As an open transman, Kasen spends his time assisting numerous organizations in the Kentuckiana community in becoming more inclusive. Currently, Kasen sits on the Leadership Committee for Louisville Trans Men, running many of their social media groups, volunteering to help with the Transgender Wellness Summit, recreating the LTM website, organizing their participation in the Louisville Pride Parade, spoking on a trans panel for both PFLAG and JCPS, and tabling in the community. He also serves as a board member for the Louisville Pride Foundation, where he sits on the Community Engagement Committee, planning their LPF Community Picnic, running their VIP tent at Louisville Pride, running their Fundraising Committee, and will serve as their Treasurer and a member of the Executive Committee in 2020. Kasen is also a blogger for Yes! Louisville, where he is extremely transparent as an open transman, serves as the VP of Engagement for the Young Professionals Association of Louisville, and was honored as a 2019 Forty Under 40 award winner.
What do you identify as? Why? Or why don’t you identify as anything?
I identify as a heterosexual, transgender man. I’ve always known I was attracted to women, I also knew that I wasn’t one, despite my gender assigned-at-birth. At 8 years old, I didn’t have the words or freedom to express that I was actually a boy. In the 12th grade, my Psychology Teacher let me borrow her copy of the DSM-IV (it was 2001, so no revision yet). I discovered that “gender identity disorder” (now gender dysphoria) was listed. It all finally made sense, and for the first time in my life, I realized that I wasn’t a medical anomaly. If the APA (American Psychological Association) recognized what I was, that meant I wasn’t alone. Fast forward to Kaitlyn Jenner’s public transition. Love her or hate her, she helped to bring the word “transgender” into mainstream conversation. This revolution and language made it easier to say “I’m trans” instead of explaining that I had gender dysphoria and was actually a guy.
What does the word Queer mean to you?
To me, “queer” is an expression of pride. I identify as a part of the “queer” community because I’m a letter in LGBT. Technically queer means “strange or odd”, and I’m okay with that. I am not a heteronormative, cisgender person, and I’m quite proud of that. Being queer can feel like a burden, but being queer, and owning that label also puts me in a giant family of “others”. In my experience, the “others” are the people who have been alienated of cast aside, and because of those experiences, they tend to navigate life with more love and compassion for others. I proudly stand with my scarlet “Q”, linking arms with my LGBT brothers and sisters, as we lean into love and compassion for others the norm.
Where are you from and explain what it was like growing up/living in Kentucky?
I was born and raised in Louisville. Growing up in Louisville was amazing, but also challenging. I have a family that showered me in love and opportunity, except for the queer parts of me. Like many of us southerners, I was raised in the Methodist church. I participated in bible school and youth group. I sang in the choir, went on retreats and performed in church plays. I volunteered as an acolyte and communion. I felt totally at home at church, until a parent complained that I’d come out to their daughter. This was pre-transition and pre-coming out as trans. At this point in life, I identified as “gay” (never “lesbian”). The other kids knew I liked girls. They didn’t care, but the youth pastor at Fern Creek United Methodist Church did. He called me into his office one day and explained that I had to leave the youth group. He tried to give me books, I think as conversion tools, but I declined to take them. I was in High School. I stopped going to church altogether. To make matters worse, my youth pastor called my Dad. I was shamed and humiliated. As a child, my Mom was overly concerned when she thought I might be dating one of my friends. My Dad laughed and made comments like, “no one ever got pregnant from two lesbians”. My Dad laughed it off, thinking it was a phase. But it wasn’t, and when they realized it wasn’t, I was punished. Every time I got “caught” being gay I was grounded. This included not being able to see my friends or get my license. Every time this happened, I’d have to proclaim that “I was wrong.” and that “I prayed about it.” Magically, this lifted my ban and restored my privileges. As an adult, I had to hide that part of myself from my family. Never the community, only my family. Fast forward to 2017, when I decided to stop living a lie. I came out as trans and began my social and medical transition. The community has been nothing but supportive, but my family is slow to get on board. My relationship with them as not been the same, but I’ve never been happier to show up to spaces as my full self. Their loss.
What would you say to anyone struggling to come into their own identity?
I’d tell someone struggling with their identity that “you are valid”, also, “you are NOT alone”. Be who you are as long as you are safe to do so. If you are able to move jobs, cities, relationships in order to get to a safer and healthier place, do so. In the meantime, there are lots of ways to find and connect with others. For example, there’s a Kentuckiana Transgender Support Facebook group. It’s filled with people from all over our state, trans-identifying folx and their partners & allies. Louisville TransMen also has a private, Facebook group. Visit louisvilletransmen.com to get connected with the group and other resources. I’ve not looked, but I’d guess that there are similar groups for all identities. Seek out that support. I’d also say that I understand how scary it is to think about losing relationships if you decide to live your truth and show up as your full self, in all spaces. It’s terrifying — at first. As cliché as it sounds, it does get better, and easier as you grow. There is a great deal of freedom and self-discovery along the way. The moment I decided to transition was the moment I decided to stop living for others and start living for myself. It’s been absolutely empowering and led me into rooms and conversations I would have never imagined. I regret transitioning 0%.
How does your own identity run how you carry yourself? Or does it?
Being a white, trans man is interesting. I have a unique perspective of society, having been treated as both male and female. I’m sad to report that there is absolutely a difference in how others perceive me, the level of respect people give me and the way people speak to me. Transitioning to male gave me more privilege, top off the pyramid privilege that I did nothing to earn except exist as a white man. I’m a big Spider-Man fan. Uncle Ben advised Peter, (my middle name), that “with great power, comes great responsibility”. Having done nothing to earn my privilege, and automatically being given more respect and authority, I use it to speak up for others. In every situation, I decide what is better for the greater good. I’m far enough into my medical transition that I can slip on my transness like a cape. Sometimes I disclose that I’m trans, and other times I let people assume I am cis. Unfortunately, the voice of a cis, white man is often perceived as more powerful and more valid than the voice of any other group or identity. When I can speak up for a marginalized group, talking “peer-to-peer” as a perceived cis, white dude, I sometimes slip on my cape and let them assume. I long for the day when all people are treated with equitable power and respect. In the meantime, I have a responsibility to bring up others with me. Sometimes that means showing up as my full-self and sometimes that means being a chameleon in the name of the greater good.
What issues do you see in the queer community?
Like in the mainstream, I see a racial divide in the queer community. I also see some transphobia, tokenism and general lack of understanding. I think we often forget to consider the viewpoints and experiences of others.
What do you think would solve those issues?
We all have intersectionalities of identity. Demetria Miles-McDonald, Founder and CEO of Decide Diversity calls this our “Diversity Formula”. To help us better understand that all of our pieces add up to make the person we are, she designed the “Table of Diversity” – a periodic table of identity. We aren’t just one identity, we are the sum of our parts…and each part is beautiful and valid. People tend to make assumptions about others based on how they look, their gender, age, skin color, clothes, weight, job, religion, disability, or lack of, veteran status, education, zip code, etc. The list goes on and on. We do this in the queer community too. Most of us have felt rejection, fear, hate, intolerance, loss, or whatever because of our queer identity. Once we find our safe spaces and comfort zone, we seem to put our blinders on and forget that that felt like. Inevitably, this leads us to stop seeing, considering and treating other members of our community. We need to remember those feelings of rejection and take the time to educate ourselves about others within our LGBTQ family. We do this by intentionally seeking out connections with people that are different than us. When we are representing our community, or making decisions on behalf of our community, look around the table making those decisions. Do all those people look like you? Do they all have really similar intersectionalities? If not, that’s a problem. We have to be intentional in making sure that everyone is represented. If you’re on a board, committee or panel, make sure it’s diverse. We can only speak for our own experiences and should never make assumptions about the experiences of others or what would be best for everyone based on one viewpoint.
Do you feel excluded from the “mainstream” queer community? Why or why not?
No, not in general. I’ve tried to use my voice to fight for our community. This visibility has opened some incredible doors and offered me the opportunity to be a part of some amazing conversations. I’m honored to also be tapped on as a voice for the queer community within the mainstream community in general — but I recognize that I am one voice with one perspective. I am hyper-aware of what those tables and conversations look like. When the people there only look like me, I speak up and challenge that group to do better.
Where do you feel “at your best” (safe, happy, fabulous, comfortable, etc)
Two years ago, my answer would have been very different. As a trans man who has now had top surgery, I feel “at my best” in most spaces. I am finally comfortable in my body. 2.5 years into medical transition, my outside shell finally aligns with my insides. Before transition, my body felt like a prison. I only felt comfortable when I was wearing a really tight binder, clothes baggy enough to conceal myself and be perceived as male and in spaces with gender-neutral bathrooms. I was most comfortable at home, where I didn’t have to hide. Now I feel comfortable and confident in just about every situation. I no longer have to monitor my fluid intake out of fear of using the restroom. I no longer worry that I’ll be misgendered or taken advantage of for being perceived as female. I feel comfortable swimming again, in public, with no shirt and I feel comfortable walking into Men’s Wearhouse to be fitted for a suit. I feel safe in Louisville, and in other cities across our state with Fairness Ordinances. In general, I feel safe while traveling (now that my name and gender marker has been corrected on my legal documents). It’s sad to say, but I feel pretty safe just about everywhere and with everyone except my family.
Who influenced the life you live now?
Oh wow. Everyone and everything, truly. For better or for worst, I am a collection of my experiences. Traveling through life as a trans person has opened my eyes and shaped my everyday interactions. My Dad taught me to be generous. My Mom taught me to serve others before myself. My brothers taught me patience and diplomacy. My friends and romantic partners taught me that the person I am is valid and loved. My community showed me acceptance and inequalities that exist. My faith showed me unconditional love, hope, healing and truly doing unto others. All these things taught me to fully accept, embrace and love myself. So everyone and everything. I truly believe that everything happens for a reason and in the exact time it is meant to. Being trans isn’t easy, nor is living so visibly, but it has lead me to a place of peace, self-love, and self-worth. My experiences taught me to lean into every situation with love, kindness, and compassion. For that, I am so grateful.