PART ONE: “I look female. If I walk into a grocery store and someone refers to me as ‘she,’ I don’t have a cow"
Bisexual transgender man finds Claremont a welcoming town
To read the headlines in recent years, Claremont seems the furthest thing from a tolerant, loving, rainbow-embracing kind of town. But Neil Allen — who identifies as a bisexual transgender man — wants you to take a second look.
“Kids are still getting bullied in school and not everyone is respectful,” Allen — who uses the pronoun “he” — said over a ham and cheese sandwich. “But it is changing.”
In 2015, a young vandal took a hatchet to the interior of the local Planned Parenthood office. Two years later, the parents of a biracial boy say teenagers deliberately hanged their son in a lynching-like attack. LGBTQ people who might in other places have come out instead chose to stay in.
But last Saturday, Claremont hosted its first-ever Pride celebration — an event attended by hundreds of people that drew leaders of powerful local institutions along with people whose gender identification and sexual orientation doesn’t fit neatly the standard binary.
The event proved a celebration without a hint of trouble. And that, says Allen, reflects his experience living and working in Claremont.
Looking in from afar, “You might think, ‘Oh, God, this place is horrible,’ ” said Allen, who helped publicize Pride in his role as a Vista volunteer at the TLC Family Resource Center. “That’s not been my experience.”
Located a half-hour south and a world away from the tony enclaves surrounding Dartmouth College, Claremont is a former mill town in the process of forever reinventing itself. The once-grand brick buildings downtown feature a mix of restaurants, thrift, hobby and jewelry stores and achingly empty storefronts.
Allen and I had lunch at Farro Deli, a popular downtown sandwich joint where we sat at a sidewalk table with a blue umbrella. As workers on lunch break and moms with their toddlers enjoyed their meals in the early summer warmth, Allen talked openly about his personal journey.
Now 46, Allen grew up identified as a girl in Wolfeboro, NH, on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee. While he realized he was bisexual at age 11, he never told his family.
“I did the usual things,” he said. “Met a guy, got married, had a kid.”
After living in New Jersey and Keene, NH, Allen moved to Charlestown. Began working as a reporter with the Claremont Eagle Times in 2015. Got to know people in the community as a woman.
And then, with help from twentysomething daughter, Caitlin — “She was just like, ‘Maybe you should read a little more about this.’ ” — realized the person people knew as a “she” was really a “he” inside.
For many people, that realization would begin a slow and mostly private process of coming out to family members, coworkers and close friends.
In this case, though, private instantly became public. The reporter who had used a woman’s byline legally changed his name to one that matched his inner gender. The city officials and residents who had always been sources were instantly in the know.
The response? “Congratulations!”
Even as Allen plays the role of pioneer, he knows how to shake off the smaller stuff. He appreciates that I ask him which pronoun he prefers, but says it doesn’t bother him when someone looks at his feminine curves, hears his gentle voice, and uses the wrong one.
“I look female. If I walk into a grocery store and someone refers to me as ‘she,’ I don’t have a cow,” he says with a laugh. “I don’t have time to get upset about that. I would never leave home if I did."
Allen looks ahead to his physical transition and creating a community center for other LGBTQ people looking for a home.