Lingering thoughts about the death of my friend, Kitt Kling, and stuff… Many things on my mind, all jumbled.
When I talked to L yesterday, she asked me when I transitioned from female to male. She’d thought I was younger than I actually was when I started transitioning. So when I couldn’t sleep last night, mixed up feelings, grief, choking back tears that wanted to flood but wouldn’t come, I wrote her one of my long-winded emails she’s come to expect and endure. (I think by now L mostly skims the emails for relevant tidbits.) This post is an edited excerpt or what I wrote to L.
I found a website archived on a U of Michigan server about Successful Transmen. If you scroll down to the photos, near the top you see the same picture of young Kitt that I used in my previous blog post about his death, listed under his pseudonym, “Alex Fox.” The intro on the webpage says:
- Many thousands of people have made female-to-male (FtM) gender transitions and are now living fully and successfully as men. Many thousands more are now in the process of FtM transition. The numbers are far larger than commonly thought.
- These men quietly struggle with many difficult medical, physical, family, social, legal, employment and relationship issues in order to transition and build their new lives. After those transitional difficulties, most transmen live in “stealth” and leave their pasts behind. They “hide in plain sight” in order to avoid social stigmatization and get on with their new lives. Their personal successes insure that they assimilate and blend right into society. As a result they are then almost totally “invisible” as having had transsexual pasts.
- Recently the veil of invisibility has been lifting, as a number of transmen have begun creating websites to tell their stories and help others. You can put a compelling human face on their lives by looking at the websites below – websites containing valuable information about the FtM experience. There you will find links to the stories and experiences of successful men who can serve as role models for young FtM’s. The websites, stories and experiences of these men are a valuable source of first-hand information about gender transitions to masculinity.
- These men’s stories can provide hope, encouragement and role models to others, especially to young transsexual teens facing FtM gender transition. Those teens (and their parents and loved ones) need to learn that successful FtM gender transition is now possible. Without visible role models such as the men below, it can be difficult for them to visualize what is now possible. Then, if parents can learn to see their transsexual child as a “boy with a physical problem” rather than a “girl with a mental problem”, that child’s future is especially hopeful. With parental love and support, a young transsexual boy can now really reach for his dreams, and go on to live a full life as a man.
I’d wanted to answer L’s question about how old I was when I transitioned. I started in 2000, and so would have been 43yo, turning 44yo in October. Had I the power, I would have begun in 1994-5, so at ~38yo. And actually, that’s not accurate, either. If I’d had the power, I would have transitioned in 1977, and 21 years of age. Or, truth be told, I’d have transitioned at age 3 or 4, when I first had the brief conscious realization that my gender identity didn’t match my physical body. But a toddler doesn’t know what gender and gender identity are. Adults only barely know. We just know what society / culture tells us. Even at that tiny age, I understood that there was nothing whatsoever I could do about changing my body. I’d have to go back and look to see when the first known transgendered individuals successfully transitioned. I think Renée Richards was the first I heard of? What could I do but repress the brief conscious realization and try to live life with the body I’d been given?
I could only repress it a little. The incongruence between my physical body and my sense of self was evident in my body expression from a young age — how I sat with my legs crossed, how I walked, etc. It was evident in my choice of toys. It was evident in my interests. Oh yes, I remember how badly I wanted a crew cut like was in vogue and high-top Keds sneakers. I tried very hard to be a “girl” because I had no choice.
Later on, it became more muddled for me when I became an adolescent and realized that I was attracted to girls. “Under the hood,” I knew that “lesbian” didn’t fit quite right, but it was the only explanation I could arrive at. One doesn’t have to “transition” to become a “lesbian” — a woman who loves women romantically, sexually, and emotionally. It was the easiest answer. So that’s what I did.
I don’t recall when I first heard the word “transsexual.” (I hate that word for some reason.) It must / might have been before I took my class in Psychosexual Behavior at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR, affectionately know as University of Last Resort) in 1977. But it was in that class that I definitely got the term. That is, I understood that it was possible for a person to surgically and medically change their body to match their gender identity. I still wasn’t sure what “gender identity” meant — I just vaguely knew that “who I thought I was” between my ears didn’t match what I saw in the mirror and how I was treated by the world around me.
In that class, we were shown a documentary video made at the University of Arkansas for Medical Science campus. The documentary included scenes of an actual “sex reassignment surgery” on an MTF. Various teaching hospitals were just beginning to offer the surgery at that time Strobe lights went off for me, not just tiny light bulbs. “Oh, so this is possible!?!?!?” But the documentary ended on a sour note. It’s pretty easy to lob off a penis and create a vagina. But not so easy (and still not so very very easy) to create a penis. At one and the same time, I realized, this is what I am and this is what I need, and at the very same time, I recognized that I could never afford it, I could never meet the requirement of living full time as a man for a full year without benefit of testosterone, it wouldn’t work in my family and social milieu, etc. So I repressed the knowledge and went on living as a lesbian. If transitioning had been attainable to me, I would have done it then, and I would have had a happier life. I would have found the right person to love, I would have married her, we would have children, and then grandchildren…and all my subsequent life choices would have been different, easier, and better.
So there it remained repressed until ~1994, when I met B. And the long and the short of it with B was that she was an MTF lesbian, and she finally told me, “I can’t be in a relationship with you — you’re a guy. I like women.” B was the first transgendered person I’d knowingly met. Okay, “knowingly” is somewhat misleading. When I met her, she didn’t announce she was transgendered. I thought she was just a tall cisgendered woman. But she did tell me, and we talked about her transitioning and about gender identity. And through our conversations, I began to understand a little more about myself. I wasn’t quite ready to say, “Okay, I’m FTM, I’m transgendered.” But I was getting close to it. And B saying to me that she couldn’t be with me because I was a guy was what finally “pushed me over the ledge.” Finally acknowledged, yes, she’s right.
Oh, we had some good conversations… I didn’t understand that testosterone could actually do its job. Me with a beard, looking in the mirror and seeing what I expected??? She assured me the testosterone would accomplish its goal. I fretted about being too short. B said, “There are a lot of short men.” She patiently addressed all my major concerns, and after we parted ways, I thought, “I can do this, I want to do this, I have to do this.” Now it was at the forefront of my consciousness, and I thought of nothing else.
I had always dressed as masculine as I could get away with. On my own time, it was always jeans and t-shirt. I wore my last dress in 1986, and refused thereafter to take any job where I had to wear dresses. Work was so hard. I wore the most masculine shirts and slacks I could find in the women’s clothing departments, but always realizing I was hoeing a tight row, yet not understanding my underlying issue. It made me feel nauseous to wear feminine clothes, but I had to do it to a minimal extent to keep employment. Always a treacherous balancing act between my self-perception and how I was perceived by others, how I needed to be perceived to be safe and keep a job vs how I wished / wanted to be perceived for my sanity, and such crazy, mixed up stuff.
After B, I was in the “enviable” position of being on disability because of my endless eye surgeries, and I worked part-time (15 hrs / week) for P-FLAG (Parents, Family, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). I didn’t have to worry about the clothes I wore. Wearing men’s clothing was okay at P-FLAG because I was just a “butch lesbian.” Also, at that time, 1994, and working for the National Capitol chapter in DC…. Well, to explain P-FLAG, at least back then, each state had a “chapter,” mainly to help parents struggling with having a gay or lesbian child, to educate and to support. Having attended many gay pride events, I can tell you point blank that the P-FLAG contingent in the marches at pride always, always, always drew the loudest applause from the onlookers. DC isn’t a “state,” but like all the other states, it had its own chapter to serve the greater DC/MD/VA area. The DC chapter’s office was physically located in the same space with the national headquarters, on K St., NW, in DC. And at that time, ’94, there was a big, big, push to include the “T” part of GLBT. So, psychologically and work-wise, I would have been fine to begin transitioning. I even sought out a therapist who specialized in gender identity, which was my first actual step in transitioning back then…
The problem was that I didn’t have the money to transition. Therapy, specialists, testosterone, gender reassignment surgery — they all cost money, and were not covered by insurance. On disability and working part-time, I was barely scraping by, renting rooms in group houses. I had some anguishing conversations with my C, who was my best friend at the time, and with my former partner, Donna, before she went off the rails. But especially with C. Now that I finally, finally, finally understood the dilemma I’d lived out all those years, I wanted / needed to transition immediately, ASAP. I was also fortunate that my eye problems had been mostly resolved when the tube had been implanted in my left eye while I worked for P-FLAG. Thus, without having to concern myself with frequent eye surgeries interrupting employment, I knew I could get a full-time job and use my computer science degree. I had to get a real, full-time job to finance transitioning, and I wanted to do it anyway, because I was tired, tired, tired of living in poverty. HOWEVER, getting a “real” job meant I had to go back to “looking like a woman.” Oh, my, the dilemma!!! I grappled, trying to explain to C why putting off transitioning would be an excruciating delay…
Yet fortune smiled on me again, because we hit the dot-com bubble, and my computer skills were in high demand. They didn’t care what I looked like at work, as long as I was able to do the technical stuff. So I shaved off my hair (mentioned often in previous posts). You might question that one. I can’t tell you how many times I went to up-scale unisex salons and asked for haircuts like a man would get. I would point at pictures, ask for it outright, and every single time, I’d walk out of the salon, I’d walk out with a semi-frilly cut that still appeared feminine to me. I was paying $20 and $30 a pop for haircuts, and still frustrated. That is why I opted to shave my head. I was making good money, and I bought men’s shirts at Gap and Banana Republic, etc. I wore blue jeans in the winter to work (because I couldn’t get men’s slacks to work with my hips and my height). If I felt like “dressing up,” I wore a tie to work with a dress shirt. If I felt like “dressing down,” I wore a t-shirt, a sweatshirt, or a hoodie. My feet were too small to wear men’s shoes, so I bought sneakers that looked like men’s, or wore work-boots, Lugz, Doc Martin’s, etc. Or sometimes, “big boy’s” shoes that didn’t look too childish. My body dysphoria was as under-control as I could get it. There were a few snipes from co-workers here and there. But I had my computer skills, and i was respected for what I did and what I could produce, and paid well. I just couldn’t announce, “I’m a guy, I’m transgendered, I’m going to transition, stop treating me like a woman!!” It was a hard and frustrating time. There was sexism. Despite my appearance, I was still perceived to be a woman and treated like a woman. So even with my skills, male employees were tacitly given the “higher authority.” So, so, so frustrating. I just wanted to be “One of the guys…”
I needed so badly to transition by then that I took the first step and legally changed my name. The “good part” of changing my name was that I no longer had to endure my odious female name. A relief!!! The “bad part” of changing my name at that stage was that I had to choose a unisex name. I wrestled with that for a good while. Chris, Lee, Jamie, etc, etc, etc. Finally settled on Terry. Everyone at my work was wonderful. Immediately began calling me “Terry” without even a single misstep. My partner (Kim) called me Terry. My friends called me Terry. Everyone but my mother. Oh well.
Eventually, the pressure to transition became so intense that it was do-or-die. Now I had another dilemma. Would I lose my job if I transitioned? (I am leaving out a couple of historical facts because they’d be too lengthy and tedious.) I didn’t want to go back to poverty or give up my professional success. Everything colluded at once… more eye problems, SEVERE neck pain from the repetitive injury of leaning toward the computer monitor with my head tilted to the left to see out of my “good” right eye. Depression from the long years of not comprehending that I was transgendered, forced to live in the world as a woman, then fully realizing I was transgendered (what that meant and what I could do about it), but not being able to afford transitioning yet, biding my time as I built my career. And difficulties in my relationship with Kim. Among other things…
Long story short, I now had the funds to transition. I needed another eye surgery (my second cornea transplant). I decided it was better to resign my job, transition from female to male, and then hopefully rebuild my career. I could have what I hoped would be my last eye surgery in the meanwhile, and everything would be neat and tidy. I did not anticipate that Kim was ultimately going to leave me, or that I would encounter the psychopathic intern in this period. My transitioning went so smoothly, it was amazing. Bam-bam-bam. Letter from therapist specializing in gender issues. Letter from psychiatrist stating that I was not insane, and that I was mentally and emotionally competent to take this step. Top surgery performed by Dr. Fischer in Timonium, Maryland. Testosterone prescribed by endocrinologist (with a brief flurry from my gastroenterologist because of my liver condition). Full and complete hysterectomy performed by Dr. Goodman in Montgomery County, MD. Bottom surgery performed in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, by Dr. Yves Menard (two trips to Canada — one for the initial surgery; second for testicular implants). (And emergency gall bladder surgery in the middle of all that…) All paid for on MY DIME, from my work, from MY savings. I was lucky, lucky, lucky. Non-driver’s ID changed to show male marker. Birth certificate amended to show male marker. Passport reissued to show male marker. Social Security notified to have me recorded as male. College transcripts amended to show me as male. (With legal name change done for all of those.) Wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am.
Soz…. Testosterone started in 2000; bottom surgery completed in 2004, and that last one to the tune of $15,333:
The hardest of hard parts for me was the horrible, interminable “middle ground,” waiting as the testosterone kicked in. I was already appearing quite male well before bottom surgery, and no one could see what was in my pants. In that “Is it a man or is it a woman?” phase which improved over time… Look in the mirror … is that another new hair on my cheek?!? If I rub Rogaine on my chest, will it make my hair grow faster?? Oh, no — someone ma’am-ed me, even with all this?? 😦 My hairline is taking too long to recede to a male form!! Ooops, I’m getting hair in the one place I didn’t want / expect it!!
So this is the long story of my transitioning, beginning at age 3 or 4…. Progressing along the arc to 1977 and again in 1994. Name change was done in 1999. Testosterone started in 2000, and also top surgery. Perceived to be male by most people, 2001-2002. Full and complete hysterectomy in 2003. (And don’tcha know, it’s rather odd to be sitting in the gynecologist’s office for a hysterectomy consult when you look like a guy?) Bottom surgery, 2004. A heck of a long odyssey, and body and soul are, kiss the ground I walk on, congruent. (I knew there was a reason why they made me take geometry … my crazy humor and thinking about congruent angles. Sorry.)
I could digress about how I abhor the false “two gender” dichotomy, but I’ll save that for another post. Even though I do possess some feminine qualities, which I don’t mind, I am personally much closer to the male end of the spectrum. I have no quibble with those who fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Diversity is the cherry sitting atop the whipped cream, and this an analog world.
You might sigh and think you’re off the hook and I’m done babbling, but I’m not… 🙂
I really wanted to call your attention to the website I listed at the beginning. As I wrote, if you scroll down just a bit, you will see the picture of the young Kitt Kling aka Alex Fox. I met Kitt in 2000, when I started to (um, really) transition and he was already looking a bit “grizzly.” However, that’s not true. The first I set eyes on Kitt was in 1994, when I was dating B. We’d gone to gay pride in DC. I’d wandered among the endless tables and booths. I saw a table with a banner that said “transgendered.” B and I hadn’t had many of our conversations yet. Wanting to understand her better (but really wanting to understand myself better), I approached the table with the “transgender” banner. Young Kitt was standing behind that table. Unlike most of the other booths and tables, his was empty of people. He smiled warmly and asked me if I was considering transitioning, as I recall, while I browsed the pamphlets. “No, my girlfriend is transgendered.” Kitt looked disappointed. I’m sure he thought he’d found a “brother.” Never did I dream that I would meet him 6 years later and that I would be friends with him for 14 years, and that he would then die on Sunday. 😦
Kitt really was among the FTM heroes, which is why his face is on that page I referenced at top. Look at the other people on the page. A few of the names you will or may recognize. Most you won’t. Me, some of the names I knew as far back as 1991 or 1992 … before I moved to DC and before I met B and before I consciously realized that I was transgendered, but yet the idea was clanging around in my head. I saw these guys leading the charge, paving the way. As the Internet was in its burgeoning infancy, I heard of them, read of them, was intrigued by them, saw myself in them, but couldn’t work it out in my conscious mind.
Here are a few of the names:
- Jamison Green
- Stephen Whittle
- Spencer Bergstedt
- Loren Cameron
- Michael Munson
- Stephen Thorne
- Jason Cromwell
- David Harrison
- Michael Kantaris
- C. Michael Woodward
- C. Jacob Hale
- Alexander Michael Goodrum
- Louis Sullivan
- Billy Tipton
Billy Tipton’s Sweet Georgia Brown:
These are big names in the FTM community. Philosopher, attorney, playwright, anthropologist, photographer, police officer, musician, author, activist and more — each one left their mark. I met Jamison Green at Kitt’s house around 2003 or 2004?, though he doesn’t remember meeting me since I was a nobody. I went to a presentation given by Loren Cameron of his photographic work documenting transmasculine bodies. Oddly enough, the presentation was at the old lesbian bookstore, Lammas, in DC!! The last 3 guys on the list are deceased (as is Kitt now). Billy Tipton, in particular, will be familiar to many non-GLBT people. Several of the other guys, I do not know in any fashion personally or tangentially, but are on my Facebook friend list, and I have followed them since around ’92 or whenever they entered the scene. Others, I don’t know in any form whatsoever, but have heard and followed their stories. Many / most FTMs, will know these names. There are other significant names that might ought to be on the list — Leslie Feinberg, who wrote Stone Butch Blues (“Published in 1993, this brave, original novel is considered to be the finest account ever written of the complexities of a transgendered existence”). Feinberg didn’t identify as FTM (“Feinberg describes herself as a “white, working class, secular Jewish, transgender lesbian. Feinberg personally uses she or ze to describe her/hirself“), but most certainly paved the way for us, explaining what a “stone butch” is. Before I met B, I had the chance to attended a speaking engagement and book-signing by Feinberg. I was still proudly wearing a black t-shirt that said, in bold with letters, “BUTCH BOTTOM“!!! After the talk, I lingered in the audience, and eventually got a bear hug from Feinberg.
I met Kate at a book-signing at the old Lambda Rising bookstore in Dupont Circle in DC. I got a hug from her, too, and an autographed copy of her book (lost in my Paula fiasco)!!!!
So yeah. There’s Martin Luther King, Jr, and there’s Rosa Parks, and lesser known names that we white people may not recognize. The lesser known names are just as important because they laid a stone in the pavement. It’s similar within the FTM community. With his human flaws and trials and tribulations, Kitt’s name deserves to be a big one in the FTM pantheon.
Kitt’s accomplishments were many:
- Founded Alex’s Garage — a now-defunct website existing in the old days of dial-up modems with a comprehensive list of FTM resources then available and a BBS-like chat capability which could be reached by hopeful FTMs around the nation (if they could afford the long-distance charges…)
- Appeared on the Phil Donahue Show, as best as friends and acquaintances can remember
- Created the BaltWashAnnapGuys Yahoo list-serve for FTMs in the Baltimore, MD / Washington, DC / Annapolis, MD triangle, first organization of its kind in this area
- Organized weekly local social gatherings at a safe and “friendly” restaurant for the members of the above list-serve where we could travel the path together, laugh, cry, support each, other and guess who was going to grow a beard faster 🙂
- Highly involved in the True Spirit Conference that met annually in Washington, DC, for many years
- Speaking engagements in many venues
- Activist for GLBT rights — for example, participated in a counter-protest against the odious Westboro Baptist Church (“widely described as a hate group“) — “Kitt Kling, of Old Greenbelt, said it was important to be at the counter-protest to support the students. ‘I have a number of members of my family that fit into the LGBT spectrum and its like Phelps and his gang of marauders, just don’t belong in our neighborhood,’ Kling said. Kling joined more than 200 people showed up to exercise their First Amendment rights to protest.” (I was with him that day, as was his son.)
- Extensive lobbying on Capitol Hill oh behalf of GLBT, and especially, transgender rights
- Participation in many transgender-related conferences of various types around the country
- Friend and mentor to many
See also this blog article, Goodbye to Kitt.
I could not have accomplished my long journey from female to male had it not been for Kitt and his friendship. So his friendship and mentoring played a hugely significant role in my life. Kitt Kling deserves to be in the pantheon of FTM heroes. That is why I am devoting another post in honor of his memory.
Love you, Kitt. You will not be forgotten. ❤
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My monkey, my circus. If I have a damn thing to do with it, I will make sure he is honored and remembered properly, regardless of Remy and James and the personal dramas or the fact that he wasn’t the best friend in the universe. He made a difference in my life.