Street Roots vendor Chris Drake: “Treat me like any other man”

Chris Drake took time from his busy schedule working three jobs to talk about his experiences as a trans man in Portland and how he thinks allies can better support people in his community.

Chris has been a Street Roots vendor for three years, and he also works for a food delivery service and makes money selling chainmail pieces. But even with three jobs, he has been unable to secure stable housing and lives in his car.

Street Roots: How can people in Portland be more supportive of the trans community?

Chris Drake: I honestly don’t know, because in the overall, too many people have an ugly side toward the homeless and toward trans people. One thing I hear regularly — not directed at me because I’m female-to-male, but more directed toward males-to-females — is that they’re all “pedos” (pedophiles), and that’s a major misunderstanding.

What do you think is something that’s misunderstood about trans men?

People want to try and say that I’m not a man because I still show my emotions the way a woman should. Just because I’m trans male doesn’t mean I’m emotionless, and it doesn’t mean that I’m any different than any other man on the street either. I’ve noticed a lot of people will call me miss or ma’am, and when I correct them, their demeanor about me changes, as if being male makes me a bad type of person to be around. It’s just that feeling I get every time I try to talk to anybody. It’s just so difficult.

Unable to find stable housing, Street Roots vendor Chris Drake lives in his car. [Photo by Veronica Ruth]

What can trans allies do to be better allies?

For the most part, when it comes to allies, helping the community that is unfamiliar with trans folks understand that we don’t want to be treated like we’re trans; we want to be treated like whatever gender we truly are. I’m male. I don’t want to be treated like I’m some out-of-the-way disease that made me male. I want to be treated like who I am. I’m a man. Treat me like any other man you see going down the road that was born that way.

What does visibility mean to you?

I’ve had a serious issue with people, both supporters and non-supporters, because I haven’t gone through top surgery, they immediately see me as a woman. And that’s not who I am. I may have something on my chest that most men don’t; I’m seen immediately as a female. It’s a common issue, where people will misgender me and I will correct them, because nobody can know until you say something. Nobody is a mind reader, but immediately after, almost every time, they always (say) that their brain went to female because I have breasts.

I would love to see more people not using gender until you know the person. Because there are people who are non-binary; they don’t have a gender at all. And then there’s those of us who have transitioned to our true selves, but we don’t always represent that self due to surgical needs.