It’s not often that we, as transgender people, get a chance to learn our history from the people who were there. As language and terminology continue to expand and change across decades, it seems the only real conversations that manifest between older and younger generations of LGBTQ+ people are heated debates about identity politics. This generational divide often keeps us bring building bridges across time and connecting with the past, present, and future of our community. Trans and queer people are so often disconnected from our own history that we often don’t know anything about the elders who came before us. This is especially true for trans men or transmasculine people who have rarely been visible throughout history.
That’s why we at FOLX sat down with Jamison Green and Jaden Fields to talk about gender, transitioning, visibility, and the intergenerational gap in our community. Jamison Green is a 73-year-old prominent transgender activist, author of the groundbreaking book “Becoming a Visible Man,” and former president of WPATH (the World Professional Association for Transgender Health). Jaden Fields is a 31-year-old transgender queer community activist and poet, who is currently the co-director at Mirror Memoirs, a storytelling project for QTBIPOC survivors of childhood sexual assault.
Jamison: My name is Jamison Green. I identify as a man of transsexual or transgender history, and I'm 73 years old.
Jaden: I’m Jaden Fields. I'm queer, trans, and 31 years old. My gender feels like it's Black, which means it's more expansive and encompassing than the current words we have for gender. Jamison, what was your experience like transitioning?
Jamison: I was born in 1948, so I grew up in the 50s. Transitioning was a very long process for me. I was very androgynous as a child. People would always ask me if I was a boy or a girl, so I was an outsider in that sense. There was no language in those days. By the time I started college in the mid-60s, I had come up with the term cross-gender to describe myself. I felt like there were wires crossed between my gender and my body, and I didn't know what I was going to do with that.
When I finally figured it out, I was in my early 30s and scared to death. I didn't actually start medically transitioning until one month before my 40th birthday. That was when I had my first injection of testosterone and from that point on, transitioning was phenomenally easy. I mean, there were awkward times, painful times, and moments of confusion (for other people, mostly). But I felt great. I felt natural, you know, for the first time.
What was it like for you to transition Jaden?
Jaden: I was born in 1990. As a kid, I was kind of a tomboy. I was able to do the girly thing pretty well, but I didn't like it. I would see my boy cousins being called “little gentlemen” by the older women at church. All I knew was that I wanted some beautiful woman to pat me on my head and call me “a little gentleman.”
But there was no representation of trans men that I was able to find in the 90s. It wasn't until college when I was on Tumblr, that I started seeing transmasculine people. It was kind of like this private-not private-space where you could share your feelings into the void. A lot of trans people of color were sharing archives of trans stuff. I saw the film “The Aggressiveness” with Marcus Wilson. I knew when I saw them in the film that this felt like something I wanted to do.
But I was having my “feminist awakening.” So I was like, “I don’t want to be a man. Men are the root of all evil.” I started seeing studs and Black masculine queer women, which gave me a door into being able to explore masculinity in my body.
Then I got connected to Gender Justice in Los Angeles, and it was in that space that I saw other trans men, some of whom were just starting testosterone. I always thought I had to be a certain kind of masculine [to be trans]. I thought I had to be really hard, and that didn't feel authentic to me. I was also scared to be seen as a Black man because I was already experiencing a lot of violence as a masculine woman. But after seeing these trans men of color enjoying themselves I finally started testosterone, and it was the best decision I ever made.
Jamison, what kind of fears did you have going into your transition?
Jamison: One fear I had was being on a drug for the rest of my life, but part of it was the fear of being judged for being transsexual. And I feared that my [testosterone] would be taken away at some point. That was something I struggled with constantly and thought about how I could change the system to keep that from happening.
I worried about losing my job, having my family disowned me, you know, losing my relationships. I was in the queer community, and it's funny. In the community, there is so much space for gender variance, but in the early nineties, there wasn't a lot of comprehension about people who would actually transition.
How about you? What kinds of fears did you have?
Jaden: I was mostly afraid of the misconceptions I had about what testosterone would do to me. I thought [that testosterone] would tap into this anger that I wouldn't be able to control at all, and that scared me as a Black person because of how that could get me killed. I was also scared about what testosterone was going to do to my body because there wasn’t a lot of research on long-term hormone use for trans people at the time.
The biggest motivator for me was that I really wanted a mustache (which is still on its way). I also had painful periods and knew that testosterone would probably stop my menstruation. And that was enough motivation for me to start. But, you know, some of the fears did come true.
Jamison: Which ones?
Jaden: Like police presence, and I lost relationships with some people in my family. I grew up in a very religious family—Church of God in Christ—for the people out there who know that. My mother didn't want me to tell anybody when I had top surgery. I had to create distance with a lot of them because they don't accept me, you know? That was something I was afraid would happen, and it did happen. But I do have a great chosen family who loves me dearly.
Jamison, you said you're 73. So you've been on this journey for a while now. Has your understanding of your gender or identity changed over time?
Jamison: In many respects, I don't feel my gender has ever changed. My gender has always been me, who I am, and how I move in the world. What has changed has been my relationships with other people and how they respond to me. It’s never been jarring because my inner core has never changed, I've just adapted to things as I've gone along.
Of course, there have been painful, painful things. My partner who encouraged me to transition actually couldn't deal with it. When my body started to change, it scared her. She also identified as a lesbian and said, “I can't stand people not being able to perceive me as a lesbian. They will see me with you and think I'm a straight woman.”
I said, “Well, you know, they always thought you were a straight woman anyway. And you used my genderqueerness as a way to identify yourself as a lesbian to other people.” But I was becoming more easily identified as a man, which I was comfortable with, but she was not. I also was very interested in sex now that I was on testosterone and that was hard for her.
I had to learn all about those things, but that didn't change who I was. I also realized I was bisexual, which I had never thought I would be. But as I came into complete comfort in my body, I could relate to other people differently—both men and women.
How has your concept of identity changed through your transition, Jaden?
Jaden: My real gender is multiple genders. As a kid, I was very constricted in how I was allowed to express myself. As a survivor, my gender was very policed and connected to the kinds of abuse I was experiencing.
I also realized through transitioning that I was attracted to men, which surprised me. Before that, I was like, “I'm a lesbian.” But when I started transitioning, I could be more open. I'm attracted to other queer transmasculine people who also aren't restricted in their gender expression. I’m very T4T now.
Jamison: People have these ideas about the older generation being all rigid about things, but I haven't found that to be true. People in my generation have struggled against those stereotypes a lot, but they're not as rigid as people think. They just learned to look the part.
One of the things you talked about was this fear that testosterone was going to make you this big pot of anger. One of my best friends is a Black trans man who was a very, very angry person, rode a big motorcycle and everything—had that angry lesbian vibe.
But when he started taking testosterone and began to relax. He realized he didn't have to struggle to be seen as who he was, he could be himself. He felt balanced, which was the same thing that I felt. Some people say they can't cry after they've taken testosterone, but I'm telling you, I cry all the time. I cry more than my wife does.
What does it feel like for you to see all of the visibility that we have now as trans men?
Jamison: Well, it's very gratifying, frankly. When I joined Lou Sullivan's group in the late 80s, there were people there from all walks of life. But a lot of people wanted to be stealth. I didn’t think that was healthy. If we don’t become visible, then there won't be space for us in the world. We have to make our space in the world.
When you started your transition, did you feel the need to be stealth or how did you conceive of visibility? Was it a threat? Was it exciting?
Jaden: When I came out the first time to my parents, I decided I'm not going to be quiet about who I am. So I’ve been very visible about being trans: I talk about it, I perform a lot about it. I work with trans people. I tell my story as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse as a transmasculine person. I talk about it so that other people can be open about who they are. But visibility is complicated—with this increase in visibility, there has been an increase in violence against our community.
I got a job working with trans people that had insurance to cover my health care, so I was able to go to a doctor that had a gender clinic. But I lived in East L.A., which historically hasn’t been the safest and most welcoming place for Black people. So I was not trying to broadcast anything. I was trying to be very stealth and just look like a young guy walking the neighborhood because of the fear of violence. Any time I'm leery about disclosure, or about anyone clocking anything, is just when I’m worried about my safety. That’s when I start performing a certain kind of masculinity that will keep me safe, you know?
Jamison: What do you want to tell the older generation?
Jaden: I have a lot of gratitude for the people who paved the way for a lot of us to even be able to consider living more authentically. I also want to encourage the older generation to be patient with those of us who are headstrong and think we know everything or those of us who think these things are new when they aren’t.
Jamison: Well, I appreciate that. I'm very proud of our younger generation. But I think for my generation, there's a lot of mixed feelings. I think some of them look at the younger generation and are fearful of the expansiveness because they've had to hold themselves in for so long.
Some are very excited and some are jealous. They think, “I wish I could have started when I was their age. I wish I could have had access. I wish I could have had community.” There’s a lot of pain in the older generation and fear about aging. I think the younger generation needs to know we're not done yet. We have a lot of fear. Who is our community going to be as we age? Like, how are we going to meet the end? That’s a very scary place for people.
The older generation is not just the shoulders you stand on, we are real people with feelings. People who are scared and proud.
Jaden: I would say to the older generation that all of this is for you. I've had the privilege of being in intergenerational spaces with older trans people. There are a lot of us younger people looking to older trans people to see, what does it mean to actually age? I agree that there should be a lot more spaces for intergenerational conversations, because who is going to take care of our community as we age? We have to.
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