Crow Lauren and Carson Terry, two genderqueer tradesfolk, volleyed tales of misogyny as we chatted about their lines of work over tea. Though their careers engage their creativity in fulfilling ways, both Crow and Terry have often found themselves negotiating the limitations of cis gendered spaces fraught with gatekeeping and microaggression. Their journeys dovetailed in this way, striking to the heart of a major challenge for trans and gender nonconforming (GNC) people—the schism between who they know themselves to be and how they are perceived and treated socially. Crow and Terry spoke eloquently to this conundrum, while also illuminating how their gender nonconformity compels them to shake up the modus operandi of their respective fields.
“I know some landscape designers who don’t know about plants,” Crow observed at the start of our conversation. They, on the other hand, identify as “plant-obsessed,” a fitting trait for their career in landscape design and construction. Crow’s path toward this field was circuitous and had everything to do with gendered social barriers of the time.
Gender Deconstruction: An ArtsWatch Series
Crow initially planned to study engineering in college, but felt ostracized in their academic trajectory of mostly cisgendered men. At one point, their thermodynamics instructor called them out in front of the class as a female student who could get the correct answer before the male classmates. Ultimately, Crow chose to pursue other interests. “I don’t fit in with these people,” they remembered of this decision. “I don’t relate to them. I might be interested in the actual study, but I just can’t see myself working in this field.”
At age 26, after experiencing an existential moment of reckoning with the climate crisis, Crow began studying permaculture and native plants around their then home in the mountains of Southern California. Their deepening knowledge of native plants fostered a sense of belonging. “Attuning to that place and the land there, I just felt the most open-hearted and grounded that I ever had,” Crow said.
“It totally changed my perspective of being a human and being alive in the world…I never feel alone. And I’m out in the middle of the wilderness, but I feel more surrounded by familiar [plant] friends.”
The prospect of moving through the world as a woman makes Crow’s skin crawl, but they do not feel particularly trans masculine, either.
After moving to Portland, they adopted the term “nonbinary” as a default descriptor for themself, the most fitting option for negotiating social dynamics. Crow invested in building their own landscaping business since transitioning to Portland, and their determination to be self-employed has everything to do with assumptions about gender in the workforce—a sentiment that rings true for many trans and GNC folks.
“I just didn’t want to have to deal with being misgendered all the time by all the co-workers and my bosses,” said Crow. “So I thought: ‘Okay, well I’m just going to have to figure this out on my own, which was definitely not the easy way to do it’.” Without consistent mentorship, peer support, or infrastructure, building their business proved extremely stressful.
For Crow, as for many genderqueers, misgendering is not simply a matter of using the wrong pronouns—it’s a matter of overall treatment. Assumptions about gender arise. Bias enters the interaction. Harm happens. Repeat. This pattern has crept into Crow’s interactions with suppliers, who often gender them as female and doubt their expertise. And when it comes to interacting with clients, Crow admitted, “I sort of just stopped doing the labor of trying to get them to use the right pronouns, or even explain what non-binary means.”
“I’ve experienced a lot of that that you’re talking about,” said Terry as our conversation shifted towards his career journey.
Terry is a transmasculine metalworker who came to Portland by way of Arizona. In addition to running his own production line called Hossly, Terry fabricates work for other designers such as Andrea Zittel and takes on one-off custom projects—tables, chairs, fences, railings, and more. He found his way into this field through a penchant for the arts, which began with his childhood interest in drawing. “I really was attracted to a very hard line, the quality of that 90-degree edge,” he recollected. In high school and early college, he ventured into intensive study in ceramics but could never quite achieve the clear edges and angles that he most desired. At age 27, Terry decided to go all in on metalwork, where he could exact hard-lined structures three-dimensionally. Now, much of his metalwork represents the actualization of his drawings.
Terry’s career in metal got going before he started taking testosterone, and, consequently, before he was clocked as a man by suppliers. For him, the metal supply chain functioned as an insiders club that he was not welcomed into. “Most people would treat me like I was a fool that didn’t know what I was talking about, and everything took so much longer to explain,” recalled Terry. “I would have to prove myself—that I knew what I was talking about—before they would consider even helping me.”
These unsavory encounters happened almost daily.
When he began taking testosterone two and a half years ago, Terry’s work life grew fraught with unpredictable reactions from suppliers who could not read him and did not bother to ask. He harkened back to a moment of being mistaken for a trans woman and ridiculed over the phone.
“Cis men feel really threatened by [transfeminine] identity,” Crow jumped in, responding to his anecdote.
And although Terry knew suppliers would treat him differently once he began to present as a man, he did not realize how radical that difference would feel when he began to fit the description of who suppliers felt should be successful.
“I was so upset by that,” Terry exclaimed.
“All a sudden, I was their boss. I was their brother. I was their man. I was their buddy…They’d try to find good discounts for me.” To his surprise, suppliers would vie even harder for his success whenever he exhibited a lack of knowhow.
Crow corroborated this anecdote with their own observations, noting that people tend to “hang on every word” of cisgendered construction contractors, whether or not they are reliable. “Sometimes, I’m listening and I realize, that guy doesn’t know what the fuck he’s talking about at all, but he just sounds like it,” they said. And, unsurprisingly, Crow has come upon plenty of slapdash, downright dangerous projects in their field—the results of misplaced trust.
As our conversation wrapped up, Terry speculated, “How many people are basically gate-kept into not making amazing things because of the fucking shit they have to put up with just getting something done?” He made clear that he is still not getting as much work as he could because of his gender expression. “You know, it’s infantilization as either female or trans,” he said of his plight, admitting he fantasizes about starting a business with a cisgender male alter ego for the extra work.
In spite of all the gatekeeping in their trades, Crow and Terry have managed to foster inventive approaches, informed by their own existences outside the dominant social schema. “I’m always looking for this way to pierce through veils of just going through the status quo,” shared Crow, noting that this personality trait could relate to their gender (or vice versa).
In landscaping, Crow often witnesses how certain modes of shaping space become standard, regurgitated over and over for an increasingly indifferent public. “What could we do to get them [passersby] to stop, pause and look at something in a new way?” they pondered. Through their unconventional approach, Crow hopes to engender delight and curiosity about “this connective web of life that we’re in.” Landscaping allows Crow to follow their grounding passion for plants, bringing them plenty of joy.
“I think a lot about animism and think about what we’re doing with our objects and how they influence us—how the way that we treat them is like how we treat ourselves and how we treat each other,” Terry said. He seeks to interrupt people’s daily experience by fabricating functional objects with a twist: he crafts pieces using mild steel, a metal that requires a level of caretaking lest it rust. “I really love that it can rust because it demands a relationship to an object that you would normally take for granted and throw it in the sink or throw it around,” Terry continued. In this way, his objects disrupt the rote knowability of daily routine, asking for moments of pause and attention.
Much as they strive to unsettle presuppositions about gender, these tradesfolk also hope to elicit moments of deeper consideration from the public through their crafts. It is impossible to untangle the relationship between their gender-nonconformity and career journeys, which is precisely why gender deconstruction in the trades is so important. What incredible innovation would become possible if all the gender bias and gatekeeping in the trades faded away?