International Transgender Day of Visibility Interview with Khristie Leigh

I met 67-year-old Khristie Leigh Kennison when I was staying at a rural bed and breakfast in the country with my boyfriend. She was also staying there and we got to talking. Khristie then began to speak about being transgender. The next weekend we returned and I asked her if she would be interested in being interviewed for International Transgender Day of Visibility (March 31). She was delighted at the opportunity to finally be able to share her unique and courageous journey as a male-to-female transgender person.

When did you first realise you were transgender?

When I was in my mid to late twenties…there was this unbelievable compulsion to cross dress, and it wasn’t out of a sexual gratification type of feeling, it was that I just felt natural, I just felt more myself.

To me, life is a fancy dress party from start to finish, but I was cross-dressing from about five years old, and then at high school I was probably very underdeveloped from a male point of view (but my father pushed me into being a rugby player and doing the “boys things”)….but I suppose, more when I was in my mid to late twenties where there was this unbelievable compulsion to cross dress, and it wasn’t out of a sexual gratification type of feeling, it was just that I felt natural, I just felt more myself. I felt more comfortable wearing female clothes, but also my body shape tends to say that as well. (I haven’t worn a male pair of jeans ‘cause I can’t find a pair in any shop that fit me properly, I go to Just Jeans, and go straight to the female section!) ….And then when I was 13 years old I saw the osteopathic surgeon in Macquarie Street Sydney, ’cause I ended up with this back growing condition called Scheuermann’s disease (a condition usually happens when you’re going through puberty)…and it was then and there that I was described as having a lower back with an increased lordosis (forward pelvic tilt) and the tilt of my hips were slightly different to a male as well…..so really, that’s one of my earliest recollections, being 13 or 14 years old, and having all these questions in the back of my mind, even then….I was like, ‘but I’ve got one of those things on the outside [male sex organ]’….but I’ve always felt that I was like, both [male and female]….Though I prefer the term “two spirit person” to describe who I am.

When did you make the decision to come out?

[Coming out] was something that I’d laboured with for a long time, especially with having had two unplanned children, and given that I am attracted to (and always have been attracted to) females….I’ve never been attracted to a male…I approached by GP doctor….and I said, “I can’t keep on living that way…I’ve gotta be me”.

I really didn’t come out so to speak , or whatever you wanna call it, until I was 63 when I approached my GP doctor who was a very soft, sensitive person who I felt comfortable with talking about this to, in Manila of all places, in Northern NSW.

And it was interesting cause he was saying, “but you’re 63, the same age as me, are you sure you wanna do this?”

and I said, “Yeah, but I can’t keep on living that way, I can’t, I’ve gotta be me”.

So I asked my doctor, could he prescribe some estrogen for me….so we started on just 1 mg a day, and we did blood work all the way through.

The name Khristie came to me twenty odd years ago. It just had the right song, the music of it, the play of the vowels of the word.…And then when I got my doctor to start calling me Khristie, it was a relief, in a one word; and then I got the receptionists at the surgery to start calling me by that name.

I said: “Oh, no, no, please, call me Khristie, it’s music to my ears!”

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Khristie Leigh came out as a transperson at age 63 in a locality she describes as “probably the most homophobic and transphobic town in Australia”.

[Coming out] was something that I’d laboured with for a long time, especially with having had two unplanned children, and given that I am only attracted to (and always have been only attracted to) females.….I’ve never been attracted to a male.……But the difficulty was with my children, I didn’t want to upset anybody, which is similar to what Caitlin Jenner said in her interview in America…I didn’t want to upset anybody, especially my children, so I waited ’til they were 36 and 32; and then my son rejects me….my daughter accepts me and my son doesn’t….(but that’ll come around, time’ll be the healer there)….But yeah, it was just time. I couldn’t keep living that way…. I couldn’t keep on being a so-called “closet cross dresser”….because it was more than that….it wasn’t just cross-dressing, it was, ‘I just have to be me’….and the time was right to do it at the time I did, in probably the most homophobic, transphobic town in Australia, with the greatest amount of homophobic and transphobic bashings in the state, if not the country (Manila, Tamworth). I did meet an Indigenous homosexual guy at a pub through a friend in Tamworth, and I went up there, and I had my camisole top on, and my boots, and a little bit of make-up on,

and he said, ‘’Wow, you’re brave to do that in this town’’.

….I wished I could’ve come out earlier but the evolution of society back then in the fifties and sixties, just wasn’t there…. I mean, part of me says yes, I would’ve loved to have come out earlier, but another part of me says, no because I would’ve maybe never had those two beautiful children, and may have not even had the relationships I had with those beautiful women as well, because I would’ve maybe not have been accepted by them…..I’m still looking for that one person to share my absolute self with, and that’s really just the last missing link…it could even be a Thai Lady boy, who is pre-op.

What sort of discrimination have you encountered as a result of coming out as a transgender person?

I’ve had taps on the shoulder and have had the biggest cowardly king hits you’d ever seen,  I don’t know how I’m still alive, out of some of them. This was even back when I was a teenager, because I was a real pretty, pretty boy. I was too pretty a boy….And how many times has my nose been rearranged?….I’ve also experienced transphobia from a post-operative transgender woman.

khristieleigh5Yes, a lot of us have been bashed, and a lot of us cop verbal harassment and discrimination as well, and that hurts just as much as the physical. It’s just such a foreign thing to the majority of men in our society, that you’d want to cut off the phallic symbol of life, because that’s their definition of masculinity; it’s the penile expression of life so to speak, and they can’t even come to grips as to how anybody would want to take that and invert it, so to speak. Some maybe less overt but still hurtful and alienating forms of discrimination I have even experienced from health professionals.

And as a transgender woman (although most women I get on well with and all my best friends have been women), I’ve experienced that physical violence mainly from women,

where they’ve said, “no, you don’t belong in this box”,

and I’ve said, “No I’m not exactly like you, but hey, I’m similar”

…And yeah, many women feel threatened by transgender women,

and are like, “No you can’t come over to our side of the fence!”,

and it’s like, “No, I’m not like you, but I’m so like you.”

…And if we can overcome that, that’d be a big one.

….For a lot of women, as a result of the way they have been brought up, if a male type figure (especially one with a deeper voice, and who maybe has to portray as being a male, or a good male impersonator, so to speak) approaches them, they perceive that as being a sexual advance, because that’s the way that society has evolved and that’s the way they feel biologically as well…..But women who are more educated, and have more life experience will accept me, and a lot of it is about education: for them to know,  (just like Catherine McGregor said when she was first interviewed way back) that, we don’t profess to be exactly the same, but we’re so similar in what we are to you, than what we are to males, and we feel more comfortable in the company of women.

…But I’ve had taps on the shoulder and have had the biggest cowardly king hits you’d ever seen…. I don’t know how I’m still alive, out of some of them. This was even back when I was a teenager, because I was a real pretty, pretty boy. I was too pretty a boy. And I ended up with a dislocated jaw, expressed two fractures….and how many times has my nose been rearranged?…. Just being too nice, being too empathetic, being too loving, being too equal. And then some of them would have a realisation,

“Oh mate, I shouldn’t have done that’,

and I’ve gone, “Well, hey, don’t do it to anyone else again, please.”

So I’ve copped it all.

I’ve also experienced transphobia from a post-operative transgender woman (and her partner), and that’s been really, really hard. I’ve been told that I wasn’t to come around to her birthday party in a skirt, and one time I went around wearing shorty-shorts and a tank top, and I was told I wasn’t to come around there any more “looking like a sixteen year old”. I also copped the most obscene violent bashing from her too. She came down to my place drunk one time and just started going bang bang bang with the kicks and punches, and she’s six foot one and a half. Then she kicked me so badly up between the legs as well, I got hospitalised twice for that, and that’s only six months ago…

What advice would you give to other transwomen or transgender people in general?

A lot of transgender people I have met are of the belief that, “if you can’t pull it off then, well you just should forget about it”, and that’s not what it’s about. For M to F transpeople, it’s like “I gotta go out and get a boob job, cause that’s what’s possible. I want to have a vagina as quick as possible”, you know? But no, no, no, no, it’s not like that, just take it step, by step. I’m still pre-op. I’m in no rush.

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Khristie Leigh prefers the term “two spirit person” to describe who she is.

Too many transgender people try to rush it to be too quick, too quick…and a lot of transgender people believe they have to look exactly like a woman, and it’s not about that (and that’s also the beauty aspect of society now as well)…and a lot of transgender people I have met are of the belief that, “if you can’t pull it off then, well you just should forget about it”, and that’s not what it’s about. We should be accepted whether we still look a bit male-like, or somewhere in between, or maybe even more beautiful…and that’s where some of the discrimination comes back: once you do put the make-up on and the high heels and the legs and the dress and everything else and more, then you sort of build up these insecurities on the other side of the fence [with cis gender women].

A lot of transgender people want to rush the whole process. For M to F transpeople, it’s like “Gottta go out and get a boob job, cause that’s what’s possible. I want to have a vagina as quick as possible”, you know? But no, no, no, no, it’s not like that, just take it step, by step. I’m still pre-op. I’m in no rush, the only thing is, all the clinics in Bangkok say (well here’s a bit of a pun for ya’) that their “cut off date” [to perform gender reassignment surgery] is 65, and I’m close to 67 now….. but I don’t feel it….and you know, there’s some interesting biological changes. [My breasts] show me what’s possible at my age, cause the textbooks and all the literature says that next to nothing’s gonna happen. But what’s the power of the subconscious, of the belief of the mind???

A [cis gender] female who I had a converation with a while ago said to me,

“But you’re only attracted to females”,

and I said “yeah”.

And she said, “but, you know, well if you go and have that operation, you’re not going to be able to do that [sexual intercourse]. ”

And I turned around to her and I said, “Oh, maybe it’s a bit like this, there’s more than one way to bake a cake, isn’t there?” or something like that.

But it’s different to that….it’s not just a sexual thing, that’s most people’s construct of their being, that it’s all about sex and it’s all about a sexual expression and not a sort of true self expression of the total you. Most males are thinking that way too…and having been on that so called “side of the fence”, and having one of these [male sex organ] and having had conjugation with females…and everything else and more,  I know that wasn’t the best part of the relationship, that wasn’t the be all and end all of it, not at all.

So many transgender females feel that they have to go out and get these horrible oversized breast implants and their whole thing is “if you’ve got a vagina and you’ve got big tits and you look beautiful like a woman, then you’re a woman” , but that’s not being true to themselves, it’s all just a pomp and show, they’re not being true to themselves ……And if you look at the statistics on the net, there are an incredible amount of people who are in post operative regret, especially the younger ones, who have gone the whole path of sexual reassignment surgery and then the regret sets in…. and it’s a big one.

A lot of transgender people think they have to go and validate their whole being a transgender person by having a relationship with a heterosexual male. No, it doesn’t have to be that way. And all the statistics out there says that your partner may be another transgender person, or they might be a cis gender female…. but have an open book, don’t have a closed mind about it. You don’t have to go out and do this and that to…..what?……..To prove that you’re definitely a woman? -I’ve seen the same with F to M transgender people as well. Somewhere you’ve just gotta find the right person, and don’t have any expectations that you have to go and do that to feel acceptance that you are more of a feminine person that what you are in your male expression.

How can transphobia be eliminated?

You’re not some sort of genetic (or whatever) “freak”, or someone that’s just “too different”, no, no, no, you have to have this acceptance for yourself before you’ll get it from other people.

I think it’s an education thing. There needs to be more documentaries, more forums of discussion, more education, and maybe there should be a regular program on TV whether it has to happen through SBS or ABC (I can’t see it happening on a commercial channel ever!), with people like myself and Catherine McGregor and others, a whole range of ages of trans gender people, that’s what I’d like to see on TV….There needs to be a more visible presence of transgender people in the media. Additionally, all health care professionals need to be more aware and educated about transgender people and how to work with us.

trans and proud buttonI suppose people like myself who are older and can understand it and have been through years and years of this, can help the younger generation about the acceptance and validation and affirmation of who they really are, and  how to be proud of who they are; and to help you realise that you’re not some sort of genetic or whatever freak, or someone that’s just too different, no, no, no, you have to have this acceptance for yourself before you’ll get it from other people; and together somewhere, we’ve all gotta come back together again.

I’ve always said I wish I could win Powerball or Lotto so I could set up a Transgender Centre out this way in Western Sydney, somewhere out west here, there needs to be a safe place, a refuge for trans people of all ages, where all the health professionals from counsellors to psychologists , psychiatrists and MD doctors and people who want to specialise in this operate from, because there’s a huge need for this. A place where parents who suspect their children are showing signs of being transgender can go to feel comfortable to talk to and get support and information in a totally non-judgemental environment. It’d be a place where health practitioners treat us with respect and not as someone who’s some sort of sexual freak; it’s about everybody feeling comfortable the whole way through. There’s gotta be the right facility set up in this country and other countries too.

What message do you have to people out there in the community who are transphobic?

I accept you as being who you say you are, just accept me as being who I am….Don’t see me as being a female, or a female impersonator, I’m just another person, pleased to meet you along the road of time.

khristie5If I got to sit next to someone who was transphobic, I’d treat them as equal, try to have empathy and understanding and compassion for them as an equal soul. None of us own this planet. None of us have the right to judge individuals no matter what sexual expression or whatever, intellectual and spiritual expression that they have. We all have a right to be here, and to be treated equally in society. I accept you as being who you say you are, just accept me as being who I am….and I’m not that much different at all. I understand why, and where you’re coming from, but I’d just like you to hear my story. We’re here to share this beautiful planet, we’re all looking for the harmony at the end of the day, we’re all looking for comfort, it’s divining that, not dividing , your time , my time and our time..it’s too precious…it can be taken away like that, in an instant. Why can’t you accept me as being who I am? I’m a pretty nice person to be with, to be around…hey I treat you as equal, hey can you treat me as equal too? That’s all I’m asking from you. Don’t see me as being a female or a female impersonator, I’m just another person, pleased to meet you along the road of time.