Kai is a student living in central Canada.
Iridesce: Let’s have a prayer before we begin?
Loving God, you have made us all exactly as we are supposed to be. I am grateful for this time of listening and sharing with no judgement, knowing we are all on a journey. And that you walk with each of us, every step of the way. Amen.
Iridesce: What inspired you to talk to me about your experiences for this project?
Kai: I like being honest with people. [Tears begin welling up]. I just want to be open with people and I don’t want to be hiding anything from anyone. I have been doing alot of that where I am from. [Gently crying, we pause]… Here [at the United Church youth gathering Rendezvous 2017], I am able to speak my mind and talk about these things without fear of judgement. Even if I am unsure about things I can take my time, and it’s okay. So… [points to tears and laughs gently]
Iridesce: Kleenex has arrived... [softly laughing, pulls out a tissue]
Kai: [laughing] Thank you. Here it is okay to talk about these things, and I want it to be okay everywhere to talk about these things.
Iridesce: What are the things you wish were easier to talk about?
Kai: Everything. Just being open in general. Whether it be personal things or just general discussions, knowledge and sharing experiences, and helping others along the way.
Iridesce: That is so understandable and so wonderful. Do you have a congregation where you live? Do you go to church?
Kai: Yes, we have a United Church in my town where I live. I go with my family off and on. We have a youth group there, or we used to. Our youth group leader just moved away from the town. I’ll have stretches where I go to church often, and then other times when I don’t. But I always come back to it. There are events like this which usually tend to bring me back.
Iridesce: Yeah, this weekend seems pretty good for that. What is it like at your church for you?
Kai: It’s good. There are not alot of youth, or even people trying to include youth, except for when the youth group leader was there. In the youth group we had what we called a “safe space” where it was okay to talk about things. But now that the youth group is gone it won’t be the same. She was very open, a good person to have discussions with. She is also part of the LGBTQ community, so she is able to relate. She can share her experience to try to inform us. I think it will shift a little bit now.
Iridesce: In what way?
Kai: It’s a little difficult talking about these things with people at church. Especially the old people who don’t have an interest in youth. Also, people at church act so perfect... I wish people at church were comfortable to be vulnerable and less guarded, to share when they are not perfect. That way I would know that I could be vulnerable with them too, cause I have alot of questions.
Also, my parents go there, so without the safe space of the youth group it makes things a little difficult. I think eventually they will accept me, but I don’t think now is the time… I don’t think they are ready yet.
Iridesce: What do you think that you would need to be “ready”? Do you have any sense of that?
Kai: I think there is alot of pressure for people to figure out how they identify and who they are as a person. I am comfortable with myself but I haven’t quite figured out how to put words to it. For me it falls in the area of gender identity, and falls into genderfluid or genderqueer. But I don’t know where. Some days I fall more on the neutral side of things. Other days I feel more masculine and I want to be perceived as male. I dislike my first name, and I don’t use it if I can help it. That isn’t necessarily a gender identity thing, it is about my identity.
I do find that in public, say if I am ordering some food, the person may say, “Here’s your food, ma’am”, I feel uncomfortable. But if they say, “Here’s your food, sir”, I feel more comfortable. But I’m not sure if it’s because I feel “male” or if it’s because being called “sir” balances out the feminine side so I feel more “neutral”. I’m just not sure.
Iridesce: Interesting. I appreciate your theory of how the masculinity could balance things out toward neutral. Thank you for sharing that. What else should I ask you?
Kai: You know what, you can ask me anything. There might be tears, but… [laughing] I’m open. I’ll let you know if there are boundaries, but I think that we have to be able to willing to be vulnerable. Innovation and creativity come from vulnerability. So does change. If I am being vulnerable to tell you these things, and other people do too, then we can get to a point where it is not vulnerable to talk about these things anymore.
Iridesce: How have things been for you socially?
Kai: I go to an art based school. They are much more welcoming and accepting. 90% of students are part of the LGBTQ community. At school it isn’t an issue… the times I feel most uncomfortable is in public spaces. For example, the other day I was waiting for the bus trying to get to work, and there were 4 or 5 people in a car that pulled up next to me. They had loud music on. They turned down the music and yelled “Fucking dyke!” to me. I didn’t respond. They were at a red light, and they got frustrated that I wasn’t listening. They started getting out of their car. I don’t know where the situation would have gone, but at that moment the bus pulled up and I got on it.
That was intense. But I am confident in myself. I have 10 years of martial arts and my black belt, so I can take care of myself. But when you are in a situation like that when you have 5 teenage boys who go to the gym everyday and eat protein powder… [tears welling up]. I think that is something more than uncomfortable. That was really scary… [tears spilling over]. When you are so mentally drained you don’t even want to fight back, you just want it to stop.
Iridesce: [weeping with this young person] I am so sorry. I promise you that we have been working so hard to stop that…
Kai: I know. The thing is it’s not like those people were old and have grown up with intolerance. They are people my age with the same ideologies that people in your generation have been trying to teach us. To be respectful, open and caring. Just to love. And they don’t understand that. And twenties years down the road they are going to look back and really regret that, but it doesn’t matter. It is just that I could potentially get beat up so easily right now.
The thing is that all what they yelled at me was based purely on assumptions! I don’t identify with terms like lesbian or dyke, because gender-wise that doesn’t fit. That sexuality label doesn’t fit with my gender identity. They are falsely assuming that I am a certain way, and they want to beat me up for it. If they knew factually where I am on that spectrum, their response could be even worse.
There has been alot of acceptance of sexuality--gay and lesbian people for example--more than gender identity. So if they are willing to stop their car, flip me off and get out of their car to beat me up at the assumption of my sexuality, if they knew my gender identity and who I truly am, their response could be worse. And that’s a scary thing. Thankfully I got on the bus safely, got to work and had a fine rest of the day.
Iridesce: How can you try to find safety for yourself? What or where is the safest thing for you right now?
Kai: To be surrounded by people. “Strength in numbers” is a saying for a reason. I’ve never been attacked or verbally attacked when I’ve been in groups. (When I’ve been in groups of two with a girl, people still call it out, because they assume). When you are surrounded with people who understand you, or at least are trying to understand you, even if they don’t understand, it’s a good thing. Trying is all they need to do. You don’t need to be a master whiz at it… we are all humans. People are going to mess up. I’m going to mess up, you’re going to mess up. I use wrong pronouns on my own self sometimes! It is so weird! [laughing] I think the main thing is that it is all a learning curve. I don’t want to say it’s going to get better, because maybe it won’t but the main thing is to try to surround yourself with people who care about you.
The people who are around me--I want to be a support for them in their lives too--but when I am so drained from these kind of situations, it is hard to be a support to others. You have to have enough energy in your cup in order to give some back too. That’s what I want to do.
Iridesce: Thank you so much for taking this time with me, Kai.
Kai: Can we say a prayer?
Spirit of Courage and Compassion, Thank you for this time spent with Kai. Thank you for Kai's courage to be honest and vulnerable, and to be a model of openness for our church. Help Kai to know that none of us is ever alone, and that God walks with each one of us through good times and hard times, through questioning times and figuring-it-out times, God is with us. Christ's bold radical love is with us. The Spirit of Love and Compassion and Courage is always with us. I pray for Kai to find community, people and places of safety--emotional, physical and spiritual safety. And lead us, God. Lead us to be that safety for Kai and for all your people. Amen.
*Names and identifying details have been changed, upon request. This interview is shared with full consent and participation of ‘Kai'.