Millennial Movers x
Alex Kime

Charlie Groen

 Shortly after writing ‘XXX from Ann Arbor’, on identity, personal pronouns, and the feeling of entering the unknown, I was invited to tour the Program on Intergroup Relations (IGR) by Alex Kime, one of the lecturers on staff. The IGR is a social justice education program that facilitate students' learning about social group identity, social inequality, and intergroup relations. The program prepares students to live and work in a diverse world and educates them in making choices that advance equity, justice, and peace. To be honest, this sounds like program I wish I had attended as a student. So I jumped on the opportunity to update my knowledge and interview Alex.  

Alex walks in wearing a long black faux fur coat with a  print rim, their colorfully died hair still wet from walking in the snowy Michigan weather. We sit down in a little round-tabled meeting room where they immediately start talking about their work and passion; statistics on racial segregation, identity, and teaching for IGR. We’ve covered a fast range of topics, here are some of the highlights of our conversation.

You prefer the personal pronouns they/them/theirs [hen/hun]. This is not widely accepted yet, both in America or The Netherlands, can you share how the personal pronouns relate to your identity and why they are important?

I consider the best explanation of my gender to be a non-binary experience. And with regards to sexuality or attraction more broadly, I identify as a queer person. To a certain extent people insist on gendering me as a man, because I am 6.2 ft tall, have big broad shoulders, hair on my body and a beard on my face. All traditionally masculine markers. And it is important for me to interrupt that for myself, and inhabit and obtain from both femininity and masculinity what I need and want to be my fullest self.

For years I hated myself. I was obsessed with everything that I wasn’t. I had this model in my head where I needed to be thinner and or more buff, I needed to be more masculine — why couldn’t I’ve just shut up and be a football player? You know, I was taking this path of what I should do. It has taken me, and continues to take, all this time to ‘unlearn’ that and reclaim myself for who I am and want to be.

I see the pronoun as a small attempt to try to begin to describe that expansiveness  that I feel. When I feel like how I’m attuned to the world, how I behave in the world, what I want and how I see myself in the world. I have tried very hard to stuff it into this rigid gender box. I tried my ‘best-est’, to be this cisgendered, straight, masculine man. I wasn’t very good at it necessarily, but was trying very hard. So for me, choosing my own pronouns, is something that is personal as well as political. In the heart of Miss Audre Lorde, love her, she is known for the phrase:

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

For me that means trying to share my more authentic self with people. As a being who is a human, who feels in alignment with some of the non-conformity that we’ve seen throughout history. So, using they as a pronoun is part of this larger project of both myself and other people acknowledging that ‘beyondness’.

I have this tanktop that says ‘Gender is over if you want it’. And my dad asked ‘But what if I still have one ?!’, so I said, ‘ That is why it says ‘if you want it Dad!’. I’m not going to say that every single person in the world is trans, I don’t think that is true as much as everyone will benefit from questioning the validity of the rigidity of these genderoles. Gender can be over for you, if you want it. Some people are very content with their social gender scripts, and I am not going to be the one who contests that though I always think asking who we would all be without stigma and shame is far more interesting.

For my own self-determination this feels closer to the truth. The poet Andrea Gibson, who is a non-binary person, has these t-shirts that say ‘ My pronouns haven’t been invented yet.’ That is something that I resonate with, and in the mean time I will take ‘they’ because all language is trying. So for me this is one small way to convey that message. It is important to a certain degree, and I also think that language isn’t the ‘be all end all’: Visibility for transpeople, people sharing their pronouns, ‘does not a non-discrimination ordinance make’… We need policy, we need material support, we need anti-violence campaigns, and not just in higher education spaces like the IGR, it can’t just stay in the classroom or the academic department.

Would you describe the way that you dress then as a political act?

There is no such thing as a-politicism, even the claim of being outside of that is a politics. The inverse of something is still something. So I think I am kind of goth and wear black, some floral, some patterns. And I would say that to be forthright about presentation and not just covert at night is a weighted choice. The club is a public space, but one where we see that more often. I think to be non conforming in public is a political statement.

Even if on my end it is like ‘oh what am I going to wear today, what is comfortable, what is going to ‘fly’ for this type of situation’, As I began occupying the role of lecturer, I started to really question what professionalism really means. There is this stock image in our heads of what a college instructor looks like: blazer and bow tie. At the end of the day I should be wearing clothes in front of the class, and if I end up wearing a t-shirt and a pair of leggings, why shouldn’t that be a professional dress? I do not think in this environment where I teach, dressing up in a suit would help me gain the confidence and trust of participants or my students. I believe in the radical power of informality.  

‘Choosing to live authentically is not something that is always rewarded.’

I see a lot of my friends who have gotten corporate jobs wear the suits, cover their tattoos, take out their piercings. So there is this idea that you should be conforming, and I’m like, no I shouldn’t! At the same time I do think about how I want to appear, what balance of feminine and masculine, what balance of form and function. It’s all these factors in my brain, from moment to moment, combined with the banality of ‘what’s clean’ and in front of me. Choosing to live authentically is not something that is always rewarded. I always have to consider, am I walking across campus? Where am I going? Am I getting a ride from someone or am I walking. It takes up so much brain space really.

I remember when I would get ready for a party, about 2 years ago. And I was particularly ‘out there’. I had this holographic rain slicker. It is beautiful. And I was wearing these bright pink floral leggings. We just wanted to go to the late night burrito spot, and I just felt this pit in my stomach when I saw this group of men outside. I try never to make assumptions about what could go down, bit I could feel this tightening in myself. As we walk out, I hear one of them shouting ‘mira’, which means ‘look’. And then they started shouting at us and following us. Thankfully, I was living across the street from this place so I could shut the door on them. But that flashes through my head.

If you can’t transgress norms at the University of Michigan, a college campus, then where? Of course not everyone is ready and comfortable. But I thought, this is something that I can do. And there is a certain amount to thinking that I should. A little too much of that is dangerous, because it shouldn’t be on any one person to change an entire culture. But when I have the energy for it, and I feel safe. I feel like it is so important to be in the public and be in front of the class looking like I do. So there are not just people who look like me on a Youtube video, or on a stage or at a fashion show. These are people in your communities who go about their business, get coffee, go to the grocery store, and have earned the right to teach your children.

Stay tuned for part II…!