It’s been two years since I’ve had top surgery as well as a hysterectomy and I finally feel like… myself. I’ve spent the first year recovering from a total of three surgeries and endless questions from people who love and care for me to strangers who just met me, often times when I’ve had my shirt off while getting a tan (which was something I was never able to do before).
What I’m learning as I try to explain or educate others who are interested in learning about the variations of queerness and gender fluidity is that there are many shades of how we identify and how we feel – what we’ve learned to embrace and accept within ourselves and what we can and cannot tolerate any longer.
We are, simply put, a different shade of gay.
Being gender fluid was not something that came easily to me. I spent many years hating the body I was born into and wondering why I was born in the first place. Most of my childhood was spent wishing I was “a boy” and fighting my mother when she would buy me dresses and wanting me to “act like a girl” or do more “girlie” things. I would see boys in my class or on the street and ask, “Why? Why wasn’t I just like them?”
In high school, I excelled in academia and the arts. I made lots of friends and focused on being an overachiever – president of this club and that society – all to cover my own insecurities of how I never felt like I fit in. I even chose not to attend prom because I didn’t want to deal with the pressures of prom and dresses and finding a date. I remember dissing on it and calling it lame because of all the politics and costs, but really [not attending] was because I didn’t really want to force myself to be someone I’m not.
As a college student, I went though a phase where I experimented with clothing. For the first time, I was away from home and felt I had the freedom to do what I wanted. After years of dressing like a “tomboy,” I thought, “Okay, let me try wearing feminine clothing because I choose to, not because I have to.” The result was friends running up to me asking me if I was “in love” or if I “had met a boy.” I felt angry that my process of finding my individuality somehow had to relate back to some influence by the opposite sex. I felt confused as to why one’s fashion and style had to be so boxed in by the gender binary. All the extra attention made me extremely uncomfortable and I realized that it was not the kind of attention I ever wanted. Ultimately, what I realized was that I was putting way too much thought into what other people had to say or feel and I decided I should put more effort into finding who I wanted to be and less on what I thought society thought I should be.
I followed the stereotypical lesbian path and chopped off my hair and started exploring West Hollywood and the “gay scene.” I was very lucky that my close circle of peers never stopped accepting me and even encouraged me to come out and be who I was. In fact, the first time I came out was in front of a restaurant with my friends. We were waiting for a table and my roommate wanted to play truth or dare and his first question was about if I had ever kissed a girl. (Subtle, I know.) At first, I was a bit startled by the question and also incredibly embarrassed. But, the more I tried to open my mouth while no words came out, the more I realized “HERE IS MY CHANCE” and with a smile, I recall saying shyly, “Yes. I have… at a club once.”
To my surprise, I think I heard the whole group of friends sigh a sound of relief and somehow at that moment, so did my heart. I’m one of the lucky ones who didn’t get kicked to the curb by their friends or family for being queer. When I came out to my mom immediately after graduation, her response was compassionate and understanding. Of course she spent the next year or two trying to persuade me to give the “opposite sex” a try because she knew that would be an easier path for me. But, before long, she realized she only wanted me to be happy and that she loved me no matter what.
I had my first girlfriend in college, a fellow art student who was straight identifying, and later after graduation, I had my first long-term relationship with a woman who is to this day the person who helped me truly find my authentic self. We all have that one pivotal person who made the greatest impression on us and in who we became. She was mine. She was the one who taught me what it meant to love myself and accept myself as I was. She taught me to embrace my feminine side without compromising the masculine. She was not a supporter of top surgery when we were together; mostly, because she said I had a “great rack” and it would be a waste to lose them. At that time, I think it was also because our society had not evolved as much as it has now. The technology was not as advanced and there hadn’t been that many people we knew who have had successful surgeries yet. Nowadays, I can count on more than a handful of immediate friends that I know who have had successful top surgeries. Doctors and insurance have become much more accessible (to some people with privileges) and surgical results are more positive than it used to be. In addition to that, in my experience, transitioning has become more accepted within the LGBTQ community, resulting in a lot more emotional support as well for those who want to transition. Ever since I was a child, I looked longingly at transgender people, wondering if one day I could do the surgery as well. I always thought it could never happen because of costs, potential backlash from family or friends. No matter how much I wanted it, it always got put off. When I worked at Google, I felt I was finally able to transition without all the fears. I was very lucky to have incredible support through insurance, my own team, my friends and even my mom (who was hesitant at first). I could not have asked for more love and acceptance.
Flash forward two months later…
After my post-surgery recoveries, I started to finally shine as the person I was meant to be. Each day I woke up, I would look in the mirror and see the man I always wished I could be. For the first time in my life, I could put on a t-shirt and have it FIT perfectly!!! I could turn to my profile and no longer see 36Cs defacing the handsome body I always wanted. No more putting on layer after layers of sports bras, t-shirts, AND dress shirts to try to hide the breasts underneath. I remember crying tears of joy after trying on a dozen new shirts I just bought after surgery and calling my mom because I was so filled with joy for the first time in my life over just putting on a shirt. I think most people never knew how much disdain I had for my chest because I always hid my negativity. I had grown up to be a self-loving lesbian who believed in myself and was extremely confident. I guess I didn’t want to let one thing on my body hold me down. But truth be told, I can say with complete certainty now that that one thing was EVERYTHING.
Even my friends told me after surgery that I seemed different: happier, more authentic. And isn’t authenticity what we all should be aiming for? So even though I was fine being a lesbian, being a trans man was even more authentic… right?
Wrong. Actually, what happened consequently was a flux of questions from my circle of friends. How do they address me now? What pronouns should they use? How do I now identify? All these questions felt so overwhelming as I tried to heal both body and soul. I realized that I never actually thought about this part when I made the decision to transition. I just knew I didn’t want boobs or periods. I knew that when I looked in the mirror, wearing a men’s dress shirt, suit, and tie, that having those breasts did not feel genuine to me. So I got rid of them. I didn’t think about the existential debate that would ensue on what that meant.
Naturally, my first reflex was to tell everyone to now refer to me as “he/him” because since I was little, that’s all I ever wanted. However, the more I referred to myself as he, the more I felt uneasy, like I wasn’t comfortable with it and I didn’t quite know why. Sometimes it felt like I was giving up being a woman, which was strange since I don’t think I ever truly felt like a woman. Other times I felt like I was disregarding all my experiences and acceptance in the lesbian community. I had worked so hard my whole life to accept all parts of myself – the masculine and the feminine, the Yin and the Yang – and I felt like I was being pressured to pick a side. Did being called a man or transman now mean I was throwing away decades of hard work? All the love I had given myself and learned to love about myself? All the love others had given me? Was I changing my gender because that was what society expected once again? Was I again letting what others think, and desire to label, dictate who I was?
I spent about six months after surgery worrying how others would feel about my now perfect chest covered in scars and ready to be exposed to the sun’s rays. I worried if I would offend anyone or scare them with my scars. I worried if parents would get angry if their children were exposed to my pale white torso. I remember the first time I took my shirt off at a public pool, I was so nervous and anxious. When I got into the pool, I was relieved parts of my chest were covered but an older woman came over to me shortly after and told me she thought I was “brave…” and before I could respond, she finished with “and beautiful.” I finally realized that I was exactly who I was meant to be and only through visibility would people learn about the various shades of identity that exists.
Today, I have come to terms with my Self. I am a female of masculine center… I am in two words (and in two worlds), gender nonconforming. There is black AND white here in my two worlds and its combination creates gray… a gorgeous, stunning, sparkly, dapper, sexy, beautiful gray. Gender conformity or nonconformity is that gray area and there are many shades in the spectrum. I am neither male nor female and yet both. I cannot deny I have a gender, but I do not feel picking one is sufficient nor accurate. And depending on the situation, I could be any shade of gray.
I have no boobs and no penis, yet I am no less female and no less male. I embrace my own inner gender-equality and also complete gender-neutrality. Gender has become less and less significant to me as I have come into my body and mind. I no longer long to be referred to as “sir” nor do I feel disdain when referred to as “miss.” I realize now that I identify as all-of-the-above and yet, none-of-the-above. I have transcended above labels and I have embraced all that is within me. This is what transgender feels like to me… transcending gender.
What matters most to me at the end of the day is that when I look in the mirror, I love who I see from the inside and out. I am a well-dressed individual who possesses the traits of both the feminine and masculine. I love fashion and I want to dress well, be well put together, well groomed, and represent my community in a respectful and positive way. I want to exude confidence, love, equality, truth, kindness and compassion. I live each day as authentically as I am able and I live to the fullest. Isn’t this, after all, what should matter and what we should be aiming for?
I hope one day modern society can draw from the understanding and appreciation of third genders, two-spirits, and all other non-gender conforming cultures. Many of our ancient ancestors were much more open than our modern brothers and sisters. To some of these cultures, non-conformity was a something to be revered and respected. I look forward to the day American culture can find appropriate pronouns to represent those of us who do not conform and when that day comes, as all things in life do, we will evolve once again and a new breed of nonconformity will rise. But until then, I am perfectly fine jumping into that great big pool of queerness and blinding everyone with my finally tanned chest and my different shade of gay.
Nik Kacy L.A.-based genderqueer shoe designer refuses to be confined by traditional societal boundaries and definitions – or limited by shoes that don’t fit. NiK is a member of the Los Angeles Women’s Network and is on the Committee for the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s An Evening with Women. They are also a board member of Sparkleblob, a multidisciplinary arts and performance collective non-profit located in Los Angeles. To learn more about NiK Kacy Footwear, please visit www.nikkacy.com.