Regardless of someone’s level of independence, we all need a friend sometimes. The way human beings have evolved, biologically and socially, we simply cannot thrive on our own. Community is essential to the success and wellbeing of any person, and there are said to be five elements of community that bind us together: interest, action, place, practice, and circumstance.
Before I began going out to enjoy live music, my social circle was limited to two friendships that I had maintained since graduating high school. Upon entering the local Alaskan music scene, both as a consumer and performer, I quickly found a group of like-minded individuals with whom I shared these five elements of community. One of these individuals is Jaime Hernandez, and through becoming acquainted at shows, we came to find that we share more than merely an interest in music.
As a person who identifies as nonbinary actively serving in the military, finding safe spaces can be difficult for Jaime. “It’s had its struggles, so I’ve kind of kept it to myself and only shared my truth with people who deserve to know my truth,” they told me. However, having recently returned to Alaska from their last deployment, Jaime is ready to become more connected and involved. “I have to be true to myself a hundred percent and true to the world, no matter what risks come with it. Now I’m prepared. It’s just taken time,” they said.
Finding this confidence and self-assuredness has been a long journey for Jaime. “In society, we have norms that try to get imposed upon us based upon our genitals. None of it made sense to me and I always questioned it,” they recalled. “I kind of grew up trying to find a space that matched my own thoughts. I never had it as a kid. Obviously, that changed when I found someone in the community that’s also queer and that led me to find my own path. That’s when it all made sense.”
Many of us are raised to believe that there is something wrong with us, whether it is our disposition, physical appearance or stature, our general view of existence, or even our identity. Only when we are introduced to people and ideas that support the way we are meant to be can we embrace ourselves without shame. “I knew there was something different about me. I was very young but didn’t have the language to reinforce or understand what it meant,” Jaime stated. “Then I did my third deployment, and I started doing my own research, and I just dove headfirst into everything. I found language that resonated with me. I discovered that there are words behind the feelings, behind who I am as a being. So, I adopted it and it became my identity. Changed my pronouns, changed my whole outlook on life, and I found a wonderful community.”
However, even within a community that shares similar beliefs and lifestyles and is supposed to be inclusive to those on similar journeys, fitting in can prove to be a challenge. “It’s really hard to be nonbinary when you’re very masculine-presenting on the spectrum,” Jaime admitted. “It’s kind of hard to find a place to be welcomed within the community as well.”
Considering how common it is for rifts to be created with friends and family due to our identities, I would hope that our community would be understanding and welcoming to others who find themselves in a difficult position. And many of us are. But things aren’t always so simple. “Not only do you have to explain that you’re queer, you have to prove to them that you’re different and that you belong. It shouldn’t be like that,” Jaime proclaimed. “You shouldn’t have to prove yourself to someone that should love you.”
To help cope and grow with their identity and place in the world, Jaime has recently begun speaking with a mentor of sorts. Along with gaining a friend and supporter, they have gained a new perspective. Jaime spoke with me about some of the recent developments during their work together. “Understanding where hate comes from, and rather than trying to fight it, just trying to nonviolently come to a mutual understanding,” they told me. “I’m not going to get in your way if you don’t get in mine. Just don’t stop people from having their rights. Life, liberty, and happiness, according to the American constitution. There’s nothing more patriotic and American than fighting for your equal rights.”
Having recently returned to Anchorage, Jaime is eager to become more involved in progressing the community and the wellbeing of those around them. “I’m looking to be more of a part of the community. Support programs, support people,” they said. “I think that’s my goal now, to support my community and be my authentic self.”
More specifically, knowing their struggle all too well, Jaime aims to aid queer folks who are actively serving or have served in the military. “I don’t know if there’s anything here in Alaska for queer veterans, trans and nonbinary; I’d like to create an organization that helps them. Or queer youth trying to join the military, try to help guide them,” they told me. “Have veterans’ voices help them with the challenges they might face.”
As crucial as community is to our mental and emotional health, change and personal development must come from within. “Always look for advice from other people, but ultimately, the choice is yours. No one can live your life for you,” Jaime stated. “You can take other people’s advice, but you’ve got to let your conscience decide what’s right. Let your conscience guide you.”
We stand together but are each on our own journey as individuals. And our journeys take time. No one can tell us who we are or how to live our lives; it is our own choice and our own responsibility. We are always improving, and the sky is the limit. “There’s no finish line. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”