GALESBURG — The difference between the other women featured in the local paper and Christina King is that she had to fight for her right to be considered a woman, and can still be mistaken after years and years of transition.
King is a transgender woman, meaning she was assigned male at birth, but realized around the age of 5 that she was trapped in a man’s body. Between begging to play the mom while playing house with other children and her dreams of having her own kids, she knew early on that there was a long road ahead.
Growing up in a conservative faith and a Southern family proved difficult for King’s identity. With fluctuating support from her family members, she learned that she was going to have to be a fighter. Yet she didn’t let people get in her way of living the life she had always wanted.
“I think everywhere you go you are going to have people that are snotty and nasty, and I think it’s important to just live your life,” King said. “I am happier now than I have been ever before in my life.”
In the past couple of years, King has been working to grow a supportive community in the Galesburg area. Her big accomplishment is a group called Safe Space that allows people within the LGBTQ+ community to come together and converse. The goal is to talk about everything from spirituality to experiences as a queer person in rural America.
“Especially in the LGBTQ+ community, so many of us have been hurt by religion. I would say, being generous, 75% of the community has been hurt, and that’s the firsthand hurt,” King said. “We wanted to create a space where people can be themselves and also maybe find some sort of spirituality. We don’t even push spirituality … we talk about spirituality, but we talk about everything.”
King and her pastor at First Lutheran Church began this group after the presidential election in 2016. Since then, it has been running every Friday night at 7 p.m. in the church basement. For King, this was a way for her to heal after being hurt by religion herself, and also to help other members of the queer community find healing.
“I grew up in a very conservative faith and was hurt by religion. I didn’t have faith for five years or more, and that was part of why we came up with this group,” King said. “I needed that faith back, personally. I know that’s not everyone’s journey, but I needed something there.”
Since forming this group, members of the LGBTQ+ community in the Galesburg area have been able to come together even if they are not openly queer to the world. Seeing the change she has been able to make, she wasn’t just going to stop with this group. In 2018, King formed the first-ever Galesburg Pride Picnic during Pride Month in June.
“I was thinking one day, we have the community here, why don’t we have one?” she said. “I know a lot of people in the community, whether they are out or in the closet … and I was sitting down one day and was like counting people … and I’m like, why don’t we have a pride event, even something small for us to get together. We needed some sort of community here.”
In a matter of four weeks, King whipped together a community picnic to gather friends in the community. With hopes of at most 50 people to attend, King was surprised by the overwhelming turnout. Roughly 150 to 200 people attended year one, and it only grew larger this past June for the second annual event.
“My goal with activism is always to make my community better and how can I help facilitate that,” she said. “How can I help make an even stronger community with more diversity, more inclusion, and what does that look like?”
King also volunteers her time with New Partners for Smart Growth in St. Louis (presenter); the Galesburg Community Relations Commission (current chairperson); Central Illinois Friends (volunteer STD and STI test counselor); Family Planning Service of Western Illinois (current board member); Knox County Community Health Center (current governance board member); Galesburg Community Chorus (board treasurer for six years); First Lutheran Church, Galesburg (church council, financial oversight); Galesburg On Track, a Heart & Soul community (representative); Prairie Players Theatre (volunteer); Performing Arts Academy (volunteer); Galesburg PFLAG (treasurer); and a member of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Taskforce for the Northern Illinois Synod of the ELCA.
As a black transgender woman, searching for jobs can be lethal, but King hasn’t let roadblocks get in the way of her aspirations. In 2017, she was the first trans woman to run for alderman in Galesburg, and she hopes to run again in the future.
“In life we have strikes. When I walk into a room, for some people I already have multiple strikes. There are multiple things that people have already judged me on: I’m black, I’m a woman and I’m trans,” King said.
When she first decided it was time to transition from a man to a woman, she knew there was a possibility that she could lose her job, and, trembling, she went to talk to her boss about the future.
“I talked to my boss at the time and said this is what I’m doing… I want to talk to you because I work for your business, obviously, there will be questions. Things are going to be asked, things are going to be said, I don’t know if you are comfortable with me transitioning here. If not, I understand and I can look for other employment,” King said.
Thankfully the job at the time was accepting and excited for King, but that never stopped questions of her transition.
“Trans people have been around forever. People are always like, oh this is a new thing and it’s just exploding. Well, no, we’ve been here for years, y’all just chose to ignore us,” King said.
Today, King is a full-time professional dog groomer who has also been trained as a veterinary technician, pet adoption coordinator, animal rescuer, and served as an animal control officer for City of Galesburg.
As she grows older, King has learned to love herself in ways that she never thought possible, throwing her energy into being the best woman she could possibly be.
Most recently, she has been crowned Miss Trans Illinois, and will compete on a national stage Sept. 21 in the Mr. & Miss Trans USA National Pageant in Milwaukee.
“We should all push to love ourselves, and that’s hard work,” King said. “It’s OK that it’s hard work. When you get to that point, it’s very rewarding.”