RadioActive Youth Media
12:25 pm
Mon October 14, 2013

They Once Called This Teenage Girl A Boy

When Jennifer looks in a mirror, she sees bigger hips and a smaller waist than several months ago. At 16, she's like other high school girls, in that she worries about her looks and frets about a "weird smile" and her dirty blonde hair. But she loves her new figure.

Jen used to feel strange about her body: "Not necessarily out of place, just weird I guess. Like, something was off but you couldn’t quite put a name to it. And it wasn’t something that was like, 'Oh my god, if I don’t fix this, I am going to kill myself.' No it wasn’t that, it was more of, 'Why is something wrong?'"

That's because Jen is a transgirl. That means she was born physically male, but she felt female. She and her parents asked RadioActive to not use her last name for her safety. 

When Jen first heard the word transgender at her church, she knew it described her. Then she told her friends.

They convinced her to come out to her parents and school.

When she first came out, she said she felt free.

"It’s like being let out of a very, small, tiny cage into a much bigger cage, but a cage nonetheless," she said.

For Jen to look the way she wanted, she would have to get her parents' permission to buy pricey hormones. She would also need a letter from a mental health care professional.

Another obstacle was her dad, whose initial lack of support made her want to give up.

"There wasn’t really a reaction," Jen said, "so much as an 'I’m not going to talk about this for a year or so, just please don’t bring it up to me.' It was more of avoidance than a reaction."

Jen’s dad refused to let her wear female clothing. As far as he was concerned, his 14-year-old son couldn't be a girl.

A year later, Jen tried to run away. Her father stopped her, and after that, he had a change of heart.

"It made him realize that if he didn’t change his actions then I can be gone the next day," Jen said. At the same time, she said he had started to come to a "general accepting of his inability to 'cure' me and that I wasn’t going to change my mind."

Jen is 16 now and takes four different kinds of medication daily. Two are estrogen, and two are testosterone suppressors. If she wants to look feminine, Jen will have to take this medication for the rest of her life.

She still has a penis, however, which has been a problem for Jen, an avid swimmer. She used to play water polo and dive for her school, but now she doesn’t feel comfortable in a swimsuit. "Before transition," she said, "you could barely get me out of the pool. Now, you can barely get me into the pool."

She also worries about dating.

"Say, I was dating someone and they presumed that I was female in every way," she said, "and then one day they found out from one of their friends. They would potentially be completely disgusted or feeling betrayed and lied to. I feel like I would have to open up to anyone that I am dating or going to date, like, very soon into the start of the relationship and the dating."

Physically, too, she has difficulty opening up to people. Since her body still doesn’t match her gender, Jen said she agonizes over it. "People still see me as male, because of you know, what’s down there. It doesn’t necessarily complicate dating itself, but say, if I wanted to have sex or they wanted to have sex, I would not really be able to reciprocate that to their pleasure, or mine. And things would get either very, very uncomfortable or very, very awkward."

Despite the stories she's read about trans women getting beaten up, raped, or killed, Jen doesn't regret her decision. By coming out, she hopes she’s opened the minds of her classmates, at least a little bit.

"I think I’ve kind of helped pave the way for them," she says, "by being that person that steps out and kind of giving off the aura of 'I don’t care what you say or think, I’m going to be me.'"

This story originally aired on September 2, 2013.

RadioActive is KUOW's youth radio program, and all the stories here are produced by young people age 16-21. Listen to RadioActive stories, subscribe to the RadioActive podcast and stay in touch on Facebook.