Natalie Oldham
Natalie Oldham
On Trans Day of Visibility this year, Natalie Oldham, a musician and artist who lives on Islesboro, sparked my interest with a joyous Facebook post. She wrote, in part: “It’s #transdayofvisibility! I am a #transwoman and use she/her pronouns. Why is Trans Day of Visibility important? We used to only have Trans Day of Remembrance, during which we mourn all of the trans people who were murdered because of transphobia over the past year. Very important, but also very sad. #tdov was set up as a counterpart half a year away from TDOR so we could celebrate while we’re still here.” First started in 2009, the International Trans Day of Visibility has been celebrated ever since, on March 31. On social media, Natalie has impressed me with her yo-yo tricks, frog friends, rockstar hair and outfits, vulnerable authenticity, and lion-hearted bravery. We talked by email about growing up in midcoast Maine, frogs, feminism, solidarity, transgender rights — and I asked her to pull a few Tarot cards relating to our transition out of this grueling pandemic.

Becca: So first of all, you grew up in Maine, right? What keeps you here, and what might you like to see change in midcoast Maine?

Natalie: Yup, I grew up in midcoast Maine. I think I’ve stayed here out of familiarity? There is a sense of home for me here and it feels like I have unfinished business in the area. And it’s not too far of a drive to Portland, relative to rural Maine standards lol.

Becca: You may have heard that we are living through this little thing called a pandemic. What are some of the things that have helped you get through it?

Natalie: This may sound extraordinarily silly, but frogs have been the number one thing that have helped me get through the pandemic! I’ve always enjoyed seeing and interacting with frogs and toads, but in February of 2020 a toad showed up in my basement while I was down there writing a song about helping others and looking out for each other. I had also just lost my health insurance that day and I had been feeling pretty stressed with the pandemic looming on the horizon. But this toad, who I named Todd, because of how much it sounds like “toad,” he gave me a real boost. I normally would’ve released him, but it was the middle of winter so I couldn’t. I set about researching and set up an enclosure for him. He was so personable and easily satisfied! He took to tank life extremely well and very soon felt like part of the family. Sharing pictures of this beautiful little creature (and later my Pac-Man frog, Blinky) was a way that I could maybe send out a lighthearted moment to people during such a difficult time.

Becca: Have you always had a flamboyance, a whimsy that you wanted to approach life with? And how has it gone for you? (I feel like one needs a lot of resilience and courage to remain flamboyant and decorated, especially in an area like ours.)

Natalie: I knew I was different at a young age and I think I really started leaning into it when I discovered punk rock and electronic music. It was like a community of being different together. I still hadn’t come to terms with being trans yet (as terms for being trans weren’t widely known in the ’80s and ’90s), but I could finally feel good about being different through music subcultures. I did receive some rude and threatening comments based on how I was presenting myself. I think there’s a lot more acceptance for punk and goth styles today, but I remember in the late ’90s being verbally threatened because people thought my clothing choices were made because I was part of a sexual minority. There was a lot of homophobia and unfortunately I internalized that to some extent and had to unlearn it to be able to progress in my journey.

Becca: How has Islesboro been different during the pandemic?

Natalie: Islesboro has fared quite well during the pandemic. We have only had a handful of cases, and luckily those have been contained. The Island Market has been extremely helpful and accommodating by offering curbside pickup for groceries for the community. It was a bit frightening when summer rolled around last year because we have a large seasonal population that comes from out of state and you don’t know if folks will bring infection with them through their travels. People have mostly been doing really well staying masked and distanced though.

Becca: I think we first met at a January 2017 emergency day-of protest organized by Kendra Denny and me to denounce Trump’s Muslim ban. We shivered on the Rockland Public Library lawn that night; you had made a sign that said, “Muslims belong in the U.S.A. too!” What made you passionate about that issue?

Natalie: It felt like a very dangerous time when 45 was elected. People were starting to be much more outward and emboldened about their prejudices, and it felt like the only way we, as minorities, were going to survive was to band together and stand up for each other. It just felt like the right thing to do. It’s what I would want other people to do for me if and when prejudices were made into law against transgender people. So if I wanted this for myself, it felt natural to do what I could to support others who were coming under attack.

Becca: What other injustices are you passionate about?

Natalie: As a parent, climate change is a big one for me. If we don’t make some serious changes to infrastructure, things are going to get very bleak and very difficult. If nothing changes, things will be getting bad during my lifetime, but it will be happening right during the prime of my child’s life. That weighs heavily upon me. The corporations who are doing the majority of the polluting need to be reigned in instead of shifting the blame to people who are using plastic straws. Body autonomy is also very important to me. Nobody should be controlling what another person can or can’t do with their body out of prejudice. This includes reproductive rights for cis women, trans men, and AFAB (assigned female at birth) nonbinary people. This includes trans children having access to puberty blockers so that they don’t have to experience the trauma of their bodies changing in a way that they won’t be able to undo later. Also access to gender-affirming treatments for adult trans people without gatekeeping. You don’t need a note from your therapist and doctor to get full body tattoos at 18, or extensive piercing, but you need to seek out those permissions for gender-affirming treatments.

Becca: I don’t want to put you in a tokenized role, like, as a spokesperson who is somehow supposed to represent all transgender people in midcoast Maine, yet at the same time, who better to talk with about issues related to transgender people than people in trans communities? So … how could schools and society at large be more embracing and welcoming to LGBTQ+ people and communities?

Natalie: Just like, show us the same respect that one would show to anybody else. Allow trans kids to use the right bathroom (aka the one that matches their gender). Make sure there’s an option for nonbinary people. Use language that’s inclusive of nonbinary people when addressing a group. “Guys and gals” doesn’t cover everyone. “Guys and gals and nonbinary pals” on the other hand! covers everyone and has a rhyme. Win-win situation here, people. Just, you know, treat people kindly, even if you don’t understand them. It’s just like a good rule of thumb.

Becca: Are you aware of issues or experiences that transgender, nonbinary and intersex people have had in midcoast Maine?

Natalie: I feel like I can’t really share those specifically because I don’t want anyone feeling singled out without their permission. But I’ve known trans adults and kids who have been given a hard time about using the right bathroom or been denied access to the right bathroom.

Becca: I love that you and your band The English Muffins did a show entirely of covers of punk feminist riot grrrl band Bikini Kill a few years ago. What is your personal type of feminism, and why do you think the world is often so hostile to women, particularly trans women?

Natalie: Intersectional all the way! We’ve gotta all be free in order for any of us to be free. I don’t know why men are so threatened by women. We’re pretty cool if you get to know us. ATTENTION MEN EVERYWHERE! BE COOLER TO WOMEN! Treat us how you would want to be treated!! I think men are especially threatened by trans women because we started out with bodies like theirs and the potential to wield the same privilege that they have access to, but we rejected it all in favor of what’s in our hearts. It sounds like a really powerful choice, but really it’s not a choice at all. Being true to your gender identity is pretty essential to feeling happy and complete as a person. The same goes for cisgender people, but they probably don’t think about it as much because everyone already treats them as the gender they identify with.

Becca: Transgender, nonbinary and intersex people are currently being used by the right wing as a boogeyman in order to distract from actual issues such as the climate crisis and wealth inequality. How can cis people be in solidarity as trans people are being specifically singled out for coordinated political attacks (such as in the bills around sports and transgender students, some of which allow literal inspection of students’ genitals)?

Natalie: I think it’s important for cisgender people to speak up when they hear someone saying something transphobic, if they feel safe doing so. The more people who can hear it from someone they know that trans people are just people, the better! I wish that the right wing wasn’t befuddled and frightened by us, or by other minorities for that matter. It’s kind of funny that they’re the ones calling us the sensitive snowflakes when they flip out on us just for existing lol.

Becca: What needs to change in order to increase trans/intersex/nonbinary rights and full freedoms?

Natalie: We’ve got to have access to the medical treatments that affirm our genders, we’ve got to be able to update our documents to reflect our actual gender, we’ve got to just, like, be treated with respect and not debated on whether we should be allowed to exist or not. Believe it or not, when people debate on whether you should be allowed to exist or not, it’s wicked dehumanizing.

Becca: You run Midcoast Tarot, reading tarot cards. Would you be willing to pull a few tarot cards about our collective transitioning out of the pandemic?

Natalie: Okay, I did a free-form three-card draw about this subject and received the Seven of Pentacles, The Magician, and The Chariot. The Seven of Pentacles is a card of waiting. It tells me that we are not at the end of the pandemic yet, but that we are working towards it. The vaccine is the seed that has been planted, and now we need to wait for the fruit of the plant to ripen; in other words, for enough people to become vaccinated that the disease will not spread anymore. Which brings us to The Magician. The Magician speaks to already having the power within one’s own individual grasp. Each of us has the power to take a step towards ending the pandemic. Get vaccinated and stop getting together and passing the virus around until everyone is vaccinated. It is simple, even if it is somewhat difficult and undesirable. The Chariot is next, and is a hopeful one in this scenario. It speaks to things being put into motion. It’s not an ending, but is a card of great movement and fast action. … It’s also about gently directing disparate or opposing forces to reach a goal, which I think certainly speaks to where we are at with the pandemic.

Becca: Are there Maine-specific trans-supportive resources that people should know about?

Natalie: I know some wicked cool people over at mainetrans.net!

Becca: And finally, what might you want to say to younger transgender and nonbinary people?

Natalie: Hang in there, kiddo, you are valid and worthwhile!!