By Cliff Foster
Matt Kailey’s many identities inform the new course he’s planning for the spring semester. He’s a blogger, trainer, teacher, author, consultant, speaker, activist and transsexual man.
His course, “Transgender Studies,” will be offered through the Institute for Women’s Studies and Services. It is designed for students who want or need basic knowledge about transgender and transsexual issues, from etiquette to history to what’s involved in the transition from one sex to the other.
According to Kailey, “There are few, if any, campuses across the country that offer a class like this.” The class reflects the University's commitment to diversity and the recommendation in a new MSU Denver brand assessment to showcase members of the LGBT community, among other populations, in promoting inclusivity at the University.
Kailey, an affiliate professor with a master’s in education, has been educating about trans issues and advocating for transgender and transsexual people since 1997, the year he transitioned from female to male.
Kailey worked in child protective services for 18 years, first in Iowa and then in Arapahoe County. “I got burned out and I’ve always been a writer,” he says, so he landed job as a staff writer and later managing editor of Out Front Colorado, one of the oldest and largest LGBT publications in the country.
Now, he provides transgender awareness training to businesses, government agencies and other organizations and writes an advice, information and opinion blog titled Tranifesto. He is a part-time instructor in the psychology department at Red Rocks Community College and teaches a one-credit, two-Saturday course at MSU Denver titled “Writing your gender” in which students explore their gender through personal essay.
Kailey’s own gender exploration began when he was 10 years old. “I was aware I had gender issues… but I didn’t know how to define them,” hesays. Put simply, he was a young girl, who felt he should be a boy.
There was little information and less understanding about gender identity in the ‘50s and ‘60s. So, Kailey spent a good part of his adult life as a straight female. “It was not terribly disruptive,” he says. “I was not struggling constantly.” But after visiting a therapist, he was introduced to resources that helped him make a life-changing decision.
“When I first decided to transition, I stopped wearing makeup and had my long, anchor-woman hair cut short – all in one weekend,” he wrote on his blog. “I left work on Friday as a big-haired woman with flawless eyeliner, and returned on Monday as a short-haired, pale-faced person of questionable gender. The problem was that I didn’t tell anyone (other than my boss) what I was doing or why.”
His coworkers were stunned by the makeover but not for the reasons Kailey feared. “It wasn’t the best way to come out,” he says. “But it ended up positive, because they were so happy that I didn’t have cancer. They said, they would accept anything;‘we don’t care what you do as long as you’re not dying.’”
Kailey’s transition was relatively successful, though emotionally difficult. “I didn’t lose my job. I didn’t lose any friends,” he says. “Some people get fired; their families disown them; they lose their housing. I was lucky. Other people aren’t so lucky.”
And that’s why the Transgender Studies course is needed, he says – to improve the odds for transsexual and transgender people.
“It’s an important course because people don’t know what to do,” Kailey says.“They don’t know how to talk to trans people. They don’t know etiquette. They don’t know what pronouns to use. They’re very uncomfortable, so oftentimes they’ll avoid us altogether.
“But if they have this knapsack of tools, then they’re prepared, and it doesn’t have to be a big deal.”
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