JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Kit Yan, a transgendered male, shared his perspectives at the Hawaiian Hut earlier this month during a slam poetry performance.
Voice of change
Kit Yan boldly speaks out about transgender issues as the 'hot tranny boi slam poet'
Kit Yan is gender queer. And he's letting everyone within the sound of his voice know that.
In his journey in altering the body formerly known as Laura Yan, the 22-year-old felt he had to move from his Oahu birthplace to the mainland and college in order to feel comfortable as a transgendered person. That is, as "comfortable" as one can get for someone who deliberately blurs the male-female line and doesn't hide it.
Yan is bold in speaking out as a "hot tranny boi slam poet." On his Web site, Yan states that his vision is "to take trans issues public through any channel (TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, etc.) within three years."
He definitely garnered his share of attention as a featured guest at this month's First Thursday poetry slam at the Hawaiian Hut. Decked out that night in cap and T-shirt as a self-professed "walking vegan poster child," Yan regaled a rapt crowd with sculpted verses that were at times raunchy, at times tender, but always upfront and truthful about his transgendered life.
He has a comfortable command of the stage, even using the microphone's phallic shape to humorous effect. There might be a hint of tonal "femininity" still in his voice, but for all intents and purposes, Kit Yan is well on his way to becoming a young man.
It's a life-changing decision that his family in Moanalua has come to accept.
"I have two brothers," Yan quietly said outside after his gig. "The youngest one (at 7) is actually the most understanding because little kids understand the world to be what they see and how you explain it to them. So he understands that I was his sister but now I'm his brother, and he has no problem with that idea. He's even explained this to some adults, like his piano teacher.
"My parents are actually supportive of my life. At first they didn't understand it, but through a series of conversations on gender versus sexuality, they have come to understand that there is a difference and that I am a boy who dates women and not just 'gay.'"
As in HIS poetry, Yan spoke candidly about who he is in a deliberate and focused tone.
"This has been a serious process for me. I was into poetry before coming out as a gender queer. It was only afterward that I started to include GLBT (gay/lesbian/bisexual/trangender) issues, and my transition from female to male, in my work."
He professes to a relatively normal life as a young Boston professional who has come out as a transgendered male to his employers, although "I don't know if any of my co-workers know."
An admitted tomboy while growing up (as well as being an avid golfer to this day), Yan was first exposed to transgendered life while attending Pearl City High School.
"I knew that two students in my high school class were transgendered. While I was watching their struggles, I wondered what would happen if I came out."
A couple of years later, he would find out. "When I was 20, I was really thinking about how wrong my gender was for me. ... We usually think there's only two choices, male and female. I think a lot of people feel it's a binary system that they're trapped in."
He said he always hated his female body but didn't realize he had an option. "My trans role models were mostly male-to-females, and I guess as a kid I didn't understand that it could be the other way around."
COURTESY KIT YAN
Before he came out, Kit was Laura Yan.
ASHLIANA HAWELU, executive director of the social justice organization Kulia Na Mamo, said transgendered males do make up a small number here.
In fact, in her case, "my female-to-male aunt was more readily accepted than I was when I went male-to-female. It took about a year for my family to accept me. ...
"It basically depends on the company you keep and your support system, which can be a make-or-break situation. With Polynesians there is a bigger support system in place, where with other cultures the understanding is harder, especially if there is a strong religious background where homosexuality is considered a sin.
"If you come from a more loving and understanding background -- where you can contribute to society and family, your kuleana -- that's what matters," Hawelu said. "Gender becomes secondary."
KIT YAN came out as a transgendered male after graduating and traveling east to Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., a business entrepreneurial school from which he has just graduated.
"Subconsciously, I really wanted to get far away from here to be myself. ... When I moved to Boston, I had positive female-to-male role models and realized that I could live my life as male and truly live in the body and societal role that I wanted. So I started transitioning as a male by first getting rid of my female wardrobe, then binding my bust, wearing boxer shorts and using men's restrooms."
Four years later, he finds things haven't changed much in Hawaii. "While the male-to-female, mahu-drag-queen culture has been embraced in the Hawaiian culture, there's not much here for trans men like me."
Yan calls himself "a pre-op trans guy, which means that I haven't had any surgery yet." He has been in therapy for a little more than a year, more as a precautionary measure, making sure of his decision.
"I'm also scheduled to meet with a doctor in two months about starting hormone therapy. A few months after I begin, the tone of my voice will drop, and my body may begin to look different."
Eventually his breasts will be surgically removed. "For the past two years, though, I've worn binders, which I mention sometimes in my poetry. They're very tight undershirts that really press down on your chest."
YAN'S POETRY has been an integral part of his life change and has found audiences around the mainland mainly sympathetic.
"I've found that my voice is important because nonqueer people really appreciate the stories that I share, just like when I hear a poem about a Latina woman living in New York or a Nigerian man talking about cancer," he said.
"Wait -- I had a pretty negative reaction once when I did a performance at Harvard University. One of their Crimson reporters wrote an article that pretty much bashed me for the views expressed in my poem 'Third Gender.' He claimed that queer people and their seemingly infinite expression of identities marginalizes us even further instead of unifying us. He pretty much wrote it off as something too difficult for him and other people to understand, so how are they expected to accept us?
"I thought that that was a great example of the kind of homophobia and transphobia that makes it difficult for people to open up to and understand queer people."
Thanks to a college assignment to go to a slam poetry reading, Yan was hooked on spoken word. "After hearing poetry truly come alive, I fell in love with the idea that there was an art form for reading your poetry in any way that you want. In slam you use all of your voice and body to tell a story. ... Your poetry can become a performance for the audience."
After seeing media presentations such as the series "Transgeneration" on the Sundance Channel and, of course, the movie "Transamerica," starring Oscar nominee Felicity Huffman, Yan is heartened that the day could come that transgendered people will no longer be marginalized.
"It's slow, but I want to be part of that change," he said. "This is my art, my life, where I'm allowed to talk about anything and to feel accepted and embraced by those that hear me."
In his words
Excerpts from Kit Yan's spoken-word poetry.
Sometimes my gender is,
Girl who looks like a boy, who like girls.
Sometimes my gender is,
Boy who was a girl, who feels like a girl sometimes,
Sometimes my gender is,
Boy who looks like a girl, who wants to be a boy, and
Sometimes my gender is ... mind your own business.
But it can't be that way,
Because gender is rigidly defined,
Neatly outlined and nicely colonized,
Organized, and clearly understandable,
Yet the gap is becoming gendered, and
I'm standing in line for the restroom with,
Girls, birls, boys, bis, transsexual, transgendered, queer, questioning, curious, polyamorous, intersexed, flexual, asexual, trisexual, omnisexual, multisexual, pansexual, gender neutral, genderqueer, genderfluid, multigendered, polygendered, androgynous, drag king, drag queen, heteroflexible, butch, femme, fairy, two-spirit, bear, dyke, lipstick, tranny, boi (with an I), FTM, MTF, boydyke, half-dyke, bi-dyke, queerboi, ex-straight and that's just the beginning!"
Reprinted with permission of the author