I grew up in East Tennessee in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. My dad was a pastor and my mom was the worship leader at church, as well as a teacher. I went to public school in the county and had a rather conservative country upbringing for the most part. My parents came from environments that were fixedly southern conservative, and in their own rights challenged their family’s traditions and values with their lives and their marriage. I was encouraged to dream big, but not necessarily in terms of identity or gender. Being trans was something I didn’t have the language for nor was I given a space to explore what that might mean for me, especially in that context.

Living Outside of a Gendered Existence

When I was very young, gender didn’t seem to matter too much in my world. I think it was as I grew older, where gender revealed itself to be a larger topic for adults than it was for us kids. It was in the moments of forced gendering (i.e. “boys don’t do that”) that I began to take note of the dissonance I was experiencing within my gendered role and my inner experience of self. It’s in these instances that led me as a deconstructing adult to examine the very concept of gender as being something assumed to be innate and essential to the body and self instead of being something experienced.

Something that’s common to queer people my age is that the language for describing our experiences were pretty limited when we were kids. The current social acceptance and commonality of queerness is quite new. Even if I were to come out ten years ago instead of a year ago, my story would have been quite different than it is today. What this shows me is that in my specific instance, my upbringing could have benefited from more queer voices being lifted up in the media around me, making people like me less of a rarity and therefore less of a seemingly impossible path of personhood. The resources available for trans people now, be it through healthcare, legal services, or online community have made my progress into transitioning in the ways I need to something that is a reality instead of a distant idealism. In an ideal scenario, I would have been given the space and grace to explore what being a human would mean, even outside of the paradigms of gender, instead of being forced to operate fixedly within it with no other option. I’m currently finding the fulfillment of that lost freedom play out as an adult, which has led to what I can only describe as a new adolescence.

Exploring Gender Identify, and Identifying as Transgender

It wasn’t until I was in my late 20s in Indianapolis that I felt more free to explore that paradigm for myself. I knew there was something different about me from a very young age, probably at around 4, where I saw myself outside of what most people determined to be gendered existence in general. It took me witnessing trans women living out in the world to become more acquainted with what possibilities of trans existence might look like if manifested in myself. I’m certain that if it were not for the pioneers of trans rights and visibility that I would still be closeted and most likely in denial of who I am, a proud trans lesbian.

Coming Out

Coming out was a slow process in which time my marriage ended, my time working in churches came to an abrupt end, and most of my life and community fell apart and regrew into what it is now. This time began in 2018 when I started expressing more gender nonconformity, but it wasn’t until my divorce that I was reckoning with being closer to binary trans womanhood and felt that hormonal transition, a name change, and pronoun changes were right for me. I found that the more I leaned into my authenticity, the more polarizing it became in certain circles, causing some people to fall away from my life and others to magnetize. That initial time was magnificently disorienting and beautiful, simultaneously, making me eternally grateful for the chance to live; to be in a community of people who love me for who I am. This was not, however, without its share of tremendous personal upheaval, deaths, and resurrections.

Most of the anxieties I encounter with those who have yet to come out is based in the fear of rejection from their community, which is unfortunately quite the valid placement of those fears. My advice is yes, you will be ghosted and rejected and possibly hurt by those in your community if you come out. But living into a state of authenticity of any sort will cause dissension from those who rely on your being inauthentic in order for them to maintain a connection with you. Trans healthcare is more abundantly accessible right now than ever, but in certain situations, accessing even the most basic steps toward the necessary mode of transition may require personal sacrifices that are too far out of reach for most. This is both a failure on the side of broader healthcare and the societal tone we all live in. Each affects the other. When trans care is more accessible, it becomes more societally understood that transitional care is a health necessity. When society accepts that there are trans people that do in fact exist and require medical treatment, the medical field might garner more of a demand for that care to be available to more people. This requires compassion, humility, and quantifiable steps toward justice.”

Writing a Book

I began writing the book late in 2019 when it became clear to me that my experience was something worth at least writing down, for the sake of my own processing and self-documentation. I think it’s important to note that I am only able to speak about my personal trans experience, not The Trans Experience in general through this work, which would be not only a bold claim but a silly one. My hope is to offer one more dimension to the collective consciousness of transness and its complexity and vastness. If my writing has a point at all it is to communicate that you are free to be who you are, without any permission but your own, and that it does not have to be labeled, categorized, or even public unless you choose for that to be the case. The “public” issue is one that I have chosen to endeavor for the sake of helping other trans people know they are not alone as I felt I was for so long. I’ve written for an audience of both current and ex-Christians as well as the LGBTQ+ community with the intent of telling my story in such a way that it might serve as a conduit between those supposedly dichotomized worlds, risking the apparent subversion of the multifacetedness of my experience of faith and gender and the breaking of the illusion of the ideological exclusivity therein.

Allyship & Education

I think the most important aspect of allyship is using your privilege to give space for others to be safe and to be heard. Sometimes that means getting out of the way and shutting up, sometimes it means speaking up by shutting down haters and literally protecting trans people’s lives from danger. I’ve found the most support from allies comes when they genuinely seek to understand what it’s like to be in my position; to know transness is a state of being, not an affliction or a choice. When straight and/or cis folks are comfortable enough with themselves, it translates to how comfortable they are with trans people in their communities. Just like with anything, it begins within. We know we are beautiful and strong. We don’t necessarily need to be reminded of this. We do need to know, however, that we are safe and valued for who we are in every space, on every street, in every environment.

Allowing children to be themselves, unconstrained by expectations (often fear-based) is the best education I believe we can offer future generations. There are plenty of pragmatic ways we as adults can lay down our preconceptions, but this takes a fair amount of reconditioning on our part, which is unfortunately a charge most adults are hesitant to explore even within themselves. Gender is not an issue of grasping the far reaches of the potential self, but it is instead an allowing of the self to be expressed freely within it, often nameless, and without labels. Once children realize their true healthy natures are inherently good, specifically in this case in terms of gender expression, we can let go of the idea that there is only one paradigm in which to fit depending on your chromosomal makeup. The only reason a label might be latently attributed to that freedom of exploration is for the sake of uniting one to the other through community and this should only be an admission one makes about oneself. The only path forward is informed directly by the ways that we as societal members grant ourselves the freedom first, then to incur that same freedom in others. You can follow Jody on Spotify, Instagram, Facebook, and Bandcamp by searching ‘Public Universal Friend’ or at www.publicuniversalfriend.band. You can also check out an essay from her upcoming book here.