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'No limitations': Indigenous transgender storyteller Kiley May shapes her life as a kaleidoscope

Last Updated Jun 23, 2020 at 1:48 pm EDT

Kiley May in a supplied photo. Photo credti: Andrew Johnson

June is National Indigenous History Month. It is a time for all Canadians — Indigenous, non-Indigenous and newcomers — to reflect upon and learn the history, sacrifices, cultures, contributions, and strength of First Nations, Inuit and Metis people. Throughout the month of June, we will profile Indigenous people, and share their stories and voices, so that we can celebrate the difference they have made in their communities and to our country.


June 23: Today, we celebrate Kiley May

 

(Kiley has requested that her first name be used for the rest of the article. She will also be telling her story in her own words at times.)

Kiley is Hotinonhshón:ni, Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) and Turtle Clan from Six Nations of the Grand River territory, and is now rooted in Aterón:to (Toronto). She is a two-spirit Indigenous transgender multidisciplinary artist and storyteller, a writer and author, an actor, an emerging screenwriter and a filmmaker. Kiley is also an activist and educator, committed to equality, representation, diversity and inclusion.

Kiley explains why it is important to her to be a role model for others who may be on a similar journey in life: “Because we lack two-spirit and trans ‘queeroes’ and we need leaders to look up to and be inspired by, to show us that it’s okay and possible to be who we are.”

“Diversity, inclusion and representation are so important. Representation saves lives. Seeing ourselves reflected at us in positive ways on screens, in books and popular culture, is so vital. Being able to relate to and identify with a role model or someone like us validates and affirms us in who we are. It tells us that we exist. Tells us we are real, we are normal, we belong. It’s encouraging, uplifting, and hopeful. I make sure to shine bright like a beacon to light the way for others.”

“Sometimes it’s challenging and painful to be a public figure, to make myself vulnerable and feel exposed. I value my privacy and anonymity. I’m mostly an introvert and like to keep to myself. But I put myself out there, I’ll take the hits and deal with the opposition, for the sake of education and awareness. And, most importantly, to make the way easier to walk for those coming behind me. Just like those who came before me made my path easier to navigate.”

Kiley has always been open about her journey as a two-spirit transgender person. She wants to help create space for people to be able to identify who they are. For Kiley, she describes herself as having what she calls a “kaleidoscope identity.”

“When it comes to discussing and conceiving of gender and sexual identities, a kaleidoscope is an alternative to the idea of a spectrum. There’s nothing wrong with the spectrum concept. Its definition implies a broad range, a light prism. But in my experience, when most people refer to a gender spectrum or a spectrum of sexuality, it is usually on some sort of continuum or graph between two poles. But I felt this was flawed and limiting. It still implies that a gender binary is the foundation of gender, and everyone must situate themselves on a line between male and female. Or that the only two sexualities are gay and straight, and everyone else is somewhere in between.”

So in 2014, out of frustration with this limitation, I started to expand my visualization and conceptualization of gender and sexuality. I liked the idea of a prism of light. Then I thought of a kaleidoscope — an optical device.”

“I loved kaleidoscopes when I was a kid. It was a toy, but they were fascinating to me. In a kaleidoscope, shapes and colours shift and change as it moves. There are no lines, ends or limitations. It’s multi-faceted, multidimensional. And I thought they were the perfect representation of myself as I was transitioning and finding myself. I feel that gender and sexuality have the ability to be fluid, mercurial, shifting, ever-changing and evolving.”

“However, this is not prescriptive; I just wanted to offer another option, an opportunity for others to think of their genders and sexualities as expansive and evolving — beyond the line of a continuum or spectrum. It was more for myself because I don’t like boxes or borders or feeling confined or defined by other people. But interestingly, others liked it and started to incorporate it in community spaces, like referring to kaleidoscope identities and being used as the title of a community resource.”

As an actor, Kiley has a recurring role as assistant pathologist River Baitz on on the hit CBC show Coroner and has appeared in IT Chapter Two, Woman Dress, and the upcoming The D Cut. As a screenwriter, director and producer, she is creating scripts and roles for Indigenous and transgender women, focusing on positive, empowering and authentic portrayals. Including representation and narratives for 2SLGBTTQQIAAP+ identities and histories. Kiley is most recently one of the winners of the Magee TV Diverse Screenwriters Award, presented by the Toronto Screenwriting Conference. She is being mentored by actor Eva Thomas and is writing and developing her first television series, T*W*A*T*S, a trans-centred action drama. Kiley’s short film, Disclosure, a trans-romantic “dramedy,” will premiere at the at the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival in October.

She shares what she is most proud of: “I think what I am most proud of is my writing accomplishments. Writing was my first love, my first craft and my first career ambition. I went to school for journalism and had a dream of writing a book. And I just recently signed a book deal. So I am working on it and am a soon to be published author. And I won a mentorship award and an opportunity to write my first TV series. So I get to combine my love of writing and filmmaking in screenwriting as well. I’m very grateful and fortunate for my successes and opportunities. And I’m very hopeful and excited about my future.”

“As an actor, I’m grateful and happy about the success I’ve had in my short career so far, like getting a recurring role on the TV series and making an appearance in a huge movie in a genre and by a director that I love. I am also glad that I am emerging into filmmaking as a director and producer.”

Kiley’s upcoming book, How To Love A Trans Girl, will be the overdue and necessary guide for transgender women to learn how to love themselves, and navigate dating and relationships, with insightful advice for trans-attracted men.

To learn more about Kiley, you can follow her on Facebook or on Instagram.

Click here to learn more about kaleidoscope identity.