Five Questions With…. Nick Krieger

Posted by – August 22, 2011

Nick Krieger recently published the FTM spectrum narrative Nina Here Nor There: My Journey Beyond Gender and I was very impressed with the book. I’ll admit that his bio, on the back of the book, was what reeled me in: “A native of New York, Nick Krieger realized at the age of twenty-one that he’d been born on the wrong coast, a malady he corrected by transitioning to San Francisco.” With a sense of humor like that, how could I not read it? Beacon Press published it.

1. You couldn’t have chosen a more fitting place for displaying and sometimes explaining other people’s gender choices and you show a lot of respect for them. Was this intentional?

One of the many amazing things about living in San Francisco is the diversity. Difference is accepted and celebrated, which allows more space for self-expression. After spending ten years in lesbian and queer communities, I really started to see the myriad ways that people presented and understood their own genders; there was so much room outside the binary gender boxes. From the media, shows like Dateline and 20/20, I had always believed that all trans people were “born in the wrong body” and had Gender Identity Disorder. But in looking around my community, I discovered a new understanding of transgender that included a whole array of FTM spectrum (trans-masculine) people.

I very intentionally tried to respect the choices of the other characters. I think that in any type of personal inquiry or journey, it’s really easy to judge/oppose one side and admire/align with another. It creates certainty during an uncertain time. But it also limits the opportunity for self-growth, reflection, and understanding. In early drafts, I work through my judgments in the hope that I’ll eventually be able to render my characters with compassion and acceptance.

2. There’s a line about how sexual partners of pre transition trans people always want to appreciate the (physical) part of a trans person that the trans person doesn’t want appreciated. Can you elaborate?

There is this great challenge in a relationship where one person is fundamentally uncomfortable in their body and the other person loves everything about them, including their body. It is a sad and painful deadlock because the body is the vehicle to express and share physical intimacy.

For me, there was one distinct moment when this issue really hit home and became an insurmountable obstacle. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror in an intimate moment with my girlfriend, Ramona. I had such a distinct understanding of my own self-image that when I saw my reflection exactly as she saw it, I was horrified that she found me attractive. I had a lot of guilt throughout our entire relationship. I always felt like I was stripping her of one of the greatest pleasures of being in a relationship, appreciating and loving her partner physically.

3. I have to confess to a moment of “oh, those Kriegers” while I was reading. Do you feel there was any additional pressure on you as a result of your family’s status? Has there been any resolution with your father?  We always worried about our loved ones feeling a sense of “fine, you’re trans, but did you have to tell the world about it?”

Haha—Sometimes I have those moments, too. But while I felt constrained by familial values that I tie to my class upbringing, like markers of respectability and success, I didn’t feel additional pressure. I never really thought of us as having status. We’re the type of family that would want to win the golf tournament, but avoid staying at the golf club after to socialize.

When I came out as a dyke (ten years before I came out as trans) there was very much a “Fine, you’re gay, but do you have to tell the world about it.” I learned a lot about my dad through that experience. He is deeply private about everything. He’s just not a sharer. I often think I became a writer in response to this environment. I always notice the fear and shame that lurks in the silence. This intrigues me. I believe the awkward, potentially embarrassing, messy reality of being human binds us together, that vulnerability is the key to connection, and that sharing (not oversharing) is empowering.

Yes, there’s been some resolution with my dad. It has been a great lesson that the more I care for myself, the more I have to offer other people, especially my parents. My anger and frustration have really dissipated now that I no longer feel constrained by them. My mom has been ridiculously supportive about the book. Her only discomfort is with the sex parts, which I understand completely. She’s near apologetic about not pushing the book on her friends, and I’m all, “Mom, you’ve done enough, really.” On some level, I feel like I’ve exasperated her beyond her breaking point. She doesn’t care what I do or who I am—she just wants her kid. We’re closer now than we’ve ever been.

4. Your acknowledgement of your own privilege was a refreshing change of pace. I find that kind of ownership is much more common in FTM spectrum spaces. Do you agree? Care to venture a guess why?

In my experience, ownership of privilege is relatively common in the FTM or trans-masculine spectrum people. Almost all of the ones I know lived as lesbians for some or many years, and there is so much social awareness, activism, and political consciousness within this community. Also, some of these people were butches and/or hardcore feminists; they find acquiring “male privilege” abhorrent. The trade-off for moving into the male realm is being really outspoken about privilege and becoming an agent for change and progress.

For me, once I started exploring male privilege, it forced me to notice and confront other areas of privilege. Acknowledging my class privilege was a challenge because it’s almost something to be ashamed of in queer community. But I’ve found that to write a memoir, and to live in integrity, I have to be completely honest with myself.

5. One of the things that most struck me about your narrative was how different it was. Your exploration of trying to figure out what was up, exactly, and how you might do something about it, expressed far more finesse than many trans narratives (of the “I always knew I should have been a girl” variety). I suspect your experience reflects many others’ experiences, and I’m wondering what kind of response you got to that honesty.

I expected my story to resonate with people in the middle ground/genderqueer space, but I was a little surprised at how many trans guys taking testosterone, living as men, have written to tell me that this is finally a trans narrative that they could relate to, and that they were exhausted by the typical, “I knew I was a man because [insert gender stereotype]” stories.

While exploring my gender, I kept reading these typical stories, none of which spoke to my experience. I wrote this book to offer an alternative, a new angle that shows how complicated gender is, and how much diversity exists. I hope that it encourages those who share aspects of my story, but I also hope it inspires those whose experiences have yet to be written.

I have to add that I have terrific hair envy. I’m sure I’m not the only woman who wants to get her fingers in it.

You leave the toughest *question* for last, huh…?

While I never wished I were a boy growing up, I did often think that if I were a boy, I would have long hair. I decided to grow my hair literally the second I decided to take my first testosterone shot. In the past two years, my hair has become a magnificent beast with a life of its own, endlessly surprising me with its possibilities. I probably shouldn’t disclose this publicly (a phrase that for a memoirist functions like a dare) but I don’t wash my hair. Ever. My stylist, whom I’ve been with for six years, says it’s unnecessary. I also don’t own a brush. All of which may explain why it’s been a little too long since a woman has gotten her fingers in it.

My review of Nina Here Nor There will be in an upcoming issue of make/shift, but in the meantime, do check it out.

2 Comments on Five Questions With…. Nick Krieger

  1. buddha says:

    Thanks for posting this piece, Helen. Much of what he writes strikes a chord — outside the gender binary.

  2. Claire says:

    Fantastic interview! I’d seen this book on the shelf but hadn’t picked it up. I’m definitely going to check it out now.

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