Three Humboldt trans people on the fight to be themselves



On Oct. 21, the New York Times reported that the Trump administration had begun circulating a memo outlining its plan to roll back the federal government's definition of gender to an unchangeable at-birth designation of either male or female. This legal definition, which would be applied to Title IX civil rights protections against gender discrimination in schools and workplaces, would effectively void transgender and non-binary Americans' self determination and their ability to seek recourse when discriminated against.

A recent study by the Williams Institute estimates 1.4 million Americans — 0.6 percent of the population — identify as transgender. If that percentage holds true in our county, it pencils out to some 820 trans folks living locally.

To better understand the potential impact of this major shift, we asked a trio of trans Humboldt residents to share their perspectives in their own words. The LGBTQ community in Humboldt, like the North Coast at large, is not a monolith and the views of these three individuals are exactly that — three unique voices among a diverse population.


  • Photo by León Villagómez
  • Colin Harris

My Journey to Becoming an Average Guy

By Colin Harris

If you had told me when I was a child that I would grow up to be the man that I am today, I wouldn't have believed you. I never thought I could be this happy in my body, doing the conservation work that I love, surrounded by supportive friends and family. It feels like a dream come true and I keep expecting to wake up from it.

But there are times when that dream feels like a nightmare. To turn on the TV and see a news anchor describing transgender people like myself as mentally ill, delusional and dangerous to the rest of the population is a surreal experience, and to have our rights threatened by a government that is supposed to represent and protect all Americans is very upsetting. You wouldn't be able to tell me apart from any other guy walking on the street, yet I am being told who I am by people who have never met me or spoken to me. The transgender community is as diverse as any other community; we cannot all be painted with the same brush. What unites us all, however, is our drive to be our most authentic selves, no matter what obstacles we have to overcome.

The hardest obstacle for me to face was the fear that by coming out as transgender, I would be ostracizing myself from the people I cared most about. This fear kept me in the closet for a long time, trying my best to ignore my internal struggle and be happy in the body I was born into. Because there was very little trans representation in the media, I had no words to describe how I was feeling or what the cause was. For a long time I thought I was just mildly depressed, or that my ADHD was to blame for my discomfort in social situations. But neither of those things explained why I was always a man in my dreams, or why it felt so right to roleplay as male in video games and online.

After graduating from Humboldt State University at the age of 22 and returning from a month-long class studying reptiles and amphibians in Panama, I came to the realization that something in my life needed to change. I started researching my symptoms and came upon the term gender dysphoria, something I had never heard of before. It is the distress a person feels when their biological sex does not match their gender identity, or sense of self. This was my eureka moment — it explained so much about my past and the way I had always felt different than others. I immediately sought out therapy and my therapist agreed that hormone replacement therapy was the best course of action to bridge the disconnect between my mind and body.

My friends and family were shocked, and they feared how my quality of life would be affected by this realization. I assured them that this was my only option to find true happiness and that the treatment was safe and could be stopped at any time. My siblings were the most supportive and not as surprised as I had expected. I was still the same person that I had always been, I was just going to look a bit different.

I started my transition while working for the California Conservation Corps, an organization that works diligently to conserve our lands and native species while developing the state's youth to become more confident and productive members of society. This program proved an accepting environment, and I finally felt comfortable enough to be open about my trans identity and to live life full-time as male. Every month after starting testosterone, I began to feel better and better about myself. I quickly went from looking like a butch female in my early 20s to a 13-year-old boy, which was very strange but funny at times. My crew became my second family and their support was crucial during that difficult first year.

Now at 25 I finally look my age, I have an amazing job as a fisheries technician and my family and I are closer than ever before. My trans identity has been pushed to the back of my mind, no more important to me than the many other aspects that make up my personality. My past may differ from most but I'm just an average guy who enjoys the outdoors, painting, Netflix and dancing with friends. I have never been happier with my reflection and I have found a sense of internal peace that was worth all of the challenges I faced.

Because I now feel so secure in my identity, I want to use my voice to help my trans siblings who are not as fortunate. Those that identify as non-binary (neither totally male nor female), trans people of color, transwomen, trans people with disabilities and trans people who don't "pass" as their gender in society all face additional dangers and stigmas that have a negative impact on their mental and physical health. I believe that all people, no matter what they look like or what their views are, deserve equal rights and representation. That is the America I want to live in and it starts with each one of us making an effort to respect those around us and learn from each other. Our differences don't have to divide us; they can make us stronger and wiser than a cookie-cutter society could ever be.

That is the challenge I will leave you with: Try opening your mind and your heart to the things that you don't understand. You may be surprised by what you learn and the friends you make.

Colin Harris is a salmon conservationist who lives in Arcata. He enjoys hiking, painting pet portraits and collecting skulls and creepy objects.


  • Photo by León Villagómez
  • Aydan Ash Tillett

The Cost of Fighting for Your Rights

By Aydan Ash Tillett

Sunday, Oct. 21 was another day marked by gut punches, tears, questions and raised blood pressure for trans and non-binary people across America.

As a trans/non-binary person myself, I have become quite used to wincing when opening social media. It is a constant in my life and, I'm sure, the life of many trans/non-binary individuals across America.

Although this country has made many strides toward more education and rights for trans individuals, we still have such a long way to go. This means that trans/non-binary people still live in fear every day. They fear for their lives, their health, their well-being, their ability to provide for themselves and if they suffer from any kind of social anxiety then they fear being the most conspicuous person in the crowd, at the very least.

Contrary to popular belief, coming out in general, much less for trans people, is not an automatic one-way ticket to queer paradise. As liberating and exhilarating as it is to realize and begin to live one's truth, it is also very sobering to realize that you are essentially deciding to put a huge bullseye on your back for all insecure and uneducated toxic men.

I'm sure that a lot of this is not a shock to you. If you have any inclination toward social media then I am sure that some of this has already been explained, proclaimed or at least been introduced to you. So what I would like to bring to your attention is a recent experience I have been having with society, at large, and individuals in my social circle.

I am a trans woman. I was assigned male at birth but I identify as female, mostly. I do tend to exist beyond the binary and really don't sign up for all the labels that society has created for gender and gender roles. It's all a fantasy that we live within to trick ourselves into thinking there is some kind of "order." But that is an entirely different article.

I came out as a trans woman in January of this year (2018). With the current political climate being what it is I have been hearing a lot of "it's time to stand up and fight more (harder)." I've also been told that a lot of the things and people that I am afraid of are — or are being perpetuated by — "bullies" that probably wouldn't actually do anything if I (trans people) stood up to them and fought back.

Sounds good, right? Well, let me point out a few of the things wrong with this perspective. First, I just want to state how asinine the concept our society has encouraged that it is always a victim's responsibility to right the wrong they have experienced. It is very much victim blaming. Taking the responsibility to change the act of abusers and putting it onto their victims. It is also coming from a place of privilege. These statements were made to me by people who, admittedly, had not experienced any kind of abuse or trauma as a trans person but yet seemed to know the solution to the abuse and trauma that myself and all other trans folx experience everyday.

Now, I am not implying that those statements are incorrect. It is a time to fight back, fight harder and educate more. But when a cis (usually male) is telling a trans person (woman in my case) that they need to "fight back (harder, more)" against the people that are a direct threat to their life, it is not only wrong but quite insulting!

Let me explain why.

Trans people, particularly women, are in direct risk of violence and murder every single day simply for being trans. According to an article published by the Human Rights Campaign, there were 23 trans individuals murdered in 2016 and 29 in 2017. That is the reality that every trans person lives with every single day. According to the same source, there have already been 22 murders of trans people in 2018.

In addition to these staggering facts, many trans people suffer severe mental health issues often stemming from abuse of all types (mental, physical, sexual, etc.), body dysmorphia and dysphoria, rejection, abandonment, suicidal ideation and many more. Many trans people don't have much of, if any, support at all. Often being rejected by their family and not quite fitting in with the "straight" or queer community. So, just existing is a struggle and a daily victory for them. That is our reality.

So when people tell us that we need to do more, fight harder, stand up and fight back, as much as we want to it often isn't even an option for us. If we take on the extra stress and trauma that challenging society would bring and the added risk that making ourselves even more visible would cause it could be very damaging to us psychologically, mentally and even physically.

So the next time you want to tell your trans/non-binary friend that they need to stop being so scared and fight back please remember that if they are even existing and living anywhere near their truth that they are already fighting back. Often much harder than you or even they realize sometimes.

So instead, fight harder for them if you can and then offer to help them do what they can and validate them for their existence and help us all to enjoy another day as ourselves and hopefully one more step toward a brighter future.

Aydan Ash Tillett is a local trans woman with something to say.


  • Photo by León Villagómez, jewelry courtesy of Blue Ox
  • Carmen Lopez

Who Gets to Define Us

By Carmen Lopez

Reportedly, the Trump administration wants to redefine the legal definition of sex to significantly narrow the definition of gender under Title IX, a federal civil rights program. This new proposed definition of gender aims to make things more "clear cut" and "easily defined" by determining the sex of someone based on their genitals at birth. "Sex means a person's status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth," the Department of Health and Human Services proposed in the memo, according to The New York Times. The memo further states that "The sex listed on a person's birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person's sex unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence."

Immediately there are several notable issues with the department's proposal, the first and most concerning is, of course, redefining words that already are clearly defined and going against decades of scientific research and definitions the medical community has already established. The second issue is the blatant attempt to take away civil rights from the people who will be erased out of existence from this amendment in Title IX. Any attempt at removing civil liberties should be looked at askance, no matter who it's from or why. Everybody deserves to feel safe and our country has, in the past, been very progressive when making sure this is the case. This would be the third attempt by the Trump administration to target the trans community with regressive demands, following its failed ban on transgender military personnel and Attorney General Jeff Sessions' memo stating that Title VII protections against workplace discrimination don't include transgender people.

I've maintained my silence when it comes to this issue and many others in politics, but I can't stand by and hope that someone else will do my speaking for me. My reality is that as an Afro-Latina transwoman who lives here in America, this is the chance that I get to put things into perspective for people. There are roughly 308 million people in this country. Roughly. Of those, roughly 42 million are black. The systemic abuses against this population are palpable despite a civil rights movement in which people stood with us to ensure that we had basic human rights. We barely succeeded. Black people in America, especially those who lived through those times, will still tell you just how difficult this fight was and the kinds of terrible things that had to occur before enough people said, "This is not OK and we have to be better." That struggle goes on to this day.

There are 1.4 million trans people in America. Roughly. This means that our voices are outnumbered almost 300 to 1 and, while my math isn't stellar, I would hope that the point has been illustrated. We transpeople and intersex folks of America are at even more of a disadvantage when it comes to gaining the trust of the general public and hoping that they can see how we are just people who want to exist and live our lives with the same protections and safety as any other group of people. That they can see we are suffering disproportionate violence, rape and murder.

At the end of the day this decision will be made behind closed doors without the consent of the American people. The memo stated changes would go into effect at the end of the year, as noted in the article from The New York Times, without opportunity for public comment beforehand. This is the sad truth. Because the voice of the people targeted by this radical redefinition — our voice — is so small that it won't matter. That the plight of 1.4 million people wasn't even worthy of being put on a ballot for the other 300 million Americans to vote on. Even if it had been, we would have been outnumbered 300 to 1 and people who may not understand us — or even people who hate us — would be the ones deciding our fates for us.

No matter what Title IX protections anyone takes away from us — even those who hate us or wish that we'd just disappear — we would never stand by and allow someone else to steal your rights. Never.

Carmen Lopez is a writer, storyteller and professional gamer who lives in Arcata.

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