Walking into a dark room, I expected a spotlight above the flowery clothed table but instead found white fairy lights entwined on the ceiling, lighting up the busy brick wall.
Unlike an old, cardigan-wearing woman sitting across from you as you lay on a couch, Jesse Begenyi introduced me to another version of what to expect walking into a therapist’s office: electric pink hair, stretched ears bearing avocado plugs and clothes raided from a teen's closet. Their glittery pink eyeshadow matched the unicorn wall decor that read “be magical,” and that was the sense I felt walking into that room; a realm like Narnia. Halloween decor in the left corner sat horizontal to another dresser covered in old clocks and roller skates, a hobby they took up in the fall of 2016.
We sat down, the chair feeling like a worn-out couch, and the portrait of a little blonde girl holding a cat stared right into my soul.
Jesse Begenyi, 31, was born in Washington, D.C. and raised just outside of Maryland. They moved to Boston to study film photography at Emerson College for their undergraduate studies before going to Simmons College for social work a few years after. Now they work for the Community Services Institute, the parent institute of the Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth, or, BAGLY.
They decided to move to BAGLY to hold sessions where they can reach other people, specifically LGBTQ+ youth, and work as a consultant for the institute.
“CSI is an agency that works with folks who have MassHealth insurance...we do outpatient outreach therapy, to try to make therapy as accessible as possible to people,” they explained. After working for BAGLY for almost three years and being connected with them for 10 years, Begenyi has that “talk to me” energy. Strangers in elevators and passengers on trains constantly talk to them about their problems or day.
“If I’m on the train, someone’s gonna talk to me, If I’m in the elevator, unfortunately, someone’s going to talk to me,” they said. “But I also sometimes get wrapped up in people’s stories like, ‘Oh, well actually I want to learn more.’”
While studying at Emerson, they found themselves caring more about the people they were interviewing and how they felt than the final project.
“You’re making money off of these people’s stories [in film], and I didn’t like that idea of profiting off of someone else’s life and trauma,” they said.
Not only was Begenyi drawn to hearing stories, but providing quality services, as they never got to experience that as a teen. Empathetic and compassionate, they hoped that others could have a space to be unjudged and “honor all parts of themselves.”
Working adjacently to BAGLY, Begenyi found themselves realizing something after high school, many people at BAGLY don’t have access to therapy. They believe that mental health deserves more focus, and Begenyi found themselves putting the puzzle pieces together, as moving to BAGLY “just kind of naturally fit.”
Having experienced the loss of a friend to in-hospital suicide, they knew the struggle of a young person, especially as someone who identifies as part of the queer community.
Thoughtful and understanding, Begenyi really cares about their clients.
“I think that my clients are some of the most incredible people, they’re so smart and so resilient, and so powerful,” they said. They love the commitment their clients show, and believe that they are motivated to be better, even if they don’t know it. “My goal is not to fix people,” they tell me, but, “to make people’s lives less bad, so they can live the way they want.”
Bonding over cats and the room’s aesthetically pleasing atmosphere, we found ourselves sharing cat pictures and doting on our furry gremlins. We talked about how cute we found Begenyi’s fast-food eating, cowboy hat-wearing cat statue, and the year-round Halloween decor manning a corner of the room. Sharing the joke no one ever finds funny on their cork board, and a cheesy cat quote on the letter board, I found myself realizing the qualities of a good therapist: understanding, easy to talk to, and skilled at listening. Although Jesse Begenyi doesn’t look like the average therapist, they definitely provide a space where both they and their client can feel quirky.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Jesse Begenyi uses “they” and “them” as gender-neutral pronouns to describe themselves rather than “he” or “she.” Out of respect for their gender identity, we have followed suit in this piece.