After yet another very long hiatus, I am back again with another conversation on gender and language, this one taking place in March 2019.
Kyng, previously known as Lucas Charlie Rose and previously praised on this very website, is a jack-of-all-trades who takes no days off, between songwriting, rapping, mixing, producing, activism, and creating visual art. Kyng is the founder and head of the Montreal chapter of the all-trans music label Trans Trenderz. It was certainly an honor and a privilege to talk to Kyng in their home studio (with their four-legged companion by their side) and I’m excited to share their words with all of you.
*Interview has been edited for clarity*
Kyng: My pronouns are he for cis people and they for cool people. (*Both laugh*) And we’re here with Whiskey, who doesn’t have pronouns ‘cause she’s a dog.
Max: What this project is that I’m working on is kind of looking at (non-binary) people in Montreal, specifically those who speak English and French, what their experiences are in Montreal, how they navigate the French language which has historically been very gendered and things like that. If you have any thoughts about that or you want to talk about languages you know…
Kyng: That’s one of the reasons why I feel comfortable with the pronoun he is because in French there’s no (singular) they. And I don’t care what people say about creating new pronouns. That’s gonna take generations to be adapted into the language because people are really anti-it you know? Personally, I find that the gender-neutral pronouns that they are trying to come up with in French, it doesn’t roll off the tongue naturally.
Kyng: So, for me, it’s really hard…so they—it’s in the English language, so you say it as a gender-neutral pronoun all the time when you don’t know who you’re talking about. So basically, I don’t like French and that’s why, for example, I make music and I just released an album in French after making music in English for the longest time, but I didn’t speak English til I was 17-years-old.
Max: Oh, wow.
Kyng: But I don’t feel comfortable speaking French because it’s too gendered. Like I don’t like when (francophone) people correct people who don’t know how to gender a table, but my pronouns are not as important, you know?
Max: Oh wow. Yeah, it’s ridiculous.
Kyng: Yeah, so that’s why, for me, I feel like I don’t like how gendered French is, so for me it’s just easier. ‘Cause I remember, I was 15-years-old when I started going online and having an online presence. I had this blog, it was on SkyBlog, it was back in the day. I would write about myself and didn’t want people to know what gender I was and it would be so hard to write about myself without putting any gendered language in it. But, in English, I could do it for an hour and nobody would know. So, for me it was really a work of language. I really had to think my sentences through to make sure there was not an extra e added anywhere and shit like that, you know? So it was really hard. So when I started speaking English it was like: Oh my God! Freedom!
Max: Yeah. Wow, that’s awesome. You said that you did you record an album in French recently. So, I guess (I want to ask) what brought that about?
Kyng: I feel like, even for example, recently I was listening to my old songs that I wrote in French and the flow is really choppy. It’s really hard. It comes off as cheesy really often. The lyrics just off as cheesy, ‘cause French is really complicated as a language and so if you write (French songs) the same way that you write English songs, it’s just not–like you can’t say “I love you! I miss you!” in a French song or else it’ll be like: Really homie? That’s all you can do? They (francophone rappers) would need to go another level to be considered lyricists. Like, it’s really hard. And so, for me, I just found that English is also melodic, so when you’re talking it already sounds like there’s a flow, and in French it’s a lot harder. I feel like, because I was able to learn how to write songs in English, to get that fluent, I was able to transfer the flow part to the French, but not the lyrics if that makes sense. I did it ‘cause people were asking me to do it and then I tried and ended up I couldn’t do it. I don’t talk about my gender in French. I don’t talk about racism as much in French. It’s hard. French is really…I don’t know…I don’t like it.
Max: (laughs) Yeah, but I know that those are things that you talk about a lot in your English raps.
Kyng: Yeah, like, I talk about my gender, sometimes. Yeah, I don’t know ‘cause—the album in French has the same things as my English songs, but deeper.
Max: It’s deeper in French or in English?
Kyng: In French. Like there’s a song I made for example,…in English it’s more direct for me but in French it’s more like you’re painting a picture you know. And there’s a song that I’m putting in my next album and it’s called “Tiny Body, Big Heart” and the last verse is in French. The first two verses are like “this is my life. This is me. Hi, what’s good?” and the last verse is a whole metaphor. And it (the last verse) goes deep ‘cause. I feel that maybe ‘cause French is my first language but I don’t know. But I feel like it’s a lot more poetic ‘cause, you can say a lot more in different ways. I feel like in English it’s more direct, I don’t know. But it sounds more fluid.
Max: I recall that you said (when we first met that) you lived in the U.S. for a while, as well.
Kyng: Yeah, I lived there for three years in *lowers voice* Bethesda.
Max: Yeah, that is, like rich-kid suburbs right there.
Kyng: Yeah I was at the French International School. It was horrible.
Max: Oh my God.
Kyng: ‘Cause not only is it like a bunch of rich kids, but on top of being rich kids they’re (the children of) diplomats.
Kyng: So that comes with a certain level of entitlement. I was friends with, you know, the black queer kids. But my brother was friends with, like (rich kids). Those people are weird. It’s weird, They’re weird. I don’t like them. Rich people are weird.
Max: Yeah, they are. I’ve never understood, like, how, like…what? It’s a foreign country. It’s a whole different planet.
Something else that I’ve been asking people, and you’ve kind of touched on this, are there ways that French can be made more inclusive? Is it so past hope that sticking with English (is better)?
Kyng: I mean there are ways…I’m sure there’s ways because language evolves. I don’t have the energy, I’m personally doing so much other stuff that I don’t have the energy. But I personally feel that the gender-neutral pronouns that they have right now ,again, it just doesn’t come out right. ‘Cause it’s not “yel” it’s “iel.”Like, if I’m trying to think of a word that those syllables (sounds) exist (in that order)….yeah, like, I don’t even know. Every time I hear people say “iel” it feels weird. It doesn’t come out right. For me, it’s the phonetics or something. Maybe that’s a thing; having something that rolls off the tongue more naturally and feels more natural to the language and can be incorporated in the sentences in a more natural way would help people. And I don’t know how we can do that, ‘cause I know that in English we have they and that’s already natural, so, yeah, I don’t know. It’s tough, ‘cause, I don’t know. French is just fucked up. Just speak Creole.
Max: (*laughs*) Did you grow up speaking that (Creole) as well?
Kyng: No, but some people in my family spoke it so I understood a little bit.
Max: From what part of the world? What type of Creole?
Kyng: Martinique. So French Caribbean. Yeah, there are several types of French Creole, but, yeah, different from the Haiti one.
Even in Spanish you know how they put the x (i.e. Latinx) like, how would they do that in French? It’s hard, and that’s why I have a real love-hate relationship with that language (French). It’s really pretty if you use it right, but oh my God is it a fucked-up language! For example, I don’t think you can incorporate gender-neutral pronouns and have people also use them naturally if this (points to table in room) is fucking gendered. Like, for me, when I started learning English the fact that things didn’t have a gender was such an alien concept to me that I was like: “How the fuck am I going to wrap my head around that?” You know, for example I would be like: “Oh she (when referring to) the table.”
Max: (*Laughs*) And, of course for someone like me who learned French (later) that (assigning objects a gender) was a foreign concept to me. For me, I think that will always be a really weird concept—gendering inanimate objects. But I can definitely see what you’re talking about.
Kyng: Yeah, cause now it feels weird. I’m like: “Why?” ‘Cause I was fifteen-years-old when I moved to the states, so learning English, still my English was like high school English so it was shit. But I came to the states and was like “How the fuck am I supposed to…? So, like dogs have a gender but (the word) table does not?” It really took me a really long time to get used to the idea that things (don’t have grammatical) gender, you know?
You know there’s several steps to be like…you can’t just introduce a new gender-neutral pronoun (in French). If you want to do that you have to stop gendering the table too. ‘Cause you can’t come in and be like “la table!”and try to introduce a gender-neutral pronoun and have people understand that concept. Because (then grammatical) gender is not gender anymore—it’s just a way of speaking. So, I don’t know.
I’m thinking of the, like, old white French people who don’t wanna learn new things. And I’m thinking reasonably these people are never going to understand what it is to have a gender-neutral pronoun. Progressive people will but I’m not interested in preaching to the choir. Like if I say: “Trans people deserve rights!” and the only people listening to me are the people who already believe it, you know? For me, I’m trying to break that and put all of these ideas in front of people who never thought about them before, ‘cause that’s when you can actually, you know (make a difference). And I’m thinking, like which ways, like, by experience, giving more workshops to people who don’t understand gender, who don’t understand all these things, you have to do it in progressive ways. You have to really put it in a simplistic way, paint pictures really easily. The thing is if that picture of gendered objects…not just gendered objects, gendered everything… like everything. (Even) the weather is fucking gendered, like, (the French word for) rain is feminine. So if you first try to break that picture and try to bring a gender-neutral thing to objects, then do humans. That’s what I would do.
Max: I think you’re the first person (I’ve spoken to) that suggested that. So that’s really interesting. I’ll keep that in mind.
Kyng: One of the things that I stopped doing was…that I refuse to do… that if you’re an English speaker and you misgender the table (when speaking French) I’m not going to tell you how to say it. And for me that’s the first step towards (more gender-neutral French). Because…why?…why? You know what I mean? Like, I don’t get it.
For example, (one time) my mom, and my grandparents came to Canada, my grandparents didn’t know (I was trans) only my mom knew and I was dating a girl at the time who spoke English, like she barely spoke any French and they kept correcting her (when she misgendered objects but) my mom wouldn’t use the right pronouns for me. So whenever they would correct her for, for example: “This is not the gender for (the French word for) the fork. (I was) like: “Are you fucking serious?”
It took years for my mom to be able to gender me properly, but they expect people to know the gender of all these different objects. And there’s a famous joke that in French, that’s like: “Oh, Dad look! There’s une helicoptere.” Then the Dad’s like: “No, it’s un helicoptere.”And the child’s like: “How can you see from down here?”
Max: Oh my gosh. Wow!
Kyng: That’s good because it’s like, children. Children know the truth. Like, why the fuck–Why is that masculine? It’s also funny because for (the French words) body parts like a boob, a vagina, clitoris—that’s all masculine, but a lot of kitchen-related items are feminine.
Max: Does it maybe have to do with this stereotypical, patriarchal, like, ownership?
Kyng: Yeah. Even, for example, the way that if there’s one guy surrounded by (all girls)…
Max: Yeah. It becomes ils plural. It’s so stupid.
Kyng: Unless you start saying il for everybody and have the ils with an s become the gender-neutral base, for example, or (start using) elles as gender-neutral. ‘Cause in English, when there’re two people, it’s gender-neutral. We don’t say “shes. Oh! The sheses are here!” So why not try to use only one of those (pronouns) and banish the other one and be like: “Fuck gender altogether! We’re just gonna use one!” I don’t know.
Something that’s simpler, something that would probably take a lot less time actually is to come up with a time-travel (machine), travel back in time and kill all the French colonizers. Stop them from colonizing. ‘Cause it’s like America—it’s founded on fucked-up principles, so burn the whole thing down.