In the Present Tense: Rene & Jesse

In the Present Tense: Rene & Jesse

"I think there’s success in being someone people can trust and count on."

1: What is your greatest fear, and how do you manage it?

Rene: My greatest fear is change, followed by rejection and not being liked. I've been at the same job for nine years and I love it. I'm deeply loyal and get fulfillment from working for a good cause. But then on the flip side, I know change is necessary for growth. To be honest, I don’t know that I manage those fears well currently, but I definitely experience little moments of progress. A tool I use when I’m having anxiety about these fears is asking myself “what's the best thing that could happen”. I’ve found it grounding for me to focus my energy on the positives, which is something Jesse taught me to do.

Jesse: My greatest fear is not being seen and how I will be perceived by others. A part of this fear has to do with my gender - being non-binary and recently identifying as more trans masculine. A lot of my work over the last few years has consisted of more acknowledgement and acceptance of my identity, which has allowed me to embrace myself in a much more genuine and authentic way. It’s given me a lot more confidence, and I find myself wanting to be seen more without worrying about how people will perceive me. I came out as non-binary while I was in an elected government position and I think with all of the trans current events, anti-trans policies, and how things are portrayed in the news it’s really pushed me to become the role model that I wish I had when I was younger. The non-binary and trans masc label has been very powerful for me. Today I feel really competent and stable with who I am and with being more outward with it.

2: How do you define success?

Rene: Success for me is having enough resources and space to be able to host my friends and the people I love. I love treating my friends, and I love treating them with special and sometimes extravagant things - and food! I get a lot of joy from bringing people together and I think it’s how I express myself creatively.

I think there’s success in being someone people can trust and count on.

But what also came up for me with this question was something my dad used to say to me - “you’re only as good as your word”. I think there’s some Boomer toxicity in that belief because we also need to take care of our mental health when it comes to over committing ourselves, but I do believe it’s important to do what you say you’re going to do. I think there’s success in being someone people can trust and count on. This really speaks to why I’ve stayed at my job so long and why I’ve been successful in building and maintaining great relationships in life.

Jesse: My definition of success is two-fold. When I look back on “younger Jesse” and then look at the life I lead today, it’s completely outside of what I thought was possible back then. So part one of success for me is being someone my younger self would be proud of.

Growing up I was pretty fearful, fearful of if I was going to be liked, or how I was being perceived, especially since I always knew I was queer. I didn’t really feel like I fit in. So now that I have this level of comfortability with myself, and am capable of trusting and loving myself, I live a pretty incredible life.

Growing up I was pretty fearful, fearful of if I was going to be liked, or how I was being perceived, especially since I always knew I was queer. I didn’t really feel like I fit in. So now that I have this level of comfortability with myself, and am capable of trusting and loving myself, I live a pretty incredible life. Having the partnership I have with Rene, being surrounded by love, and being able to carve out my own path and my own definitions, feels like success.

3: Who are your real-life heroes?

Rene: That’s easy, mine are Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton, and I have felt this way for a long time. I love how both of them have shown up unapologetically as themselves throughout their entire careers. And I admire their boldness, politics, and activism - they’re always standing up for what they believe in.

They don’t owe anybody anything and they’re not tied to anyone, they're just out there doing what they think is right.

Jane Fonda was one of the first big-name celebrities to be supportive of queer people and the HIV epidemic. And Dolly Parton donated her own money to fund coronavirus research and the development of the COVID-19 vaccine. They don’t owe anybody anything and they’re not tied to anyone, they're just out there doing what they think is right. They inspire me to live my life with the same mentality - be kind, open, and accepting, don’t concern yourself with what other people think, and do what you think is right.

Jesse: When I think of heroes I think about our trans ancestors, and more specifically trans women of color who have really paved the way for the trans community, and for the queer community broadly. Those of us in the queer community stand on the shoulders of women like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Cecilia Gentili, and Tabytha Gonzalez who blazed the trail for us. A lot of our rights and ability to be seen in the world are following in the wake of these great women.

4: What is the best gift you've given yourself?

Rene: As I mentioned before, I get a lot of joy from taking care of other people, but I’ve learned that this also exhausts me. So I make sure to take a solo trip for myself every year - my last solo trip was to Puerto Rico in March. It’s a sort of reset for myself, that I can plan and be excited about throughout each year. And my other gift to myself is therapy. The ability to talk to a neutral person on a regular basis has provided me with so much perspective and has taught me to be more compassionate with myself.Therapy is what helped me realize how important it is to carve out space for myself, like my solo trips, and has gotten me comfortable with unapologetically taking up as much space as I need for me.

Jesse: I actually got gender affirming surgery earlier this year. I was lucky that most of that was covered by insurance, but there was a portion of it that wasn't, so that's definitely the biggest gift that I’ve given myself. I also recently bought myself some jewelry - I really enjoyed the jewelry buying journey. I learned to understand my skin tone and to be intentional about what would look best on me. And lastly, I got a tattoo on my arm after my surgery. There’s an ode to Rene in it, and to my mom, as well as a fern and then bleeding hearts.

5: What was the last win you celebrated?

Rene: My biggest win recently is that I made the decision to move on from my job of nine years, and I’ve created a timeline for what this change looks like. As I mentioned previously, change is scary for me, but this decision feels like choosing myself, and that’s really exciting and new. I feel confident in this choice and can’t wait to explore this new chapter of my life. There are so many wonderful opportunities out there, in fashion, in food, and just so many fun, cute brands out there for me to get creative with. As for celebrating, I have to admit I do not struggle with celebrating wins. I’m a serial maximalist. I’m really extravagant and I love to treat myself, whether it’s popping into a store, getting myself a foot massage, or buying myself a new piece of jewelry. I just get a lot of joy out of celebrating.

Jesse: Celebrating wins is not something I’m very good at, but it is something I’d like to be better about. It’s funny, there’s this unspoken belief that if you celebrate something the evil eye will look down at you, and then it’s like, “when is the other shoe gonna drop”. But then there’s also the reality that life is short so I need to change that viewpoint and acknowledge that the universe is delivering these wins, and they should be celebrated.

It’s funny, there’s this unspoken belief that if you celebrate something the evil eye will look down at you, and then it’s like, “when is the other shoe gonna drop”. But then there’s also the reality that life is short so I need to change that viewpoint and acknowledge that the universe is delivering these wins, and they should be celebrated.

Rene’s celebratory nature has been rubbing off on me though. After my surgery and some other big changes that happened for Rene and I this year, we did celebrate by going on a trip. We went to Mexico and spent some time in a place I really love - Puerto Escondido.

About Rene Lozzi:

Rene is a founding team member of Splendid Spoon, where she leverages her master's degree in Food Studies from NYU to create 70+ delicious plant-based recipes and spearhead initiatives that promote a people-centered culture within the company. Outside the kitchen, this proud queer femme pours her creative spirit into pursuing her passion for fashion with an eclectic, maximalist approach.

About Jesse Pierce:

Jesse, a technology leader with roots in Accenture and successful startup ventures, now contributes expertise at MongoDB. Formerly an elected official with the Brooklyn and New York State Democratic Party, Jesse was the first openly non-binary state official. They share their journey as a non-binary, trans masc queer person on TikTok and Instagram, engaging with the community through their handle, @jessepiercebk.