Rowan Mucci: Trials, triumphs and tacos

Rowan Mucci’s Facebook page states: “Prepare for my life over share. I make art, tortillas, and talk about my life — unapologetically.” We decided to take them up on that challenge. Some responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Let’s start with your place of origin.
I’m from a little place called Hazelton. It’s a few hours west of Philly. It was a beautiful area, scenic, mountainous and very quiet.

Tell me something about the family.
Well, recently I’ve had to disconnect from them a little. I love both of my parents dearly, but I’ve had to put some boundaries in place for myself. We have an interesting family dynamic, as I suppose many queer people do, but a little about them? Well, they’re still together and they were married on Valentine’s Day. It’s actually my favorite holiday. My dad is the head manager for an auto company and my mom does human resource work.

I have two siblings, sisters, and I’m the middle child. I’m trans/nonbinary so I grew up with a feminine upbringing. We were all sisters at one point but I was always the outlier. I wasn’t the one to steal my older sister’s make-up. I didn’t care to gossip with my little sister and her friends, that kind of thing. We fought as siblings do, but we also took care of each other too — you know, helping my big sister sneak out for a party and then unlocking the door so she could sneak back in the house, or looking after my little sister and her friends or making sure she wasn’t getting bullied — stuff like that. 

Unfortunately, we don’t really speak anymore. My older sister said some things about my transition that were hurtful. I don’t like to think of it as cutting someone off, but more like setting a boundary where I’ll meet you to forgive and holding there.

[Laughing] Well, even though I’m a big old femme, I didn’t borrow my mother’s makeup either, but I still laugh at my father, who was a snappy dresser, saying, “I knew when they got older, I was going to have to fight to keep my sons from raiding my closet. I never expected to have to fend you off too!”
Ha! I think my dad said something like that to me too! What’s funny is that my mom used to say, “I love all my kids, but I always wanted a boy, and you kind of fill that role” So when I came to the realization that I was trans, things started making sense. [Laughing] I remember my doctor asking, “So was your avatar masculine when you played video games?” and it was like, ‘Yeah, it was…” Things really started to click once I thought about it.

What kind of things were you into?
OMG, reading. I read “Harry Potter” and I know J.K. Rowling has been unfortunately not the greatest human being, but I loved the books and how it showed me the way someone can open up your world with a story. I also loved animals. I even loved watching nature shows about animals. I preferred them over cartoons. Video games and playing outside. Also writing poetry, I got into that very young. 

What was your first poem about?
I was in third grade and a teacher introduced me to Shel Silverstein and a poem he wrote about body parts and how I would look if they were in different places, something like that. We were encouraged to write a stanza based on the poem. I was very quiet, so the teachers never really knew where I was in my intelligence, but when I presented it, they were astounded. Another teacher actually asked me to record it for her so she could present it to her college classes. That inspired me to keep writing. My first titled poem was “Across My Window of Pain.”

A little deep for third grade.
Yeah, I was going through a lot. Once I found poetry, it was an outlet.

Were there certain clubs that you were involved in?
Yes, I was in art club for a little bit. I still love to paint. I did a little drama and theater, but it was hard because they didn’t know where to put me. In middle school, I played a lot of male leads but in high school, the powers that be were afraid I’d make other students uncomfortable. I find that sometimes, the people who run the things aren’t always as open as the people who are in the things. I was also part of “Equality for Everyone” which was the queer club in high school. That really helped build my confidence and to find happiness in who I was. Luckily in my school, nobody cared if you were gay, I mean some did, but overall it was fine. But I wasn’t in regular school for long, I went to STEM school and took a lot of college level courses.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be an environmental architect. I was going to go into infrastructures already built and show them how to become more sustainable. I wanted to combine my skills in science and math with something creative.

Artist, poet — what are some other adjectives that belong after your name?
Spiritualist and cat parent. I have a little guy named Rook, like the chess piece. It’s funny. Chess is my favorite game and he had the name when I got him, so it was meant to be. He likes to hike and he’s like my personal support animal.

And what is it that you do for a living now?
I’m a taquero and administrator at Taco Heart over on Passyunk Ave. I wake up very early in the morning and make breakfast tacos and I love it, but what I do is a lot more than that. Mostly, I’m front of house and I serve the community. I make sure the food is coming out on time and some days, I make the tortillas. I also run the social media accounts, and do TikTok videos, etc. My boss is all about having fun. He believes in delight, and not taking things too seriously, so my official title is the Customer Service Cricket, like Jiminy Cricket, and I do a lot of the community outreach. I make sure we provide an excellent guest experience for people dining with us and create community with the shops and restaurants around us.

Nice. And I think I read that before that, you did patient care.
Yes, I was at a cannabis dispensary called Curaleaf, which was great and then I went to another place that discriminated against me for being a trans/nonbinary person. They ended up closing down before I could do anything, so I had a lot of healing to do from that. I ended up moving back home with my parents for a while, before returning to Philadelphia and working at Taco House. I’ve known Nano Wheedan, my boss, for a few years.

What brought you to Philly in the first place?
In around 2019, I moved here with my partner at the time who was a student at Temple. The relationship didn’t last but I stayed in Philly. Actually, I moved to Maryland with another partner for a little while, but I had some mental health issues and was hospitalized for a little bit. The partner left me and it felt like I lost everything. My parents saved up some money, rented a U-Haul and brought me home, which I was grateful for. I got a therapist and got so many tools and resources that I was able to get my life back together and now I’m here!

Welcome back! When did you start your transition?
In 2020, during COVID, when everyone had time to sit and think about things. When I first moved to Philly, I was in what was considered a lesbian relationship when I asked my partner, “What if I’m trans?” and she gave the best answer, which just was, “Well, is that how you feel?” It allowed me to have a conversation about it.

I knew two trans people from where I grew up but I didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of me being a trans man. I had been harmed by men and didn’t think it was something I wanted to be. It just wasn’t who I am, but I also knew that I didn’t feel right in my body.

What was preventing me from taking medical steps was that I didn’t know what nonbinary was; that there was a term that encompassed what I was feeling. I had a gender therapist and I told her, “I like the way men look, that’s the body I want, but that’s not who I am. I’m not a man” and she said, “Why can’t you be both?” I was like, “Oh!” And the next week I started HRT, hormone replacement therapy. That was in the summer of 2020 and I had top surgery in 2022. It was the most incredible thing and I’m very, very happy.

Excellent! So when you’re not making people happy with tacos, what do you like to do?
I believe that community work is really important. I’ve been volunteering with BVlicious, and it’s been great being able to connect and interact with such great people like Dirk and Glenn. I also paint a lot. I have a mini art page on Instagram. I started painting caricatures of people’s cats with little mushrooms on their heads and I’ve been donating the proceeds to people in Gaza. And I’ve had some people commission me to paint their cats for them but I usually do it for free. It’s a great way to connect with people. I also do more serious work to try to share my story.

Yes, speaking of your story, I did see the very powerful poem that you recorded to the person who abused you as a child. The line, “Was my pain worth your happiness?” was really moving.
The poem “exorcise Me, Too”? Yes, from the time I was 5 years old until I was 11, I was raped by my grandfather on my dad’s side…repetitively. It was something that we learned he had done to all of the children in the family. It was incredibly traumatic and horrible and the reason for a lot of my therapy and need to heal.

I wanted to write something to him to address what he did, and to reclaim power. I wrote the poem about it and am working on a book in relation to the poem. I remember going to a poetry reading and someone saying, “Just talk about the thing if you want to talk about the thing ‘cause you never know who else might want to talk about the thing.” 

One thing I want to make clear is that I don’t relate what I went through with anything having to do with my transition or my queerness. That’s something my family tried to do but there are so many other reasons why people are queer or trans or enby. By the way, I am fortunate in that he did plead guilty so I didn’t have to go to court. He admitted to everything. Though it bothers me when people say, “You’re lucky.” I wasn’t lucky, but it was fortunate that he confessed.

I hear you. Have you received a lot of response to the post?
Yes, my biggest fear is that what I say might hurt someone, but I also believe that we should talk about things. The biggest response has been people giving me hugs, which is beautiful. I was afraid people would think it was too much to share, and the response has been that it was a lot, but not too much. Considering how scared I was to share it, the response has been great.

Is he still alive and were you able to confront him? Do an impact statement?
I believe he is, but I don’t know. And no, since I didn’t have to go to court, I didn’t get to see him say that he was guilty. That’s why in the poem, one of the lines is, “The police weren’t the only ones who needed your cowardly confession.” It took me a long time to forgive myself because as a child, you take on the guilt yourself. The abuse happened from 5 to 11, but the impact lasted for years. The damage is done when you lose the autonomy over your body.

I’m sure.
And in a way, I think being trans has helped with that because you have to have autonomy over your body. I have to control what’s happening. I inject HRT and take testosterone. [Laughing] Who wants to stab themselves once a week, but it allows me to say, “This is mine. This is who I am, which is healing.

And I guess it’s almost a ritual by now.
It is! It really is! Sundays are the days I inject and it’s one of my favorite days.

Cool. OK, let’s do some rapid-fire questions. Pick a warrior from history that you would be honored to fight alongside.
Oooh, Joan of Arc.

When do you spoil yourself?
When I finish my shower, I have a little routine I do. I take a 10 minute eco-friendly shower but afterwards I spoil myself getting ready. Also, just surrounding myself with people and kindness.

What would your mascot be?
Some sort of dog, for sure. Probably a collie.

Something that fascinates you?

What’s your racial background?
I’m South Korean on my mom’s side. She was adopted by an Irish family! And I’m Italian, German, Irish on my dad’s side. I know a lot about Italy and could point to where we’re from on a map but I don’t know much about my Korean roots.

Three celebrities or historical figures you’d want to serve tacos to?
Hmmm, OK. Post Malone would be one just because he has a funny personality. Halsey, I’m a big fan. And Simone de Beauvoir, the French philosopher and writer. She was a big feminist.

A talent you wish you had?
I wish I could do a handstand! A full on handstand!

A song that feels like it was written for me?
“Animal” by Noah Kahan. The lyrics go, “Sometimes I feel like an animal, I climb so high just to feel a fall and let it go” and it’s about feeling loss. And sometimes, you do just feel like an animal. I relate to the term “creature,” which to me, means having human characteristics but not being fully human. Being connected to plants and animals and to be connected to the whole world even when you sometimes feel far away.

A favorite saying?
Pain is infinite, but so is healing.

Go visit Rowan Mucci at Taco Heart, 1001 E Passyunk Ave. For more information, visit

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