KIKI

Cambridge, MA

What are your pronouns?

She/her, they/them.

Where do you work?

At the Institute of Contemporary Art.

Do you have any hobbies or special interests?

Walking and exercising. I love vigorous physical activity.

What do you do for fun?

I’m a homebody too, I sit at home a lot and read and try and make things. A friend gave me a ukulele recently and I’ve been learning how to play chords on [that]. I’m an ex noise musician, so that’s kind of fun to learn how to play something. I had a rehearsal space, and I would invite people over. Didn’t matter what skills they had with musical instruments. None of the musical instruments could really be tuned well, and it was just: everyone can make music, let’s go, do it. So yeah. Made lots of tapes. [laughs] I don’t do it anymore. I haven’t made anything in years.

How do you handle the issue of pronouns and being gendered when interacting with strangers / mixed company / etc?

I often don’t say anything. …I got hit by a car three weeks ago. That was sad, that was awful. I’m okay. A little bruise on my leg, and it doesn’t seem like there’s any horrible consequences. It was in heavy traffic but everyone was moving slow, so I stayed on my bike but pinched between two cars. But in that situation, in rush hour traffic, there’s all these people, two drivers, and all these cops, and ambulance people. There’s gendering going on, back and forth. One cop even called me “he,” then apologized, and then said “she,” then apologized, and that’s how it went until people were just referring to me as, “this individual,” “this person.”

That’s where it usually settles. If someone consistently calls me “he,” that’s the only grinding spot for me. I’ll just tell them now, I’ll say, “I don’t appreciate that, could you stop?” I don’t really have a specific preference, that’s why it’s “she/her” and “they/them.” I kind of prefer none sometimes. Don’t give me any honorifics, I don’t want to be “ma’am”ed or “sir”ed. They’re both pretty awful. It creates hierarchy. I don’t like it. Some people [will just say the person’s name every time instead]. I have co-workers who I didn’t realize didn’t actually gender me much before, and I used to present very masculine in an attempt to not be trans.

One of the reasons I’m pretty forgiving of other people is because I know that language is difficult to change. I’ve spent years getting rid of the word “guys” when referencing anything but a group of male-identified people.

What word(s) would you use to describe your identity?

Well, I guess it started with tomboy, because that’s the first word I ever associated with since I was a little kid. That’s the first one that made any sense. I guess I’ll do a list: agender, bigender, butch, femme, transwoman – because that’s the important one – and enby [for non-binary]. I love that word.

Are there ways that you dress / act / speak / etc. to specifically make a statement to others about your identity? Why?

Yes. Kind of deliberately, I mix signals to make sure people can’t figure me out. That’s how I know that things are going well, when I don’t get gendered at all in public. That’s the most frequent, when I overhear cis men walking by going, “No actually I’m not sure.” I hear that a lot, the “not sure” when people walk past me, and it’s like, everything’s good. So it’s lots of the masculine end of female clothes, some male stuff mixed in, little small things like socks or belts, those kinds of things. I don’t wear any makeup. I do shave, but I stopped electrolysis. It got to a point where I was just comfortable with it, and I liked the connection to my father. But again, my body hair is really subtle, but I’ve been growing that out. The way I speak – I have not really tried to alter my voice at all, it’s about the same pitch I’ve always spoken at. I used to be really dysphoric about my voice; when I started being mistaken for a cis woman early into medical transition, I found it aggravating. And I realized as soon as I spoke, that changed the game. That was one of the first clues. So the voice became a big one.

How early on did you know or suspect that you did not identify within the binary?

I didn’t really understand it when I was a kid, at all. And I still kind of don’t. Maybe it goes back to when I was 5 and I heard the word “tomboy” at my friend’s house when her mom was referencing her, and I was like, “That’s who I am.” That was my first identification. I could always tell I wasn’t a girl, I wasn’t a boy, I was somewhere in-between. I kind of leaned more towards the girls but I wanted to go do boy things. It’s kind of hard to pin down when I first figured it out. It was one of the troubles as a teenager; when I knew I was trans, I knew the word, but every example of trans women I saw was extremely feminine. I wouldn’t be able to handle that. That would make me uncomfortable. Beginning transition is what cemented my awareness of being non binary. It is what finally gave me the language to describe myself.

Do you think anything about the way you were raised or where you grew up affected how you drew conclusions about your identity?

If anything, it maybe made me question more. Maybe too much. I would sit around and really go over and over and over things, and that can create a lot of doubt sometimes. Curiosity can help you gain knowledge, but it can create a lot of doubt if it starts to turn on you and it has other negative feelings attached to it. That might be the only way my upbringing had any negative impact. The positive impact is the same thing. It’s that churning of self-examination that my parents taught me, to go out and educate myself and really be certain of things. The independence they fostered, too. I was always an independent kid, but they saw that and encouraged it. I had very supportive parents in that way. If I had come out back then, I realize now that they, at least, would have been right behind me.

A lot of internalized guilt [prevented me from coming out sooner]. There was some worry about upsetting my family. My grandfather was not cool with LGBT people, and I was like, “All right, if he hates gay people, he’s going to really hate this.” Also the town I grew up in was just awful. It was the 1990s and, you know, that was no good. And then in my 20s, I became an alcoholic. So, I forgot everything. I deliberately went into the closet in my late teens. That fun story.

Can you give any examples of misconceptions people have about those who identify outside the binary? Have you personally dealt with them?

I haven’t dealt with any specific misconceptions. People don’t seem to be able to conceive of it, period. There seems to be a blanket “I don’t understand.” Even some people who are super supportive of my transition, they don’t know how to even use other pronouns. It is so one or the other. The misconception seems to be that there isn’t anything besides male or female. It’s that simple, that base. Even though there clearly is, because people see people all the time. I mean, it was one of the reasons it was so hard to come out, there were no words for me to say, “I don’t really feel like one or the other.” I remember when the Internet first came into being, when I was a teenager in the 90s. I was like, there’s these things called search engines, you can ask them questions. So I went and typed in, “I feel like a boygirl.” That was the first question I gave it. It did not give me a helpful answer back. I won’t say the word that it gave back, but it gave back pornography.

In your own words, how would you explain that gender identity is different from sexual orientation?

Because in the process of getting to where I am now, the first thing I had to deal with was sexual orientation.

It came right after quitting alcohol, which happened about 5 years ago. And a year or so after that happened, I got to a place where I was able to say, “I’m asexual. I’m not actually interested in this game.” And once I had sexuality still not complete, maybe, but in a definite box, I was able to focus on gender. I was able to recognize what was beyond that, and that it wasn’t any of the sexuality that other people had put onto me. When I was free from those presumptions, I could move on and reach gender. That’s the way I would describe it. if you can’t get one, you can’t get the other. They’re connected, but they’re totally separate. It’s finding that division.

 

How do you feel represented in media and society at large?

I don’t. [laughs] I mean, there are people who don’t necessarily identify as non-binary, but who identify to such an extent that they do draw the attention and maybe have some of the experiences – because there’s no looking non-binary, but there is confusing people’s sense of what is appropriately male and female. And so I think there are people who don’t identify that way, and people who don’t necessarily identify as gender-variant who are. Right down to women with pants and men with long hair.

 

I don’t think [the media] really knows. They’re starting to figure out, like I’ve seen MTV is actually doing a lot. I watch YouTube a lot when I’m not reading, and I don’t watch the videos because they’re clearly marketed towards teenagers, but… Kat Blaque is involved with them, and Everyday Feminism too. I believe she is binary but she has been known to bring enby folk on camera with her. There is Jacob Tobia too. They have a thing on NBC online, a web thing, that’s actually really cool.

What improvements would you like to see happen inside your communities and in society at large?

I’d like to see less putting any limits on other people’s identities and trying to define how other people are. It’s not just binary people that put that on non-binary people. I’ve come across it in some Facebook groups and online groups where there’s lots of almost shaming of anyone who goes through medical transitions. You don’t get to say what makes me feel more comfortable or what my relationship to my body is. That’s not for you. I’ve come across that a couple times where it’s like, “Can’t you just be yourself without changing?” Well you don’t know what physical dysphoria’s like. It’s miserable. That’s just as bad as the people who are like, “You have to get all of these surgeries, and all of these hormones, otherwise you’re not a real trans person and you’re just faking it.” There’s extremes of both sides. For me, it’s not an ideology. This is about me curing my dysphoria. That’s it. And figuring out where I am in the world, finally. It’s literally a second puberty, it is not about anybody else. It’s finishing the other half of puberty that I didn’t do last time.

Could you tell me about an experience or moment in your life that was very impactful for you? It can be in regards to your identity, or not.

The big one is five years ago. The specific event that led me to where I am now, which is the one that led me toward sobriety. I had just had a really horrible, suicidal, drunken winter and was almost being kicked out of my house. I went to see a friend’s band play, head-butted the message boards; I had a gash in my forehead, got really really drunk, did things that I would never do, and tried to get arrested but failed. When I woke up that next afternoon and walked into my bathroom and looked in the mirror – which was something I did not do at that time – I just broke into tears because I was finally able to accept that I did not know who I was and I definitely did not like who I was. And it was unexpected, the wall of denial just collapsed right there. That was the moment that set me forward like, I don’t know what’s in front of me, but what has been behind, it didn’t work, being this person didn’t work. So what’s the first step? Stop drinking alcohol.

Could you give me an example of something difficult that occurred in your life how you dealt with it? It can be in regards to your identity, or not.

Transitioned. Going through medical transition in front of the world. That was a fucking crucible.

I mean, without anybody around me, I don’t think I could’ve done it without any support whatsoever. But learning what I did about myself in the first year of transition, and about the world, and about the people around me; that’s not information you can get any other way. It’s the most valuable thing I’ve ever come across. Getting to do this at my age and really examine oneself. It’s so beneficial but so, so hard. I did lose friends. I did turn up my whole life and caused a lot of jaws to drop. People did not see it coming. I had been pretty good at hiding myself for 20-something years. And it’s such a freeing experience, after four years of really hard work to try to get sober and get healthy, to finally be in this place where I can do this necessary thing that I may not have been ready to do at any other time in my life.

Who in your life do you feel you can trust or depend on?

I have five people, maybe. Close to five or six. My parents, and a few friends that I can really rely on.

How has your identity played a role in your relationships, romantic or otherwise?

I identify as an aromantic, and I’m not really sure where my sexuality is anymore. I’ve started dating for the first time in six years, something I didn’t see coming, and it’s with another non-binary person. It’s a really transformative experience, being in an intimate space where the roles just kind of switch back and forth and disappear. It’s one of the places where I can be the most myself, and that’s something I didn’t see coming. And with the rest of the world, with friendships, because for me friendship is really huge. It’s almost like parents and family and people you date. I don’t even like “people you date” – it’s like, there’s just different levels of friendship. So being an aromantic, non-binary person – it makes it easier for me to go to different friends and enjoy different things about them. Like tonight I’m spending time with my cis hetero tomboy-ish female friend, and the next night I’m gonna go and hang out with a fairly masculine cis dude. And then I’m gonna go hang out with my parents, and then I’m gonna go hang out with non-binary people. It feels like it’s easier for me and it’s more comfortable for me, to have friends from all over the spectrum.

Are you able to find adequate medical care?

Yes. A little trouble with bureaucracy sometimes. Fenway Health is great. I washed up on their shores February 2015 when I decided to medically transition. Their patient advocate was the first person I ever spoke to about being gender variant in any way. They have a free thing on Wednesday nights from 5 – 7 PM I think, where you can walk in and say, “I need help, I’m trans, and I don’t know what to do, but I think I might need to transition. I need help.” And they can connect you to those support groups if you don’t have access to that; they can also help you take medical or therapeutic steps too. I’ve been moving towards some bottom surgery, and I’ve got the surgeon, but they want a weird letter, so now I have to get another therapy letter. That’s turned into a whole ordeal where I had to make an appointment with somebody who told me to make an appointment with this person, who said, You’re going to get a phone call from someone in two weeks to make an appointment for meeting with someone else. [laughs] So that definitely happens. It’s hard. I’ve done all those requirements, a year of “living full-time,” whatever that means, and a year of HRT. You can’t have surgery without HRT. I don’t know what you’d have to do to make that happen. And that’s not fair, because HRT’s not for everybody. It’s literally what’s going to fix your dysphoria, there shouldn’t be rules saying your body needs to look like this if you say you’re this. No. No. I’m telling you this one thing hurts my soul, and this other stuff does not. Why do I need to take a medication for a surgery? But I’m not in that group. HRT is great [for me].

How has your view of yourself changed since you were younger?

Way more confident in myself. Yeah. That’s the simple answer.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

I wouldn’t. Because I’m really happy with everything that I’ve gone through in my life, even all the really terrible stuff. I think it was important for me to learn, and it was all worth it. I’m really happy now. I got through it. So it was all worth it. I wouldn’t want to change anything.

What are your concerns for the future?

That things legally and socially speaking won’t keep moving in the direction that they’ve been moving. Because I think things really are getting better. That definitely helped me come out too, was seeing that the world’s opinion was changing. That there was space available to say, Hold on a second. So I guess I worry that that would stop. That somehow something would change that – like say, the wrong Republican candidate getting into whatever office. I won’t even say the name. It’s like Beetlejuice. [laughs]

What do you look forward to in the future?

More inclusion. More nobody turning their heads at somebody going through medical transition and doing double takes. More people just getting to be who they are without being so scrutinized by other people. Just more tolerance in general.

What have been the important frustrations in your life, and the most important successes?

I guess transitioning is the really important frustration slash success. I don’t know, being trans, the whole thing, having to deal with that and figure out what to do about it for so much of my life. Because I did know since I was a little kid, and I have that classic trans history in that way where it’s like, early cross-gender identification and cross-dressing, and all that going on. Whatever cross-dressing really means anymore.

Getting sober is the important success too. I didn’t go completely sober either, I don’t think anyone ever does. But getting off alcohol – that was really hard work. I was a very heavy drinker, and it was to shut my feelings off. Chemical addiction is really hard to get over with, and once you know you can do that, it gives you a lot. It’s something you can always fall back on in the darkest moments. "Well, I quit drinking. When a 6-pack would make me feel okay. That stopped. So, I must be able to do things.” And being able to be open to the process and to learn and to listen to myself.

 

Do you have a philosophy of life? What’s your best piece of advice?

I guess that kind of ties into what I was just saying, definitely try and listen to yourself and trust yourself and be good to other people, as good as you can be, and forgive yourself for the times when you will hurt other people. Because it’s just going to happen. You’re going to make mistakes. And good things will happen. Things you need will be there. Just try and trust that.