Until recently, my journey with journalism had been limited to the music and nightlife scene, a community with which I have been deeply involved for almost two years. I have worked with friends and colleagues that I have known since I began performing, mostly musicians, bartenders and business owners. Since writing for the Prism publication, I have been introduced to a new community, one teeming with activists and advocates, beautiful people that want nothing more than to see other like-minded souls flourish. One of those beautiful people is Will Bean.
Will works with several non-profit organizations focused around supporting marginalized groups and providing education and tools to those who may not otherwise have easy access to them. Constantly occupied with their community-based endeavors, Will told me, “Work is a big part of my identity right now. As a community organizer, work hours are sort of all the time, and of course I’m on the board for Identity and Poor Peoples’ Campaign Alaska, so things can come up very much last minute and we have to get going for a direct action the next morning.”
Will began volunteering with Identity at the age of nineteen as a chaperone for youth groups. “We provided some leadership trainings, some information about restarting a GSA if the club fell out. We’ve really grown to include healthy relationships, I provided a decolonization training this past spring, and of course just some time to connect. We bring in youth from all over the state, here in Anchorage,” they said. “The other chaperones are not just telling the youth what to do, they’re getting their input in creating this program, which is really important I think.”
They also work as a community organizer for Native Movement, a small non-profit with offices in Anchorage and Fairbanks. As part of the gender justice and healing program, Will primarily focuses on LGBT native advocacy, offering trainings on decolonization, gender and sexuality, and the importance of pronouns. “I want my events and the work that I do to be inclusive for everybody because everyone has their own rich culture and ideas. I’m always welcome to getting more minds at the table, getting more perspectives and new people,” they stated.
“Will has offered a great deal of knowledge to those attending their training and youth groups but has also had the privilege of learning from the people that they work with as well. They told me, “When I was volunteering with Identity, I learned about the term nonbinary. I had been playing around with my gender expression for a while but was never really set on male or female. I heard one of the youth talking about it and something just sort of clicked in my head. I was really excited and grateful to be able to learn that from the youth. As a chaperone I was there to provide some training but being able to learn something from them was really incredible.”
As an Alaska Native member of the nonbinary community, Will has identified as two-spirit. They said, “I really love the term because it’s short, sweet and simple, and pretty much encompasses my whole identity. It doesn’t really warrant too much explanation, so it makes it a bit easier.” When asked about the origins of the term, they told me, “It was coined in 1991. The indigenous LGBT community wanted to come up with a term, so they came up with two-spirit as an umbrella term, which included anyone under the LGBT umbrella who is also indigenous.” After learning more about the colonial roots of the term, Will now uses the term indigiqueer. “Indigiqueer brings together my two identities much like two-spirit does,” they said. “A few years ago, I learned about some Alaska native words, but of course those words have been lost through history after colonization. It got a little tiring having to explain their roots and the history behind them, so I just go by indigiqueer now.”
Will has become very secure in their identity and involved in community activism, but things have not always been that way in their life. As of now, they have spent years working against internalized homophobia and transphobia from their upbringing. “I haven’t really talked about it much, but it’s just been a lot of reflecting on where my thoughts and values come from and where I stand with them. In my head it’s been a lot of writing, a lot of journaling that’s helped me get through it,” they stated.
Thankfully, Will has found their community and has a tremendous amount of support and approval from friends and coworkers. They told me, “My friend and community groups have been very supportive. In my work we’re always trying to reach other people, folks who typically wouldn’t attend a gender and sexuality training. Most of the people that I’ve met who are typically seen as being on the other end of the table seem to be very open to learning these new words and terms and how they can be allies, which has been really great. I’ve seen a lot of change since I was growing up.”
As a seasoned public speaker and youth group leader in the LGBT+ community, Will had some advice for those who may be struggling with their identity. They said, “Recognize that it’s okay that you’re struggling right now, it’s going to take a while to feel comfortable in yourself and that’s perfectly okay. It’s okay to reach out to other people. Just make sure that you’re doing it with a friend that’s safe, a safe person who won’t out you accidentally. Be very patient with yourself. It took me probably close to a decade to get to where I am now and just be very unapologetically myself.”
Learning who we are as individuals can be a difficult and frightening process. Some of us may need to train our minds to think differently than we were raised to, and work to find communities that will understand and support us. Fortunately, there are many groups and programs in place to help us on the path to acceptance of self and becoming the people that we were meant to be, and I personally look forward to becoming more involved with such groups. Because our community is wonderful and full of love. It may be a long journey to find them, but there are many great people out there who just want to help. Because they have been where some of us are now, and they know how powerful and beautiful we can become with a little bit of help.