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Raising Kiki, a Genderfluid Child

Kiki the Genderfluid Non-Binary Child Gender

Moco & Maize Steinman of art duo Mandem give insight into raising a genderfluid child.

Raising children isn’t a task anyone is up to. They come into the world completely unpredictable. You can’t say if they’ll grow up to excel at math or at mischief. Their sexual orientations will begin to reveal themselves at unknown times. It’s impossible to know if they’ll be artists, or scientists, or humanitarians. What’s also impossible to predict is the gender – if any – they will identify with.

The latter was the case for young Kiki, the gender-fluid, sometimes non-binary child of parents Moco and Maize Steinman-Arendsee. Kiki prefers the pronouns they/them/their, and as an aside from being non-binary (not a defining factor of who they are), they are also extremely talented in art and linguistics. They are loving, kind, and possess the brains of well-attuned adult.

Kiki’s parents (and Kiki!) sat down with About Magazine to discuss what it’s been like raising a non-binary child, how it’s changed them, and the pride and humility their child brings to the both of them.

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About Magazine: Let’s start by hearing a little bit about your child, Kiki.

Moco & Maize: Kiki is a super-affectionate and clever child with a tendency to hyper-focus on research into their interest of the day (currently ant-keeping). They’re also bouncy, hyper, and resilient in the face of tragedy, though easily made sad by failure or rejection. At the end of this semester, they’ll have just turned 7-years-old and will be in third grade. They’re in public school via a virtual/online option, which allows them to work through things at their own rate and (more importantly) allows them to do math while jumping on the trampoline, wear pajamas all day, and take sanity breaks whenever needed. It’s a great system, and Kiki is doing well with it. They want us to add that they have multiple imaginary friends who are very important to them, and that they’re a very kind person.

Kiki’s pronouns are they/them/their. Kiki is, presumably, non-binary. Correct?

Yes, that is mostly correct. If you were splitting hairs, I think you’d say “non-binary spectrum” because they alternate between being a boy, or a girl, or both a boy and a girl, or agender. Under some classification schemes one might call this gender-fluid, but non-binary works.

Tell us a little bit about how that discussion came up between the two of you as parents, if you don’t mind.

We are asking Kiki all of these questions because we don’t want to speak for them, but when we asked “how did you realize you were both a boy and girl,” they express confusion because that’s just how it is. I think most six-year-olds when asked “when/how did you realize you were a <gender identity>” would be confused – it’s just how they are. And Kiki has been outwardly expressing this gender identity since before they can remember. So we’ll try to answer without them.

But to be honest, this is hard to answer – it didn’t come up between the parents, it developed naturally with getting to know Kiki. They brought it up. So you get a narrative.

We started with the awareness that we didn’t actually know their gender. We did originally use their “designated at birth” pronouns (which we’re not going to mention here), but with the psychological awareness that we were open to whatever gender identity they developed. We also were choosing mostly non-gendered clothes (to the best of our ability) and such early on because we wanted this to be something that could develop naturally.

Before they could talk, Kiki started developing a strong preference for clothes and toys that were coded for the “opposite” gender; and as soon as they could talk they started saying they were the “opposite” gender of their assigned-at-birth sex – and correcting people about that. So, we started using the pronoun “they” because we weren’t sure what gender was going to stick. Around 3 1/2-years-old, Kiki started going through a six month femme stage, and at the same time started identifying exclusively as a boy. At that point they’d explain to everyone “It’s okay, boys can wear dresses too,” and correcting us whenever we misspoke or referred to “boy clothes” or “girl clothes.” But they grew out of the “all femme all the time” stage when they were around 4 to 5-years-old, and then they verbally articulated that they were BOTH a boy and a girl, and sometimes neither a boy nor a girl, and that they just wanted to be able to change between them. Consistently since then, they have been fluid in their identity – mostly settling on “both a boy and a girl.”

You two also began using the they/them/their pronouns, and you mentioned to me previously that Kiki asked this of you. Can you tell us a little about how that conversation and decision went?

The entire family did transition to using they/them pronouns, though it’s not as simple as “Kiki asked us,” per se. We have both self-identified as “genderqueer” for over a decade (we were both gender nonconforming), but within the context of being in a queer relationship and not in the context of changing pronouns or thinking much about that aspect. When we were queer youth, the idea of changing one’s pronoun was a lot more niche than it is now (we are a bit older than most people think we are) and trying to survive (as disowned queer teenagers) was more on the forefront of our mind for a long time. And it also seemed to us before that being trans was a very binary thing, that there wasn’t space for someone to be “not a boy and not a girl.” But talking through with Kiki how they felt about gender helped both of us realize that this was also a more authentic way of thinking about our own lives as well. I suppose it helped that Kiki would frequently ask us our pronouns/genders (“Today I’m a girl. What are you today?”) and no one had ever asked either of us that in a safe environment before. (Plenty of, “So… are you a boy or a girl?” from street harassers, of course!) So just having a reason to interrogate that was amazingly healing.

I’ve met several parents, actually, that came out as trans or began to identify as trans after seeing that their children were gender nonconforming and thinking “that’s just like me as a kid” – and then realizing that they could love their children regardless of gender or binary presentation. A good parent with a trans kid can come to this line of thought: if I can love my genderqueer kid, then the problems I had as a child couldn’t have been my fault – it was a societal fault, or a parental fault, or whatever… and if my child should be proud of who they are, then how can I try to repress it in myself?

We’ve both had this experience along multiple vectors of abuse, while watching our child grow up. There are all these little moments that have nothing to do with gender and everything to do with love, such as “when my child breaks things and cries about it, I just want to cuddle their little heart and make them happy again…. how could my parents have hit me when I broke things?” And then you forgive yourself for having been a “bad child,” because you never were.   But that’s getting a bit off topic.

kiki-3-169x300 Raising Kiki, a Genderfluid Child

Do you think that more parents should adopt the ‘they’ pronouns? And what are the more important aspects of it that you would stress?

Kiki feels strongly that parents should start with a gender-neutral pronoun – we’re all fans of “they” for that – and switch to he or she (or keep they) when the child becomes aware of their own gender identity. Kiki says it can negatively affect a child to be misgendered, and that if you call them he or she they might be mad that their parents have been using the wrong pronoun.

From a slightly more adult perspective, keeping in mind how slowly society changes and what challenges face a child, we would suggest a more moderated answer.

So, yes – more (all) parents of gender nonconforming children should ask their children if they would like gender-neutral pronouns and be willing to support that if the answer is yes. There is sometimes a rush to assign children to a binary gender – even with trans kids – and this shouldn’t be so parent-driven. Parents already say, “You were born with this genital configuration so we’re going to gender you thus,” and switching over to, “I see you have these gendered interests so we’re going to re-gender you this other way” isn’t the answer. Allowing kids to have the space to explore their gender while using non-gendered pronouns is a really good measure that takes into consideration the concerns regarding young transition while also acknowledging the reality that trans kids often know their authentic gender very young. And of course only a non-gendered pronoun is going to be an authentic fit for a child whose gender exploration is going to also end with a strongly non-binary identity. This needs to be youth-driven in that parents should ask and listen about their children’s authentic gender expression.

Kiki is probably right that it’s also true that more parents should start out saying, “We don’t know for sure what my child’s gender is,” and that starting with a gender-neutral pronoun and waiting to see what gender develops would be a brilliant. But in real life, this is a battle that may not be worth it in most cases. Using a non-binary pronoun means you have to defend the pronoun and face transphobia really early on, and there’s also this sense that then you’re putting a weight on a child to pick a gender ASAP because everyone is asking about it. For us, when Kiki was very little, it was easier to use a gendered pronoun until such time as they expressed a preference, even though in terms of clothes and toys we mostly gave them non-gender-stereotypical things. That said, I think what would be really glorious would be if parents could avoid aggressive gendering of children (i.e., buying them only toys marketed to one gender, adhering to gendered colors or styles, etc.), and then just check in occasionally to see if they have a preference on gendered terms and pronouns.

Did having a non-binary child change your opinions about things like gender-reveal parties, and learning the sex of a child before birth?

Learning the physical sex before birth can help parents prepare to take care of that particular configuration of physical body parts, and there’s nothing wrong with that, especially since parents need to be prepared for the fact that doctors are going to try to pressure parents into gential-altering surgery if the child is born with a penis or intersex genitals, and parents shouldn’t go uninformed into that situation. Knowing what physical parts the baby is going to have can be totally separate from assuming gender.

That said, to be honest we were never very comfortable with gender-reveal parties. I think people assume that a kid’s genitals are going to tell you a great deal about their personality and that’s just not a given… so there’s a sense that the kind of person who cares so much about the infant’s genitals isn’t going to be very able to let go of those preconceptions and be happy to allow the kid to develop into whoever they want to be. But maybe it’s just something neurotypical people do that we’ve never grokked. It wouldn’t be the first thing that seemed confusing.

When people asked us, “what do you want?” assuming we’d answer boy or girl, we used to respond, “A clever kid.” It threw people for a loop when we answered that way.

Also, a name-reveal party would be more fun.

How supportive have the reactions of other parents, teachers, and children been about the non-binary pronouns?

It’s a mixed bag. Concern about that is a small part of why we’re doing virtual school (though to be honest that has more to do with Kiki’s learning style).

Kiki says that the teachers at the Youth Club they attend have been very supportive but still don’t pick up on using “they.” However, they are not being bullied about it and that’s pretty cool.

Kids are often confused — they ask Kiki a lot of questions about “how does that even work, being a boy and a girl?” and Kiki tells them “I just am.”

When we use “they” casually in conversation, we get a lot of “wait, there’s more than one?” and then people trying to explain grammar to us, which is frustrating. Of course we’re prepared with the entire linguistic history of singular they, but even people who have within minutes used the singular they without realizing (as in, “I don’t know who left these keys but I’m sure they’ll come back for them,” or even “Are they a boy or a girl?”) then act confused when we used the singular-they to refer to Kiki! Despite common usage, people seem reluctant to use it for people who self-identify as such.

Online we get a lot of support — a lot of questions, a lot of people seeking to understand, and that’s really encouraging.

kiki-6-169x300 Raising Kiki, a Genderfluid Child

Aside from the use of the they pronoun, you could do anything to adjust the school of thought on gender identity, what would that be? Either as parents or as people.

Kiki says everyone should use “they” for people they don’t know and only use he or she if they have confirmation that’s the right gender identity/pronoun. Kiki says they wish people would not use physical appearances to assume gender identity – like long hair vs. short hair.

And Kiki says they wish other parents would realize that they’re hurting their children by not letting them choose their gender. They said that if their parents didn’t respect their gender, “I would be sad and have to wait until I was an adult with my own house to get out of their presence! I would have to lie to my parents … but I would tell my friends in secret that I was nonbinary.”

We think this question is more complicated than it first appears, because in asking about “adjusting the school of thought,” the question assumes that there’s just one school. And there are people on every side of the aisle that do think that there’s just one school and everything else is wrong. But we’re more inclined to think that gender and gender identity are both societal constructs… that the reason we have gender nonconforming folx appearing all across society is that almost all of the schools of thought are attempting (metaphorically speaking) to draw a round, 3-D world on a square, 2-D map, and necessarily that means warping elements and flattening elements and also choosing an “up” and a “down” and a “center” in a way that reflects all kinds of biases and false assumptions. Making a 2D square map is an inherently biased process. Likewise any school of thought on gender is going to have biases based on the culture it comes from, the gender of the people making it, and all kinds of religious and social and class issues.

If there was one thing I wish people knew, it would be that their school of thought was a construction – a flat map of a round world, or a classical mechanics system that doesn’t explain quantum-level functions. It’s good enough to get around with, but it’s not going to be 100% true or accurate, and the more granular your resolution (e.g., the individual rather than the masses) the less it will hold up. Likewise the more binary the school of thought, the more stuff in the middle of the spectrum that gets erased. But binaries are easy, and the instinct is to fall back into them (“cis” and “trans” are also binaries in many ways).

People who are genderqueer or nonbinary or “other” may find that they don’t have the words to describe what they feel and are, until such time as the construction and the language evolves. That’s why some people will talk about being nonbinary as “a fad” right now, because just ten years ago the language and ideas weren’t popularized enough that people “in the middle” had words for their feelings. Nonbinary people always existed; they just didn’t always have the language to describe their lives. So…. be kind to those who are struggling now to find the words. Be kind to yourself if you’re looking for this language. And if there wasn’t room in your construction previously to allow for a space between “boys” and “girls,” then do your research and make sure you really think your construction works…. because binary divisions are almost nonexistent in nature. There’s always a gradation.

 


Moco & Maize are artists of several varieties, collaboratively making up the duo Mandem. You can visit their website here.

Our Truth Isn’t Your Trend

Non-binary Genderfluid Non-conforming Agender Trend

Highlighting non-binary people in the media is important and is slowly happening more-and more; but what’s also important is realizing that being non-binary isn’t a fun fashion trend.

Recently, there has been a huge rise in non-binary representation in the media. Models, musicians, and actors who identify as non-binary/agender/genderfluid/non-conforming are getting the buzz they deserve after not having been represented in mainstream media for such a long time. It’s refreshing to see non-binary folks presented to the public on a larger scale; but something that needs to be said is this: non-binary existence is not a temporary statement, and our truth isn’t your trend. Thinking positively, this rise of representation should continue to skyrocket in months and years to come.

Gigi-Hadid-Zayn-Malik-Vogue-Cover-August-2017 Our Truth Isn't Your Trend
Cover of Vogue August 2017.

What prompted this piece was the backlash aimed at the August 2017 issue of Vogue which featured Zayn Malik and Gigi Hadid on the cover with the tagline, “Shop Each Other’s Closets”. Styling cis people in a gynandrous way is nothing new — this is fashion, sweetie —  but the choice of the models that was made by Vogue made being gender-fluid or non-binary seem as though it were the newest, late-summer/early-fall trend. The August cover would have been more refreshing to see celebrities or models who actually identify as non-conforming grace the cover of Vogue (*cough*,Anna Wintour … girl. You approved this?). A simple Google search of genderfluid/non-binary celebrities could have steered the Vogue editorial staff in the direction of hiring actual non-binary people to grace the cover.  Nevertheless, it is exciting to see non-binary individuals gain tons of positive attention in different areas of the art world; and in the images below, I’d like to showcase a few.



ruby Our Truth Isn't Your TrendRuby Rose — an Australian, genderfluid actor, model, and DJ that presently prefers to use feminine pronouns — has most recently been cast as the leading role of Batwoman in the the CW Network’s forthcoming series of the same name. (Fingers crossed that the show does not flop and is actually a success!) Rose landed some of her largest fame when she appeared in seasons 3 and 4 of Netflix’s original series, Orange Is The New Black. Mind you, Rose appeared in only 9 episodes:

chloe Our Truth Isn't Your Trend



wade1 Our Truth Isn't Your TrendAlok Vaid-Menon from College Station, Texas rose to fame as one half of the poetry duo, DarkMatter with Janani Balasubramanian. Alok has been a vocal social and political activist for feminists and the LGBTQ+ community for many years. Alok now has a book of poems entitled, “Femme In Public”, which was released in 2017 and has been featured on LogoTV, in Out Magazine, as well as in Vogue. (Hello, Anna? It’s me again … Put Alok on the cover. *wink*).



39962871_2119332281662532_4648317890428523516_n Our Truth Isn't Your TrendRose McGowan recently came out as non-binary identifying. Rose has been a vocal proponent for the #MeToo movement (founded by Tarana Burke in 2006) and shattering what was left of the glass ceiling in Hollywood by speaking out against sexual assault and harassment towards women, men, and the trans community. Rose’s book Brave was published in January 2018 from Harper Collins imprint HarperOne., The memoir focuses on the experiences McGowan had in Hollywood both professionally and with sexual assault. Rose recently won GQ’s Man Of The Year Award for her activism — a kind affirmation of non-binary identity from a publication that largely panders to cis, straight audiences.

 



18444042_1433865880010488_4562078454668853248_n Our Truth Isn't Your TrendAngel Haze is a rapper from Detroit who identifies as agender. Angel has become a huge name in hip-hop and has been nominated for a GLAAD Media Award as well as an MTV Video Music Award. Angel is currently working on their sophomore album. Angel Haze recently changed their name to ROES, but still remains on social media under their original stage name.



These are just few names of many non-binary/non-conforming/agender/genderfluid people that are making big waves presenting themselves to the public loudly so that they are being seen. No one will soon  be forgetting a single one of them anytime soon, because, again, our truth isn’t your trend. These non-binary/agender people are beacons of light, giving people within our community hope that they can achieve the same level of exposure, fame, and greatness that these folk have. Their presence just affirms that we can change the way we are displayed in the media. We are here to be seen, to grace magazine covers, lend our voices and our images to the masses.

Many non-conforming individuals have been subject to bullying and prejudice throughout their childhoods; and most still experience it in adulthood. It all comes from people with a lack of exposure to, as well as a lack of education on the subject of, people who neither label themselves to meet a certain gender-specific criteria that is the summation of eons of destructive societal constructs. Because in spite of what the LGBTQ+ community’s flag may boast, the lives of non-binary people are not all rainbows and glitter for most of us. That being said, however, increasing the visibility of our community by seeing people from it become big-name stars is an important thing as it not only inspires us to make sure ourselves are being represented, but also exposes cis people/straight people who do not identify the same way as non-conforming folks to the lush diversity of this community. They can see that we are all human and that we are all going through life just as they are with very similar difficulties, trials, and tribulations. It also aids in educating them by increasing visibility of the way we present ourselves to the world by showing them that this is not a scary thing. It’s not terrifying at all. It’s our truth and it isn’t their trend. The point begins and ends here: we nonbinary, agender, non-conforming, and genderfluid people are here,  we exist, we are making change, and we aren’t afraid to take charge. We are carving out our space in pop culture and the media, and we aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

More Than Meets the Eye: Janae Kroc

Janea Kroc bodybuilder lgbtq trans

An Interview with Transgender ‘Transformer’ Janae Kroc

Janae-1 More Than Meets the Eye: Janae KrocYou don’t mess with Janae Kroc. One look at her and you’ll see why.

Born Matthew Raymond Kroczaleski, Janae – the transgender subject of the award-winning documentary Transformer – is a former Marine who made a name for herself (as Matt) as a competitive powerlifter and bodybuilder. In 2009, she set the male world record in the 220-pound weight class with 2,551 pounds. And while she’s not as powerful as she used to be (in the physical sense at least), she can still squash you like a bug: Last year, 18 months into her estrogen therapy, Janae lifted 210 pounds for 10 reps and deadlifted 605 pounds.

Recently, she has accelerated her transition from male to female, an evolution a decade-plus in the making, which has come with its own set of challenges.

In this new interview, Janae opens up about the discrimination she’s faced since coming out; how the bodybuilding community has both shunned and embraced her; raising three well-adjusted, supportive sons (she and their mother divorced as a result of her coming out); the long, costly road to gender-reassignment surgery; and how some burdens weigh more than any barbell she’s ever touched.


Mikey Rox: Janae – as Matt, you were a world champion powerlifter, badass bodybuilder, and a spokesperson for dietary supplement brand MuscleTech. You revealed in your new documentary Transformer, which screened at Miami’s OUTshine Film Festival recently, that you lost the latter gig after coming out as transgender. How did that happen?

transformer More Than Meets the Eye: Janae KrocJanae Kroc: MuscleTech actually found out that I was transgender several months before I was outted publicly. They had been sent some old pictures from my Facebook page, which was private at the time, and called me to ask if it was true. I immediately confirmed that it was and that, yes, I was in fact transgender and had been very open about it for years. They told me they were having a board meeting concerning this and would let me know their decision in a few days. When they contacted me again they were very clear that the reason they were letting me go was because of me being transgender. They immediately pulled all of my content from their websites and media advertising, cancelled all of my scheduled appearances for the remainder of the year, and informed me they would not be renewing my contract. They stated that while they were very happy with the job I had done for them over the previous eight years and really liked me as a person they felt that it would be very bad PR for them and it would hurt sales, especially overseas in the more conservative cultures.

MR: What’s your take on this, and is there any recourse for what amounts to blatant discrimination?

While this was clearly discrimination and I would have been protected under Canadian law had I chosen to pursue legal action (MuscleTech is based in Toronto), the job I was hired to do for them was very different than most. They had hired me solely to represent their products and to be one of the faces of their company. That was my job for them and what they were paying me to do. Even though I was shocked and I felt they made a very poor decision, the way I saw this was that if they didn’t want their company represented by a transgender person then that was their prerogative. I do feel that they missed a huge opportunity to do the right thing and that this will come back to haunt them in the future, but I chose not to pursue legal action against them.

MR: You’re in a similar position as Caitlyn Jenner being a world champion record and medal holder. When she was transitioning, there was a petition to revoke her Olympic medals because “Bruce” had won them and not Caitlyn. Ultimately the IOC took no action in that regard, but how do you feel about that personally?

JK: I feel that entire premise is absurd and merely a veil for extreme bigotry. Of course Caitlyn should be allowed to keep her medals, and anything I had accomplished in my life prior to transition was still achieved by me and I still deserve whatever accolades go along with those accomplishments.

Janae3 More Than Meets the Eye: Janae KrocMR: Do you feel like Matt is a separate person from Janae?

JK: I see Matt as simply a part of who I am. All of the traits I possessed as Matt that allowed me to achieve the things I did are still within me. Matt was simply a limited version of who I am; he was just a portion of who I am today. I will say that there are certainly differences between Matt and Janae, and my reactions to certain situations are markedly different now than they would have been in the past, but I still don’t view him as a separate person. I still lived through all of those experiences and they helped shape me into the person I am today. I see my current self as the evolution of who I am, and I am still evolving all the time.

MR: You came out to your three boys 13 years ago when they were young, and they’re each very well adjusted to your transition. That, for me, was probably the best part of Transformer – seeing how they interact with and accept you as you are. But have they always been so accepting? Were there any times when they pushed back, and how did you overcome that?

JK: Everyone is always shocked to hear this but it is the absolute truth: They have always been 100% supportive and accepting of who I am. Since I told them at such a young age, they had not yet been conditioned by society to view being transgender as a bad thing, so to them it was just another aspect of who I am. And since I never demonstrated any shame or gave them any reason to view it negatively, they have never had any reason to see it as something bad.

MR: Have they encountered any bullying as a result of the film? How have they dealt with that?

JK: Before I was outted publicly, we had discussed for many years the potential of me being outted and how they might be affected by that and how we should handle it. It was my biggest concern and why I had not come fully out publicly sooner. Fortunately, nothing has really changed for them. Some of their friends have asked questions or joked about it and we have heard rumors about other parents saying nasty things about me, but no one has ever said anything to our faces and they have not faced any discrimination as a result. I am also fortunate that all three of my boys are very secure in who they are, and any teasing from other kids does not have much of an effect on them. I think they have seen how I have handled all of the hate directed toward me and that has helped them to develop a similar attitude toward what other people might say or do. We recognize that when people say horrible things about me, it really says a lot more about them as a person than it does me.

MR: You revealed yourself as Janae to your mom for the first time in the documentary, and naturally she was anxious about it. I read on your Instagram, though, that she actually decided on your female name. I’m guessing you asked her to do that. Did that help her along her path to acceptance?

JK: The truth is my mom didn’t actually pick my name per se, but she did have a hand in helping me to decide on Janae. Janae was the name my mom had picked for me had I been born female. She told me that when I was a child and it always stuck with me. I thought it was a pretty name and unique, so when the time came to decide on a new name, Janae was the obvious choice for me.

Janae4 More Than Meets the Eye: Janae KrocMR: What’s your relationship like with your mom today?

JK: Unfortunately not much has changed. She has still only seen me as Janae the one time you see in the film. I have not gone to the family Christmas or other holiday celebrations in years as it’s clear that she’s concerned that my presence will make other people uncomfortable. I know this has been very difficult for my mom, and I try to keep in mind what kind of person she is. She does not handle any type of change well, and her primary coping mechanism is avoidance so this behavior is to be expected of her. I also feel bad because I know that still living in the small town where I grew up, she has had to endure a lot because of me coming out. People will walk up to her and say nasty things about me, and even her own mother – my grandma – has told my mom that it’s her fault for not instilling more religion in me. I try to keep those things in mind, but I also know that deep down she loves me – and that will never change. I think she will eventually come around, but it’s going to take me pushing her a bit to get her there.

MR: In the documentary, your dad, who you admitted was rather absent during your upbringing, said some pretty offensive but fairly typical things about your situation, specifically that he would “freak” if he saw you as Janae. Has that happened?

JK: My dad still hasn’t seen me as Janae yet, although that may change soon. Like my relationship with my mom, not much has really changed since the footage in the film was shot. He still hopes I’ll change my mind and thinks this is a mistake. However, he has said that no matter what happens he still wants me to be a part of his life, so that feels really good to know. I think, like my mom, he’ll eventually come around, but it will take some pushing from my end. We’ll see if he actually does “freak” when he meets Janae for the first time. [Laughs]

MR: You touched briefly on your sexual orientation in the film, expressing that you’re still attracted to women but open to dating a man. Can you explain that?

JK: Like my gender identity, my sexual orientation is somewhat blurry. I have always been very attracted to women and still am. I have never really found men attractive, but as a woman it does feel very natural to be in the feminine role with a man. I am open to dating whomever I feel a strong connection to, and it really has more to do with who they are as a person than their gender or genitals.

MR: Are you dating?

JK: Currently I am not dating, but I have recently met someone that I am very interested in. We actually met at the film festival in Toronto. We are still getting to know each other so who knows what will happen, but I will say that I could see this having long-term potential. I guess time will tell.

Janae5 More Than Meets the Eye: Janae KrocMR: If I may be more personal, has your hormone regimen affected to which gender you’re more or less attracted?

JK: They did not have any effect on who I am attracted to, although my body and self-perception have changed; the idea of dating men has become a more realistic possibility. As a male I had no interest in men whatsoever but as a woman I am at least open to the idea.

MR: You attended a local powerlifting competition in the film where a young straight male fan that idolized you praised you for your courage in coming out as transgender. I was blown away, frankly. That seems rather atypical given the often-toxic masculinity associated with this sport, so how did that encounter feel? Does that sort of thing happen often?

JK: Actually, there has been a lot more support from the powerlifting world than most people would expect given the sport’s reputation for an overabundance of testosterone, and I deeply appreciate every single person that has stood by me. Overall I would say the reaction to my coming out has been 50-50. About half of the community has been extremely supportive just like the guy you see in the film, and the other half has been more or less like most people would expect. I have had people message me privately to tell me they have burned the posters that I signed for them previously and other crazy things like that. The responses on public forums when I came out were even worse, but it was also mixed with a lot of people supporting me against the transphobic bigots. The women of the strength-training community have actually been my biggest allies, and I can’t thank them enough for welcoming me into their sisterhood and supporting me the way they do.

MR: You have really amazing bodybuilding friends – big, macho dudes – who have not only accepted you but seem to be incredibly compassionate and open with you. Did you expect that?

JK: When I first started coming out to my friends a little over 10 years ago, the process was extremely difficult and I was very unsure of what to expect. I was afraid they wouldn’t understand and that I would lose a lot of friends, but as I told them one by one, every single one of them has stuck by me and supported me 100%. I am very fortunate to have such good friends and so many close relationships. I think it helped that I was very open and honest and allowed myself to be vulnerable with them. They could see I was being sincere and how difficult it was for me. I think it speaks volumes about the quality of friends I have, and for that I will be forever thankful.

MR: In the film, you talked about how cost-prohibitive gender reassignment surgery is. Where are you at in the transition process?

JK: For the average adult trans woman to fully transition, it can often cost up to $100,000, and for trans men, even more. Personally, I have already spent $70,000 to $80,000, and I am still not finished. I am in the process of scheduling my bottom surgery right now and hope to get that done as soon as possible, but realistically it will probably be at least late this year or early next year before I am able to make that happen. Fortunately, more and more insurances in the United States are covering transgender surgeries and I really hope that trend continues.

As far as other procedures go, I am definitely going to look more into hair transplant surgery as not having to wear a wig would be huge for me. With my active lifestyle and love for the water, wigs just aren’t practical, and without one on it becomes very difficult for me to present as female with my very short and very thin hair. I am still very interested in breast augmentation surgery, but as long as I remain very muscular it is difficult to achieve a natural look so for now I am holding off on that. I also may revisit vocal feminization surgery at some point as the results from my first surgery aren’t as good as I was hoping. While my voice has definitely improved, I still view it as being more masculine than feminine and typically get read as male over the phone. The only other thing I would like to add in regard to my transition is that I also still identify as gender fluid and non-binary and my gender presentation varies from day to day. Some days I present completely feminine, but at other times more masculine. I continue to move in a more feminine direction, but it’s difficult to say where exactly I will end up and whether or not I will complete what most people would view as a full transition.

MR: Post-bodybuilding career, what are you goals now?

JK: As far as my training is concerned I still want to remain muscular and strong but lean and not quite as big as I was previously. I still waffle somewhat about whether or not to drop a significant amount of weight and transition into a more “athletic look” but for now that is on hold.

In regard to my overall life, I hope to continue speaking publicly about transgender and gender non-conforming people and the issues we face. I also hope to continue empowering women, especially those that are interested in pursuing strength sports, and do my best to promote equality as an intersectional feminist. Professionally, I hope to achieve enough financial independence to allow me to pursue those goals full time.

Community Highlight: The Montrose Center

the montrose center lgbtq houston community highlight community center

Recognizing local nonprofits for LGBTQIA people.

The goal of the following article is to provide information about the availability of programs provided at the Montrose Center. The following has been compiled with the help of the executive and administrative teams at the center. This information is also available on their website, as well is a more comprehensive look at what you will find if you ever needed help. Please do not hesitate to reach out to the Montrose Center if you ever find yourself in a position that you are unsure of where to turn.

(HOUSTON) – In 1977, the Houston Bar Association invited singer and anti-gay rights activist Anita Bryant to perform at their annual conference in the city, and the local LGBTQIA community declared their intention to protest. While law enforcement was told to expect approximately three hundred protesters, somewhere between six and ten thousand community members and allies descended into downtown Houston. It was in this profound statement of unity that Houston’s LGBTQIA community recognized their power. This realization led to a conference of community leaders that met at the Astrodome, known as “Town Meeting One”. This led to the formation of entities that now make up the Montrose Center; this is their story.

MontroseDinerMontrose-Center-300x164 Community Highlight: The Montrose CenterA Brief History

The Montrose Center was officially founded in 1978, beginning by offering therapy and behavioral health services. There were many setbacks in the formative years, especially in regard to funding, mostly due to the prohibitive cost of providing health insurance to those employees living with HIV/AIDS. In 1990, the Ryan White CARE Act was passed, and the center became the first behavioral health center in the US to be awarded federal funds under the act. Also in the 1990s, they became one of the first organizations to offer temporary housing and shelter to gay men and transgender people. They have continued breaking boundaries consistently since, and many thousands of people have found their way to the building on Branard Street ever since.

Today

The Montrose Center is currently the 5th largest LGBTQIA center in the nation, and continues to be a place where people can gather and respond to the pressing needs of those that cannot speak for themselves. They specifically target LGBTQIA issues through ever-changing programming and staff competency across its six areas of service- counseling, HIV, community wellness, women’s health, and senior services. It also provides social and sensitivity training for all incoming HPD cadets, while working on providing this same training for officers who have been in the Houston Police Department since before this was available. 

“More than 100,000 Houstonians find hope through our programs and services each year. Advocating for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Houstonians is a calling, and the volunteers, staff, Board of Directors, and executive team are fully invested in the community’s health and well-being.”

– Ann Robinson, PhD, Executive Director

lesbian-health-initiative-houston-800x458-1-e1518564499514-300x111 Community Highlight: The Montrose CenterThe first area of service that most clients come across when they arrive at The Montrose Center is known as “Life Counseling and Case Management”. This consists of mental and behavioral health counseling, substance abuse programs (CDR), and family and hate crime prevention and awareness (AVP).  A full 20% of the clients receiving these types of services are on the transgender spectrum, although all people identifying as LGBTQIA (and allies) are welcome with open arms, understanding, and compassion.

Of those served, 3% of total trans clients are seen every year for medical case management. This program is designed to assist those people living with HIV and AIDS while staying in care with a physician, paying for medication, along with a host of other services related to their specific condition. The goal is to create a care team that will stay in touch with the client and assorted medical providers to ensure they are given the most appropriate aid, catered to the needs of the individual.

The Hate Crimes and Anti Violence Prevention Program, or AVP is responsible for helping 26% of the yearly trans client population of the center. The volunteers and therapists in this subdepartment help identify threats, remove clients from harmful and dangerous situations, and teach life and relationship skills to ensure a safer future. The Montrose Center has a series of safe houses for those that feel they are in immediate danger and have been key in removing many people from violent, dangerous situations.

The “Way Out” substance abuse recovery program sees 5% of the trans client population graduate each year. This program is a way for people to seek help with drug and alcohol abuse in a safe, secure environment with people who understand the unique issues facing the transgender community in recovery.

All these services are provided by a team of therapists, counselors, volunteers, and administrative staff who have made it their goal to assist LGBTQIA people in the pursuit of a safe and healthy mental and emotional life.

“In the behavioral health (counseling, recovery, case management) services of the Montrose Center we follow the WPATH Standards of Care for the Health of Transgender, and Gender Nonconforming People (version 7).  We use the correct name and pronouns for the true gender of our clients and provide a safe and affirming environment within all of our services. Our clinical staff is trained on transgender cultural competency and humility. We accept and value you as you are.

According to the WPATH standards, a mental health screening and/or assessment is needed for a referral letter for hormonal and surgical treatments for gender dysphoria but psychotherapy – although highly recommended – is not a requirement. The Montrose Center can provide the screening and referral letter for hormones and surgery.

The standards also describe ways psychotherapy and mental health services can be helpful for people who are transgender. These include:

  • Supporting clients throughout all phases of exploration of gender identity, gender expression, and transition.
  • Clarifying and exploring gender identity and role.
  • Addressing the impact of stigma and minority stress on one’s mental health and human development.
  • Facilitating a coming out process.
  • Aiding in alleviating any co-existing mental health concerns (e.g., anxiety, depression) identified during screening and assessment.
  • Assistance with coming out to family and community (friends, school, workplace).
  • Family counseling or support for family members.
  • Referring  adolescents for additional physical interventions (such as puberty suppressing hormones)

The Montrose Center also has several transgender support groups that meet in our community. Transgender people can also have the ordinary problems everyone else has. The Montrose Center provides an array of mental health services such as general counseling, substance abuse treatment and recovery, trauma, domestic violence, sexual abuse and hate crimes counseling, HIV counseling and case manage, and youth and elder support services all in an LGBTQ accepting and affirming environment.”

-Chris Kerr, Med, LPC, Clinical Director of the Montrose Center

mcpride Community Highlight: The Montrose CenterSpecialty services are provided to the client population living with HIV and AIDS. These services include, but are not limited to: housing assistance, case management, community outreach, HIV education, and no-cost testing. Many people at the center come together to help clients stay in care and off the streets. The transgender population, especially trans women of color, are particularly susceptible to the ravages of this virus, and The Montrose Center assists these people with compassion and understanding. 4% of the client population seen by this area of service are transgender and are always treated with the respect that they deserve.

The Montrose Community Center is a department that centralizes many assorted areas of care.  

In order to help provide a better quality of life for the clients of the Center, they keep a food pantry, wellness classes, outreach and advocacy programs, and rental space in order to host events for leaders and organizations in Houston.  The Transgender Thanksgiving Potluck has been held here as well for the last three years, and it is a place for those trans people who may not have family to gather with during the holidays. This event sees about 70 people per year, and allows those that attend a way to network and socialize. There are several peer-led transgender support groups that meet also, and $13,955 worth of rental space is donated each year to trans and community of color focused groups and initiatives. Last year alone, 1,253 events were held at the center for a total of 64,438 individual visits.

All restrooms in the center are gender-neutral, with several single occupancy options as well. All guests are greeted with gender neutral pronouns until they specify otherwise. Great care has been taken to respect all people regardless of their journey in life. There are two trans organizations in the center’s non-profit incubator, giving them time and space to grow to help others.

“Finding spaces that are truly inclusive has always been a challenge for the transgender community and even more so for those of color. The Montrose Center is not only a hub of resources and services but a safe haven for the transgender population here in Houston.”

– Atlantis Narcisse, Community Projects Specialist Volunteers  

hatch-300x300 Community Highlight: The Montrose CenterHatch Youth Services are available to gender non-conforming people of varying ages. From the weekly meetings that have seen 532 visits in the last year, to the programs designed to help homeless LGBTQ youth, many teenagers have seen their lives improve from being a part of the Hatch system. They also host a yearly prom, Vision Quest, and projects to teach individuals to be comfortable with who they are. While Hatch is a public program, these meetings and groups are all confidential, and the attendees are treated as patients with all the rights that go along with that, regardless of age.

“When I first went to HATCH, I was homeless, in high school, and had no support system in place. Now, I’ve just graduated college, I work at the Montrose Center, and I have a place to call home. None of that would have been possible without the strong support system, resources, and assistance that HATCH Youth Services provided. My story is only representative of a fraction of the immeasurable impact that HATCH and the Montrose has had on hundreds of youth all over Houston.”

-Crimson Jordan, Montrose Center VISTA Member

 

The LGBT+ Women’s Services include six educational events attended by 51 LGBT+ women, and programs targeting these women saw 18,193 served in the last year. These are designed to include not only trans women, but trans men as well who may be in need of reproductive health, or mental health services.

 

“Our priorities with LHI is to center our work and advocacy around those who are the most marginalized by structural systems in the US. Therefore, much of our programming is geared towards building community around trans, nonbinary folks, poc folks, religious minorities, bisexual womyn, persons with disabilities, and especially all who especially lie at multiple minority intersections.  Our hope is to provide service for and create community and celebration around those who are most often shamed and “othered” in contemporary society.”

– Naushaba Patel, MPH, Women’s Health Education and Outreach Specialist

spry-300x300 Community Highlight: The Montrose CenterSPRY Senior Services keeps a diner for seniors, hosts trips and outings, and assists those in need with housing. The diner, last year alone, serves 3,233 hot lunches at no charge. This is open to all seniors, but as with most of the programs at the center, cater specifically to LGBTQ+ people.

There are so many more things that you can find through the Montrose Center website. The ability for the transgender community to have a safe haven, a place to feel like they belong, can do so much to save lives. So, if you’re curious about what’s on offer, check them out.