Corey Keith shares the challenges of finding an identification that fits
Corey Keith is charming, confident and well-spoken. Keith, who is set to graduate with a masters degree in education this spring, is also gender fluid. Keith recognizes being gender fluid as a place in the middle of the spectrum of gender, sharing the dynamics of both female and male.
Keith spent many years using female pronouns but now prefers the gender neutral “per,” short for “person,” rather than “she/her” or “he/ him,” and this is the pronoun that will be used in this article.
Keith was born and raised in the rural town of Stettler, Alta. by per two parents alongside two brothers. In elementary school, Keith exhibited the similar signs of many LGBTQ individuals that per didn’t quite fit in amongst the others. Keith recalls feeling this as young as ages six to eight.
“Going to school, I was bullied, hid in the library all that fun stuff. People called me gay, fag, you know things like that but gay never aligned with me,” Keith said. “Yet for whatever reason the rainbow flag did. No one had the word for transgendered, so I knew I was different but the match for me was not there.”
Fast-forward to post-high school, Keith found a supportive group of friends and tuned into per interest in advocacy within the social work program at Red Deer College. Keith began a group called Project Unity with organized workshops, salsa nights and similar events promoting diversity.
Project Unity teamed up with Pride on campus, and Keith took part in the annual drag show. In a tight dress, high heels and the drag makeup and hair to match, Keith walked the stage.
“I did it. Horrible. But had lots of fun, and so what happened was that I realized there was something there. That I enjoyed wearing women’s clothing,” Keith said.
Keith began wearing more feminine clothes first in the privacy of per home and then in friends’ homes.
“Being scared to death about what everybody else would think [and] feel. Eventually I felt comfortable coming out in public even wearing panties or a bra and [was] scared like somebody’s going to find out,” Keith said.
“I would have looks and of course during that time you magnify what’s actually going on 10 or 100 times, but over time you get used to it and you let it go and take the next step and dress more yourself.”
By this time, Keith had met a few transgendered people, and as those who were transgendered struggled to find a socially acknowledged definition of who they were, Keith struggled to find a model of who per was.
“I really discovered this was who I was, but I also realized I…did not see myself as female either. I saw myself somewhere in between,” Keith said.
Keith was sent by scholarship to attend the Canadian Rainbow Health Coalition conference. Upon registering, attendees would be sharing hotel rooms and the conference asked for a preference of roommate. Beside the checkboxes of female and male, a third option, gender fluid, was listed.
“I thought ‘Oh! That’s me!’ It was the first time I saw my identity or label for my identity that really aligned for myself,” Keith said.
Keith still struggled with other trans, who expected per to transition. At this point, Keith was using female pronouns.
“They wanted me to cover my Adam’s apple, and I’m like ‘I’m okay with my Adam’s apple thank you!’”
As of today, Keith does not feel the need to wear makeup, does not hide per Adam’s apple and ties beautifully bright and patterned scarves around per head. Keith takes it day by day exploring new layers of perself while still having new experiences and conflicts.
“I think exploring one’s gender is a constant thing.”
Keith is currently on hormones, in turn seeing physical symptoms of breast development and increased emotions. At the same time, Keith has been exploring per masculine side and the conflict of masculinity versus sacred masculinity.
“Before, the feminine and masculine would fight it out, but now they work really well. And there [are] always new layers of acceptance and the more I accept my masculine side, the more my feminine extends too. It’s neat.”
Keith has many friends at TRU. Just take a walk with per and halfway across campus two or three people will have already stopped to say hi. Keith is open about per identity, and with the right intentions per will share with you the answers to any questions you are trying to understand. Per has always been an advocate and supporter of awareness and acceptance.
The looks however, don’t stop. They aren’t always bad looks or misguided looks and are often initial reactions, but they are still looks.
“You learn how to contextualize that in your brain, because if you don’t, either you’re going to stop, go into depression or have huge anxiety and fear,” Keith said. Support resources allow these conflicts to be consoled by others who have felt the same feelings.
Trans Lifeline, a transgender crisis hotline, launched across Canada in December 2014. The hotline supports youth who have been shunned by their families after coming out, or who have no support system. The hotline was created by two transgendered women, and is run solely by transgender volunteers.
Keith has supported a few youth along per journey of self-discovery, and knows the complexities of youth and their identities.
“The truth is youth [are] confused anyway. All you can do is provide real and authentic information depending on where they’re at.”
Keith had a support system within the home, primarily per parents.
“My parents are supportive. They don’t always understand, but they’re supportive,” Keith said.
However it only takes one instance of unacceptance to feel alone and Keith has had disagreements with per two brothers in the past. With per middle brother, described as the macho type, “it was only in the last little while where we have started to have conversation and it’s still hard, but there is effort there,” Keith said.
Keith has still had times where per felt depressed and alone.
“I didn’t quite come to a place of planning, but I definitely came to a point of thinking about it,” Keith said. “For relationships, feeling alone, even though I have friends they don’t always get it. And feeling like you’re alone in a crowd is huge.”
In regards to Trans Lifeline, Keith imagines what per would say if a youth in crisis came to per.
“I think just being me sometimes affirms for them that they’re not alone. And just answering their questions about how to navigate family systems, how to navigate the world in general, how to navigate people who don’t want to use your chosen pronouns,” Keith said.
Keith plans to continue advocating for those who cannot advocate for themselves and currently teaches the fourth year social work course on sexual orientation and gender expression on campus.