Queer Heroes NW 2021:
Harry Allen

There’s always a problem with labeling somebody with a word that didn’t exist when they were alive. “Transgender” didn’t start appearing in popular usage until the 1970s.

Before that time, many people we would call “transgender” – in the American West at least – lived quiet lives until they died and were outed by the undertaker.

But what about Harry Allen?

From 1900 until about 1922, Harry Allen, aka Harry Livingston, was one of the most notorious men in the Pacific Northwest. He worked at rough jobs: farmhand, longshoreman, bronco-buster, professional boxer. He occasionally made his living at petty crime – petty theft and bootlegging are mentioned specifically – and he did jail time for bar fights and the catch-all charge of vagrancy. He seemed to have known a little about organized crime and sex work, and he was notorious for seducing pretty girls.

It was never a secret that Harry was assigned female at birth. Born into poverty, he needed to help support his family as a child, and boys always got the better jobs. He adopted male clothing at a young age.

When the press learned the truth about this “most handsome boy,” Harry became a phenomenon, under his own name and also the name he was given at birth: Nell Pickerell. Harry is quoted frequently in news articles that ran under headlines such as “ . . . Acts, Talks and Dresses Like a Man, and says She Ought to Have Been One,” in papers as far away as Boston.

Harry Allen lived a tough life, and he died in 1922 at the age of 40, of syphilitic meningitis. We honor him for staying true to himself.




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