My name is Kyle Graden. I’m from Bloomington-Normal, Illinois.
It was my junior year. I was 17. I had a bunch of queer friends at the time. My high school was attached to, was a part of a university, Illinois State University. And so they had, the college students there had activities, and one of those activities was a live showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show. I had no idea what that was, but they told me that I had to dress up as a woman because that was the whole point of it, and that there would be a lot of other people there doing that.
I got a cotton soft dress. It was black, had purple trim on it. We then went to Target to get some heels. So I had black heels. My friend lent me her double D bra that I could fit under the dress, so it looked like I had a nice little bosom there. They did my make up for me. And what was really surprising is, when I got there, people actually thought I was a woman.
Rocky Horror was awesome. I had a great time. We went out to McDonald’s. I was with my either boyfriend or ex-boyfriend at the time, had me leg wrapped around him, you know, just being fun and silly and sensual after this amazing experience. And of course, pictures were taken and suddenly I realized that those pictures was taken and put on Facebook. Classic case of being tagged in photos you don’t want to be tagged in, so quickly had that person take them down.
One day after school, I was supposed to be going to Key Club for, you know, to organize a volunteer event and my mom called me, pretty angry, and was like “I’m in the parking lot.” I went out to the parking lot, got in the car, and she just throw these, throws these paper, these pieces of paper at me, and I open them and it’s pictures of me from that night in the dress. She had told me that somebody had printed them off, put them in the mailbox addressed to her, saying “I think your son’s bisexual.” And I have never seen my mom so angry in my entire life. She was spitting angry.
She’s like, “Are you gay? Like, you can tell me if you’re gay.” And I just went into denial mode. And then she just left and I had to go back to Key Club.
When I went to college, I did not talk to my family for four years. Wouldn’t go home for more than 24 hours. Was just kind of running away from that experience.
I figured I’d want to go somewhere, bigger city, where I’d be able to spread my wings and just be who I was, and so I thought Indianapolis was gonna be that place. So I was in business school and then I spent 3 years trying to just fit the norm, joined a fraternity, since all my friends freshman year joined a sorority. Every time I was faced with a decision of, do I go with the men or do I go with the women, my natural inclination is to go with women. But I knew that everyone that, you know, saw me would think I needed to go with the men.
I took advantage of every opportunity that I could in college because I was so thankful to be able to go to college. That’s how I got the opportunity to do an internship for the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, which is a quasi-governmental agency in Indiana in China, in their China office. The people that I met there were extremely welcoming. My roommate immediately started calling me her “little sister” in a very endearing way and it was very precious.
Once I found out that I could be myself with them, I was able to experiment a little. My roommate, she dressed me up in her dress and clothes. She did my make-up and we walked out in public. The whole summer was – I was able to just kind of “be” and not have to worry about the the pressures of gender that I normally experienced.
I was excited to go back home because I had a guy waiting for me. He liked me and I liked him, but he happened to be my younger brother in my fraternity. Unfortunately, fear of how our fraternity brothers would perceive that relationship got into his head and he decided, he started questioning if we should be together and ultimately decided that he didn’t want to be together. I was slapped with the realization that I can’t go back and live this life and fit the mold and I decided to just completely re-prioritize my life.
I ended up joining a legislative campaign called “Freedom Indiana” that was fighting to stop a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage. I learned what being gender nonconforming and trans really meant and realized how much it applied to me. I finally had the language to be able to express myself. You know, I learned what it meant to be gender non-binary, genderqueer, and I’m met trans men and women and gender nonconforming people that I instantly was like, “This makes sense.” Like, I am not alone. Like, I finally get it. And it’s more than I just get it, it’s that I can actually relate to it.
After graduating college, I joined a company where I could be gay, at the time, and as part of that experience, we had – I had the opportunity to hear from trans women in Indiana and they said you can be trans in Indiana and work in business and that’s okay. And that’s when I really knew it was time for me to come out as gender nonconforming. So the first person I had to tell, of course, was my mother. I called her.
I said, I just said, “Look up what genderqueer means.”
Immediately, she’s like, “You don’t want to be called ‘queer,’” because in her day, that was a negative term. So I hung up the phone, didn’t want to start a fight.
Called her again and said, “Look up what gender fluid means.”
And that’s when, you know, she was like, “Yes, I understand. You know, I knew you when you were young. I could tell and, you know, that doesn’t bother me.” And that’s when we were able to work through the experience that happened in high school with the photos and the dress and realized that actually it was her being more concerned about how promiscuous I looked in the photos and potentially what I could be doing that she didn’t know about, versus the fact that I was wearing a dress and wanting to be perceived as a woman.
Life has gotten better. My mom actually will, on Valentine’s Day, send me makeup and mascara. When I go home, she’ll, you know, give me a lot of her old clothes. I can be open and honest. I can, you know, talk about the boyfriends and the guys that I’m seeing. And, you know, she tries to give me advice – none of it’s helpful – but she’s at least trying and and she’s not judging and she’s come a long way since that experience and now I feel more like we are a family unit.
My advice for people that are a little confused about who they are or what they want out of life is to just live free. Live without restraint. Don’t be your first enemy. Don’t be your first blocker into doing something. Don’t let the doubt keep you from pursuing your dreams.