Coffee Order: cold brew, two splendas, splash of cream
I met Oliver a couple months ago while doing research for an article about the abortion bans. Their passion and fight immediately struck me, along with their wealth of knowledge to help the queer community. Oliver was born and raised in Louisville, KY and graduated from the University of Louisville with a degree in Political Science and LGBTQ Studies, Social Change, and Philosophy. They are the director for the Trans Health Advocacy program at the Kentucky Health Justice Network.
Oliver loves to read political theory, and their favorite book is The Queer Art Of Failure, which you can find here. “Failing is creative,” they said. “I failed at being a woman…but what i was doing was failing into myself.” They also really enjoy leatherwork. They got started when they realized they wanted a chest harness and have been creating ever since. They have some amazing pieces in their shop, from collars to keychains. You can check out their shop here.
Oliver knew they were queer from a pretty young age. “Most people knew before I did. When I was in elementary school I got called gay slurs for both genders. It was upsetting, but after coming out as nonbinary, I joked that they saw something in my I hadn’t seen in myself yet.” Oliver said that they were always gender nonconforming. “I had the queer aesthetic.”
They came out in their junior year of high school when they started dating. In college, they found a very unfriendly atmosphere on the UK campus. “It was a bonding point for one of my partners and I…we both had bottles thrown at our heads on Limestone. We didn’t know each other at the time, but we shared similar experiences.” When they came back to U of L, they were able to be more theirself. They got involved in student labor organizing which gave them a clearer sense of identity and independence. As they settled into being themselves, they realized their was more to their identity than just bisexual. This is where their gender journey began. “It’s very visceral when you realize these things. You just know.” But as with most adventures, there are new things you find along the way. “I used to be really freaked out by the idea of getting facial hair. But now I’m like, ‘this kind of works’. You continually learn more about yourself and your needs”. They said that working with trans people on a regular basis also helps with that journey. Things they didn’t realize about themselves becomes clear as they see it through the eyes of other people who are experiencing the same things.
Oliver started at the Kentucky Health Justice Network as an intern while still in undergrad with an organization called the Reproductive Rights Service Corps (now called Collective Rising). “They treated us as capable, like we knew what we were talking about and could make a change.” It was there that they introduced the idea of a trans health support program. Even though they were just there for a summer internship, the organization loved it. Oliver has been finding grants for that program and doing it ever since.
“I do a lot of direct support: figuring out insurance coverage for gender affirming care, what doctors to go to, transition mapping. When someone has recently come out or realized they want to transition- socially, medically, legally, physically- we sit down in person or over zoom and figure out goals, steps to get there. We map out a plan and what they can do in the meantime if those big goals are far away.” They also help with education and cultivating events to help support the community. Close to the holidays they have a get together for trans people to gather and find support before heading into what can be a really difficult time. “We want everyone to know there are people around you who know you, and know who you really are.”
Some organizations Oliver wanted to give a shout out to were Forge Forward and the Louisville Tenants Union. Forge Forward is a Wisconsin based organization that works with trans survivors of domestic and sexual violence. They provide a lot of community and provider support, educating doctors and therapists. This is particularly important because of the high percentage of the LGBTQIA+ community that experiences that specific type of violence. You can learn more about Forge Forward here.
“There are a lot of really cool organizations locally doing really powerful work. Shout out to all of the local unions, the Old Louisville Coffee Co-Op. We love mostly queer and trans worker owned businesses!” Both of Oliver’s parents were very active in their unions which provided an early political introduction. They said that even though unions were pretty stagnant for a time, they are going back to their radical working class roots.
Another person Oliver admires is Oriaku Njoku, founder of large abortion fund in the south and the ED of National Network of Abortion Funds. “I’ve met them a couple of times and they have such a warm spirit and are doing such powerful work. They emailed me a couple weeks ago to see how NNAF could collaborate to spread information about the new U.S Trans Survey and I honestly just thought that was sick as hell. E.D’s of national orgs usually don’t initiate that kind of collaboration but they are so grounded in the work, it makes me feel really hopeful about the future of abortion funding.”
Growing up in Kentucky leads to its own challenges, but also its own beauty. Because it’s not as accepting as some areas, we have a strong community with each other. “People in Kentucky, by necessity, are so community focused in a way you don’t see in other states. We take care of each other and lift each other up.” When traveling across the state, Oliver has also found that most people here want to help each other. Even though the legislators don’t have our best interest in mind, the people themselves are very caring.
As far as queer people growing up here right now, Oliver had some great advice.“You can have whatever life you want. Being trans is not going to stop you from doing whatever it is you want to do. My trans identity is very important to me and at first I thought because of the transphobia in society, I couldn’t reach the same goals as my cisgender peers. We have to fight harder. But you can do it, and you can be happy. You can grow into a trans adult and just be yourself, there are going to be people that think you’re rad as hell.”