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Janaya “Future” Khan On What Comes Up In The Ring
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Episode 7
Janaya “Future” Khan On What Comes Up In The Ring
The Black Lives Matter International Ambassador on the power of trusting that you are doing the thing that's right over doing the thing that’s popular.

The Black Lives Matter International Ambassador on the power of trusting that you are doing the thing that's right over doing the thing that’s popular.

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Janaya “Future” Khan On What Comes Up In The Ring

Mon, 4/19 9:21AM • 1:09:26


people, diane, world, boxing, laughter, expertise, protest, feel, disorienting, thought, person, black lives matter, changed, community, talking, folks, life, moments, women, desire


Diane Guerrero, Janaya 'Future' Khan

Diane Guerrero 00:00

Just a heads up, that we are not clinical experts. And if you need professional help, there will be some links and resources listed in the podcast description, as well as in our newsletter which you can sign up to slash newsletters. Hello, friends. The past week has been exhausting for a multitude of reasons. I'm having a really hard time getting anything done with ease. I haven't been sleeping well. I'm angry. I'm having those old familiar feelings of despair. What could it be? I asked myself. And then I realized what has been affecting me, once again, is white supremacy. This week, Adam Toledo was murdered by police. He was 13 years old. He loved SpongeBob, zombies, Legos, and riding his bike. Also this week, yet another Black man was murdered by police. Daunte Wright. He was 20 years old. He was a son, a father, a brother, an uncle. He was human. Rest in power. Abolish the f***ing police! It is clear that we cannot rely on reform. Because policing is a system that was founded during slavery for the purpose of slave catching. And as long as it remains, it will be rooted in that violence. That is why we must abolish the police and replace it with a system based on the needs of our communities. A system of support, education, mental and physical health care, meaningful jobs and housing. Universal health care. If we do not do this, we will not be able to protect the lives of Black and Brown people. But how do we dismantle these institutions that hold so much power? I've learned from others over the years who are listening to and studying humanity. People who are looking at the history of not only systemic oppression, but how to actually dismantle it and replace it with systems of care and healing. We must listen to Black people. Period. We must support organizations who are focused on the healing of our most vulnerable. I'd like to imagine a world where people are free from the systemic oppression of white supremacy, the patriarchy and capitalism. Let's imagine a world where intersectional mental health is accessible across all identities. We need more programs like Therapy for Black Girls and Latinx Therapy. We have to start listening to people who are the most affected by this violence. It is that simple. Janaya 'Future' Khan, the incredible social activist, organizer, co-founder of BLM Toronto, international ambassador for the BLM Network, boxer, teacher, storyteller, beautiful human, and just so much more. I've had the honor of knowing them through the work they do in creating systemic change. They are so freaking bad*ss and inspiring. They have worked tirelessly in the fight for equality, and they are a constant source of genius, which I am always happy to learn from. I'm always left speechless by their knowledge and their truth. They are one of the many people I look up to in the movement for change. The love they have shown our community is revolutionary. Listen up. And so, anyway [laughter], I'm... okay, so, total disclaimer. I'm, I'm not... I'm not a podcaster. Uhm, [Janaya: I was about to ask you. Yeah.] Nah, I'm not. Clearly, I'm like... I'm... so, I'm gonna have, like, my notes here and I'm, like [Janaya: Yeah, totally.] I'm just doing my best. This, this is all I can offer. Uhm... [Janaya: That's great.] Thank you.

Janaya 'Future' Khan 05:06

That's great. And, actually, it works with, with the, with the brand. Right?

Diane Guerrero 05:11

Right. Absolutely! I'm like, I'm like [laughter]... I'm like, I'm not okay, so I'm trying s**t out [Janaya: Yeah] that I'm not good at.

Janaya 'Future' Khan 05:18

It's honest. It's not polished, it's honest.

Diane Guerrero 05:21

That's all I have. I know, I'm honestly anything but polished. And I think... I think my entire life I've been striving for polish and like, the more I strive for it, the more I'm not. And I think that's why I need to... I need to, like, just take that information in and own it and just, I think, be. You know? Uhm, I always see you speak and I'm like, how do they do that? And like, how do they find that? How do they find those words? And how can they string them together? And how do they all make sense? How do you do that?

Janaya 'Future' Khan 05:58

[Laughs] I don't know. And this is so interesting 'cause I'm really curious about your take on that because you, you know what it's like to completely embody somebody else and make that person real. And so... and you do that very well in an industry that isn't favorable for people who look like you, who have the thoughts that you have, with the complexion that you have. I know things are changing. Uhm... and it's interesting. So, I want to know about the tension between what it's like to be scripted as somebody else and what that does for you. So, I'm gonna ask you about that in a second. [Diane: Okay.] But for me, a script... to script myself, I'm the worst speaker on the planet. I have tried. You know, I've... I've studied the craft, I think that's, that's a big part of it. Like, I wanna say, "Ah, it's just not as special", but I really think that, you know, two things happen and it really has nothing to do with being special. One is that I study. I really study what people have said before, what we're saying now. I study speeches and that's not through school. I just watch a lot of speeches, and I study what people don't say. What do we struggle to say? And I think, always, if I'm not sure what to say, how do I feel. And I, you know, part of the work of organizing everything else is being on pulse with everybody else. You know, with the political economy, the climate, how people are feeling. So, I just speak from that place. So the first one is study. The second one is I do believe that there's a supernatural element anytime we all come together. You know, so I think the study of speech, speeches, techniques of people really matter for me. And then, two, is trusting the supernatural thing that happens whenever we get together. You know, and I think that's what makes this time so hard is that we are cut off, and I think we'll find... I think, even for those of us who'd like to fancy that we're independent. And, you know, one of the funniest narratives, especially coming under the hood, is always like, "I do this by myself, I don't need nobody but myself." You know, and that's like, a... I grew up with that, that was a really big thing. And I think I tried that for a little while, and it didn't really work out for me. This whole 'I'm gonna do it by myself'. And it... more than that, it was boring. Not only was it harder, it was so boring. There's something so special that happens when we're together in a space. Whether that's around a dinner table or out on the streets protesting. And that led me to understand that there's just some parts of us, inside of us, that can only be accessed through other people that we can't actually open or unlock them on our own. Because we are who we are because of other people, not just... we may have been the clay and everything else, but the experiences and the people around us help to shape it as much as we do at a certain point. So, those two things, the study and the supernatural, I think have made it so that I feel good about opening my mouth, and then the... you know, and then as a practice, I know when not to. I know when I'm not the best person to speak, or I'm not the person who knows what to say about this thing or that and the other. And I think that that transparency is really important too. Now I got to ask you. [Diane: Okay.] Yeah. You have this podcast. [Diane: Okay.] How did that... how did that come to be? Why did that feel like something that you wanted to do now? And you had mentioned [Diane giggles] struggles with public speaking and that kind of stuff, but you are one of the most visible millennial actors out there. And I know that there's a lot of weight that gets put on your shoulders. You know, it's like, oh, well, you're the voice of the... of Latinas and, you know, and that... No. So, you go from scripted to non-scripted to, like, your life, and what are the tensions there?

Diane Guerrero 10:14

The need to be in community is, is a big one for me because I've... essentially, I've been alone for a long time. I guess since, I mean, since I was 14, I was by myself. And I kinda, even when I was with my family, you know, I sort of felt a little alone. Because, you know, the struggles of, you know, being the kind of family that we were. Like, undocumented. Whatever. And also, mentally ill. Like, I think all of us in our... in our immediate family were experiencing mental illness. And so, uhm, I just wanted to... I feel like I wanted to find some sort of understanding. And the only way to that I found that with being with other people, and also trying s**t that I really, really wanted to try even though I wasn't good at it, or didn't know how to... how to go about it. And then acting really offered me a way to... [sighs] I really struggled with being myself. And so acting was really a way for me to sort of experiment being myself through another character. And that really helped. I don't think I've ever given a speech where I didn't have s**t written down. I don't think it... I don't... I haven't discovered which way it works for me anyway, like, I have things written down. Sometimes I just gotta follow word for word, sometimes I just gotta... I'm up there in the podium, and I just gotta let it go and just allow myself to say the wrong words, and to kind of feel nervous, and to kind of pull through, or not fully answer the question. [Janaya: Yeah] You know? [Janaya: Yes {laughs}] Uhm, so I... I just kind of... I don't know what it is. Maybe I just like being challenged. Because I'm just so... I'm so ready to see what happens on the other side. And so every time I have said yes to myself in that way, it's worked out better for me than holding all of that want in. [Janaya: Yeah.] I guess. Uhm, and so people keep, you know, allowing me to, to work with them. [Laughter] And people keep, you know, asking me to be a part of their projects, or, you know, if they have ideas. Because I'm, you know, I'm never really that sure. But I think that when in doubt -- and I think this has gotten me in trouble sometimes, but I'm getting better at it -- when in doubt, say yes to yourself. And I think that. that has really gotten me in these spaces where I never thought I could be. And so I'm learning from all these different kinds of people. And while I see you speaking the truth, and these ideas, connect with some of the feelings I have, and some of my ideas, I'm like, d**n, if I understand them clearly, then even though my ideas are sort of the same, but not as clear, then I'm in the right... I'm on the right track.

Janaya 'Future' Khan 13:22

Yeah. There's a way... we... social media is weird. Social media is weird. Influence our culture is weird. Celebrity culture is weird. I think... it's not uniquely weird. I think that there's this idea that it is. And I'm like, no, it's, it's what... it's an exaggerated form of the inevitable reality of our darkest or brightest wants. Like, it really, it really is. I think, you know... and some people get punished for that, and others don't. Right? Like, ambition, desire is something that is really celebrated in male and particularly, white male in the white male world, but it's very punished... it's punished for Black people, it's punished for women of color, it's punished for immigrants. And then yet, even though you're punished for it, if you don't achieve this, like, impossible result, you have failed. I wrote something about when I was younger and, you know, how I grew up in a neighborhood in Toronto that was full of immigrants, largely Caribbean, Black and Somali. These folks, you know, it was pro... it was the projects and everything else. You had folks coming in as refugees. You had folks coming in as laborers who got fired or laid off because they found a cheaper labor source. And so a lot of Caribbean people with the legacies of that, of domestic workers and farmers who no one could find work because they have been outsourced by folks and that Canada had gone and started to now bring in people who were, (a) less expensive and (b) more desirable. And all of it is equally awful and racist, you know. And so, it's the legacies of that and, then, refugees were in public housing, and these are folks who would regularly be looked at as criminals, as addicts, as lazy. And I thought, these are folks whose yearning was so profound; who had crossed oceans, who had risked lives. Some didn't make it. Their yearning was so profound that I think it would have burst anybody else's skin wide open. And they held that yearning and that desire for life with such regularity that I thought that the immunization scars were what somebody got when they got older. I had no idea how. I thought it was, like, some ritual you had to go through because the only adults that I knew around me, of course, you know, teachers and everything else, they... they were wearing shirts to cover up their arms so I wouldn't know, but... and the majority of teachers in my school were white, but they were from a different world. All the adults around me had that scar on their arm and I thought that that's just what adults had. That's, I mean, that's how prolific that experience was. And so I have a... you know... and, uhm, you know, high school was the highest level that my parents had achieved for different reasons; my mom wasn't able to finish. And, uhm, there's a... there's a way where you're very privileged, because, of course, they said at the foundation, that personal privilege of what happens, even if... even through hardship, when that foundation of love and desire or whatever is built in. And then there's also the... that we want to honor that in the layer, the weight of sort of... kinda feeling, like, alone and not knowing how to, sort of, hold that in the same way. Our holidays mean something a little bit different, uhm, when everybody lives somewhere else, especially now, in this pandemic. Or when, you know, my mom... like I... you know, her papers are really complicated. I can't just fly her... and her mental health... I can't just fly her out here, I have to be able to go to her to make sure that she's good, and I can't with things being the way that they are. And so, that's something that's been on my mind quite a bit, especially now. And, uh, I'm just like, what... where... like, how does that feel for you to hear that?

Diane Guerrero 17:39

Uhm, I don't know. I mean, does it... I feel like, well, you know what, kind of, you know, experienced what, what we've experienced a little bit. You know? Uhm, I hope... I just wish that people could see this and understand what it's like for other people who live this on a daily basis. You know, and, and [Janaya: yeah.] I don't know. I mean, look inward, but also just look outward, and see how... see how people have been dealing this forever and, and [Janaya: Yeah] see what... Look, I... I've walked around like really mad for a long time. Uhm, and now, like, you know, with my therapist and my various coaches, I've learned that it's okay to be angry and not be attached to anger. So like, honestly, when I saw folks being really upset that they couldn't see their folks, it was kind of a moment for me to say, "Well, this is what I've been experiencing." So, you know, how about you... how about you take a look at the way that things work, and maybe be part of something to change things? Because this is kind of how people live all the time.

Janaya 'Future' Khan 18:55

I get, I get what you're saying.

Diane Guerrero 18:57

I... that's terrible though. I'm not at all an advanced human being.

Janaya 'Future' Khan 19:00

No, no. I... no, it's not terrible. It's human. I can tell you a moment that was... it was so mundane, and it stuck out to me. This was years ago. Right, I wanna say right before stuff with, you know, Black Lives Matter picked up. And, look, you don't get into this work, the work of organizing or change making, especially around Black issues for clout, or for name. It's not there. This is the only country that I have ever been to that celebratizes activists, and only certain kinds of activists, and only certain kinds of activism. Uhm, and it was really disorienting and confusing but, where I come from, which is just next door in Canada, it's just... there is no infrastructure for that. There's no money in that. You cannot be a career activist organizer. It's something that you do in your free time. And you know, here, it's the... it' same thing. You know, there are... most, most, if not all, the organizers that I've met have other jobs that's... that they can make a living and do this, because it speaks to them. And so, you know, you don't get into this. And I remember I was sitting with a friend and they're also like... they're non binary as well. They're like, the Japanese version of me. It was really... I was just like, "there's more of me? This is great! {laughs} Uhm, they were talking about someone who just got a job. And, you know, again, where you can work is very limited and we thought... I thought... I was like, "Oh, that's cool. How much of they paying?" And they were like, "90k." And I was like, "oh!" And my friend said something that stuck with me. They were like, "I want to get to a point in my life, where I can be gracious when somebody else is succeeding." And it was an acknowledgment of two things I think -- pain and desire. Right? Like, the pain of feeling like you were dealt a really sh*t hand. Like, a really sh*t hand. You know, and they were born or raised in Japan and everything else and, you know, living in Toronto, queer, all these things. And, you know, minus the Japan thing, I think we shared a lot of things in common. And, too, is this like.. that desire, that kind of... that desire for security, that desire for comfortability, that desire for, for some people, fame for other people's nobility, you know, and so I think that that's a really human thing.

Diane Guerrero 21:46

More after the break. Now, Janaya, I heard you have a twin.

Janaya 'Future' Khan 22:01

Yeah. We were not close at all growing up. We didn't come back into each other's lives until in our 20's. At 14, really 13/14, I ended up living in group homes and my sister went and lived with a friend and, you know, and that causes a divide. But all to say like, these are really human things and one thing I love about the fact that we're talking about it is there usually is something that we find... that we hide that we should be ashamed of want, ashamed of desire, that, uhm... and whatever those desires are, and I think they change over time. But this is a part of who we are. Not everybody gets into activism, quote - unquote, for noble reasons, and I don't need noble reasons. I just need your whole heart. You know. I'll start it... we can start out with just a part of it. I'll win it over, you know. That's like... that's my way of it. But we don't... I don't need nobility, and I don't think we have to be driven always by nobility if we have integrity. And integrity, at the heart of it, is just being the most you that you can possibly be, and the most honest that you can possibly be. And we can't achieve that if we're constantly hiding parts of ourselves that we believe should be punished.

Diane Guerrero 23:11

Well, that's it. Yeah. Yeah. That's... is that what got you here? Is that that desire? What got you here? What got you to this place of like, you punishing, or trying to... seeing that you were punishing those, those, those parts of you that had desire and had ambition?

Janaya 'Future' Khan 23:30

I didn't have ambition. I didn't have desire, and it was the absence of those things that actually jostled me into action. Uhm, I really had no plan. I had a lot of feelings and no house for them. And, you know, luckily, very grateful that built into queer communities is a kind of politicization. Like, it's very much part of being queer. You know, you're like, you, you know, a raging homosexual and radical all at the same time. You know? Raging against the machine too. And, uhm, that helped... that gave me a language, you know. Oh, yeah, no... da*n, listen, I became like gaylord of the dance real fast. Like, [Diane: I love it.] like, straight up gaylord! No, uhm {laughter}... But, no, it's built in, and what it did was it helped give me a language for how I was feeling. And, uhm... 'cause all I had were those, these big feelings and... you know, if you're not careful, you know, those feelings are a hammer, and you either destroy or you build, and I was very destructive. And like most people who are socialized as girls, or as women, whatever you want to call it, I... you're, you're socialized to destroy yourself. And that's what I was doing. Every day I was... I would look at my hand or, metaphorically speaking, you know, a thumb, an eye, a forearm, whatever, and I was just constantly destroying myself so that I would have something to repair. You know, and I just had feelings that were just too big. And when I learned about things like racism, and sexism, and this, and that and the other, I was like, "there's a... there are words for these things that are inside? There's a word for what happens when I get called a n***er on the bus, on the 63 Ossington going to, you know, my mother's house? There's a reason why my mom didn't have the supports that she needed?" You, you know it intuitively, but language frees you and language has always freed homosapiens. It's why we were able to create civilizations in the way that we have, past more than 150 people. We created gods, we created stories, we created myth, and where... we shared information, and now we're doing it at a rate that was impossible, previously, which is going to shape our minds and our everything else, our psyches all over again. But, I didn't have... so, when I... when I had language, I could stop destroying myself, and I could sort of get some... like, I could scale. And then I was able to make some rules for myself. And the first one was beware the narcissism of sorrow. I wanted relationships. I wanted friends that weren't just people... girls, I ran around with doing gang s**t. You know? I wanted that, and I was a... once I realized that I had to be able to connect to other people's pain -- because this was me at like 16/17. Someone would say, "Ah, man, like, I just got into a fight with my mom, like, I'm so annoyed." And I, in my head, I'd be like, who f***ing cares? [Diane: Right.] Like, who f***ing cares? Like, I just slept on a bench. I don't give a f**k about this, and that, and the other. And, you know, those are extreme circumstances. One could say that there's a case to be made. But, what if you need that other person? If you need a witness, which we do, then I have to be able to do that for other people. And I thought if I'm feeling this way, someone else is most assuredly feeling this way. And so that one rule, beware the narcissism of sorrow, paired with... with the language, I was able to start doing... sharing something that I love, which was boxing. Before I knew how to talk about racism, and sexism, and classism, and whatever at a very rudimentary level, I was like, I don't know how to do that, but I know boxing. So, I asked my coach to borrow a bunch of gloves, and I had some mitts and I would go to any {emphatic} conference I could get to--any conference--and I would do a workshop for free on how to box. And, as I got smarter around this stuff, I was able to complicate the narrative around... first, it was like, I'll teach you how to box, teach you how to throw punch, then it was talking about, I don't know, the marginalization of oppressed people's bodies, and blah, blah, blah and, before you know it, I'm talking about the prison industrial complex, and... But it was these three things... uhm, you know, the rules, the language and, I think, something that I loved, I was finally able to build something out of my pain instead of just using it to bludgeon me ov... myself over and over and over again. You know?

Diane Guerrero 28:18

You know, that's similar to what I discovered in myself and how I carried my own trauma. I felt so angry, and I felt betrayed by the world. Like, 'how dare you, world, do this to me', and that anger slowly seeped into my life. [Janaya: Yeah.] It felt as if there was a war raging inside my body. And it took me a long time to allow myself to feel that anger in a healthy way, and almost turn that pain [Janaya: That's right.] into something that was healthier to carry, something I didn't have to do on my own. Janaya, how were you able to turn your hurt into healing?

Janaya 'Future' Khan 28:59

I... I spent a long time getting very clear on how I wished I was loved. You know, you go through life without a lot of it, particularly when you're younger, and that ish, it will eat you up. And so I had to figure out and thank... you know, I read a lot of books. I'm, I'm a huge romantic, and fantasy and sci-fi really gave me what I needed in terms of, you know, idealism. What happens when good is too pure, and how quickly that becomes a kind of evil. You know, love stories and all that stuff and it was all combined into one. And it helped me understand what love could feel like differently; what I wanted love to feel like -- The women in the women's shelter. You know, my moments with my mom, you know, even when, you know, she was being eaten alive by this world that we live in. I started to wake up, I remember, I think I was 11, before things really went south. I would wake up in the middle of the night, like 3:00 am, and I'd go out into the living room and my mom would be watching, like, Laverne & Shirley and I Love Lucy in, like, black and white, and I would just sit beside her, and we would just, like, watch it. Those moments are our profound love. And so I thought, I'm gonna try to say to people what I wish someone had said to me. I'm gonna try to be the friend to people that I wish someone could be for me. I'm going to show up for people the way that I wish someone would show up for me. And maybe, if I do those things, I will be able to be prouder of myself. And maybe, if I'm lucky, I'll get the kind of community that I... that I desperately longed for. And, so, I'm lucky. Once you get clear about who you are, it also gets a lot more free. So much of that has to do with where you are. But for me, at the heart of it, what do I wish that someone would say to me right now? If I don't know what to say, what do I want to hear right now? What is the thing that's eating me up right now? And I just trust that if I'm feeling this way, there's got to be other people who are feeling it too. And a lot of listening. I, you know, when you're in pain, it's really hard to listen 'cause all you can hear... all you can hear is your own demons, your own heart. It's telling you all the time you're not enough, no one's ever gonna love you, you're never gonna be anything. You might even have some success and you're still having these things. If you're not constantly being petted, or held, or loved in those moments in the way... in the only way that you understand love to be legible, which is through a kind of obsession. You're like, I need more, I need more, I need more. And you're... every pore on your body is like an open mouth. You know, and you have to... that chip on your shoulder it... it becomes a boulder in, you know, in your late 20's {chuckles} and early 30's, and you realize you can't carry that s**t anymore. And you either, you have to take it, and drop it, and break that s**t down and build something up. You know, or build it around yourself and keep everybody out. You know? So, the pain of getting through my pain was what I had to do first because, otherwise, nobody should... they shouldn't trust me. That doesn't mean I'm... oh, like I'm... but if the only... if the loudest voice in my head is my pain, I'm not trustworthy because that's always going to tell me something different. The goalpost for success is always going to be changing. So that my... everything that I say, is going to be around ego as a leader. And so I understood that if I wanted to do this well, that I had to dissenter myself in a way and then... and I wonder if you have this experience too... is like, you get... now, you're... you get to... I really put myself on the back burner a lot... more... I got so used to, and I think that was partly the socialization stuff, and now I'm trying to come back in and say I, I know that I'm good at this. I know that I'm good at this. This is my best offering. I need to find ways to do this more.

Diane Guerrero 33:35

Yeah, I go through that too, that chip on my shoulder. Like, the entitlement that comes from holding on to systemic trauma. And like, in those times, it's so hard to soften myself and be kind. But I know that I have to remember to dissenter myself. Like I always go there. I try to go there because I know that doing right by me means listening to those who are most marginalized. Janaya, you are so unapologetic with who you are. What did coming into your identity as a queer non-binary person and accepting who you are look like? Like, were you always this confident? Did boxing contribute to that?

Janaya 'Future' Khan 34:24

I'ma tell you something 'cause, you know, you've seen me talk to people. [Diane: Yeah.] There was a point, way up until my very early 20's, where I couldn't walk into a room. And, like, I couldn't walk into a lecture. If I was late, I would be outside, like, back and forth. Walking back and forth, psyching myself up to walk into that room 'cause I could not deal with all those eyes on me. It freaked me out. I could not deal with any kind of public attention. Uhm, all those eyes. And part of that was, you know, and it's funny 'cause, you know, now I'm all, like, light skinned and everyone's like, "non-binary!", you know, and it's all in and everything. But when I grew up... when I was growing up, I understood very well, very clearly that I was ugly. It was very... it was repeated to me almost all the time. My sister is like a little, you know, five foot, little Prom Queen, you know, hair is just... my hair grows out, her hair grew down towards, you know, towards the ground. And, you know, in Black worlds, good hair was a thing and it still is a thing. But it was very pervasive and, you know, all of these things, all these insecurities, and then that... that neglect and that need, it was just like it made every kind of attention, you know, it was too much. And I talked about the feelings being too big, and they were! Like, those feelings are too big. The way that some of... the way that some of these kids... some of these, you know, really elite, only grew up in suburbs... the way that some of those kids... like, their contempt is way too big for their body. You know? I'm like, "You're 16. How do you know this much contempt for other people already?" For me, for you, I think for a lot of us, the pain is just too big. What boxing did was it put me in my body. Everywhere else, it felt like I was floating out of it. Like, I was just sort of always above myself watching myself being like, "You're an idiot. You sound stupid. Why are you doing this? Why are you going there? Why did you say so much?" You know, you're oversharing or whatever, so then you don't say anything at all. And, you know, you can't think of the thoughts that you have really quickly you're in. You know, for me it was... I'm in post secondary, and all these a**holes are like, and d**kheads are just like, "privilege doesn't exist." And I was like, "It clearly does! Why is this even...?" But I didn't have this... the tools yet to go back to, you know, the beginning of that conversation. And so boxing put me in my body. It forced me in because I was... this isn't for everybody, but a very sharp learning curve is getting punched in the face. And I was getting punched in the face a lot. And I was like, this has got to stop. This is not sustainable. But what it did, and this is why I'm an advocate of boxing cuz you don't have the spar to do it. Whatever you do in the world, whatever it is, it's gonna come up in the ring. It's because it's adversity and it's really just you and yourself. If you shut down, it comes up. If you emotionally shut down, it comes up in the ring. If you rage, it comes up in the ring. If you wanna cry, it comes up in the ring and it forces you to put a container around your feelings 'cause you have a very clear objective and a greater goal. And, uhm... and so, for me, it forced me back into my body, and also just 'cause I got lucky. That boxing club that I went to is a beautiful little community of people -- weirdos, and social pariahs, and dykes, and butches. And I was like, how did... how did I get here? This is great. You know. I was... I've, you know, met and connected and built with, like, trans people before I fully understood the language of trans people. You know, of what would become my people. But it made me do that. And suddenly I started to walk differently in the world. My body wasn't something that I was ashamed of. I would hide my chest, you know, I mean, I still get these looks. But people are constantly on the street, no matter where I am, constantly trying to figure out if I'm male or female. Always. They, particularly dudes, they're very invested in that. Women are only invested in that if we're in a public bathroom, which makes sense 'cause they'll look at me and they think danger. But it's it's my eyes, my chest, my eyes, my chest. That's where they look over and over and over again. When you're younger, and people -- whole strangers -- are asking you on the street, "Are you a boy or girl? What are you? What are you?" That was always the question and so... but, suddenly, my body was powerful. It didn't matter whether or not I had a chest. My arms, my arms were useful. They were fast. I had my own relationship to the, to the... to my body outside of what the world expected of me. And it just changed things. I felt good about myself. And I was like, "if I could feel good here, how can I replicate that in other places in the world?" And it's such a turnaround, so disorienting to not be considered hideous anymore. To not be considered ugly anymore. And I still get the stares. But I've... they're funny to me. Like, you know, the other day I think, you know, before the lockdown here happened again in LA, I was like... I really... I squeezed in a little outing to the grocery store, and I went to use the restroom and, I guess, this dude was waiting for his wife. And I'm like, who knows which one I'm gonna go in. [Diane: Right.] I go to turn into the women's washroom, and he almost grabbed my arm and was like, "Hey, bro, it's this. It's..." He's like, "Hey, hey, it's... ours is there." And he looks at me and he doesn't know what to do. And he's trying to figure out what I am. And, uh... he was like, "Uhm, sorry, sorry." You know, and it's just... it's, it's real... But now I can look at it with amusement because their story of me, of what I should be, is no longer the script that I stick to. It's my own. I get to choose who, and what, and where, and when. I don't have control over them, but I have control over me and I feel good in my own body now. I have agency that I just did not have before.

Diane Guerrero 40:39

And, uhm, you don't need to hear this from me, but I... I think you're beautiful.

Janaya 'Future' Khan 40:45

Thank you. Yes. But, it's good to hear. [Diane: Yeah.] It's good to hear. I mean, and, and because it's the weight, the weight of it. You're not just speaking to me, like the physical, you're speaking to my spirit. You know?

Diane Guerrero 40:58

And I'm speaking to all of it!

Janaya 'Future' Khan 41:00

Yes. But we, we have spoken... like we... I really do feel that you exchange something on the protest line .You give something over to each other that is permanent. The part that you gave me, you're never gonna get back. You've already grown around it. You know, the part that I gave you I'm never gonna get back. You know, it's it's already grown around you. [Diane: Yeah.] We're... we've changed each other with that exchange of energy. We have changed each other profoundly in that short exchange because all we have to offer there... all we have to offer in that made up space, in that made up world, is ourselves. That's it. You know, and everywhere else in the world, you are a person with connections, you're a celebrity, you're this, your that, the other. You know, family, great. It's... it's important, but even still, you have to do... there's obligations and everything else. There's no obligations out there and you came of your own free will and volition. You have nothing to offer but yourself. And I'm gonna take it. [Diane: Right.] I'm gonna take it. It's a good... you know, and I'm gonna give it and you're gonna take it because that is what... that is the purest... to me, it is the purest exchange that we have to give each other. I really want people to understand protest as a spiritual experience, as something that is art, as something that is supernatural. You know?

Diane Guerrero 42:28

It certainly has changed my life forever.

Janaya 'Future' Khan 42:33

What brought you out there?

Diane Guerrero 42:34

You know, the first protest I went to was the Women's March. But before that, I already had started talking about my experience with immigration. In 2016, I wrote my book, In The Country We Love, and people were calling me an activist. But I actually had never shown up to an actual protest. Uhm, and so I went to the Families Belong Together rally in DC, where they asked me to speak and I wrote something. And that was a chance for me to like, really express my anger and frustration with how families are treated in this country and how I really felt. Families don't ever f***ing deserve to be separated. Period. And that moment was so spiritual for me. And protests, in general, are spiritual and almost cathartic. You know, it's a time that we can all gather in a space and passionately talk about, scream out, sing out the injustices that we face. It's camaraderie and communal healing. [Janaya: Yes.] But I knew that was really powerful when I wanted to continue doing that. [Janaya: Yeah.] Uhm, and I wanted to be around people who did that. Uhm, so yeah, so that was... that was the first time I did that. And then I was like, Okay, well, now that I, you know, now that I can go to these protests, I think now I can... I can continue doing that. And then, of course, uhm... uh, what happened this summer with George Floyd and Ahmad Aubrey, and... and then... I mean, by this time, you know, when I was already talking about my family's experience with immigration and how f***ed up the system was, you know, now I had created a community. So that's where I met, you know, Kendrick and Patrisse Cullors and then... and then following you. And so, now, I was just like, "Okay, this is the, this is the people I want to be around. These are the people I want to listen to. These are the people I want to, like be in community with." And so that's that's kind of how it started. I.. for, for our, for our listeners, [Janaya: Mmhmm] {Diane laughs} can you... I know you're... Can you define... {laughter} You know my producer wrote the most! {Janaya laughs} But... But no... but like, you know, just to have a well-rounded episode, can you describe your role, and also define the movement for our listeners? [Janaya: Cool.] Yeah.

Janaya 'Future' Khan 45:23

So, you know, I think anytime you're in a movement, you're playing a utility position, your whatever is needed. And I've been lucky enough to sort of act as international ambassador for Black Lives Matter. So, you know, when there was the strike, in Buena Ventura, I was out there. You know, when people were turning up in Australia, I was out there. You know, when folks are trying to figure out what to do in Palestine and in Israel, you know, I was out there. And, you know, when, uh, cousins... you know, cousin chapters in the UK, when they were turning up, I was out there. And I've been, you know, when it came to the States, I, every time... Every time there, there was some kind of turn up anywhere, crisis, the National Guard is called, somebody is murdered by police brutality in the last several years, I've been out there. When Standing Rock happened, I was out there. You know? And so, I just went where I was needed. And, you know, I think folks forget, so I just want to remind everyone, especially for those who are like, "What do I do? How do I, how do I do things? What do movements look like now? How do I just, you know, join? I don't understand." We started out... I... you know, and... I'll turn it around. So, don't worry if this sounds like a sad story at first, it really isn't. I mean, of course, we all come into protest and movement, because... that are born of tragedy. This is kind of funny 'cause it's very disorienting. People hated Black Lives Matter for six or seven years straight. Like, it was we were social pariahs. We were untouchable. We could hardly get any kind of support. We were denounced by people we looked up to. You know, and that was really, really hard. It was so hard, actually. And we couldn't understand, you know... We were blamed for a lot of things. I remember, you know, in Dallas, when police officers were shot at, I got a call at, like, 4:30 in the morning by the BBC being like, "you have to give a comment." And this was a person who had nothing to do with anyone that... anything to do with Black Lives Matter. At that point, it was anyone who put on a T-shirt or said BLM, was suddenly Black Lives Matter. And the media was so hungry for a single male representative and we refused to give them that. And, consequently, they punished us. You know, whether intentional or not, by making it a free for all. And we had to fight to get clear with the world and with ourselves about what it is that we were gonna do. And so, I want to say that this is the power of trusting that you are doing the thing that's right over doing the thing that is popular, and we stuck to it. And, you know... you know, you mentioned the Women's March. That was a... that was hard when that happened because we were out there working and trying. Standing Rock happened. It was received very differently and that is not because Native people have it easy. Hell no! Quite the contrary, but it was everyone treated as this mythical Burning Man experience. When the Women's March happened, we saw people throw their weight in and support in a way that Black Lives Matter never got. You know, we weren't palatable, but the Women's March was very palatable. And you know, you have to be stronger than... than the, the thing inside that says they're treated better. It's not about that. You're like, what are the core issues here? You got to step back. And, if there's momentum around the Women's March, your job is not to say, "How do I stop that? That sucks!" You know, it should be us. No, you say, "How can I turn this attention to where it needs to be? How can we expand the lens out? [Diane: Right.] If people care about this issue, how can we broaden and connect it to ours?" We infiltrated other people's movements in a positive way. But we, you know, it's how do we get in? We gotta get in here. We gotta support this. We gotta, you know, work in People's Party. Good. We gotta get in there. Color of Change, got to get in there. You know, I did two years of Color... make it sound like I did time. It's a great organization. {laughter} But I had worked there for two years [Diane: Right.] because I wanted to build up my own expertise on digital campaigning. And so, you know, it was a long battle. And so, for anyone out there, like, just know... like, if you have... if you want to, like, quote-unquote win at this s**t, you got to... Stacey Abrams said, you gotta have a plan going in. It's... and this is about real organizing not, you know, you can... 'cause at any point in time, you absolutely can and should turn on your own phone, go on live, make your own graphics, or whatever it is that you want to do that moves you. But when you're ready to connect to larger movements, do what feels right not what's popular. You know? And when this pandemic happened, nobody thought there was going to be a turn back to Black Lives Matter. I don't know. I... for all my expertise, I had no idea. And then, when it happened, I was like, "What the h**l is going on?" It was so disorienting because suddenly it was like, "Future!" Like, "Yes!" Like, "Future!" Outside... of people, like, on the streets. And I was like, "What? What's going on here?" [Diane: Yeah!] And I realized that this pandemic, like, people were starting to finally ask the questions that we had been asking years ago that people who look like me and you were asking years before that, and years before that. And because we had trusted what we were doing, and because we had started asking those questions when we did, and we hadn't changed course, we were able to offer some answers. And that's how we got to, you know... there... Zora Neale Hurston, right-- "There are years that ask questions and [there are] years that answer." You know, and if you're asking questions about what you can be, and who you can be, and where do you start, that is exactly where you should be. That is a perfect and wonderful place to be. It means you are connected to the world that... Black Lives Matter started out as, like, a Facebook post. We make it really fancy. We're like, it was a letter... a love letter to Black people. It was a Facebook post that was like three words... three... sorry, three lines. And, you know, we ran with it and nobody cared about it for those first two years or first year, and then a bunch of black organizers were like, "let's go", and we did it. We turned it into something bigger. And that doesn't mean that we were loved. Don't get into this work to be loved. Get into this work to be light. Just, like, the brightest light that you can be. That's what you get into it for. Like, it really is an opportunity to shine light on horror, on injustice, on yourself. It's an invitation for others to do the same. You know, we actually need your light. If you are going in on an ego trip, you will... that's exactly what it will be. You will trip up and you'll do it and it could hurt people. It could hurt yourself. So, you have to find the way to uplift both; to lift yourself up, which is a beautiful and profound thing. But you will not stay up if you have not rose people up with you. You need that. We all need that. Toni Morrison says, you know, Go wherever you're going to go, do whatever you're going to do, but bring your people with you." You gotta bring people with you. You need your team. It cannot be just you at the end of the day. Pedestals always get... idols always get toppled. You know? And so those... those are some of the core things that I know and, you know, organizing is changing. And movement building is changing. It's been all mass mobilization. You talked about it. You know, Occupy, Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, the Women's March, Families Belong Together, No Muslim Ban, Parkland, Me Too. Mass mobilizations. Critical mass is amazing, but if you don't have critical connections, it's not... it's nothing. It's nothing but the moment. So, focus right now on building those critical connections with people who are just as hungry, just as fueled as you are. You can do anything you want.

Diane Guerrero 53:59

More in a minute. What do you want to create?

Janaya 'Future' Khan 54:26

What do I want to create? Like, what is my... what is the legacy [Diane: Yeah.] I wanna leave behind? [Diane: Yeah.] Good work. I don't know exactly what that looks like it yet. You know, I've just found myself in writing. It took a long time, longer than I thought. It's not that long, a few months. {laughter} I'm so good at this, the talking to people in public. Writing. This is... I... I didn't trust my writing without me to be there to force it. I, I trust myself when I'm saying the words, when I write them and I walk away, and anyone can just do whatever they want with them, or think whatever they want or feel whatever. I was like, "No, no, no. I need to control those feelings." I had to let that go. And it took a lot of writing, and writing, and writing until I was bleeding onto the typewriter to... until I finally had just the truth, my truth on it. And so when that happens, I hope that it's good writing. And good writing to me is that it touched people. Uhm, I hope that the legacy that I leave behind is one that is rooted in love and integrity, and trust and protection. And that it helps the next generation, it helps as a blueprint, it helps answer the questions. And then I'm... I get to be one of the bricklayers in the foundation layers for this thing that we're... this tomorrow that we're, we're trying to create. You know, I...

Diane Guerrero 56:04

Do you see yourself as a teacher?

Janaya 'Future' Khan 56:09

I think I have to be. [Diane: Yeah, yeah.] Yeah, I think I... like, I want to be like, "Oh, I do or I don't." But I think, you know, I fall into that role no matter what. Uhm, what I am not is THE {emphasis added here} teacher. [Diane: Right.] Uhm, you know, I think... I think that expertise--I'm a big fan of it. I'm a big, big, big, big fan of it. I just I don't believe and, to be clear, you know, I'm not like, it has to come from an institution. But, I think expertise needs to happen with two things, and they're non-negotiables.--years and peers. You cannot call yourself an expert unless there are... you have peers around you, who hold you accountable, who are just as committed to that thing as you are, who are also seen as that thing. If they... if you don't have that group to hold you accountable and to push you further, you don't have expertise. If you do not have years behind you, you do not have expertise. Those two things are non-negotiable to me to be calling yourself an expert in the world. I don't think you need a piece of paper, although that helps, perhaps, and you know, and I don't think we're all... just because we have those things doesn't make us all natural leaders. And I don't think that that's a bad thing. [Diane: Right.] Because we're all different leaders in different things. You know, I might be a leader in this way, and there's... there's gonna be... there are a million other ways where I'm just not... I'm not the best one. But years and peers are important, and I don't want us ever... One thing I am concerned about with our generation and the generations after us is that we think we have to forfeit expertise for the sake of accessibility. I worry about that. The objective should be to remove obstacles that make expertise inaccessible, but not eliminating expertise altogether. So that we're... we, you know... I want us to be in a world where all of our opinions matter, and that we're still honoring and respecting expertise when it's in the room and when it has the right leadership qualities. Uhm, or even if it doesn't, to be quite frank, we can be like, we can take the message but the messenger is trash. You know, uhm... You know, we gotta figure out those things because I struggle with the culture where, you know, you watch a 30 second NowThis video, and you feel like you're the resident authority on a matter. I want us to be more disciplined than that.

Diane Guerrero 58:31

Would you say that those are your... that's kind of your, your tool? As a teacher? What... What would be your... like your, your most useful tool to get through to the people you're talking to? To, to get through to us?

Janaya 'Future' Khan 58:44

My most useful tool? [Diane: Yes.] Like, you mean voice? You mean, like, social media? What do you mean?

Diane Guerrero 58:52

Uhm... No, I guess the tool within you.

Janaya 'Future' Khan 58:55

Oh, hmm... hmm... I don't know if it's a tool. I just... I think it's an orientation. Do ya know... it's so funny. It's so annoying. [Diane: What?] Toni Cade Bambara once said that 'the job of the artist is to make the revolution irresistible', and I feel that way; that my job is to make the work irresistible. And that means that I have to try even when I don't know how or don't feel like it, to be irresistible. That means that I have to be the best version of what I believe is needed at that time that I can be and I have failed at that a different moments. And they were learning moments for me. And I go in and I think I can't squander this. 'Cause here's the thing, you don't know who someone is going to be, and I don't mean in that annoying way that's like, they might be the next 'IT' director. No, I mean like...

Diane Guerrero 59:56

Like me, when I go, "Who was watching?! Who was there?!" {Jenaya laughing} Tell me. Did they love me? {Laughter} God, I am...

Janaya 'Future' Khan 1:00:03

You have such a good voice.

Diane Guerrero 1:00:04

That is... Oh, but that is me. That is... I... that is like, I [Janya: And that's real.] that is so real.

Janaya 'Future' Khan 1:00:10

Right? But now it's... for me, it's like, you don't know who the next... that... the person in the room is gonna be like. They could be the next great champion for a cause. You know, I see myself as like a boxing gym. In a boxing club, you're lucky. You know, you, you, you stay open. You gotta stay open. And, if you're lucky, every once in every 10 years, or once in an entire lifetime, you get one champion. If you're lucky. So, for me, I see myself as a boxing gym. If, you know, I have to stay open and the next great... the next great might come through and, if I have an opportunity to help shape their... to help spark that passion, or how... be one brick on that person's path even if that greatness is in the container of their own homes, or their communities, or the world. Whatever it is, if I have the opportunity to be one of those people, I will not squander it. I will not.

Diane Guerrero 1:01:12

You said once... I heard you say once, "when you walk into a room with integrity, no one can deny you." And I carry that with me. I often feel like I'm doing too much and I'm sharing too much, but I have to remind myself that it's coming from a genuine place, that it has integrity, and that... that matters. [Janaya: That's right.] You taught me that.

Janaya 'Future' Khan 1:01:43

Yes. I had to learn it. You know, I think we all have. Sometimes you just need the words to put it together. But yeah, I was... one of my first human rights jobs ever. And like I said, you know, you don't get into this for jobs or for money. So, I was really lucky to get a job, and it paid I think, like, $29,000 a year. You know, and I was just like, "I don't care. I just love it!" And by the way, that was like a lot to me then too. So, whatever. You know, and I was feeling like, you know, I was so lucky. But, I was going in and I was doing these trainings and they were largely with people who didn't have to look at somebody like me before, and certainly not in a teaching capacity. They were middle aged, white middle class folks. In largely, like, white communities and neighborhoods and organizations, and all of my co-workers were white women--very cool white women. We had our little, you know, bumps, and then we laughed about them and we figured it out. You know, and figured out how to be there for each other. So there's... there is a good model for that. And they, no matter how much I tried and, you know... I mean, I had a high-top box fade, my gender identity was like Battlestar Galactica, like, {Diane chuckles} so there was a lot for these, you know, these vanilla folks to take in. But that, you know... but I was good at what I did. I wasn't as good as I am now--that took a long time--but I was pretty good. And no matter how much I smiled, or how irresistible I tried to be, they wrote intimidating, aggressive, unprofessional, inexperienced on the evaluations. Every time. I would be able to talk circles around my co-workers. Bless them, they're all talented but, you know. You know, it's just... I was in my... I was in my practice. And I started to be like, "You know what, F this! I don't need this. I don't. I'm gonna get paid anyway. Like, all I need to do is, you know, pick up my little check and pay my little rent, and I'm good. I don't need these people. Whatever." And so, I changed myself. I changed my... I changed my relationship to joy. It didn't matter that I loved to do the work. I now let them shape what my relationship to that work was. And it's and it's fine to have those moments. That s**t is demoralizing. But I made... that was the second rule that I had to make for myself and, maybe, it was the third. Who knows. I got so many. But, it was: 'never let someone else determine how much integrity you walk into a room with', because I was now walking into a room less myself, less in love with this work, less in love with possibility because they just weren't in a place to receive it or me. There's... You're always going to be around people who are not ready for you, who don't know how to love you, who don't know how to show up, who are so caught up in their own s**t that they can't, you know... If people who get upset about gen... pronouns, you're not getting upset because of the pronoun, you're getting upset because that... that, that anger that people feel, that's not because someone is saying that they're a 'they', or they're a 'he', or they're a 'she', or whatever. You're angry because that person had the audacity to choose who the h**l you were... who the h**l they were, rather. That's really what you're angry about. And, if they could choose that, it means that a lot of other the things that we took as immutable truths are not as immutable as we thought. That's really what offends you, that you spent your whole life playing the game and doing what you... you know, and going through the hoops and maintaining the status quo and everything else. Now, you feel like you're, you're a defender of the status quo. So, you see pronouns as a threat instead of an invitation. Right? And so, there's always going to be people who are not in the place to receive you, and we can't change for all of them. So, what we got to do is just be that light. We don't have to make people see the light we just gotta be it! Never let someone else determine how much integrity you walk into to a room with. It takes a long time to get there but, the more you practice it, the easier it is. And then, suddenly, you don't know how to go back. You are so fundamentally changed. So fundamentally yourself everywhere you go that the idea of being anything else is absurd, is... it's not... it's, uhm, unfathomable. And your loved so much by, by... for who you are. You give yourself that. But now, because you've been able to do that, you are... you can be that for other people. You can be that love, that rock. You know?

Diane Guerrero 1:06:10

Oh, I think I'm gonna be myself. [Janaya: Yeah.] I think that's what I want.

Janaya 'Future' Khan 1:06:15

It's the most incredible gift in the world. And that's what this movement and everybody that I have met along the way has done for me. They have given me permission to be myself, but the most important person was to give myself that permission. To trust that that that person I wanted to be was who I, who I wanted to be. That I could be that person. That I could be the person that I thought that I could be when I was a kid. You know? [Diane: Yeah.] Yeah.

Diane Guerrero 1:06:44

Thank you.

Janaya 'Future' Khan 1:06:45

No, thank you. Yeah, no, what a... what a joy.

Diane Guerrero 1:06:48

Wow, this is such a... thank you so much. This is such a treat.

Janaya 'Future' Khan 1:06:52

I'm grateful and, like I said, I knew that this was gonna be good. I knew it was gonna be good.

Diane Guerrero 1:06:58

I can't believe this just happened! We did it.

Janaya 'Future' Khan 1:07:00

We no longer are just making meaningful eye contact across a room. {laughter}

Diane Guerrero 1:07:05

I'm like, through my mask, I'm like... [Janaya: Yeah {laughs}] I'm like, can you see that I'm taking in the information. I'm really listening.

Janaya 'Future' Khan 1:07:12

You were. Yeah. We exchanged something. [Diane: Yeah.] We did.

Diane Guerrero 1:07:16

I... Well, obviously. 'Cause look, we're here.

Janaya 'Future' Khan 1:07:19

We're here. We're here. That could not have happened if we were not in that space together.

Diane Guerrero 1:07:24

Wow! I love being in spaces with you. I hope to be in more spaces with you. Thank you so much.

Janaya 'Future' Khan 1:07:31

What a joy.

Diane Guerrero 1:07:44

Yeah, No, I'm Not Okay is a production of Laist Studios. Remember to rate and review our show. I just found out that it helps other people find it. So, if you like it, share it with your friends. The more people we can get to have conversations about mental health the better. If you've got a story you want to share about how you deal with mental health issues, send it my way. Record it on your phone's voice memo app and email it to And be sure to subscribe to our newsletter to get the latest episodes with a note from me, recommendations from our listeners, and our team, and listener stories. Sign up at Jessica Pilot is our talent manager and producer. Our executive producers are Leo G. and me, Diane Guerrero. Web design by Andy Cheatwood at the digital and marketing teams at Southern California Public Radio. Thanks to the team at Laist Studios, including Taylor Coffman, Kristin Hayford, Kristen Muller, Michael Consentino, Robert Jo, Mildred Langford and Leo G. And a special thanks to Brian Crawford. This program is made possible, in part, by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people. Additional support comes from the Angel Foundation, supporting transformational leaders, and by the California Health Care Foundation, dedicated to improving the mental health care system for all Californians.