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Transitioning In Community

Watch & Listen
Julian Kehs stands among the greenery of Walt Disney Hall's Blue Ribbon Garden
Julian Kehs, the LA Phil’s Manager of Institutional Giving

Hello, I’m Julian Kehs, and I am a trans man who works as the LA Phil’s Manager of Institutional Giving. I also serve on the LA Phil’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Staff Council and EDI Task Force. I use he/him or they/them pronouns. 

“Gender transition” is shorthand for all of the tectonic shifts that occur when a person steps into a gender role different from the one they were assigned at birth, encompassing areas from the social to the medical to dating and relationships to the legal and beyond. My own gender transition has occurred over almost four years beginning at age 37. Mine has been a process of following a quiet inner knowing, taking a step toward a desired outcome, noticing an expansive sense of well-being, and shining a light out ahead to see what might be next. 

As I began to explore and question, I realized that it would be impossible to become fully actualized in a new gender role without support from those around me reflecting back the way I saw myself. First, I asked my friends to use different gender pronouns and the chosen name Julian. I did not tell my family right away because I knew that the news might be challenging for some of them. Out of respect for their process and my own, it was important to me to feel rock solid in my own sense of self before opening up a conversation about it.

As I began to explore and question, I realized that it would be impossible to become fully actualized in a new gender role without support from those around me reflecting back the way I saw myself.
Julian Kehs, Manager, Institutional Giving

One way I did feel ready to explore was by coming out to my colleagues at the LA Phil, many of whom I have known for almost a decade. I introduced my new pronouns at a staff meeting relatively early on in my journey. Many of my colleagues responded with kind wishes, including a desire to understand better and to support me. As my transition has organically unfolded, the LA Phil and I have figured out together how to set up that support.  It was not always seamless—at one point, I asked my colleagues to call me Julian in meetings without changing my email address since I wasn’t quite ready to assume that name publicly. This led to a fair amount of confusion. But the LA Phil never wavered in supporting me in the ways I asked it to. Because of that, I was able to grow into Julian at my own pace and feel the organization (and its people) grow with me. 

I will never forget one conversation I had with the LA Phil’s CEO, Chad Smith. He shared that my journey was my own, assuring me that the LA Phil had my back. It was a meaningful moment in part because Chad’s position within the LA Phil meant that his message carried the support of an entire institution. This brought me a great sense of ease. 

This week is Transgender Awareness Week. On Saturday, we will observe Transgender Day of Remembrance to honor the lives of trans people lost to violent acts. It’s important to understand that trans, non-binary, and gender nonconforming folks everywhere face systemic issues of discrimination, transphobia, and violence—none more than trans people of color. Because I have been fortunate enough to experience it, I can tell you that there is another side of that coin: the profound joy that is possible when a community embraces a person into their felt existence with compassion and respect.  It’s an experience trans people everywhere deserve.