My first move toward transition was to explore online, mostly on LiveJournal, MySpace, and a now-defunct bulletin board called strap-on.org. It was split into discussion rooms that resembled the identity politics of the new millennium—a POC exclusive space, a transgender umbrella board, an area to talk about popular culture and feminism, a space for survivors of violence, a femme area, as well as specific discussion rooms for BDSM, a wide open anything goes space, and I can’t even remember what else. If a dozen years earlier I’d gotten obsessed with online gaming (known as MUDs), now I was headlong in the waters of my own subjectivity. It was fascinating, in that terrifying way. I was nothing but my persona. But wait, I was my persona? I had to ask large questions of myself that were way more vulnerable-making than the entirety that had come before. I was afraid of my own narcissism, but my foray into hyperspace was already a leap, and I couldn’t force myself backwards because I falling somewhere very deep.
Then real people emerged from the brightly lit pixels on my screen. I drove five hours to New York City to meet people I would never have to see in the material world again if I didn’t want to (read: if I was a big transgender flop). That went okay, even as it provided evidence that I was very much out of the politically correct loop for how to interact with other trans people. I struggled in my romantic relationship with a person who was himself transitioning and who was strangely territorial about the process. He declared that I wasn’t allowed to go to DCATS, the transmasculine group in DC, even if he’d gone only to a couple of meetings himself. So I stayed away. But I learned of another group that met in Glen Burnie, Maryland, of all places. It was way too suburban for my boyfriend to be caught dead there, so I drove out the dark highways to a Friendly’s restaurant, and met half a dozen trans men who liked to chat over fried clams and sundaes. And that is where I met Kitt Kling.
I’d go to these meetings with a coworker of mine who had transitioned on the job and whose career had taken a sharp nosedive. I never really heard him explain what was going on for him as the all-staff notices went out and the testosterone did its work masculinizing him. He did talk to me about feeling more at peace with himself, but I think it was hard for him emotionally to be among 1,200 people who knew him as someone else before his decision. I was myself probably not great about his initial announcement; I challenged him to an arm wrestle on top of his desk, and won handily. He wanted to arm wrestle me every week thereafter, and yes, he got stronger and stronger until I was no match for him and I really hated that. I mean hindsight, 20/20, but at the time I wasn’t present in myself enough to realize what the challenge was really about for me. But he was kind enough to go with me to see the other men and when I was all of two weeks on hormones, I went to Glen Burnie with him.
Two cis women were at the table; both partners of trans men. One was also a physician at the Chase Brexton LGBT health clinic. She took one look at me and said I’d never make it as a trans man. I wasn’t sure why she said that and I wasn’t sure why I cared what a total stranger thought but it rattled me, until Kitt shook his head and said quietly that my own opinion was the only one worth heeding and besides, I would definitely be a great trans guy.
Let me be clear, at this point I don’t actually give a shit what kind of “trans” guy I am; I worry much more about what kind of person I am, gender aside. But to hear this from him helped me not stand up from the table and bolt to the door. Another man who had overheard the doctor’s comment told me, laughing, that at least I had some height. (I’m 5’9″. I always wanted to be taller.)
Kitt was a veteran with a host of chronic illnesses that had gone largely neglected by the Veteran’s Administration, which at the time didn’t have so much as a protocol for trans patients. He had a lot of dental misery, too, but the bright whites of his eyes set off a magnificent optimism about him, and he was full of ideas and advice for everyone around the table. He too seemed to be the type of personality who dove into an area to learn about it as much as he could. He’d done research on stand to pee devices, on hormone application sites, on which surgeons had the best outcomes, anything related to transition and trans health. He and a friend who was in training to become a nurse (the first of many trans man nurses I now know) had written a book about transitioning for trans men, but couldn’t find a publisher. They believed in the project so much that they were going to self publish it, and this was in the days before there were 800,000 self-pubbed books in the market each year. They’d written the Library of Congress for an ISBN, and two months later, were still waiting to hear back.
I met Kitt’s son a few months later at the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference, in its first year of operation. I was amazed and then not that his son James was also trans. With a mind as open as Kitt’s, he’d let his child become who he needed to be.
I think I only went to the Glen Burnie group for six months or so, but they were pivotal months for me, in the time before I began finding kinder people in my life and filtered out the noise from what I needed to hear. Kitt was, in long retrospect, the very first non-therapist I met who was simply happy for me to figure myself out whatever that meant, but he paved the way for me to identify others and to recalibrate my life.
Kitt passed away last night, too young. I thank him for his service of all kinds. And I will be among many who will miss him.