There are a few pictures of Kai in a dress as a child and most of them feature a lot of crying. “My mom always wanted to put me in a dress. I just hated it. Always. The pictures make me laugh now but it was so awful.”
Born female and under a different name, Kai Solomon is now a proud gender-queer up-and-coming activist for the trans community. “I work in a school and see all these kids coming out and I’m so proud of them, but also so scared,” they say. “The world still has a long way to go to being a safe place for people like me.”
As for me, I was born a female, and identify as one now. Besides having to deal with a lot of hair removal (thanks, patriarchy), the gender I was born feels good to me. Kai and I had a long conversation about their journey because…I can’t imagine living a huge chunk of your life feeling as though something deep within you didn’t fit somehow – and not having the language or the role models to help figure out what it was. We ended up talking about a lot of things; gender, family, personality, growth, biology. What makes a person who they are is complicated.
Kai was a shy, anxious kid, who never quite felt right in their body. I wish I could tell you that there was a small shift that led to coming out, to choosing a new name and a new pronoun, to getting chest masculinization surgery…but it was a long road. Doesn’t mean I didn’t get a gem from Kai, though.
At one point, as I was processing our conversation, I said, “So…you were born female and hated your breasts. You have a beard now, but you don’t want to be identified as a man. Is your aim basically just gender neutrality?”
Kai lit up. “That’s the thing! I didn’t want boobs. I do want a beard. It’s not really about gender at all: I want to be who I am without the stereotypes of either gender. I just want to do what I want.”
That made me stop and smile. Imagine a world where we all just did what we wanted without worrying about what we’re supposed to do? I dare say, I’d be living a more authentic life if that was my motto. “If I wore nail polish right now,” Kai says, “People might see a man in nail polish and might assume I’m gay. But oh my god, who cares about any of that!?!”
What I’m saying is that Kai could give a master class on not giving a fuck. They worked long and hard to get there, and there’s some road to go. At one point, they said, “Every day, I’m kind of expecting to get the shit kicked out of me,” and I don’t need to point out how awful a price to pay that is for being yourself.
But Kai’s thoughts on gender are perhaps way healthier than those of us who aren’t trans. Their enthusiasm, laughter and personality light up a room and that’s a far cry from the kid who wanted to disappear in elementary school. When you step out of the confines of what society says you should and shouldn’t be, maybe it gets a bit easier to just be your own damn self.
small//shift: Forget the Stereotypes. They’re not serving any purpose other than keeping you in a box. Gender, age, religion, race – the world is going to try to impose a hundred ways you “should” be. Let ‘em try. You do you, boo.