In ONCE A GIRL, ALWAYS A BOY, Jo Ivester tells the story of her transgender son Jeremy through alternating perspectives of the Ivester family, including chapters from Jeremy that are based on the video journals he kept throughout his transition journey. From a young age, Jo and her husband noticed that Jeremy was partial to clothing and activities that society viewed as masculine; he called himself a tomboy. But as his preteen and teen years came to pass, he understood that label didn’t fit him at all. In his early twenties, Jeremy began his transition, adopting his new name and eventually undergoing top surgery. ONCE A GIRL, ALWAYS A BOY is “a multifaceted, rich, and moving exploration of the trans experience.” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review). We will talk with Jeremy’s mother Jo, possibly together with Jeremy himself, about the personal aspects of the journey, sharing support and the inner growth of the family together and as individuals. How has advocacy become a common bond?
Jo Ivester is an author and speaker, focusing on LGBTQ & civil rights advocacy. Her books include the award-winning memoir The Outskirts of Hope (2015, She Writes Press) and family memoir Once A Girl, Always a Boy (April 2020, She Writes Press). She addresses a wide range of audiences, from small book clubs to entire schools, using her personal stories as a means to make people more comfortable with those who are different from them with regard to race, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identification.Leave a comment for radio show guests
Have you ever stopped to think about yourself and your story? If someone were to write your memoir what would it say? We all seek some level of authenticity but have trouble removing the labels and finding our whole story. Welcome to Dropping In with Diane Dewey. In this program we’ll explore diverse stories on identity to help determine what is truly yours. Now here is your host Diane Dewey.
Diane: Welcome to the show everyone. Wow so excited today to extend our thanks to Jo Ivester who wrote with her family the memoir Once a Girl, Always a Boy just published by She Writes Press. Jo thank you for dropping in.
Jo: Thank you very much for having me.
Diane: Let me give a little intro to everyone who might not know you. They may know you because you’ve written another book. Jo Ivester is an author and speaker focusing on LGBTQ and civil rights advocacy. Her books include the award-winning memoir the Outskirts of Hope published in 2015 also by She Writes Press and the family memoir Once a Girl, Always a Boy published April 2020. She addresses a wide range of audiences from small book clubs to entire schools using her personal stories as a means to make people more comfortable with those who are different from them with regard to race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identification.
I think this is so important Jo, this mission and I call this book in my own mind’s eye the space between the tolerances for ambiguity in a society that always wants oversimplified answers. I just congratulate you and your family for working with Jeremy in the space between. I think that it does take a family. There are memoirs of struggle with gender identity but this one fully integrates the family and all members of the family contributed to it particularly Jeremy, Jo and her husband John very much in your own words.
I’m going to give a brief about the book so that people have a little background. Once a Girl, Always a Boy, Jo Ivester tells the story of her transgender son Jeremy through alternating perspectives of the Ivester family including chapters from Jeremy that are based on the video journals he kept throughout his transition journey. From a young age Jo and her husband noticed that Jeremy was partial to clothing and activities that society viewed as masculine. He called himself a tomboy but as his pre-teen and teen years came to pass he understood that labels didn’t fit him at all.
In his early twenties Jeremy began his transition adopting his new name and eventually undergoing top surgery. Once a Girl, Always a Boy is “a multifaceted rich and moving exploration of the trans experience.” this from Kirkus Reviews starred review. I just want to also include Jeremy here. Jeremy and his bio because I feel his presence very much in the book and because he has now become the keynote speaker at the Texas Transgender Non-discrimination Summit and the Austin Anti-defamation League’s Teen Summit. He addresses students and community groups about what it’s like to grow up trans in Texas and Colorado. He attended classes at the University of Colorado as a math major and provides daycare for his nieces and nephews and works as a barista.
When not taking care of babies or creating coffee drinks he spends his time drawing, writing songs and snowboarding. All wonderful creative projects. Congratulations Jo that you’ve enabled Jeremy to find his way and to become himself.
Jo: Thank you very much. I think my husband and I were able to create the environment, the setting, the support so that he could do that but apparently it’s just been incredible to watch him as he has figured everything out because we did not have the vocabulary, the language, the understanding to know what was going on. It all came from him and we followed his lead. He’s a remarkable young man. I’m very proud of him.
Diane: You should be. He’s quite a pioneer. I think the fact that you didn’t have the language, the words, the ready explanations makes this book all the more human. The passage of time, my personal appreciation of the book is about the continuum and the sort of, the space between and this kind of natural processing, the back and forth that you went through. I think you can feel it in Jeremy’s mind. There’s a lot of wonderful dialogue of Jeremy even with himself that he includes and faithfully from the videos that he made. I think that this, it reads like a diary almost. It’s a very personal, authentic account. I think the fact that there weren’t the ready labels and the overnight transition it makes it that much more relatable, understandable and even more helpful as a guide I would say to people who may be experiencing some of these questions themselves or within their family.
I want to just dive right in and first also give myself a little, I too Jo have not always had the awareness that you’ve brought and Jeremy through telling his story has brought. I’m going to attempt to be accurate and please feel free to jump in and correct me where I need to have a refined and just more refined understanding. Jeremy to get right to the heart of it. Jeremy at age 22 is talking with his brother Ben, his older brother Ben. There’s now three brothers Jeremy, Ben and Sammy. Sammy’s classmate Mark has declared himself a girl. Jeremy is age 22.
Here’s the dialogue from the book. Jeremy says if Mark says he’s a man then he’s a man. I, Jeremy tried again. His chromosomes don’t define his gender just his biology. That’s what I’m saying Ben said. Biologically she’s a girl. Right Sammy added if you don’t have a dick you’re not a guy. Then Jeremy has to go back and say when he kept talking biology instead of gender I felt as if he dismissed me. Like I didn’t know what I was talking about. That hurt because what we were talking about was me. I think there there’s so many layers the biological, the chromosomal, the identification and where it comes from. That must have taken some getting used to for you as well.
Jo: It did and one of the things that got in my way is I thought I understood when I didn’t. For my own background and childhood I was a tomboy very much so. Some people would have said I was an extreme tomboy and friends of my parents asked if they were worried about me though they didn’t really define what that meant but I like Jeremy preferred the toys and games that our society thinks of as masculine. I would prefer my hair short. I would prefer my brother’s hand me down clothes for wearing a dress but I never said I’m a boy. I never felt as if I were a boy and that was a very, very major distinction but because I’ve had that childhood experience I thought I knew what Jeremy was going through when I didn’t. In some ways that actually put up a barrier to our understanding and communication. We had to get past that.
Diane: It’s that well-intentioned empathy. I know how you feel when we don’t. We can’t. I think that layering really what you just said it really is so helpful and revealing because it’s really all of these nuances that make me understand for once that every one of these journeys is unique. It really comes through in this book where I really needed to appreciate the questioning phase which was extended in Jeremy’s life. Tell us about the span of time and the questioning.
Jo: I would say going back to preschool, to only three or four years old we could already see in Jeremy the what I would call boyish behavior to use our societal stereotypical terminology. We didn’t know that he liked it if he was mistaken for a boy. I used the word mistaken and for a boy cautiously because I’m trying to avoid the labels but for purposes of communication I’m adopting some of societal way of speaking.
Going back to that time there’s a short passage in the book where I describe how for a variety of reasons I ended up giving him a very, very short haircut. For preschoolers their interpretation of gender is based on hair. If they see a kid with long hair they assume it’s a girl until they learn otherwise and with short hair they assume it’s a boy. Here’s this little kid who they’ve met with longest hair and by the name Emily. They say this is a little girl. Then Jeremy shows up with short hair and all day at school his little four-year-old friends were saying wait are you a girl or a boy. It was important to them to understand.
When Jeremy told me about this I asked him what he said and he told me he didn’t answer because he was enjoying being properly gendered as a boy. It was the beginning of our starting to understand that Jeremy saw things differently and felt things and experienced things differently from the way that my husband and I did. Through his early childhood it was actually really easy because we were very accepting of him presenting himself and expressing gender however he wanted. We didn’t find it difficult to say yes, you can wear whatever clothes you want to wear, wear your hair however you want to wear it.
If you want to go by Em instead of Emily we’re fine with that. We just wanted him to be comfortable. At family gatherings we would have a dress for him and he would put the dressers on and clearly not be comfortable in them but he didn’t make an issue out of it. He didn’t throw with sand from or say no, I shouldn’t be wearing a dress or I want to wear a suit like my big brother. That just wasn’t part of our experience and I know it has been for other families with trans children. I think it’s real important to realize that every trans individual’s journey is different and that we are talking about individuals.
Where things really got tougher was when Jeremy hit puberty. His body started to do things that he didn’t want and that as a child he hadn’t really thought about the fact that society viewed him as a girl meant that also he was going to grow into physically a woman. When I say physically meaning the sexual characteristics of not having his voice get lower and developing a chest. Then when that started to happen it was devastating for him.
Diane: Yes, that must have been painful.
Jo: We never know it and he never complained.
Diane: Well there’s the really lovely aspect of Jeremy’s personality where not because you were being oppressive but just because of the kind of person that he is and also the uncertainty that he was feeling. He wanted to please. I mean he writes the song I’m Fine. I’m fine. I’m always fine. Who cannot relate to that? It’s something that we say when we are afraid. We don’t really know how to express our truth yet. It’s very difficult. I think you are not making it harder but it’s just hard. It just is hard. It’s confusing.
I think I wondered if you felt that once Jeremy became inquisitive that the internet helped him see some other trans journeys. I have to think that that’s very reassuring somehow but that kids that went through this in another generation couldn’t see any outcome, couldn’t see…
Jo: They had no role models.
Diane: No role models. Where will this go? I also wondered in your description just now, I remember the botched haircut and then you fixed it and that pixie was quite short. Jeremy went to school and then seized on that emotionally connected and resonated with this opportunity to be mistaken as a boy. I wonder if it’s different now given the sort of I don’t want to say acceptance because that sounds conscious but I mean kids they don’t really differentiate unless it’s been imposed on them. Do you think it’s easier? Do you think there’s more tolerance at the school, at the grade school level or younger level now or was it very dramatically black and white and it remains that way binary?
Jo: I think it varies tremendously from school to school depending on how supportive the teachers and administrators are because kids do take their lead from the adults around them. If an elementary school teacher for example routinely says okay all the boys line up here, all the girls line up here as they head out to the playscape for recess then that’s a very different underlying message than the teacher that says everybody line up. We are trying when I say we, the various advocacy groups like the human rights campaign or the Equality Texas or GLSEN Camp, the Education Network of Texas trying to let schools know that they can change their vocabulary and the way they conduct the classroom to avoid making gender a big deal.
In some classrooms it’s just the kids get to just be themselves and in other classrooms they are not allowed to be themselves. You see the whole running the gamut and then by the time you get to a little bit older there’s the question of the school having a policy where kids can use the restroom that they feel most comfortable in. You get high school and you have the sports teams that are broken up by designated female and male. You have some systems that, some school systems that have been at the forefront of acceptance like Broward County in Florida or the Los Angeles Unified School District. For 10 years they’ve basically said we’re not going to discriminate based on gender identification.
If a student athlete says I’m a girl then they use the girls’ locker room, they play on the girls’ sports teams, they use the girls’ bathrooms. They as far as the school is concerned that’s a girl. They haven’t had any problems and that’s the largest or one of the largest school districts in the country.
Diane: That feels like a huge triumph like I sort of got goosebumps. That just feels huge and I think also you alighted on sports. Sports was kind of a salvation I think in some ways for Jeremy although there was this awkwardness of identifying binary teams. Then Jeremy won the best all-around female athlete award which for which he was terribly proud but by that time he was already not able to play with the guys, the guy kids on the football team that he played with and there’s so much sadness that starts to encroach on him and the sense of it did change with puberty. It became that’s when the sort of divergence started to happen.
I also have to think what you’re saying is absolutely true Jo about the schools. You go into this in quite a bit about in your book Once a Girl, Always a Boy that it also depends quite a bit on location. The culture of Colorado was very different for Jeremy than let’s say Dallas or now Austin. I mean I think those are still very persistent divisive lines, cultural lines right where there’s pockets of tolerance and understanding and then voila we’re out in the world that we’re facing right now where there’s such high contrast.
When I read that passage about the biological differences and chromosomal and how a person identifies that’s a conversation that could happen among adults in this country in certain places for the lack of awareness. I’ve read…yes, it’s so distressing. I don’t want to put you completely on the spot because I’m going to ask you a big question but I read that for every like for example Angela Merkel or Justin de Artem or the really sound thinking, rational sort of scientifically based leaders there are obviously right-wing neo-conservatives. As we’ve seen in our own country, as you saw in advocating for the bathroom law that was then rescinded and granted. I mean please, can we just get to this place where this is allowed.
I guess my big question to you because I think it’s just the hardest one to fathom right now in the outer world anyway is where are things swinging in this, where would you say we are on our own continuum here. Are we moving toward or away from tolerance?
Jo: I think not to be dodging the question but I think we’re doing both at the same time. I think that under the former administration, under the Obama administration our laws and our guidance to schools was all absolutely moving to a more accepting setting. When the attorney general says I see you to all of the transgender individuals in the country that was huge. That was really the start of legal acceptance and protection.
Right now at the national level we’ve swung the other way. We now have a case before the Supreme Court. We don’t know how they’re going to rule with Amy Stevens who just passed away but an employee that had worked for an organization for years. Amy was a transgender woman and when she said I’m going to live my true self. I’m going to show up at work and be called Amy and wear a dress if I feel like wearing a dress. She was fired. That case has made it all the way to the Supreme Court. They’ve had where sometime this June we will get answers from the Supreme Court. I’m not at all confident because at the national level we’ve gotten more conservative. It will swing in the other direction again and this will be a blip.
On the personal level…
Diane: I’m going to ask you guys hold up. I’m going to ask you to hold up there. If you can hold your thought please. We need to stop or hit pause there for a commercial break. I do want to hear your thoughts at a personal level. This inquiry is incredibly important. Don’t go away. We’ll be right back on Dropping In with Jo Ivester.
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Diane: Welcome back everyone. We’re here with Jo Ivester, the author along with her family. It’s a family memoir. Really a beautiful thing that everyone’s voices chimed in. the book is called Once a Girl, Always a Boy. It’s just out from She Writes Press. It’s available wherever books are sold. I would urge you to get your hands on it. It’s an extremely important document, documentary almost of witnessing the questioning of Jeremy as he transgendered.
We’ve been speaking with Jo about the larger political landscape but Jo you were just about to offer us your thoughts in terms of personal reflections on how things are swinging at this point on the continuum of acceptance and tolerance versus the opposite divisiveness, hatred. Where do you see things at this point?
Jo: Thanks Diane. Actually your comments about why people need to read my book actually feeds into, it’s a great segue into what I wanted to say about acceptance on a personal level. On the political side we’ve said that we have been moving in a more accepting direction and then it’s been swinging back but I do believe we will start making progress again.
On a personal level I think that when people know someone like Jeremy or as I sometimes put it when they have a Jeremy in their life it becomes easier to be accepting. As a society we accepted gay marriage, a majority of the population supported gay marriage as the law of the land when a very high percentage of the population knew a gay couple that wanted to be married or that had been together for years without being married and said my gosh, of course they should be allowed to get married.
A switch happened fairly quickly but it didn’t happen until we have the awareness. I think once we get to that point and we’re maybe 15, 20 years behind acceptance of gay marriage but when we do get to that point then I think we will get acceptance. I think that when transgender individuals or people that loved someone transgender in their family or their close circle write about it and talk about it that’s what’s going to build that awareness which will in turn build the acceptance.
Now I think real quickly I wanted to comment on something that I think is a little bit further behind that we haven’t touched on yet and that is for gender non-conforming individuals or non-binary individuals. It was a huge leap in my understanding to realize that the child I thought was a daughter was actually my son but some parents that I talked to are realizing that the child they thought of their daughter is neither their son or their daughter but maybe both or something in between but that labels don’t work at all. I think that that’s going to require even greater awareness developing to gain acceptance because people like to have labels.
Diane: Unfortunately. The concept of ambiguity is so difficult to hold space for. Holding space is sort of the essence of this. It’s the essence in your story in your book Once a Girl, Always a Boy because you just have to witness the questioning, the process. I think because Jeremy was very process oriented and he talks about having little baby steps I think that this makes it much more, it’s just something that makes it much more as we’re absorbing it as readers it’s almost like it’s unfolding in real time which is really very powerful in terms of how we experience Jeremy’s trans journey.
I think what you’re talking about is much more profound. There is the notion that our language has been too limited all along and that this concept of people trying to grow into what is there set before them is just maybe the real misconception. One of the labels that I think might have been harder to adjust to you tell me in the book is Jeremy declaring that he is a romantic. That is that he is not experiencing what I would say is he’s not experiencing one-on-one relationships. It seemed to me again, tell me if this is untrue but it seemed to me that once Jeremy started to transition he became much more connected to people, his friendships deepened, his relationships deepened and yet I think I didn’t see in the book and it’s certainly personal and none of my business anyway but I think that there’s a definition there, there’s all of these societal absolutes that get broken down in the book. One is that we have to be relationship driven.
Jo: I think that’s true and I think it’s been an evolution for Jeremy. When he didn’t understand who he was himself and when he started to understand what was in denial because he didn’t want to disappoint anybody and he didn’t want to deal with change and it was terrifying and kind of froze him is the word that he used. I’m frozen. When he was at that point relationships were really difficult. His being able to move forward and saying I’m Jeremy. I’m a man. I’m he has I think you’re correct enabled him to have much deeper friendships and relationships. Frankly, I don’t know what the future holds for him. The definitions that we talked about when he was in his late teens and early 20s about asexuality and be romantic were very important at the time but I don’t know what the future will be. I just have to constantly tell myself don’t worry about labels. They don’t matter. Just Jeremy is who he is and he will figure things out. I will trust him.
Diane: I think the trust is the key ingredient. I think it actually points out we really don’t know where we’re going. It’s just that the predictable path is that’s the one that gets ingrained. We’re on different neural pathways now. It seems to me that you mentioned when Jeremy elected to have top surgery, that is the removal of his breasts and you went along as support for him which was just a lovely passage in the book. One of my favorites where you’re making the matzo ball soup. I can’t think of anything more nourishing and nurturing than to go back to comfort food, familiar roots and offer this to him as comfort and solace during the physical pain.
You questioned, I think you kept it real Jo in the book. You questioned yourself when this surgery was chosen by Jeremy that you wondered where will this journey end. It’s so interesting because we never know where the journey is going to end. Someone in the family gets married we don’t know if they’ll divorce. We don’t know. I think that you live with a greater degree of uncertainty maybe because the paradigm has shifted. We’re now in another world but I think you say trust. I think that trusting in your child or trusting into even an adult who stands up and says I’ve lived with this far too long. I want to make a change. I agree with you that having somebody in your family, your life, your community and actually through this book.
I hate to be proprietary but I feel as though I know a bit of Jeremy and that he is now in my sphere of persons, known persons. It’s a question I guess I have for you also. Jeremy, his photograph is on the front cover. He’s quite good looking and there’s another photograph of him completely awesome looking in the back of the book by his bio and one where he’s holding his knees. What’s it like and we could have asked Jeremy this and I don’t know if you feel comfortable speaking for him. You’re comfortable in public speaking and advocacy. What’s it been like for him do you think to also transition from a very private person to a more public person? Is that a comfortable role do you think?
Jo: I think that Jeremy is a very private person. He’s an introvert but he sees the value of what we’re doing. He gave me permission before I ever started working on the book to go ahead and write the book. He knew he trusted me when we talk about trust, he trusted me when I said if at any point you say you want me to stop the whole project I would do so. He got to approve every word. the sections that were in his voice where I started used as a starting point his videos but then went beyond that and there was editing and combining. He got back all of that material and was able to make changes and say no, I wouldn’t have said it that way. I would have said it this way. Everyone in the family when I interviewed them and then wrote their voices everybody had the opportunity to do that. It really I think made the result much stronger.
The public speaking aspect of it he’s very naturally good at it. He gets up in front of an audience and people want to like him. He’s very relaxed and it’s worked. When it works the interaction with the audience, the energy exchange is it’s a fantastic feeling. I mean you’re a performer with radio. You probably recognize what I’m saying, the feeling when you know your audience is with you and responding is just this incredible surge of just feeling good. I love it as a performer and I think Jeremy’s figured out that it’s kind of neat. He looks forward to the opportunities to speak but he doesn’t want it to take over his life.
For me devoting my time to advocacy work and public speaking has become a really big deal. I spend a lot of time visiting schools or I used to. I will again once the pandemic is in our rearview mirror but I love going out and speaking with community groups and with student groups and classes and sometimes whole schools or social justice organizations. Jeremy will kind of pick and choose and he will do maybe about one out of four times that I get out there. He’ll join me and he loves it when he does it and he’s good at it but it’s not his life. He’s at 30 years old now. He’s just wanting to do what he does with his time like so many 30 year olds.
Diane: I so understand that in the sense of even the word transgender it’s almost transactional. You have to explain that there was, it explains in and of itself there was a past. I have to think that there is an urge to some days just get up and be in the present moment be who you are at that moment Jeremy and just go forward. I can certainly understand the balance of wanting to just be and also then to bear witness for other people. As you say that plasma that you get from connecting with others it’s in short supply right now but I think it’s palpable. Even on radio it’s palpable, the connection.
I think that that energy it does propel us forward. I wondered it’s a very important moment now because we are shut down but this search, I think the intensity of the search it may be that people are really asking themselves more and more who do I want to be when this is all over and who am I really because who am I is the big question. We’ve kind of got to answer it for ourselves. It’s not like there’s going to be a before and after or there is because there will be science and there will be a vaccine but we’ll come out of this I like to think that people are going to want to be truer to themselves and a book like this it couldn’t be timelier in terms of those kinds of quests because the inner deliberations are so transparent in Jeremy’s voice and yours and John’s, your husband’s. I think the fact that you were so inclusive of your family in the writing it also allowed for this experience to become bonding for you. I mean as a family how does it feel?
Jo: Oh absolutely. The whole process of generating a book was a family undertaking and it generated conversations that may have taken years to have without the push of getting the book done. That conversation that you had quoted from when the brothers were out shooting baskets in the driveway and this was before Jeremy was being viewed as a brother and was being viewed as a sister. That conversation in which his older brother and younger brother to a lesser extent were talking about this classmate and how difficult it was and kind of unfair.
That was an incredibly difficult moment for Jeremy because even though his brothers didn’t know they were talking about Jeremy, Jeremy felt like they were and a barrier went up. That influenced their relationship for quite a while. Then when I wrote about it based on the conversation after it that Jeremy and I had and then reinterviewing him years later and I shared it with the brothers they said wait, that’s not what I meant. Wait, it wasn’t like that. I would never want to hurt Jeremy. We were able to work through what the different perceptions were of the exact same conversation. That’s a tremendous opportunity to bond. It’s just been this this incredible process as a result.
Diane: I have to think that it’s also preparation for comments that we’re going to hear on the outside. People are going to say these kinds of things, express these kinds of misunderstandings. I wondered if you and this, it almost pains me just to even say this. I wonder if you ever fear for Jeremy’s safety.
Jo: I really don’t in general. There is terrible violence toward the transgender community where people have been murdered. It has largely been transgender women of color. That community has been preyed upon. It is senseless and it is ongoing. It’s heartbreaking. Jeremy is not a part of that. Now when I did worry about him was when he first moved to Dallas. He moved to a part of town that is known throughout town including by inhabitants of the neighborhood because there’s a very high percentage of LGBTQ population there. It’s a magnet for the gay population with accepting restaurants and bars and apartment complexes. The LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce has space in the building where Jeremy was renting, his apartment.
It’s a real wonderful community in Dallas. Someone, a few years back started stalking individuals coming out of bars and beating them up. There were a couple of deaths. I worried when Jeremy moved there. It wasn’t because he’s transgender but because someone was preying on the overall gay community.
Diane: I think it looks like we need to take a commercial break again. I’m sorry to interrupt this conversation. I feel very strongly that you brought to light a lot of important statistics, the 40% statistic is the one we’ll delve into when we come back Jo. Don’t go away. We’re Dropping In with Jo Ivester, author together with her family of Once a Girl, Always a Boy. We’ll be right back.
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Diane: Welcome back everyone. We’re talking with Jo Ivester who is a mother and an author of a memoir called Once a Girl, Always a Boy about the transgender journey of her son Jeremy. We’ve just been talking about some of the horrific experiences of some on the gender questioning spectrum. Specifically, I wanted to just touch on what you brought out in the book Jo that there is an abnormally high rate of self-harm that is 40 percent of transgender people have actually attempted suicide. Such a fact that brings sadness.
To this point is it mostly the rejection experience through family, friends, society in general possibly employers, homelessness occurs? I mean this whole spiral that occurs do you think in some part it originates with the acceptance of rejection at the basic fundamental family level?
Jo: It’s an excellent really complicated question. The statistic based on research and surveys done a few years ago is that over 40 percent of transgender teenagers have tried to take their lives. It’s just a very difficult statistic to think about. One aspect of it is that if you are transgender and your outward body does not match who you feel you are inside you have what’s called gender dysphoria. That’s the medical term for it. It is extremely difficult to deal with and it can create anxiety and depression. It can lead to suicidal thoughts at the extreme. It is something that has to be addressed.
For a child whose family is rejecting any possibility that they are transgender the thoughts get, the difficulties of gender dysphoria can be exacerbated. When parents are accepting and a community is accepting and a school is accepting the percentages do drop significantly. That’s not to say that that it doesn’t happen regardless because gender dysphoria is really hard to deal with but acceptance is the major way of improving those numbers.
The 40 interestingly is also the number that’s the percent of youth who are homeless because they are somewhere on the LGBTQ spectrum and have been kicked out by their families. I’ve met youth that have both tried to take their lives. I have met youth who have been thrown out by their families or their church and have lived on the streets or have couch surfed. I want to just embrace them and tell them well here’s a mom who cares.
One of the most moving moments that I’ve experienced is when I’ve had the opportunity to meet with youth whether it’s in person or texting or by phone or email that have expressed this rejection and that are just so eager to grab on to an adult who’s being supportive.
Diane: You become almost like a universal mom kind of really extending your arms.
Jo: In one case an individual who just wanted someone, a mom type as he put it to call him by his true name on his birthday. I made a note of it. I sent him a text message on his birthday saying happy birthday. I’ll never know whether he even really saw the note but I had to do that.
Diane: It’s recognition. It’s just recognition at a very fundamental level of our identity. I thought there were several very nuanced levels to it in terms of Jeremy’s gender dysphoria because he talked about he realized at a certain point hey it’s not just that I want to look masculine. It’s that I want to identify this way. It’s going beyond. Then when he was going to come out as a trans that’s another level. There’s all these plateaus and thresholds that a person is going through and fortunately Jeremy had it sounded like excellent counselling but the gender dysphoria can kind of swarm over your life because well Jeremy had this friend Colin who I think was my hero in addition to your family but Colin says maybe it was just too hard to work at your classes when you had all this other stuff going on. That’s his quote in the book.
I think to myself how understanding, how generous to offer that space to Jeremy because it has to be incredibly disruptive to your thought process to have all of this unresolved miasma going on. I think appreciating gender dysphoria that’s a huge contribution right there. I think asking ourselves to allow people to have their own definition of what constitutes happiness it’s really at the heart of it but I think that here’s a huge contribution that you’ve made by this book.
There’s a certain passage that I ended up thinking about with Jeremy and especially it’s really not literally about being trans but I hope you’ll forgive me for that but it’s from the poet David Whyte who wrote a poem called Mameen. It appears in his collection of poems River Flow. I just quote from it briefly. “Remember the way you are all possibilities. You can see and how you live best as an appreciator of horizons whether you reach them or not. Admit that once you’ve gotten up from your chair and opened the door, once you have walked out into the clean air towards that edge and taken the path high up beyond the ordinary you have become the privilege and the pilgrim, the one who will tell the story and the one coming back from the mountain who helped make it.”
I couldn’t help but think about Jeremy having gotten up from that chair and really beginning the conversation that was hugely brave but I also thought there was also that sense of performance anxiety. Be an appreciator of horizons whether you reach them or not. So many concepts that we have had to get busted up for to allow for a true search. I mean you had to become very open yourselves.
Jo: Well I love that passage. It’s very meaningful and I consider it an honor that that the passage makes you think of Jeremy and vice versa.
Diane: It’s something that I think he is a pilgrim and he can speak. I’m so delighted that it’s something that gives him energy. Another thing and this is on a much lighter note but I just found it to be hysterical is now okay we’ve got Jeremy. He’s transitioned. He’s now a male and he finds out about male power and patriarchy. “It isn’t fair that suddenly I have all this power. It’s just ingrained in our society. I ended up with something I never asked for white male privilege.” it’s just hysterical. I see this now and I’ve enjoyed our conversation so much. It’s just blown by but I see that we’re really at the very end. I hope that you’ve enjoyed.
Jo: I have enjoyed this tremendously. You’ve asked wonderful questions. I hope that your listeners have felt like they’ve gotten a chance to get to know Jeremy a little bit.
Diane: You can find Jo Ivester on Facebook at Jo Ivester Author. Facebook for Jeremy Ivester. Twitter Jo Ivester and the website JoIvester.com. The book Once a Girl, Always a Boy out now from She Writes Press. Thanks so much for being with us on Dropping In. stay well and hopeful everyone. Thanks Jo and thanks for dropping in.
Thank you so much for dropping in. Please join Diane Dewey again next Friday at 8 AM Pacific Time and 11 AM Eastern Time on the Voice America Variety Channel. We’ll see you then.