In a powerful essay for TIME, Josie Totah (previously known professionally as "J.J. Totah") has revealed that she is a transgender woman. The Champions actress portrayed Michael Patel, the child of Mindy Kaling's Priya and Anders Holm's Vince, on the recently cancelled NBC sitcom.
In the essay, the actress — who previously had roles on shows like Liv and Maddie, Jessie, and Glee — reveals that while she was often identified as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, she never felt that she was a gay boy, as many perceived her to be.
"When I was really young, growing up in a small town in Northern California, people would just assume I was gay," she wrote in TIME. "I found myself playing that role once I got into the entertainment industry, and people kept assuming my identity... I understand that they didn’t really know better. I almost felt like I owed it to everybody to be that gay boy. But that has never been the way I think of myself."
The 17-year-old Totah explained in the essay that it was watching activist and author Jazz Jennings' docu-series I Am Jazz that made her tell her mother about her trans identity. At 14, Totah went on hormone blockers under the guide of a specialist referred to Totah by her pediatrician.
"Once I got on the hormone blocker, which basically stopped my testosterone, that part changed. I wasn’t waking up every day and panicking. 'Is there hair on my face? Is my voice getting deeper?' Those changes are very hard, if not impossible, to reverse," Totah wrote in TIME. "And I knew that I was giving myself what I needed, that I didn’t have to be afraid of that anymore."
In a statement to Refinery29, Jennings said:
"I am so happy for Josie! My family shares our story on TLC’s I Am Jazz so that our lives could resonate with others and inspire them to express who they are authentically. Knowing that people like Josie are positively impacted by my family’s story shows that we’ve accomplished our goal of helping others and it just warms my heart to see others being true to themselves."
Following the publication of the essay, stars have shared their support for Totah.
"I love you, Josie. I’m so glad you’re able to speak your truth and live as your authentic self. You’re also so damn talented - I can’t wait to write for you again," wrote Kaling on Twitter.
"I’m so fucking proud of you @jjtotah you beautiful, beautiful human," wrote 13 Reasons Why star Tommy Dorfman.
In a statement to Refinery29, Totah's manager Susie Mains at Trilogy Talent wrote:
"Josie Totah is one of the most amazing people I know — and I've known her since she was eight. She is one of a kind! I am extraordinarily proud of her always and so truly happy that she can move forward as her true authentic self — no boundaries now!"