Tess Hemmila and Ashley Huizinga–Staff Writers
What is the key to life?
If you were to ask Jay Kahl, you’d receive an answer immediately: “Resilience.”
Kahl, who was born intersexed (that is, with DNA 75% male and 25% female), graced the campus with his presence October 10, a Tuesday afternoon, at the invitation of Prof. Tara Boer of the Sociology/Social Work department.
Before a standing-room only crowd of Diversity and Inequality students, as well as a smattering of Psych majors, Social Work majors and others, Kahl spoke about his childhood and his experience with abuse at the hands of multiple male figures in his life. As a result of the abuse, Kahl, who grew up “thinking like a male but raised as a female,” developed dissociative identity disorder (DID), PTSD, Anxiety Disorder, social anxiety and clinical depression from a young age.
“I told no one from age 8 to age 45,” Kahl said. “There are no words. The ones who are supposed to protect and love you are the ones hurting you. It rewires your brain to ‘love is for survival.’ It should make you sick to your stomach just to think about that happening.”
In a bright pink shirt with orange letters that read “Equal rights for others does not mean fewer rights for you – it’s not pie,” Kahl spoke about growing up in Northwest Iowa, attending a conservative non-denominational church, and earning a Bachelors of Divinity from a 2-year Bible college. He talked about where opinions come from (home life and experiences), and where perceptions originate (if you’ve been attending Dordt for at least two years, you should read “perceptions” as “worldviews”).
Senior Siri Johnson, said, “What stuck out to me was hearing the stories about his father abusing him; they are awful,” senior Siri Johnson said. “It’s amazing to me that he’s coped with it by creating all of his personalities. It’s amazing how complex the human mind is and how it copes and reacts to trauma.”
Throughout the lecture, Kahl spent quite a bit of time discussing his experience with DID (previously known as multiple personality disorder). Before beginning, he wrote 19 names on the whiteboard behind him – each of which matched one of the personalities in his head.
“Joni, J, JD,” Kahl read. “McKay, Becca, Steven, Faith, Barry, Cliff…”
Then, Kahl began a different list of names. “Connie, Mary, Dory… the kind of people who will do anything for you with no questions asked. These people save lives… And, you all [the audience] are important to me. It’s important that you’re here, that you realize not everything is black and white.”
Prof. Tara Boer explained the importance of having Kahl speak by saying, “I think because Jay was born intersex, it shows the complexity some people have. We can’t always put people in a box, it’s not all black and white… Having Jay on campus is a unique experience that always creates great dialogue with the students.”
Creating great dialogue is, as Kahl might have termed it, “fighting ‘stupid.’”
“Want to know my definition for ‘stupid’?,” Kahl asked his audience. “Knowing better but choosing not to do the better way… There’s nothing wrong with ignorance (which is just ‘lack of knowledge’). The bad part is to stay in that ignorance when you know there’s knowledge to be gained.”