CSUN student, Veteran transforms perceptions

U.S. flags decorate Saluda Shoals Park in Columbia, S.C., on Friday, July 4, 2014. (Tracy Glantz/The State/MCT)

Veterans have served and protected this country and many American’s are thankful for their service.

Liam Lipham, a three-year Navy Veteran, didn’t just retire from the military four years ago and move on with his life – he changed it.

At first glance, Lipham is your typical college student. On paper, Lipham’s story doesn’t appear any different than that of a veteran, however, Lipham didn’t serve in the Navy as Liam Lipham. He didn’t even serve as a male.

Liam Lipham is a CSUN student that said he was a boy trapped inside a girl’s body since a young age in August 2015. Photo credit: Alyson Burton
Liam Lipham is a CSUN student that said he was a boy trapped inside a girl’s body since a young age in August 2015. Photo credit: Alyson Burton

Lipham was originally born in the small town of Saint Joseph, Mo., as Paige Lipham and is an American transgender going into the process of fully changing himself to a male.

Lipham said he came out as transgender one year ago, but felt he was a boy trapped inside a girl’s body since a young age.

Lipham’s family expected his coming out announcement for many years. But being from a small town in northwestern Missouri, most of the residents were new to the concept of different orientations.

“If two guys walked down the street holding hands, they’d get beat up, whereas here [Los Angeles] it’s the norm,” Lipham said.

Lipham added that his family had watched him always playing with boys and never with girls in his family. To them it was just a matter of time before he came out.

While some were skeptical and nervous for his sake, Lipham’s family was supportive of their relative’s decision to come out as lesbian, then as transgender, Lipham said. Others in his hometown, however, were not so receptive.

Lipham plans to return home for the first time since last Christmas.

“I am going to go back,” Lipham said. “I just don’t know how it’s going to be. When I came out as gay, it was a big, big ordeal.”

Lipham first left home at age 18 to enlist in the Navy, where he remained for three years, serving in combat units in Afghanistan and in Kuwait.

When Lipham enlisted in 2008, the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was in full effect, in which gay, lesbian and bisexual service members weren’t able to serve openly.

“I actually had to sign paperwork stating that I wasn’t gay to get in,” Lipham said. “So I signed it, of course.”

Since then, the policy has been lifted through actions of Pres. Obama, Congress, and the Department of Defense back in 2011.

When Lipham left the Navy, he attended school in Missouri before moving to California and enrolling at CSUN.

Lipham decided to pursue a degree in public health with the ambition to work for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

His time in the Middle East cultivated a desire to help others in third world countries.

“When I was in [the Middle East], I saw very crazy income disparities,” Lipham said. “There’s super, super fancy houses right next to shacks.”

This contrasted from the small town America lifestyle that Lipham grew up in.

“That really opened my eyes to a lot of different things and made me want to know more about different cultures and different places,” Lipham said.

This lead to his desire to see the world through his work, Lipham said.

With the problems facing third world countries putting a hold until graduation, Lipham continues to struggle with the challenges of being a transitioning transgender individual.

“I would say the hardest part, right now, for me is definitely bathroom usage,” Lipham said. “Most venues throughout the country have bathrooms for males only and females only.”

Lipham dresses and appears masculine, many women would confuse his gender and become defensive, Lipham said. This struggle is not his only one.

“I would go into the female bathroom and I’ve gotten yelled at,” Lipham said. “It’s very sad for [other transgenders] because that’s what they’re always going to have – people yelling at them.”

Lipham said he finds joy returning home to Beverly Craig, his girlfriend of two years.

Lipham and Craig began as a lesbian couple, but are now redefining the label of the relationship – labels that Craig feels are irrelevant in their personal situation.

She said the two balance each other out. They have a support system that has sustained them through the struggles of being in a non-conventional couple.

“I just realized that these labels are just for society,” said Craig. “For lack of a better word, he’s my soul mate.”

While enduring the struggles of being a transgender in the world today, Lipham enjoys giving back to others who struggle with their identity or going through the transition process.

Lipham, has been contacted by several CSUN students asking for advice about their own situations. He says more research is a big factor.

“Talk to people who are already going through the transition or who have transi-tioned,” Lipham said. “It helped me.”

Lipham’s acts have not gone unnoticed by the LGBTQ community in the greater L.A. area.

Gina Ali, a CSUN religious studies senior and community activist, said it takes of bravery to come out within the community.

“I really applaud him,” Ali said.

Lipham also added he would like to see more assistance from schools for students transitioning genders.

“It would help at schools in general if there were some kind of transgender services or something to help you out,” Ali said.

Last semester, Lipham went by his original name of Paige. In the process of having his name legally changed, he will be known as Liam next semester, but not on the attendance sheet.

“I don’t know if I should make an announcement at the beginning of class or what,” said Lipham.

While the road ahead may be a tough one, Lipham maintains his warrior mentality and doesn’t give up.