By Karelys Beltran
Photos by Thayne Jongeward
The conversation ahead is full of irreverent questions, politically incorrect comments and questions, full of curiosity, humility, fun, and connection.
Depending on where you are at in life this may be too uncomfortable or not.
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I met Alexa once when I was looking for ghee at Fred Meyer’s. I had no idea how to pronounce it but this boy came up to me, perfectly coiffed, killer style, and offered help. Ghee, or clarified butter, was a hot topic at the store and I found myself surrounded by three people Googling and helping me find the rare item.
Suddenly I realized Alex wasn’t a boy but a girl. And that her name was Alexa, not just Alex. I was drawn to her energy and wanted to make sure we’d work together in the future. Instantly I recognized that we were kindred spirits.
But I had no idea she was insanely popular, yet, she treated my nerdy and dorky self like I was the coolest "ma'am" in town. Then one day we were part of the same fashion show. She was phenomenal; confident and playful. She was modeling boy clothes and the crowd was packed with people in support of her endeavors going crazy over her swagger. Follow her adventures on Instagram @alexdeeuz.
We sat down to devour some good food and drinks, talk about how navigating her identity in such a conservative place has made her who she is, whether she prefers being referred to as a woman or a man, and how dating is going in such a small, Republica, American town.
You are so glad now that you decided (on gender and to come out as gay).
Yeah, I would tell my friends and I was like, I would tell them that I was trans, and I wanted to do this and wanted to do that. They were 100 percent supportive. I had my family and friends' support but there was still a lot holding me back. What are people at work going to think? What is my grandma going to think? Y’know she’s a Jehovah's witness. I ended up not going through with it because my senior year is when I was 100 percent sure of everything.
Sure of everything in what sense?
Meaning I was like I had a lot of confidence, and I never had a lot of confidence. The whole reason I got my confidence is, in school I started changing my style, the way I look, I got out of my shell and a lot of people knew my sexuality was different. I went to West Valley High and there weren't a lot of people there that were open about being different. I was very obvious because of my style. And I did a spoken word in front of the whole school on coming out and not being afraid to, and after that my confidence went really high cause I was like "Okay, I got that out there."
After my style changed I got a lot more friends. I think it was because I was more confident and social with people. I finally looked like I wanted to look and people were responding so great to me. I cut my long hair and I was like wow, okay, I actually did that.
And then, In school, we actually started an LGBTQ group. That was the first one in all the years that school has been there. We would get together every few days after school and we’d talk about our feelings and stuff. Because when we went there I didn’t know a lot of people that were outcasts and we would talk about our feelings and help each other out. We made posters and hung them around school. It was very cool. Getting people out and helping them with stuff they needed.
How has Yakima’s reception been to you?
Every time I go to Seattle I feel very welcome. You don’t have to be other than yourself. I can do that here. I haven’t had anything bad at all whatsoever. I don’t know if anyone else has. So I feel comfortable here but over in Seattle there are way more people like yourself. I wish that small cities like Yakima would be like Seattle. I know my California friends want to come to Seattle, my friend from Illinois wants to come to Seattle, because they feel safer and more welcome.
Why are you still in Yakima now that you graduated high school?
I have bills that to pay. I was going to do real estate to make money and then I was going to move to Seattle because I had connections that would help me get in the industry. But it wasn’t really a passion. So when I got my first modeling gig it hit me. I wanted to do this!
The thing that always held me back is that I wasn't tall enough. But my model friend told me that my androgynous look is very sought after. So I am inspired and I am more excited to do it.
Yes! It feels amazing to be celebrated rather than just tolerated. You were mentioning earlier how you feel undecided about a definite gender, and I love that. The public puts pressure on people to decide because they want to stop being uncomfortable with the question marks. But it is not your job to put everyone at ease.
Your job is to be yourself and tell everyone to fuck off.
Ha Ha yes!
Seattle Talent came to Yakima a year ago and I got accepted into a Seattle agency.
Marcus and I became super good friends during senior year. Marcus is bisexual but he likes women more. So we get along really really good. We are like...a pair of butt cheeks (laughs). No yeah, we are really close because we are like the same person so it’s really cool for us.
I've decided that we feel loved when we feel fully seen and instead of that person making you conform to how how they view the world, instead they celebrate everything that you are. I think that soul mates come in many different forms like friends or lovers or family or pets, and they find you.
For some reason Marcus and I clicked. He had a passion for modeling too so we understood each other. One summer we were like "Let's make an Instagram page and do fun projects!" He already applied for an agency in Seattle but things happened. Honestly if I hadn’t met him I wouldn’t have been on the fashion show. When we are together the creative energy is through the roof.
We are supposed to go to California this summer because his cousin is going to get us in auditions. We want to apply to a bunch of agencies and see if we can do what we love.
You said I am still undecided. I think there's so much beauty in that. Our world puts so much pressure on people to have certainty about things. I am trying to get comfortable with question marks hanging in the air. I used to be a big time planner. I wanted to know the ins and outs. And you talk about being uncertain. More and more, there is acceptance of people being sexually fluid. Like you said about Marcus, he’s bisexual but likes women more. For the longest time bisexual people weren’t in great standing with the gay community. They were blamed for giving gays a bad rep. But you are here and you say “I don’t know. I am undecided.” I love that! It takes guts to stand in the in-between, in the uncertainty.
When I saw you at your work I was like, "Wait, do you want to be addressed as a boy or a girl?" I thought “I wonder what is important to Alex; to be called a boy or a girl.”
Yeah when I was going through my major depression as a child I was called little boy a lot. It would make me really mad because...it just would. Because I was girl. I mean I am a girl. I don’t know, it would just make me uncomfortable. And when I was going through that very dark phase and trying to decide do I want to transition or not? Maybe they would just keep calling me dude but I would actually be a dude. But now I noticed it’s more of the hair. I know for sure it’s the hair because I did a little experiment. I grew it longer and i would get ma'am a lot at work. I got a hair cut and I've been getting sir a lot.
So do you want to be addressed as a girl or boy?
So do you like girls or boys?
I used to like both but now, after experimenting with both of them, I found out that guys are just not the right one.
If he’s a very masculine man are you like "NO"? But if he's a more feminine man, what do you think?
It’s funny you say that because I have a long time friend who is very girly. He gets his nails done and everything. I knew nothing would ever happen but I thought, oh maybe i could be attracted to that. Um…
You felt like it resonated with you?
Yeah! So nothing ever happened but even playing those thoughts helped me figured out I just don't like guys. I can't. I mean I find them attractive but I don’t find them attractive.
There's this really funny thing, I struggled with it for the longest time. I used to do sports in high school and guys would run around shirtless with sweat running down their abs, and I was like I DON'T FEEL A THING! I can tell they are beautiful. They are attractive according to beauty standards but I just…..nothing.
Yeah nothing...no pulse there! I have to get to know people and something in their personality has to jump out right there. But then I discovered that with women the attraction was immediate even to the point of ignoring personality. Like, "Hey lets make out just shhh don’t say anything." And the realization shocked me! I never gave myself an option to like women. I never felt the pressure to figure out a label for myself probably because I flew under the radar so easily so I had no need.
I just assumed that I was a girl therefore I would like boys. And it was hard to find men to like. But when I came into my own I realized how much I like women and I never even questioned the fact that being a girl I didn’t necessarily mean I had to like men. That was an option all along but because I grew up in such a religious background that this was never even on the radar.
What do you want queer people in Yakima to know?
Honestly, I think it’s a nice place. I think most people feel welcome. Any type of person, gay people, immigrants, people I don’t know, just anyone. They shouldn’t feel like this is a place where they don't have to hide. Yakima is pretty small but most of the people here are pretty cool. Don’t listen to the haters, they are the loudest. You’ve got people here to welcome you and make you feel safe. Everyone I’ve met are really okay with everything.
I don’t know, just be yourself. Its nothing to be afraid of.
Washington is a very open place I would say.
How do you approach women? Dating?
Hmmm well….let’s see. I dated a couple of dudes before and it wasn’t my thing. I dated someone back in freshmen year and things didn’t go too well because she moved. And literally after her I’ve been single.
It wasn’t my choice. It’s hard to find gay people in Yakima. And you can’t go off looks!
No you can’t!
I am not a person to flirt because what if you put the moves on them and they aren’t and then AWKWARD!
I've done that before! (laughs!)
It was really weird and I was like yeah….imma go!
They weren't weirded out but I was. So I don’t approach people. I wait until they approach me because I am worried about making the same mistake. You know. But I feel like you can’t do that all the time because then you end up single. I approached a few people and it didn’t workout because they were like….way older than me….like 40...so I don’t know, they were really busy and stuff like that. That didn’t really workout. I've had encounters here and there. Nothing really big. But honestly it is hard. Especially here in Yakima.
So how do gays date in a small conservative town? Color coded wristbands or…?
No. And everyone in the community knows that you have to be referred to or online. (Laughing). It’s true. Its true.
We need an app. Strictly for gays.
Its funny that you say that because I am actually working on that with my friend in Canada. I mean there are so many apps but they are just pathetic. I don’t want to be hating on the apps but we need something better. Like Instagram and dating app smashed together.
Oh! Who's your developer?
I don’t know, I am looking for that. I want something like Instagram where people can follow each other but you can see who liked you, and people pin their locations so maybe if i am close by I know my kind of people are around me.
That sounds like so much fun! I’d get that app!
I want everyone to be themselves in it. I've noticed that in dating apps you can’t really be who you are. But in Insta you show your daily life. And maybe people can see a bit about you before they know if they are interested in a date so it’s less awkward.
What are your challenges in finding connections with people who are okay with being fluid and in the inbetween, undecided? Because you do look like a really handsome dude.
But you don’t have a penis.
No I don’t!
Are you ever going to have a penis?
No I think I've made up my mind. I won’t.
Not even a strap-on one?
I don’t think I am into that. I don’t know really.
Oh yeah, because you’ve been single for too long.
What was the question?
What is the challenge in making real deep connections?
I don’t know, it’s been hard to find people I can connect with and those who I do are too far away.
Do you think it’s a gay thing or a personality thing?
I feel like it’s a personality thing. I like people who, when they talk to you….it’s more….I don’t know...it’s more more.
"It's more more!" I like that!
What about Seattle people? Why haven’t you found someone to date?
I don’t know. I met someone online and they are from Oregon. I was going to go visit this summer because they seemed really cool. But the drive is long. People in Seattle..I don't know. I have a couple friends from over there but I don't feel the pull.
When I publish this am I to put an ad on the bottom saying “Alexa is single and interested”?
Call 1-800-xxx-xxxx, for a good time! (laughs)
Men need not apply!
Oh you know...this is the crazy thing. At work there's this two guys who work at the produce section and they try to hit me up. And I look at myself and I think, " Am I not gay enough???!" I get hit on by more guys than I do girls.
Oh! like really masculine men??
Yeah! it makes me go, "Am I doing something wrong!?"
Apparently you're not gay enough.
I need to up my game! It’s just weird because this guy was like what time do you get off tonight? And I said I get off at 8. And he goes oh that sucks. And I go yeah….but I am really, really oblivious. So you can be flirting and I couldn’t tell. You have to blatantly tell me. And he said maybe we should hang out sometime, what’s your number, what’s your Facebook?
I thought he was just pursuing me as a friend and NO! I was catching on very slowly. But I showed my friend his messages and asked “what does this mean?” and she goes "Oh! Oh! nonononono!"
So yeah, I just don't understand.
Another dude did that. So yeah...no thanks it’s a compliment but NO! It was just...oh my god. So what my friend did to tell that dude subtly that I am not into boys was...when she saw him coming toward me at the store (my back was to him) she said very loudly "So Alexa! When am I going to meet your girlfriend?"
And I was like "WHAT???"
And I kinda looking out of the corner of my eye and I go "Oh yeah! Soooooon!"
His facial expression changed drastically.
When he came back he goes "Soooo you have a girlfriend?"
And I go "Yeah...yeah."
And he said "That’s okay, I just got back together with my ex."
But I am sure he just said that because he was embarrassed. I just...yeah...I just don’t see what they see. I look like a guy. I bind my chest!
I was wondering about that! Your shirt looks so perfectly flat. I was wondering how does she do that!? Show me!
Yeah why not?
Um well they don’t have straps. Like a tube top. You can get the ones with the straps but if you wear a tank top or something you can get the tube top ones. They are actually not that good for you because you could break a rib and collapse a lung. Can't wear them a certain amount of time. 8 hours is the max. When I go home I take it off and I am like I CAN BREATHE! But I've been wearing them for long enough that I can handle it now.
I am interested, if you are undecided, you said you don’t want to be a boy but why do you bind your chest?
It’s because I don’t like them. Something about them, I am just not comfortable with them since I was a kid. I developed breasts very young and I just felt like, "This is not me."
Is there something about femininity that you dislike?
No no. I am non binary, so I am both masculine and feminine. It just depends. Some days I am like "Oh mah god!" (She flips hands in the air with a prissy voice). And some days I am much more of a dude. When I hit puberty I just used sport bras. No one has ever seen them. People just thought I was flat chested. But when my dad bought me these I started wearing them and I felt more comfortable.
More like yourself?
Yeah. I still think about getting surgery um...just on the top part. So I wont have to wear them anymore. Because I know wearing them long term is bad for you. When I was going through the stages of considering to transition fully, not the bottom because that is just too much, I just knew that doing away with these would make me more of myself.
You know what I love about the newer Star Trek movies?
That’s a segue! Haha.
Yeah listen, stay with me. In the movie all the different species and races coexist and it’s very cool and interesting. It makes me long for a community where we don't look at people as, “These are the normals and these are the not-normal ones.” Somewhere people are just…..people. And it’s cool to see all their different colors and shapes.
I am confident you will find your someone who will be super attracted to you and your heart and your ambiguity. The world is so big.
l have lots of friends who say they'd date me if I was a dude. I don’t know. I am not too worried about it. I am excited to see how things unfold.
So much gratitude to Alexa for being so open and real about her life.
I love talking to teenagers and be reminded of what the world looks like when you are graduating high school.
It's such a joy to hear that the new generation is dealing with less and less backlash for refusing to conform to binary gender expectations.
The interview took place a year ago. I sat on it thinking how I could do it justice. Our conversation was definitely enlightening and hilarious. I had so much fun and I learned to see the world from the eyes of our non-binary brothers and sisters.
In our town, we have a safe space and resource center for LGTBQ youth that may need a place to be themselves without the need to hide, or perhaps do homework, and hang out around mentors who not only accept them but also celebrate them. If you are interested in visiting or supporting this project, find The Space on Facebook (type @TheSpaceLGTBQYakima to find the page easily) and contact their team to find out how to best support our young people.