Haven Wilvich is a Nonbinary Transgender Woman, a gender blogger, an activist focused on Trans Healthcare Disparities, and a Project Coordinator at Fred Hutch in the HIV Vaccine Trials Network. She is a founder and co-leader of an Employee Resource Group called Fred Hutch Rainbow Employees for Equity (FHREE) for LGBTQ+ employees and staff who want to learn more about active allyship. The group focuses on changing institutional practices to be visibly inclusive of our community and empower staff to change their own teams and work practices. In the HVTN, she works with clinical sites around the world on the operations of finding an effective HIV vaccine.
When you came out the first time, what made you feel safe to do so?
Coming out took a very long time for me. I grew up in a very isolated conservative Christian community and didn’t have any words to describe my experience of gender. In college I started to find queer community but I still didn’t have exposure to nonbinary people and didn’t feel like I quite fit the mold of a transgender woman because I still thought that I needed to “pass” in order to be trans. I got married in college to the first person who ever showed interest in me, in large part because I thought that no one could love me for who I really was. And because I was in a relationship that appeared straight, I didn’t bother to continue exploring my sexuality. It wasn’t until I was 25 that I began to realize that my gender and sexuality could be expressed more authentically. And it was really meeting other nonbinary people and finding role models such as Jacob Tobia and Alok Vaid Menon that gave me the examples I needed to come out to myself. But when I came out to my spouse at the time, she reacted very poorly and wanted me to stay closeted. That was the last straw in a relationship that had never been healthy so I eventually left and came out publicly 8 months later.
How do you ally yourself with others who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community?
I actively remind myself every day that even though I may understand a small slice of what it means to be queer and transgender, my experience comes from other intersections of my life. Because I am white and have some financial privilege, I can never fully understand the challenges that queer or trans people of color face or the experience of living in poverty. I try to live and work in a way that creates space for those experiences to be centered and expressed because only when we all work together can we truly be liberated.
How do you educate people about the LGBTQ+ community?
In my personal life I have been writing about my transition and experiences of gender for almost 5 years now. I share very publicly about my journey in hopes that other trans people can have examples that I didn’t have until later in life and so that cisgender friends can learn empathy for paths like mine.
In my professional work, I advise on policies at Fred Hutch and actively create education opportunities for staff to grow in their cultural competency from an intersectional lens.
How do you educate people about intersectionality in the LGBTQ+ community?
Rather than trying to speak on behalf of people in more marginalized communities, I try to share their work and boost their voices directly. There are so many resources for self-publishing and visibility on the internet and I try to read as much as I can and make that work visible to others. I also help lead discussions that build empathy and focus on experiences of communities of color.
What resources would you recommend for LGBTQ+ youth who have questions?
There are so many amazing resources in Seattle and online it’s hard to know where to start!
For inclusive anatomy and sex advice, I recommend Scarleteen
For amazing articles about gender and intersectionality, I recommend Everyday Feminism
For advice about exploring gender, check out Conversations with a Gender Therapist
For advice on Nonbinary identity and transition, check out Genderqueer.me
For in person support, visit Lambert House
What did you think your life was going to be like after high school?
By the end of High School I had pretty much resigned myself to living a boring life of keeping my head down and ignoring my gender and sexuality questions. I wish that I had the resources and support at that time to become my best self instead of waiting until my late 20s. So don’t waste your time! Seek the people in your life who can help you be authentic and happy.
What tips would you have for people questioning their gender identity?
There are so many different ways to express your gender! You don’t have to have dysphoria or dissatisfaction with your body to be trans or nonbinary. Find the things that give you euphoria and let them lead you to authenticity. And then find the words that feel right to describe your experience. It’s ok if those words change or if it only feels right for a time. Most of us are constantly evolving and growing and our labels and identity do too. If you feel sure that you don’t want a particular type of puberty or you think you want to transition medically, it is ok to insist that a doctor put you on puberty blockers. I wish I had been able to do that as a teen because it would make everything so much easier now. Puberty blockers aren’t permanent so you can change your mind later. But you are also the expert on your own body and experience so don’t let anyone else ever tell you what to do with it. Seattle Children’s has an amazing Gender Clinic where you can get help and support.
What tips would you have for people questioning their sexual orientation?
It is ok to explore and mess around while you’re trying to figure yourself out. Just because a word feels right now doesn’t mean you need to use it forever. And remember Bisexual/Pansexual people absolutely belong in the queer community, no matter who they are in relationship. You don’t stop being queer just because your relationship is being read as “straight.”
How do you stay resilient in the face of negativity and stereotyping?
Fill your life with people who support you for who you are and give you affirmations about your journey. And as much as possible, try to minimize your time with people who want you to fit into a particular box, even if that box is “gay.” You should have the right and the support to figure out who you are and having a fan club to cheer you on helps weather the harsher world around you. Also, avoid the comments section on the internet. Haters gonna hate but there are plenty of people who are on your side out there.
What is your favorite piece of LGBTQ+ representation?
I love the poetry of nonbinary writer Alok Vaid Menon, particularly their book “Femme in Public.” Steven Universe is also my happy place.
What are your hopes for the future of the LGBTQ+ community?
I hope that even the people who want “assimilation” and to fit in to the status quo culture can learn to see that we need radical change if all of us are going to fit in. The world isn’t going to become a better place until we stop treating cisgender and heterosexual as the sole definition of “normal.”
Is there any advice you would give to the LGBTQ+ teens of today?
Don’t settle for a relationship where someone expects you to be a certain way. You deserve people who love you unconditionally for who you are and who you are growing to become. Because you will keep changing for a long time hopefully and you need both friends and partners who will support you along that path.