Jonah: “I Couldn’t Live For Other People & Keep Living”

Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Jonah Womack, 26, Raleigh, North Carolina

As far back as I can remember, I felt my body was different. I always wondered where my male parts were. I was probably 17 when I first heard the word “transgender,” saw people in the media who were genderqueer, and thought, Wow, maybe there’s not something wrong with me. There are other people like this. I didn’t come out to my parents until I was 22. I wanted to tell them face-to-face, but I also wanted for them just to listen. So, I made them a 30-minute video. Their reaction was pretty negative. To this day, four years on, they refuse to use my legal name (which is now Jonah), and they refuse to use male pronouns. They’ve realized how much it offends me when they address me as “she” or use my old name, so now they don’t address me as anything. I’m sort of a nameless person in their presence, and that hurts. My mother told me once, “My daughter has died.” After I sent the video to my parents, I started sending it to some close friends, and their reactions were overwhelmingly positive — so was my sister’s. These people don’t seem to see me any differently. Everyone but my parents has been very “You’re still you; this doesn’t change anything.” But, the LGBT community can be a difficult place to live in — more than the straight or cisgender world, because we can be so very mean to each other. There’s sort of a war going on right now between gay people and trans people.
I haven’t gone through any surgeries. I did try hormone-replacement therapy, but I went off of it after a year. The medical community — and a lot of trans people — will stigmatize you if you don’t go the hormone-therapy route. But, I’m trying to spread the message that it’s okay if you have a negative reaction to the hormones. It doesn’t make you any less of who you already are. Maybe I don’t 100% pass as male, like I used to, but I feel so much better off testosterone that I don’t even mind being somewhat uncomfortable with how I look. Before transitioning, I only dated gay women. Of course, that didn’t work out. During transition, I dated a woman who was just coming to realize that she was queer, but who had liked men all of her life — so she could sort of appreciate the "bothness" in me. At this point, I do worry that anyone who likes me because I’m a trans person has a fetish. Between the porn industry and even drag shows, we’re put out there in a sexual light — like we’re just some object. I date straight women now, but the thing is, when they find out that I’m actually not a straight or cisgender male, they have a problem with it. Gay women, of course, have a problem with it. I’m not left with many options. There’s really no dating going on in my life at the moment, because I’m trying to figure that out.
In a way, I have the best of both worlds. I know what it’s like to be completely flooded with estrogen — to be emotional and empathetic. I know what it’s like to live as a woman and to know what that group goes through. And, I know what it’s like to live as a man — a white man — and thus to be in the most privileged position in society. As a man, everyone thinks that I’m smart and capable, which very much was not how they treated me when they saw me as a woman. I can empathize with both worlds; I feel like a bridge between them. It’s a very interesting position that most people will never get to experience. I feel blessed — like I was chosen for this somehow. That might sound corny, but it really does feel like that. My coming-out video was my pinnacle of “I can’t do this anymore.” I’d been trying to adjust to my parents’ view of what I should be all that time. I’d think, If I could just dress like a girl; if I could just grow my hair back out; if I could just be who they want me to be, then things would be so much easier. But, I realized that wasn’t true. I couldn’t just live for other people and still be living. Since then, I’ve been living the way I see fit — and it’s been working out for me. The saddest part is the fact that I’ve lost a lot of family along the way. Nowadays, I’m only in touch with my immediate family, and much of that is very strained. Losing people hurts, but you have to just agree to disagree. You count your losses, move on, and create your own family.

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