Alexa Ryan has been fascinated with the transformative power of fashion and hairstyling since she was young.
“I was a huge fan of the fashion industry, so that jump started everything,” said Ryan. “The more time I spent around it, the more I started to see that I liked the hair and makeup that goes into it. I really enjoy seeing how they bring out those ball-model qualities just by simply cutting hair. I always thought that was so cool, so I decided to try it out.”
After graduating from Highland High School, she enrolled in the Creative Hairstyling Academy (now Tricoci University of Beauty Culture) to learn to use hair and makeup to help people transform themselves. She’s been working as a barber and stylist for over a decade now and is currently at McFly’s Gentlemen Shop in Crown Point. Ryan feels incredibly lucky for the client base she’s developed over the years.
“I call so many of my clients my favorites,” she said. “The second that they're out of the room, I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, it's so cool that I just had one of my favorites,’ and occasionally people will call me out and be like, ‘You say that for almost all of your clients.’ It's truly how I feel though. It's been fantastic to meet so many people.”
In September of 2021, Ryan began transitioning. Her experience has thankfully been easy, and she attributes part of that ease to her work with LGBTQ+ Outreach of Porter County, a Valparaiso-based organization dedicated to creating an affirming community for LGBTQ+ youth and adults in Porter County through a combination of advocacy, empowerment, opportunity, and support.
“I went to one of their events where a transgender woman was speaking, and I got so inspired,” Ryan said. “I was lucky enough to have one of the members of the board come talk to me afterwards, and then I was going to literally every event that they were throwing for the most part.”
At first, Ryan was simply seeking people in Porter County who she could relate to as a trans woman, but as she became more involved with LGBTQ+ Outreach, she realized that she could help other people along the way.
“It was to find people who are similar to me in the community at first, and as soon as I started, it clicked to me that I can help out people that maybe weren't as lucky or privileged to be in the same position as me,” Ryan said. “My transition has been fairly easy on me for the most part, even with the painful stuff that I’ve been through. It was really cool to me that I could go and help people avoid some of those painful situations, or at least help them navigate them. A lot of us have parallels where we know what it's like to lose family members and stuff like that just for being who we are.”
Ryan began working more closely with LGBTQ+ Outreach in March. The work she does for the organization is varied, but she likes to focus on education and working with partner organizations.
“I'm starting to do work a bit more with organizations where I help however I'm needed. I facilitate and get the curriculum ready for educational speaking events, diversity training, and those sorts of things,” Ryan said.
Her attempts to educate others about LGBTQ+ issues extends beyond her outreach work. She tries to help people at work, or whenever she happens to hear something incorrect while going about her daily life.
“It's very important to me that I am out there educating people as much as I possibly can,” said Ryan. “Sometimes, yes, some people are just downright hateful, and they want to be that way, but a lot of it is battling misinformation, especially in more recent years. It's always a two way street–as long as the person is open to new information, then it's pretty easy to educate.”
Ryan acknowledges that some of the ease she has in educating others is due to privileges she has in her life. It is also in acknowledgement of these privileges that she does what she can to educate others.
“That's all the more reason that I have to do as much as I can to educate, to help as much as I can for all members of my community, not just the ones who look like me.”
Ryan has been excited to watch as her work styling hair and her outreach work collide.
“Once other people who are LGBTQIA+ find out that there's a trans woman that cuts hair, then it's like, ‘Oh cool. There's a there's a safe place for me to go.’”
Outside of her work with her clients at McFly’s and LGBTQ+ Outreach, Ryan likes to relax with horror movie marathons and sessions on the drum set. She wants others in the LGBTQ+ community to know that everyone’s journey is different and that no one should compare theirs to another’s.
“Don’t judge yourself based on somebody else's results or their timeline. Try not to look at other trans people or other non-binary people who have had any sort of medical transition and think, ‘I wish I was them.’ Just pay attention to getting the results that make you the happiest and run your own race. You'll be perfectly fine.”
For more information about LGBTQ+ Outreach of Porter County, visit their website at lgbtqofpc.org