Keegan Samaniego became a GSBA Scholar the spring of 2017 just before they were set to graduate from Marysville Getchell High School. With an early start to college, Keegan achieved a General Associates of Arts and Sciences degree the same year from Everett Community College and then transferred to Portland’s Reed College, where they will receive a GSBA scholarship for every year they attend for up to four years, because of the GSBA Four-Year Guarantee.
At Reed, Keegan studies music and social sciences, with a particular focus in music history and ethnomusicology (the study of the music across cultures), and is a member a newly formed all-trans punk band. Although the band is still unnamed, they write their own music about queer experiences and social action, play house-shows across Portland, and are keen on the name, “Make-Out with Your Friends.”
“I really love writing, thinking, and talking about music and music theory,” said Keegan. “It’s a really cool thing to study. I really love the music department here.”
Aside from their studies, Keegan is a heavily involved student activist. The second-year student has partaken in efforts to encourage Reed College to divest from fossil fuels and also volunteers for advocacy work regarding the prison industrial complex. Most recently, Keegan received a summer fellowship through Reed College, funding their work to collect and publish the stories of intersex people. Beginning early this June, Keegan will travel via train to major cities across the US and record oral histories from people who identify as intersex.
“A lot of the narratives that exist out there are not controlled by intersex people. Intersex activism kind of came to a head in the 90’s, so it’s kind of recent that this has become a little more mainstream,” they said. “I just want to be a part of taking back that narrative. I don’t want non-intersex people to tell me about what it’s like to be intersex. I want to hear these things from intersex people. I want to be able to help [them] tell these stories in their own words.”
For Keegan, who identifies as queer, non-binary, and intersex, visibility is wrapped up in privilege – the privilege of being in an environment where you are safe to be your full, authentic self.
“Visibility is really hard and tied up with so much stigma and so many taboos. The fundamental core of who I am, is considered unacceptable in this society. Being able to be out and proud is something that I worked really hard to be able to do, and I still work on to this day – so there’s a lot of power in that. Because regardless of those taboos, I’m still here," they said.
While non-binary identity still falls underneath a trans umbrella, being non-binary is different from other forms of trans-identity where someone might align more with male or female-identity, Keegan explains.
“I have to do a certain amount of emotional labor with pretty much every person I meet. People will always try to place me into some kind of cisgender category,” they said. “When I tell people that I’m non-binary and that my gender isn’t reflected on any spectrum that people are used to, a lot of people just can’t compute it. [When I came out] there was a lot of teaching and patience with the people around me, because I had to explain to people that when they called me by a pronoun that wasn’t ‘they/them’ it was harming me.”
Even though the stories and experiences of non-binary people are historically not as well-known as other trans narratives, Keegan finds empowerment in educating the wider LGBTQ community about non-binary identity and is unapologetically themselves.
“I want people to understand that I’m not confused. I’m not making this up. It’s not a joke, it’s not a phase, it’s not something that’s going to change,” they said. “I’m real, I exist. I don’t really need someone to understand me to be valid. I will still continue to exist in the way I do regardless of how people want me to be.”
After graduation, Keegan would like to continue making music, as well as their work of collecting histories of the intersex community, and slowly but surely, dismantling the gender-binary.
“Number one, I think people can start noticing the things that they apply gender to,” they said. “I think people should recognize where in their life they use gender and where they even use their gender as a form of power.”
GSBA community members can follow Keegan’s fellowship work by following The Intersex History Project on Facebook and Instagram, and can continue to support Keegan as well as their fellow future LGBTQ+ leaders by investing in the GSBA Scholarship Fund.
Ingersoll Gender Center offers a “Trans 101” and general trans competency training for anyone who would like to better understand non-binary identity and trans experiences. Employers can also utilize Ingersoll’s workplace trainings as guidance for implementing inclusive practices.
Including GSBA and Ingersoll Gender Center, eight local organizations have come together to form the Transgender Economic Empowerment Coalition (TEEC), a group working to survey and address systematic disparities among trans and gender-diverse people living and working in King County. The TEEC currently has two active surveys to help guide their scope of practice, including a survey for employers about trans-inclusive policies and a survey for trans and gender-diverse people living in King County about their experiences.