Kiley May, Toronto Pride's youth ambassador, on the journey to define her 'kaleidoscope identity'

Toronto Pride's youth ambassador, Kiley May, on her journey to define herself and creating "more space for other people to be able to identify themselves."

Traditional gender, sexuality identity spectrum 'was very limiting,' says Mohawk artist

Toronto Pride's youth ambassador and Indigenous artist Kiley May says she wants to 'create more space for other people to be able to identify themselves.' (Kylie May, Michael Arthur/Facebook)

Kiley May is many things.

She is a Mohawk dancer, an actor, a model, a photographer and a writer. She is also a transgender woman, two-spirited and Toronto Pride's youth ambassador for 2017.

For May, the best way to describe her is with what she calls a "kaleidoscope identity."

"'Kaleidoscope identities' is something I came up with to describe my own gendered and sexual identity," May told CBC Radio's Here and Now. "I did that because I felt often in the LGBTQI community, there's a talk of a spectrum when relating to your gender or your sexual identity.

"I thought that was very limiting so I came up with a concept or a visual of... looking through a kaleidoscope as thinking about our gender and our sexual identities."

May, 30, grew up at the Six Nations of The Grand River reserve near Brantford, Ont., about 100 kilometres southwest of Toronto, where she knew from a young age that she was different.

"I was always a very effeminate, girly child," she said. "I think people figured out I was not like other boys very early on... and so that sort of invited a lot of unwanted attention like bullying. At the time, it was very difficult for me."

May moved to Toronto, where she studied photojournalism at Ryerson University, and how she identified herself continued to evolve.

"When I first transitioned, before I identified as female, I identified as gender non-conforming and gender queer, so I found that gender-neutral pronouns such as they, their, them felt more comfortable to me," she said. "As I evolved, and progressed with my transition and becoming more comfortable with my female identity, I started using she pronouns."

Ultimately, May said the idea of kaleidoscope identities helps "create more space for other people to be able to identify themselves."

However, even though May prefers both gender-neutral and she pronouns, she notes that there are times when it is easier to identify as a binary gender instead of explaining her kaleidoscope identity. She recalled a situation in which she had to work a landscaping gig with a group of straight, cis-gendered men — an environment where May said she was not comfortable identifying as transgender and decided to use she pronouns.

"I'm sure if I wanted to take the time to educate them I could've made them understand but it was easier and more convenient for me because I, in that space, just wanted to get a job done. I didn't feel like advocating and being an educator in that moment."

'I'm an exceptionally open book'

May is still defining her kaleidoscope identity, and her journey is far from over.

She said she is working on creating spaces for two-spirited people in Indigenous longhouses — a place of ceremony where men and women are separated — and crowdfunding to help pay for her travel to Montreal for genital reconstruction surgery, a public plea she notes is an anomaly in the trans community.

"I'm an exceptionally open book," she said, adding gender reassignment surgery is a "private, precious thing" for transgender people and that asking them about it can be construed as offensive. "I made the decision a long time ago to sort of live publicly and to be an open book for the sake of education. That's just my personality."

"The surgery is something I've wanted for a long time. It is something important for me because I feel like it would help align my body with my inner gender... so I feel basically how I feel on the inside."