In high school, my sophomore classmates elected me class treasurer as Charles, but I knew Janet would reign. From Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More.
I was obsessed with The Velvet Rope for a year straight, letting Janet Jackson’s confessional lyrics lull me to sleep and comfort me when I felt lost. I felt that the album was the vehicle onto which Janet finally expressed her full self, her anger and pain, her fluid sexuality and passion. I loved her fiery red curls and her equally vibrant smile, features that the older girls said I had in common with the singer. I was deeply flattered when they nicknamed me Baby Janet, a name that stuck and that I took as my own. There’s power in naming yourself, in proclaiming to the world that this is who you are. Wielding this power is often a difficult step for many trans people, because it’s also a very visible one.
To announce your gender in name, dress, and pronouns in your school, place of work, neighborhood, and state is a public process, one in which trans people must literally petition authorities to approve name and gender marker changes on identification cards and public records. Becoming comfortable with your identity is step one; the next step is revealing that identity to those around you. As with medically transitioning, there are economic and legislative barriers that make it difficult for low-income trans people to make the public changes that align their lived and documented gender.
To legally change my name at fifteen would have required me to appeal to my mother to petition for my name change, pay the three-hundred- dollar-plus filing fees, and plead with my father in Dallas to cosign on something he had absolutely no knowledge of. So I postponed the legal process until I was eighteen and wielded the power of self-determination, announcing to my peers and my family that I would only answer to Janet and she and her pronouns.
Though I kept the fact that I was taking hormones a secret over the summer before my sophomore year, I was not hiding my dress, makeup, and longer hair from my family. Mom allowed me to spend my back-to-school clothing allowance on skirts, dresses, tight denim jeans, and tops. As long as I brought home good grades, I was in the clear. This was our informal, unspoken agreement. The only conversation we had was about my name and pronouns during that summer.
It had been nearly three years since I had sat down with my mother in our house in Kalihi and discussed my sexuality. I was now asking my family to embrace me as Janet. I realized even then that it would take them time to adapt. They slipped from time to time when it came to my name and pronouns, and I forgave those early slips because they were part of our collective growing pains. What mattered to me was that they loved me enough to go on the journey with me and willingly adapt their lives to mine. Though the changes were about me, I couldn’t deny they were also about my family, who reacted positively and grew accustomed at their own pace.
Photo Courtesy of Aaron Tredwell Photography