Alexis Oppenheim, a transgendered 21-year-old girl, leads me out to the back porch to sit in the waning sun and discuss what she's learned since she first came out.
For starters, she says, it's hard to explain her identity to people. She was born male, came out as gay in the sixth grade ("I really liked guys," she explains), and called her parents when she was 19 to come out a second time--as a transgendered girl who no longer identified as gay. In other words, Alexis now considers herself a typical teenage girl who likes boys.
"It's hard knowing how to explain it to people," she says. At first, she didn't even know how to explain her identity to herself. Alexis grew up in Guam, and eventually moved to Oak Harbor, Washington. She didn't meet a single transgendered person in either place. When she moved to Seattle a few years ago and met other transgendered people, something clicked.
"The big city totally brought me out," she says. "I wish I could have come out a whole lot earlier." That said, she also dreams of moving back to a small town and living as a girl who doesn't have to explain herself at every turn.
Avery Porch had similar difficulties. He's also transgendered, came out twice, and has a hard time explaining his identity to other people. At 14, Avery, who was born female, came out as a lesbian. He was extremely butch, and found a group of accepting dyke friends who encouraged him to find a girlfriend. He tried, but it never quite fit. Though he was butcher than most of the dykes he hung out with, dating girls didn't seem like the right thing to do.
But a few years ago, it all came together. Avery came out as transgendered and gay--and lost all his dyke friends in the process. At 19, he started taking testosterone and had breast-removal surgery. Now nearly 21, Avery looks like a normal teenage boy: cropped blond hair, an eyebrow ring, jeans, and a snowboarding T-shirt.
He's looking for a boyfriend, but it's a challenge. He's learned he's not really accepted by gay men once they find out his transgender status, and most of the transgender community is much older than he is, so it's hard to find friends there. The only other gay male transsexual he knows is his best friend, and Avery doesn't want to date him.
Plus, because of his age, he's become something of a poster child for the transgender community. It's rare for someone as young as Avery to transition from one gender to another, which makes him the subject of interrogation at school, at Lambert House, and at home. He's found that many people, even queers, don't understand what it means to be transgendered.
"It's like the further you get from the G [in GLBT], the worse off you are," Avery says. And his transgender status tends to be the main thing people are interested in when they talk to him--they don't always find out that he loves baseball and Hot Wheels, was an intern at Lambert House, and plans to become either a nurse in child psychology or an adolescent-gender counselor. "Everything is secondary to my gender identity," he says with a sigh.
Tae, who doesn't want her last name used, is an 18-year-old staffer at Lambert House. Compared to Avery and Alexis, her coming out was fairly easy (though her grandmother kicked her out of the house, and her mother still has a hard time with it). She came out as lesbian to a high-school teacher a few years ago once she had figured herself out. Eventually, she saw a brochure for Lambert House and went to check it out. Now she's there almost every day of the week, helping organize activities and putting together the packed calendar of events. She's also the only out lesbian at her high school, and has learned that straight guys depend on her for tips on dating girls. "Just don't bullshit and don't lie," she tells them matter-of-factly.
While giving advice and organizing at Lambert House have been fun, Tae says she's learned that the biggest perk of being a gay teen is the parties. "The parties are off the hook!" she says between interruptions from other Lambert House kids who stop to gossip with her. "You don't have to really worry about who's around you--you just have fun. The whole gay community is all about fun."