No one has played around with gender quite like Chris Crocker. The Tennesseean 28-year-old first exposed himself to the world through his provocative Youtube videos dating back to 2006. Since then, he's produced his own music, starred in a documentary and held the attention of millions of online followers. Since the time he showed up to kindergarten with Barbies in hand, Crocker has spent his life pushing the envelope and challenging society to rethink how we define "normal". Although he is keen to share every step of his gender journey, Crocker's openness has been faced with harsh pushback. He's a true testament that what we see on the outside is not always what's happening on the inside.
Chris has decided it's time to let his truth be heard.
How about we start by defining what gender means to you?
Gender is how you see yourself on the inside, in your mind's eye. I don't think everyone identifies as just male and female. I think gender is a journey, for me at least. That is what I have struggled with for so long. Even being sure that I'm female on the inside, there are still so many umbrellas for you to fall under in the gender spectrum. There's gender-queer, gender fluid, trans... When I started dressing like a guy aesthetically, I wanted to live that way for a little while to see if I felt comfortable. I had to live aesthetically as the opposite of what I knew myself to be just to see if i would feel comfortable that way. And I wasn't comfortable. I was like a false advertisement because I would attract gay guys interested in the masculine aesthetic but when they started dating me they realized it was just like dating a chic. A friend once told me I was rebelling against my rebellion.
I had to run away from my true self to get back to it.
Rebelling against your rebellion?
I think she was saying you have to be a little bit rebellious to be your true self, especially in the South where everyday there's 50 different reasons to be depressed. I started to rebel against my rebellion that let me be myself. I lost my grit and got tired of carrying around that armor. Yeah, it makes me happy to have my nails done and have long hair, but I always had to have on this bitch face. Even though it made me happy to look this way, I was so sick of being on the defense. I just wanted to breathe, and the only want I could breathe living here was to look like everyone else.
How do you handle those who question your sincerity?
First people were stripping me of my sincerity when I made the "Leave Britney Alone" video. They had no clue my mom was addicted to meth that same year, and I was defensive of any woman that was possibly suicidal. Others say, "He's doing this for attention. He's doing this because Caitlin Jenner just came up." I have a problem with people questioning my truth because it's something I would never to do someone else. If I saw a person struggling, and I knew they were struggling every single day, there's no way my beliefs would block me from seeing that the person was just choosing this inner battle. I know how much that drives someone over the edge.
What part of you feels like people even need to understand you?
Well, that's where I'm a contradiction. I preach about not caring what other people think. I think I used to be more care-free, but when I got trapped into box of people's perception, it took me back to a childhood thing where there was a chip on my shoulder. It triggers you when you are known for only one video. It is possible to be multidimensional. You can be funny and also have a serious side to you. Not everyone is one thing, even though people may want to pin you down to your worst trait. Three minutes of me crying in a video about Britney is not 28 years of my life. There's a whole story there.
Despite facing such resistance, you don't stop. You always find a way to keep going. Where do you find hope?
That's so hard to answer. I think I only tap into hope when I surprise myself with my self-expression or when I connect with people. Even if everyday I'm stressed out about my own shit, I have to remember there are teenagers out there who don't have that strong sense of self. When you get older, you realize it's not all about you. You're not the only one with this problem. You get letters saying "You helped me before I went off the ledge" and then realize you can't be so caught up in your own despair. That's validation that I should be doing what I'm doing.
When you are your fully authentic self, who are you?
That is something I've been asking myself lately because I realize when I am fully content with myself, I don't have the reason to be funny or vent. I think I would not have much to say. You aren't struggling when you see what you want to see on the outside. When you feel content, you don't necessarily have to need to create art. When I transition, I definitely want to marry the part of myself that is inspired to fight for people's rights and be content with myself. I know when I transition I'm not going to be as wired and angsty. The storm will have passed.
What will be different for you when that "storm" passes?
I'm more confident. I'm not in an uproar. That's what "Chris" has done all his life -- constantly take on other people's project of what I should be. Christine is just chilling, filing her nails and has no care in the world. There is a calm that comes over me. It's ultimately about me finally having peace of mind. I don't want to lose the perspective Chris has when I go into that part of my life. I want to always stay in touch with the progress that needs to be made in society.
How is it trying to explain your gender journey to your family?
It's like squeezing all the energy out of yourself just to have someone get a grain of understanding. They just want to poke and prod. That's where my anger and hurt comes from -- knowing that people will ask questions but don't care to receive the answers. I've drained myself trying to understand that they don't care to understand. The reason I'm doing this [transition] is for myself. It's very bizarre when people ignore everything about you that's authentic and cherry pick what they want to see about you.
Don't love me in spite of who I am, love me for who I am.
What exactly makes you think people don't care to understand you?
People say, "If you are a woman, why weren't you born with a vagina?" Well, maybe I was born this way to teach you something. The worst is when people just give you a blank stare and later ask the same question. When it's something they innately don't understand, or when they write someone off as a weirdo, there's a thing in them that keeps them from receiving the information.Logic can't argue with a religious belief, but my truth is something they can't argue with either.
When you step back from all the noise online, how do you validate yourself?
That's a good question. I don't think I've come to that place yet, but I think it's part of the transitioning process. It's a matter of reinventing myself without other people's opinion of me. I'm finally doing something for me.
What do you most want for your life right now?
I just want to achieve inner peace. I want to go out on my back porch and drink lemonade. I've been aspirational enough, and I just want to be at a place where I can breathe. The only thing at the top of the mountain for me is to be OK and not have to answer to everyone all the time.
When was the last time you felt your truly stepped into your authentic self?
I was 18-years-old, I had just started making videos. I had a clean slate, and I could just say what I wanted to. There was no reputation. It was just me speaking my mind, and it was the beginning of my on my gender journey. All years of not being listened to as a child went away. It was very cathartic because I was able to unload so much shit. It was the last time I felt truly empowered. Then, the Britney video happened a year later, and the thing that started to free me then start to trap me.
Was it really the Britney video that changed everything and cause you to feel trapped, or was it something else?
At the time, I was filming for a reality show. Even though it was real, I knew it would play to the paparazzi, so I rolled with the idea. I thought, they will think I'm a joke now and I'll play up to whatever part they want to see, but when the show comes out I'll really get to tell them the full story. I would show them that I have a performance side to myself, but that never happened.
What about the idea that people criticize in others the part of themselves they've never been able to accept? How does that fit into the criticism you deal with?
I agree with that idea, and I also think a lot of people are indoctrinated and brainwashed to put others down. That's what I was taught as a kid. It becomes scary for people when they start to think for themselves. That's when they really look at a person and take them for who they are as an experience, rather than a label. But people are afraid because they don't want to see that [queer] in their own family. It becomes about living up to an image, rather than truth.
And people may project that image onto you through their efforts of relentlessly challenging who you are. Maybe they haven't answered those questions for themselves, so they are seeking answers from you.
That's a perspective I should remind myself of. When they are questioning me, they are probably questioning themselves.
When you detach from your gender, who are you?
Wow. When I strip away gender, I think at heart I'm a sensitive person who wants to be listened to but also wants to listen to others and blend it. As harsh and radical as I may seem, I'm very sensitive to people's reactions, and I just want to be seen like everyone else. I do believe we are all connected, but it's hard to feel like that when you feel like the sore thumb sticking out. I just want to let the armor down, to like people, and be liked. It's as simple as that.
What's the one message you want people to know?
Every person has a story and struggle that we don't know about no matter how much we put ourselves out there. People think that because I put on a show I'm carefree. It makes people think they can poke at me that much harder. For as strong as a person may seem, their weaknesses are just as strong as that outside look. Love people the way you would want to be loved. Don't assume you know a person's struggle.
When you say "don't assume you know a person's struggle", what hidden struggles do you think your biggest critics are experiencing?
I don't follow the cliché that the people bullying you are upset with themselves, or that hurt people hurt people. I think there's a general carelessness with some people. They aren't tapped into empathy. I have seen people be careless and sociopathic because of the way they are raised to treat LGBT people. I have seen more hatred directed at me from gay people than I ever have in my life from Christians or straight people. The only time in my life that I was physically assaulted was from a gay person. So many gay people struggle with who they are and think that in order to be accepted in society they have to be heteronormative. They try so hard not to be stereotype, and that's where the hatred comes in. There are a lot of LGBT people that water themselves down so that people can see them as whatever "normal" is supposed to be. They can look at me and say, "You're the reason we're not accepted. You have pink nails and a purse." We should have every right to be as flamboyant as we want to be. Besides, I'm more of an iPod type than a stereotype.
I thought the rainbow was supposed to represent every shade, not just the most masculine shades.
What are three lessons you've learned thus far on your journey?
First, no matter how strong we want to be, none of us are immune to wanting to be loved. Second, as much as we want to be understood by people, you ultimately have to do what makes you happy. Third, we all have to be ourselves, through our own eyes, and tune out the noise of how other the people see us.
Chris' newest album "Full Frontal" will be released in late 2016. He describes the album as his "most honest and revealing work yet."
Frank Macri is a Leadership Coach who helps individuals prioritize their time and energy so they can free themselves of distractions and focus on what matters most. He also posts YouTube videos sharing updates from his life in China. For more, go to www.TheFrankLife.com.