I met Kyle after hearing him read one of his erotic short stories. I was taken in by his slow drawl, cowboy hat, sparkling eyes, and sweet charm. And yes, I got that his gender was not clear-cut. Later, I looked at his website and realized that he is smart and articulate. And complicated. Kyle is female bodied and dual gendered. Or as he explains to me, his gender is gender queer, his orientation is queer, and his presentation is butch. It’s a lot of labels, for a complex set if ideas, but the reality is simple: Kyle is Kyle. And Kyle can be whatever he (or she) wants.
I ask Kyle to explain how things work. He says, “I’m still trying to figure out how to explain it to myself. The way that I visualize the internal gender identities in me is that there’s a male identity that’s Kyle and it’s distinct from the female identity of Casey – both are masculine. So even in my female identity I’m butch or masculine. I’m not unfeminine. But in general, I’m sort of wholly masculine.” So we’ll use masculine pronouns unless speaking directly of Casey and Kyle to refer to the whole person.
It fascinates me. Kyle’s core sense of self is male and two personalities grow out of that center. One is male and the other is female, but very butch. Kyle tells me that he thinks maybe the two will merge back together at some point. Kyle and Casey have different personalities, preferences, sexual preferences, and histories. Kyle is younger because he hasn’t had as much time to develop. Casey spent their childhood covering and protecting who they really were. Kyle explains, “In a way it’s like fraternal twins that didn’t separate. Sometimes I sense that we are collaborating to a point that we are a single unit.“ How does it work? I ask Kyle how they share one body. He says, “It’s not like I’m thinking to myself, Oh, I’m gong to be Kyle now, it’s a very fluid interaction. It’s when the mood strikes us, one or the other or both. It’s hard to describe how that all works. But it does.”
When he was a child, it was a shock that he had to be a girl because he felt distinctly masculine. It didn’t sit right. It was hard to try to be what he wasn’t. His mom always pushed the girly stuff. He goes on, “When I was younger, the gender differences weren’t about anatomy, They were about what you were permitted to do, what the roles were. I wanted to be a boy, live like a boy, because boys got to do the cool stuff. I was a boy. Boys got to run around, and wrestle, and climb trees, and didn’t have to worry about getting dirty, right? Girls had to wear dresses and be ladylike and worry about scuffing their shoes and whatnot. To me, that was a horrible restriction. It didn’t feel right at all to me.”
I ask Kyle how it he feels about gender now, and he smiles, “I’m still reveling in the idea that I can have both. I can have gender, I can express gender positively, and I’m not constrained about what gender I express. To me, that’s the big freedom – being able to express gender. Which goes counter to some people who are like, ‘we should just get away from gender.’ Well, you know, I’m not there!” Talking about gender is powerful and Kyle’s gestures are getting more pronounced. “It’s powerful. It is! There’s a lot of power around it. For me the power is in getting to acknowledge it and getting to express it because it’s been suppressed for so long.”
And both Kyle and Casey express themselves. Kyle tends to be more of a playboy and has a “fag side” – he is attracted to boys. Casey generally holds the job and has the family – she’s married to a woman and they have 2 daughters. Their first act of gender expression was rejecting women’s panties and wearing men’s underwear. They merge in other ways, like having short hair, growing out chin hair, and packing (a cock and balls). But they don’t always get everything they want, “We kind of have this divide. It’s weird on the inside sometimes because we’ll get into these conversations. There’s some things we still have to work on in terms of both getting our needs met.“
I ask about being a gender queer parent. Casey got pregnant through artificial insemination and gave birth to one of her daughters. She didn’t feel that it was in any way incongruent. The worst part was the selection of maternity clothes – they weren’t designed for butches. As her daughter gets older, they have had lots of good conversations about trans issues, gender expression, and sexuality. Casey does get called Mommy, which was fine in the beginning, but she now wishes for something more neutral. Kyle says, “I don’t know what genderless feels like,” but goes on to say that parenting is just parenting and it’s the closest to genderless he gets. For teacher conferences and outings, he assumes a father-type role.
We talk about the differences between putting on a gender and expressing what’s inside. Kyle talks about how performance can be useful to start expressing gender, “There is gender as a performance, which, I think, most people could put on if they thought about it and tried. We are very well versed in the stereotypes and norms. Almost anybody could put on something that is a gender performance. That overlaps with expression, but I don’t think they’re the same exact thing. I don’t consciously express, I just do. It’s not really a conscious act anymore. But at first it was.”
We spend a lot of time discussing trans concerns. Kyle considers himself transgender, but isn’t interesting in taking any more steps toward the masculine at this time. “I’m not interested in transitioning because that would leave my other half homeless. There’s not a real good solution except for what I’m doing.” He does think about it sometimes, “I look at that process, I’m like, well, I’d lose my boobs, and I’d gain what, again? The loses are too big for the gains for me because I don’t identify strongly enough. I am that middle. I like having both.”
It seems that wanting to have your cake and eat it too tends to make some people upset. There’s always that need for people to defend their territory, so if you have sex with guys, you can’t be a dyke, and if you don’t give up your female side, you can’t be a trans man. Kyle refuses to give up anything that he is, even when faced with negativity, “There are times when I feel that I’m not really trans. I feel in the middle. I have trans friends and they don’t ever make me feel like I’m an other, but there’s this popular notion… I read web sites, I’ve gotten some pretty harsh comments for using those terms.”
But Kyle feels a lot in common with the trans experience, “As far as trying to be a gender, there’s an overcompensation thing. It’s like, you’ve gone to all this effort and you’ve stuck your flag in the ground and you’ve said, ‘this is who I am,’ and then instead of just being yourself, there’s like this, ‘Recognize me, recognize me, see me, see me, see me.’ I can say that without being extremely critical because I know I’ve done it.”
Kyle goes on to talk about breaking all the gender boxes – the one that say that boys are good at some things and girls are good at other things – and just having everything be one big box that contains all possibilities. He says, “I don’t want to have my life be about what I’m telling myself NOT to be. This more about letting myself DO. Accepting both genders is about wanting to do all this stuff. I want to be all the things that I am.”
This is particularly inspiring for me, because I’m not interested in giving up being a girl, but I want to explore the kind of male I am and would be. I don’t want to give anything up. Kyle has mentioned working with teenagers at the high school that he attended, so I want to know – what does he want young people to know about gender? “Don’t be afraid of gender. Don’t see it as a trap or a solution. Be open to diversity. Throw out the binary. Throw out the ‘or.’ Just look at gender as a very wide range of interesting choices and ideas. And feel free to change your mind.” He thinks for a while and adds, “Check all that applies.”