A River Called ‘Gender’

It was Norwich Pride on Saturday. It was such a joy to be involved. I have decided to make a post because I have Geography coursing through my veins – and of course, the performance I gave for The Birdcage Pub’s ‘Pride on the Green’ event had to have a geographical ‘analogy’: my discovery of my gender identity is like a river. I called the performance “A River Called Gender”.

NB: It’s a little difficult to hear me at times on the videos due to the vibrant background noise. I’ll have subtitles up on the video ASAP, but you can also loosely follow using the text. đŸ™‚

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Source

I’m Kit, my pronouns are ‘they/them’. I’m a thirty-six year old non-binary trans person. My life’s a river called “Gender” and like all rivers, never the same from source to sea.

I’ll take you on a journey, let’s start at the source to where I meander now, a little bit more sure of myself.

In 1982 I was assigned male at birth (AMAB) – sex and gender made by sight, no other tests. I was blue, I’ll love football, wrestling, cars… I’ll be strong, manly, invincible… Everything else inconcievable, a down-side, a trick of the light.

A… B… C… D… E… F… G….

I was five years old and in reception class. I had a wonderful teacher, Mrs Mills, who I adored and still think of fondly today. I have a strong memory of the very first time we played ‘dress-up’. Mrs Mills brought out two big tubs, one red and one blue. We all flocked to these tubs, and I went straight to the red tub and picked out this shimmering fairy dress. I could imagine myself flying around the classroom making sparkles over the wall. “No dear, that is for the girls… you need to pick out something from the blue tub.” I wasn’t really upset, but mostly confused. When I looked into the blue tub there was nothing left in there for me. And everytime we played dress-up I was hesitant and felt the need to hang-back, to pick out whatever was left in the blue tub. At 5 years old I was already learning to conform.

A, B, C, D, L, B, G… (“Gay-boy!”)
H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P… (Love exploited)
Q… (“Queer… You don’t fit in here!”)
R, S…


U, V…
W, XY? Am I? If so is my fate sealed?
Z… zzz… shhhhhhh
I didn’t know I was LGBT
Take me away from myself, puberty

– Kit Rackley, 2019

Rapids

Memories of school were mostly about being bullied, about trying to fit-in, trying to ‘man-up’, be ‘less like a girl’. I never understood those memories and thoughts of self-loathing until now. Even some scarring memories that gave me nightmares have been soften and contextualised since I discovered myself.

The river was turbulent, rapid, full of choatic energy and entropy. It was young, racing to group up.

I survived school by being what everyone expected of me. I found an awkward contentness, I suppose. Looking back now, especially as an ex-teacher, I wonder how many youngsters are doing the same to survive – being what everyone expects of them.

I just made it into university. Coming up to Norwich in 2001 to study at the UEA was the first real chance to discover myself. At least I figured out that I’m good – although I still didn’t have all the pieces, and still wouldn’t for some time.

Meanders

The pebbles, the stones
I’m too gentle to walk over
I slide instead
I like to make that ‘trickle’ noise
That soothes your head
Calms you mind, if you like,
I can do as I please
Since I’m soft and free
I’ll meander
I’ll widen me banks
Deepen further
Aging but ageless
Feel free to cross me anytime

– Kit Rackley (2001)

I wrote that in 2001 just before I started university. I already knew I was meandering. I wrote a lot of poetry in my late teens. I’ve flicked through the hundreds that I wrote looking to see if I had any clue back then as I gained independence. Surprisingly very little – just the odd few like this one from March 2002 – called Resonate.

The crystal spear
Thrown at your mind’s eye
Shattered to oblivion before it got near
My oh my
But you’re still not over it
As you fall to your kneees
And try to piece together what seems like forever

Sprayed across the floor
Then I head for the door

 I guess what I have seen
Is a reflection of me deformed
And I just want to scream
Let me scream
What does it take
For someone to understand the question
That’s me
A resonate

I can’t help feel
Like a thermal flask
With warmth inside that I can’t radiate
Too much to ask
Yes you’ve seen a side of me
The silver side shining
But it’s only skin and smile so stay awhile
And talk to me

Don’t let me be

Because what I have seen
Is a reflection of me deformed
And I just want to scream
Let me scream
What does it take
For someone to understand the question
That’s me
A resonate

Why do they see
A reflection of me deformed
I just want to scream
Let me scream
What does it take
For someone to understand the question
That’s me
A resonate

– Kit Rackley (2002)

Broadening valley

I wouldn’t be where or who I am if I didn’t go to the UEA. It brought me a career in teaching, a wife and two children, by quirks and coincidences. But over a decade in-front of the chalkface something still wasn’t right. So I took a year off to gather myself. The family and I headed over the Atlantic to spend time with friends and family in the USA. I ventured out by myself – with my wife’s blessing – to work in San Francisco for a couple of months at the start of 2018. Little did I know that a vital missing piece of the puzzle was to be found there. It started dawning on me.

The memories of that five-year old wanting to dress up as a fairy, the hurt and lack of self-respect at school and many more went from grayscale to colour. I am transgender. Now the long road ahead of me came into view but I was eager to start. I started experimenting with my name and pronouns, trying out ‘Kit’ and ‘they/them’, I went to charity shops and bought clothing that was obviously gender non-confirming. And, I bought my first wig. Heh, I always had a thing for red-heads.

A few years before-hand I dressed up in drag and performed this song for a Year 11’s Leaver’s charity concert at school. And suddenly there I was, living in an RV in America, trying on my wig to ‘be myself’. How prophetic performing this turned out to be!

Sediment

Labels are both liberating and restricting. There are a whole hoarde of labels out there for LGBT+ people to try out in an attempt to figure out who they are. Some like to use them, some want to break free of them. Some like to use them as a guide.

Some labels for me are like the sediment in a river. The more rounded, smooth pieces that have been in the river the longest are like the labels that I feel have fit me all or most of my life, like transgender and non-binary. It’s quite clear I’ve been trans all my life and non-binary for as much as I can remember. Other labels are like the more jagged, angular pieces on the river. They aren’t as smooth because although they are a part of me, they are new and I’m still figuring out if they fit me or not. Terms like transfeminine or demi-girl.

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Another is genderfluid. If anything I’m certainly ‘orbit’ in and around the female realm of the gender galaxy. The genderfluid flag is made of five stripes: pink, white, purple, black and blue.

She is pink. But her heart is of innocent gold. There’s a touch of naivety about her as she goes about determined to fill each room with colour and sparkle. Sunbeams from her heart flows through her arms and hands to give joyful embraces not just of the people she knows, loves and trusts. She sees the beauty in everyone, she sees life and hope in the darkest of places. For she is thankful to be alive; every breath that shes takes is narcotic and soothing. Her youthfulness and vibrancy makes her appear innocent and vulnerable, and while, yes, she does need guidance and direction she certainly doesn’t need protection. For she’s been buried long enough. Dormant. Silenced. Hidden. But instead of this driving her to insanity she bid her time and then exploded onto the scene like a firework of dazzling light.

They are white. The centre of a kaleidoscope of colour; of gender. And just like a kaleidoscope they feel it’s hard to get a bearing. Difficult to bring things into focus. Confusing. Unsettling. But it is also beautiful and infinite. And they aren’t concerned but instead amazed. Stunned. For this collision of colour despite being right there in front of them all this time has finally been revealed. It will take time for them to see identify each and every piece of this composition, but please don’t think that they are helpless or lost. They know they won’t expect you to understand until they do, so be patient with them. The more they recognise themselves in the white light the more they will give you. The more they will be able to see. The happier they will become, the clearer and pure their thoughts.

They are purple. They make take a bit of pink and a bit of blue. Some days pink and blue combine softly, fluidly and peacefully like coalescing coloured raindrops on a sheet of glass. The open love, trust and desire balanced and in proportion to righteousness, logic and calculation. A combination of youth from new beginnings and wisdom through experience. Purple is where they can be most content. Most centred. The best of both worlds, where empathy can cross between the binary. But, at times there is turbulence in this purple sea. Pink and blue will clash, will try to drown the other out. No longer coalescence but saturation of one over the other. Often this is precipitated by the outside world; the ignorance, the fear. Dysphoric pink refuses to yield and give way while dysphoric blue, he doesn’t want to be thrust out and forced to consume her. It pains them.

They are black. Black is where they can feel most free. Expectation, conformity and stereotype fades into it. They feel carefree and calm. Black is the companion shadow which has their body’s simplest form, and is most present when the sun is shining brightest or the moonlight fills the landscape with subtle illumination. They will be subjective and introspective. Able to take various angles, thoughts and ideas without the need to put them into boxes or categories. Conversation is natural and honest when they are black. What you see is what you get, and what you don’t see, simply doesn’t matter. Yes, they can get a bit lost at times but the darkness of black is like a comfort blanket rather than restrictive binding force.

He is blue. And just like the sky he has been consistently there, day after day, even during those times when he didn’t want to be. At times he has felt coerced into dominance. He is conflicted and guilty about this, for he has the privilege of having a matching vessel to his persona. But, he feels to the bottom of his heart and to the depths of his soul that it was only out of protection; of ‘self’ preservation. For loyalty and trust is an integral part of him, and, despite his experiences neither of those has ever wavered. From these experiences he has wisdom and confidence. He can be competitive at times and maybe even annoyingly clingy, but rest assured this is borne out of the desire to protect and a staunch loyalty. But for all of this stubbornness he understands now. There are under no illusions. He is nothing without them. Nothing without her.

For you see; pink, white, purple, black and blue are one and the same. Coexisting in one body and one mind. Surely each would be driven crazy, each clambering for dominance? No. Not anymore. For each is simply their nature. Their human nature. They are all these things, submissive to the extent that the one is greater than the sum of their parts.

– Kit Rackley (2018)

Beyond the horizon (and to the sea)

I’m no way near the finished article. And that’s ok. I’m fluid, constantly in flux. This body only knows what’s beyond the horizon.

However you felt yesterday. However you feel today. However you feel tomorrow. You are valid and you are real.

 

 


 

Performed at Norwich Pride on 27th July 2019 as part of The Birdcage Pub’s ‘Pride on the Green’ programme. Thanks to Paul & Tiffany at The Birdcage Pub for giving me a platform to tell my story. Thanks to Katy Jon Went for the pictures (and their partner Esther for keeping an eye on the video camera!). Thanks to my colleagues at the UEA, ex-students from my old high-school, and friends and family (especially my amazing wife) for their support and encouragement. Thanks also to my eldest, who melted hearts as my impromptu stage-hand! Love you all x

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