Transgender board member likely first in Washington state
A crowd flock to a Broadway Street car park in Aberdeen.
People at the kiosks sell homemade products. There are rainbow flags. Tweens with kitchen sink stain jobs. Old people and strollers. Everyone applauds the drag artists who strut their way between rows of folding canvas chairs.
Compared to big city pride events, it’s small – but so meaningful in places where being gay isn’t always easy.
City Councilor Tiesa Meskis looks radiant in her tie-dye shirt and magenta eyeshadow. She and her wife, Julie Meskis, put hand-made lotions and essential oils on a table. It has been a secondary activity for six years.
“This is our first drag show,” she told KNKX Public Radio with a smile.
Tiesa Meskis is easy going. You wouldn’t know it, but she had a wild summer that culminated in international reporting that turned ugly. But that’s not what we’re talking about.
When I first heard of Meskis, I had no idea there was a trans politician in Washington state. I checked with the LGBTQ Victory Fund, and it turns out they hadn’t heard of it either. Meskis is the first openly transgender official in Washington that we know of.
I revealed it on his couch. His eyes snapped open.
“I thought there must be at least one or two more,” she said. “It’s pretty amazing.”
Large, crisp cities in the Northwest like Seattle and Olympia have a reputation for accessible health care and safety that appeals to transgender people.
But Aberdeen isn’t that at all. It’s rural, coastal and conservative by comparison.
It’s small, a 10 minute drive from end to end, with one-way streets on the main drag. He has hard roots. Logging and fishing built this place, and Aberdeen never quite recovered from the implosion of these industries. Some here proudly trace their lineage to pioneer roots. Others would leave – if they had the money.
Meskis is not from Aberdeen. She was raised in Santa Cruz, California, a confused Catholic child who found liberation and community through the daring and daring quirkiness of the “Rocky Horror Picture Show”. For decades, fear kept her in the closet, but about two years ago she started going out and experimenting with her presentation in public using subtle makeup, women’s clothing, and long hair.
After a while, people started asking her if she was in transition. She was telling them that she wasn’t quite ready to admit it, a stale feeling that weighed on her.
In July, she just couldn’t wait.
Meskis had been in her tenure on city council for over a year and a half when she left. It was a bit of a non-event. The local newspaper, The Daily World, did not cover it as a stand-alone story.
Walking around Aberdeen, people knew Meskis well but said his coming out was not a big deal in town.
I met locals David Jackson and Albert Cummings outside of Key Bank. They said the people here are mindful of their own business.
Cummings, who is black, remembers when he moved to Aberdeen over 25 years ago.
“When I got here I met a lot of people who were racial,” he said. “And I mean racial. But now, since I’ve been here for so long, we all get along fine.
Meskis’s appearance may have changed, but his politics haven’t. She was elected on critical issues like roads, police personnel and budgeting.
Her number one problem is building a dike to get Aberdeen out of a floodplain, which she says is holding back investment. If you spend enough money to renovate a home or business, the Federal Emergency Management Agency steps in. It’s a nightmare, she said.
She described Aberdeen as a city in search of its next new business.
“It’s run down and hasn’t performed as well for a few years,” she said. “And we have this kind of old school rival trying to keep things in the past and revive that old-fashioned logging and fishing nature. The rest of us are going, ‘No! We must move forward! ‘ We are a city that is sometimes a bit at odds with itself.
Political races with transgender candidates, even the smallest, can make national news, but only when there is conflict. The laid back attitude, live and let live in Aberdeen might explain why no one has heard of her.
And why everything was quiet until Meskis heard about a transphobic sign displayed in The Sucher & Sons Star Wars store.
He said, ‘If you’ve got a d — you’re not a chick,’ Meskis said.
She doesn’t know if the sign was about her, but it still hurt. She walked to the store with his wife, who filmed an interaction with owner Don Sucher. It got personal when Sucher asked, “Do you know how many people you have embarrassed in town hall?” “
In the days after the video went viral, activists planned to protest the store, but canceled when Oregon’s far-right Proud Boys announced they would attend a counter-protest. A few dozen Sucher supporters showed up. The Daily World wrote that hundreds more came to buy “Star Wars” memorabilia.
Meskis stayed away, but people in Aberdeen and around the world started harassing her online. Some Conservatives have claimed that she tricked people into voting for her.
All of a sudden, his identity mattered. A lot. Meskis felt angry, hurt, and distracted from what she wanted to do.
“My goal was never to deceive anyone, you know,” she said. “When I ran for office, I ran according to my ideals and those are still my ideals. Your gender identity, your sexuality, I don’t think that should be a determining factor in whether or not you are fit for a position in government.
It has been two months and the online harassment has subsided. During the drag show, gays said Aberdeen is improving, although she is still late on LGBTQ issues.
Ashton Lanning is a transmasculine person who was mercilessly brutalized in middle school and high school.
“If I was more out, or less overtaking, and I worked regularly, I would be screwed. And there are a lot of really good allies here. I’m not going to — on my community. They are half of the reason I’m still here.
In Meskis, he feels that there is someone on his side. Considering what he’s been through, his historical status made him wide-eyed.
Meskis is proud that homosexuals here see something in her. But its goal has never been to make an important point on gender or social issues. It was the economy and the infrastructure.
And at the end of the day, it’s not transphobia, video, or social media bullying that can drive her out of town, but the very issues that interest her.
The affair with his wife Julie? They want a physical store. The floodplain makes insuring a home or business almost impossible here. She is not sure if she will have the opportunity to run again.
“If we’re still in the area, I could run again,” Meskis said. “There are a lot of things about Aberdeen that I still really like. I would feel like I was abandoning people if I left too early.