The cast of "Our Bold Voices," a group of trans and nonbinary storytellers who share their unique and powerful experiences and stories. Alex Wittwer/PSU Vanguard

In their own words

Trans and nonbinary individuals share their experiences

Trans people often have their own narratives stolen and co-opted by others to demonize trans people, consolidate a base or prop up a political campaign. A Portland event gave trans people the opportunity to tell their stories in their own voices.


“Igniting Voices: Celebrating Trans and Nonbinary Lives and Stories,” an event organized by Our Bold Voices, presented six trans and nonbinary speakers of varying age, backgrounds and experiences. Each speaker shared a five-minute true story, presented with no notes or visual aids, so the audience was forced to focus fully on the speaker’s truth. 


Held at the Eliot Center on Feb. 22, each audience member wore their complementary heart-shaped trans flag sticker proudly as they made room to overflow seating in the already crowded pews. 


Paul Iarrobino, the founding artistic director of Our Bold Voices, introduced the event using witty jokes laced within his more important sentiments. After making the crowd chuckle he confidently stated, “Oftentimes we’re not asked, especially as marginalized people, to get up on stage and share our stories, and today we are, through storytelling and music.” 


Sponsored by the First Unitarian Church of Portland, the event aimed to expose a wider audience to the experience of trans and nonbinary individuals. Tyler Horan, the youngest storyteller at 16, elegantly and humorously discussed his first visit to a sex shop to buy a chest binder with his mother at age 12, recounting the first non-family use of his correct name and pronouns while being surrounded by an assortment of penises. 


“I express my story through comedy best, even though it’s not really a comedic story at heart,” Horan said.


After the event Horan’s father, Dave Horan, spoke on the importance of the event.


“I’m still learning everything,” he said, “so it gives me a moment to go out and learn and be open, and obviously a platform to be able to tell these stories, which is just amazing.”


Iarrobino had a similar sentiment when discussing the motivation behind the event.


“I feel the need to work with new storytellers for them to be able to express themselves so that they are able to educate the community,” Iarrobino said. “But also able to ignite their own voices in terms of moments that are really important to them and their development, and why their stories matter.”

Paul Iarrobino, founder of “Our Bold Voices,” coaches to the storytellers, giving advice and feedback to help shape powerful and compelling stories that draw audiences into the narratives of the trans and nonbinary speakers. Alex Wittwer/Portland State Vanguard

The oldest of the speakers was 77-year-old Marilyn Lowles. She fully transitioned in 2014, but her story went back much farther than that.


“In 1994, I was 51, I went to a Halloween party with my wife and she dressed as a man and I dressed as a woman,” Lowles said. “I remember standing in the bathroom with makeup on and putting the wig on and looking in the mirror, and staring back at me, was actually me. I instantly recognized the person that had been rumbling around inside me.”


“For the next twenty or so years, I would dress occasionally with friends on nights and weekends,” Lowles said. 


Beyond the stories, the event also featured music from the community outreach group Achord. Amir Shirazi, the group’s director, spoke on the importance of musical storytelling.


“We use music as a tool to bring visibility to our community and to celebrate who we are and to show that trans people are brilliant, resilient and powerful,” Shirazi said.


Community member Gabby Nunley spoke about the performers after the event.


“It took so much courage and bravery,” Nunley said, “which says so much about who we are as human beings, and how we’re all connected.”


After the event, the venue hosted a marketplace featuring trans and nonbinary artists and community outreach organizations tabling. The attendees gathered to visit the non-profits in attendance and make new connections. 


Beyond the outreach, the event gave the speakers an opportunity to reflect on their own progress.


“I didn’t stop and think about things before and during my transition,” Ari Rain said. “[I’m] taking time at a point of stability to look back and say ‘oh yeah I’m proud of myself.’ Getting some ownership over my journey.”