Jae: On The Journey of Gender
I’m not entirely sure where my trans journey started. We all hear the media push this trans narrative that, as a whole, we know from diaper days. I’ve always been queer and uncomfortable in the role of “boy”. I just didn’t have the images that validated or inspired what I didn’t have words for. Certainly growing up with flamboyant villains and cross dressing devils like, “Him” on Powerpuff girls didn’t help with a positive self image.
I grew up Black and Puerto Rican in a single parent home in rural Puerto Rico (Sabana Grande in Luquillo to be exact!). As a kid I hated being told I resembled my father and not my mother; I now clock this as a cornerstone of dysphoria, but even still not quite the cognitive beginning. I struggled with my long distance relationship to my father. I was born in Connecticut and he still resided there. Seeing boys in media living up to masculine hurdles and knowing these were challenges I never took interest in made me feel deep shame. Instead I identified more with Jigglypuff’s lullabies than I ever did Michael Jordan’s slam dunks. I was a momma’s boy growing up and thankfully came into this world with a family that is far more supportive than not. The introduction to “Jack Mcfarland” on Will & Grace, loud and feminine, sharing stories of his past that felt like I penned them, was a crucible in uncovering where I might fit in society. Without Trans icons to look to I simply existed under the context of “terrified gay man.” Not that I wasn’t trans, but how do you intellectualize something you have no words for?
As a child experiencing gender, I remember people like Walter Mercado would send chills down my spine that kept me running in the opposite direction. I can’t help but link this to a deep seeded fear that to show how much I enjoyed his flamboyance and transcendence of gender would out me; whatever that meant. All I knew was that no one else around me was like that and that couldn’t be a good sign. For a lot of my childhood I couldn’t hide my feminine leanings, but to be called out on them was brutal. I preferred clandestinely trying on my mom’s shoes or humming “A Part of Your World” living my Ariel fantasy, in the privacy of my own mind. A memory that ignites my crusade on gender and transness is an episode of “Rugrats”. Boys in kilts are picked on for wearing “skirts”, and the Rugrats come in to protect everyone’s right to express their gender however they choose. On that screen I saw myself as both the Rugrats and the kilt kids, but never the bully. I’m certain this is foundational in the work I create today.
I’ve been exploring my gender for years. From being a toddler that wore towels on my head as long hair and pretended to be sailor moon, waving around whatever item I could pass off as a baton. Down to the pop punk days of the mid 2000’s, where I colored my hair temporarily on the weekends and shopped for the tightest jeans I could find. All this time I was still terrified to live my fantasy as a FEMME, let alone as a womxn. I share these examples not to cite them as general signs of trans expression, but rather to reflect on what my landmarks looked like.
It wasn’t until Pride 2017, when walking out of my house in concealer, lipstick, and 8-inch Pleaser boots, that I felt like I was on the road to my destination. I went full out after that for my good friend, NYC drag queen, Cissy Walken’s birthday. Corseted, pastel box braids, and a beat face, I headed to Look queen at The Monster Bar considering if drag was what I was feeling; it was not. However, the confidence and comfort that being radically queer and boisterously feminine gave me was a superpower. I remember pulling back from the mirror in the early days of doing makeup and sighing a breath of relief, “There I am.” After discovering this feeling, I never looked back.
There is no right age or point of discovery. Gender expression is something we all take part in, whether cis or trans. That being said, even I, as a non-binary person, find the ways we are expected to express gender to fight dysphoria incredibly constricting. I have recently started Hormone Replacement Therapy, a long term treatment of estrogen and testosterone blockers that shift my body’s default release of hormones to align with my gender identity. For a long time, I considered this route to be an incredibly binary approach to gender therapy, thus ruling it out for me. It is important to note we all continue to blossom in our gender, hormonal shifts are a part of getting older, and naturally there’s always something more to discover over time. Something many people don’t know is you can cater your treatment to fit the vast spectrum of gender; my budding gender lead me to seriously consider HRT. I just couldn’t do the heavy lifting of dysphoria alone anymore, and this was another weapon becoming necessary for the fight. HRT was a decision I came to after months in quarantine feeling a decomposition of my mental and emotional health. I can honestly say, it’s helping more than words can explain. I have never felt more in control of my body and psyche.
As the divine experience of transness begins to unfurl in your periphery the road maps become legible, and the ways you identify and manifest your gender shift. It is our responsibility to treat ourselves with kindness as we molt and come together again. It is a mystical experience filled with a lot of pain, but also a lot of ways to attack it. The biggest thing to keep in perspective is: above all else, follow the signs that lead you to serenity. I stuck to those signs and now I smile seeing photos of myself. I embrace camera lenses knowing I see my mom, and all the other incredible women in my life who never let me lose out on loving myself. Now I can turn to a younger me and hope that somehow that baby hears me back through time saying, “You do look like your mama. You’re gonna be more than ok.”