Meet Jade

Enrique Bonilla

“The best thing about being a girl is, now I don’t have to pretend to be a boy,” read a sincere and simple statement on the cover of the Jan. 2017 issue of National Geographic. Avery Jackson, the 9-year-old girl quoted on the cover, is transgender. Jackson belongs to a part of the LGBTQ+ community on the forefront of the modern civil rights movement achieving huge milestones, including federal marriage equality in 2016.

Two months into 2017, the nation has seen major impediments to the security, protection and sovereignty of trans lives. In May 2016, President Obama and Attorney General Loretta lYnch directed public schools to allow students to use bathrooms that aligned with their gender identity. Two months into his presidency, Trump has rescinded those protections. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, 23 trans or gender-nonconforming people were murdered in hate crimes last year.

The trans community (the “T” part of LGBTQ) is especially vulnerable during this presidency. So many of Trump’s camp hold conservative and normative binary views of sex and gender. To Secretary of Health and Human Services Thomas Price (who voted to ban marriage equality) the Obama administration’s guidelines on the treatment of trans students are “absurd.” Price views gender as a “two and only two” system where sex and gender are inextricably linked. This ideal stems from biological essentialism, particularly with the term cisgender (the acceptance of the gender one is assigned at birth).

The vast majority of people identify as cisgender and significantly fewer are transgender. However, the size of the majority does not a justify the marginalization transgender minority. Programs like TLC’s “I Am Jazz,” Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black”; and books like Janet Mock’s “Redefining Realness” indicates that some level of transgender inclusion is on the cusp. However, the public remains largely uninformed on the evolving concept of gender, transitioning and living transgender. When and where do these thoughts on gender begin? How early does the socialization into rigid notions of gender begin? For a lot of people, gender remains an unconscious consideration — a matter of fact — but this is not true for everyone and the gender binary fails countless people, particularly when one’s gender expression is considered as “out of place” or “deviant.” However, with listening and education it’s possible to understand the fluidity of gender and sexuality.

Young people are more open to different expressions of of gender and rejecting the antiquated notions that girls only can wear makeup and boys shouldn’t show emotions — often learnt from our parents and grandparents. Our society’s concept of gender is shifting.

To most legislators, the idea of “girls” and “boys” as a biological byproduct is non-negotiable. These legislators cling to the status quo, but people are defying this notion of biological essentialism, arguing that chromosomes “XX” and “XY” don’t always determine gender identity. We still have a meager understanding of human nature, but if human variation is any indicator, then that underlying nature seems able to accommodate individual difference. Gender is no exception to this range of idiosyncrasy. There is no legitimate reason to suppress acute sex and gender categories that exist: asexual, pansexual, trans women, trans men, non-binary gender persons, neutrois, two-spirit and so many other evolving terms to describe gender embodiment.

Living as trans is a human experience that is difficult to describe with words. UTSA student, Jade Follette, is a computer science freshman currently on the lifelong journey as a trans woman. A Graytown Road native, Follette’s journey to womanhood began in third grade when she began to question her gender identity.

“What if you could become a girl? Would you do that if you had an option? To see what it’s like from that side?”

Follette turned to her 3rd grade peers looking for comfort, but the conversation was often labeled as typical “prepubescent boy talk.” Follette progressively spent more time considering the “what-ifs” until high school when she made the conscious choice to transition into the gender she identifies with.

The years leading to her transition did not pass easily according to Follette; however, she recalls feeling “a severe mismatch between how I felt I should be, how my body is and any facet of my exterior is.” Frustrated led to voluntary isolation. She enjoyed unwinding through the aid of video games. “I still have some of those tendencies, some days I just can’t interact with people, but I’m trying to break away from that,” she explains.

Follette’s family also played a role in this transition. Through therapy and the aid of cosplaying in female anime character garb, Follett was able to explain her identity to her mother. Follette explains how her mother, while supportive, is concerned for her future. “Trans people don’t have as many rights as cis gender people,” Follette says.

In Texas, Senate Bill 6 will force transgender/gender fluid people to use bathrooms in public schools, government buildings and public universities based on their biological sex. This bill would also preempt local nondiscrimination ordinances that allow trans Texans to use bathrooms based off their gender identity.

Aside from legal persecution, Follette’s mother also worries about her daughter’s gender performance and the lack of visibility for trans people. According to Trans Student Educational Resources, 1 in 12 trans women are at risk of being murdered by cis people and increases to 1 in 8 if they are a trans woman of color. The amount of violence toward the trans community is staggering compared to other marginalized groups in America. “It’s a pretty bleak outlook,” she explains. The Human Rights Campaign reported that among all 53 transgender murders between 2013 to 2015, not a single case was prosecuted or reported as a hate crime.

With hormone therapy treatment (HRT) on the horizon, Follette also worries about how her shifting identity will be received by family as external changes become more visible; particularly her father, who was raised with “perfect” family ideals. Follette explains this tension eventually bubbled (a few months before she openly came out) while watching a television show featuring an appearance by Caitlyn Jenner, retired Olympic medalist and transgender television personality. “He made some very transphobic remarks, and I very suddenly found myself without any self control saying ‘It’s Caitlyn. And use ‘she’.” Follette felt that she didn’t fit into her father’s “white picket fence” paradigm, especially during her parent’s divorce. She says, however, “I love my dad and I just want him to understand. He has come a long way when it comes to understanding me.”

Follette’s advice to those in need of support is simple: don’t be afraid. While coming out is an incredibly personal situation that requires proper timing and a strong support system, Follette stresses that, “things often turn out better than expected.” Support during transition is especially important because seeking HRT also means Follette will have to break the bureaucratic barriers to undergo the treatment. There are many requirements for insurance to help cover HRT — which costs about $1,500 a year. This is not a one-time treatment, but a lifetime expense for trans people. However, this is not to say that “looking like a woman/man” is vital to trans identity.

Unfortunately, the norm in the 21st century is for trans to be able to physically pass as cis. Trans people must pass a strict ideal or standard of feminine or masculine to be perceived as valid, rather than being respected for their chosen gender identity. Trans is a commitment for each individual’s sake and not to appease the eyes of society. Simply put, there is a lack of respect for prefered pronouns her/him/they regardless of what the exterior reflects.

Identifying as female, Follette uses “she/her” pronouns. “Hearing the correct pronouns used is a validating experience,” she explains. “What I don’t understand is why making such a small change is so hard for them [the general public],” she says, “I wonder how a cisgender person would feel if I just began to misgender them back. They probably would feel pretty weird, right?” Weird indeed, especially when most people have no problem using correct  pronouns when referring to strangers’ pets.

Feb. 2016 was the first time Follette publicly came out as Jade to her high school peers. The biggest hurdle was people adjusting to the name, Jade, and pronoun changes. Follette was met with open minds in high school— something that has continued into her experience as a Roadrunner. “UTSA is so open and accepting. I’m really happy to be at this campus because everyone here seems to be very positive toward trans people,” she says.

For Follette being trans is a journey that comes with many variables. Even as policy becomes more conservative with a REpublican president, House and Senate, these changes have not been met without some resistance: from the censorship of right wing extremist Milo Yiannopoulos in Berkeley by Antifa to the highly memed imagery of alt-right leader Richard Spencer being punched in the face (google “Nazi Punch”), people are fighting back. Americans are uniting to support one another. This is a hope of Follette’s and others like her, who seek equal rights and protections in the U.S.

When thinking about her future, Follette holds the same hopes many people do: grow old, start a family and live a long, happy life. The future of trans* is on the precipice of change.

“Being trans shouldn’t jeopardize or change those hopes,” Follette says, “transgender people deserve to have respect and happiness just as much as anyone else. That’s true equality and true freedom. That’s what our country was founded on. My hopes as a trans woman are that people in society learn to treat me and other trans people with the same respect as anyone else.”