In a world where anti-trans sentiment is roiling behind some increasingly wild doors, I’ll never say that anywhere is completely safe for transgender persons. But I will say that Portland feels safer for me as a nonbinary person than anywhere else I’ve been.
Portland has long been a refuge for those of us who don’t fit in. From its strong queer communities to the radical liberal sensibilities that become easy jokes on conservative networks; in Portland, transgender people can be freer than in many other cities.
Like a lot of other queer people, coming to Portland was like a breath of fresh air for me. After living in a place where I was fundamentally misunderstood, even by my fellow queer people, being able to go outside without looks and comments and make genuine connections with other trans people has been a complete revelation.
Rachel Westbrook, (she/they), moved here amid the exodus of trans and gender-nonconforming people from anti-trans states. She had never been to Portland before, but immediately fell in love. “It’s such a friendlier place. In Florida, if you’re not passing, what are you doing? Here, you’re able to be yourself and be valid.”
That’s the experience travel guides rarely talk about when we talk about Portland. The ability to, in general, live a normal life as a normal person who happens to be trans. Because being transgender is normal, and in Portland, most of us get that.
Trans and LGBTQ+ Representation in Portland
The Pacific Northwest has been home to transgender and gender-nonconforming people for longer than we have written records. These include Kaúxuma Núpika, a healer of the Kutenai tribe whom white colonizers described as a woman who identified as a man in 1811, and Dr. Alan L. Hart (FTM), who, in 1912, became the first known transgender graduate of what is now Lewis and Clark College. A century later, Stu Rasmussen (he/him, she/her) served the city of Silverton, Oregon, as the first openly transgender mayor in the United States.
In more recent years, there was a gay district in Portland, also known as Vaseline Alley or the Burnside Triangle, on the west side of the Willamette River where Burnside and Harvey Milk Street intersect. Iconic gay bar Scandals is still there, with other landmarks like the all-male strip club Silverado, CC Slaughters, and the city’s oldest drag bar, Darcellle XV, just blocks away. These hot spots were popular with gay men; however, as the city changed, so did they. Scandals and CC Slaughters welcome all queer people, while Darcelle XV is a trendy trip for people of all genders and orientations. Silverado still identifies as a gay men’s club, first and foremost.
Food & Drinks
Emperor Georgiou’s Tea Room – Queer-Owned
This is not your great auntie’s tearoom. There are no Victorian sensibilities in this well-appointed Black-owned tea house. Emperor Georgiou’s is a reimagined future place in which all people meet as equals in the post-scarcity utopia of Star Trek. The cozy, inviting locale is decorated extensively with images from the Star Trek universe, specifically Star Trek Discovery, the first Star Trek series with a Black woman as the lead character. The Tea Room is owned by Wellington and Brendon Georgiou, a couple so enamored with the Star Trek universe that they took Captain Phillipa Georgiou’s last name (another well-loved character from the Discovery universe) when they married. Guests gush over their service and commitment to making the space safe for people of all genders and races, especially those of us on the margins.
Jonnie Shaver, a nonprofit program designer, is a tearoom regular. “I’m a huge Star Trek fan, and a fat queer, trans dude, so Emperor Georgiou’s is a dream. My friends and I feast on tiny treats, surrounded by queer and trans community, while dressed like our favorite Trek characters.”
While they do take walk-ins if there’s room, it’s a good idea to reserve your spots before you visit because this popular space can fill up quickly, especially around holidays. It’s also a superb destination for a birthday, anniversary or any other celebration. For parties of eight or more, they ask for a deposit. For folks with dietary restrictions, the menu is vegetarian and can be made vegan and gluten-free with 24-hour advance notice. Outdoor seating is available for parties of two, depending on the weather.
Mis Tacones – Trans-Owned
If delicious vegan Cali and Baja classics are your jam, come through to Mis Tacones, a trans- and Latiné-owned taqueria in North Portland. Partners and co-owners Polo Bañuelos (they/them) and Carlos Reynoso (he/him) specialize in ooey-gooey cashew cheese and house-made seitan proteins. This shop is a local favorite and won second place in the Willamette Week Best of Portland Mexican Food category, which includes non-vegan establishments.
Triumph Coffee – Queer-Owned
Tucked away in the industrial yet cozy Central Eastside neighborhood, Triumph Coffee is a long-standing queer gathering space that serves top-tier baked goods, sandwiches, bagels, vegan and gluten-free eats, and excellent cups of locally roasted coffee. The deep, comfortable couches and small vignettes with tables around the shop make intimate conversations easy.
And when it’s time to go to the bathroom, you’ll find that there are two equally appointed rooms for bathroom business; one is called “whisk” and the other “spoon,” after the type of kitchen tool the keys are attached to, both of which you can find at the bar.
Speed-o Cappuccino – Trans-Owned
The gender-nonconforming answer to a bikini coffee, Speed-o Cappuccino, is a walk-up coffee cart in the queer and POC-owned food cart pod, Lil’ America. Proudly self-proclaimed as “vegan as f*ck,” “Mexican as f*ck” and “sex worker-owned,” this little pink box of a coffee cart is also charming as f*ck. Follow the sign advertising “vegan food and thembos,” then take a swing through the rest of the pod. You’re sure to find new QTPOC friends and family around every corner.
The Sports Bra – Queer-Owned
A pioneering bar dedicated to women’s sports, The Sports Bra serves spirits from women-owned distilleries, wine from women-owned vineyards, merch made by women and LGBTQ+ designers, and plays only women’s sports on its expansive range of wide-screen TVs. Add to that a delicious bar food menu that’s also vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free-friendly, as well as the fact that children are allowed in the bar, and you have a lovely spot to hang out on game night. Check the website or Instagram for what games will be playing each day.
Everett House Healing Community – LGBTQ Hours
The private gardens of Everett House has soaking pools, hot tubs, saunas, cold plunges, a steam room as well as a tea house and massage services. In addition, LGBTQ hours are offered in the late mornings once a week. They also have women-only hours each week, and their policies are very clear that any person who identifies as a woman is welcome during women-only hours. The spa has a no-touching policy (not even high fives), and you can request a tranquility necklace, which will show other guests you’re not interested in chatting.
Halfday Market – Trans-Owned
A trans-owned and queer-operated monthly pop-up, Halfday Market features vintage goods and art vendors who are also queer and BIPOC. Jagger Blaec, owner of trans-owned Red Jasper Vintage and a regular Halfday vendor, told me that when they moved here from New York years ago, “I always heard how much people LOVE vintage in Portland, so I was excited to get here until I realized I could hardly ever find anything in my size and it was all extremely gendered. So I made that my mission to prioritize those needs at Red Jasper Vintage. Now I’ve rediscovered all the best places to find androgynous and inclusively sized vintage clothing, and I’m happy to centralize the thrifting process and style folks of all shapes and identities.”
More Trans-Friendly Activities in Portland
- Queer Movement Space – Trans-Owned
A sober space for queer and trans folks to experiment with movement and dance.
- Rocky Horror Picture Show at Clinton Street Theater
One of the longest-running weekly performances of Rocky in the world, featuring The Clinton Street Cabaret.
- Diva Drag Brunch with Jayla Rose – Queer-Owned
A weekly drag brunch at Swan Dive, often hosted by Portland local, transgender woman, Emmy winner, and celebrity burlesque dancer, Jayla Rose.
- Trans-UHH-Licious at CC Slaughters – Queer-Owned
Hosted by Sheniqua Volt & Diva Dott with special guests and craft cocktails.
A small but well-appointed sex toy shop with helpful and knowledgeable staff (many queer and trans themselves) can help beginners and experts alike find exactly what they need. There is a section in both the Mississippi and Division locations dedicated to binders, packers and straps. While the shop is obviously 18+, they reserve times after normal operating hours for private binder fittings for youth and their parents and guardians. Located in a designated space, fittings are by appointment only and customers under 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian willing to sign a consent form.
This small but mighty storefront in the Mississippi district is the place to find socks and stockings for nearly every size of person. With thigh highs that are actually thigh-high on thick and long legs (and large feet), we stan an accessible brand. And yes, they do carry those socks you’ve seen on Reddit. In multiple colors.
Sonny’s House of Tattoos and Treasures is a vortex of wonder situated on busy Northeast Sandy Boulevard. Get a mysterious and flattering fine-line tattoo from resident tattooist Lemon. Buy queer art in the form of comics, zines, prints, glass art, punch needle, fairy hats and more. They also host regular events, like a monthly fat clothing swap run by local queer influencer couple Phoebe and Morgan.
One of the few galleries in the world dedicated to the works of queer and transgender Black and Brown folks, Ori Gallery stands proud on Mississippi Avenue, its small size contrasting its cultural importance. In addition to rotating exhibitions from the community, Ori teaches art and activism workshops, hosts fundraisers for Black and transgender causes, and advocates for the community at every turn, like their ongoing work with Black and trans community members to decolonize medicine. A trip to Portland is not complete without taking in this space, absorbing the messages from artists, and supporting the vision for more QTBIPOC art in the world.
A vibey, witchy, great-smelling spot for the arcane auntie in us all, Queen Meb offers helpful staff and unique, frequently locally-made products that will keep you hanging out for far longer than you planned. Adopt a new crystal friend and buy a pillow that wards off the evil eye. Get a labradorite ring to protect your peace when you head back home or take in a reading and some sound healing. The shop has a welcoming atmosphere, and staff are friendly and happy to answer questions. Check the schedule for classes while you’re in town.
Rooster Rock State Park
One of the Portland region’s clothing-optional beaches, the vibe at Rooster Rock State Park is usually laid-back. The general feeling about trans people in the Portland naturalist community is that everyone is welcome and it’s rude to stare. Most people will keep to themselves. While the area near the parking lot can get crowded, there is plenty of space to hike, frolic and have privacy.
From Portland, getting to the beach is fairly straightforward; take Highway 84 East and exit at Rooster Rock, then follow the offramp directly into the parking lot, where you’ll need to purchase a day pass. If you’d like to stay clothed, head west (left, if you’re facing the river). If you would like to be nude, park at the east side of the lot, walk behind the restrooms and head toward the river following the sand east (right, if you’re facing the river). Large brown signs indicate when you’re in the clothing-optional section. The area closer to the parking lot is fairly easy to get to, depending on the water level, and is usually considered to be for mixed-gender orientations and family groups. The farther east you go, the more difficult the trails become and the more isolated it feels.
For folks who are new to the outdoors, identify as BIPOC, or are part of the LGBTQ2S+ community, Wild Diversity is the perfect group for local Portland excursions. Using outdoor adventures, education and community workshops, Wild Diversity works to demystify the outdoors and create genuine connections to nature. Their community-centered approach also includes sliding-scale payments for their guided multi-day trips, allowing participants to enjoy the outdoors regardless of their ability to contribute financially. Their blog also offers advice on caring for yourself while adventuring, like wearing binders outdoors or managing curly hair out in the wild.
While not exclusively trans or queer, any non-rainy day in Laurelhurst Park will have a rainbow selection of different genders and expressions on display lounging on the expansive lawns, strolling along the lake, or using any one of the many sports courts.
Trans-Friendly Places in Portland
Trans-Friendly Events in Portland
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