Op-ed: Remembering Pioneering Trans Writer, Activist, Matt Kailey

Colorado-based transgender journalist Matt Kailey passed away over the weekend, but his influence is remembered by those he worked with.

BY Jacob Anderson-Minshall

May 21 2014 11:10 AM ET

Matt Kailey

Trans author and activist Matt Kailey passed away this past weekend.

His sister shared these details: "I wanted to let you know that Matt Kailey, my brother, has passed away. He died of heart failure in his sleep Saturday night/early Sunday morning. His untimely and unexpected passing has been a shock. With the help of family and friends, I am currently working on processing this tragedy and making arrangements. I will post more information at a later time. Thank you for being Matt's friends."

Matt Kailey and I never met in person. And yet it’s hard to overstate the impact of Matt on my life. Without him, I simply wouldn’t be the man I am today.

Matt’s 2005 memoir, Just Add Hormones: An Insider’s Guide to the Transsexual Experience, was one of the books I reviewed for Bitch magazine, which led me to uncover my own transgender identity. More than that, his experience as a 42-year-old straight woman turned gay trans man provided something of a roadmap for transition and proved that a late-in-life transition was absolutely possible. He gave me the courage to make my own transition at 38.

In the years since then I have often recalled moments from his book that paralleled my later experiences or continued to be my inspiration — like the image of Matt standing naked in front of a mirror and saying to himself, “This is a middle-aged trans man’s body.” I am still amazed by his ability to accept himself as he was, to embrace his trans body and boldly live as a gay man without undergoing bottom surgery.

Matt didn’t just blaze trails as a gay trans man demonstrating how the T fit with the LGB. He wasn’t just a role model for those of us who transitioned late in life. He was also one of the first visible trans journalists, who wrote for one of the oldest LGBT publications in the West, Colorado’s Out Front. His 2007 promotion to managing editor made Matt the highest-ranking trans journalist at a queer publication, a distinction he continues to hold.

After transitioning, I followed Matt’s lead and became a trans journalist myself. I ended up interviewing Matt a number of times including for my nationally syndicated TransNation column and for Gender Blender, the radio show I hosted in Portland, Ore. Over the years, our professional collaborations eventually grew into an online friendship. We wouldn’t connect 24/7, but Matt would always be quick to respond whenever I reached out to him.

Although he was dedicated to his work at Out Front, Matt was never one to rest on his laurels. Instead, he also became an award-winning activist and educator. He represented the trans male community in numerous news articles, television spots and five documentary films. He founded the award-winning blog Tranifesto. He spoke at dozens of conferences and colleges and developed his own training program for employers who needed guidance embracing trans people into the workplace.

As trans activist Dana Beyer (currently executive director of Gender Rights Maryland) recalls, “[Matt] was a clear and clarifying voice, able to cut through jargon and confusion, and get to the heart of not only his trans experience but that of everyone in the room.”

In 2011, after eight years with Out Front, Matt stepped down to focus on his other writings and teaching. He published a collection of essays, Teeny Weenies and Other Short Subjects, about his life before and after transition — and as always managed to balance heartfelt moments with his great sense of humor.

Matt also created the guidebook, My Child is Transgender: 10 Tips for Parents of Adult Trans Children for parents of transitioning adult children.

During the past few years, Matt also embraced teaching. As an adjunct instructor at Red Rocks Community College, Matt taught courses in psychology and human sexuality. At the same time, he worked at the Metropolitan State University of Denver, where he designed several courses, including a transgender studies course and a class called “Writing Your Gender.”

"Matt was a remarkable part of our faculty at MSU Denver, teaching both our Introduction to Transgender Studies and Queer Sexualities and Identity courses," said his MSU colleague Katherine Miller. "To honor his legacy at our institute and celebrate his writing, we are dedicating a part of our library to his memory with selections under the heading Queer Studies."

Like me, others in the LGBT community are reacting to Matt’s sudden passing with shock and a profound sense of loss. Fred Sainz of the Human Rights Campaign remembers meeting Matt while he was still at Out Front and Fred was a vice president at the Gill Foundation in Denver. “He was such an incredibly strong human being but at the same time thoughtful and caring,” Sainz recalls. “He was a mentor to me during my time living in Denver and I am grateful for my time with him.”

That’s a sentiment I share and one I think we’ll hear more of in the coming weeks. Matt was a mentor to so many of us. I just hope he knew how much he meant to all of those whose lives he touched.

JACOB ANDERSON-MINSHALL is the coauthor of the new memoir Queerly Beloved: A Love Story Across Gender.

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