stuff is, everywhere you look. Nature isn’t that way, nature doesn’t work that way. But when it comes to more of the “civilized world,” that’s what it is.
Arielle: Yeah. So I’m curious—What are you hoping to accomplish through Queer Wave Coffee?
Cheyenne: So, my main goal—I mean, I love coffee, I love doing what I do, I love roasting, I love making people excited to be part of their morning. I mean, that’s a privilege to have someone open up your bag of coffee and know and they’re super stoked to drink it. They know it’s gonna give them life, energy, it’s gonna be delicious. I can’t think of anything more rewarding than that, right up front, and people to tell me they love it, and what I’m doing… it’s great, right? It’s good that I’m making people happy, and enjoying their mornings and their lives. That’s paramount.
But one thing that I definitely want to do is I want other organizations and other industries to look at what I’m doing, and hopefully [it will] inspire them to do something, inspire them to do the same kind of work. Because it’s not gonna be just coffee doing this. Like I said, what really needs to happen is people need to… like, when this starts to become more normative, I feel like we’re creating something that other people want to be a part of and hold of and be the norm.
Right now, in our world, like I was saying, it’s a white superior world, country, is that we’re doing everything we can to fit in with that. Right now, queer people are doing really hard work to fit into a white normative way of living. They want to be accepted, we want to be accepted, we want to be looked at as normal like everyone else. Well, fuck that. I don’t want to be a part of that, honestly. That can keep going, if it wants, but I want to be a part and contribute to a place where we can build our own thing and grow that way, rather than be a part of a system that doesn’t want us or that’s going to exploit us.
I guess the main goal here is that other people can see that and want to be a part of that, and I would love to have some sort of organization that includes all these businesses that are trying to make a positive change. And meanwhile, what we can do to change the paradigm as we’re a part of it at the same time.
That’s where I see the bigger picture going with it. And meanwhile, day-to-day, like I said, making people happy. I love it. I love when people text me, or message me on Instagram, just to say hi, thank you. Just whatever, whatever they wanna say. And I love that it excites people.
But the big picture, really, is I hope that other companies can start to see the benefit in this, and how just putting a “we also serve trans people” in their business isn’t good enough, and isn’t really helping that much.
Arielle: I find it really striking and compelling how you are able to sort of hold that short-term and long-term simultaneously. Like, short-term, you’re really excited about the day-to-day, just being a part of something and giving people something that they love in the morning, and pushing back against oppressive norms. And long-term, you have all these huge goals that you want to be a part of in the world. It’s not just about coffee, it’s about so much more in the grand scheme of things. And I think that’s really incredible the way you speak about that, that you’re able to hold those two parts of yourself simultaneously, those two parts of your company, those two missions simultaneously.
Cheyenne: Yeah, thank you. It’s really hard, because they kind of have a hard time overlapping sometimes. It’s like, “okay, well here you go again, you’re buying into this paradigm,” it’s like you have to. I just don’t really see a way of destroying it, something else just needs to grow. A lot of people talk about that, like tearing it down or destroying it, and I’m like, “okay, well, hmm…how is that gonna…I just can’t see that happening.” Nor do I want to do that, really. I just wanna work on a team that creates something different.
Arielle: Yeah. For me, it kinda sounds like creating something new that grows to such a point where it displaces the old thing. It’s not necessarily about tearing down the old system, it’s about making something that’s new and just so much better for all people involved that it displaces the old norms.
Cheyenne: Yeah. And I’m trying to do something a lot different in coffee, too, because coffee is colonized, it was stolen. It was stolen from Africa, and it was spread out, and Indigenous people were forced to work and grow and do all this stuff, and people were enslaved over this for white people to profit. And even today, the way that coffee is graded, scored… the way it’s marketed and presented… all this kind of “artistocatic-y,” very like wine, kind of like classist, thing. Coffee is classist. It blows me away. I’m like, “how can coffee… how is this even a thing?,” and it’s incredible.
People will pay more money for coffee that is more…the thing that really bothers me, actually, I’ll just cut to this part, is the way coffee is… the work that happens at origin, at source, where the coffee comes from, the social part of it, and the environmental part of all this business, or all the growth that happens in coffee at these countries, are not considered in the scoring of coffee. So people are buying coffee off the taste of the coffee, but this coffee company, or this farm—which, there are farms, there are coffee companies that own farms in different countries that are growing this coffee and selling it for top dollar. I mean, that’s intense to me to see. And, because of the flavor profile is what people are [charging for]… and that’s the whole reason of, they talk “coffee quality, coffee quality, coffee quality.” Well, there’s no quality of life and there’s no quality of environment, and a lot of that. There’s third-party organizations or certifications, like Rainforest Alliance, and those are great—but the farmer has to pay for that, they have to be certified in order to receive that.
Fairtrade, don’t get me started—what a sham. There’s so much that’s lied to us.
I’m trying to look at coffee in a different way. I’m really wanting to be a part of the farm. The regular coffee that I have, that I roast, my regular espresso, is from one farm, all year round. And that’s because I want to have this connection with them. I love what they’re doing. They’re a cooperative, and it’s woman-run and organized. And their money is going to sustain their indigenous way of living and keeping those roots as much as possible, as much as they can. And that’s what they’re doing with their money. They have to have money—colonial money—in order to sustain their own culture. Now, that’s just fucked up! But that’s what you have to do, because if you don’t, you get erased. And if you don’t have money to do the things you need to do, then you get erased, left out, and forgotten, and someone else is gonna take your space.
So, I want to support that. For now, that’s what we have to do. But hopefully, later, things will change and that won’t have to happen. But hopefully, we can keep some Indigenous roots that way. I don’t know mine, cause they were taken. They were taken, destroyed… I’ve taken DNA tests, and they tell me that I’m Indigenous, but I don’t know what tribes I’m from, I don’t know what part of the world I’m from, what part of the United States I’m from. I have no idea.
Arielle: Well, and that kind of brings me to my next thing that I wanted to ask you about. You’ve been really outspoken about the loss of your lineage—specifically, how colonialism made it such that you can’t know where you’re from. So I’m curious to hear more about that.
Cheyenne: I’m not alone there. There’s a lot of things that bother me about that. But yeah, my parents don’t know. We all know about this stuff that happened around the turn of the century with boarding schools, where white Christians made these schools to make Indigenous people “white,” to indoctrinate them into learning the language, and to dressing “appropriately,” and to doing all these things, basically taking their culture away. And as a result—I mean, these are the kids, right, so the adults just kind of fell off and were pushed out—but these kids were actually taken from their families and raised to be “white” and to follow a white way of life because they thought that this was doing them a favor, and teaching them how to survive in the world.
And, in doing that, there was so much abuse that happened. And in doing that, people didn’t want to talk about it, and they… it’s destroyed so many people. You know, meanwhile, people in other countries were stolen and brought here to do the work, and wow…I don’t understand why people aren’t more up in arms about all this. It drives me… just look at everything, where we’re at, where we’re from, and their ancestors are the ones responsible for creating this trauma for everybody. I don’t understand why people aren’t taking more of a stance or just looking at this. And what they’re contributing to on a daily basis, whether they see it or not, is continuing this trauma in our world.
It’s really hard for me. I claim myself as being “unindigenous,” but I don’t know anything about my history. I kind of take it all as a whole. And actually been thinking a lot about having a group of people, a support group or an organization, and I want to call it Lost Tribes, and it’s kind of a thing where we know that we’re Indigenous, but we don’t know where we’re from. We can’t claim anything. We can’t say where we’re at. There’s a lot of us out there like this, and it’s really hard to go to Pow-wows and be asked, “what tribe are you from?” and [say], “Ah, I don’t know.” That brings up a lot of trauma for me, too. But it’s definitely understood by a lot of people. I don’t know past my great grandparents. Nobody talked, nobody said anything about where they’re from. Nobody knows the history… it’s so shameful, it’s so traumatic, that people just haven’t talked about it.
Arielle: So, two things that you’ve spoken about that have come from this loss of your lineage is that you have been turned down teachings by elders, and you’ve also faced some pushback in trying to claim your two-spirit identity. So I’m curious to hear if you could speak a little bit about what that has been like, both among other Indigenous people and in speaking about this to white people.
Cheyenne: Wow, this is a lot. This is a hot subject there. Three times, I’ve been turned away by elders. The last time that it happened was…I was halfway through some teaching, it was teaching about schools… about boarding schools. We were halfway through, and I was being misgendered a lot… and the person I was taking this Zoom with had stuck up for me and kind of went off, and I guess that was inappropriate to correct elders in that way. I guess, I don’t know what happened. But right after that incident, we were let go from that.
I don’t feel bad about it. I feel that my ancestors are inside me, and they guide me. And I feel that pull and that strength. They’re the ones pushing me and supporting me and making me feel good about the work that I’m doing right now. I feel, honestly feel, that they don’t want me to go back and learn things from the past. I feel that there’s also some problematic stuff within our history, mainly—I mean, this is just my own thoughts—mainly cause of patriarchy and hierarchy, and stuff like that. I feel them pushing me to start or to create or to take it from here and go on. I’m feeling like I’m not supposed to learn too much of my history, too much of my past, in the fear of me steering in that direction… instead, making a change. That’s how I feel, I don’t know if any of it’s true, but that’s what I’m feeling inside me, or that’s what I want to believe, I guess.
I’ve had a hard time with that. And like I said, I can’t find out what tribes I’m from, what part of the world I’m from. I’ve wanted to register, but I can’t, cause I don’t know where I’m from and there’s no proof. Register as a native. And that’s been difficult, so I don’t know if I even really wanna do that, honestly, because of the politics behind it, and why that’s needed.
So I’m not really sure, but I do 100% feel this two-spirit identity. Supposedly, we’re not supposed to….in old tradition, that we can’t claim that unless we know that we are 100% positive and sure that we are native. And I can’t do that. And it’s okay, I feel okay with that, I feel okay with calling myself that. I haven’t been denied in any way or anything like that, but from doing research on two-spirit individuals, it’s like, you can’t do that unless you’re Indigenous and you have to be able to prove it, and I get it. I mean, that makes sense, and people could claim things that they’re not, or think they are or whatever.
So, I do embrace it. Two-spirit people are known for a lot of their power in social groups, meaning communication. A lot of two-spirit people are Shamans, they were really advisors to the chief and to the tribes about a lot of things. They embodied both genders—there were five different genders, actually, I recommend people doing research on this… this was all taken away from us during colonization, too. Two-spirit people were basically put to death and/or had it beaten out of them to not identify that way. So, that’s also part of the history, because it didn’t fit the gender norms of white Christians.
That being said, I do feel a great power inside me… a power of communication, a power of building community, of bringing people together. The power of being extroverted and being able to speak my mind. There’s a lot of power that I believe I hold…connecting with people has been a very, very strong power of mine. With power… the funny thing about it… it’s always looked at as a bad thing. You know, power struggles or in differences between people.
But you can use power as a good thing or a bad thing, pretty easily. If I choose to use it as a bad way to manipulate people, and to make people do what I want them to do, I could easily do that. Or I could use it in a way to grow and help people and grow in that way, too. There was a time of my life where I used the power negatively, and that can come and go throughout time, too. Because we are human, and that stuff happens. But I’ve been doing a lot of work to get in touch with that stuff, and to make a positive impact that benefits more people than just benefitting myself, so that’s how I know—from doing the research about two-spirits, and what they were capable of, and what they knew, and how they were viewed in their communities and their tribes—that I know that I carry that with me as well.
So, I identify as two-spirit and share as much of myself as I can with everybody, cause that’s what I feel like my place in society is.
Arielle: Yeah, absolutely.
Cheyenne: Also, with two-spirit, gender is a driving force of that. And I identify as an Indigenous, two-spirit, trans girl… transgender girl. The “two-spirit, Indigenous” is obvious, you know, I was born in a body that holds all kinds of gender and fluidity, and all kinds of interesting things. And I identify as a transgender girl for several reason: one is that I feel very young at heart. I feel like my spirit is a very young spirit. I am 46, I turned 46 this year, so next year I’ll be 47. I think I give of the vibe that people don’t really see that, they think of me being a lot younger because of my spirit, the way I act.
Arielle: I would never have guessed that.
Cheyenne: Yeah. And a lot of the people that I do associate with a lot are younger, in their 20s and 30s.
So yeah, I communicate a lot better with younger people who seem to be… I don’t want to generalize at all, but when people tend to get my age, they become a lot more jaded and fall into a trap of, “I’ve tried, and nothing works, so I’m just gonna give up.” I know there’s words for it…I’m definitely not scholarly, I’m not educated through formal education, and I say “fuck that” for myself. That’s just another way of being whitewashed again, but I’m not gonna go there… I love education, but don’t get me wrong, I am informally educated, I did educate myself for sure.
I do educate myself as much as I can. But as far as a formal education, I don’t. But I do identify as a transgender girl, because… it’s kind of a way that I think I can express myself for people to understand a little bit more of my experience. Although I don’t feel like I’m a binary girl, at all.
The way I like to think of it, and explain it to people—and this seems to be the thing that makes sense—is gender is… or, being a girl, going under that pronoun, is like a t-shirt that is way too small for me. It’s like me trying to put on a t-shirt made for a 5-year-old. I’m not gonna be able to get it over my head, it’s not gonna be able to fit me at all.
It’s like, this shirt is for me, it’s made for me, I like this shirt…. But it doesn’t fit, it’s too tight. And I think a lot of people, when they think about their gender… if they put it in those terms, it might be helpful to understand yours a little bit better, too, is by thinking of it as a t-shirt. How does it feel to put this t-shirt on, and that t-shirt on? Is it too tight? Is it too small? Do you feel like you’re not enough of something that you feel like you should be, or something? So, it’s like a way of explaining it to others to help me understand it better myself.
Maybe it’s a patch that I put on my jacket, or something like that, more than something that fits me perfectly. Does that make sense?
Arielle: Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s such an amazing analogy. I read that… when we were talking about recording this episode, you put that on your form, and it really struck me… like, I sat with that analogy for a minute of, “she/her” being too small, certain genders feeling too small to really describe my experience. And that’s something that really resonates with me, too.
I used to describe myself as a trans woman, and I also have more and more started to feel like that is too small. But I wasn’t using that phrasing, and I just think that’s so compelling to me, it’s such a great way to explain it—like you said—both to cis people, and to ourselves. So, thank you for that.
Cheyenne: Sure. And another thing, if this makes sense, too, is I’ve been kind of struggling with getting FFS… which, for those that don’t know, is Feminizing Facial Surgery. And basically, what they do, is they go into your skeleton, your skull, and they make changes with the bone structures to give you more “feminizing” features. Which I think is beautiful, and I really want that, and I battled back and forth with that.
But on the other hand, I don’t want to get laser hair removal. I want to be able to grow a moustache sometimes, or like my beard. I have tattoos of feathers on my jawline to kind of make sure that that stays there. There’s reasons why I put these tattoos in the places I did on my face. And by having a more feminine face, and wearing skirts, but still not falling in that spot that is kind of expected of you to be female.
But it does feel a lot more comfortable to me to go with that pronoun than it would be for male. Because that’s a shirt that, maybe it fell off after washing it, in the dryer, on the way back to my house, it got lost somewhere, I don’t know. I don’t really know how to explain that one. I haven’t really figured…
Arielle: Male t-shirt for me was like 20 sizes too small, and it was made of metal, and I felt like I was gonna choke.
Cheyenne: Super uncomfortable. Yeah, totally. I think the power that I have allows me to relate to that, and maybe my experience growing up for most of my life. And it’s there, and I own it, but it’s… I don’t know how to explain it, it’s a button that’s on my jacket, not a big patch.
It’s something like that, where I don’t want to change my voice, I don’t want to get voice surgery. I did for a minute, but now I like the way my body feels in the tone that I speak in. I like the way my throat feels, my chest feels, the way my body feels when I speak. So I don’t want to change that.
The way it sounds to you, and the way it sounds… whoever’s listening to it, it may give you a certain idea of who I am or what I am, but it’s comforting to me to have this feeling in my body. But it’s not comforting to me to be a cis male at all, not even close, at all. So, it’s so fucked up, right? It’s fucked up, because we were taught a whole different way… like, this shouldn’t be fucked up at all, this should be how everybody is.
Arielle: Well, we’re taught to gender certain voices a certain way, and when someone not only deviates from that norm, but is comfortable deviating from that norm, we’re taught to question that. That’s why trans people police other trans people about “you’re not feminine enough,” “this quality, don’t you want to change that to be more feminine?” And it’s like, “what makes this not feminine? Whose norms are we playing by here? Cause those sound like cisgender norms to me, and very rigid cisgender norms at that.”
Cheyenne: I completely agree, and the bigger picture again is patriarchy. White male patriarchy… that’s like my go-to…if something doesn’t feel right, I put it into that category and analyze it that way, and feel like, “Okay, that makes sense.”
Arielle: Yeah, totally. Thank you so much, Cheyenne, for making the time to talk to me today. Do you have any other words of wisdom before we part?
Cheyenne: It is completely my pleasure to be here. And thank you for inviting me, thank you for seeing me…I think you found me on Instagram…
Arielle: I did. A friend in coffee shared your post, and I was like, “oh my goodness, who is this person?”
Cheyenne: Oh, that is so great. And I love that we can make connections like that, and get excited about each other. That’s so cool, I love it. I guess the last thing I would have to say is I just want to give just a quick promote my business, whatever you wanna call it, I’ll just call it a business… my organization. Right now, we’re in the middle of building our website. It’s almost done. It actually exists, but it’s just a landing page and a place to order coffee or t-shirts. We also do Decaf, we do not Decaf-shame!
Cheyenne: Yes, and Decaf-shaming is like the worst thing ever. Anyway, we have t-shirts and hoodies that we just made, and they’re ready to order, and you can do that online at queerwavecoffee.com. And you can also follow on Instagram under @queerwavecoffee. And I would love for you to follow me, too. They’re pretty synonymous, the two, because I live my life the same way I do in the organization…it gets a little more personal, though, of course in my Instagram. But that’s @cheyenne_xochitl_love. And I’d love to follow you, and reach out, and say hi, or just whatever. Let’s trade cute pics, I don’t know, whatever you wanna do.