New Yorkers can tell I’m not from there because of my kind eyes. I learned this fact at the Stonewall Inn many years ago. It had been a few months since my ex and I parted ways and here I was in New York City with all the gay people. Or at least it felt like that, coming from Nashville, TN. The majority of women interested in women on Tinder in Tennessee were interested in a date with their husbands and I at the same time – if you get what I mean.
That Saturday, I went shopping for the perfect outfit. All black, of course. It is New York after all. My friends and I arrived before the crowds and found a booth in the corner of the room. As the dance floor started to fill, I spotted someone cute. “I’m going to buy them a drink,” I said with confidence even though I was nervous head to toe. Then with just a credit card and a dash of bravery, I ask this stranger if I could buy them a drink. They said yes and I walked to the bar to order.
A few minutes later, someone accidentally uppercuts this drink like you would a villain in a violent video game. I watched the glass fly over a head then heard a crash as it hit the ground, shocked it didn’t land on any people. I marched back up to the bar. “Can I have a broom?” I asked the bartender that I ordered drinks from just minutes ago. They laughed. “You’re not from here, are you?” He said, less as a question and more of a statement. “How do you know?” I asked innocently. He smiled and said something I haven’t forgotten for the last decade plus: “You have kind eyes.”
As I camped just a few hours outside of NYC this past weekend I wondered if maybe I’d lost my kind eyes after all these years.
It hit me while I was washing my hands. I heard a toilet flush and caught myself running out of the room before I would be seen. An instinct to avoid confrontation. As I pulled the handle, I made eye contact with the other person in the restroom who simply nodded to acknowledge my presence. No shock, no exasperation. That’s when I remembered I was among New Yorkers. My short hair and masculine mannerisms aren’t going to stand out to them. Just the kind eyes.
The truth is that I have been scared by so many situations in this van life experience that I catch myself looking down. Running out of bathrooms so I don’t have to endure one more stare. Changing my clothes to try to convince someone not to second guess me.
As valuable as these precautions are for my safety, it has also trapped me in a place where I can allow myself to think that being who I am isn’t as important as making other people comfortable. It’s a side effect of a system that says we have to be pleasant. Fit in. Adapt. These conditions have stolen the kindness from a lot of people – both the kind we give others and ourselves. It cost me a little of the kindness in my eyes and too much of my sanity. Stopped me from seeing smiles from across the room or acknowledging consideration. I missed out on beautiful scenery rushing to avoid stares or misgendering. Worst of all, I couldn’t see the beauty in living.
That cost is simply too high. My trans joy, living out loud, and the kindness in my eyes are worth more than anyone’s moment of discomfort. My happiness is worthy.
No matter how different I feel or the precautions I take, I can’t lose the kindness. I can take the risks that feel right to me. To use these kind eyes to see the beauty in others, knowing that they’re trying to navigate a world that tells them to change too. I can protect myself by being extra kind to my fears instead of creating new rules that regulate who I can be outside. To see myself and the beauty of this life with kind eyes. To remember that knowing who and what I love is a gift. A super power, even.
And so are my kind eyes.
PS: I did a special off schedule blog for International Pronouns Day. It is filled with people who are living out loud and I think you should follow all of them. 10/10 would recommend.
Kat Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.
Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster, Care.com, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.
Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.