Hometown Hero: A Survivor’s Story
Queerport will be profiling a number of trans+ people during the month of April, kicking off March 31 with Trans Day of Visibility. TDoV is all about celebrating trans and gender non-conforming+ people and raising awareness, and we want to highlight these folks all month long. This is the third in a series. Art by S. M. Prescott; story by Derick Stevens-Jones.
"If my dad was still around, I probably wouldn’t be alive. That’s the reality of having a homophobic parent."
Jessie Godfrey, a black pansexual trans man, is right. This is the reality for many trans and queer people of color. He said growing up with an alcoholic and abusive father, he was never taught self-importance.
"I probably wouldn’t have transitioned. We never had a good relationship, up until the day he died. It just would have been something else to disappoint him," he said.
Jessie spoke of his father’s abuse, citing that he beat him until he was 11 weeks pregnant with his daughter, now 8. He said his father dying was the catalyst he needed to finally start putting himself first. That was three years ago. Jessie, now 33, is a stay-at-home dad and engaged to his partner, Lexiy. His life is much different than it was just a year ago, and he’s now happy to see what the future holds — even if it means managing his depression.
"I still have times convincing myself that I need to stay alive, but it’s getting better. When you grow up your entire life hearing one thing, it takes a while to realize it’s OK to do the exact opposite, and you can put yourself first."
A big part of that is Jessie’s physical transition. In high school, Jessie remembers his arms as being crossed, his hair covering his face, or wearing a giant hoodie to cover his figure. In a time before teens had easier access to more effective binding, sports bras were a must, he noted.
Jessie said the psychological effects of this are ever-present, and because he hasn’t had top surgery, that part of him is still "hanging on." He recently posted a GoFundMe for his surgery and is currently waiting on his acceptance letter.
Growing up trans, Jessie said he didn’t have the right language to know what to call himself. He originally thought he was bisexual or a lesbian, not taking his gender into account, but realizing early on he hated his dead name.
"Once I turned 11 was when I started to think I was different from the other girls, and not just 'one of the guys' (around his male friends). 'Maybe I actually am one of the guys.' I never ever felt comfortable in dresses," he said.
Jessie said his mother was always supportive of whatever he felt comfortable in, whether it was dying his hair or wearing large clothing. His mother, aunt, and other family members have been supportive of his journey, and he’s grateful. He said things were much easier for his mother to accept because of their already "big gay family"
"Wherever you look, there’s going to be someone who’s a little bit queer," he said. "Do you know who Sean Zevran is? That’s my first cousin. He’s like this famous gay porn star. My mom identifies as bisexual, my brother is gay, I have cousins and aunts who are."
While his family, sans father, has welcomed Jessie with open arms, he said he still gets misgendered fairly regularly in public.
"I'll go and get my testosterone filled up and hear [deadname redacted] called throughout the lobby," he said. "It’s hard."
He did say, though, that some of his biggest supporters have been strangers — specifically older people in places like the grocery store.
"They always tell me I’m a handsome young man. That’s nice."
He hopes his story is an inspiration for others to find themselves and create the path they seek. He said if he could reconnect with his former, high school self he'd say that's it's OK to look in the mirror and feel a certain way about your body while still loving yourself.
Derick Jones is a co-creator of Queerport. You can usually find them at their vintage shop or out and about documenting Shreveport's queer history in the making.