North Texas Daily

A time for change

A time for change

Paulina De Alva | Staff Photographer

A time for change
August 27
06:28 2015
[df-subtitle]Although life as a transgender individual poses challenges, K.D. Van Zandt keeps his cool[/df-subtitle]

Matt Payne | Staff Writer


Morgan Sullivan | Staff Writer


Standing outside Big Mike’s Coffee on Fry Street, K.D. Van Zandt lights his cigarette and gazes up and down the one-way street flanking the northeast side of campus.

He muses over what it’s like to express a queer identity to a curious outsider.

“Remember all the things about gender you were taught growing up?” Van Zandt said.

“Well, I’m about to destroy it in like two minutes, and try to remember it all so I don’t have to repeat anything.”

Drag performer, stand-up comedian and vice president of the Transgender and Intersex Alliance of Denton, Van Zandt is the city’s friendly neighborhood activist for transgender equality. He is intent on establishing a healthy climate of acceptance for everyone while putting identity aside.

Being a transgender individual, Van Zandt said, is something society often misunderstands. He spoke of gender identity as a simple idea.

“We don’t get up everyday and shake our fists at God. We get up everyday and brush our teeth like everybody else.”

As vice president of TRIAD, Van Zandt has seen numerous students come to the organization struggling with internal conflict because they’re constantly questioning their gender identity. Among the transgender community, overcoming that battle has been a common social process he and several others have experienced.

“We’re best characterized as an anime club that also loves to gossip and enjoy things we like together,” said Van Zandt. “Although what brings TRIAD together is our likeness in being transgendered, what keeps us together is that we all care about each other, much like many other student organizations here on campus.”

The focus on mutual support is the cornerstone of TRIAD.

“When you persistently have your intrinsic being and nature questioned, it’s important to find people who can relate to the problems you face and offer constant encouragement,” Van Zandt said.

Queer identity has also been a subject of confusion for those outside the transgender community. Van Zandt encountered this growing up when he couldn’t find an appropriate way to come out to his parents.

Some individuals choose to avoid the issue altogether. At a Starbucks Van Zandt worked at in the past, one of his coworkers didn’t identify as any gender in the spectrum. The general term used for such individuals is “non-binary.”

“There was this one old man who would always joke around with them and say they reminded them so much like Pat from those old SNL skits,” Van Zandt said, referring to a fictional personality played by actress Julia Sweeney on “Saturday Night Live.”

Van Zandt said the persistent questioning of whether his coworker was male or female became exhausting.

TRIAD communications officer Christina Bridges said there are many misconceptions about non-binary individuals. She said there can be a lot of expectations for them to behave according to a certain gender, but they are actually gender-fluid.

”There are days I wake up and identify more masculine-ly, but still put on a dress,” Bridges said. ”People only like to believe in things they can see, which is why it’s so hard to defend my identity and tell people ‘No, I’m actually not a girl’ when I’m wearing a full face of makeup and a dress.”

Bridges said she is uneasy with the way people assume others are cisgender, referring to anyone who identifies with the gender they were born as.

”Not a lot of trans-individuals out themselves upon meeting people, which would probably bring the other person to assume that they were cisgender,” Bridges said. ”Too many people assume other people are cis-, which is why people think we don’t exist.”

This societal assumption led to a lot of frustration when Bridges was still learning about her gender.

KD Van Zandt smiles as he tells a story in the General Academic Building on Wednesday, August 26, 2016. Kristen Watson | Visuals Editor

KD Van Zandt smiles as he tells a story in the General Academic Building on Wednesday, August 26, 2016. Kristen Watson | Visuals Editor

“I found myself getting upset and angry when people in stores would gender me as soon as I would walk in the door,” Bridges said. “For a long time I didn’t understand why it made me so mad. It took me a while to realize that it was because I didn’t identify that way.”

For Bridges and Van Zandt, the prejudiced expectations have created a rift between those with queer identities and those who misunderstand them.

“It was like this guy was trying to fill in a bit of information that just had to be missing, when there simply wasn’t any vacuum to fill,” Van Zandt said.

Due to the stigma still surrounding the transgender identity, the mother of a transgender child about to attend kindergarten said she has witnessed her child’s confusion firsthand. There is painstaking care required to accommodate her biologically male, but female-gendered, child.

She wished to remain anonymous for her child’s protection.

“[My daughter] went through a lot of scrutiny just attending her preschool class,” the mother said. “For class activities, sometimes they would have to use a particular crayon color. One day she got in trouble and went all the way to the school’s director simply because she didn’t get to use the pink crayon.”

She told of her daughter’s internal strife as she tried to come to terms with her gender identity and how she suffered from it. According to The Association for Psychological Science, children become aware of their gender identity between 3 and 5 years old.

“Apparently, she’d been expressing her issues to her father for quite a while,” the mother said.

The father denied his daughter’s female identity and she was unsettled by his refusal to call her by the pronouns she identified with.

When the daughter’s conflict became evident, her mother sought out professional help.

“It got to a point where she said she hated all boys and herself for being a boy,” the mother said. “It was at that time we got really serious as her parents to get her to a point where she felt comfortable with herself.”

After her father started to accept her true identity, her mother began to notice heightened levels of ease and comfort in her daughter. She didn’t feel the constant need to reaffirm her femininity, the mother said.

“She’s a girl who loves bows and dresses, but also loves playing with Transformers and BattleBots with her twin brother,” the mother said. “Through all of this, I had the choice of having a dead son or a live, happy daughter. I’m glad things have progressed like they have.”

In reference to his own parents, Van Zandt said he was thankful for how forthcoming they were when he came out to his parents as transgender a few weeks ago.

Van Zandt expected a tense, awkward conversation. The wave of relief he was met with was a welcome surprise.

“I’m lucky to have such accepting parents. That isn’t common at all,” Van Zandt said. “They simply said ‘Just leave it alone. You’ve been going on about this for two years. What matters is that we love you.’”

Featured Image: KD Van Zandt smokes a cigarette outside of Big Mike’s Coffee on Tuesday, August 25, 2015. Paulina De Alva | Staff Photographer

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