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Faces of South - Student Profile

Kaylin Clarke: Forging a New Identity at South

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April 21, 2017

A delicate dance between heat, filler rod and puddle control; welding has the capacity to construct pieces that are stronger and more durable than its individual parts.

It’s what initially attracted South Seattle College student Kaylin Clarke to the craft, to fuse together something entirely new from pieces that at one point felt disjointed. As someone who has lived the majority of her life identifying as a man, it echoes her journey. It is the idea that our identities aren’t permanent; that they are a meld of our experiences, and have the ability to be melted down and rebuilt at any point in our lives.  

“Although it seems very technical, welding has a certain freedom and independence to it that I really gravitated towards,” says Kaylin, who began her third quarter in South’s Welding Fabrication Technology program in April. “But becoming a welder wasn’t always what I wanted to be.  In high school my only dream was to enter the Marine Corps.”

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Serving in the military is somewhat of a family tradition for Kaylin; her father was a Marine and her mother served in the Navy. Growing up in a military family meant Kaylin was regularly shuffled from one location to the next. By the time she entered high school, she had already weathered six moves during her father’s career.

“There was always this constant need to be masculine when I was younger,” says Kaylin, “and looking back, I was really overcompensating for how I was feeling inside.”

Kaylin can remember questioning her gender identity as early as 13-years-old.   

“As a kid my mom actually caught me sneaking into her closet and trying on her clothes,” says Kaylin. “She didn’t overreact, but I got the sense that this was something that was very wrong, and those memories really stay with you. It wasn’t until I started high school that I began to feel really different.”

As a freshman in her high school in Spokane, Wash., Kaylin was a known for being a star athlete, and played for her school’s baseball, soccer and track teams. She even made the varsity football team, a feat she says was “unheard of at the time.” Her sporting days came to a screeching halt however, when she was diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis, an autoimmune disease that blocks messages sent from the brain to the muscles. At 17-years-old, Kaylin could hardly move and resorted to sitting at home.

“At that point in time, still not realizing that I was transgender, I became a really angry teenager,” says Kaylin. “It wasn’t until later in my twenties that I started to realize I wasn’t truly being myself. This wasn’t who I was supposed to be, and I couldn’t change that.”

After graduation, Kaylin spent time as a merchandiser for Coca Cola, stocking shelves and building store displays, before applying to the welding program at South in 2016. Although she quickly found a passion for welding, she was still unhappy and felt something was missing. In November, she decided to miss class to attend a transgender information workshop on campus, and soon after started Googling gender dysphoria and what it took to transition from male to female.

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“Everything just started clicking,” says Kaylin, who now identifies as a transgender female. “What totally changed it for me was coming across a young lady on YouTube named Sona Avedian. She documented her transition in a nine minute video, and talked about how she was feeling beforehand. It really resonated with me. She also felt different, and even became a Marine and had a family. She realized how unhappy she was and eventually came out as transgender. So I thought...if she can do it, so can I.”

Now, for the first time in her life, she felt free to start experimenting painting her nails and switching over to women’s jeans, which she says she should have done years ago because “they are just so stretchy!”

“The hardest part of my transition so far has been opening up to my mother,” says Kaylin, who came out to her mother through a detailed letter in early 2017. “She was incredibly understanding, but I understood that this was a lot to take it. This was a whole world that she didn’t know about, and I said that I was happy to take things slow.”

Since then Kaylin has come out to her friends and family through Facebook and received an overwhelming outpouring of support. She’s now in the process of starting hormone therapy to begin her physical transition, all while working towards her welding degree. She hopes to build a shop one day where she can focus her welding skills on personal art projects. Her medium of choice is repurposing horseshoes.  

“All of this feels so right,” says Kaylin. “But this is who I am and was always meant to be, and there is no way I am turning back now. I can’t wait to be a full woman to match how I feel inside. I’m going to be the best female welder out there.”