Fifty Shades of Gender podcast graphic with Dr. Kyl Myers

Episode 15

A conversation with Kyl Myers

GENDERQUEER WOMAN, GENDER-CREATIVE PARENT

Recorded on 13 October 2020. Duration 38 mins approx.

Kyl’s pronouns are they/them or she/her. They identify as a genderqueer woman and are a gender-creative parent. Find out what that means to Kyl in this episode.

We also talk about being raised with conventional gender roles, trying on different gender labels and pronouns, how names fit or not, what it’s like to bring up a child without gender expectations, and the start of a gender revolution.

“It’s not like we’re keeping sex and gender a secret; it’s not like we think it’s a bad thing that we don’t want our child to learn about. We just want them to learn about it in a really realistic way, an expansive way.”

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TRANSCRIPT [expand to read]

Esther: Hello and welcome! What’s your name?

Kyl: Hello, my name is Kyl Myers.

Esther: And how do you identify Kyl?

Kyl: I identify as a genderqueer woman, both in my gender expression and identity and my sexuality, and I use they/them and she/her pronouns.

Esther: Cool. And what does that mean to you, those labels?

Kyl: I am definitely in the exploring phase, I am on a gender journey, like I think a lot of people are. I was born, and assigned, female at birth and raised and socialised as a girl and a woman and I think, for a long time, those labels fit because I didn’t know anything about other label options right? Or any other types of options along the gender spectrum, that just isn’t how I was raised, I was raised in a really conservative, religious, environment, that was very binary. Then, later in life, going through college, and now I am 34 and I just know so much more about gender, I know so many people who I love who exist outside of a gender binary, or feel trapped by the gender binary, and so I think I have given myself a lot more permission in the last few years to try on different labels, try on different pronouns, try on different behaviours, and like really do that internal work of: do I like this because I like this, or do I like this because I was socialised to like this for three decades, you know?

Esther: Yeah!

Kyl: So, to me, the term woman is familiar because it was just what was given to me, and what I lived in for so long, but I think if gender didn’t exist, or if the gender binary was invented tomorrow, I don’t know if I would subscribe to the woman side of the binary, you know?

Esther: And just opt out right?

Kyl: Yeah, yeah, like ‘no thank you, I will un-click that checkbox!’. So I have been trying to think: does non-binary fit? Does gender-fluid fit? Does a-gender fit? And I just love genderqueer, because I am a queer person, and I feel really happy and responsible to come out as a queer person because I get read as cisgender, and I am married to a cisgender man, and so I think my sexuality gets kind of rendered invisible a lot, and so I just love the term queer and it fits so cosy for me and I also like genderqueer.

Esther: Yeah, that is a really good point actually. I consider myself cisgender, I guess, you know. And I was playing with the term cis-queer, so that is something I was playing with at the moment.

Kyl: I like that!

Esther: But it will evolve I am sure, it is a journey, isn’t it?

Kyl: Totally and we hear language, and it is like: ooh that fits, even though I do resonate so much with so many people who are non-binary, there is just something about genderqueer that just like fits me a bit better than non-binary, you know? Cis-gender is alright, I guess, I don’t know, it is such a… I am so sorry that I am giving you this roundabout, topsy-turvy answer, but it is because it is a roundabout, topsy-turvy gender journey.

Esther: Well it is yeah, absolutely. So when did you adopt your they/them pronouns?

Kyl: Over the last year, it has definitely been over a year that I was like: I like they/then pronouns and I like them for multiple reasons. I feel so grateful that my name is Kyl, like the name that was given to me at birth is Kyl and it is typically associated with as such a male, boy, or masculine name, I don’t meet a lot of girls or women or fem folks whose name is Kyl. So I feel so lucky that I have been able to exist in this kind of like androgynous name for so long, that I think it kind of helped me my gender. And people would say, my name it always resonated, it always felt good, and I don’t think I was able to think about it critically until recently, but it is just like: oh it wasn’t hyper-feminine, because I am not hyper-feminine. You know a lot of people feel like their names don’t fit and we hear our names so often and that can be kind of dysphoric, or jarring, right, if you don’t feel like your name fits you and your gender. And I feel lucky that Kyl has always felt so good — and representative — of me.

And so with they/then pronouns, I just love the androgyny of it, I love the neutrality of it, I love that when you use gender neutral words, when you use gender neutral pronouns, it tricks your brain into not being allowed to flip on a binary gendered script and just like slide down in the way that I think oftentimes she/her people will flip into the woman script for me, or anybody, who is using she/her and I don’t want that, I want people to be able to kind of get to know me as a person and so I just like that neutrality of they/them. But I am also really comfortable with she/her, I am like totally a ‘she/they’. I am okay with either, but I love when people try, I love when people try to mix it up like: use she/her for me one day; use they/them for me one day; throughout the time that you are talking about me in a conversation, throw both sets of pronouns in, but so often I don’t hear people using pronouns for me, right, because pronouns are these shortcuts that we use for people when they are not around, a lot of the time.

I think a big thing of, we will probably get into it, of talking about gender creative parenting, but I have a four-and-a-half year old, I didn’t assign a gender to them at birth, and we used they/them pronouns from the start and really normalised asking people pronouns, really normalised not assuming someone’s pronouns, really normalised using gender neutral pronouns. And so now I have a kid who is four, who is like: hey mum, what pronouns do you want me to use for you today? Because that has become a normal thing that we have done…

Esther: Oh that’s so brilliant, I love it!

Kyl: And that has been a fun place for me to play, you know of like ‘well, I am okay with, how about she/her today, or how about they/them today’, you know? And so it has just been this dialogue, right, that got turned back on me and it was like: what do pronouns do I want? I don’t think we ask ourselves that enough, right?

Esther: That’s right. So, I was going to talk to you about your child sort of next anyway, and the gender creative parenting, which I love. I am not a parent myself, nor do I wish to be one, but I love that your approach is that and do you notice anything in them, that they are starting to self-identity as? I don’t know at what age kids do what stuff; I am clueless! Because obviously you have given them that freedom, that gender neutral freedom, so what do you notice in them that you might not notice in other kids that are raised in a more binary way?

Kyl: Yeah, that is a great question. We do gender creative parenting where we gave them all of the options, all of the clothes options, all of the colour options, all of the activities, opportunities and adjective options and around the age, really around their fourth birthday, is when they started self-declaring you know with these gendered labels and pronouns and it is awesome, and we respect that. I use they/them pronouns when I talk about them in public because I want Zoomer to have the opportunity, and the autonomy, to be like ‘this is me’ and I also think they are exploring a lot, which is really cool, because they are still learning about gender and the complexities of it and finding themselves in it.

But around their fourth birthday is when they really started, ‘this is me, these are my words, these are my pronouns’, which is fantastic. And I think that this a little bit delayed, not as a bad delayed, but it is different in kids who are assigned a gender, they really start saying, ‘I am a boy’, ‘I am a girl’, when they are three, or even earlier, or a little bit later, give or take. And so I think there is this really beautiful freedom and exploration that happens when you don’t assign a gender to your kid is they get more time to think about it, to learn about it, and then to really self-identify which I actually think that maybe some kids would, if they hadn’t been assigned a gender, because I think what kids are often doing is just repeating back to grownups what they have told they are for years, right. And that is not just around gender, it is like,

Esther: Everything.

Kyl: Yes, if you are hearing all the time ‘you are a good girl’, ‘you are a smart girl’, ‘you are a funny girl’, ‘you are a brave girl’, of course, at two-and-a-half, or three, you are like, ‘I am girl!’ because that is the language you have been given. Similar to, ‘are you Christian?’, ‘are you Jewish?’, ‘are you Republican?, ‘are you Democrat?’, ‘Are you a vegetarian?’, you know? We assign, grownups assign so much to kids and then it can be kind of hard to entangle, ‘well is this actually the child’s identity or is this just them mimicking their assignments back to us?’, you know?

That is a thing that I think about with gender creative parenting and Zoomer doesn’t police gender, as much as a lot of their peers do. They do sometimes right? They haven’t been raised in a vacuum, they watch TV, and they go to school and they are exposed to marketing, and American gender culture, which is very hyper-gendered and very binary. So they are learning. But I think my influence on them as their parent, with a really gender-expansive and gender-inclusive narration happening all the time, it is pretty powerful. So I can kind of compete, I can compete with the other aspects of culture that is trying to teach Zoomer about gender and so they don’t make fun of kids: they don’t make fun of girls with short hair, they don’t make fun of boys that wear dresses, because they haven’t been taught that that is the right or wrong thing to do. They have just kind of been taught that everything is for everybody and people want to express themselves however they want and we are just respectful and inclusive and we are good friends and not bullies, and so I think that has been a really cool thing that I have been able to start witnessing in the last year, especially.

Esther: I love that, one of the things that I was thinking about, because I watched your TED talk, it got me thinking about conditioning, because we are all so, so, conditioned and the more aware I become of it, the more I see it, and almost blown away by how subconscious it all has been. I am sure you have gone through a similar journey for yourself, which obviously made you decide to raise your child differently.

Kyl: Right, and I am still unlearning myself. I am like constantly recognising these things that were socialised into me and it is like: is this the best way to be going about it? Totally! There is so much responsibility on parents for how we socialise kids, all you are doing all day is socialising them. So yeah, I just try to be so much more conscious, and explicit, about how I am raising my kid, because I don’t want to rely on all this unconscious biases and stereotypes and things that we have in our minds that I think can be really sneaky and incongruent with our actual values. We see it all the time with parents, of just like: I want to make sure my daughter knows she can do anything, and she can be a leader, and yet they kind of discourage her from being assertive, and trying to take on leadership roles, and extra-curricular activities or something. I just think we have to… if you are not conscious about it then you lose a lot of…

Esther: How are you going to change it?

Kyl: Yeah.

Esther: So do you notice, or have you noticed, how do people respond to your gender creative parenting, are people generally like, ‘oh that’s cool’, or are they like, ‘what! what are they trying to do here?’. How has that been?

Kyl: It has been so much better than I thought it was going to be. I remember being incredibly anxious when I was pregnant of ‘this is going to be a disaster, people are going to be so mean to us, they are going to make a spectacle of us’. And that was so not the reality and that was so wonderful and something that I really want to make sure, that as a public advocate of gender creative parenting, that I try to convey to other people, right?

For the most part your life as a parent looks remarkably like other parents lives, you know? But people are generally really kind to us, we live in a progressive city, we live in Salt Lake City, Utah, it is actually quite a queer city. And so our life has been good, we definitely have our moments where, well first, I don’t talk about me being a gender creative parent with every single stranger who I interact with during a day, right? When Zoomer was tiny, and sitting in the shopping cart as I was grocery shopping, and someone would come and be like, ‘’he is so cute’, or ‘she is so cute’, you know? I would just say, ‘thank you’, I wouldn’t say, ‘well we do something called gender creative parenting, so we don’t use those pronouns…’ I would just always let things let things like that slide for the most part. I would only really get into it with people in Zoomer’s life who would actually be in Zoomer’s life, who would actually be having an influence on how they were learning about gender, how they were being treated, and I didn’t want them being treated like a stereotype. So those were the conversations that we would have with their day care providers or their dentist, you know babysitters, things like that. And then those conversations didn’t have to happen all the time, right? We just had to have one conversation and then maybe a couple of refresher conversations with them, but for the most part people have been incredibly supportive, and then they have gotten more supportive of the concept, even more over time.

I think – Esther you have probably seen this – there is just this momentum gaining with this gender revolution and there is this visibility and awareness building that is happening. So when Zoomer was born in 2016, I would have these conversations with people about they/them pronouns and people would be like, ‘I have no idea what you are talking about’. I had never met anybody who used they/them pronouns, so it was this really new concept that I was trying to introduce to them, and they might struggle, they were supportive, right, and respectful and wanted to try, but they weren’t practiced in it. The difference now, in 2020, is like everybody knows someone who uses they/them pronouns, or they have been exposed to the idea, it is a huge jump in progress, and non-binary visibility, and the understanding of pronouns. And I just feel so lucky to be doing parenting this way right now, because I think if I had become a parent in 2012 it would be harder than it was in 2016. And anyone coming after me, people having a baby tomorrow and want to do gender creative parenting have so many more resources, have such a big community, you know? So it is easier for a lot of people because there is like so many more resources, and advocates, and possibility examples, to share with their family and friends and everything.

I think generally it has been good, we have also had a very charmed, privileged, life: we have the resources to choose the schools Zoomer goes to and if they were terrible about it, then we would have gone somewhere else, which not everybody has the luxury of being able to do that. So, we have safety, we have resources, and that makes parenting easier and that makes gender creative parenting easier.

Esther: Yeah, yeah. So obviously you have written a book about gender creative parenting, so how has that been received?

Kyl: It has been received so much better than anticipated, I was really bracing for a backlash, and that backlash preparation and anticipation came from our involvement in a New York magazine article that we were part of in 2018, and we kind of got plucked out of it, the story was about five or six families who do gender creative parenting but, because we have a public blog and Instagram, we kind of got pulled out and taken on the viral media ride. And it was not fun, and it was really overwhelming, and so I think that I was expecting the book coming out, to kind of be like the 2.0 of that, you know? And I was nervous about it. But it has been well-received, and I think this is for a number of factors, I think it is being well-received because, like I just said, we have come further in the gender movement in the last couple of years, that people are like, ‘I get it. Gender stereotypes suck and non-binary and trans and intersex people exist, I get it, I get why you are doing this’. And I think the other thing though is that people are very distracted by other things right now, with the pandemic and the election, you know? The black lives matters movement… So I think people have bigger fish to fry than backlashing at Kyl Myers right now and that’s okay. {Both: laughing} The news cycle, right? We are not news right now and so that I think has been protective of us.

But it has been so magical to have people reach out to me through Instagram, or email, and say how much my story, my family’s story, resonates with them, or gives them the language, or framework, to share the concept with their partner, you know, to talk about doing gender creative parenting with their own future children, or how they can incorporate gender creative principles with the children they already have. I have had these educators reach out and say, ‘I really think that I can dismantle the gender binary, and sexism, in my first grade classroom’. So I just feel so…

Esther: Amazing.

Kyl: Yeah! I just feel so proud, you know, that our story is resonating with so many different people and having a positive impact, because I so desperately wish there would have been a book like mine in 2015, to be able to mail to my parents and say, ‘will you read this, I want to have a conversation about this, because this parenting philosophy resonates with me, and it is what I want to do’. Like I just feel so grateful to have been able to create this roadmap, or just be able to show people: it is going to be more than okay. It is a really wonderful gift that you can give the kids in your life, to not assume so much about their gender and to not restrict their experiences based on a gender binary. So it has just been really magical really.

Esther: Yeah, yeah, that sounds amazing. What would you say is the most common question, maybe, that people ask you and what do you say to them?

Kyl: Well, the most common question from supporters, or the most common question from haters? Because I think, well, I don’t really know if they are haters or just questioners.

Esther: Maybe the critical, the gender critical, or the gender creative parenting critical people, I don’t know?

Kyl: So I think people, an assumption, or a misconception, is that your child is going to be confused, like won’t your child be confused if you don’t tell them what gender they are, and I think it is kind of this conflation with: your child has genitals, and those genitals should be gendered – which is not how I believe in sex and gender. I know a lot of transgender people, and intersex people, and non-binary people, who do not want their identity and expression to be entirely caught up in their reproductive anatomy. The same for cisgender people right? How much we reduce people down to like: I need to know what your genitals are, so I know how to treat you, right? And I think what gender creative parenting does is it turns that whole thing on its head of we do not need to treat people differently, based on their anatomy, and we do not need to send them down dramatically different life paths, because of their anatomy. And so I think people sometimes think that by doing gender creative parenting, it is almost like we are withholding a lot of information from Zoomer. And that couldn’t be further from the truth, we teach Zoomer about so many words to describe their body, they know all the medically accurate anatomically correct words to use for their body. And they understand bodies without the gendered language and they also understand gender outside of a binary and so I think that Zoomer actually understands sex and gender in such a more nuanced, and sophisticated, and realistic, way, than a lot of other kids right?

Esther: And adults, right?

Kyl: Yeah, totally, totally! Yeah, exactly, Zoomer knows more about sex and gender than a lot of adults I know. And so it is not like we are keeping sex and gender a secret, it is not like we think it is a bad thing that we don’t want our child to learn about, we just want the to learn about it in a really realistic way, and an expansive way, you know? Even if Zoomer isn’t intersex, or non-binary, or transgender, they are going to know people who are, and I want them to be an ally to them.

Esther: Yeah absolutely. So another thing that I was just wondering about, if someone is coming across say your book, or your movement, in a way, the gender creative parenting, but their kids are a bit older, they might think, ‘okay, I wish I had known this when they were born, but I didn’t, so where do I start now?’, do you have any advice for them?

Kyl: Yeah, I love that question and I think that it is never too late, it is never too late to learn more about gender and sexuality and to talk to kids, even if they are adolescents, or even adult kids, right? About gender and sex and to say, ‘hey when you were born I understood sex and gender differently than I do now, and I just want you to know that I recognise that I might have gotten your gender assignment wrong. And, if that is the case, then I want you to be able to talk to me about it to me, I want you to be able to share with me what kinds of words you want’.

I think it is such an awesome dialogue that people can bring to their kids at any age. I know of some people who, after reading my book, they had a kid who is like eighteen months old and they were like, ‘you know, our kid hasn’t told us what their gender yet, why don’t we start using they/them pronouns now? Why don’t we throw that into the mix. Why don’t we throw all the genders into the mix, so they are kind of hearing it all and can kind of tell us what bits. And why don’t we stop making so many assumptions. Or why don’t we start browsing in the aisles of clothes and toys that we haven’t been’.

So I think there is never too late of a time to start throwing some gender creativity into the mix. And I mean I can say that from my own experience of I didn’t come out as queer until I was like 21, and so even now, having my parents being affirming of me, as an adult and being like, ‘we didn’t know, sorry, we didn’t know queer people really, we were raising you in such a heteronormative world’.

It doesn’t dawn on so many parents that their kids could be queer and so it is like so many kids are treated as cisgender as the default, and being straight as the default and I would love to see us cracking that open so that kids aren’t having to come out with this sense of, ‘oh no I am going to disappoint my parents because I am not what they thought I was going to be’. What if we could remove the, ‘this is what I think you are going to be’ and just give kids the language, and possibility models, to go, ‘oh that’s me, I am this’. And it is like ‘fantastic’, you have arrived, and I am not disappointed, because you are exactly who you want to be and not who I want you to be.

I am sad for people who are like, ‘I would have done gender creative parenting if I had known about it’ and it is like: cool, start doing it now, you know, if it resonates with you’. Even with your kids who are claiming a gender, like Zoomer is claiming a gender, and it doesn’t mean that I throw gender creative parenting aside and start treating them like a binary stereotype. The principle still completely remains of making sure they have all of the opportunities and making sure… So I just think it is never too late, you can incorporate it at any time, even with kids who are firmly in a gender, you can help them be better allies, you can also help them feel confident in any gender bending they do want to do. So I think it is a great question and the door never closes.

Esther: Yeah absolutely. So what would you say your vision is, you know, your gender vision for the world, for the future?

Kyl: Well I am not trying to force everybody to be a gender creative parent and maybe it is because of my upbringing, or maybe it is because I am American. It is not like ‘this is the answer and if you assign a gender to your kid you got it wrong’. I think my vision is that I just want a future, a present, I want a culture where people recognise that intersex people exist, non-binary people exist, and transgender people exist, right? And that by having a cis-normative model, and just default, and bias, and binary, that it causes a lot of harm to many people. So I really would just, I want that, I want a world where trans, and non-binary, and intersex people aren’t fringe, or seen as so rare, because I know so many, they are not rare, they are a vibrant, wonderful part of my community. And so that’s kind of step one, of just seeing gender beyond a binary.

And the second vision is that we stop stereotyping people so much. I want to eliminate gender based oppression, and discrimination, and violence. I want there to be equity, I want there to be inclusion. I want people to not look at someone and try to guess what their genitals are, because then they feel like they could know what occupations this person could be a good fit for, right? We just do ourselves such a disservice at trying to box people in. And so just trying to retrain our brains, and our institutions, our ideologies, our interactions, our culture, to just give people more freedom to be who they want to be without shame, or fear, or punishment. I mean it is a lofty goal but that is it, that is my vision.

Esther: I love it, yeah, well, why not have a lofty goal?

Kyl: Yeah, exactly.

Esther: Yeah wow. So there is there anything you would like to add, I don’t think I have any more questions; would you like to add something; would you like to leave listeners with something, a message? Something that you think needs to be said?

Kyl: Always yeah. I think what I have learned in this life of mine: the first half of my life I was raised being socialised as a Mormon girl and then I started travelling, and I went to school, and I started meeting people who I was not taught about, right? I started meeting people who defied the gender norms and roles that I was taught about and I allowed myself to lean into that; just recognising that maybe what I was taught isn’t everything there is to know and question that. Then the second half of my life really was tapping into trying to understand privilege and oppression, and systems of power, and everybody can do that, and they can start at any time. I think there is also this reality that you never arrive, your learning journey is never done.

I think just my goal is to just wake up every day committed to doing better than I did yesterday, and I think anybody can do that, right? We just have to start seeing the inequities and then standing up against them. So that is kind of my call to action of like, this is a marathon and not a sprint, nothing this big of a problem is going to change overnight but we can chip away at it every single day and I genuinely think that even if it is not in my lifetime, maybe it is in Zoomer’s lifetime, or another generation’s lifetime. I genuinely think we can achieve more gender equity, you know, and let people live their vibrant, authentic, lives. But it starts with us, it starts with us questioning our own socialisation, and then it starts with us also standing up for what we think is right.

Esther: Yeah absolutely!

Kyl: So that is my final thought.

Esther: Your final answer yep, I love that! It would be amazing, I am sure, to see how Zoomer, and kids who are raised in a gender creative way, how they, approach the subject of gender, and sex, and how it effects everything in their lives, I think it is going to be a beautiful thing to watch unfold.

Kyl: Absolutely and there are already these younger generations right? They are sick of a lot, this climate justice, they are sick of racism, they are sick of sexism, they are sick of xenophobia. I mean it is just like, not to put all of our eggs in the Gen-Z and Gen Alpha basket of ‘will you save us?’ But they are just fed up and doing some really incredible work, right? They are powerful, these powerful, young, generations and it is going to be exciting to see what the unsubscribe to, you know?

Esther: Yeah I love it, yeah, let’s unsubscribe to gender inequality.

Kyl: Yes please!

Esther: No thank you! Well thank you for talking to me about all this, it has been so interesting, thanks so much.

Kyl: Oh I am so glad! Thanks for having me Esther.

About Kyl

Dr. Kyl Myers is a sociologist, educator, and globally recognized advocate of gender creative parenting. Kyl’s TEDx talk, Want Gender Equality? Let’s Get Creative [watch below], encourages people to rethink childhood gender socialization in an effort to break up the binary before it begins.

Kyl is the creator of raisingzoomer.com and the @raisingzoomer Instagram account, advocating for letting kids be kids in an environment where everything is for everyone. Kyl has been featured in articles in international media, including New York, HuffPost UK, and MamaMia.

Kyl lives with their family in Salt Lake City, Utah, and can be found providing bite-size gender studies lessons on their @kyl_myers Instagram account. They can also be found at kylmyers.com.

Raising Them: Our Adventure in Gender Creative Parenting is their first book from TOPPLE Books.

Useful links

Raising Them by Kyl Myers (book cover)

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