Equality Arizona
The Arizona Equals Conversation
Arizona Equals Canella
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Arizona Equals Canella

Hope, historical perspectives, and right-wing echo chambers

On this week’s episode of the Arizona Equals Conversation, we talk with Canella Caro, a student at ASU who plan to be a history teacher, about hope in uncertain times, the process of learning empathy, and the culture of right-wing echo chambers online.

The Arizona Equals Conversation is an interview podcast collecting the stories of LGBTQ+ people living in Arizona. To listen to past episodes of the podcast, or to sign up to be a guest on a future episode of the show, visit equalityarizona.org/stories.

Full Episode Transcript

Jeanne Woodbury

From Equality Arizona, you're listening to the Arizona Equals Conversation, a podcast about queer people and queer communities in Arizona. I'm Jeanne Woodbury. I'm the interim executive director at Equality Arizona, and each week on the show, I talk with a queer person about their story. Today's interview with my guest, Canella Caro, is something really special. Early on when I was planning this series, I kind of made a promise to myself not to ask the really typical coming out questions like, what changed in your relationship to your family? What changed in your relationship to your friends? Things like that, because it falls right into the narrative that I think people project onto queer people. That it's all about this one moment. That it's all about showing the world who you've always known yourself to be and damn the consequences. And it's not to say that that isn't actually a very common part of people's experiences, but there's so much more going on. And that idea of projection is something we actually ended up talking about in a very different way in relation to Canella's experience as an immigrant and the story people expect from them because of that. But even beyond that, this isn't a story that fits an easy narrative. This is a story about radically reevaluating your relationship to queer people and queer community as part of a longer process of radically reevaluating your relationship to yourself. And it was special for me as an interviewer to hear that story because it's something that I share and it's not something I've found that I have in common with a lot of people. It's also really fascinating because we talk a lot about right-wing echo chambers and the effect that alt-right influencers like Ben Shapiro can have on very, very young people using the internet. There's a lot of complexity here, and I'm so appreciative of Canella for sharing all of that so openly on the podcast. I think that you'll all really enjoy this episode, and I want to get right into it. So let's roll the tape.

[BEEP]

[TYPING]

[CLICK]

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Canella Caro

Hello, my name is Canella. I go by she/they pronouns. Yeah.

Jeanne Woodbury

Cool. Thanks for being here. While I was struggling to get this audio set up to work, You mentioned you've worked as an audio engineer before, which made me feel kind of terrible.

Canella Caro

No, don't worry, I suck.

(both laughing)

Jeanne Woodbury

— But —

Canella Caro

There's a reason I don't do sound anymore.

Jeanne Woodbury

Where were you doing that work?

Canella Caro

Oh, it was an internship for this like itty bitty venue down in like downtown Tucson.

Jeanne Woodbury

Oh, cool.

Canella Caro

Yeah, the venue used to be like this abandoned hotel that this guy turned into like a bunch of shops. They had a bunch of little artisan shops and played a bunch of live music, and I helped out the main sound guy with that.

Jeanne Woodbury

That's really cool.

Canella Caro

Yeah, it was a lot of fun.

Jeanne Woodbury

How long did you work there?

Canella Caro

I started working there in February last year and then stopped in July of the same year.

Jeanne Woodbury

Oh, okay. Yeah.

Canella Caro

Yeah.

Jeanne Woodbury

And was that to move up here to Tempe?

Canella Caro

Yeah, and also I was not being paid.

Canella Caro

(both laughing) And once I needed the internship for a project I was doing for my high school.

Jeanne Woodbury

I see, okay.

Canella Caro

And once that project period ended, there wasn't really much need to keep doing it if I wasn't getting any sort of reward.

Jeanne Woodbury

That makes sense, yeah. If you can get the credit, then that counts, but otherwise you don't wanna do an unpaid job.

Canella Caro

Yeah, it goes on my resume though, so.

Jeanne Woodbury

That's good, yeah. So did you grow up in Tucson then?

Canella Caro

I was born in Chile. I lived there for like the first three and a half years of my life.

Jeanne Woodbury

Oh, okay.

Canella Caro

And then I moved to Arizona. So I've been in Arizona all my life basically, but not necessarily in Tucson. I used to live in, over in Graham County. It's like bordering New Mexico. There's this like itty bitty town, very white town that I lived there for like the first, what, until I was about like nine, and then I moved to Tucson.

Jeanne Woodbury

And that, is this like a 1,000 person town kind of thing, or?

Canella Caro

It's, yeah… there were a lot of Mormons.

Jeanne Woodbury

Interesting.

Canella Caro

And I was like the only person of color within like a 500 mile radius. (laughs)

Jeanne Woodbury

Oh wow.

Canella Caro

For a bit. Like, it was me and this other girl who were like the only non-white people around.

Jeanne Woodbury

Oh wow.

Canella Caro

So yeah, it was a pretty small town, pretty tight knit, yeah.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, how long were you there?

Canella Caro

Until I was about nine, so for like six-ish years.

Jeanne Woodbury

Oh, so a lot of formative development.

Canella Caro

Yeah, yeah. So I spent a lot of my childhood there, but a lot of the important parts were here in Tucson.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, that makes sense. So do you have memories from Chile or really…

Canella Caro

Kind of, because I mean, I did go visit every once in a while to see family 'cause all of my extended family's there. I only have my parents and my siblings in the United States. So yeah, I do, I remember little things. Like I remember the fruit magnets on the fridge, the yellow walls, dancing with my dad. Um, that kind of thing. You do always get the occasional random person comes up to you and goes, Hey, I knew you when you were a baby! That kind of thing, that kind of experience

Jeanne Woodbury

But I don't know you, because I was a baby.

Canella Caro

Yeah, I don't know. Yeah infant amnesia kinda hit.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah I was even younger than that when my family moved to Arizona, but all my siblings are older than me. So they have more memories from — Pennsylvania is where we moved from — so they have more memories from there than I do. And it's interesting because there's like that family history in a place that I have no memory of, even though I'm technically from there.

Canella Caro

Yeah.

Jeanne Woodbury

Are your siblings older than you or younger than you?

Canella Caro

Oh, I'm the oldest. Yeah.

Jeanne Woodbury

Oh, okay.

Canella Caro

Both of my siblings were born here too. So, yeah, I'm the first one to leave the nest.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah.

Canella Caro

Yeah.

Jeanne Woodbury

That's an interesting position to be in, I think. Do you have like pressure as like an older sibling role model?

Canella Caro

Kind of yeah, I mean not like explicitly. Nobody's like — my parents never like compared me, compared my younger siblings to me or anything because I was kind of the black sheep of the family

Jeanne Woodbury

Oh really?

Canella Caro

For now. But there is that kind of obligation to be a good example, which I haven't really been but… (laughs) but yeah.

Jeanne Woodbury

I feel like also for a lot of people who come to the United States as a family, there's extra pressure on the kids to like really take advantage of like going to university here.

Canella Caro

Yeah. Both of my parents, they both went to university. In fact, I think, like, my mom was like one of the first in her family for generations to go to university

Jeanne Woodbury

Oh, that's really cool.

Canella Caro

Because we came from like the south of Chile and it's more like countryside, rural kind of area. So yeah, they're very like academic based.

Jeanne Woodbury

Is that why they moved here?

Canella Caro

My dad — we moved here because my father was offered a job here.

Jeanne Woodbury

Oh, okay.

Canella Caro

Yeah, the company he works for has like a branch, and… is an American company and has a branch in Chile. So he was offered, and he moved.

Jeanne Woodbury

Oh, that's cool.

Canella Caro

Yeah, yeah. No like… no American dream story.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, just, it's a job and now I'm here.

Canella Caro

Yeah, he just kind of came here.

Jeanne Woodbury

That makes sense.

Canella Caro

Mm-hmm

Jeanne Woodbury

In Arizona?

Canella Caro

Yeah, it was in Arizona.

Jeanne Woodbury

Oh nice, okay, that's cool

Canella Caro

Yeah, because copper mining is pretty popular here and in Chile, so.

Jeanne Woodbury

Oh that's right. Yeah, that's a that's a link that makes a lot of sense.

Canella Caro

Yeah, yeah, industry.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, I think it's interesting because — my grandma's from Cuba and she moved here not for the reason most people from Cuba have moved here over the past 70 years; she moved here before the revolution to go to college

Canella Caro

Oh, nice.

Jeanne Woodbury

Or around that same time. So she wasn't fleeing the revolution or anything like that. She just moved here and she went to college and she stayed here and got a job at Bell Labs. And it's something where, those stories are always interesting because people project a certain image or story onto your experience and then it's like, well it was exciting and interesting because she was a woman in the 50s getting a graduate degree. But at the same time, it's not the story people think it is.

Canella Caro

Yeah, definitely. I, yeah, people often — when you say like, when I say that I'm an immigrant people often assume that I have an accent or you know, you get the little microaggression of "oh your English is so good."

Jeanne Woodbury

Do you get that a lot?

Canella Caro

When I was a child, yes. Now that I'm older not so much. Or people assume that you had to like translate for your parents. No, my mother Learned English on her on her own. She studied German in college she's really good with languages. Or the idea that we're like really poor and struggling to get by. Or, like, the areas that we live in, because we always lived in the suburbs and, yeah, like white suburbs of the US so you feel that disconnect between other people who do have that story and it's like, damn.

Jeanne Woodbury

Do you feel like that's like a double alienation then, where you have a disconnect from people who have that story and then you're in in these predominantly white areas?

Canella Caro

Yeah, 'cause I don't feel like, it's a difference in, like I know being a person of color here in the US, you have a different experience than people who are white, but there's still layers within that where sometimes you feel it, almost feel like you don't have that joint identity of oppression, if I went to a good school, I had a lot of friends, my parents were well respected in their communities. I guess you could say we assimilated pretty well, while also retaining parts of our culture. Like I never had the experience, at least not that I remember, of getting some random person to be like, "You're in America, speak English."

Jeanne Woodbury

Oh, okay, I mean that's good.

Canella Caro

Yeah, I mean it's a positive. I'm never gonna say like, "I wish I had that," but you feel that disconnect from a group that you really wanna connect to.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And Tucson has like a really unique character to it, I think.

Canella Caro

Yeah.

Jeanne Woodbury

Although I'm not as familiar with like Graham County, and so I don't know how distinct the Tucson area is from that, but compared to Phoenix, it's a pretty unique place. When you moved to Tucson and then, growing up in Tucson, what was it like for you?

Canella Caro

I didn't really think much of it. I mean, a lot of the reasons why I moved here is because a lot of our friends were moving here, like family friends, 'cause my parents weren't the only people to move from Chile because of work. We had other friends within the company or other stuff. And they all started moving to Tucson as well, 'cause work. And I guess opportunities were better, so that's why we moved. And I don't know, I didn't really think much of it because again, I was pretty small, like when we moved to Tucson.

Jeanne Woodbury

That makes sense.

Canella Caro

I just kind of thought of it as, oh man, all my friends over here are not gonna be with me, but I'm gonna make new friends here.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah.

Canella Caro

Yeah. But it was, one thing that was interesting though is the diversity. You see different religions, different types of people, different orientations, things that I wouldn't even think were a thing, mainly because I was a child, but also because of the environment I was living in for like the first nine years of my life.

Jeanne Woodbury

Right, yeah.

Canella Caro

So yeah, like for once I could go to school and say, "Oh my God," without the entire class getting mad at me for saying the Lord's name in vain.

Jeanne Woodbury

Oh, right, that's a good point. Even really simple stuff like that.

Canella Caro

Yeah, really simple stuff 'cause we're not, my family's never Mormon, so like I was raised Christian, but there is that disconnect too.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, there is.

Canella Caro

It was easier to kind of settle in Tucson.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, that makes sense. Tucson has, like it's not a huge city, but it's a good sized city for sure. And it's something where I think it has the character of a bigger city in a lot of ways in terms of just, it feels really queer? Like there's something kind of like gay in like the core of Tucson in a really cool way.

Canella Caro

Especially the high school that I went to. It was, so I wasn't in like Tucson, like downtown Tucson. Like you know how here in like Phoenix, we're not in Phoenix right now, we're in Chandler, right?

Jeanne Woodbury

Exactly, yeah.

Canella Caro

Yeah, I lived in like Marana and went to school in Oro Valley, which was around that time, which is pretty, you know, pretty big suburb, pretty like higher income area. But yeah, there was a lot of queerness in the high school that I went to and the environment, it was much easier to be queer where I was living, at least amongst your friends. Like, none of us really got the experience where we'd get bullied for being, bullied for not being straight or anything. There was some transphobia, but —

Jeanne Woodbury

In your high school?

Canella Caro

Yeah, yeah.

Jeanne Woodbury

From other students or from an administrative standpoint?

Canella Caro

From other students, from myself, 'cause we didn't know any better.

Jeanne Woodbury

Oh, yeah.

Canella Caro

And we didn't even know ourselves.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah.

Canella Caro

So, but it's a different experience, I guess.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, no I mean that's a really interesting thing that you're getting at, is sometimes before we really figure things out, we'll contribute to the problem.

Canella Caro

Yeah, I pride myself on how much I've changed, because I really started to be — I feel like when I was more aware of things during the 2016 election. However, I was more on the right back then, so I had a lot of prejudices, I had a lot of things that I didn't understand, a lot of internalized homophobia, all the phobias.

Jeanne Woodbury

Right.

Canella Caro

Yeah, and it wasn't until I got older and stepped out of my shell and spoke to different types of people that I realized that you kind of learn from that. And you try to, like yeah, I can't undo that I was really mean and really not the best person back in middle school, but you just grow up and be better.

Jeanne Woodbury

Right, I think that is what growing up is about, is being open to change and acknowledging your mistakes. Also, I have to think, I mean, the 2016 election was almost seven years ago.

Canella Caro

Yeah, yeah, it's been a while.

Jeanne Woodbury

So it's not like you were an adult who had had a lot of time to like settle into your political opinions.

Canella Caro

Yeah, I was 12 with my mom still checking over my private Instagram account. And yeah, being in a conservative family as well, so.

Jeanne Woodbury

Do you think that's where the different phobias, like transphobia and homophobia, that you were feeling and expressing came from? Just the environment you were in?

Canella Caro

The environment, I guess the internet counts as that environment too. It's really easy to fall into echo chambers. I mean, for context, my mom and I would watch debates together, or I started watching a lot of right-wing online content creators. And when you're 12, you don't really know what's — you don't know what is right, what's fair, what's not. You're not really that well-versed in empathy. So when you see Ben Shapiro laughing at, like making fun of this college student for being too emotional or something, you think, you kind of join in on that mob mentality because it's fun to see someone else get roasted or laughed at.

Jeanne Woodbury

Right. I mean, there's a whole comedy genre of a roast, and it's usually in good faith. And then if it's the first time you're coming across it, why are you going to assume something's wrong with it, I guess?

Canella Caro

Yeah. Or also maybe you think, huh, this guy's speaking fast. He seems very factual. He's very logical thinking. And this girl over here, she's very emotional and getting mad and yelling. So your little, little child brain immediately gears toward the logical guy.

Jeanne Woodbury

Where did you find, like, Ben Shapiro?

Canella Caro

Oh, just on YouTube. I grew up with the internet, so it was so easy. And I had a crush on a guy back in like middle school and he was very right-wing and he would like send me links and stuff. And I started watching things and it was — it's so easy to fall into the like anti-SJW rabbit hole that was really popular back in 2016/17.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, it was all over the internet.

Canella Caro

Yeah, and it was all fun and games until you realized that you fit into the category of the people you're making fun of.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah. When did you hit that realization?

Canella Caro

Realizing that I was bisexual, and probably just being aware of like intersectionality and, like, yeah sure just because of like the disconnect that I told you before, that I didn't experience certain types of oppression, that doesn't mean that other people didn't experience that. Like I got lucky. That doesn't mean other people of color were as privileged as I was to grow up in this type of environment.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah.

Canella Caro

And also just kind of shedding my like, not-like-the-other-girls internalized misogyny kind of thing and I guess just developing empathy.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, but developing empathy takes work.

Canella Caro

It does.

Jeanne Woodbury

It's not just something that happens naturally. Yeah, it can be easy to just say, but I enjoy the the camaraderie of bullying that like Ben Shapiro creates, right? And then not go any farther than that. Like there's nothing that says you, you have to develop empathy. I think we make choices to develop empathy.

Canella Caro

Yeah, a lot of it was just making different friends at school, from different backgrounds. Like I used to be the token conservative friend for a bit.

Jeanne Woodbury

Oh yeah.

Canella Caro

Then I wasn't. (Laughs) It was a very gradual process.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah.

Canella Caro

But, also experiencing like the reaction that I got when I first came out made me realize that, "Oh, these people are not my friends. These people are not supportive of me." I'm more of like a bargaining chip for a movement by being the Hispanic queer who's conservative.

Jeanne Woodbury

Right, like you're the token person that they can use.

Canella Caro

Yeah, they can use like, "Hey, we're not hateful. Look at this person, she's one of us."

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah.

Canella Caro

But in reality, no, they're not your friends.

Jeanne Woodbury

Right. Well, and did you expect it to be a problem for that group of people? Or did you expect them to be like, sweet, this is great, now we have this token?

Canella Caro

I expected to be, I expected to be liked and accepted, because I, while I had my prejudices, one thing that I wasn't was homophobic.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah.

Canella Caro

Like I didn't understand any of it. Ever since I was a child. Like my dad would say like, oh yeah, he talked to me 'cause I didn't know who Freddie Mercury was as a child and I started listening to Queen, and my dad was like, yeah, he's a man who likes other men. And I thought, huh. And when gay marriage was legalized, I kinda didn't really think much of it. I was more just repeating what my family was saying, despite being like, I don't really care. (laughs)

Jeanne Woodbury

Right. What's the big deal?

Canella Caro

Yeah, so when I first came out as bisexual, I did not expect to be ostracized by my family or by people that I used to call friends at the time, or by the internet, even.

Jeanne Woodbury

Oh, how did that play out, online?

Canella Caro

Well, you get the usual. People say it's just a phase, or you're gay, but you're not fully committing, or you're straight, but you wanna experiment. The usual. I'd get, you know, online it's really easy to be called a slur and stuff, even if it doesn't apply to you. I got my fair share of the D slur, even though that's not mine.

Jeanne Woodbury

Right, they'll just pick whatever they want.

Canella Caro

Yeah, you'll just… they'll just pick whatever. It wasn't, it wasn't that impactful. It was more what I was seeing in my own home that really affected me. I was able to kind of find my own little space online being, you know, in 2017, being in middle school, the little like baby gay, as you'd call it,

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah.

Canella Caro

Yeah, with your little flower crown and your like pastel aesthetic that you liked online. I was that kid. I was very annoying.

Jeanne Woodbury

No, that's amazing.

Canella Caro

Yeah, you gotta go through that phase before you figure out who you really are.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, I think you know, I mean people will use the word phase especially towards bi people. But like we do go through phases. Yeah, it's not like our identity as a phase, but of course we go through phases. We're people. We're changing.

Canella Caro

Yeah, even what we believe in or how we express ourselves, like online you'll always find people on TikTok being annoying and dressing in all rainbow — or when you think of the… Target like during pride month. They came out with that rainbow suit. You like laugh at it, but then you think well, yeah, there's there's this one like 11 year old who's closeted and thinks, "I'm gay, I want to wear that everywhere. When I come out, I want to wear that everywhere." Cause that was me.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, loudly gay all the time.

Canella Caro

I'd draw like little rainbows, like the little stripes on my fingers in Sharpie with my best friend at the time.

Jeanne Woodbury

That's so fun.

Canella Caro

Yeah, I went to a Panic! at the Disco concert and that's probably the queerest thing you could do back in the late 2010s.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, I think so.

Canella Caro

Yeah.

Jeanne Woodbury

I feel like that's also kind of just a, I don't know, Tucson experience on some level. Like that can happen anywhere, but there's something like extra Tucson about it to me.

Canella Caro

Yeah, like my parents could rip down my bi flag and tell me they wouldn't allow me to bring in a girl ever to their house, but I could leave, go to school, and be with all my friends and we were all like gender fluid and yeah, we'd all be supportive.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah.

Canella Caro

Mm-hmm.

Jeanne Woodbury

You know, I had a similar experience, right — I was conservative for a while and I came out as bi and found out oh, I didn't think they would necessarily have a huge problem with this and they do. Partly because I didn't really ever get the homophobia. I, like I didn't understand where it was coming from, and then later on when I when I figured out some more gender stuff and came out that way I realized like "oh, yeah, no, there's a there's a total disconnect here."

Canella Caro

Mm-hmm

Jeanne Woodbury

But I did have more complicated feelings about gender politically when I was conservative.

Canella Caro

Oh yeah, me too

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, so then it sounds like you also had a process to go through with gender that was… that was maybe different from the process coming out as bi.

Canella Caro

Yeah, no, absolutely. Like again, I didn't understand. Like I was like, hmm, I can see myself dating a girl, and boom, I'm bi

Jeanne Woodbury

Right,

Canella Caro

But you know, you never really understood. You grew up with, "there's only two genders," you grew up with all that sort of thing.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah.

Canella Caro

Even when somebody transitioned you'd be like, you'd think they were weird. Like why are they wanting to be something else? You don't get it.

Jeanne Woodbury

Well, I didn't know anyone who transitioned.

Canella Caro

I didn't either but I, you know had the internet. We had… you'd make fun of people. Like it was particularly trans women. Even to this day they're probably very targeted. But even back then you'd make fun of a, like a trans woman or a, calling them like a bunch of names and a bunch of stuff and that's what I grew up with. Also the like toxic masculinity of "you're girly" if you're a guy, like guys like this, like if a guy acts even remotely different, he's gay, he's a cross-dresser, all these things. So you have these very set… I also have very black and white thinking, and you have these very set perceptions of what a guy is, what a girl is. And well, I thought, yeah, girls can dress differently, but I didn't think that same way for guys, and so —

Jeanne Woodbury

There's different rules.

Canella Caro

Yeah, yeah, so that was one thing and then realizing hmm, I'm a little different too and yeah, so when I had people come out to me as non-binary I was so confused. I admit I wasn't the best. I had in middle school. There was this person he — last time I knew of him, I believe he used he/him pronouns — he transitioned and it was like the first like trans person that I've ever met in my life, and I thought they were just confused, thought he was just trying to be someone else because he took up a name — we were into the same things, and he changed his name to something… like named himself after like a celebrity or something that we both knew, which — totally within his right. But me being a little brat, I was like no they're, he's just looking for attention. And even to this day like I wonder how he's doing because I still really want to apologize for that because I wasn't the only one who was acting that way and I bet his experience at the school that we went to wasn't the best and I kind of wish it was but I hope he's doing well. And realizing last year that oh, hey when I think of myself — like we all have this image of ourselves in our head like how we look like. Like maybe you have long hair, maybe you have a certain piercing that you wanna get: I saw myself with like a guy's body, and I was like, "How do we get here?" And that's something I'm still dealing with.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, I mean, it's so hard, because wherever that comes from, it concentrates on… the type of transphobia that exists on the internet is really separate from what it's like to be trans and what it's like to figure out gender or gender fluidity. It's so different and it focuses on these strict categories and black and white thinking like you were saying, and also totally targets trans women so often as a subject for ridicule. And then when you start to figure things out for yourself, it's so irrelevant to what's real that it can be hard to square the two things. You have this like knee jerk reaction to all of it. And then it's just like, wait, but this is me. And it doesn't feel like the thing that they're making fun of. It's not that.

Canella Caro

Yeah.

Jeanne Woodbury

And then "where do you go from there?" is a really hard thing to figure out.

Canella Caro

And also, even, you even have certain perceptions of what it means to be non-binary, or what it means to be gender fluid, or how you're supposed to act. So even that's difficult to figure out yourself, where it's like, well, I groove with androgyny, but it's not like I feel dysphoria where I feel that certain emotion about my body. It's just, it doesn't feel like me or something like that or however it's described. Or I still like wearing makeup and dresses and heels, and I get my nails done, and if someone says I'm a girl, I'm like fine with it. But at the same time, there's still something else. Like, can I be both? I can't be both. How do you be neither? It's so much.

Jeanne Woodbury

And people figure that out in different ways for themselves all the time. I feel like also a lot of it is about finding people that you can be in community with, who can provide those different templates and give you a map to move through.

Canella Caro

Yeah.

Jeanne Woodbury

Because if it's just like Ben Shapiro making fun of trans women or making fun of people who use different pronouns or whatever, you're not actually seeing a map of what it means to move through the world. It's just a map of different ways to get made fun of. And having people in your life who are trans or gender fluid is a really great opportunity to say, okay, well, I don't even have to be exactly like them, but now I know a version of a way to figure this out and I can diverge in some ways and converge in other ways

Canella Caro

Yeah, definitely. I mean all I knew when I back in my like conservative era was just whiny women with colored hair crying over Trump winning the election. I didn't think why they were upset; I didn't think what their problem was. I didn't think someone could feel so strongly about a political candidate

Jeanne Woodbury

Right.

Canella Caro

I didn't know any of that. I just saw: somebody's crying, somebody's weak. And so, yeah, it's — and it's not like you had a role model, like I, my mom's a feminist, but you can always improve, you can always grow. But I never really had a queer role model. I never had a gender non-conforming role model or a trans role model. The closest I had were dead musicians and online content creators who dyed their hair occasionally. Like even to this day, I don't, you don't really see that much, only just now in media.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah.

Canella Caro

And a lot of places to learn about. Like it's hard to explain like even now I don't have that role model like I am my own role model in a way, And that doesn't feel right. It's weirder because I have younger siblings and they're curious and some ask questions that can't necessarily ask mom and dad, because I'm the cool one who will give them the… who will go straight to brass tacks about it.

Jeanne Woodbury

It's a challenge and it's a challenge figuring things out in your family and defining something new that no one else has done, whether you're an older sibling or a younger sibling, to be honest. But you know, what you were saying about weakness is really interesting because a lot of where that like Ben Shapiro bullying culture comes from, I think is about like showing "I'm not weak" by attacking people who are weak. And actually weakness and vulnerability can be a really good thing and positive thing. I know you had a friend who transitioned; after that, did you have any other friends who came out?

Canella Caro

Yeah, yeah, I had a lot of friends who were non-binary, who were questioning their gender, who, we were the test dummies for whatever new name they were picking out.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah.

Canella Caro

That kind of thing.

Jeanne Woodbury

So then did that help?

Canella Caro

Yeah, you just see how human the experience is. It's not this sensationalized thing that media or other people or even your parents try to tell you. It's not a man wearing a skirt trying to get into the ladies bathroom. It's somebody thinking, "hmm, I think the name Amy sounds good."

Jeanne Woodbury

Right, it's pretty simple.

Canella Caro

Or "hmm, I think…" Even just people's preconceived notions of what transitioning means, like you'll see the news. "Why can't we let, why are we letting kids go through this life-altering surgery" when you know transitioning is so many steps?

Jeanne Woodbury

So many steps.

Canella Caro

And so many people don't even do all those steps. Some even just slap on different pronouns and call it a day. Others change the way they dress and their name. Others go all the way and maybe get surgery or go on hormones.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, and it's all different combinations.

Canella Caro

Yeah, it's very fluid in a way. Like I didn't know that was a thing until I really just started talking to other people. And I hope that as a lot of us are getting older, people like to wave around the percentage of how many trans people or queer people end up taking their own lives as like a badge of victory for bigotry. But I hope that as we all get older, it can be different for maybe younger people. Something as simple as your little sister asking you, hey, I think this video game character is pretty.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah.

Canella Caro

Something that is acceptable.

Jeanne Woodbury

I really hope so. You know, the effect a lot of this can have on our mental health —

Canella Caro

Absolutely.

Jeanne Woodbury

— is something that, you know, we've learned to live with to a certain degree and we found ways to cope with, but is awful to see new generations of young queer people go through the same thing that we had to go through.

Canella Caro

You think the cycle stops with you, but even then, what if there's something that I am prejudiced against that I didn't even know was bad? There's always, yeah, and I don't know. But the cool thing is that there's a lot of media, while there was a lot of right-wing media that's even still popular to this day — and very, very lucrative — there's a lot of left-wing media and a lot more queer films and musicians and content creators that just sit down and talk about things that people didn't wanna hear, or things that I wish I had seen when I was younger. I wish that I had found these creators, I wish they were prominent when I was younger. Like, I think, I wonder how different I would have been if I had come across like certain like Twitch streamers if I was like 12 instead of Ben Shapiro.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, I think it can make a huge difference. And I think, you know, ultimately what you were saying about, what if there's things I'm prejudiced about that I don't even know yet? It sounds like what you've learned, and learned I think a long time ago, is that you might be wrong and so you should listen to people around you who have different experiences.

Canella Caro

Yeah, yeah, like everyone's got their blind spots. But like one thing that's really like a popular discourse is like neopronoun debates among like the queer community.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah.

Canella Caro

Either you love them, you hate them, you use them, you don't — at this point, it's like, whatever. I'm not the one going by those names. Maybe I'm not really used to seeing a pronoun that's not he, she, or they, but at the end of the day, they're words.

Jeanne Woodbury

Right, what's so wrong about it?

Canella Caro

Yeah, so yeah, at the end of the day, it is just a word.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, well, so you're an ASU student now, right? So when you moved up here, did you worry about leaving all the friends you had made behind?

Canella Caro

No, not at all. I was excited to meet new people.

Jeanne Woodbury

That's great.

Canella Caro

I, yeah, I didn't, I mean, there's the age of the internet.

Jeanne Woodbury

That's also true, yeah.

Canella Caro

Yeah, I still talk to my ex-roommate and stuff like that, even if we don't live together anymore, that kind of thing.

Jeanne Woodbury

That's a good point.

Canella Caro

You've got friends overseas, you've got friends across state lines.

Jeanne Woodbury

I guess it's pretty easy at this point. I mean, one of the things I think about, ordinarily when I think about my experience of going to college, is like, am I going to be able to find community here at all? Or am I gonna be isolated? And I don't even know if that really applies today… or does it?

Canella Caro

It does, it definitely does. Everyone's got their own different stories, but it's really hard when you deal with your own mental health. Like last semester I didn't really have much of a support system anymore, and so I was practically living like a hermit. I didn't leave the house for like months. I think, yeah, I didn't go to class. Community, even then, community was still something that was really hard to find. The most community-oriented thing I did last semester was I attended a protest. There was, in the design building, back in August, September, there was this gonna be a speaker; I forget what his name was but he was one of those uh… "the white race is getting washed out" he was, oh yeah no, he was mask-off…

Jeanne Woodbury

Like a great replacement theory guy

Canella Caro

Great replacement. That's the thing; he was a very big great replacement theory type guy, yeah no. So I a attended a protest; it wasn't the most, wasn't the best organized and there were a lot of people. There were random old men wearing like confederate flag shirts. But it wasn't even united and it didn't even succeed; the cops were there, it just prevented — we couldn't go in, you couldn't, you couldn't stop the guy from talking. You just had to sit there and watch as within the walls that I had class in the next day, there was this man talking about how the white race is being, is going extinct and being replaced. I — And on my own campus. So that really makes you feel disillusioned with where, where you're putting your money. You know, I'm giving a lot of money to this place for my education, but why is that money going towards allowing these types of people to speak at our place?

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, I think that's a really valid question

Canella Caro

Yeah, like just to think about someone is probably sitting in my seat listening to this man speak

Jeanne Woodbury

Right.

Canella Caro

Yeah, and so that was the most like community oriented thing I did back then. This semester the first thing I did was like go to the drag show, the one run by El Concilio.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah.

Canella Caro

Yeah, that's where I got the flyer for this.

Jeanne Woodbury

Oh, yeah

Canella Caro

That's where I got the flyer for the podcast

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, you must have met Shelby

Canella Caro

Was that it? Yeah, she walked up to me. She's like, "hmm I don't mean to assume, however…"

Jeanne Woodbury

"You look gay — do you want to be on a podcast?

Canella Caro

Exactly. She saw my tattoos and my like short hair and was like "hmm. I smell a queer."

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah. Oh that's funny. I think it's really hard to find, like in a school of 75,000 people it's still hard to find the group that you're gonna fit into.

Canella Caro

Yeah

Jeanne Woodbury

Do you feel like you're moving in that direction after going to that drag show?

Canella Caro

I still have a lot of phobias of being out and about. I hope so, but I don't know. I'm trying to move out of my own shell. I mean, I want to be a teacher someday. So, yeah. So you kind of have to work on your interpersonal skills that way.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, and you're studying history, right? So you want to be a history teacher?

Canella Caro

Yes, I do. I do. Yeah, I always loved the subject ever since I was a child and I want to work with like all ages. I want to I want to be that person, I want to be that role model that I was talking about before. I want to be that teacher in a high school. Because I remember in seventh grade. I had an English teacher — she was bisexual — and I'd never really seen a grown-up bisexual person before because everyone else I thought were just like kids who were going through phases. And I saw that, oh this stuff sticks around. Oh no. (laughs) And I don't know having that, and this teacher was also the leader of like the Gay-Straight Alliance that only lasted for like a year. Yeah, she left. Seeing that or seeing other teachers who were queer, who were different and would show you different types of people. I want to be, I want to kind of alter somebody's life that way and be really meaningful to their like experience.

Jeanne Woodbury

I feel like history is actually a great subject, because if you want to show people different experiences and different lives, that's the subject to do it.

Canella Caro

Exactly. Exactly people like to say that, "oh gay people, that's such a trend nowadays because of the internet and all these blue-hair, pronoun-waving SJWs are just trying to be popular" and then it's like: Oscar Wilde exists. A lot of like authors, a lot of people. In fact, you read biographies of Russian tsars and kings and you see how close they were with their one male best friend and you think —

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah. (Laughs)

Canella Caro

Hmm, that's not really much of a trend now, is it? Or you see there was this case, I don't know this person's name, I don't know her name, but there was this — back in like the 50s, there was this trans woman who after fighting the war she transitioned and she was viewed as like a medical miracle. You could see the, you could see like the newspapers being like, "she's a girl now and she's beautiful" And you'd think it was, I don't know her name off the top of my head.

Jeanne Woodbury

I'm gonna find it.

Canella Caro

Yeah, but she transitioned, changed her name, everything. It wasn't just like a, it wasn't just like breaking norms of like dressing differently. It was a full-on transition

Jeanne Woodbury

I think it might have been Christine Jorgensen.

Canella Caro

Was that it? I think so. I think so, but… do you have like a picture cuz I could yeah, I could recognize it,

Jeanne Woodbury

The headline was like GI Joe to GI Jane.

Canella Caro

Yes. That's her. That's her. Yeah, but you see examples like that throughout history that the world was different, that she was like allowed by society to do this and you wonder what went wrong what changed because if that was how life was at least for her, why couldn't it be that way for everyone? Why are these statistics of like trans suicides so high?

Jeanne Woodbury

And you know even looking a little before that a lot of people point to some of the places that existed in Germany for trans community and trans health care and they were pretty much the first to be shut down by the Nazis, so.

Canella Caro

You think in various indigenous communities how they view gender, that is not as black and white and binary as Western society views it and how different cultures were shut down and if they weren't maybe we'd see a lot more, like a different acceptance.

Jeanne Woodbury

Right.

Canella Caro

Yeah, because like for ages, for ages indigenous communities have, certain ones, like the concept of being two-spirit, I believe.

Jeanne Woodbury

That's one version yeah.

Canella Caro

That's one version. But yeah, it's interesting.

Jeanne Woodbury

It is really interesting. I think it's really cool to study. Sometimes, like you mentioned Oscar Wilde; I read the transcripts of the case where he was convicted of being gay basically and, for one, it's Oscar Wilde, so it's incredible to read his comments. But it also just felt so contemporary. And when you get more detail on the past, it's just cool to see like, oh, I would have been friends with that person. It's kind of, it's just fun and it's interesting and I think that as a teacher, you can make that fun and interesting for kids, which is then really rewarding

Canella Caro

Yeah, like it's so weird that I only learned about Alan Turing through a movie with Benedict Cumberbatch in it, and not through history class until like my senior year of high school that somebody mentioned it. And the interesting thing about the internet is you don't even feel like it needs to be taught because you all know — like we've all seen, we've all seen a Beautiful Mind. We don't really need to know that much about, about what's-his-face, John Nash, right? But —

Jeanne Woodbury

But there is more to learn.

Canella Caro

— there is there is more to it. You didn't, you wouldn't think that what happened to Alan Turing after they found out that he was gay was possible. You don't think that's possible.

Jeanne Woodbury

It's remarkable. People will talk about Turing and not even mention that he was basically killed by the state.

Canella Caro

Yes, absolutely. Like yeah, he was a genius and he helped the Allies a lot, but why make no mention of something that's so glaringly there? It's like looking at this wall and not believing that there's blue on it.

Jeanne Woodbury

Right. Well, and it was something that was actually suppressed for decades.

Canella Caro

Yeah.

Jeanne Woodbury

And that's part of the problem, I think. Right now in Arizona and in Arizona's history, there's been a lot of different kinds of policies and legislation to restrict what kinds of histories we can teach, like the Mexican-American Studies ban and anti-CRT stuff which is just a weird label that doesn't make sense but —

Canella Caro

I have many choice words to say about that decision.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah and so all of that sets up a situation in which wanting to become a history teacher is like wading into a whole battle.

Canella Caro

Yeah, because I remember what it was like for my teachers that many of them did want to teach more. Many of them did want to change up their curriculum, but things like the College Board didn't allow it, because these were like AP classes, or the school board didn't allow it, or you'd get an angry parent being like, "How dare you teach this?" Even though their child's like a legal adult and you can't really control that.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, so were you worried or are you worried about what it's going to be like when you eventually become a teacher?

Canella Caro

Oh, absolutely. I, first off, just as a job, I know what it's like. Education in Arizona is not the best, to put it lightly. And many people — I've seen it with my own eyes — many people enter wide-eyed and they leave hating the profession, hating what they're doing. But I, and curriculum-wise, yeah, I see it. How, like, how am I gonna even talk about a book that I like if, what if it's gonna be banned? You know?

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah.

Canella Caro

How am I gonna give assigned readings? How am I gonna give certain pamphlets? Like, how are we gonna let people teach? One thing that I've seen teachers do is, if they can't teach it in their curriculum, they'll have like a final project where we get to choose a topic that kind of pertains to the subject matter and we'll present it. So I've taken this time, I've done it twice now to talk about like what's going, what happened in like Latin America and Chile in particular because it's never taught. I've had other students talk about Argentina or other things and that's — I think that's a wonderful way to to get students to learn and also share parts of their own history. Because —

Jeanne Woodbury

Right. Well, because that's personal for you.

Canella Caro

Yeah, it's personal.And I don't know, everyone leaves smarter.

Jeanne Woodbury

Right.

Canella Caro

So yeah, I think with all this like, ban on curriculum, I think that's the way to go, to let the students create the class.

Jeanne Woodbury

I think that's just a great way to teach a class anyway.

Canella Caro

Yeah, let them know what they want to learn and talk about what they don't often hear. Because there's so many… you have students from the Middle East, you have students from different parts of Asia, not necessarily just like China or Japan. You have people from… you have people from Africa. I had a classmate from Ghana and like, that kind of history, that's the stuff I want to learn about. The most interesting thing is I had a teacher, she — I had a history teacher in like middle school. She was the best and she lived in Zimbabwe for a long time. Yeah, she married a man there, had children. Basically, like she knew a lot about their culture. She would integrate that into her lessons about like fun facts or "yeah back when I was living in Zimbabwe, this is like the, this is what they would do" and I think that sort of thing is amazing. When your curriculum does, when your school or government doesn't let you say certain things.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, and I worry that you know for queer people who want to become teachers,

Canella Caro

(Sighs) Oh boy…

Jeanne Woodbury

The risk is that they're actually going to be required to hide their own personal experience.

Canella Caro

Yeah, I've seen… it's, what's so funny is I've seen straight couples like, get married in their classroom. Like, not like an official wedding, but you know she'll, the teacher will show up in her like little wedding dress and she'll bring the groom and like the kids would get to dress all nice and it's adorable. Yeah, but imagine if a lesbian teacher wanted to do that. They're showing, they're grooming the kids, you know?

Jeanne Woodbury

I know, Ben Shapiro would make a million dollars off of a YouTube video about that.

Canella Caro

Yeah, or having a trans teacher, have, like…

Jeanne Woodbury

It's hard for trans people to be teachers period. It's a lot of scrutiny.

Canella Caro

It's hard for trans people to be.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah. That's true.

Canella Caro

Yeah, like, and I hope that — I want to remain hopeful that maybe the profession and education will be more inclusive and more I guess, better, for lack of a better word. But it's hard to remain hopeful when you see those bans on like critical race theory, or in Florida they did something to even ban like Jewish studies?

Jeanne Woodbury

I haven't seen that. Oh my god.

Canella Caro

Take it with a grain of salt because I don't know all the facts about that one, but banning those sorts of things, or how textbooks are written.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah.

Canella Caro

It's really depressing when you want to change someone's perspective on things and then, at risk of being fired, right?

Jeanne Woodbury

But you have the experience of changing your opinion on a lot of different things, so.

Canella Caro

Yeah, that's why I remain hopeful. I mean if — there's a quote from what, like a video game character, like is it better to — I'm paraphrasing it — but like is it better to remain, like be virtuous all your life or to learn from your past evil or something. I don't know. He was a dragon but…

Jeanne Woodbury

I love that.

Canella Caro

I'm not a beacon of morality by any means, but I think the human mind is very moldable for better or for worse, but, I don't know. Society is simultaneously ebbing and flowing both right and left. On one hand, on one hand you can see, you can hold hands with your like partner no matter what their gender or orientation is, in public — depending on where you are.

Jeanne Woodbury

Right.

Canella Caro

Yeah, that is yeah, it's kind of privileged of me to say that you can do it cuz, eh. But we're getting there.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, we're getting there.

Canella Caro

We're getting there.

Jeanne Woodbury

I think there's a reason for hope, in what you're saying.

Canella Caro

Yeah, and I hope that I hope that at least my experience growing up, I hope people live like a more positive version of that. I didn't have the best coming out, but I didn't have the worst. So that's improvement.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah. Yeah, I think things can get better.

Canella Caro

Mm-hmm

Jeanne Woodbury

Well, thanks for talking with me today. This was a lot of fun.

Canella Caro

Of course, of course

Jeanne Woodbury

Thanks again to Canella for being my guest on this week's episode of the Arizona Equals Conversation. If you enjoyed the show, please consider leaving a rating or a review in your favorite podcast app. And if you'd like to be a guest on a future episode of the podcast, you can sign up at equalityarizona.org/stories.

Equality Arizona
The Arizona Equals Conversation
Arizona Equals is a conversational interview podcast chronicling the lives and experiences of LGBTQ+ Arizonans. Listen to new episodes weekly on Wednesdays, featuring conversations with queer people living in Arizona.
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