Small Town, Big Activism: Everett Maroon

Photo of Everett Maroon by Eric Sellers.
Photo of Everett Maroon by Eric Sellers.

By Matt Pizzuti, PQ Monthly

As Executive Director of Blue Mountain Heart To Heart, an HIV/AIDS support services organization in Walla Walla, Washington, Everett Maroon is a voice for the LGBTQ community in a conservative corner of the Northwest. An activist and author, Everett has published two books, one a humorous memoir about his gender transition, and the other about a trans kid who can jump through time.

PQ Monthly: What inspired your interest in activism and community work?
Everett Maroon: It’s lots of things. Being totally terrified by the nuns and priests who ran my Catholic school saying you needed to do something or the gates of hell would swallow you up or something — you couldn’t just say you were a good person, you had to be a good person — there’s a lot from that Catholic heritage I still walk around with.
Also, I’ve come through so much personal trauma in my own life that I don’t want to let it befall other people, so that really inspires me to make others’ lives easier. I found early transition to be really difficult, and I almost didn’t make it. So when I hear someone else might be struggling and they’re in early transition, I almost always reach out to them, even if it’s just to listen and be a sounding board.

PQ: How did you get into HIV/AIDS work specifically?
EM: When I came out in 1990, I had some good friends who died young, and was friends with some of the radical faeries in Syracuse, and to watch your friends just disappear off the face of the earth is horrifying to say the least.
I was one of those folks who would go around to nightclubs with packets of condoms and leave them on tables. More recently I became involved in HIV work through the HIV/AIDS organization here in town as a grant writer, and then got promoted to the executive director position, and I’ve been doing that for five years.

PQ: You’ve said your involvement with your involvement with Act Up in 1992 and the march on Washington in 1993 changed your life. How?
EM: Well, one, to be in a city of 500,000, and to know there were a million people there — we tripped the population of D.C. in one weekend. Coming up the escalator from the DuPont Circle metro station, you just heard this dull roar on the platform that got louder and louder as you came up, and it was just all these screaming, cheering gay men and lesbians and drag queens and people wearing leather even though it was hot as blazes outside. It was so instantaneously validating and electrifying and terrifying and wonderful. It made me really feel like we did have a voice as a community, and really could change the world.

PQ: I understand that you’ve written and published some books.
EM: Yes, I published them with a small publishing house in Seattle. First I wrote a memoir called Bumbling into Body Hair, and the point of it really was that I’ve read other trans man stories, and they were very proscriptive and prescriptive, like ‘don’t do this, do this,’ and ‘you’re transitioning right if you’re doing XYZ.’ I wanted to push against that idea and say, ‘I’m one person, I did this in a particular place and time, and this is how it worked for me and please remember there’s no right way to do this.’ Then I wrote a novel called Unintentional Time Traveller that’s for young adult readers.

PQ: Is there anything about Walla Walla or small towns like it that you think LGBT people from a city like Portland should know?
EM: Well on the one hand it’s not horrible as I used to think when I was simply ‘a city person.’ There is a sense of community here, and you know, the LGBT community is small no matter where you are. …there are definitely pockets of, you know, I’m not gonna say ‘hostility’ since no one’s really hostile but there might be some lack of cultural competency we’ll say. So it’s not all a rosy picture, but it’s certainly not the religious intolerant place you think you might be, it’s a pretty cool town.

PQ: Out of everything you’ve done, what are you the most proud of?
EM: I think I’m most proud of how I’m raising my two sons right now. My toddler said to me today, ‘Do you know what my favorite color is?” He has a new favorite color like every three days. I said ‘What?’ he said ‘pink.’ I said ‘pink is great!’ He said ‘I want pink shoes, will you take me to get pink shoes?’ And you know, my very first thought is ‘oh my God my son is about to go out in public in little pink shoes, what will people say?’ I go through all these psycho panic moments, and then my response is just ‘sure, we’ll go out later today!’ (Laughs). So he thinks I’m really cool with it, even though there’s all this stuff going on in my head.
I’m also really proud of the books. I must get an email every couple of weeks from some very young person saying my book made a big difference to them and to thank me for writing it, and you know, I’m not gonna make a million dollars for anything I write ever, but if I’m making a 15 year old scared kid feel better, I’m immensely proud and honored to do that.

PQ: Is there anything else I haven’t asked you about, that you want to add?
EM: I would say there’s really nothing special about me, but I’m happy to do the work and put the time in and just connect with people and remind them that we’re all OK. And I think that means that all of us can do that. You see these award things and you think, oh my God, this person invented Nitrogen, I could never invent Nitrogen! But no, it’s really not about exceptionalism to be helpful in the world.