A man’s take on how to make a safe and thoughtful transition
Miami and Baltimore – Urban Health Media Project reporter Vanessa Falcon, a high school student from Miami, interviewed Arin Jayes, 30, of Baltimore, about her gender identity journey and her experience transitioning to a non-binary trans man. Jayes, a behavioral health therapist, is also an urban farmer and an embroidery artist.
Question: How did your transition process go? Was it very difficult overall? Why? How long did it last?
A: As a non-binary person, I have a flexible view of how individuals develop their gender identity. It is something that can evolve throughout a person’s life, depending on their experiences; changes in personal values ââand relationships; bodily changes; and other factors. Gender identity also intersects and interacts with many other identities, such as race, ethnicity, physical ability or disability, sexual orientation, and class.
For many trans people, the gender transition process is permanent and never-ending! Pronouns can change multiple times (hence the “pronoun check” messages we see on Facebook). Likewise, physical changes or adjustments can occur over the years, rather than all at the same time. I mention this before I touch on my own story because it is important to normalize the idea of ââflexible and changing genres. After all, gender is a social construct designed to categorize people. When we consider gender on a continuum, we can recognize a galaxy of gender journeys that a person can take.
My own transition is a prime example. I came out as a genderqueer in 2012, and have used the pronouns “they / them” exclusively. In 2015, after further soul-searching, I realized that I wanted to live in a more masculine body. I revealed myself to my family and friends as a non-binary trans male, using the pronouns “he” and making a physical transition. I made this decision realizing that I was not in transition because I identified as a “man” per se, but felt more comfortable in a body that had more masculine characteristics. Since the physical transition seven years ago, I’ve passed for a man about 90% of the time. (Masks can sometimes make it harder for trans people!) When people ask me today what my gender is, I just say “non-binary” and my pronouns are “him or them – so be it.” I am inclined to present myself as a woman or a man as I want on any day, and be as gay as I want. It can be tempting to present in a more conventionally masculine or feminine way, because sometimes it’s just easier (less questions, comments or worse). But if I have learned anything from COVID-19, it’s that the weather is not guaranteed, and we need to consider what makes life worth living, and embrace it. Every time Pride Month rolls around, I re-commit to my true self. But this year it seems all the more important.
Question: Throughout the transition journey, many clients are made aware of the possible negative side effects. Even though you’ve heard of it, you still decided to make the switch. Why?
A: The decision to make the transition was one of the most important and difficult decisions I have ever made. Like many trans people, I didn’t initially know what it meant to be transgender. I had to do a lot of research, soul searching, and support group work before I realized that being transgender described how I felt. When deciding to make a physical transition, a person can research the changes they may be going through, talk to others who have gone through similar changes, and seek individual or group therapy for support. I decided to make the physical transition after weighing my options based on the information I gathered, the changes I wanted, and my financial budget.
Fortunately, there is a lot of information and help available. Trans people are resourceful and do a lot to support and inform our communities. For example, there are many databases developed by trans people for trans people that allow you to examine different surgeons or health care providers; compare photos or results of surgeries; and share resources and educational information on physical transition. Many community mental health centers have legal clinics that help people navigate the name change and gender marker process.
One side effect that I didn’t fully understand prior to my transition was the significant impact that being transgender has on the way we navigate the world. It affects where we go to school and receive health care, even the streets we choose to walk late at night. In a job interview, we often feel the urge to think, “Will people here accept me?” Will there be a toilet that I can use safely? As a white person and adjacent to the male, my navigation in the world is privileged on the basis of white supremacist systems. I won’t forget for a second the trans women of color who paved the way for us to seek justice; their leadership – and that of their successors in our movements – must be recognized.
Question: Did you have, or do you currently have, any regrets about the transition?
A: I think the question is, “How do you know you’re sure?” This is a question I asked myself many times as I envisioned making irreversible (or at least, not easily reversible) changes to my body. My answer to that is: I didn’t really know it was right until I did. It may sound drastic or scary. One might ask, “Why the hell would you do something so permanent if you weren’t sure?” But it took a leap of faith. And, as a person that’s been there, I can tell if it’s not right, you know. It is important to have confidence in yourself and in your bodily autonomy. Also, if you decide to stop your physical transition, you don’t need to think of it as a âde-transitionâ. The path of your gender journey is unique to you. You call the shots.
Question: How did the transition help you and your self-image? How did this affect your self-esteem and mental health?
A: Much of what is written about trans people focuses on the challenges of being trans. While I said deciding to make the transition was one of the biggest and most difficult decisions I’ve ever made, it was also one of the best I’ve ever made. I love being trans! Trans people are unique, creative and resilient. Trans culture is rooted in grassroots community organization. It is humbling to think of all the incredible thinkers, writers and artists who have taken this journey. I have had the privilege of meeting so many amazing trans people who remind me of the power of our community.
Question: What advice would you give to others who wish to follow the path you have taken?
A: Despite what society tells you about body and gender, there are no rules! You don’t have to justify or explain to anyone your decision to make the switch. You are in the driver’s seat. Your body belongs to you and no one else. You will live in your body for the rest of your life. Therefore, you decide under what terms you will occupy it.
This article is part of our 2021 Youth Pride issue in partnership with Urban Health Media.