ADHD in a Fluid World with Jude Parker Koski
Jude Parker Koski has dedicated his career to serving marginalized communities through work in the nonprofit sector since 1996. He’s and advocate for the homeless and LGBTQIA+ communities. He’s also a transgender professional, and he joins us today to talk about his experience supporting his communities while living with ADHD.
Jude Parker Koski has dedicated his career to serving marginalized communities through work in the nonprofit sector since 1996. He has helped youth experiencing homelessness access education, advocated for LGBTQIA+ youth and families, worked to reform foster care policy, and helped preserve urban open space and community gardens.
He’s also a transgender professional, and he joins us today to talk about his experience supporting his communities while living with ADHD.
OK, this isn’t one of our shorter episodes. We get that. And it’s just fine if you want to skip around. But here’s why we thought it was important to have this conversation and share it in full: because Jude’s experience overcoming internal and external questions of gender identity sit right at the intersection of the same journey with his ADHD. What he has learned as he continues to live through both experiences can teach us quite a bit about our own journeys. We hope you find the same and perhaps learn a few new lessons about the fluidity of your own lived experience.
About Jude Parker Koski
Jude has dedicated his career to serving marginalized communities through work in the nonprofit sector since 1996. He has helped youth experiencing homelessness access education, advocated for LGBTQIA+ youth and families, worked to reform foster care policy, and helped preserve urban open space and community gardens. Before joining the NTEN staff, he served on the NTEN Board of Directors and participated as a member of NTEN since 2011. Jude holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. As a transgender professional, he has experienced the NTEN community as particularly welcoming and supportive. As the Membership and Community Director, he is deeply committed to ensuring everyone experiences solidarity within this important and unique community.
Outside of work, Jude volunteers for the San Francisco SPCA Community Cat Program as Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) practitioner and advocate for feral/community cats. He lives in San Francisco with his partner and four rescued kitties. Jude enjoys designing and woodworking with repurposed materials, gardening, and adventures in nature.
Brought to you by The ADHD Podcast Community on Patreon
Jude Parker Koski: I have found as the years roll by that most everything is fluid and that really includes the ADHD experience as well as gender and sexuality identity. I think we as adults and older generations tend to want to categorize people and feel more comfortable when folks identify a certain way and stick with it. However, that is not the reality of the human experience and that’s true for the experience of having ADHD and also true for the experience of gender and sexual identity.
Pete Wright: Hello everybody and welcome to Taking Control, the ADHD podcast on True Story FM. I’m Pete Wright and look, right there by that tree.
Nikki Kinzer: It’s me.
Pete Wright: It’s Nikki.
Nikki Kinzer: Hello.
Pete Wright: Hi Nikki.
Nikki Kinzer: Hi.
Pete Wright: How are you doing? Can I just-
Nikki Kinzer: Doing great.
Pete Wright: Can I just ask you about your car? Did you figure it out? Do you have a new car?
Nikki Kinzer: Well, I might be. I spent most of Tuesday in major distraction. And you know what? What’s really funny is that I looked up a car, I found a car, I asked if the car was still available. They said sure, do you want to do a test drive this tonight? Yeah, I would.
Pete Wright: Okay.
Nikki Kinzer: I don’t know what to any other car.
Pete Wright: So far it seems pretty easy.
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah. And I come home and I’m like this is the car. Oh my God. I love this car. And my husband’s like but you haven’t looked at any other cars.
Pete Wright: Oh, it would be your husband to do that.
Nikki Kinzer: I’m like I know. I know. I know.
Pete Wright: Oh, he’s so pragmatic.
Nikki Kinzer: Yes.
Pete Wright: Slow your roll pragmatist.
Nikki Kinzer: And I said no, it’s okay. I found the car. And then I reminded him that when we bought our house, I’m like we looked at maybe four or five houses before we bought our house so this is kind of [crosstalk 00:02:28]
Pete Wright: And you’ve lived in it for like 15 years. Yeah.
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah, yeah. And so yeah, I’m doing a little bit of back and forth with the dealership and so we’ll see. But yeah, fingers crossed. Well, my biggest power play was but it brings me joy and we only live one life so we need to live it in a joyful manner.
Pete Wright: It’s a car that sparks joy.
Nikki Kinzer: It sparks joy. So I don’t know.
Pete Wright: It’s a [crosstalk 00:02:59] car. Yeah. Good for you.
Nikki Kinzer: We’ll see.
Pete Wright: We’re talking about… We’ve got a fantastic guest on the show and I’m really excited to have this conversation. In terms of ADHD stories, I think this is going to be pretty special. So I’m really excited to go ahead and get started. The car thing was super important though and I feel like we had to check that off the list.
Nikki Kinzer: That’s right.
Pete Wright: But before we start our conversation, you know though the drill, head over to takecontroladhd.com, get to know us a little bit better. You can listen to the show right there on the website or subscribe to the mailing list and we’ll send you an email each time a new episode is released. You can connect with us on Twitter or Facebook @TakeControlADHD. And you know what I’ve been hearing some other podcasts doing, that are long running podcasts, is just reminding people about how to listen to their show. And I think that’s really fascinating because I’m wondering if somebody is coming to the show for the first time, where do you start? Where do you start listening to the show? I’ll tell you. You know hat’s great about our show? You can start anywhere.
Nikki and Pete: You really can.
Pete Wright: We are not an episodic show so really you can pick any show you want, any episode you want and I highly encourage you to head over to takecontroladhd.com/podcast and just browse the archives, browse the catalog and look for topics that you feel like are interesting to you. That would be the great place to start. You don’t have to worry about starting at episode one, although there are people who do and-
Nikki Kinzer: Oh my gosh.
Pete Wright: Can you even imagine?
Nikki Kinzer: Oh, was that 2008? 2010?
Pete Wright: Listening to your voice. No, it was 2011. I mean, I think it was-
Nikki Kinzer: Was it ’11? Okay.
Pete Wright: It was 2011, but then there are a couple of years where we’ve hidden those archives because those were by organizing not ADHD.
Nikki Kinzer: Right. Yeah. Right. Right.
Pete Wright: So those are the real diehards who have found episode one, the office closet on the website.
Nikki Kinzer: That’s awesome.
Pete Wright: Yeah. That kink episode. The office closet.
Nikki Kinzer: I need to go back and listen to that. So don’t we have 100 episodes coming or something or 10 years, what do we got going on?
Pete Wright: 100 episodes? Did you just say 100 episodes?
Nikki Kinzer: Well, no. God, I know. We have over 400, don’t we?
Pete Wright: If this is episode 497 today.
Nikki Kinzer: Okay.
Pete Wright: So that means-
Nikki Kinzer: So it’s for 500 episodes.
Pete Wright: … in a couple of weeks, we’re going to hit 500 episodes. That feels like worthy of celebration, somehow. I don’t know what we’re going to do.
Nikki Kinzer: We need to little clips. We need to do little clips of our old shows. That would be kind of fun.
Pete Wright: Oh my gosh.
Nikki Kinzer: Wouldn’t that be fun?
Pete Wright: A clip show?
Nikki Kinzer: Yes. Of our whole like 500 episodes.
Pete Wright: That’s a great idea.
Nikki Kinzer: I mean, not a clip for each one, but-
Pete Wright: You should start doing that. Listening to every episode between now and three weeks from now, Nikki. I’d like for you to give me clips.
Nikki Kinzer: How about some of our listeners help me? How about help us? So if you have a particular show that you really like, and remember, maybe that’s where we can start because yeah, I can’t listen to all 500.
Pete Wright: I hope productivity pulse is in there somewhere. I think that was funny. There was funny things in there. So, anyway, [crosstalk 00:05:59] 500. Oh, Nikki fall into the ceiling with a little dingly leg hanging down, that was epic. Anyway, to support the show, if you’re interested in supporting the show, we sure are interested in helping you do that. Head over to patreon.com/theadhdpodcast. patreon.com/theadhdpodcast. And you can throw us a few bucks a month. And when you do that, you become a supporting member of this show and this community. You get access to our Discord community, our Discord channels, to the super secret levels of the Discord community Discord channels. Fantastic community in there. You get access to workshops that we do monthly and this is a big month because we’ve got many workshops coming out because we’re a little bit behind.
Nikki Kinzer: Because we are behind.
Pete Wright: And so there’s just all kinds of great stuff and upcoming. Upcoming is placeholder, Pete’s new podcast about tech stuff. That is on the way. We need to get to a point where it meets our line, our financial line about when we can support the time and investment into delivering that show. So if you’ve thought about it, if you considered supporting, but you haven’t done it yet, now would be a great time. Help us get over the hump. It’s the pledge drive. It’s a pledge drive. We’re doing a pledge drive.
Nikki Kinzer: That’s right. Yeah. Yeah.
Pete Wright: So we sure appreciate you.
Nikki Kinzer: And I do have a couple of announcements too on the other side of-
Pete Wright: Yeah. Let’s do it.
Nikki Kinzer: … the coaching business side.
Pete Wright: Okay.
Nikki Kinzer: Before we get started real quickly. We have changed the way that we do study hall. So starting November 1st, it’s going to be a monthly service. So if you’re interested in joining me in study hall, any month you can do that and you’ll get all of the Thursdays that are available for study hall. And then we also have the pay as you go option as well, but the fee will change a little bit. So check that out on how that works. Hopefully it’ll be more convenient for people to be able to do it on a monthly basis. And then GPS is coming up too. So the next session for GPS, our guided planning session workshops will be beginning of November as well. So take a look at that. If you’re interested, please let me know and if you have questions, let me know that too.
Pete Wright: Outstanding. So much good stuff happening. Now let’s get to the show. Jude Parker Koski has dedicated his career to serving marginalized communities through work in the nonprofit sector since 1996 and has helped youth experiencing homelessness access education, advocated for LGBTQIA+ youth and families, worked to reform foster care policy and helped preserve urban open space and community gardens. He’s also a transgender professional and he joins us today to talk about his experience supporting his communities while living with ADHD. Jude Koski, welcome to the ADHD Podcast.
Jude Parker Koski: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Nikki Kinzer: Welcome, welcome. Well, man, first of all, I just have to say you’re like an angel on earth. Of all of the different things that you do for our communities, thank you, first of all, for that. We need more people like you. So Jude and I, we met through coaching and so he had reached out to me a while ago, I guess it’s been over a year now. Yeah, you reached out and you wanted to work with me on my online course, which is around time, getting things done around time and calendar. And so we set up a really special situation which I don’t always do and we worked together with the modules. So each week that we met, we would talk about what he learned in the module and what we were trying to figure out with his schedule and everything and got to know him very well. And then we’ve also done some personal coaching as well after that that didn’t necessarily have to do with the time management course. And Jude has a great story and lots of great successes, lots of great inspiration, I think that you’re going to share with people. And also challenging. There were some times that were very challenging that I know a lot of people are also going to relate to. So I’m so happy that you’re here. It’s not often that I get to have one of my clients on the show, so it’s an honor. Thank you so much for being here.
Jude Parker Koski: Thanks for having me. And I’m a huge fan of the podcast, so it’s great to be here.
Nikki Kinzer: Thank you. So where do you want to begin?
Jude Parker Koski: I think I can share a little bit about growing up and my history and I guess the process and evolution to what landed me here and now. So yes, my name is Jude Parker Koski and I am living in San Francisco currently and I identify as transgender. So I’m 47 years old and I was born in 1974 in Connecticut. I have a brother who’s four years older. I have ADHD and my brother also has ADHD and it is possible, although my mom was never necessarily diagnosed, that my mom had ADHD. So my brother and I were born in Connecticut and relocated with our mom and dad out to Madison, Wisconsin in 1978. I was four years old. Already by that point, as explained by my parents, I don’t remember all too well all the way back then, but at around the age of two, I started being, I guess, what is called insistent and persistent. It’s kind of a medical barometer of gender identity developments and ordinarily starting that young that… So I was born female and essentially at around the age of two, I became very adamant that I did not want to present in any way that was at all a feminine. Already at that young [crosstalk 00:12:37]
Nikki Kinzer: That age. Yeah.
Jude Parker Koski: … a toddler. And apparently that’s quite typical. Of course there is a very wide range for all development. Everyone is their own unique person, but that is not outside of what is typical. And essentially, I very much gravitated towards basically wearing a lot of my brothers hand me downs. I wanted to very much present myself at that time even as how boys presented themselves. So by the time I entered kindergarten, I was already very much I think perceived by many other people as a little boy. Oftentimes people would refer to me as a little boy, people who didn’t necessarily know me. And around the time when I was entering the school system in about first grade, it became very apparent academically that I was having some pretty significant challenges specifically with reading. There was a great challenge for me to be able to focus and learn within the classroom setting. And I have very distinct memories of just feeling very frustrated as if the way that the curriculum was set up and the way that the teachers were trying very hard to teach all of the kids in the classroom, that I was really kind of falling through the cracks and entire school days would go by where I would feel a lot of shame, even that early on, that I was not necessarily, I think, growing and thriving and learning in ways that I observed my peers to be. I was just very, very distracted and played it very cool. I wasn’t necessarily at all acting out in any way. I was more, if anything, like a little bit like a silent observer in a way. And it’s interesting too because socially very well adjusted and outgoing and made a lot of connections with a lot of people. I think specifically other marginalized people, people who had other differences, I tended to really gravitate towards, cause probably because I could relate to them in many ways. One of my best friends who I’m still very tight with has cerebral palsy and is in a wheelchair and at that time, in the early ’80s. It was around the time in the public schools there in Wisconsin where kids were starting to be more integrated into the classroom. It seems kind of strange to say now, but I’m actually still in touch with my first grade teacher. We’re friends.
Pete Wright: That’s amazing.
Jude Parker Koski: [crosstalk 00:16:23] And she and I talk quite regularly and she actually shared with me for the first time just a couple of years ago that my friend who has cerebral palsy, that was uncharted territory for her to have someone with such different needs in the classroom and she shared just that she was so appreciative that I really assisted in many ways. This friend of mine, we socialized a great deal outside of school. And she is in a wheelchair and oftentimes I would bring her out of her wheelchair and that was kind of forbidden in the classroom setting. But we assured her that we did it all the time outside of school so it was just a very challenging experience starting just underscoring starting so young.
Pete Wright: And that gets to a question, Jude, but forgive me interrupting. I’m sitting here thinking, I think about the experience as a kid who is charting internally this path around identity and understanding who you were at that time and also the sort of relationship that I can relate more directly to which is the ADHD stuff. That starts to rear its head and you start feeling kind of, I have to imagine, doubly alone. If you were to talk about how you approach both of these paths as such a young person having to just sort of face that and the kind of support you were or were not getting from your parents, your family, your teachers around both of those things. So was that a conversation?
Jude Parker Koski: Very much so/ I’m very lucky in that most especially my mom, she was labor activists and feminist and an advocate and in many ways, also a community organizer in her early days of her professional career and was really my strongest advocate. My father went along with her leadership and advocating for me. And this is across the board in terms of kind of my neuro difference and learning difference, but then also my gender and sexual identity development. And I think I’m very fortunate in that both of my parents and also my brother were very much from the perspective of free to be you and me, very much of supporting whatever direction I felt compelled I wanted and needed to go. And from such an early age, I was so adamant of who I was, not wavering in that ever that I had that full support. So these conversations were happening. I was able to have conversations about the different bullying I faced. In first grade, back then in the early ’80s, Converse high tops were not popular for CIS or biologically gendered females, as you all may remember.
Pete Wright: Oh, right on. Yeah.
Jude Parker Koski: Yeah. And so my dad played basketball. He wore Converse low tops actually for basketball and I wanted nothing more but red Converse high-tops and I got them in first grade. But I was severely made fun of. And even though that was extremely painful and difficult, I was able to have conversations with my parents about it. I wore them every day despite that because it was in a way a signal of my identity, my gender saying, hi. And my birth name is April. And so back then, that is how I was referred to. It’s like I’m April. I may look like a little boy and guess what? I was born female. This is who I am and I’m wearing red high tops.
Pete Wright: But you world of first graders are going to have to get used to people presenting in different ways.
Jude Parker Koski: Yeah. So I think I did get some respect for that and-
Nikki Kinzer: Oh, absolutely.
Jude Parker Koski: [crosstalk 00:21:15] and then the bullies kept bullying, but I did have a lot of support and advocacy from my teacher and my parents.
Pete Wright: Well-
Nikki Kinzer: And you didn’t know it.
Pete Wright: … and you say you’re still in touch with your first grade. Did you still have the high tops? Are they somewhere? Can you pull out red high tops?
Jude Parker Koski: I actually do.
Pete Wright: Of course you do.
Jude Parker Koski: I do.
Nikki Kinzer: That’s awesome.
Jude Parker Koski: Yeah. My mom saved them.
Nikki Kinzer: Oh, that’s fantastic. That’s cool.
Jude Parker Koski: Yeah. So sadly, she died in 2018 and when my brother and I were going through her trunk, it was like an archeological dig starting at the bottom where literally all of our baby things like a wooden mobile and then the next layers and there were my red high tops. It was-
Nikki Kinzer: Oh, that’s awesome. Wow.
Pete Wright: That is amazing. That’s amazing. Nikki, I’m sorry about the [crosstalk 00:22:02]
Nikki Kinzer: Oh, no, that’s okay. I know you weren’t diagnosed with ADHD until later. So in elementary school, middle school and even high school, you didn’t know you had the ADHD, right?
Jude Parker Koski: Correct. So, yeah. So still there in first grade, the learning how to read, it was my mom, who when it became apparent that I was not going to be learning how to read in the classroom setting, my mom teamed up with my first grade teacher and my mom really kind of spearheaded the plan to take it upon herself to teach me outside of school. So she was pointed to an education store in the town that we lived in. And we went there and we got a lot of support, which is phenomenal to think about even that far back in the early ’80s, but being very close to Madison, the education was really top notch and the resources there too were really great. So we stockpiled up on books. I got to choose special books to learn how to read around the topic areas that I preferred and-
Nikki Kinzer: That helps with the ADHD. Yeah.
Jude Parker Koski: I got to pick out whatever I wanted and we went back frequently and got more books. And it was a pretty… I remember it being a pretty big investment. These books were not available at the library. And so my mom and I would spend hours after most school in first grade practicing. And it was a major struggle. There are a lot of memories of crying together and just navigating that experience together. And it makes me emotional just thinking about it. But it was really hard and my mom believed in me and she just really helped me learn how to read. And I remember the aha moments. And it really, it was just having that, I think the quiet and focused brackets of time to practice without the distractions that are in a classroom. And then I think also the patience because I love my first grade teacher, but she had however many other students, probably 25 other students. And I just really needed more time and after a while I completely caught on. And it’s so interesting too because I would imagine other people can’t relate to this, once I took off, I so enjoyed reading and I even, in that same school year, I joined an actual book club. The only kids who really enjoyed reading were a part of and there were only like seven of us in this book club. But it was led by another teacher from another grade and it was just such an interesting experience, the oscillation from not reading very well and having it be super smooth and enjoyable to really enjoying reading and then taking a deep dive so young and getting that support.
Nikki Kinzer: Oh yeah.
Jude Parker Koski: So that was kind of the foundation and springboard really for my family to understand how I best learned. And then from that point forward, thankfully, my parents really dialed in, they got both my brother and I into private schools where the classroom sizes were very, very small. And also I was privileged enough to be able to have access to private tutoring. So essentially from that point forward all the way through high school, I had access to the academic resources that I really needed to help me along a great deal. It was in high school. So that costed me along quite well, all the way through middle school. And then once I hit high school and I went to two academically rigorous private schools, one in Rhode Island and one in Virginia and they were all girls. I went to all girls-
Nikki Kinzer: Boarding schools?
Jude Parker Koski: Not boarding, but Catholic day schools. And that was also quite the experience. So of course, parallel to this, I think one of my analysis of my experience is that all the while I was preoccupied really with sizing myself up to my peers, not only cognitively, neurologically, but also for my gender and sexual identity. And so I think compounded with having ADHD, it really just made it that much more tricky and I think challenging in a way for my teachers in schools to be able to meet me where I was at and that is where the rubber did not hit the road.
Pete Wright: Well, that’s right. That’s what I’m thinking. When you’re at these girls day schools, are you still navigating the red high tops dilemma of how you’re presenting in this community or did you just? I don’t know what it’s called when you just blend in.
Jude Parker Koski: I ditched those. Those went in the trunk.
Pete Wright: Okay.
Jude Parker Koski: So yeah. So much of me, I think, growing and figuring out how to survive really and how to navigate school and social and my own identity development, I think that’s really in large part and this goes back to starting when I was four years old, become an athlete. My father was a triathlete, my brother was an athlete so I very, very much leaned on athletics. I was a soccer player for nearly 30 years and starting very young competitively playing for the schools and then also club leagues. As I’ve learned about adrenaline and the relationship to ADHD, I think I was very much seeking to have that outlet and release, I think, for the physical activity exertion. And then also it seems that the adrenaline was probably very helpful in helping me recalibrate and stay focused.
Nikki Kinzer: The dopamine. [crosstalk 00:29:39] Right. And the exercise is so powerful with ADHD. And from what I understand, you were focused so much on soccer in school. Those were the two things that you did and that exercise, I’m sure you probably worked out more than once a day and some days. Yeah, it makes sense.
Jude Parker Koski: I did a lot of long distance running for conditioning and a lot of running with my dad. And then I was essentially playing a sport year round. I would play other sports. Field hockey, cross country to stay fit and active for soccer. So yeah, in high school, I really, really struggled and the school at the time, I don’t know now, but the school at the time did not have any education support services for any learning difference.
Pete Wright: Really?
Nikki Kinzer: And that’s a private school?
Pete Wright: [crosstalk 00:30:41] I’ve seen. That’s a shock. But that’s a shock from Pete now. Of course at the time, I imagined that that’s-
Nikki Kinzer: Well, and a private school too, they don’t have the same-
Pete Wright: Requirements.
Nikki Kinzer: Requirements. Yeah, absolutely. So, wow. Oh, Wow. Okay.
Jude Parker Koski: So it was really my father who made sure that I had the private tutoring in place to stay on course as best as possible. And then frankly, it was actually my peer group who really just so openly embraced my difference. We didn’t have a name for it. And nobody I knew at that time had a diagnosis of ADHD. Zero people. And so my friends were really just so kind and many of them were very, very high achieving and they were taking all the advanced courses, honors. And so they actually found school really fun and easy. And my close peer group, most of them, and I studied with them. I was able to receive actual tutoring from my peers and we did that on a regular basis in addition to the private tutors.
Nikki Kinzer: It’s so interesting because you had the support of accommodations without even knowing that that’s what you were doing.
Pete Wright: Yeah. But that’s you had accommodations. Right.
Jude Parker Koski: That’s right.
Pete Wright: Yeah. Yeah. And it’s just-
Jude Parker Koski: Yeah. And I also would make connections with the actual teachers and do my best in the ways that I knew how to describe then was that I’m very interested in their topic. I didn’t want to offend or disrespect them in any way by making it seem like I was not interested. So I took the time, even if I was not approached by them to let them know that I wanted to learn everything that they were teaching and that I just needed a little bit of support with that. So there were plenty of teachers who did take the time to teach me different things after the actual classes. So that was really helpful.
Pete Wright: I’m starting to put a picture together of you Jude, and I’m starting to see that and I’m wondering where the chicken or the egg landed. Are you doing the work you do today because of your experience early on with the value of just community resources coming to your aid or was this you being a community activist in your earliest days? Is that just how you’re wired? I don’t know how it is, but I’m here for that.
Jude Parker Koski: Thank you. It’s a very good question. It’s probably a both end. Like I said, I really had my mom and my dad in many ways, modeling. I think both my brother and I received great satisfaction uplifting anyone around us who seem to be seeking out or needing any type of support. And I certainly benefited from a great deal of support surround sound. So I think you are hitting the nail on the head that I chose to go into the nonprofit sector out the gate right after graduating from college,
Pete Wright: So move us forward to the next sort of pivotal moment for you. That that pivotal period for you as the ADHD, the transition, all of these things sort of start to come to the head.
Jude Parker Koski: Yes. So in high school, I came out to my very close peer group at the time as bisexual. So that was in my senior year of high school. And that was around the time when I did have a suicide attempt towards the end of my high school year. And I was hospitalized and I spent a good number of the days for the remaining part my senior year hospitalized in intensive therapeutic support. That happened in March and I graduated several months later. And so that was a really big moment. I survived and I had a lot of support from my family and my peers to push through. I was really struggling with my neuro difference, my sexual and gender identity. I didn’t know anyone else among my peers who identified as LGBT. And so it was quite isolating. And I suppose too, I was getting nervous about becoming independent and leaving for college. I was very excited for that, but also nervous. And so I stayed focused. I managed to apply for college and was accepted at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island where I lived before we moved to Virginia. So I was really excited to get back up to Rhode Island. And that was really a major turning point. I think after my experience at the tail end there of high school. It was really a springboard and I had an aha of this is the next exciting chapter of my life and I became extremely motivated to just give it my all. And I dove into the college experience very enthusiastically. I was playing college soccer and that was so, so helpful to be able to maintain focus. And I was studying undergraduate business and was able to make great connections with my professors and was actually able to focus my work while in college on nonprofit and youth leadership development, which was quite unique compared to the other business school students who wanted to kind of go on a little bit more marketable-
Nikki Kinzer: Marketing and all that. Yeah. And you were not diagnosed at this point, right? So in your undergraduate, you still don’t know about the ADHD?
Jude Parker Koski: Correct.
Nikki Kinzer: Okay.
Jude Parker Koski: And really, there’s no mention of anyone. Again, I know who has ADHD at this point. This is in the early ’90s. And so I maintained a laser focus on a pretty even split between soccer and academics. And so I actually ended up… I was so focused and enthusiastic about just doing well because I think I just wanted to prove to myself that I could do it and that I had learned what I needed to shore myself up and do what I needed to do. So I actually ended up taking trimesters also during the summers. And I went to school year round and I essentially played soccer and long distance running year round. And I ended up graduating from college a year early as a result because I just was on this accelerated path.
Pete Wright: So it sounds like college was a heck of a difference from high school?
Jude Parker Koski: Very. Yeah. Very stark difference. I think also because I went to a very academically rigorous-
Pete Wright: Rigorous. Yeah.
Jude Parker Koski: … high school. It really teed me up for a super positive college experience. I was very lucky in that regard. I was used to really a lot of pressure academically and even though I was not necessarily taking honors courses at my high school, they were at the caliber that they set me up for success. In college, I actually found although I still had to study I think 10 times as hard and reading comprehension was a little bit more challenging and difficult I think than my peers even in college. I just stuck with it and really when I wasn’t out enjoying Rhode Island and the natural beauty there and playing soccer, I was studying, I was studying and reading and preparing.
Nikki Kinzer: So you graduated a year early and then did you go straight to your master’s program or was there some time off there?
Jude Parker Koski: I took a lot of time really off from academics. I dove right into professional work. So graduated in ’96 and then from Rhode Island moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where essentially I started my career in the nonprofit sector. I worked at a youth runaway and homeless shelter and became the education coordinator there and supported youth who either needed a respite from a home-based setting or who were actually experiencing homelessness. And I would advocate and go to bat for them, in most cases, believe it or not to be able to stay in school. A lot of schools are not set up for students who are experiencing homelessness. And in Michigan at the time, they had this, I think it’s the fifth Friday count. So every fifth Friday, all the teachers would count how many students in their classrooms were present and that is the funding that they would receive. So if any students joined their classroom after that count, they wouldn’t necessarily receive funding. So it was actually conducive for them to keep kids out who had left the classroom for various reasons. So I was meeting with school administrators, essentially letting them know what the law was and helping youth regain access to their school of origin regardless of where they were living at the time and it would help them coordinate transportation so that they can actually get back in the classroom.
Nikki Kinzer: So when was the transition for you? When did that happen?
Jude Parker Koski: So really in college, I started beginning to identify as transgender. So in high school, I certainly experimented, I guess, is the word I use for it although I see it as I was just being in living. But I experimented with femininity. I grew my hair down to my waist, long blonde hair. I went to the proms. I presented at times quite a femininely. And then by the time of my freshman year of college, that’s actually when I came out and the way that I named it and identified at the time was bisexual. So I came out to my family and my entire community. And then shortly thereafter, I started shifting in a way. The way that I describe it, I describe it as I was transitioning essentially back to my roots because the way that I identified in many ways, even though I didn’t have a name for it and presented myself going all the way back to before first grade was more masculine. So there was the bracket of time in high school when I presented as a feminine. And then what I call is going back to my roots, I started changing the look of my hair, started going shorter, shorter, shorter. And when I was in college, I started wearing more masculine clothing. And that is when the shift to coming out as transgender happened. After I graduated from college is when I really started identifying as transgender. And by the time I moved to San Francisco in ’99, I had come out as transgender in my workplace in Ann Arbor and was fully embraced. That’s when I changed my name from April to my middle name of Jude. And in the workplace I was very much welcome to do so and my supervisor at the time, very quickly regenerated new business cards and changed all the contact lists and even had this little celebration. April is now Jude. And it was a-
Pete Wright: Wow.
Jude Parker Koski: … quite a positive experience. So that was the late ’90s and then by the time I moved to San Francisco, I more fully starting to come out as transgender and started using male pronouns and that was in 1999.
Pete Wright: What is the intersection of, probably intersection isn’t the right word, I’m sure, but where does ADHD meet your transitioning experience? What was the impact of ADHD on that? Is that something that’s describable?
Jude Parker Koski: I think the best way that I can describe my experience and all of this to say everyone’s journey is different and unique, right? And so my journey has had a very, in a way, like a compounding effect for me. So I think in everything I do and the lens that I look through and the way that I operate is multi-dimensional and intersecting. I’m never experiencing life in a silo. When I’m entering a new space, especially with other people I may not have interacted with, the self acknowledgement that I have ADHD and this neuro difference is very strong and prominent, and I’m a bit self-conscious of it. And then I think the compounding effect of… So I’ve been taking testosterone since 2008 and my voice has lowered a little bit and there are many moments where I think people pick up that my voice may be different than a Benny CIS or biological male. And so I’m tuned in to the that’s a possibility. And so I have this heightened awareness and in a way, just a lot of self-consciousness around it. Right? And so that’s compounded with the ADHD experience because there’s a lot going on and I think there’s a lot of layers in play both internally and then it’s no surprise to me that externally as well. The way I’m being perceived and interacted with. So I do notice that.
Pete Wright: Man, that’s the thing that sort of blows my mind a little bit, because part of, as you present today with male pronouns, I’m looking at you like there’s… Had I not known, I would not have a question. And so my first false assumption is that at some point after you’ve introduced yourself into your new identity, you’ve made that transition public, that at some point you’re sort of finished, right? That you’re no longer thinking about here’s who I want to be, here’s who I am inside and here’s who I want the world to see me as. Now, I am who I want the world to see me as and now I’m kind of done. Can I get to the good work of helping the world be a better place? And then the ADHD is the thing that becomes the most sort of resonant thing. That’s the thing. Again, I can relate too because I walk into a busy room with people that don’t know me and I know I’m going to learn 15 names in five minutes and not remember any of them in minutes six because I just can’t think like that. And so the fact that neither of these things are ever finished in any way, shape or form, it sounds like. It’s just a new version of the journey. Whatever tomorrow is, it might not be today, but it’s still the journey.
Jude Parker Koski: That’s right. I mean, I have found as the years roll by that most everything is fluid. And that really includes the ADHD experience as well as gender and sexuality identity. To anchor this to being relevant, especially I think to youth and young adults, that is a really important factor and experience of young people that gender and sexuality really is fluid. And I think for a lot of folks of older generations and a lot of people who are not LGBTQIA+, that can be sometimes challenging to wrap your mind around. But there it is no surprise and I think a lot of people with kids right now and a lot of youth are hearing that there are many young people and adults who are identifying as somebody different, even on a daily basis. My partner is a high school classroom teacher. And year over year, she’s been at the same school for 20 years and teaches human development. And year over year, there are just more and more students who are identifying as gender queer, transgender and many other identities and they are using pronouns that may not be the same with each day. And so this is a stretch, I think, for a lot of people and it is a reality and sometimes it does.
Pete Wright: Yeah. That cognitive dissonance is real. It can be both things at the same time. And I think I remember arguments I get in with my father about this. And just talking, just hearing the language that he’s comfortable with versus the language that I’m trying to rationalize with my daughter who’s understanding these things in a very different way.
Jude Parker Koski: Correct.
Pete Wright: Yeah.
Jude Parker Koski: Yeah. And so your daughter, how old is your daughter, what grade?
Pete Wright: She’s 19 now and so she’s in college.
Jude Parker Koski: Yeah. So she has definitely had the experience of peers who are using different pronouns on the daily and identifying in ways that really are much more rooted in fluidity. So young people are identifying in ways that are coming very natural to them because it is natural. I think we, as adults and older generations tend to want to categorize people and feel more comfortable when folks identify a certain way and stick with it. However, that is not the reality of the human experience. And that’s true for the experience of having ADHD and also true for the experience of gender and sexual identity.
Pete Wright: Well, it’s such an important conversation and it’s such an important conversation for… The way I personalize it is just like what can I do to make my home and my world, the world around me feel like a safe place for more of these kinds of conversations. And as such and I told you when we right before we started, I’m always approaching these conversations as a student. There’s so much I don’t know and I feel like you’ve just opened up a whole world of new things for me not to know about really very well. And I’m eager to learn. This is really great Jude. Thank you for for your willingness to talk about this stuff with us.
Jude Parker Koski: Absolutely.
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah.
Pete Wright: Nikki, did we miss anything you really wanted to get out here?
Nikki Kinzer: No. I just really, again, and like Pete said, I appreciate you so much being here Jude. It’s always been such a pleasure to work with you and it’s such an honor to see you go through this journey and to share your story with us. I’m just very honored that you are doing this. And I love the work you’re doing. Keep doing your work. Right? Because it’s so important. And you have an excellent boss. I have to actually shout out to his boss because I’ll tell you, I’ve only met her a couple of times but she’s wonderful and she supports Jude in such a great way. And it’s such a good, oh, what do I want to say? Not influence, but a role model of how supervisors and bosses can get along with their coworker, their colleagues and support them in so many different ways. And I don’t know. I mean, obviously you work with Amy all the time, so what are your thoughts?
Jude Parker Koski: Professionally, I’ve certainly been lucky enough to have a lot of support and most especially from my supervisors even with the organization I was with for 17 years doing foster care policy reform work. And then when I joined NTEN in 2019, it’s a community I’ve been a part of since 2011 as a member. And when I joined, I’m staff as the membership director and now I’m transitioning to membership and community director, I received a tremendous amount of support right out the gate for anything and everything I need. And then also for having ADHD. I was lucky enough to be able to utilize my professional development resources to be able to work with you Nikki as a coach and I couldn’t more highly recommend that. So yes, I receive a tremendous amount of support and guidance from my supervisor, Amy Sample Ward, the CEO of NTEN. And that has been invaluable and the work that we do is based in racial equity and equity surround sound. So we practice equity through and through both internally and with the community and the members that we work with.
Pete Wright: Okay. Two things. One you’ve used the term surround sound in a context twice that I haven’t fully understood. Can you explain what you mean?
Jude Parker Koski: Yeah. I think I mean in all areas that are important to receive support. So whether it be through the supervision, also through the organizational culture, the systems and operations that we have in place that are rooted in equity and supporting the staff as necessary so that everyone essentially can be their best selves and carry the work through in ways that we need. And that doesn’t come without support from all directions.
Pete Wright: Okay. And second, you have acronym to dropped your organization NTEN. Tell us a little bit more about what about the organization itself? What do you do there?
Jude Parker Koski: Yeah. So we essentially support organizations, nonprofit organizations and the individuals in them to better meet their missions through using technology. And this is all under the foundation of racial equity. So anything and everything that we do is very intentionally through the equity lens. Like I said, programmatically, systems wise, operations and in practice. So that’s always at the forefront of our work and the conversations that we have.
Pete Wright: Does it stand for something?
Jude Parker Koski: NTEN, it currently is standalone and you can look us up. Yeah, nten.org.
Pete Wright: It’s just N-T-E-N.org.
Jude Parker Koski: nten.org. Correct.
Pete Wright: nten.org. Okay. I love how you put that. It’s currently stand alone. Who knows? Maybe one day it will.
Nikki Kinzer: Who knows? Yeah. Yeah.
Pete Wright: Well, this has been fantastic. We’ll put links in the show notes and I hope I… If there are any other sort of resources that you feel like you would want to share with our audience, I hope you’ll send them to me so I can put them in the show notes and we can point people in the right direction to learn more, educate themselves and again, keep creating safe spaces for these kinds of growth conversations.
Nikki Kinzer: Thank you Jude so much.
Pete Wright: Jude, you’re fantastic. Thank you so much.
Jude Parker Koski: You’re welcome and thank you.
Pete Wright: And thank you everybody for downloading and listening to this show. We appreciate your time and your attention. Don’t forget if you have something to contribute about this conversation, head over to the show talk channel. I’ve got a new thread in there for the live stream today. You can talk right in there in our Discord server and you can join us there by becoming a supporting member at the deluxe level. On behalf of Nikki Kinzer and Jude Koski, I’m Pete Wright and we’ll see you right back here next week on Taking Control: The ADHD Podcast.