One of the first things Griffin Wynne, a nonbinary artist and writer, notes when we enter our Zoom chat room is how nice it is to be in a conversation without any cisgender white men.
by Joanne Xu
Hannah Schneider, a queer writer from Brooklyn and the third participant on our call, and I quickly nod in unison. This was my first time seeing Griffin or Hannah’s faces, and we’d never met in person. We’re actually complete strangers. And yet, only a few minutes and a half-round of small talk in, pronouns, affirmations, and genuine niceities have already been shared.
Our whole one-hour conversation continues this way. Wynne and Schneider have little pause recounting hard-learned truths or intimate anecdotes — the kinds that take most people more than one interaction to feel comfortable opening up about. They dish out twenty-something wisdom as generously as a millennial recommending skincare, and consciously avoid interrupting so as to protect the space the other one inhabits. Their respect for each other’s words is effortless and deeply intentional at the same time, in a way that tells me they’re too familiar with the sting of having their own voices overridden to do that to each other. They want to tell me about their lives — not so they can brag, but so that they might possibly shield a fellow writer from some of the self-inflicted brooding that comes with our craft.
The following conversation is an actualization of the powerful dialogue that can ensue when people are fully present and invested in their company. Or perhaps, more plainly, what to expect when you put three writers in a room and tell them to talk about identity.
On Being Good Enough
The Recreationalist: Identity is such a personal subject. How did you get to a place where you wanted to write about it?
Hannah: I started writing poems in high school and that’s what I was writing about. But in terms of having it out in the world, I just applied for a job and all of a sudden that’s what I was doing.
Griffin: I’m kind of the same.
Hannah: It’s weird how there’s all this talk about what you want to be when you’re growing up. For writers, all you have to do is the writing.
Griffin: Completely. I definitely got it in my head and in my psyche that I was only a writer if I was a published writer. It took until I was full-time to realize I was one this whole time. It doesn’t feel different.
Hannah: Being a writer doesn’t mean that you work and do this one thing and then you retire.
Griffin: Which I’m guilty of. Sometimes in my head I’m like, when I write my book, I’ll be a writer. But that’s such a lie! I’m always writing. That’s how I process the world. Even if I’m texting a friend about a Tinder match, it’s an epic poem. I can’t turn it off.
Hannah: It’s the easiest thing in the world to not write, but it’s sort of like vegetables. Doing it is important, and you should do it, and you feel good once you’ve done it.
The Recreationalist: I bet there’s a lot of imposter syndrome that comes from not knowing when you can call yourself a writer.
Griffin: My friendship with Hannah helps me in all sorts of ways, but we talk about that a lot. Academic writing is confusing because the American school system silos smart kids from the not-so-smart kids — and I say that with major quotes because every human has intelligence — at a really young age. So if you don’t have the support you need in an educational sense, you can get it in your head that you’re not a writer because you’re not smart, not good at grammar, not good at spelling. That was me, I’m dyslexic. All to say that I think everyone is a writer. I think if you journal you’re a writer. But that’s hard to remember when I think about myself.
On The Conundrum of Athleticism
The Recreationalist: In that same vein, I think imposter syndrome can run deep in athleticism and working out too.
Hannah: Saying that you are something is a conundrum in and of itself. I’ve wanted to be an athlete more than anything for a long time. I was in musical theater in high school and grew up as a fat girl, so I never did any sports. But now fitness is a huge part of my life and it’s not about weight loss.
When we’re teens we get so much room to be things that aren’t our job. Then as an adult, it’s like we’re only supposed to be what our job is — but that’s so far from the truth. If we want to be things, all we have to do is just do them. And then we can say that we are those things.
Griffin: I agree. My nonbinary-ness has been such a lesson in removing the binary in every sense. The options aren’t writer or not writer, athlete or not athlete. The way that I see the world, there is no writer or athlete. You are a person that enjoys to write, or that writes, or a person that weight lifts, but there’s not any one box.
The Recreationalist: How did you get into Recreation as an adult?
Hannah: I just decided I was going to be a part of it and I couldn’t worry about what other people thought. Being 6 feet tall and 250 pounds has been a source of stress to me because the world is often not accepting of that. But in weightlifting, it made me better. As a fat woman, or femme presenting person, and also as someone with a range of mild disability problems (most of the time I appear able-bodied), fitness is a wonderful thing. Since the pandemic, I’ve started running in a sports bra and shorts, and I don’t look skinny doing that but I just don’t care.
Yesterday my headphones died and I heard this kid go, ‘Good job, keep going!’ Part of the reason I never thought I was an athlete is because I only ever saw skinny people running. So now, if I run without a shirt on and some chubby teen sees me, maybe she’ll think ‘cool, I can do that too.’
The Recreationalist: What types of Recreation make you feel good?
Griffin: Hiking and camping and swimming in lakes and being in the mountains is when I feel the most powerful and completely genderless, like I don’t have to conform any part of myself. I did cross country in high school and I’m not fast — it wasn’t me gliding through the wind. I was sweaty, hot, and red. But when I was running in the trees, I forgot I even had a body. Nature has really helped ground me. I feel so small and in awe of the world that I’m not even thinking about my body and my bullshit. The way that my transness exists, if I’m on my own, my body feels like mine. But when I’m misgendered in a space, I don’t feel good.
The Recreationalist: And you find that happens more indoors or at gyms?
Griffin: I think so.
Hannah: I know this may sound like Gender Studies 101, but it’s really so true that workouts and fitness are so divided — men want to gain weight, women want to get smaller. You see that at the gym a lot.
The Recreationalist: How do we get rid of this binary version of athleticism?
Hannah: I think the biggest change is around ability. People should be able to move in ways they want to, instead of the goals being lose weight, or bulk up, or get stronger. “No pain, no gain” is the worst.
Griffin: It’s so capitalist!
Hannah: I was so anxious yesterday so I went on a run and did my fastest mile yet. It was so necessary and exactly what I wanted. A long time ago, I ran because I was a lot thinner and really stressed about staying that way. But I realized that I had to change my reason for running in order to have a sustained practice of it.
Griffin: I had to realize that I could only go so long doing things for other people rather than myself.
Hannah: If I had my own definition, fitness is having avenues in which I can move and be connected with my body. I’ve been trying to remember that movement looks a lot of different ways. Doing what I need to do to feel okay is part of that fitness.
When I start to catch myself looking for recognition or clout or title, I scale back and ask what’s — it sounds so cheesy — in your heart? What feels good?
On Making Your Passion Your Career
The Recreationalist: What happens when your passion or hobby becomes a commodity in your life? How do you put those in two separate buckets?
Griffin: Yeah, I don’t know. You let me know when you find out.
Hannah: I have a thought.
Griffin: Please. If anyone knows.
Hannah: I’ve been making polymer clay earrings as a hobby and have really wanted to sell them for months, so I did a fundraiser and raised enough. But then all of a sudden I’m selling this hobby that I didn’t tell anyone about.
I like that I can see photos of other people wearing something I made. That feels like a safe spot in commodifying something. Because yes, it’s nice to make money from a hobby, but when that becomes the ultimate goal, it can suck the joy out of it.
Griffin: I think I have a different experience. After college, I thought I’d be able to bartend and teach, and do art and writing on the side, and it just didn’t work for me. I realized it’s fundamentally important to me to support myself from writing. It’s been an identity check.
Hannah: It feels good!
Griffin: I can’t deny there’s this edge of clout and weird validation, but I’m slowly untangling from that. A few months ago I had this moment where I realized I like to put “sex and relationships writer” in my Tinder bio because it looks cool. But I am cool. [Writing] is really interesting and amazing and a privilege, but it’s not what makes me a worthy human being.
Hannah: It’s really useful in early adulthood to say you are some sort of thing that other people have a lot of recognition of. When I was a sex and relationship writer, I would say ‘I’m the gay Carrie Bradshaw!’ because I have curly hair and was writing. But it was really easy to let that become who I was, and I did for a while.
Griffin: Me too. After college, I remember I felt like such a failure for working at a bar and making sculptures in my bedroom.
Hannah: But that’s cool.
Griffin: It didn’t feel cool. I felt like the biggest loser. Now that I’m mid to late twenties, I’ve learned a lot about capitalism and racism and how all these systems work and I don’t care if my job sounds cool. My process has been honoring the hustle and honoring my passions, but also constantly doing an identity check.
Hannah: Sometimes you can just honor where you’re at and what you’re doing. That takes up a lot of brain space for me — doing what I set out to do, to prove to people in the place I left that I can. It was my goal for a long time. But it’s nice to lessen that as a priority. I don’t know why it’s so important to prove myself, but those people aren’t keeping tabs on me and I haven’t visited those places that I left.
Griffin: I resonate. I had a bad relationship with my high school creative writing teacher and I always thought, whenever I write a book I’m going to send her a copy. I can’t wait to send her a copy. But my friend Thomas said, ‘That’s a copy of your book. Why don’t you send it to people that inspire you?’ That was a groundbreaking moment where I realized there’s no use in trying to prove things. I just want to cultivate gratitude in people that inspire me. My French teacher was the homie, and I can’t wait to send eight copies to her.
Maybe that answers the passion, hustle, job thing. When I start to catch myself looking for recognition or clout or title, I scale back and ask what’s — it sounds so cheesy — in your heart? What feels good?
Written by Joanne Xu
This interview was edited for clarity and length.