Tell me a little about yourself.
I’m a carpenter by trade, obviously. I enjoy spending my off time cooking, playing cards, and gardening. It was a mix of those things that got me started in the trades.
Years ago, I was volunteering on an urban farm that I toured while in culinary school. I was building structures like fences, sheds, pergolas. Then a friend of mine told me about the Oregon Tradeswomen Program. They had gone through and thought the carpentry sounded right up my alley. I graduated from the OTI program and joined the apprenticeship shortly after. I’ve been a journeyman for just over two years now.
Why is it important for you to be transparent about your gender identity?
It feels like it’s important to be transparent. I also have to navigate it in a way that’s safe and won’t potentially cost me my job.
Some of my coworkers know I’ve transitioned or knew me when I was transitioning. It’s interesting; they will generally misgender me because they don’t want to out me to people who don’t know (a wish I’ve made out of concern for my safety) or they don’t want to confuse people and have to explain themselves.
I’d rather be out and open about myself. I want it to become more normalized, and I don’t want to be marginalized. I don’t want to be seen as “other.”
I was happy to hear the Supreme Court upheld the 1964 Civil Rights Act that says the term “sex” also covers gender identity and sexual orientation when it comes to workplace discrimination.
It was pretty important because as I’m transitioning inside my company, I’m outing myself. I could be fired or discriminated against and not have legal backing in that. It was a terrifying thought. My thought was that the union has my back, but, depending on how the company words it, it could tie things up. It’s good to know there’s federal backing on this. Having transparent language surrounding gender identity, gender and sexual orientation is vital to progressing the protection of rights for working people. It’s reassuring.
I’d also add I’m glad my family has been so supportive as well. My personal tradition is to call my dad from the parade every year since it also falls on Father’s Day. He loves it. My mom even changed her Facebook profile border to the trans flag. She’s pretty outspoken there, even commenting once, “As a proud mom of a trans man…” Their support is huge to me.
The Portland area is pretty progressive. Is having that support on a Portland job site normal?
I’ve talked to other friends who have that kind of connection on their job sites, and others that don’t. It’s always job-site-to-job-site, company-to-company. It’s about what the company is doing to make its job site safe.
I became friends with this young guy on a job site I was on, and he asked if he could ask a personal question (which made me somewhat nervous):
“So, like outside of work are you he or she?”
“I’m ‘he’, but I’m ‘she’ on the job site because I’m not always sure it’s safe”
It’s going to be a while before I’m comfortable with everybody on the crew knowing. There’s always a few who will probably have derogatory things to say about it.
If you had a chance to have a conversation with people who don’t agree with your choice, what would you want them to know?
I would highlight that I’m a good, hard worker. My gender doesn’t change that. My transition is my thing. It’s me doing me. I’m becoming my true self.
People often transition throughout their lives to become the people they want to be. They wear new clothes, join a church, change their hair, move to a different place… All these steps are moving them toward the person they think they should be.
My transition is something I’m doing for myself to be myself. For many trans, nonbinary, and gender fluid folks, it’s not a choice; it’s just becoming who we’ve always been. I’m not trying to “push an agenda” on anyone. However, that doesn’t mean I won’t advocate for myself and others when needed.
Being a tradesperson is not an easy job, to begin with; Is there any advice you’d give to a queer person thinking about joining the carpenters’ apprenticeship?
If someone doesn’t understand you (gender, race, sexuality, lifestyle), they could treat you differently. You’ll have to work hard, harder than everybody else. Even before I transitioned, it was something I was aware of. It’s a sad fact that people will see you as “other” and their expectations might be different.
But it’s worth it. You’re worth it. Stick with it and be true to yourself. The trades are changing and the more diversity the better. Plus, you gain life long skills, make some friends, earn great money, and build some awesome stuff along the way.
You headed up the Pride Parade for the Carpenters last year. Any plans for next year since this one was moved virtually?
It’s going to be interesting to see how things come about. But knowing us carpenters it’s going to be fun (and safe).