In Conversation with GARCíA
A man and I stand on a New York street corner waiting to cross. Music playing in both our ears. He looks down and says something I cannot hear. I remove an earbud. He points “nice kicks man” I return “thanks man, cool shirt” a few beats later we both agree that you gotta stay fresh out here in these streets cause “you never know who you’re gonna meet” I joke “Rihanna could be right around the corner” we laugh and end with “have a good day, be safe” a few hours later I am sitting on a stoop enjoying my peace. A door slams behind me. A man looks down at me, at my shoes. “Fresh ass adidas” he doesn’t wait for a response. My voice chases after him “thanks man, preciate it”
I take these moments as gifts. I remind myself that men have funny ways of showing themselves. I remind myself that I am different than most men. I am reminded on how quickly my body adjusts and readjusts and re readjusts in order to fit into spaces that may or may not exist. What I’m saying is that I don’t know if I’ll ever know how much of a man a man can be. Mainly because I watch other men and I don’t think they have a fucking clue either. What I’m really saying is that I wish men wouldn’t be scared of other men. I wish men wouldn’t be scared of themselves.
It was 2:00 AM one month into quarantine. I was scrolling through an owlish Instagram deep dive right after an 11 hour Netflix feast. I’d just consumed the 2019 turn of Tales of the City—a revival of several original miniseries based on the novels by Armistead Maupin. I was reading about the cast, the production, and the writers, when I stumbled on the picture and caption written by Garcia, above (they play Jake Rodriguez in Tales).
I wrote to them; three weeks later we talked about creativity, change, quarantine, and friendship.
Who are some of the most influential teachers and mentors you have ever had?
I have not had many. My first one would be this guy I randomly met at a train station back in Chicago. I was meeting friends downtown. Long story short: I meet this guy and a month and a half later he is like, “hey want to be in this play?” I had never even thought about acting or theater. I was around 16, 17. I was like, “yeah sure, whatever.” There was no reason to say no, so I said yes. That is how I discovered theater and what it means to be an ensemble, what it means to be part of a collective, what it means to be in a space that is using this specific form of medium as a tool to make change in the world.
It was artivism and simultaneously becoming politically correct and getting rid of super toxic machismo language I had learned as a teenager, which would have been harder to unlearn without that space that was cultivated purposefully for young people of color. So yeah, the man that got me into theater was named Ricky. He’s the reason I am here at NYU. He made it his mission to get a lot of people into college. He just told me I was going to come here and I told him he was crazy. That’s one person that sticks out as a mentor.
How about teachers?
My friends are my teachers. I made three very good friends in my freshman year. They are the best people I have ever met in my entire life. So just watching them and having conversations with them and cultivating a space where we hold each other accountable. We are always asking questions, and no one is getting by. We can be in a group and I can crack a joke and next thing we’re an hour in talking about my daddy issues. It’s all out of love and care and wanting the person across from you to do exponentially better than they are because you know they can. And I’ve had friendships like that but not so much where it’s just been from jump, and you know it’s safe, and there is no judgment. And they have taught me so much about myself and also about how to navigate relationships and how to live and love myself and others. So my teachers are definitely my friends.
What are the qualities of a good friend to you?
Loyalty, transparency, empathy. I think mainly loyalty and transparency. I think because I pride myself in being extremely loyal and a good friend in the sense that if we are friends, we are friends, and if we are best friends we are damn near family. I come from somewhere where if I have it, you have it and I don’t know anything other than that. And not that people have to be that exact same way for us to be friends, but they have to respect that, and on some level reciprocate that. And then communication, because if I can’t say “hey, you did this thing, I didn’t like it, could you not do it again…” if something like that is not even comprehended, then why are we even friends? You want something that is effortless. I shouldn’t say sorry more than once in a friendship, you know what I mean? There shouldn’t be a repetition of issues.
Yes, I love that. It’s safety, right? You want to feel safe with your friend.
You don’t want to even question it. And I don’t think I’ve ever had to question my safety or my love or their love. So yeah. Transparency and loyalty. Which comes with honesty, naturally. I would hope. What’s your sign?
I’m a Scorpio.
Me too! What’s your birthday?
November 2nd. You?
Nice. Close. I’m October 26th.
Why do you ask?
Energies. Signs. How we navigate. How we communicate.
What are some pieces of art that have influenced you as an artist and as a thinker?
Rudy Francisco’s metaphors are the craziest thing I have heard in my entire life. Andrea Gibson. Neil Hilborn. Fatimah Asghar. I have a tattoo of one of her poems. Barry Jenkins is awesome. Jordan Peele.
What about their work do you find compelling?
I think they are envisioning something else. The now, the future. They are interested in telling stories that we have not seen yet. I want to make art like that. Especially when it comes to trans non-binary people being on screen or on stage. We don’t always have to be about our bodies. It doesn’t always have to be about the person we are fucking. I can just exist as is and that story is just as interesting, valid, and true as the next one. And I think observing these artists drives me to ask: how can I do that, too? How can I get myself out there?
A lot of the work we have seen in the past always objectified us and put us on the screen as an odd thing to tilt our head at and dissect and break down. And we are not that. We have never been that. What would a story look like if there were two trans non-binary lovers? Why is that so crazy? Like The Notebook but make it trans non-binary and people of color. Because why not? We are interesting people. And by “we” I mean anyone who doesn’t fit into a box. Anyone who doesn’t fit in a box is so much more interesting. And if we can put our stories out there for like five seasons—what does that look like in a very caring and true way?
Right, where the narrative point isn’t the marginalization.
There isn’t a struggle.
Are those the stories you are writing?
Yeah, I am working on that. A lot of me is stumped on the how, and a lot of that is my own idea that it needs to be “right.” And it doesn’t. I have to let that go when I sit down and write. There are so many drafts that can happen and so many people that can fact-check. I have been holding onto this play I wrote my freshman year.
How is the quarantine affecting you creatively and emotionally?
It’s been a roller coaster. I’m sure this is true for everybody. Everyone is experiencing the same thing globally. It is so clear how privilege and class is coming to surface in how one is able to navigate it because of one’s circumstances. With that said, I actually got top surgery on my Spring break, which was March 16th. I planned my break already thinking I’d be inside the house. I hadn’t really noticed how things were hitting off in the beginning until the following week, when I had to do a post-op meeting and went to the lower side of Manhattan. Something that would have taken me 30-40 minutes took 15-20 because no one was out. It was such a different way to see New York, just completely dead. I’m still in school so there’s a lot of Zoom and a lot of screen time and I’ve never hated my phone this much. You know? I can’t get off it. It’s so frustrating. I’m just looking at my phone. I’ve opened the same three apps over and over again. I’ve scrolled through everything there is to see. And I don’t know about you but my face always hurts. My eyes burn. I just feel like..this is hurting you. Put it down. But I can’t.
( both break into laughter).
Right? Okay because what’s the alternative? I guess I could read a book. I need to start exercising. I don’t know. I have no idea.
Do you write longhand?
Yes, I do. Sometimes. I’ve started to more now, because why not. Do you?
I do. My eyes are also burning.
Right? It’s too much.
I wish that this is something that would push us further away from technology but I just don’t think it is. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe after quarantine we’ll all run around in the world together no phone in sight.
How do you want to be remembered?
Do I want to be remembered? I always think about that. What does that mean? Do I want to be remembered? I guess I want to be remembered as someone who tried their best. If I die I want people to go “oh they tried their best.” I want to be someone who did a damn good effort at trying their best. Like today I only did ten pushups, but I tried.
Where do you go to find hope?
Oh, you got me with that one. You know, I don’t think people talk about hope very much. Are faith and hope the same thing? Maybe not. That is a good one, a tough one. I’m not even going to pretend like I have an answer. I haven’t sat with myself long enough. What am I hoping for? Why am I hoping for it? Why do I want that thing? Why do I want to want that thing? Hope. Yeah, I don’t think I am hopeless person. But I don’t know if I am a hopeful one either.
Where do you go to find inspiration?
I am listening to a lot of music. I am making a playlist with someone and we are always trying to one up each other with a different song. Sometimes I’ll put an eye-mask on. And I am just listening. Not seeing, not speaking, just breathing and listening. That has been the most helpful to me in terms of inspiration and getting myself re-centered. Also a good sunset and looking at the sky. Yesterday I was coming back from the grocery store and it was looking like it was going to rain, there were little droplets, and the sky was just moving and I stopped. I don’t do that enough. I don’t stop enough to look at something and thoroughly appreciate it for existing. And yesterday the sky was moving. It was so simple but it made me feel so much better and I was like “wow, how lucky am I to see this, to feel this, to see it, and smell it.” And I came home and I wrote.