Featured UCLA Feminist: Skylar Kang
This week’s featured feminist, Skylar Kang, is an international fourth year pursuing a B.A. in communications and a minor in film, television, and digital media. As an LGBTQIA+ activist, Skylar has been deeply involved in fieldwork for UCLA’s Queer Alliance, OutWrite Magazine, and Pride Admit Weekend on campus. As a trans woman content creator, she’s looking to graduate and continue in the digital fashion and entertainment industries as a model and lifestyle blogger. Skylar’s feminism is rooted in her experience with sharing her story as an Asian trans woman who’s broken through representational barriers with sheer determination. By sharing her story, she gets the opportunity to be vulnerable with and learn with people online and offline.
I’ve known Skylar since we were teenagers, and we’ve been a double act taking on the world ever since we both got accepted into UCLA. As we’ve grown into adults, it’s been my privilege to witness Skylar’s growth in self-confidence and her embrace of her feminist passion to rebrand what a girl boss can look like: serious and cute, tough and soft, brainy and trendy. It’s from this perspective that Skylar explains how her fashionable feminism “comes from accepting others [too], and encouraging others to embrace their [own] femininity.” For the past three years, she’s documented her journey about learning to embrace her gender identity and own her femme presentation every step of the way — from telling people her true name, to experimenting with makeup and androgynous fashion, to coming out to her conservative parents after a year of hormone therapy, to falling in and out of relationships with both gay and straight men, to considering and then saving up for bottom surgery. It’s been an emotional ride to follow along, both through the triumphs, and what still engenders insecurity and pain. Skylar finds power and purpose in her continued documentation of both the good and the bad, as it shines a light on true and personal trans experiences and issues.
“I want to challenge traditional notions of what it means to be a woman,” Skylar tells me evenly. “I want to educate people out there [through] my story and my background of learning to accept myself … When I have people come [away from] my videos saying, ‘I learned something,’ that’s the best feeling. People [often] subscribe so much importance to gender norms — it’s amazing to see when people are comfortable showing their own gender identity or sexuality than what is [forcefully] associated with them.”
I find it relevant now to share that, as we conducted the interview, Sky and I were doing yoga together in between questions and answers. Yoga, the Sanskrit word for “refined speech,” is an ancient spiritual practice for the mind and body from India. Studying different mindfulness disciplines throughout the years, Sky has become deeply spiritual and introspective, finding light and joy in the full feminine expression of her identity inside and out. Of course, I posited that femininity doesn’t have to look the same to everyone and it shouldn’t be a measurement. Sky listened and agreed, admitting that it’s a continuous learning process. However, for her right now and specifically — “it’s seeing the strength in being soft, the wisdom in being open,” she clarifies. “There’s this frustrating idea that for women to have power, they have to subscribe to typically male-associated traits — like a deeper voice or dark clothing,” she frowns. For Sky, that only hurts other women by further entrenching the notion that womanness is a liability. “Lots of traits towards masculinity are idealized —” She looks at me, plainly uncomprehending how this can be so. A deeper voice, Sky’s airy, lilting tone had curled over the words. Dark clothing. Her fluffy light coat was carefully, lovingly folded in the gym locker we were sharing. Not inherently bad traits in and of themselves, but when idealized, caricaturized, and weaponized against femme-presenting people, to shame — “silly, right?” she asks me. To insist upon codifying gender as a rigid binary instead of a free-flowing spectrum, when it only hurts people around you? So silly and so sad, indeed.
Sky dreams of and works toward a future wherein “femininity is embraced and loved…” because it was and sometimes still is too long a journey for her to embrace and love herself in the world as it is now. She’s come so far, and there’s still so much work to be done within and without. “We have to encourage people to express their femininity without shame, so [that other] people are able to see femininity as strong and smart.” Sky tries to play her part in that movement as much as she can, and we’re lucky because Sky is one of the strongest and smartest people I know.
It was as we stretched tight muscles and took deep breaths, loosening and limbering in deceptively pretty poses — difficult poses that fuel an iron core and push the head high — that Sky beamed with quiet joy. This is Sky becoming her best, mastering her element: diving deep, and then rising high. It’s not always so easy or graceful as Sky makes it look, but she leans into the difficulty. Whenever anything tries to knock her off-balance, she leans into her truth.