Article, Social Justice, Arts & Culture
Meet Alex Masse: Communications & Publishing student, local indie musician, freelance writer
We are delighted to welcome our newest co-op student Alex Masse, who has been diligently working behind the scenes with us at SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement (SFU VOCE) since January.
Alex Masse is a Communications and Publishing student at SFU, with varying connections within the student community, including The Peak, Out on Campus, and the SFU Poetry Club. Outside of SFU, Alex is a versatile musician, singer-songwriter, and performer, with two independent releases. Writing, arts and media, are also a longtime passion of theirs, and their work has been everywhere from the Scholastic Writing Awards to Vancouver Pride.
Alex is also a self-described neurodivergent nonbinary lesbian, which in their words has “greatly impacted my experiences moving through the world, and also informs the written and musical pieces that I create — to me, it allows me to express myself and share my unique perspective.”
We sat down with Alex to learn more about their time at SFU, their artistic endeavours, and their experience working with SFU VOCE so far.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
Alex, you are a communications student, musician, writer, and now the office’s newest co-op student — what more do you want people to know about you?
When I’m not working or freelancing or creating art, I can be found cozied up with a good book, pressing flowers, or playing video games.
Writing has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I was really big on words and reading as a kid, and became very excited when I realized that I could use words to tell my own stories. So, I've been writing for over half of my life, and it’s something that I do on a freelance basis— I'll pitch my poetry and short stories to things. Occasionally they'll get in, and sometimes people pay me which is very cool. I also do a lot of freelance articles. I've written for Arts Unite, She Does the City, those kinds of things.
I didn't start music until seventh grade, I had compulsory concert band. And I hated it at first, but then I realized I could play songs that I liked outside of class. So I just ended up getting really good at music through Nintendo sheet music websites. And I guess both of those art forms became sources of comfort and expression for me. They became parts of me. I became a performer, I became a writer. And it just kind of kept escalating, like, I started as a prose writer, but now I also do poetry, journalism, and write plays.
“My art means a lot to me,being able to express myself and exist as an openly queer neurodivergent person means a lot to me.”
We are so grateful to have you as the newest member of our team! What drew you to this position with us?
I remember seeing the job position framed around arts and culture, community building, urban issues, environmentalism, and social justice. Those are all things that really matter to me a lot as a marginalized queer and neurodivergent person — and I also have a lot of other multiply-marginalized friends. So social justice is just something that's really close to my heart. That and I'm an artist, so I care a lot about arts and culture.
I also really like podcasts. My favourite podcast is a fictional series, so very different from the kind of stuff we're doing here, but also it's an art form that's close to my heart. I've always wanted to get involved in it. So yeah, it was a mix of things that I really care about.
How has your experience working with SFU VOCE been so far? Are there things you are hoping to do or learn, any particular experiences you are looking forward to?
It has been a good experience. For the first month, there was a lot of archival work — just closing the gaps in our academic archive. There's something really cool about being the person to fill those gaps. It almost feels like I'm in an old library or something, metaphorically stamping books. That's kind of fun.
I’ve also been running parts of our social media, writing communication materials, doing outreach, some webpage creation. It's all stuff that I wanted more experience in, so that’s been very cool too. I'm also looking forward to being more directly involved in the podcast. Doing audio work is something I really want to learn more about. I'm also really intrigued by the process of recording interviews, using Audition and Premiere, that kind of stuff. And who knows, I might actually be on the podcast someday — I think that sounds exciting.
Can you tell us a bit more about your beyond-work creativities? Any reflections on getting into the Vancouver music and art scene?
My involvement in the community as a musician kind of only began as a result of the pandemic. When things became remote, I was able to take on all of these mentorships and gigs now that distance and time were less of a problem. And next thing I know, I'm suddenly at festivals and doing collaborations with people. I’m now on a track with several American artists. I also performed at Vancouver pride, and at a New York open mic (remotely, that is).
I suppose only having had experiences in the Vancouver music scene during the pandemic — that’s sort of a really strange space to be in. I've met a lot of people who have been performing and sharing their art in Vancouver for a while, but I've never physically met a lot of them. But I find that once you find your own niche in Vancouver art scene, it can be like a second family. I've been lucky to find that with a lot of fellow queer writers and musicians. It all started when I took on this mentorship through a youth engagement project called Telling it Bent by The Frank Theater. That's what kind of where my connections with other Vancouver artists started. And from there, it just kept going. I kept making friends and getting to know people.
The last in-person arts event I went to was the soft opening of The Haven, which is Vancouver's first trans art gallery. It's run by a friend I met through folks at Telling It Bent, and they’ve been doing a lot of online and offline work. And I’m finding that more and more, as I go to arts events, I’m running into people I already know. So it's not necessarily like everyone knows everyone in the arts scene, but everyone knows someone who knows someone else.
Coming out of the pandemic, I would really like to be able to do more public collaborative work. Because with the way things are right now, like there is some collaboration, but I also miss the ability to have that in-person chemistry when creating with other people. I think all artists would benefit from that, because there is something really electric about sharing space with a bunch of other people who have the same goals of creating like you.
What made you interested in communications and publishing, and how have you applied this knowledge outside of the classroom?
I'm a writer at my core. I started my post-secondary studies at Kwantlen Polytechnic, so communications wasn't an option for a major there. I tried Creative Writing and English, but the classes I took didn’t really stand out to me. Journalism though, it made sense. Since KPU had a Journalism and Communication Studies program, I decided to give a communications course a try and ended up really falling in love with it. One of the things that really attracted me to it was the exploration of how media and pop culture affects the world at large. As for publishing, I guess it kind of connected me to my fascination with the literary industry.
In terms of working here at SFU VOCE, or my past job at posAbilties, the value of communication as a major is it helps you understand how to get particular messages across through varying mediums. Through PosAbilities, I got to put a lot of that to work. Because I would do outreach for various events, design posts for social media — I do pretty similar stuff here as well. And I feel like my major and minor have helped me with that.
What are your reflections as a student and a worker who is, in your own words, a neurodivergent nonbinary lesbian? How have these identities shaped your education & career journey?
For as long as I can remember, I struggled in school. It was one of those things that were a very rocky start. This is because I was dealing with undiagnosed neurodivergency. I had sensory issues, I couldn't understand other people very well, I often got overwhelmed very easily. I had a very specific routine–and when things changed, as things are bound to do, then I would panic. For a long time, I didn't really have the language or the support system that I needed. But once I got that support system, once I knew how I had been born, then things became a lot more okay.
Being queer also made it kind of difficult, because I never really fit in with my peers very well. Even once I figured out “oh, I actually like girls.” There was still the matter of, “I don't really feel like a girl.” And it was one of those things that I had to navigate on top of all the regular stressors of high school. I was in the closet for most of high school, but when I came out it was really freeing.
University was the first time that I got to enter an educational space really knowing and owning who I am. And even then it was still pretty anxiety-inducing because I was going from a place where the principles and all the teachers knew me and they knew my issues, to having to explain all of that over again. And sometimes not being believed.
I guess I found that as someone with my differences in these kinds of spaces — be it at work or in academia – it's just really important to find your people and have a support system to help you create a space of self-acceptance and joy. I don't think that I would have gotten as far if I hadn’t built friendships through Out on Campus, SFU Poetry Club, or the Disability and Neurodivergent Alliance. Because being the only person who is openly — any of what I am, is sometimes very exhausting. I end up feeling a little alienated in some spaces.
I only recently started using exclusively they/them pronouns in public. I know that I have a lot of privilege as a white person to be able to closet the identities that do sometimes cause me trouble. But now, I’ve got a big they/them sticker on me, so I’m very much visibly queer, which can feel vulnerable. I'm just kind of trying to really openly be myself and take refuge in what supports I have — just being able to write about what I'm going through, or make music about it, or being with other people like me — because sometimes there's nothing more healing than being surrounded by other queer and trans people.
A product of those feelings of finding solace and refuge around other queer people did come out in the form of a little zine called We Were Here. It was kind of the brainchild of me and some other really awesome SFU students. We created it to uplift the voices of 2SLGBTQIA+ students at SFU and FIC, and commemorate the ways we live, love, and fight for our rights. We got funding from SFSS, had an open mic event, a launch party, a gift card giveaway — and we were able to pay students for their submissions. I am still so happy with how it came together, and I consider everyone on the team that worked on it to be very, very dear to me.
To check out the We Were Here zine made by Alex and their peers at Out on Campus, click here. Subscribe to our mailing list to hear more office news, as well as our work related to arts and social issues.
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