Elan Robinson(They/Them)

Elan Robinson (they/them/theirs) is a bisexual, nonbinary person from Mendocino, California. They’ve been living in Seattle since 2014. As the Event & Donor Relations Coordinator at Pride Foundation, they plan events, craft communications, and support fundraising efforts. Outside of work, they draw, write zines, take care of their veranda garden, and volunteer with LGBTQ+ youth. 

When you came out the first time, what made you feel safe to do so?
I think there’s this narrative about “coming out” that it’s sitting down and having a serious conversation with someone, but to be honest I don’t really remember the first time I came out or who it was to. I definitely had conversations with friends about not feeling particularly dedicated to dating people of one gender or another throughout my life, especially in my early 20s when I by chance found myself in a friend group where almost everyone was bi. Even then, I didn’t say, “I’m bisexual” out loud for the first time until I was 26 years old—and it was still just to a few people. I had moved to Seattle about a year prior, so being in a metro area for the first time ever, and surrounded by more out, visible community made the decision feel a lot safer than it would have earlier in my life. Maybe even bigger than that, though, was that I finally got introduced to the idea that I didn’t need to have “proof” (i.e. experience dating a range of genders) that I was bisexual in order to identify as bi or queer. I’d only ever dated cis men, and at that point I’d been married to a man for about a year. I hadn’t even heard the word “nonbinary” yet. I was afraid of taking up space or resources in LGBTQ+ community that weren’t mine to claim. Learning that those feelings of invalidity and invisibility are extremely common for bi and pan people, that I wasn’t alone, and that my identity is innate to me and isn’t dependent on who I’m in relationship with, made a huge difference. 

How do you ally yourself with others who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community?
Shortly after I came out, I was looking for a way to feel connected to in-person community and ended up signing up to volunteer with Lambert House, Seattle’s LGBTQ+ youth community center. I’ve now been volunteering there for four years and can’t imagine my life without it. I feel deeply privileged to bear witness to the experiences of the queer and trans youth who come to the house; their resilience, their care for one another, and their joy. What’s more, watching the youth and adult volunteers interacting has given me a deep appreciation for just how important intergenerational LGBTQ+ spaces are. I am anxious, depressed and struggle a lot with executive dysfunction, so I was worried when I started there that I wouldn’t be outgoing enough, or wouldn’t have enough relevant life experience to be a good role model, but I’ve found that the opposite is true–those difficulties with mental health in particular have been a point of connection with a number of youth. I’m grateful for that space for us to be in allyship with one another across generations and experiences. 

Another thing I’ve been involved in this last year that I’d like to share has been work with the LGBTQ+ Immigrant & Refugee Coalition. It’s a group of people from a wide range of organizations, mostly in King and Pierce Counties, who are working to build a network of community support for LGBTQ+ asylum seekers in this area. When asylum seekers arrive at the border seeking safety, many are held in detention centers, sometimes for months, to await a court date. Immigration detention centers are inhumane for everyone, but they are especially unsafe for trans people. Our coalition advocates for the release of LGBTQ+ asylum seekers from detention and helps to match them with host homes who can provide safe housing, support and connection to local community. As part of the host recruiting team, I do initial intake calls with families who express interest in offering up a space to a guest, and I’ve helped in the past with organizing community events to bring together hosts, guests and coalition members. I think I would have assumed that I couldn’t help out with this kind of thing because I don’t speak Spanish or have any deep knowledge of immigration or asylum, but that’s not the case. My contributions are small, but I’m grateful to have this kind of opportunity to be a part of the work, and to welcome my queer and trans siblings into this community. 

How do you educate people about the LGBTQ+ community? 

I don’t think anyone in our communities has a duty to educate anyone about their own identity or experience; there are plenty of resources and stories already out there for a person, school, or workplace that wants to practice better allyship. That being said, for myself personally, I find that I often do have the patience and emotional energy to have those conversations, and when the opportunity presents itself in one-on-one conversation I tend to want to engage. I believe that personal experiences and stories can be powerful education tools, so long as (and I think this is especially important for me to remember as a white able-bodied person) I don’t present my experience as being universal. It’s often easier for me to share those stories with people I don’t know that well or don’t have a relationship with. Maybe that’s because of the context—if I’m having a conversation with someone at a BBQ about trans issues, for example, it’s usually because they’ve asked me a question and have expressed some interest in learning. When it comes to having those same kinds of conversations with my family, though, things can get emotionally charged pretty quickly. In those situations, I like to share a book, an article, or even a movie or an invitation to an event where appropriate—something that can serve as a jumping-off point for a bigger conversation without going directly for the deeply personal. 

How do you educate people about intersectionality in the LGBTQ+ community?
I think I’m still very much educating myself about intersectionality in the LGBTQ+ community, and I expect to be doing that for the rest of my life. I read a lot—books, articles, and even just on social media—by authors with identities I don’t share, for my own learning and so that I can share and amplify those voices to the other people in my life who I have these talks with. It’s too easy to fall into the trap of assuming that, as a person with one marginalized identity, I’m given some special insight or empathy into other people’s experiences as well, but that’s just not true. I identify as trans, but even within that one letter of the acronym there is such a wide breadth of experience. I want to be the best ally I can for my Black, Indigenous, POC, immigrant, and trans femme siblings, and that means putting in the work. 

Outside of queer/trans spaces, I often find myself in the position of being the first non-binary person that someone has ever (knowingly) met. Again, when I have the patience and energy for those conversations I don’t mind engaging questions, but I’m conscious of the fact that, as a white, masculine-leaning millenial, I am in a lot of ways the kind of non-binary person that white cisgender people in this country and in this moment are most familiar with. I think it’s my responsibility in those conversations to draw attention to the fact that non-binary gender is not something new, and to encourage others to seek out the voices of Black & Indigenous People of Color to deepen their understanding. I hope that I’m able to help steer potential allies toward resources that center those voices. 

What resources would you recommend for LGBTQ+ youth who have questions?
If you have access to something like this in your area, in-person community is such an amazing resource. Finding a group of peers to talk with, laugh with, and take this journey with can be really healing and powerful. If you’re getting ready to have a conversation with parents or other important cis/straight people in your life, another helpful resource is PFLAG—they’re a group for LGBTQ+ parents, friends and allies to learn and support one another. As for books, I recently picked up a copy of Seeing Gender: An Illustrated Guide to Identity and Expression by Iris Gottlieb; it’s fun, colorful, and very readable, and it covers a huge range of topics related to gender, from pronouns, to dysphoria, to residential schools and their role in the erasure of two-spirit identities, to police violence against black men. I got a lot out of reading it, and so did my parents!

What did you think your life was going to be like after high school?
I’ve never been good at envisioning my own future. Part of that is just my anxiety, but I also think that I saw so few versions of adulthood around me that appealed to me. Around the time I graduated from high school, my dreams were to become an international journalist, or work with the Peace Corps, or a naturalist for a remote National Park. In retrospect, I think I gravitated toward possibilities that would take me away. Then there was the fact that, when I imagined myself as an old person, I always had a long beard and a moustache. I used to play this off as a joke to my friends, but inside my stomach would twist with a discomfort and sadness I couldn’t really understand. I was pretty sure I didn’t want to be a man, but I didn’t especially want to be a woman, either. I didn’t know what that meant, and I definitely couldn’t imagine where a person who felt that way might fit in the world.  

Now I realize that the feelings of having no vision of your future is a pretty common experience for a lot of queer and trans folks. I talk to youth a lot who feel that way. I still don’t have it all figured out, but I’m glad to know that high school me wasn’t alone. 

What tips would you have for people questioning their gender identity?
Trust your gut about what you want. It’s okay to try things out, like a new name, new pronouns, or new clothes. If you’re nervous about it, sometimes it’s nice to test out something new selectively, like with a trusted friend, or with a group setting if you have one that you feel comfortable in. When I started thinking I might like it if people used they/them pronouns, I tried it at Lambert House first, then with my good friends, then on Facebook, and then finally started talking with the other folks in my life–like my coworkers and my parents. That’s what works for me, but I feel like my partner usually takes the opposite approach; when they decide on something, they go all in. That’s ok too! And if you don’t want to do any of those things, that’s also okay. There aren’t just two (or even just three or four or five) ways to do gender. 

What tips would you have for people questioning their sexual orientation?
I’m still not sure I really understand my own, so I’m not sure if I’m in a position to give tips! But I will say that the words you choose to use for yourself are totally up to you. Labels can be a shortcut to finding our people, but they’re also often imperfect or lacking nuance. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad for choosing the label that feels best to you now. 

How do you stay resilient in the face of negativity and stereotyping?
In comparison to when I was in school, I have a lot more control now over who I spend my time around. Especially now that my day job is at an LGBTQ+ organization, I find that I’m surrounded by positivity and support for most of my waking hours, a privilege I try not to take for granted. But the things that help me stay resilient are spending time in trans community.

What is your favorite piece of LGBTQ+ representation?
I’m a big fan of zines and comics. Recently I’ve really enjoyed Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe, and Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki. Also, when I’m feeling down and need a positive pick-me-up, I rewatch Yuri!!! on Ice; I really appreciate the mental health-related aspects of the story, but I also like that the creators made an intentional decision not to make the queerness of the two main characters an issue. It’s nice to just watch them get to know each other and how to better support one another without everyone around them freaking out about two men in love. 

What are your hopes for the future of the LGBTQ+ community?
I’m working on allowing myself to dream about the future, but sometimes it’s still hard for me. That said, my hope for the future is for an LGBTQ+ community that is intergenerational, where our queer and trans elders are still here in community with us and not taken from the world too early, where queer and trans youth have safe homes and safe spaces to connect with one another. I hope that the kind of radical care for one another I’ve seen in queer and trans spaces keeps growing and expanding. I look forward to the day when the vocabulary we’re using now sounds hopelessly outdated and un-nuanced because we have even more words for communicate or many ways of being in the world. 

Is there any advice you would give to the LGBTQ+ teens of today?

Find a way to connect with your peers. Surround yourself with people who support you in exploring your truth. Also, learn about your history. Whether it’s through historical accounts, or a memoir, or a collection of essays from the 1980s, I feel more deeply rooted when I’m reminded of all of the leaders and events that came before this. Finally, know that you have this community behind you, and that you are loved.

Dick Jones(He/Him)

Dick Jones(He/Him) is a volunteer for Lambert House.

When you came out the first time, what made you feel safe to do so?

This is a difficult question as I grew up in the 40”s and 50’s.  It was a scary time here in the US.  We had the Korean War and we had the McCarthy hearings.  The term homosexual was a very derogatory term and occasionally used in connection being a communist. In high school I had a couple of encounters with friends.  We considered it experimenting.  The general belief was that once one was married all those feelings would go away.  Got married.  It didn’t work.  I had some encounters with male friends of both my wife and I and along the way we had two children.  Worked for a lesbian and she had a party one night that my wife and I went to.  I got very drunk and got sick on my way home and my wife had to stop for me to throw up.  I told her then that she was the only heterosexual at the party.  We split shortly after that.  I then met someone who was involved with the Imperial Court of Seattle and Rainier Empire.  The bars in Seattle were a little scary as the police were raiding then and if you were caught there your were arrested and the next day it would be printed in the paper that you were picked up in a homosexual bar. That would have meant your loss of a job.  However, I had met someone from the Court and she invited me to a meeting.  I went.  I walked into the meeting and I immediately felt at home.  I was gay.

How do you ally yourself with others of the LGBTQ community?

For some time, my primary association with the gay community was through the court.  It was were my friends were and I was safe.  At that time when you were a member of the court you were also a member of the United Ebony Council and the Knights of Malta. Because they had gay bowling at a long gone ally out near the UW I began to go and eventually, when I had my kids on weekends started to take them with me.  They were accepted and my kids had fun and looked forward to coming with me. At the same time I started performing male roles in a number of drag shows being done by court members.   I was living with a gay friend whose birthday was the day before my mothers.  When they discovered this they wanted to celebrate together.  My folks had kind of figured it out so we planned a party at a bar/restaurant here in Seattle called Mr. Larry’s.  Several friends from the court came to the party.  That night after dinner my father and I went into the bar my mother sat with the drag queens and they talked fashion, hair, and makeup.  There was no going back.  My folks wanted to be at every drag show and my mother started making some of the costumes.  I was comfortable saying I was gay, my parents accepted me and were regulars in the gay community, my kids liked the guys they bowled with, and my ex just went along.

How do you educate people about the gay community?

I can’t say that I have every really educated people about the gay community.  I have been involved in projects that were done to raise money for AIDS.  I have introduced nongay friends to the community at times, and I have participated in Gay Pride quite a few times.  I have been a volunteer at LH for over 15 years.  I got educated about LH when working at Echo Glen.  I had a young native American boy on my caseload.  One night he revealed to me that he was gay and very afraid someone in his tribe would find out.  Through some research I learned about LH and one night while we had our session, I called LH explained who I was and why I was calling.  I asked if there was a youth there that would be willing to talk to my kid.  They talked for 30 minutes.  The kid was getting out in about 30days and he was now able to go someplace that would help and support him.  I started volunteering there about the same time.  I then transferred to DCFS and became an adolescent social worker.  Had a couple for gay kids on my caseload and always had LH for them.  I met some other professionals during that time, some were gay and a couple has children that were part of the LBGTQ community.  I introduced them to LH.

What resources would you recommend for LBGTQ youth who have questions?

LH is at the top of my list because I know that they are safe going there and they could meet other youth who are the same as they are.  Youth are the best educators about the LGBTQ community there is.  Plus, the volunteers are also there to help them connect with services they may need for counseling, housing, and employment.  I am also impressed that every high school and junior high and even some grade schools have a gay group in them.

What resources would you recommend to LBGTQ youth who have questions?

Lambert House, gay school groups.  Although there are times when an adult member of the LBGTQ community are the best resources for youth In helping them get connected with services I have learned that many times we are their safety net when things are going wrong.  We can get them to the right recourses when there is abuse, etc. to help them be and feel safe.  My experience at LH has taught me that youth there know who to refer and peer to there that will support them and get them to the right people to help them.

What did you think your life would be like after High School?

I graduated in 1961.  Things were very different then.  Antiwar protests were very much part of the late teen early 20’s people.  Not only did it provide a path to protest injustice of the time, but it became a pathway to fight for other injustices and prejudices towards women, ethnic minorities, and the LGBTQ community.  This became my total social life for about 10 years.

What tips would you give to people questioning their gender identity?

First and foremost, I would let them know that I will care about them and who they are as a person.  I have had a couple of friends that identified as being of the opposite sex from their physical identification. Luckily, there are many options for them now to meet others like themselves and there are groups that they can become part of that are like them.  LH is a great place for youth to be who they are.  I get very emotional at times when I see youth come to LH and within 5 minutes they are who they are and dress like they want to regardless of the sexual identity.

What tips would you give to people questioning their sexual identity?

I would first give them a safe place where they can talk about themselves and how they feel, making it clear that their orientation and who they are are nothing to be ashamed of or that there is something wrong with them.  I would introduce them to other transgender youth because they can provide experiences and support from the youth point of view.  If necessary, I have known some psychologists that would support them and help them develop skills to deal with those who will find these issues something they want to avoid.

How do you stay resilient in the face of negativity and stereotyping?

Today it is not really an issue for the most part with the exception of certain political and evangelical groups who only accept those who agree with them on everything. I watch commercials and tv programs today and there are members of the LGBTQ community being presented in positive and normal in every way 24/7.  Young children are not going to see people of the LGBTQ community or another racial group as different for the most part because it will be part of their life continuously.  The arguments against by those groups will carry no weight.

What is your favorite piece of LGBTQ representation?

There are so many today it is hard to choose.  Police shows have gay officers, the show Tommy has the police chief a gay woman.  There is hardly a show on TV nowadays that doesn’t have a gay character in it.  There are out actors and political office holders that are in the public view and generally accepted.

What are your hopes for the future of the LGBTQ community?

I just hope that the progress that has been made over the past 60  years will continue.  WE are moving in a good direction at the moment. However , with have to be vigilant.  There are political and religious groups that will never accept the LGBTQ community mostly because as the more we are accepted and considered normal by the majority there are minority groups that feel threatened.

Is there any advice you would give to the LGBTQ teens today?

Be yourself.  The moment you start questioning who you are as being something undesirable you will start to lose yourself.  

Note:  Things are so different from when I was growing up.  I fooled myself into believing that once I was married I would be straight.  WRONG!  Because of that I had affairs with men who were friends of both my wife and me.  I lost unbelievably fantastic times in the gay community with my parents and my kids because I was afraid.  I learned that the people who care about you don’t want you to be someone you aren’t. I have been lucky to have visited people in the gay community all over Asia and Europe.  I lived in Japan for 7 years and found myself involve with the gay community there.  Because of this I have friends all over the world who are gay and who I keep in contact with, so easily now with messenger and email. I look back at some of the terrible times. In the 5 years before I moved to Japan.  I was loosing friends every month due to AIDS.  I despised Reagan because he compounded the situation.  I couldn’t understand why people I loved and cared about were dying and I wasn’t because I wasn’t doing anything different.  I will never know why I didn’t get AIDS.  Maybe I was supposed to be here to help kids on my caseload when I was a SW or the youth who come to LH.  They bring joy to my life and I am proud to be there for them if they need me.

Haven Wilvich(She/Her, They/Them)

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.