20 InQueeries: Katelyn O’Conner

Katelyn O'Connor is an outspoken voice for the local transgender community.,

I met Katelyn for the first time this past spring at the Transpoken event where she shared her personal tale as a transgender women after an illustrious career in the military and law enforcement. Since then, she has become a strong advocate for the Hampton Roads trans community.

She served in the Navy from 1986 to 1998 and was discharged honorably. For the past eight years, she has worked with the Department of Defense, where Federal Government workplace protections have afforded her a job security not available to most other non-government LGBTQ workers.

Under no illusions that she has had a comparatively gentle experience as a transgender woman, she’s now put her energies to work in support of the local trans community. She’s currently working on a Transgender Day of Remembrance event with The LGBT Center of Hampton Roads to coincide with the national observance this November.

She has big plans and isn’t shy about sharing them with everyone she meets. She’s as delightful as she is assertive, and we’ll be hearing much more from her in the future.

Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Grand Rapids Minnesota and raised in La Prairie which is just outside of Grand Rapids. I spent my days hunting, fishing, and trapping on the Mississippi River.

How long have you lived in Hampton Roads?
Since September 1986. I was brought here by the Navy, had a 13-year career that was cut short by an injury and I have been here almost exclusively since then. I have served as a Police Officer for the city of Suffolk and the DOD. I have worked for the DOD for the past 8 years.

What do you do 9-5?
I work for the DOD and oversee the refueling of nuclear reactors as a Radiological Control Technician.

How long have you been out, and who was the hardest person to tell?
I’ve been fully out for two years, partially out for four. The hardest person to tell was my dad because I assumed that I would lose his respect. Surprisingly he was very accepting after some adjustment. He kept asking me to send him a current photo and when I asked him why, he said, “How can I show off my new daughter without pictures of her?”

Who is your LGBTQ hero?
Jennifer Bryant from Philadelphia. She was responsible for creating the Raven events in New Hope PA. The first place I was able to truly experience what it meant to be your true self. Not only is she my hero for that, but she is several years ahead of me, she helped shape me into who I am today and allowed me to help others in the community to be who they really are.

Is a picture worth a thousand words? Elaborate.
So, so much more. Because back in the day that is all we had to capture a moment, and now you can send that moment all over the world almost instantaneously for thousands of people to see. A picture is now so much more than what it ever was before, it is almost elevated to the status as a group collective memory.

What was the most memorable LGBTQ moment in your lifetime?
The first time I went out as me during the day. It was in New Hope, Pennsylvania. The first time i was ever out as me was the night before at the Raven event. So, in less than 24 hours I came out as me with my community and as myself in a non-LGBTQ environment. It was also one of the most terrifying moments of my life, but also one of the most freeing.

On what do you insist?
For myself I insist on being five minutes early everywhere I go, daily showers, and living my life according to my own terms and as my true self. For others, I insist on truthfulness and the fair treatment of everybody.

What was your last social media post?
I was razzing a high school friend who had just retired from the Army. He posted that he was so happy that the flag that was flown at his retirement ceremony was the same flag that was flown at his swearing in ceremony to be a judge for the state of Kansas. I posted, “The only thing that would make this better was if you had been in the Navy and retired from the Navy.” Then he wrote back, “I would have joined the Navy, but the recruiter found out that my mom and dad were married before I was born.” I was done after that.

If you could give yourself at age 16 one piece of advice, what would it be?
Do what you love. Live life according to your own plan and pursue your passion with everything you have as you will be the only one at the end who can judge your life. Did you live life or just wait for the end? To live life you must take risks. An amazing life is can be yours if you chose to go after it but only you can make the determination for you in how hard you go after it or how far you take it. Just push with everything you have.

Do you have any suggestions for local LGBTQ movement leaders?
Yes, unite and realize that it is about the community and not your personal agenda.

What is the best part about the Hampton Roads LGBTQ community?
We are on the frontline for the SouthEast because we have a better quality of life compared to the community South of us. This is due to the religious persecution and bigotry that exists. We owe it to our brothers and sisters to help them enjoy the same quality of life and benefits that we do. We can do this through education, advocacy, and unity for the cause.

What is one thing you would change about Hampton Roads?
More lanes through the tunnels, more and better mass transit and unification of the cities as one city.

What LGBTQ stereotype annoys you most?
That transgender people are sexual perverts and that being transgender is about sexuality and not gender.

What non-LGBTQ issue do you feel most passionate about?
Protection within the workplace for all employees.

What natural gift would you most like to possess?
The ability to write eloquently.

What quality do you most admire in a man?
Their physical strength.

What quality do you most admire in a woman?
Their compassion and their willingness to accept people as they are.

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
What turns me on creatively is being able to take glass, steel, or a any coarse piece of junk and turn it into a magnificent thing of beauty.

What is your favorite curse word?
Fuck, when I do swear. It just fits so many situations both good and bad.

Why Hampton Roads?
Because no matter how many times I try to get away, it keeps pulling me back, so I’ve given up trying to get away and just decided to embrace it. It has grown on me and has became my home and my family here are just amazing and continues to grow every day.