By Marissa Barnhart
July 14, 2015
Credit : Nicole Sauter, The Burr Magazine

This piece originally appeared in The Burr, a student publication at Kent State University, a member of the Generation Progress Voices Network. It appeared in our summer magazine, an annual publication that features engaging pieces on issues affecting young people.

“That’s not gonna come off,” he says, pointing at the ornament hanging from his rearview mirror. His car is the quietest place on campus at 2 p.m. on a Thursday.

“It’s devil hands,” he continues. “They were my mom’s. They were to protect her while she was driving.”

In two months, his voice is noticeably deeper, cracking here and there as a reminder of his “second puberty.” Facial hair is poking out around his chin, and he appears more defined, his former softness turning sharp—all signs the hormones are working.

Kyle Dunn has taken his testosterone shot every Wednesday since Dec. 10, 2014. Referred to as “T,” it is only one of Dunn’s steps in transitioning from female to male—he’s just waiting for the effects to take over.

“Body hair, voice dropping, fat redistribution, weight loss, muscle gain—anything you can think of on your body is just changing,” Dunn says. “I’m loving it.”

On the Homefront

Dunn was born Sept. 22, 1994, in Mayfield, Ohio, and grew up in Mentor. He’s always known he was a boy, but it wasn’t until he was 15 that he found the word “transgender” through a musician on YouTube who appeared on Tyra Banks’ former talk show.

“I found it and I was like, ‘Oh my God, that fits, like, my life,’ and ever since, I’ve been trying it out on chat rooms and just differ- ent names and things and see what would fit,” Dunn says.

Before coming out as transgender, Dunn told his family and friends he was bisexual. He felt he needed to give an explanation, because he was dating girls but wasn’t ready to use transgender. His friends were the first to know.

“I had always gone by Kyle—in the back of my head I was like, ‘that’s right,’ ” Dunn says. “Then I just started coming out when I knew.”

Dunn says for him, coming out had two steps.

“The first one is telling people that you’re not the gender you were born—you’re not the gender that matches your sex,” Dunn says. “The other one is telling them that you are transitioning and going through the transitioning process.”

Dunn says his family had mixed reactions to his coming out. Initially, Dunn came out to his stepmother. They were in their garage and sitting in wicker chairs. His stepmom smoked a cigarette while Dunn battled his nerves. She questioned him, and he put a name to it. She told Dunn’s father, who didn’t accept it at first.

“My dad wants me to have a family,” Dunn says. “When I was little, he used to have this fantasy: ‘You’re going to grow up, you’re going to get married, you’re going to have a family.’ ”

Over the years, Dunn says his father came around to his transitioning and has since become his number one supporter and best friend, specifically during summer 2014.

“My dad sat next to me at my name-change court day,” Dunn says. “When I got my gender marker changed on my license, the paperwork got sent to his house. He faxed it to me the next day, so I could go get my license immediately instead of having to wait until I got home to get my mail. And now he is helping me with the insurance paperwork.”

Dunn says he is grateful to have his dad in his life, and he’s glad Kent State isn’t too far from home because he can visit his dad on the weekends.

“It’s weird how it changes,” Dunn says. “I don’t know what I’d do without his support… I couldn’t really see myself transitioning unless I knew he was OK with it.”

Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 3.31.09 PM

Brothers in Arms

Dunn says he was nervous about on-campus living when he came to college. He found Kent State appealing because it advertised gender-neutral housing, which he calls a “myth,” because at the time, the gender-inclusive housing form didn’t exist.

“The phone number on their website didn’t work to call for gender-neutral housing,” Dunn says. “Pretty much they’d put you in Leebrick. If you wanted to live with some- one, they would either try to room you with someone else who is trans, which wasn’t actually a thing until this year when they started getting more trans people on campus … or people of your birth gender.”

Dunn says he didn’t have the best housing situation in his first year on campus because he moved between multiple buildings, but he did get involved in organizations. The main two are Trans*Fusion and Delta Lambda Phi.

Trans*Fusion co-president Reilly Smith met Dunn initially through a mutual friend while Dunn was still in high school. They met again when Dunn was a freshman.

Smith says Dunn has come a long way in maturing from when they first met. During the fall semester 2014, Dunn served as the treasurer of Trans*Fusion. In January, he became vice president. Smith says appointing Dunn to the position was an obvious choice because Dunn had already been taking on the vice president’s responsibilities.

“He spent a lot of time building up the group and being our rock,” Smith says of Dunn. “It made sense to move him up this semester.”

Alongside Trans*Fusion, Dunn is active in his fraternity, Delta Lambda Phi, the LGBTQ-inclusive fraternity on campus.

Dunn learned about the fraternity at a PRIDE!Kent open house during his fresh- man year. He learned it was transgender- inclusive and was encouraged to join.

“There are actually two fraternities in the country that are trans-inclusive for pre-T,” Dunn says. “The fact that I was accepted and I didn’t need to be medi- cally transitioned and didn’t have to hide anything was really awesome.”

Dunn attended the rush events and eventually became a brother. He was taken as a little brother by Dakota Stephens.

“I wasn’t originally supposed to get one,” Stephens says. “But I got Kyle. We didn’t get really close until later, but we started hanging out more.”

Dunn and Stephens currently share an apartment. They have two cats, Lucifer, affectionately called “Luci-purr,” and Peanut. Dunn has a turtle named Raphael, named for his favorite Ninja Turtle.

Stephens says he often jokes with Dunn, telling him, “I’m going to find a new little,” and “I’m kicking you out,” in retaliation to Dunn’s own comedic jabs. They frequently send their friends Snapchats of each other, catching the other in an awkward moment.

Dunn thinks of Stephens as a real older brother. Stephens says his little is smart and goal-oriented; the crease in his brow shows he truly cares about Dunn.

“I worry sometimes whether he’s getting enough sleep or if he’s eating enough,” Stephens says. “But he’s a good kid. I can’t say anything bad.”

Dunn holds three positions in his fraternity: pledge educator, sergeant at arms and alumni relations. He is in charge of educating new brothers, managing risk control and rituals and reaching out to alumni members. Dunn says he enjoys being in the fraternity because of the time he’s spent and the bonds he’s formed with his brothers.

“It’s a lot of work, but what you give comes back,” Dunn says. “The time I’ve spent with these guys—we just know each other so well. They know when something’s up and I know when they’re feeling down.”

Branching Out

Since starting testosterone, Dunn says he’s become more confident. He feels comfortable speaking up in class and can now look in mirrors because he’s satisfied with what he sees. One of his favorite things to do is take selfies.

“The more pictures I have, even if I take one once a week, it’s still a big enough change that you can tell,” Dunn says. “And when you look at everything side by side, it shows the minor changes and not just the big ones.”

Dunn also says that testosterone isn’t always the answer—it’s a work in progress.

“It’s a waiting game because you’re waiting for all the effects to take place, and you’re waiting for yourself to turn into the person you always thought you were or you’ve always been,” Dunn says.

For other alternatives to combat gender dysphoria, Dunn recommends looking into websites that sell binders, packers and gaffs. He says it’s important to find safe alternatives because some things, such as binding—compressing breasts to look flat-chested—can be dangerous to people’s health.

Dunn says he’s trying to raise money for top surgery—breast removal. He has a GoFundMe page, and he’s selling T-shirts, which can be found at t-fueled.spreadshirt.com.

Dunn says he’s taking his transition one step at a time, but he’s glad he came to Kent State, and he thinks he’s come a long way from his teenage days in Mentor.

“I’d still be sitting in Mentor in my dad’s place going, ‘Wow, I want to transition,’ like every other trans kid in Mentor instead of actually going out there and doing something for myself and getting it done,” Dunn says.

While he says he wishes he had chosen a warmer campus, he wouldn’t change his decision to move here.

“For what I have, this is pretty damn good,” Dunn says.

Get updates on these issues and more! Sign up to receive email updates on the latest actions, events, and updates impacting 18- to 35-year-olds.