Chris looks back on photos of herself from ten years ago and sees a stranger. When Chris Kukenberger first came to OCC in 2005, she tried to identify as female. Now, almost 10 years later, Chris identifies as transgender and androgynous. Her journey in the world of gender fluidity has changed OCC for the better.
Chris grew up in Cazenovia always knowing her body wasn’t quite right. When she was 3 years old, she cut off her long girlish hair. At age 8, she decided to start saving enough money to have a gender reassignment surgery. She figured if she didn’t have enough money for the operation by age sixteen she would use the money to run away. Or leave it for her funeral.
As Chris got older, she came out to her parents as gay and went on with her life. She studied Italian Renaissance Art History at SUNY Purchase and fell in love with Florence on a study abroad program at Syracuse University. Chris went on to work at Lorenzo State Historic Site in Cazenovia and finally ended up getting a teaching job here at OCC.
One day, amidst all the hustle and bustle of everyday life as a professor, Chris stopped to see a speaker during college hour. Terri Cook, the mother of a transgender son, only spoke for an hour but her words changed Chris’s life. When Terry was describing the experience of losing a daughter but gaining a son, the light bulb flashed. Suddenly, it seemed, Chris knew what she sensed all her life. She was not a woman. Though, she wasn’t quite a man either.
Chris came to realize she identifies as transgender. She was caught in the world of gender fluidity. It’s a world so many people experience but few understand. The biggest struggle for Chris is to decide the pronoun she identifies with. “She” doesn’t work but Chris is essentially stuck with it. As she puts it, “Had I been able to transition when I was 8 or 12, I would have felt comfortable identifying as a man. But since I didn’t, I’ve been conditioned my whole life a girl, so the language of she/her is more familiar, though not entirely right.”
Slowly, Chris came out to her family and friends. As she came out, she began to advocate for transgender students wherever and whenever possible. Today, Chris takes her story on the road, talking about the transgender community to anyone who wants to listen. Each time Chris gets involved or speaks to someone she makes OCC and the world a better place.
When asked why she has stayed at OCC for over ten years, Chris responded, “It gives you an opportunity to help people through a transition phase in their life. If I can help one person, then it was all worth it.”
Chris Kukenberger is the Chairperson of the Art & Photography Department at Onondaga Community College. In her spare time, Chris loves to bike and travel. Chris leads a group of Onondaga Community College students to Florence every year. She also serves on the Women and Gender Studies Committee, the Diversity Council and the LGBTQ Committee.