Growing Up Gender-Nonconforming Amid Scolding, Awkward Silences Kiyan Williams tells Darnell Moore about growing up in Newark as a kid who liked lipstick and eyeliner. There was a lot of judgment — but surprising moments of bonding, too.
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Growing Up Gender-Nonconforming Amid Scolding, Awkward Silences

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Growing Up Gender-Nonconforming Amid Scolding, Awkward Silences

Growing Up Gender-Nonconforming Amid Scolding, Awkward Silences

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Time to check in with StoryCorps' OutLoud initiative, which collects stories from the LGBTQ community. 23-year-old Kiyan Williams grew up in the 1990s in a rough neighborhood in Newark, New Jersey. As a child, Kiyan felt isolated and different from other kids, something Kiyan's family began to notice at age 4. Here's Kiyan Williams, speaking with a friend, Darnell Moore.

KIYAN WILLIAMS: Me and my mother are at a friend's house, and Mary J. Blige is playing. Mary was my girl at that moment - she knew all my life struggles.

(LAUGHTER)

WILLIAMS: And, as I'm singing along with Mary, my hand is limp. And I remember my mother yelled at me. And she was like boys don't hold their hands like that, girls and sissies hold their hands like that. She repeated fix your hand, fix your hand, but I didn't know that my hand was broken. And I was like Ma, I don't know how to fix it (laughter). And so that was one of the first moments I remember being judged for acting like a girl. In high school when I first started wearing make-up, my family didn't notice at first. But then my mother noticed that, like, her eyeliner was missing because it was in my book bag, and I was wearing it. I think she was lost for words. I remember just these awkward silences where, like, we both acknowledged that...

DARNELL MOORE: I just stole your MAC eyeliner.

WILLIAMS: I just stole your MAC eyeliner. So where do we go from here? And then three years ago, my cousin married his college sweetheart. His wife's family are all college-educated, whereas most folks in my family are not college-educated, are not high-school-educated, are black, poor, right? And so my cousin, very selectively, invites people from my family to the wedding. And although they had not seen me in a number of years, I happened to be included because I'm the cousin who is at Stanford. So they thought they were getting the suit-and-tie-wearing cousin who goes to Stanford. And they got the pink-lipstick with fur-coat-wearing cousin who goes to Stanford.

MOORE: (Laughter) What were their response to you?

WILLIAMS: A lot of folks avoided me.

MOORE: At the wedding.

WILLIAMS: Yeah. But it was a bonding moment for me and my immediate family. We're like we were all kind of, like, being judged. I was being judged for my queerness and like other folks in my family were being judged for being single parents, single mothers. That moment at that wedding was sort of where I felt a sense of solidarity.

MOORE: Sure.

WILLIAMS: You know?

MOORE: Like, I'm just - I should say, like, you are giving me inspiration because you - you found some way to learn to live authentically.

(MUSIC)

MARTIN: That was Kiyan Williams talking with Darnell Moore. Today, Kiyan works with LGBTQ youth in New York City. This interview was recorded in New York for StoryCorps' OutLoud initiative. It'll be archived at the Library of Congress. Here more OutLoud stories on the StoryCorps podcast, which you can get on iTunes and at npr.org.

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