Kathy Ottersten is a 53-year-old intersex, gender-nonconforming, pansexual leader from Fairbanks, Alaska, who made history last year as only the second out intersex person to win public office in the United States — and the first ever in Alaska.
Now, Ottersten is living comfortably in Fairbanks with their wife, Adrianne Helskinki, along with “two rescue dogs and a cat who thinks he runs everything.” If their life has become more settled, perhaps they can credit their neighbors and fellow residents who have more important things to worry about. While the election to Fairbanks City Council was a historic event, their constituents barely blinked.
“I spoke in my campaign about substantive issues, I was asked questions about those and other issues, and regardless of media and other appearances, nobody paid any attention to things that really don’t matter,” Ottersten says. “This is a good example of why I love Fairbanks.”
The road to reach this point in life was not as smoothly paved, though. Ottersten was born intersexed but the information was not revealed to their parents, so they them raised as a boy. Ottersten's doctors went so far as to surgically alter Ottersten without the knowledge or consent of the parents, a not-uncommon practice at the time. Only decades later when they began transition did a doctor notice the scars and ask questions.
“Of course, that original violation made a vast difference,” Ottersten explains. “I grew up believing that I was a freak as I knew at an early age that I was not a boy, and trans persons were portrayed in the 70s as mentally unstable.”
Like so many other youth in similar straits, Ottersten became a cutter and entertained serious thoughts about suicide. They went so far as to place a loaded shotgun in their mouth at the age of 22, but at that moment they realized they didn’t want to die. Just as important, Ottersten realized their life and reality were their own, and it was nobody else’s business.
“My reality was mine, it was a valid as anybody else’s, and I have just as much of a right to live as everybody else.”
That epiphany has stayed with them over the years, fueling their activism and rage against injustice, as well as their desire to help and improve the lives of others.
“Every person can be better tomorrow than they are today," Ottersten says.