If you wish to be moved, then read on as our friends from Self share the story of a woman and her experience of becoming who she truly is.
I’d been living in stealth since I was 17 years old, mostly for safety reasons. Only my very close friends knew I was transgender. Even my own nieces and nephews had no idea, since they were born long after I transitioned. But then my story broke on the national news two years ago, and everything changed. I was in the gym, working out alone when I saw my picture on TV, and I just fell to the floor and cried. My life would never be the same, I thought. The world now knows me for who I really am.
Here’s what you didn’t see on the news: 35 years ago, I was born in a boy’s body, but from my earliest memories, I’ve always felt female. It’s hard to explain. It’s about more than just my love of Barbie dolls or my desire to be a cheerleader. It was an internal feeling. I had no name for it until I was 15 and saw my first transgender person on TV. She was on some horrible talk show, like Jerry Springer, but still, I recognized myself in her. Something clicked. The realization came as both a relief¡ªand a terror. I, of course, didn’t dare tell anyone.
School was difficult for me. I hated life, because I never belonged. My classmates would bully me all the time, because they thought I was gay. One day during my freshman year, after being pelted with rocks, I refused to go back. After three days of sitting at home, my parents finally sat me down in the kitchen and said, “None of us are getting up from this table until you tell us what’s going on.” For 20 minutes, we all sat together in silence, and then it all came pouring out of me. “I’m not gay,” I said. “I feel like I’m a woman.” I can’t tell you how lucky I am to have such incredibly supportive parents. My dad said that he’d known, since I was about 5 years old. They immediately transferred me to a more progressive school, where I finished out the year before getting my GED, and they also got me into therapy right away, which helped me process my feelings. My mom took me shopping in the teen girls’ department for all new clothes. She even bought me my first bikini.
At age 16, I officially changed my name to Chloie and started hormone therapy, which subtly changed my features, softening my face, raising my voice. Even though I was finally presenting as my true self, I still didn’t feel at home in my skin. It wasn’t that I was “trapped” in a male body. I was more repulsed by it. To me, having a penis made me feel disgusting, like, What is this thing?This is not supposed to be here. Gender reassignment surgery isn’t necessary for every transgender person, but it was for me, and at 25, I had mine. It came as a major relief to me, and once my testicles were gone, I saw my body change even more. I finally developed breasts, hips and a butt, and because I felt boobs were the ultimate sign of femininity at the time, I got implants, too.
This was a decade ago now. Times were different back then. To feel secure in my identity, I felt I needed to be high-femme all the time¡ªdainty and delicate. I never went out without wearing makeup, a short skirt and high heels. Very few people knew my history, and no one would have been able tell it from just looking at me or talking to me. Even my driver’s license and birth certificate listed my correct name and gender: Chloie J?nsson, Female.
I still had a touchy few years in there. I partied a lot, like everyone does in their twenties, but eventually, I traded late nights out for early mornings in the gym. In 2011, I’d discovered CrossFit, which pushed me in a way I’d never been pushed before. I loved everything about it: the workouts, the results, the community. The more I did it, the stronger I got and the fiercer I felt. Through CrossFit, I learned that being strong doesn’t make you masculine, just as being weak doesn’t make you feminine. In fact, the degree of your femininity has nothing to do with how much of a woman you are. There are so many different ways to be a woman. I’m 5’4″ and 150 pounds, and every day, I train with other women who are taller or shorter, stronger or weaker than me. Everybody is different.
Here’s the part of my story you may have seen on the news: My CrossFit team was training for the 2013 CrossFit Games. I’d assumed the regulations would be the same as the International Olympic Committee’s. That is, if you’ve had gender reassignment surgery more than two years ago, you’ve been on hormones a sufficient length of time to minimize gender-related advantages and you’ve changed your legal documents, you’re good to go. But after back-and-forth correspondence with CrossFit and after eventually outing myself to them, they told me that I had to compete as a man¡ªor not at all. [CrossFit maintains that being born as man, J?nsson is genetically male and retains certain physical characteristics (e.g., bone structure) that could give her an unfair advantage over cis-gendered (someone who identifies as the gender/sex they were assigned at birth) women. CrossFit also says that Ms. J?nsson “enjoys a physiological benefit conferred as a result of having gone through puberty as a male. This conveys significant physical and physiological advantages that even hormone therapy cannot erase.”]
Their response left me devastated. I feel I should be able to compete as a woman, simply because I am a woman¡ªexternally, internally and legally. I figured, if I can’t stand up for myself now, I’ll never be able to. It wasn’t an easy, or an immediate, decision, but I eventually sued CrossFit for my right to compete as a woman. I never expected it to be news, but it became this big thing and that’s how everyone found out that I’m transgender. My teammates rallied around me. My friends sent me supportive messages. My nieces and nephews just sort of shrugged. Kids today don’t care. Of course, I got a ton of hate mail, too. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t affect me, but I can’t be weighed down by what people who I don’t know think about me.
Meanwhile, I’m still training with my team, but the CrossFit Games have gone on without me, and my case is still pending. And while I feel more vulnerable than I ever have before, I’m no longer running from myself or anyone else. Win or lose, I’m happy to say that I’m finally able to own who I am¡ªall of me.
At SELF, we love stories of physical and personal transformation that depict people getting closer to living their happiest lives. There may be no better or more urgent example of this than the tales of challenge and fulfillment in the emergent transgender community. We wanted to share a few of these stories¡ªand add some insights about the shifting attitudes and policies that have shaped them¡ªin our new Transgender Now series. We hope you’ll be as moved by them as we were.
America’s Transgender RevolutionHow I Fight Through My Fears as a Transgender WomanBeing Transgender Nearly Cost Me My LifeImage Source: Self Magazine