Skylar Kergil talks transgender activism, music


Jacob Greenia

Skylar Kergil

An eager crowd gathered on Thursday, April 14, to see award-winning transgender activist, musician, and YouTube personality Skylar Kergil speak and perform an acoustic set in Bentley Hall, Room 207.
First-year student Shane Wyman, who initially requested that Johnson bring in Kergil to speak and perform, introduced his idol to a widely receptive audience.

Kergil’s occupation as an activist and public speaker started as he gained a significant following on social media. He has over 11,000 followers on Twitter, 3,741 likes on Facebook, and over 100,000 YouTube subscribers to date. His story of transition from female to male has been featured in the Boston Globe, he has contributed an opinion editorial to the New York Times, and he has been featured in the PBS Frontline documentary on June 30, 2015 titled “Growing Up Trans.” He won the Trevor Project’s Youth Innovator Award in 2014 for inspiring LGBTQ+ youth toward happiness.

Kergil, lithe and armed with an array of amusing facial expressions, prefaced his performance by speaking about his physical transition, which started nearly a decade ago. “I identify as a transgender man, which means I transitioned from female to male within the binary of gender,” said Kergil during his opening. “Gender exists as a spectrum. A lot of my friends are gender-queer, gender-nonconforming, and go by they-them pronouns. There is no one way to transition.”

Accompanied by his photo slideshow, Kergil displayed images of himself as a young female. At one point during his PowerPoint, he displayed a photo of himself with a broom symbolically “sweeping away the gender binary.”

Kergil also reminisced humorously on the first time he explored a male identity during his youth: “My first coming out experience was when I was about four years old. I was visiting my grandparents and we were wandering around the hardware store when their friends came up to me [and said], ‘Hey, what’s your name?’ so I was like, ‘You can call me Mike!’”

Originally born Katherine Elizabeth, Kergil quickly grew to dislike his birth name, hence his affinity to the name Mike at an early age. “I didn’t hear the word ‘gender’ until I was about 14, so I had no idea that a world exists beyond this world of binary sex of male and female,” Kergil said.

His worldview changed drastically during one fateful basement show with his former punk band, Degenerexix, where he first encountered someone who identified as a transgendered male.

The word “transgender” was a revelation of sorts for the young Kergil, who had finally found a term to fit his feelings. “There’s a word for how I have been feeling through all of this,” said Kergil. “There’s someone else out there like me, so I’m not alone.”

One other element to this brief encounter enthralled Kergil: the possibility to transition physically from a girl to a boy. And so he explained that his journey, which has been documented on social media for nearly a decade, had begun first by selecting the name Skye, which would become Skylar.

Kergil entered the most sobering section of his talk, explaining that his initial coming out to his mother opened his eyes to a world that has yet to accept the transgender community. It was, nevertheless, a necessary step for Kergil to attaining happiness in his life.

“It’s important to highlight that the breaking point when I did come out to my mom was on a day when I woke up and was planning on killing myself,” Kergil continues. “I came downstairs and was crying ‘you don’t understand what it’s like to wake up every day in a body that is not yours.’”

The turning point for Kergil, aside from coming out to his family, was when he posted his first video of his transition on YouTube, a “happy accident” which inadvertently spawned his current status in the realm of social media. In addition to online communities, Kergil found himself in a supportive community as a transgender male while an art major at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York.

Kergil’s photos dipped in and out of his adolescence, showing photos of himself as a young girl, a transitioning teenager, and the days just after he had received the surgery to remove his breasts: a time which he referred to as the best of his life thus far, despite the pain.

To close his story, Kergil addressed the overall meaning of his work. “I always say that my goal in life is happiness. That is how I want to feel with my body, my experiences, and my soul,” said Kergil.
“But what I learned recently at a conference full of youth was that it’s not necessarily happiness, but wholeness. You are who you are . . . and you have meaning. So it’s not this superfluous ‘happiness’ anymore, it’s inspiring people to live their whole lives,” Kergil continued. “If being LGBT is part of that life, how can I make that easier?”

Before retiring to a warm reception and a round of questions from his audience, the activist slipped on his Taylor electric acoustic guitar and played a folksy, thought-provoking four song set of original work. Kergil ended his performance on the appropriately titled number, “Tell Me a Story.”