Twenty-three years ago my parents were told “it’s a girl.” The doctor marked ‘F’ under gender on my birth certificate, slapped a pink bow on my head and I was off to face the world full of society’s expectations of gender. For the next twenty-two years I lived in a body that never felt quite right. And because of that I was a very quiet and awkward kid who had horrible social anxiety.
My mind has blacked out a lot of my early childhood. The good memories are still there though. Running around the neighborhood with the boys playing Pokemon and Yu Gi Oh. Climbing trees and building forts in the backyard.
I had no awareness of gender back then. I never thought of myself as a girl but I didn’t know how to communicate that I felt like a boy. The years went by, my childhood ignorance faded and reality hit me smack in the face when I started middle school and puberty.
I started attending private school in the sixth grade and of course there were uniforms. The girls wore skirts and the boys wore pants. There wasn’t anything more in this world that I wanted than to wear those pants. So I did.
For a week I wore those pants with a smile on my face and confidence in my step. But the more I wore those pants the more I felt different, and I didn’t want to feel any more different than I already did. So the pants went in the closet for the rest of my school days and my identity went with them. From that day forward I told myself I was going to fit in. But that was easier said than done.
Nothing feminine came naturally to me. I was bullied into shaving my legs, I wore my younger sister’s old clothes, I felt awkward in dresses, and I got along better with the boys. For a while I felt invisible. I didn’t really feel like I belonged anywhere and I felt very alone. Seventh grade rolled around and I joined the cross country team. I was a scrawny kid but I found some success in the sport early on. By eight grade I was running with the high schoolers. Running gave me a confidence I had never experienced before. It changed my life. I found myself scoring on the Varsity team during freshman year. When senior year came I was the number one runner and qualified for the track state meet in both the mile and the two mile.
Throughout high school I didn’t have many real friends. No one I’d want to actually hang out with outside of school. I never had a feeling of completeness as something always felt missing. I was so terrified of being different by the time I got to college I threw myself into trying to fit in. It was a disaster. College was the first time I had ever tried alcohol. It numbed the pain and my lowest point hit when I woke up in the emergency room with alcohol poisoning on Halloween night.
That was a turning point. I began to let a part of me out that had been deeply hidden for years. I went to online chat rooms and posed as a college boy who went by the name of Jake. I stayed up late at night texting through a video chat with my long hair tucked up under a hat. I talked to a lot of girls and them seeing me as male just felt right. But this also scared the hell out of me.
This didn’t feel normal, it actually felt weird and I never wanted anyone to know my secret. So even though I kept my Jake profile up, I made it a point to present as much as a girl as I could. Almost to the point of overcompensating.
This went on until my last year of college where reality really hit me hard. It was the reality that I couldn’t live in this closet forever. I couldn’t inhabit a body that I could barely look at in the mirror. I took baby steps and came out as a lesbian in October of 2014.
Slowly I got rid of all my female clothing and began to incorporate male clothing into my wardrobe. I shaved one side of my head and less than a month later just cut it all off. I still remember that day clearly.
I was sitting in the spinning chair at the hairdressers with a black cape fastened tightly around my neck. The hairdresser made a few snips and I watched the long locks that had caused me so much pain, just fall to the floor silently. I looked in the mirror and saw myself for the first time. Twenty-two years is a long time to see a stranger every time I looked in the mirror. But as silly as it sounds, that haircut changed my life.
Because I was still competing on the women’s track team I chose to wait until after the last meet of the season to disclose my secret. The few months before I came out were difficult. I was presenting as a lesbian but attracted to straight females. It was an internal struggle that ultimately led to multiple heartbreaks. But it made me strong and confident because I knew who I was no matter what anyone else told me.
The last track meet was in mid-May and my parents were attending. So I made plans to tell them that weekend. I had already come out to one of my roommates, a few friends, and my sister. All had gone well up to that point, but I was still terrified this would not go so smoothly. It was Mother’s Day so I had bought my Mom a gift and brought it to my parents’ hotel room.
In the bottom of the gift bag I had shoved two letters that I had written detailing my coming out. My Mom opened the gift and then I showed her the letters at the bottom of the bag. They each took a letter and sat on the bed and began reading. I was on the other bed sitting beside my sister having a huge panic attack inside.
It took them a few minutes to read the letters and once they were through there were tears. To this day I still don’t think they entirely knew what my intentions were with transitioning but it didn’t matter because they told me they would support me no matter what.
The confidence I gained from having their acceptance was incredible. Now I won’t say it was a smooth process but I believe I was very lucky to have had such an open and loving support system.
She took her time to grieve, which I let her do. It was a very emotional time for her. I began seeing a gender therapist and she wrote my letter for testosterone after a month of weekly visits. I scheduled an appointment with the endocrinologist the next day and received my first shot of testosterone on June 10, 2015. My family made an agreement to switch pronouns and begin calling me by my preferred name after my first shot.
So I came home and was greeted by my Dad who shook my hand and said, “Nice to meet you, Jeffrey”. For my Dad it just seemed to click with him that he had a son. My sister said she never felt like she had a sister anyways. And my Mom, well she had a hard time letting go of Jennifer and welcoming Jeffrey. But everyone deals with this differently and that is completely okay.
After starting testosterone I still couldn’t bring myself to look in the mirror unless I had my chest tightly bound in a binder. This was turning into a bigger and bigger problem as I was finding it hard to move forward in life while my chest was always in the front of my mind. After weeks and weeks of my parents asking every day what I planned to do with my life I sat them down for a talk in early October.
I could feel the sweat dripping down my back as I nervously explained the problem. I told them top surgery was what I needed to do before I could move forward in any meaningful way. They agreed and I set a date for top surgery with Dr. Charles Garramone. I went under the knife on November 5, 2015 for my first sexual reassignment surgery to have the two biggest problems in my life removed. A literal weight was lifted from my chest.
This experience has taught me a lot about both myself as well as about others. Before I came out as transgender I thought I would be ridiculed and shunned. I thought I was alone, but in reality there are hundreds of thousands of people just like me. Some of them don’t have the support of their loved ones or even the courage to come out and be themselves.
I graduated with a film degree wanting nothing more than to move out to Los Angles and work in the big film industry there. But lately I’ve been rethinking that and trying to figure out how I can use my love of film and make a difference in this community. After being exposed to all the struggles and hopelessness some people are feeling I feel a sense of duty, a calling if you will, to help my brothers and sisters.
With that being said, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. But the future only comes one day at a time. Patience is the key and I can say this confidently from experience. Always remember you are enough. And last but perhaps most importantly, there is absolutely no shame in living an authentic life.