Where Else?Published by Bowdoin Magazine
Did you plan to remain in Maine after graduation?
After playing four years of varsity women’s ice hockey at Bowdoin (and all the hockey and training that led to Bowdoin), my original plan after graduating was to pack up my car and be a ski bum for a season or two to decompress, make some turns, and figure out what came next. After participating in Speak About It [The name of the play and also, later, the name of the nonprofit founded by Shane.] during my senior year, I made the decision to start a nonprofit based on the show and figured staying close to “home” would be a better plan. I moved to Portland in June 2010 and haven’t looked back!
Tell us a little about your role as communications director for EqualityMaine.
I get to work with and for the LGBTQ+ community. My role focuses on telling powerful stories about the work that my incredible colleagues are doing to create safer schools and more affirming workplaces, support and pass LGBTQ+ inclusive policies, and host events to both showcase the vibrant LGBTQ+ community and allow us to be ourselves. And for me, I throw in some entertaining GIFs to keep it interesting.
What do you think Maine is getting right about equality? What’s the number one (of many, I assume!) things that Maine could be doing better?
EqualityMaine, along with a number of strong partners and allies, have passed a variety of significant laws—including Maine’s robust antidiscrimination laws with the passage of the Human Rights Act in 2005 that includes both gender identity and sexual orientation as protected classes, which makes Maine a safer and more affirming place to live, work, and visit for LGBTQ+ people. During this past legislative session, we were able to pass laws to ban the harmful and discredited “practice” of conversion therapy, a ban on the gay and trans “panic” defense, laws making it easier to change your gender marker on state-issued IDs (including a nonbinary option!), a law to designate all single-occupancy public restrooms (essentially anytime there’s a room with a toilet) as gender-neutral, among others. There’s still work to be done to change the hearts and minds of people in Maine around LGTBQ+ issues, but with pro-equality majorities in the state legislature and a pro-equality governor, we’re looking forward to another successful legislative session in 2020. Of course, everyone’s mind is on the US Senate race in Maine and I’d imagine EqualityMaine will be doing some work to make sure our national legislators are representing and supporting our LGBTQ+ community.
What’s your favorite part about your job?
I’m very fortunate in my role with EqualityMaine that I can show up to work as my authentic self and can work and speak from my experience as a transgender man. Though Maine has laws to protect trans people like me in the workplace, it’s incredibly affirming to be “out” in all areas of my life, especially at my job where we all spend so much time. I am able to use my privilege as a white, able-bodied, cis-passing trans man to help and uplift our most vulnerable communities, including LGBTQ+ people of color, LGBTQ+ youth, LGBTQ+ older adults, and LGBTQ+ new Mainers.
What’s the best part about living in Maine?
I’ve always said that my favorite part about living in Portland is that you can be on a beach or skiing within an hour’s drive. I grew up in a small town in northern New Mexico where the unofficial slogan is “carpe mañana”—the pace is a little slower and more relaxed. I think Maine has that same “live and let live” mentality where you can be in an urban center like Portland or can very easily escape into nature without having to drive too far.
What led you to found Speak About It?
My passion for starting Speak About It was to provide information and stigma-reduction around healthy sexuality. When the script was first written in 2009 (by Jeremy Bernfeld ’09, Linzee Troubh ’09, Emily Skinner ’08, and faculty advisor Meadow Davis), the only conversation around sexual assault prevention was focused on all the ways you could hurt someone or avoid being hurt by someone; there was no mention about how teaching healthy sexuality and practicing consent is a huge component of violence prevention. I remember being in the first show for the incoming first-year students and thinking that this model of consent education and sexual assault prevention—one that included healthy sexuality, humor, and some of the realities of sexual assault on college campuses—should be everywhere. With blessings from former President Barry Mills and former Dean of Students Tim Foster, I got the green light to take the script and see what I could do with it. Over ten years later, the organization has a new executive director, a strong board of directors, dozens of traveling educators, a dedicated core staff (including Oronde Cruger ’11) and has been seen by almost 500,000 young people in three countries.
What’s the most important issue with sex education?
I think the most important thing to understand about sex education is that there’s not one way to have sex. A lot of sex education, especially for young people, is extremely heteronormative and is focused on preventing pregnancy, but that excludes both anyone who isn’t straight, and anyone who isn’t having sex to have a baby. There are countless ways to have sex (and many ways to define it!), but the most important part of any sexual encounter is consent. We need to be teaching people, and not just young people, that anything can be sex or sexy, but nothing can be sex without making sure that you and your partner(s) are on the same page before you begin. What’s sexier than knowing what your partner wants because you’ve asked them (or they’ve asked you!)?
How does it feel to have started such a successful nonprofit and then to move on and place it in the hands of someone else? How much are you still involved?
My goal in founding Speak About It was always that it should be a sustainable organization that could succeed without me being at the center; in that regard, I had almost an eight-year exit strategy. The new (maybe not so new—she started in June 2018) executive director, Olivia Harris, has done an incredible job building upon the foundation that I laid and has expanded the organization in ways I could never have dreamed. They’re now using grant funding to bring the performance and trainings to more public schools in Maine, have increased the scope of programming to include school administrators and faculty, and are a huge part of the national conversation for consent-positive sexual assault prevention. The greatest gift the board (including Anna Shapell Fletcher ’06, Kaylee Wolfe ’15, and former dean Kim Pacelli ’98) gave me was in helping to build that structure so the organization didn’t need me anymore: my vision had been fulfilled and they let me move on. That, and I got a pretty cool branded sweatshirt.
What’s your favorite local coffee?
There’s a lot of great coffee in Portland, but I’m a loyalist to Bard Coffee when I can have it. I worked there for two years when I was first getting Speak About It off the ground and they’ll always have a soft spot in my heart and home coffee cup.
Tell us a “bad” joke that you’ve written.
My recent foray into standup has focused mostly on my experiences as a trans guy, including but not limited to: where is all this body hair coming from—and can some of it move to my face, please?; how to subvert the patriarchy from the inside now that I look like I’m part of it; and the age-old dilemma of perfecting the day-to-night outfit with the correct prosthetic penis. But I’d just recommend coming to see me live sometime at Quill Books and Beverage in Westbrook.
Do you have an “only-in-Maine” story that you love that you can share?
My favorite is from my first winter living in Portland after graduation. It was the first storm of the season and everyone was stocking up on goods just in case we lost power and had to eat the contents of our refrigerators. I was at Hannaford getting Oreos, peanut butter, and a bottle of whiskey and the person behind me had a gallon on milk, a handle of Allen’s Coffee Brandy, and a single roll of toilet paper. The single roll was, I thought, the riskiest part.
Was there any singular experience when you were a student at Bowdoin that helped to cement your love of the state?
My time at Bowdoin led me to plant roots in Maine, and I haven’t looked back. I actually have a tattoo with the state of Maine in it!
If you could be anywhere in Maine right now where would that be and why?
I just got home from Sugarloaf for an LGBTQ+ and ally ski weekend with EqualityMaine and started the day with a trip to Willard Beach in South Portland with my dog, Harvey Chocolate Milk. Where else would I want to be?!
For people reading this who are nowhere near Maine, what in your opinion should they be absolutely missing right now—if only they knew better to be missing it?!
It’s hard to sell people on a winter trip to Maine, but I actually love Maine in the winter. The summers are gorgeous, but it’s easy to overschedule yourself trying to soak up the sunshine. The winter months are a little quieter, you can get seats at your favorite restaurants (and sometimes you can cross country ski there!), and who doesn’t love a good snow day off from work? Plus, my crockpot and sweater games have come a long way in the past decade.
Photos: Christina Wnek
This story first appeared in the Winter 2020 issue of Bowdoin Magazine. Manage your subscription and see other stories from the magazine on the Bowdoin Magazine website.