Jason discovered early on there is more than one way to be transgender. Wearing a headful of pastel-colored barrettes, knee-high blue and white socks, and a Hello Kitty necklace with matching bracelet—a look inspired by Japanese Harajuku Street Fashion— Jason explains his thinking behind peoples’ understanding of being transgender.
“People need to realize there are infinite ways to be trans because there are infinite ways to be human,” says the high school freshman, musician, and fashion-forward thinking teen. “It’s okay to explore.”
Questioning and exploring is a theme in Jason’s life. Listen to “Shakily Soaring,” the song he wrote at age 13, and hear him give permission to himself, and pretty much all who will listen:
..let go of your worries and focus on being you…you don’t need to live up to anybody’s standards…if people ask you who you are, you don’t have to answer…be who you want and let others be the same.
The song goes on to say it’s okay to experiment and to contradict the roles society has dictated for you. Needless-to-say, Jason is not fond of societal labels.
“The song’s lyrics are about my struggles and how I’m on the road to happiness because I am who I want to be. I’m soaring towards happiness, but it’s not all smooth from here,” explains Jason, who transitioned slightly over a year ago at age 13, but began questioning his gender identity at around 12 years-old.
How did Jason become comfortable with who he is today? His story is still evolving, and he bravely shares his journey thus far with ProudYouth.
PY: What were some of your thoughts when you first questioned your gender identity?
JASON: At the end of 7th grade, I questioned whether I was agender or bi-gender. I think I was trying to hang on to somethings, not fully wanting to dive in.
PY: What were you holding onto?
JASON: (laughs) I was holding onto fashion. My thinking was I don’t want to be a boy because I can’t wear all the nice things I’ve been wearing.
PY: What changed?
JASON: I started presenting more masculine and realized I might be a boy. Then I started getting more and more into the idea.
PY: We’re you feeling as if you were born into the wrong body?
JASON: I used to have that opinion, but I’ve come to terms with it. Now, I think of it as I was assigned a different gender than I identify currently. I also think about society’s ideas of sex and gender, and I’ve realized the ideas are all societal B.S. Why does having one thing make you this one thing? This is my body, I’m a boy, so therefore, it’s a boy’s body.
PY: What did you to do to help you understand what you were feeling when you first began questioning your gender?
JASON: I did a ton of research on the internet. I read a lot. I began watching YouTube videos about trans people, and following YouTubers who posted videos. I started thinking I was trans by hearing their stories.
PY: You began questioning around age 12. You didn’t question your gender when you were younger?
JASON: No, I didn’t. People say it’s more common for transgender people to have a sense about their gender at a very young age. I think it’s just a story that is more commonly represented. When I was little I didn’t think about gender all that much, but I did think of myself as a girl. I had a princess party. I put on dresses. I’d wear a tiara. My room was pink. I liked traditionally feminine things. I never started questioning until 2 years ago.
PY: How did you approach your parents when you began questioning?
JASON: I didn’t approach my parents when I first started questioning. I approached them when I was definitely set on the fact that I was trans. I was thinking about cutting my hair short and asked my mom if I could do it. She said people might think I am a boy if I cut it short. I told her I didn’t mind if people think I’m a boy. Then she asked if I was questioning my gender. I don’t like the way I answered the question now, but I said I was “strongly considering being a boy.” My wording implies I wasn’t already a boy at the time, and it implies it was a choice.
PY: How did your mother react?
JASON: At first, it wasn’t a long conversation with her. Later, I wrote her an e-mail filled with a bunch of stuff I wanted her to know, like that I had decided on a name and I didn’t plan on doing any medical surgeries.
PY: What was her response to your e-mail?
JASON: It was a bit much for her to handle at the time. She said it was too early to be deciding on names. My parents weren’t ready for any of it to happen and it was definitely very hard on my mom.
PY: When did you and your parents agree you could begin to transition?
JASON: It was a slow process. Before I went away to summer camp in 2014, my parents let me cut my hair super short. It was a big step. We had an agreement. I could get my haircut, but they weren’t ready for people to call me by the proper pronouns or by Jason yet. It was a bummer, but I understood they needed time. It was tough on them.
PY: You have an older brother. How did he handle everything?
JASON: We don’t have the kind of relationship where we talk about anything serious. I’m sure it’s a bit strange for him, but he calls me by the right name and pronouns. He hasn’t been anything other than accepting.
PY: How have family members outside of your immediate family handled your transition?
JASON: My family is very supportive. I’m not sure they understand it, but they use my right name and pronouns, so I’m lucky.
PY: Did your family seek professional support to understand what you were going through?
JASON: We went to Lurie Children’s Hospital’s Sex & Gender Clinic in Chicago. I still go. The place is great. The doctors there helped a lot. I’m not a professional at explaining what it means to be trans or finding the right words to explain things. Lurie knows their stuff and they help me to understand and to explain myself.
PY: You told your mom you do not want to have any surgeries. Do you plan to take testosterone or any other medication?
JASON: I’m not taking any meds right now, and I don’t think I will do any surgeries. I do not feel comfortable with it. I like my body right now and I don’t want to make any physical changes. I don’t know if that will change in the future, but I’m very certain of my decision right now.
PY: You mentioned summer camp. What’s it like being transgender at camp?
JASON: I began presenting hyper-masculine in 2014 when I first cut my hair. That was during the time I went away to summer camp. I wasn’t going by my name or using male pronouns yet. Most of the people I roomed with at camp have known me since 2011, and I think they might have suspected something. When I came out to them I was so nervous, but they were super cool and accepting, and gave me a group hug. This past summer, I presented as male and went by my name and asked people to use male pronouns. The camp directors were great. They made sure the counselors new my name and the my preferred pronouns. All the counselors had education and training on LGBTQ+ issues. I roomed in a unisex cabin. At first, I was insistent I would room in a boys cabin because I’m a boy. Then I realized it would have probably not been as good of an experience and it would have been awkward for everyone involved.
PY: How do you come out to people about yourself?
JASON: I’m pretty casual about it. I start by saying I’m trans. I explain how I identify, then ask them to refer to me as he or him. It depends on the person, but I tell them it doesn’t change anything about me and they can always ask me any question they might have. I want people to ask questions. I like educating people. I want people to have the right information, rather than keeping something to themselves and wondering. Usually, people walk on eggs shells around me because they think they are going to offend me, but I will not be offended. As long as the person isn’t being a jerk and being respectful, I don’t care if you’re not educated about stuff as long as you are willing to be educated.
PY: You were in middle school when you began presenting as male. How did your classmates react to you?
JASON: Before I transitioned, I left the public middle school I had been attending. That was in 7th grade. I started 8th grade at a private school. My middle school experience before switching schools was literal hell. Not the whole time, but definitely in 7th grade. I was a bit of a train wreck because I wasn’t dealing with the gender stuff very well. Most of my issues with other students I think were unrelated to questioning my gender. I went through a lot of phases that I’m not particularly proud of now, like when I wore all black, listened to heavy metal music, and had painted raccoon eyes. But, if something wasn’t technically mainstream, kids at my school tended to freak out. They were obsessed with labels. People would ask me stupid questions all of the time. I did have friends, so that was good.
PY: How were things different when you switched schools in 8th grade?
JASON: My new middle school was great. The students were super accepting. I came out to them on the first day of class. They acted like it wasn’t a big deal. The school’s thinking is progressive so it helped to be there.
PY: Now you’re in another new school, a Montessori high school. How is it going?
JASON: It’s really good. I’m starting an LGBTQ+ club. The school is private and everyone is very open-minded and accepting. Most people have been very understanding. It’s easy to mistake this (Jason motions to his outfit). If people use the wrong pronoun, I correct them. They’re very apologetic. I’ve met another trans guy. He isn’t allowed to be out, but we’ve had conversations about stuff. It’s a small school, but there are definitely LGBTQ+ people attending. If I were at a more mainstream school it might have been a way different experience.
PY: Fashion is a big part of your life. Tell us your thoughts about clothing.
JASON: People might describe me as femme-presenting, but I don’t. I just like looking cute. I don’t really have a word for it. I’m simply wearing clothes. I describe myself as male. A lot of things such as masculinity and femininity is societal B.S. Society likes to unnecessarily gender many things, including pieces of fabric. I don’t think clothing has any gender. Most things are genderless in my eyes. I think striving for something as masculine or feminine is a bit pointless, unless you are doing it because you enjoy those things.
PY: What do you enjoy wearing?
JASON: The type of fashion I’m interested in is Japanese Harajuku Street Fashion. It’s fashion that started on the streets of Harajuku and has a bunch of sub-cultures. I have a problem with wearing the same thing all of the time. When I find something I like, I wear it as often as I can get away with it. I hand sew some of my clothes and accessories, and it takes a long time. I’d like to be a fashion designer. That would be very cool.
PY: How has music been a part of your life?
JASON: I’ve always been musically centered. I sang a lot and took musical theater when I was younger. I started playing the piano when I was 4 years old. I’ve written a few songs and have ideas for more.
PY: You wrote “Shakily Soaring” for a song writing class in 8th grade. When you performed it at a school assembly, you received a standing ovation from your peers and the parents in the audience. How did it feel?
JASON: It’s a great feeling, obviously, to feel accepted. I’m lucky because I haven’t had many situations where I don’t feel accepted by at least one person. I haven’t had a lot of experience with rejection. I’ve received good reactions about the song. People say I make them happy which is great to hear. That’s what I want people to feel from the song.
PY: It’s been only two years since you began your transition. Writing a song like “Shakily Soaring” has to come from a place of feeling well-adjusted with who you are. What do you attribute it to?
JASON: Having a supportive family is something I do not take for granted because a lot of people do not have that support. I’m definitely very fortunate because it has made everything go more smoothly. Going to Lurie Children’s Hospital’s Sex & Gender Clinic is also helping me.
PY: When did you realize you didn’t have to give into the pressure to figure out who you are?
JASON: I sort of found out really quickly because I haven’t had much experience with a lot of questioning. Not everyone gets it right away. It’s difficult to figure out.
PY: What advise do you have for young people dealing with their gender identity?
JASON: It’s okay to question. I think people tend to feel pressured to know who they are and it’s a natural human reaction to be questioning. Everyone does it. Don’t feel pressure to discover who you are right away. It’s okay to not know who you are, or what you are. Take risks and don’t be afraid to be yourself.