This is the first post in our The Ally Series. We will be celebrating and sharing the stories of our trans allies. These are real stories of the people who stand up for us.
It was no surprise that when I sat down to speak with Christine Elbert, she began our conversation with a question for me. I use the word conversation because there was no interview; not as one would expect to take place when stepping through the process of writing about another human. Those who know Christine appreciate this; because when one is given the gift of time spent with her it is an exchange of extracting the extraordinary from the ordinary.
An ally is by definition a person who lifts others up or forms a supportive connection with others. There are any number of ways to accomplish this: mentoring, educating, or taking another by the hand are common paths. Christine didn’t set out to be an ally. In fact, she quickly shrugged off the title when I used it beside her name.
But whether she asked for it or not, Christine Elbert has by her actions become an ally and a community leader. She and I walked the path that led her to the forefront of the St. Louis LGBTQ+ community. It is a path many of us have jumped on and off over the years; but Christine has stayed the course. She is a 53-year-old lesbian and a feminist – these titles she wears proudly; but she speaks more of community than self.
Christine doesn’t pretend to know what’s best for anyone. She believes that our queer community is divided, and she hastens back to our history to try to better understand the direction she’d like to see us take. Yes, I know, this was supposed to be about Christine – and if you’ll indulge me I’ll get there – but it will be in large part by way of a conversation about community because every time I tried to talk about her she looped us back into our talk of chosen family. And for you gaybies still new at making your mark in the queer community; pay close attention. She just might teach you something.
As an elder in the queer community, Christine has seen some stuff. Her earliest days sitting alone at the bar trying to “learn how to gay” were the beginning of her journey and where she was introduced to Miss Tracy – an iconic influencer in her own right. Miss Tracy took notice and after seeing her sitting there sipping her coke and taking it all in, stepped up and approached the young Elbert with, “You can’t be lost ‘cause you keep showing up!” That was the beginning. And show up she did!
With each decade queers saw change – by our own hands and at the hands of others. Our lesbian feminists – our Christines, if you will – have been there by our sides from the beginning. From standing toe to toe with their trans sisters of color to ignite the modern LGBT rights movement, to caring for and then losing friends to AIDS in the early 80s, fighting for the Defense of Marriage Act, and aligning with their sisters to participate in simultaneous women’s marches across the world; our lesbian elders have been influential in paving the way for all queer people.
Creating safe spaces can be a full-time responsibility. Not everyone welcomes such burdens, but Christine has never been one to shy away from the difficult. Over the years there has been a succession of young adults that she calls her “kids” cycling through her life. These gay, trans, and nonbinary chosen family, whom she helps navigate through everything from stereotypical gay drama to social or medical gender identity issues, tap into Christine’s experiences or resources; but it is unclear who has “adopted” whom.
A veteran at creating safe spaces for those in her life whether for a day or a decade, Christine is expert at leading others to perspective. She encourages free-thinking and demonstrates how actions are driven by accountability. She understands that in order for us to continue to grow together we must work and exist together – that lessons learned from the comradeship by which our elders lived and thrived are vital if we are to continue pushing forward – divisiveness be damned!
Christine is open to sharing her thoughts on community and working to heal the divide that many in the St. Louis LGBTQ+ community agree may harm us in the long run. But we can’t expect to have a future if we don’t remember our past and as Christine reminds, we don’t have the luxury of leaving this for someone else to fix. Every member of our community, nee our chosen family, owes each other enough respect to want to close the divide and to do their part of the heavy lifting.
When we were young, we thought we had all the answers. Guess what. We didn’t. And neither do the young queers who’ve joined us and expanded our rainbow umbrella. But here’s the cool thing. When the elders share their stories we not only get to learn where we’ve been, we get to put them in our pockets and carry them with us. The Christine Elberts that have come before now stand behind the gays, lesbians, transgender and nonbinary humans that are marching us forward; and even as everyone is navigating new language and culture in our community, and they are lifting them up.
One of the elders, an influencer in their own right, once gave Christine this advice: “when you are asked to help, you say yes.” Say yes. It really is that simple. But perspective can be distorting. Eyes and hearts can close in an instant. Christine reminds us daily that we don’t have to make life a fight. We need only be open and inspired.
Those who are fortuned to have Christine in their lives know that on a good day she can coax you from frustration or heartache to a smile with a cup of coffee and a page from history. Throw in a piece of cheesecake and you’ll feel like you’re ready to save the world. All you have to do is say yes.
As Christine opens herself to chosen family and reminds herself to step up, she finds inspiration in the actions of our elders and the wisdom of others. Christine shares these words from Antoine de Saint-Exupery: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” And she asks you, “what can you do to help?”