Last year, with the love and support of my colleagues at Third Act, I changed my pronouns on my email signature. Then in January, I braved the lines at the Nevada DMV and changed my gender marker from male to X. At 62 years old, it was one of the most life-affirming steps I’ve ever taken. I continue to feel a sense of lightness, when I hear myself referred to as B or “they” by someone, especially for the first time.

B and Monique. Reno Pride, 2022.

But I have to admit, it has been hard for me to talk to other older people about being trans/nonbinary. The language and terms are somewhat new and always evolving, which is daunting for us oldsters. I keep handy and share resources to help people understand the
basics of trans/nonbinary identity and how to support your queer/trans/nonbinary loved ones.

As my friend and mentor George Goehl wrote recently, while we organizers must meet people where they’re at, we also need to remember that it’s a starting point, not an end. While we must never shame anyone for inadvertently saying the wrong thing or using incorrect pronouns, if my six-year-old grandson gets it, why can’t we Boomers?

And though I am far more comfortable expressing myself and embracing a nonbinary, queer identity today (thanks to the young ’uns), my gender journey is still very much in progress. Until just a few years ago, my thinking about gender and sexuality was centered on being gay and male.

In 1988, just after coming out, I mustered enough courage to go to my first Pride event. It took place in an obscure park along the Truckee River just a stone’s throw from where I’ve been living for more than 60 years.

When I say I mustered courage, let me set the scene for you: local officials and townspeople were getting news coverage for successfully chasing out the Reno Gay Rodeo. A county sheriff even threatened to arrest anyone attending the Gay Rodeo for “being a homosexual” and violating Nevada’s sodomy law. Wondering why they had to greenlight another gay pride event at all, the (democratic) mayor said, “the council and I have never condoned the gay pride festival or that lifestyle, but the law says there must be tolerance.”

Whether straight or gay, fitting into maleness was the dominant priority my whole life. Growing up camping, hunting, fishing, spending summers on our family’s working cattle ranch, drinking Coors from age 13––it came easy.

B with their brother and father. Smoke Creek Desert, 1982.

When I was seven, as my dad was leaving for his first ‘tour’ of Vietnam, he got down on one knee to look me straight in the eye. He said “Bobby, you’re the man of the house.” I had no idea what he meant and although we were close, we never had a conversation about it again.

Jake, Dad, Cathay, and B. Ft. Leonard Wood, MO, 1965.

I was ridiculed quite a bit in sixth grade as a “fem,” mostly for wearing my favorite embroidered flowery shirts; because I was so bad at sports (dyslexia); and because I sang in the Sierra Boys Choir. I joined Pop Warner football in 7th grade, and still hear the refrain, “Fulkerson, you pussy!” for not hitting hard enough.

B as an Eagle Scout (1976) & for Pop Warner Football (1972).

Later on, my mom got me some dumbbells and while I kicked ass as a Freshman offensive guard and defensive tackle, I remember being relieved when a knee injury took me out for the season and I could focus on theater instead.

I was also active in the Boy Scouts, where Lord Baden Powell’s legacy of masculinity-as-morality only grew stronger. Thanks to my parents and scout leaders who cared, I made it to Eagle in a relatively short time, hoping to be “the best little boy in the world,” (to steal a phrase from a book by Andrew Tobias of the same title.)Whether it was acting straight or “being a man,” my aim was to be the person others wanted me to be. To my everlasting shame, I learned to join in the laughter at the effeminate boys and the “ugly” girls. Much like later on, as a liberated gay man, I’d snicker when people used “they/them,” pronouns, asking if there were more than one and saying as that, as an English major, such pronouns made no grammatical sense. Turns out I was wrong about that, too.

At George Washington University, I joined a southern fraternity and became immensely popular as a whisky-drinking, Laxalt/Reagan loving “Nevahda Bob,” conforming with ease to rigid, straight, western manliness. When I shook hands with someone in the Capitol on my first week as an intern with Senator Paul Laxalt, I’ll never forget him complimenting my “working man’s hands.” I didn’t tell him my callouses were from working out, not working.

Staff of Senator Paul Laxalt, with Sen. Strom Thurman and Ronald Reagan, 1979. B is to the right in the back row by the Nevada flag.

I gave up trying to be straight and shot out of the closet after a long drive home from Idaho on October 11, 1987, coincidentally the same day as the March on Washington. It was either steer the truck into the Owyhee River canyon, or tell my friends and family the truth I’d been running from.

My friend and Third Act advisor Rebeca Solnit, whom our founder Bill McKibben calls “the greatest essayist writing today in the English language,” has written her whole career about her hope and change coming from the margins:

“One of the joys of being a tortoise is watching the slow journey of ideas from the margins to the center, seeing what is invisible, then deemed impossible, become widely accepted.”

Over the pandemic––nearly three decades since I’d first come out––I was forced to retreat inward to my own tortoise shell. I took long walks along our gorgeous Truckee River, reflecting daily on my own existential existence along with that of all of humanity. I realized I was living in someone else’s imagination, a stifling binary framework in which I only had two gender choices: be a man or be a woman.

I remembered the words of my Rockwood sister adrienne maree brown:  “I often feel I am trapped inside someone else’s capability. I often feel I am trapped inside someone else’s imagination, and I must engage my own imagination in order to break free.”

I consumed all the media I could find about gender analysis, from Alok Vaid-Melon (nephew of my dear friend and mentor, the late Urvashi Vaid, my first teacher on queer organizing and intersectionality), and listening to new podcasts like Gender Reveal. I discovered Jewish trans icon Ezra Furman and devoured her lyrics and music, holding on to her life-saving wisdom that I can learn to trust myself so much that I am willing/able to assert independence from the entire unsatisfactory framework I’ve inherited.

I started seeing a gender coach and joined a trans support group. I slowly came out as trans/nonbinary to my coworkers, my family, and close friends.

As Third Actors, we come to this work with a life’s worth of experience; we see through the long lens of our personal and collective evolution.

The right is using trans issues as a central organizing theme to build power, divide America, and destroy democracy, by once again instilling fear that gays/trans are hurting our children just as Anita Bryant did on her Orange Juice crusade 50 years ago.

We’re living in a paradigm, not of our own making, that we bolster by our participation. Trans and nonbinary people have been gaslit into believing our experience is not real by the political debates over whether we deserve access to healthcare, bathrooms, sports teams, affirming queer education, or personal preferred pronouns, and we are losing our minds trying to combat the misinformation that puts our community in harm’s way. When we trust the prompts that come from our deepest selves, more than what is being fed by a machine whose sole purpose is to stay in power,  it becomes easier to see other truths: that we are all just human beings trying to laugh, love, and become ourselves whilst trying to mitigate the amount of pain, suffering, and heartache experienced on this burning world.

Whether that is because of late governmental intervention during the AIDS epidemic, rampant homophobia and transphobia, the lack of resources and protected spaces/communities for queer and trans people, or something else, many of us don’t make it to our third act. Today, 40% of all homeless youth are LGBTQIA+ and 45% of trans and nonbinary youth have considered suicide in the last year. So when we talk about pride, it is important to note that the first pride was a riot, not a parade, that birthed the Queer Liberation Movement.

Thanks to a growing community, some survive and question what we can do if we come together to create a safer world, despite what is going around us. We build new muscles of wonder, resistance and possibility. After all, those who automatically fit into society do not have to care whether it works for others or not. But it’d be so much easier if they did, and helped find ways to support a solution.

Yesterday on my ritual morning walk, I counted four pride flags, trans and nonbinary inclusive, in my Reno neighborhood––ok, one of them was ours, but still!

Thirty five years ago, the possibility of outward, visible, community love for queers was simply not in my field of imagination. I didn’t dare to dream that I’d ever meet and marry the man I loved, be with him for 16 years, and become gay grandparents together. And I’m also pretty sure nobody was thinking 30 years ago that in 2023, Nevada would be the first state in the US to protect both marriage equality and trans/nonbinary rights in our state constitution.

B and their partner Mike. Carson River, 2019.

At Third Act, our motto is No Time to Waste. As one of our precious members from Texas said, “we just want to go out right.” Working here for two years this August has given me entirely new perspectives on organizing and on life itself. We’re creating a new pond as our Lead Advisor, Akaya Windwood likes to say, “where the waters are healing”.

I hope you’ll jump in.


B Fulkerson

B Fulkerson

B Fulkerson is the Lead National Organizer for Third Act. A fifth-generation Nevadan, B is an Army Brat whose mother protested the Vietnam war, which left their father 100 percent disabled. At 85, she still helps to bail B out of jail when they get into good trouble. Their first act was serving as executive director of Citizen Alert, Nevada’s first statewide watchdog organization, raising a daughter, and coming out. Their second act was marrying their husband from rural Nevada, co-founding the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, and serving as Executive Director for a quarter century. Their third act is helping raise two grandkids and doing everything in their power to ensure the children have a shot at a livable planet.