Student Feature

Colin Davis – non-binary, transgender, and queer youth advocate

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photo of Colin DavisIAS student Colin Davis prefers to be referred to with the pronouns they, them, themself. Davis identifies themself as non-binary or agender. “What that means for me, personally, is that I do not identify as any particular gender. I don’t think of myself as male. I don’t think of myself as female. I don’t think of myself as some other construction of gender or as being gendered in any particular way.”

Davis doesn’t remember a time when they identified with a gender. “I grew up in the 80s, when there were a lot of iconic artists and musicians, such as David Bowie and Prince, playing with the idea that gender is a mutable thing, that gender is performative, that gender is a thing you do, not necessarily a thing that you are,” they elaborates. This perspective has stayed with Davis and is how they approach the world and their studies.

“I didn’t really have the language for this until well into my adult years, when I started coming across terms like genderqueer and gender nonconforming. And I would have these sorts of ‘a-ha’ moments, and I’d say to myself: ‘Oh - they mean me,’” says Davis.

Davis came to the realization that they could be considered transgender during an IAS class, Histories and Movements in Gender and Sexuality, taught by Julie Shayne. As part of that class, Davis worked on a group project in collaboration with the Social Justice & Diversity Archive at the UW Bothell library to help Ingersoll Gender Center digitally archive their history. Ingersoll is a mutual support and education organization for transgender, trans, gender variant, and genderqueer people, and the friends and family members who support them. Davis and other students working on the project (Hillary Sanders, Erik Larson, and Reiko Usami) digitized paper records at the Ingersoll headquarters dating back to the 1970s. These records document decades of services Ingersoll has provided to the trans community in the Seattle area.

While at Ingersoll, Davis met with and interviewed the founder, Marsha Botzer. Marsha asked if anyone from the student group had been to any of the support group meetings that Ingersoll runs. Davis replied that they personally had not, but had wanted to for a while – they just wasn’t sure if they was trans enough to be there. “Marsha looked at me, put a hand on my shoulder, and said: ‘Of course you are,’” recalls Davis. “I went home and thought about that. If the founder of the oldest transgender support organization in the country says that I’m transgender enough to come to their meetings, then maybe I need to examine this question for myself.  Before meeting with Marsha, I had been really hesitant to identify as trans, as opposed to agender, non-binary, or genderqueer. Professor Shayne then made the point that making transgender inclusive in this way increases the visibility of gender variant people, showing that they are a larger segment of society.”

Davis with drum at the Day Of Action Against Transmisogyny and Racism demonstration

Davis says that their personal history, combined with the experiences they’ve had in IAS, has charted out their academic course of study. Davis is a senior at UW Bothell. During their first quarter in IAS, Davis took IAS faculty member Nicole Robert’s Introduction to Feminist Studies. A few weeks into the course, Davis asked if there were options to pursue these studies further. Fortuitously IAS was in the process of creating a Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies major, and Robert helped Davis to select courses that would apply. Davis is now majoring in Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies, with a minor in Human Rights.  Davis credits both Robert and Shayne for “helping me navigate to where I want to go academically and beyond.”

Outside of their studies in IAS, Davis works as a Volunteer Guardian ad Litem (VGAL) or Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) with King County Superior Court. “What that means is that when there is a situation in a family where the children have been taken out of the home by the court and placed in foster care, a CASA is appointed by the court to speak on behalf of the child. The CASA can meet with the child, the family, the school, and any other relevant parties to find out exactly what’s going on. We then write reports for the judge, and are sometimes called in to court to testify,” explains Davis. Based on their experiences as a CASA, Davis feels strongly that the Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies major provides a foundation for doing advocacy work.

After graduation, Davis wants to go into advocacy for queer youth, particularly transgender and gender liminal youth. “Queer youth are such an endangered demographic in so many ways. They are at risk for any number of horrible societal ills – abuse at home, homelessness, violence, drug abuse, trafficking and so on. And there are the particular dangers that trans kids face, up to and including being killed,” explains Davis. “Fundamentally, I want to pursue Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies because I’m interested in these specific issues and in feminism both as an approach to resolving issues in the world and as an analytical framework for examining philosophical and artistic questions,” Davis concludes.

Davis on the drum at the Day Of Action Against Transmisogyny and Racism demonstration