I have wanted to use “they” pronouns since 2019. Now, I’m ready to talk about it.

It’s never really the right time to come out, but I’ve always been someone people listen to.

“Queer” is the word I use to describe my sexual preferences and gender. It’s an umbrella term for me. I try not to think about it too much when it comes to dating: I like who I like, and that’s that.

Gender is a little different. Some days I feel like a girl; seldom do I feel like a “woman.”

I tried using “they/them” pronouns (in addition to “she/her”) during the grey area between my 2019 college graduation and the start of COVID-19. I was writing my name on a whiteboard at my old job and needed to include my pronouns. I kept writing “she/they,” only to erase the second word.

I weighed whether a pronoun switch would confuse too many people. I wondered whether I truly felt this way, or if I was making all of it up. I talked to my therapist about it. I talked to my trans friends and my queer friends. I decided it wasn’t time to come out yet; I had some stuff to figure out.

In the aftermath of the pandemic, I have had time to think about my gender and sexuality, and I have realized that I have always known who I was. It’s other people who didn’t understand. 

A friend from back home once described our hometown in rural North Carolina as a place where everyone knew he was gay, but no one really gave him a hard time about it. I don’t think anyone gave me a hard time about it either, but I remember what the people around me were saying.

The first time I heard “gay” as an insult was in the carpool line at my elementary school. I think it was described to me as “boys who kiss boys and girls who kiss girls” in a tone that suggested the very idea was absurd. From then on, I knew I had to associate “gay” and “bad” to blend in, because that’s how everyone else was acting.

There are lots of memories like this. A classmate once told me her parents never let her watch Teletubbies becuase they were “gay.” There was a teacher who told two of my male classmates “don’t do that or people will think you’re gay.” I was always worried that my eyes would linger too long in the locker room and someone would call me out.

It took a long time for me to realize that these weren’t things other people worried about. I thought everyone else was also living in their head.

Growing up, a lot of people around me were going through things that seemed much more important at the time. It felt out of the question that I could be anything other than an ally, but my “rational approach” didn’t make the thoughts go away. I wasn’t really thinking about anyone in particular; I was just thinking about it.

There are a lot of people who will see my photo and tell me I’m still a woman, and deny me the agency of making my own decisions about my gender. They do it because that’s all they can see me as. They do it to put me in my place — to put me back in a box I never really fit into. 

I don’t really care; I know who I am. Now you do, too.

My top stories of 2021

Note: This is copy-pasted directly from my Twitter account!

FINALLY getting around to sharing some of my stories (& some favorite things) from 2021! So much happened this year and I’m so thankful to all the folks who read my stuff and care about the things I say, but also the folks who tell me their stories.

None of these are happy stories, but they are stories I’m proud of writing and spent a lot of time on.

The thing about living through the End Times is that normal things still happen in the day-to-day. I entered my mid-twenties. I switched jobs. I read things and watched things and saw people when I could. I’m still bored of dating apps and looking for the perfect plaid pants!

One of the things I feel most proud of is writing my first INDY Week cover story. Remember when that mammoth Texas gas station was trying to come to N.C.?

After a Month of Public Comments, Orange County Sends Buc-ee’s Back to the Drawing Board

In February, I wrote about the Campus Y at UNC break-in and the resilience of the students who dedicate their time to it. I felt very humbled to have them reach out to me to share their story.

UNC-Chapel Hill’s Campus Y Reclaims Its Community Following Break-In

In April, I wrote about Kalkidan Miller, a teenager who was punched by a grown man at a Chapel Hill BLM rally. She used the moment to advocate for better hate crime laws in North Carolina.

A Teenager Was Attacked at a Black Lives Matter Vigil. Now, She’s Working to Fix the State’s Hate Crime Law.

If you haven’t noticed, I really love having the opportunity to give young people a voice. This shorter story on parents attempting to censor the Southern Alamance HS yearbook is an example of that.

Southern Alamance High School’s Yearbook Documented What Happened This School Year. Parents Are Furious.

The Nikole Hannah-Jones and UNC story went from nothing to everything so suddenly. It was an honor to dive into the history of inequality in UNC and shed light on a glaring issue in our public education.

Nikole Hannah-Jones’s Experience with UNC Is Emblematic Of a Common Struggle for Black Women in Academia

In August, something kind of wild happened: I got an offer to become an opinion writer for McClatchy’s NC team, and now my work appears in The News & Observer, The Durham Herald-Sun, and The Charlotte Observer. For the next stories, you may hit a paywall! Don’t forget that there’s a day pass!

Instead of a soft landing, I came in at the same time Texas banned abortions at six weeks. It was quite the intro.

We’re not Texas yet, but North Carolina already makes abortion inaccessible

Soon after starting, I revealed my Mayberry roots and found myself once again wishing for a little more compassion. This got picked up by a ton of other papers, including The Winston-Salem Journal, my “home paper.”

Maybe we should change how we talk to Mayberry about the COVID vaccine

In October, North Carolina started a new policy for prison mail that further isolates incarcerated people. I’ve received lots of emails and letters from folks on the inside since writing this, and it’s been a real humbling moment.

New NC prison policy on cards and letters is cruel and confusing

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Wake County Public Library removing a specific book from circulation after complaints (not to mention a lot of fanfare from the lt. gov.), and why it may actually be unconstitutional:

Wake County Library ban of LGBTQ+ book may be unconstitutional

And finally, the other day I wrote about tenants at a particular Durham apartment complex who were told to be out by Dec. 31, but now don’t have to be, and have been hearing so many different things that it’s obvious who deals with the blowback.

Durham renters told they needed to be gone by New Year’s until media got involved

I hope you liked them too, and you keep up with my work in 2022! I have some ideas I’m hoping to make a reality and I want y’all along for the ride.

The Story of The Moon

In honor of Patty Mato’s 25th birthday, and to get back into memoir-style writing, I wanted to share this short story with y’all. I’m hoping to do more of these to share my favorite memories with important people in my life, so be on the lookout!

I have a confession, one that may not be surprising to anyone that’s seen me in the last year: I have a funny-looking tattoo.

It’s a little waning crescent moon on my left wrist, facing out so it’s the first thing you notice if I’m writing or drinking a cup of coffee. The ink is a little dotty, it’s not very dark, and the bottom tip is a little dull.

It looks a little funny compared with my other two patches of inked skin (a Venus symbol above my right elbow and a rendition of Pilot Mountain on my ribs). But while I love all my tattoos, this one is different.

This is the one my best friend gave me.

Patty Matos and I met because we were going to be spending a week together in London for a class. It was the first semester since I was hospitalized, I had quit my sorority, and I was feeling a little unsteady about it all.

I got a text from my friend who was studying abroad, telling me I should befriend her roommate for next year, since we’re in the same class and all. So one of the first days of class, I introduced myself to her.

I don’t know if you can explain Patty with words. I think the first thing that always comes to mind is a line from One Direction’s “Girl Almighty, ” a line she has her own tattoo for: let’s pray we stay young, stay made of lightning.

Patty is someone I’m convinced was created with a kind of spark that most humans don’t have. There’s always something new she’s excited about, or something she’s ready to tell you. She is one of the few people I’ve met that knows more pop culture more than I do, and she has a closet full of patterned dresses and witty t-shirts and a dresser covered in makeup she’s collected over the years.

But don’t think for a second Patty is vapid. She is caring and she is passionate. She is someone that is great at knowing what she wants. She reminds me every day that it’s important to stand up for what you believe in, even when it’s uncomfortable.

Fast forward a few months, and stick us in the middle of a snowstorm. I’m staying with Patty, her two roommates/friends, and another friend seeking solace from the cold. It was day two or three of being in a house with one bathroom and three cats, but it was good. It was a pause in time, where our impending finals and the impending future of graduation didn’t exist. It was just friends and cats and falling snow.

I had been joking for a long time that I was going to let Patty give me a stick-and-poke tattoo (she has a kit and is a master bullshitter, and thus has convinced us all that she kind of knows what she’s doing). And as we sat altogether in this tiny house in Carrboro, it just felt like the right way to commemorate the week. I wanted a moon tattoo for years, so it just made sense to me to go ahead and get it.


Anyways, the stick-and-poke process hurts like hell and I almost passed out because I hadn’t eaten anything in hours. And as soon as Patty went over it a second time, we realized we had to stop because my skin was swelling. She said she’d touch it up once it healed.

It’s almost been a year, and we haven’t touched it up.

Patty moved to Iowa to work on a certain Senator’s presidential campaign. I still live in North Carolina and work in media. Both of us are learning who we are as fully-functioning adults.

I don’t think I’ll ever let her touch it up, honestly. It feels like a sort of promise — it is a perpetual reason for us to meet again.

I have a funny-looking tattoo of the moon, but I refuse to call it bad. It’s a tattoo that reminds me every day that things don’t have to be perfect to be lovely, and that the memory matters more than the physical manifestation of it. I love my crooked little moon, and I wouldn’t change a single thing about it.

The Boys of Fall: Football in a Small Town

Follow the bear tracks – they’re fading now, but you can still see hints of paint on South Street. Follow them past small houses, past the old hair salon, through the stoplight, down the hill, past the water plant, to Wallace Shelton Stadium.

Mount Airy High School teachers work the ticket stand – students get in free and most people buy season passes, but there are visiting parents and the random college student that need to pay the $5 entry. Rock music from the intercom mixes with the marching band’s drums.

It’s a Friday night in Mount Airy, and the Granite Bears have a home football game. Football isn’t just something to do on a Friday night in a small town. It’s the only thing to do. From the time you can throw a ball to when you’re teaching your kids what offense and defense is, Friday night lights are something that never change.

Someone sells navy blue sweatshirts emblazoned with the phrase “Respect Tradition” close to the entrance. No one is in the stands yet – everyone is visiting with one another.

The $200,000 digital scoreboard was put up this summer. As the players prepare to run out, a video of the team pumps up the crowd. There’s an overhead view of the four captains driving through downtown Mount Airy – or “Mayberry,” as it is affectionately known.

The video ends with a photo of a grizzly bear and a boisterous roar. The players run out, bumping chests as they race to the sidelines.

The captains – Ian Holder, Ryan Edwards, Tanner Jackson and Grey Tucker – walk to meet the referees for the coin toss. They hold hands as they cross the field.

Winston-Salem Prep starts on offense. Cheerleaders fly into the air, the crowd collectively raises its hands, aaaaaaaah, kick, hands down, game time.

Mount Airy High is 8-0 in 2017, with two regular conference games left after tonight. Several players are standouts this year – especially wide receiver Donovan Greene, who is being flown to the University of Notre Dame tomorrow. While several players stand out, the team itself is cohesive. It is what happens when you have the same teammates since you were in elementary school.

Few families are in the bleachers yet. Everyone tends to arrive at once. Parents aren’t the only spectators – there are grandparents, students, band moms and folks from around town. The kids on the field may not be their sons, but they are their boys.

“We’ve been watching this group of boys and this same crowd for six years,” Becki Buffaloe said. “And they’re good kids.”

Buffaloe is Grey Tucker’s grandmother. Every Friday, she and her husband, Merrick, drive from Raleigh to watch the Granite Bears play. Buffaloe, a history and current events teacher at Wake Christian Academy, will follow her school’s game on Twitter while sitting in the Mount Airy stands.

The family has no ties to the town itself – Todd and Conni Tucker moved here in 2009 for Todd’s new job. It was snowing when they arrived. Almost as soon as their car pulled in the driveway, Grey and his sister Anna Kate started sledding with some of the kids in the neighborhood.

Eight years later and Mount Airy football is a family affair. The Buffaloes sit with Todd’s mom Linda, as well as Conni’s sister and her sons who are here for the game. Anna Kate will join them when she gets back from her tennis match.

Ian Holder runs down the field to score the first touchdown of the game. The crowd cheers. A video of him tossing a football back and forth plays as Robert Brown makes the extra point. The band begins the fight song, the cheerleaders dance and the crowd yells “Go Big Blue!”

Last season was different. It was the first year without athletic director and assistant coach Donald Price, who passed away from pancreatic cancer in June. He had been a part of the Mount Airy football program for 23 years.

“Last year was a special year, an emotional year,” head coach Kelly Holder said. “For the team, and for the whole school really.”

Holder kept the #ForPrice banner in the trunk of his car until just a few weeks ago.

Grey Tucker says the loss was monumental, but it made the team closer. It fueled their drive as a team – every game was #ForPrice, from the first game against Starmount High School to the state playoffs.

Their season came to an end in the West regional championship – one step away from the state championship game.

While the memorial ribbon painted on the field is no longer there, the team preserves Price’s memory in other ways.

“Someone was wearing pink cleats tonight, and Coach Price would not have liked that,” Grey said. “He’s probably turning over in his grave right now.”

The team remembers him at practice too – no one should be showing off, no one should be taking away from the team. It’s part of Granite Bear tradition.

“This is the way we’ve always done it, and this is the way it’s going to be,” Grey said.

The game is 50-0 at halftime.

“You end up feeling sorry for the other team more than you do for Mount Airy,” Linda Tucker said.

The family debates the required score to start the “mercy rule” – is it 45? 50? (It’s 42 points over the other team, according to the NCSHAA). This isn’t the first time the rule would be enacted this season – it would be the third time in a row.

The halftime show is postponed so there can be a ceremony to recognize the Little League teams. Boys in their own navy jerseys walk on to the field with their parents. In a few years, they’ll be the ones with the faces on the scoreboard. Their jerseys may change, but the team stays the same.

“It’s like you’re a little super star,” Grey said of being a Mount Airy football player. “You go to Lowe’s Hardware and people will say ‘You did good at the game the other night.’”

Coach Holder is recognized during this time for overseeing 250 games as head coach. He coached both of his sons during this time – first Logan, now Ian.

“I was one of those who didn’t know if I’d come back or not,” Holder said. “But it’s just a great place to raise a family. It is Mayberry.”