TALKIN WITH GEN: E-MAIL CONVO WITH STEWART JEFFERS ON THE REALITIES OF A TEENAGE BOY IN TRANSITION

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Two months ago I asked Stewart if he would like to have a long-term email conversation with me about him coming out as a transgender boy. Stewart is 18, lives in Winston-Salem, USA and is about to finish high school. We talked about his life in high school, his social media inspirations, him being in transition and the reason why hormone therapy is not as easy to get as we might think. 

Nov 25, 2018, at 9:28 PM, Talking with Gen wrote: 

I am very curious how life in high school really is. I guess I saw too many high school movies to have a clear picture of how it actually could be.  Of course, I remember the lockers, the long hallways and the constantly tensed atmosphere in the school canteen. What are your experiences in high school? I know that you have been struggling with more than unneeded high school drama. 

Also, you told me you were applying to college. How do you fell about leaving High School and start something new?  Are you afraid of what’s coming next or curious and excited? Hopefully, you’re more excited than afraid, because going to college will be great!

 

Nov 28, 2018, at 6:56 PM, Stewart wrote: 

I am currently a senior at Parkland IB Magnet high school and an IB Diploma Candidate. My high school experience thus far has been a roller coaster of a ride. I came out as Transgender close to a year ago now and my experiences and outtake of high school have completely changed both in good and bad ways. When coming out, my father and stepmother nurtured my quest where others like me have been shamed at home. My confidence began to increase every day after owning my real self. This confidence helped me eliminate some of that discomfort I have had for most of my life. However, it still haunts me. But I’ve come to terms with the necessity to present my authentic self. Because of this confidence, I have come out of my shell by being a male lead role in a musical as well as running for Homecoming King.

Regarding leaving high school this school year, I’m very excited to explore and be on my own; however, the idea of leaving high school is bittersweet. I will have to leave my friends who I have known for most of my life. But, I’m ready to explore the world and to use my talents to change it.

Nov 29, 2018, at 10:41 AM, Talking with Gen wrote: 

Wow. I am sitting in my room with a cup of tea while reading your mail. You seriously made me speechless for a moment. First of all, how amazing that you had a male role in a musical and also ran for Homecoming King. Congratulations! This brings me immediately back to the good old high school movies. 

You were undergoing a huge change last year and you still are. You are such a young man and already made a great step forward! Truly impressive, how positive you are! If you have known your friends for most of your life, you will get through this. The bond is bigger than the distance. With such a positive and strong mindset, I’m sure you will make a change. 

Since you were telling me about your future, it feels weird to go back to talk about what happened the last years. But still, I have a lot of questions about the process you made until you came out as transgender: when did you start feeling not comfortable in your own skin anymore? And how long was the process before you decided to talk to others about your feelings? 

Coming out can be tough – I am really happy that your dad and your stepmom strengthened your self-confidence in this process. I know that you also have a twin sister, was she a strong support in your situation?

 

Dec 14, 2018, at 8:53 PM, Stewart wrote:

I’m really sorry I’ve been a little busy because I just finished all my college applications and had musical practices every day. 

Regarding your questions about my past, I have always felt like I was different. I remember instances when I dressed up as Spider-man and Batman for halloween and being extremely excited that I was dressed up as a boy. However, the feeling of uncomfort didn’t come until puberty hit. I felt so uncomfortable that I didn’t even want to talk about it and so I put it in the back of my mind. This was obviously an unhealthy way, but I didn’t know what reaction I would get. Through middle school, I continued identifying as a girl even though deep down I knew that wasn’t who I was.

As I inched closer to who I am, I made the sudden decision to chop off my hair. This simple alteration was a bigger leap than I imagined. I remember sitting in the salon chair, shaking out of excitement. The hairdresser began to snip my incredibly long brown hair that for so long had been part of my projected and socially accepted feminine image. My strands of hair fell gently to the shop’s floor, along with my feminine image, like autumn leaves from a tree; and, in the mirror, I could finally see the boy that is me.

As I continued to make external decisions to reflect my internal self, my peers begin to notice. They didn’t understand, and I didn’t, at the time, know how to explain it. While I continued to identify as a “girl,” I knew that wasn’t who I was. Though I knew that I would get support from my parents and friends, I feared a larger change in how people reacted to me. If I were to come out, I knew that I would have to live through harassment. Despite the concern of becoming a target in this hateful and divisive world, I had to break the silence.

And so in the months following my 17th birthday, I shared my truth with an ever-widening circle of family, friends and teachers. I was initially inspired by my best friend Sam-Levi who also came out as transgender. I knew that it was my time to shine.

I now have an incredible amount of support, especially from my twin sister. I honestly don’t know what I would do without her. She’s my rock. However, even though I get the most amount of support I still struggle especially in the world I live in. I have to come to terms that I may have to experience hate and struggle just because of who I am.

Dec 16, 2018, at 9:05 PM, Talking with Gen wrote:

No problem at all, good luck with your applications! I’ll keep my fingers crossed for getting accepted at your favorite college! How was the musical? You had a leading role, were you excited? Would love to see some pictures of your performance. 

Isn’t it crazy what hair actually can do with us? How hair is a product of beauty formed by society? I don’t know if you know Maxim Magnus, she is a transgender woman and activists and not too long ago, she chopped off her hair to make a statement. She doesn’t want to fit into society standards of a young woman. So now she is almost bold and she is more beautiful than ever. I thought this was a really powerful step, what she did, especially since you told me, as a transgender man how much hair meant to you. I would never ever chop off my hair because I believe that I would feel uncomfortable, even though I never tried it. I guess my hair is something like a curtain, where I can hide. I can’t even imagine what it meant to you to make this important step.

You said that before you came out as transgender, you knew that you would live through harassment. Unfortunately, I can’t deny that because some people are still cruel and that makes me unbelievably angry. Did you have to live with offenses? And how did you manage to not let it come too close? 

Since you said we live in a hateful and divisive world, how do you feel, living in the United States of America, where the administration defines gender by genitalia at birth?

 

Dec 20, 2018, at 4:16 PM, Stewart wrote:

Hello! Well when I meant the musical was done, I meant that it was actually canceled. For the past few weeks I’ve been really upset about that since I’ve been working really hard. But, I am planning to be in another musical hopefully in the spring so maybe that will work out.

I’ve actually never heard of her until now and that’s so powerful. I think it’s so important to recognize that you don’t have to fit in social standards. However, since I have come out I have gone into a toxic path of trying to be „masculine‘ enough. I go into this path because of the discomfort and hate for my body. I try every day to try and eliminate these toxic habits but it’s very difficult.

Before I made the decision to cut my hair, I had a similar feeling of using my long hair as a „curtain“. I had always felt insecure mainly because of the struggle of my gender identity. Even though I have progressed I sometimes still have those feelings. I have considerably gained confidence but I still have that feeling of hopelessness that I may never actually satisfy myself. It’s a hard feeling to deal with especially when all you want for yourself is to be happy. On top of that, hate and harassment are seen everywhere towards transgender people. This usually happens in bathrooms which I have personally experienced.

Public bathrooms are the most terrifying places in the world as a trans person. Every time I enter the men’s bathroom I always come close to having a panic attack. Every time I enter I always assume that I will get harassed or an interaction with another man. It’s hard to live in a country (or real world) that you can’t even use the bathroom in peace. Especially in the political climate, the United States is under not only trans people but the whole LGBTQ+ community is ignored by our president. I feel as though we are going backward and not forward when talking about basic human rights. This can also go for the Me Too Movement and the Black Lives Matter Movement. But I do think that things will get better soon for our country. There will be fire and there will be rage because our voices will not be silenced by another rich white cis man who doesn’t believe in equality.

Dec 25, 2018, at 10:54 AM, Talking with Gen wrote:

Oh, sorry for the misunderstanding! Hopefully the next one will work out! 

I see the problem with the bathroom. It should be something natural because it is, but it’s still something so many people feel uncomfortable about. What do you think would help? Because I know that there is already a lot going on about gender neutral bathrooms. Many people don’t see the need of unisex bathrooms. I’m curious, would that make you feel less uncomfortable?

Yes, almost unbelievable that this beautiful, colorful community won’t be seen in such a  big country, where people actually come to in order to fulfill their dreams. But the community itself is really special in the USA, isn’t it? Many people from the LGBTQ community over here, would love to go to the US because they think, it’s much easier over there.  What are your favorite artists from the LGBTQ community? Do you have any? Maybe also people you see as role models? You are pretty young, so I would love to know which people you follow and inspire you. 

 

Dec 29, 2018, at 01:42 PM, Stewart wrote:

The most comfortable I’ve been in a bathroom was a gender neutral bathroom. I felt more secure than in any other public bathroom; however I still felt anxious. Because even with gender neutral bathrooms harassment still can happen. It’s the people that are the problem. Not the actual bathrooms. I have seen so many stories of young trans students assaulted in school bathrooms and the assaulter not getting any punishment. The people are the problem. Administration is the problem. Things won’t change if administration doesn’t change. That’s why I really want my voice to be heard as well as others.

But, I do agree. The LGBTQ community is absolutely beautiful. I’m beyond grateful to be a part of it because I know that someone out there is experiencing the same things I am. The community is a home. A place where everyone is included and loved especially those who were neglected from their families. I do have multiple idols that I look up to that are a part of the community. Trans Youtuber Chella Man has always been a great inspiration as I transitioned. As for musicians, Troye Sivan as always been a role model for me as well. He’s not afraid of who he is and has that sense of pride that all members of the community should hold.

Dec 29, 2018, at 08:36 AM, Talking with Gen wrote:

Sure.  You’re absolutely right. People are the problem and not the actual bathrooms. But why not help to push the direction in a comfortable one? 

So I actually heard of Chella Man, but never really followed what he is doing. I started watching some YouTube Videos on his channel and first of all I have to say, he is such a great artist! I love his artwork so much, his style is amazing, it kind of reminds me of Basquiat.  I also like his videos a lot, he seems to be really nice and fun, also his girlfriend. Of course I know Troye Sivan and I love his personality, on top he has a beautiful voice and he is doing great stuff. 

Is it easier for you, when you see people on social media talking about their story and what they are going through and just being visible for other people out there who might feel the same? I mean it’s something really personal with what they have to struggle with, but I believe so many other people find inspiration and can be encouraged by what they are doing. Earlier you said that you want to be heard. You want your story to be heard, did you ever thought about, how you would like to get your story to be heard? Would you like to start a blog or vlog? I’m curious because I would be reading it for sure.

 

Dec 29, 2018, at 07:41 PM, Stewart wrote:

Yeah, I do think gender neutral bathrooms will help us move into a progressive nation and I definitely would feel less uncomfortable. But with our current president, I don’t think that will happen right now. However, many colleges have at least one gender neutral bathroom in each building and seem to have increased after Trump won the presidency.

Chella Man is such an inspiration. He is an amazing artist and documents his transition beautifully. I really want to do the same because I know that the footage of his transition has really given me and others hope, that one day I can try and eliminate those uncomfortable feelings. One day I really want to become a role model for young trans people. Having role models is so important because it gives people hope.

My goal in life is to be an inspiration through film. Film really has always been there for me.  Growing up, I began to develop a deep appreciation for film because it was a simple way to escape the difficulties of a broken home and my own struggles to define myself. However, as I got older, I started to notice the potential of film to tell real stories about real people and the responsibility of filmmakers to give a voice to the voiceless. Stanley Kubrick once said: “The screen is a magic medium. It has such power that it can retain interest as it conveys emotions and moods that no other art form can hope to tackle.”  The realization of that kind of power came, for me, when television series Glee cast a cis-male to play a transgender female character, a serious misrepresentation of trans youth. Through my own film, I want to be an advocate for transgender issues in the film industry. Film is my voice, and also for others. So, doing that through film is a dream that I have. I really want to write real stories of real trans people. I think that this is important because it can definitely educate those who are oblivious to the reality of a trans person.

January 01, 2018, at 05:24 PM, Talking with Gen wrote:

Happy new Year Stewart! I hope you had a great start in 2019! 

Film is such a great way to make this topic a subject of discussion. So many people love watching movies and series, so I guess that is one of the best ways to make this topic approachable for the mainstream.

Back to Chella Man, he is kind of documenting his life as a transgender man. He has many videos with his girlfriend and they are talking about how they met and finally got together. He also had a video where he was filming his weekly voice update on testosterone. I was wondering if you are considering a hormone therapy as well? Is that something that you have in mind? Also in general, what are your plans for 2019? 

 

January 02, 2018, at 02:14 PM, Stewart wrote:

Happy new year! I’m really excited for this year! But yes film definitely has a special place in my heart.

The goal before I start college is to start hormone therapy. I’m 18 already so I can go to planned parenthood and receive treatment there. However, I am concerned because of the cost. My insurance company will cover some, but obviously not all of it. So money may be the problem, especially because I will start college next fall. 

But regarding to 2019, I am very excited for the new year. I can’t wait to go off to college and experience new things. I actually just received an amazing scholarship to Emerson College (which is a really good film school)! It’s very far from home, so I have to take that into consideration! But, overall I am very excited!

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