Lea McGeever, 39, stands for a portrait inside a community garden in Potrero Hill, in San Francisco, Calif., on May 23, 2024. Photo: Pablo Unzueta for El Tecolote/CatchLight Loca

Lea McGeever (she/they/he), 39, describes their upbringing as “a lonely existence.” Raised as the eldest daughter in a Catholic, military family, McGeever was often “kept home” while their younger brother went out with friends. “I was taught as a woman that I was responsible for this boy,” McGeever recalls. “[My parents] used to blame me for anything bad my brother did.”

It wasn’t until their 30s that McGeever began questioning their upbringing and identity. “I basically grew up thinking I’m a white American,” said McGeever, whose father is Irish and mother is of Mexican descent. “I didn’t have any sense or connection of being Mexican, or indigenous, or anything.” In exploring their history, they discovered that their maternal grandparents were from a farmworker family in the Central Valley. “I’m rejecting the colonialism side, military and white supremacy side,” said McGeever. “That was a big motivator for why I wanted to reconnect and build my Mexican identity.”

On becoming a queer couple

In 2006, McGeever married their partner, Erin McGeever, who was then male-presenting: “We looked like a typical heterosexual couple.” By December 2021, their spouse came out as a transgender woman. “When my partner first came out, I truly believed I was a heterosexual, cis woman,” said McGeever. “So I had to reevaluate that, because if my partner is now a woman, and I believe I’m heterosexual, that means I can’t be with my partner anymore. And I severely love my partner.”

Today, McGeever identifies as both a woman and a man and considers themselves lucky to have the support of their mother and grandmother. “My mother, she has been the most receptive out of my immediate family,” said McGeever. “And my grandmother, she’s very religious, Catholic. She has candles and prayers and whatnot set up on her dresser … She told my wife recently that she saw her and she supported her, she loved her and she saw how happy she was now.” Despite their support, McGeever says, “No one else really talks about it or acknowledges that about me in my family, period.”

Since becoming a visibly queer couple, McGeever said the way they are treated in society “has changed immensely.” When they presented as a “typical, heterosexual couple,” McGeever would be treated as a woman — they were ignored and constantly interrupted. Now, McGeever, who sports a shaved haircut, says they get treated like the male in the relationship. “My wife gets completely ignored by whoever’s working the cash register or whether we’re renting a car, paying for groceries,” said McGeever. “I am the one that is spoken to by other men.”

As a trans woman, McGeever says their wife also experiences more physical harassment and is constantly bumped against walls. “When she looked like a man, there’d be a bubble of personal space that people wouldn’t enter,” said McGeever. “Now that is completely gone.”

Being queer in Latinx communities

McGeever’s changing identity has also impacted how welcomed they feel in San Francisco, especially within the Latinx communities they have been trying to reclaim. “With my white friends and in more progressive spaces, when I’m there with my wife, I don’t feel like we stick out so much for being queer… That’s why we’re in San Francisco. There’s a lot of gay and trans people here compared to elsewhere,” said McGeever. “But when I’m doing farmworker activism or even just walking around in the Mission… It feels a lot more lonely. I don’t feel (…) I belong.”

Yet, McGeever continues to contribute to Latinx communities, including buying pan dulce from local vendors or helping advance farmworker rights through their activism. “It’s easier when I’m by myself, actually, than when my wife is with me,” McGeever says. “I’m more accepted if I’m alone, and the transness maybe doesn’t come into play.”

As a nonbinary, queer person, McGeever asserts, “I don’t see much of a place for me, I guess, in our society, in our culture.” McGeever believes the machismo they have endured is tied to teachings of Catholicism: “We teach men to be repelled by women, by LGBTQ people… if you were to call a straight Latino man gay or trans or use a slur referring to a woman, those things cause fights and can lead to physical violence very quickly.”

Despite being “mistreated so badly by people you think would love you or would accept you,” McGeever remains hopeful. As a well-known activist in San Francisco, McGeever continues to fight for the rights of farmworkers, immigrants, queer people, and other marginalized groups. “My goal is to just keep on learning and keep on changing and keep on being the most nurturing, loving, accepting person I can be,” said McGeever. “I think anybody can do that.”

This story is part of “La Trenza,” a social-first video column that seeks to unravel the complicated ways toxic masculinity shows up in our lives. If you are interested in participating in our project or just want to learn more, please send an email to erika@eltecolote.org.

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