Jennifer Angelina Petro
I have four birthdays. The first being my “belly button” birthday—January 7th, 1968. The second being that April morning in 2015 when I realized in full conscious that I am transgender (I am not sure of the exact date, which is incredibly annoying—so I am going to pick, April 1rst. Not for the reasons you might automatically be thinking. Back in 2015, the International Day of Hope fell on April first—that’s why I’m picking it). My third birthday is the day I came out publicly—to the whole world—no more hiding—anything—ever: September 18, 2015. And finally, October 11, 2015—the day I started taking t-blockers and estrogen.
Two years ago today I posted a note on FB and on my blog. It’s a quaint, naive, defensive sort of note—filled with idealism, early forays into activism, my usual flare for the corny, and yeah, a big reveal. Most of you know the devastating fall out that note had on my life and the life of my family. With your help, however I carried through my last year as a teacher, loving every moment I got to be with those kids. I also saw the end of a marriage, the sale of a house, the moving into an apartment (twice in 3 months) alone, and the death threats, the relatives and friends who stopped talking to me, the people pissed I made this announcement on FB and my blog instead of telling them individually (yeah, that would have gone over well and not been the least bit emotionally exhausting), the meetings at school with angry parents, and also, the utter joy at freely walking through the world as I was always meant to. And THAT was a kind of blessing that is hard, even for me, to put into words.
Last year I posted a very depressing first coming-out birthday note. And as much as I spoke of being depressed that first year, little did I know the depression would worsen to the point of being life-threatening. Over the course of that first year—with all the difficult (to say the least) and naively unexpected life-changes, I careened shortly thereafter, into a severe and total breakdown with multiple hospital stays for suicidality. Looking back on my coming out letter, last year’s letter, and this–and you will notice depression has been with me the entire time. That’s because I am clinically depressed. I was born with depression, the same way someone is born with any other physical illness. It goes with me where ever I go. I say that to say, my suffering from depression isn’t because I’m trans. Being trans and coming out worsened my symptoms–yes, for sure–but the illness called, depression, has always been with me–since my earliest childhood days.
Which brings us to today. It has taken me a year to even truly begin to feel somewhat stable mentally and emotionally, and I am still not out of the woods as far as a recovery from this latest flare up of symptoms from my depression. And yes, fall is coming, and winter, and yeah, I usually go through those seasons chipper as a jar of glitter at a Pride parade…The difference this year though is that I am getting help from so many fronts—professionally, medically, therapeutically, spiritually, emotionally, and for all that I am, with trepidations, hopeful this year’s symptoms won’t be so extreme.
So here I am: two years old. Through all the changes, depression, dysphoria, unemployment, calls from debt-collectors, lonely days and nights in my hovel, I have also had moments—glimpses and full visions of salvation, community, love, hope, and the peace and electricity that come from living one’s truest self–my self–me. Who I am. Not who I was born to be–I was born this way–a woman–a transgender woman–but who I am meant to live openly as the way I was truly born.
Yes, I am scared about the upcoming fall and winter. Yes, I am still unemployed and, in all clarity, not mentally fit enough to be working a “real” job yet. I am also getting better. I also have a church community I never knew I’d find—friends that support and love me in ways only real friends can do. There is reason for hope, and you are one of those reasons. My ex and our children still love and accept me and that, of course, is key.
Last year I ended my first birthday note with a toast to a smoother year. We all know that smoother didn’t exactly manifest. So, I won’t toast to that this year. I won’t toast to anything. I don’t drink anyway.
What I will say is this: Thank you. Thank you for your love and support. For being there in my darkest moments and my silliest sillies, and my most wondrous of wonders.
I am here. I am myself in a way that was simply more conscious and alive that I was before I came out, and for that, despite all the challenges—I am eternally grateful.
Part of the sadness comes, of course, from the incredible fallout my pronouncement caused. Over this past year I have had things said to me by relatives, friends, parents of my students, and strangers that would make your skin crawl–inhuman, violent, vicious, hateful, self-centered, and humiliating things. People crawled out of the woodwork to write me mean, toxix letters—people who haven’t spoken with me in literally decades suddenly found it their place to tell me what a fuck-up I was. Over the course of this year, I lost friends, family, and regardless of how it was framed as my fulfilling a four-year agreement at my school—I lost a job, my home, and a marriage.
One of the reasons I stressed so much in my original letter and in subsequent letters that being transgender isn’t a choice is because so many people think I have brought all of this loss onto myself by making a sick, twisted, selfish, perverted life-style choice—a choice that wrecked everything. And no matter what I say or how many times I say it, there will still be those who think I am choosing to be this way. There will be people who will never speak to me again for the “choice” they think I am making.
Part of the sadness also comes from seeing how happy I was. I have never been so happy before or since when I realized I am transgender. It was a joy that transcended all other joys. And, in my naiveté, I thought the world would be happy with me. My innocence was reborn even though I know people who believe that isn’t possible, and with that innocence came a youthful foolishness; for my thought that people would rejoice with me couldn’t have been more wrong.
A year later I am in a darker place than the one I mention at the beginning of my coming out letter. It is a place of not seeing any future, any possibilities, any hope; and, as a result, there are days when I feel I cannot, nor do I want to, go on. As of this writing I am not sure of anything, and make no promises about anything to anyone anymore. That all sounds pretty dire, and that’s because it is. There is another side to this year though that I also want to share.
When I came out there was also tremendous, unexpected support from people I knew and from people I didn’t know. Mandy published her own letter that day and as a result I had more people friend me that week than perhaps ever in my Facebook history—and the vast majority of those people were from Bryn Athyn. So while I have lost dear friends, relatives, and family, I have also gained a whole community of people who love and accept me for me, and for that I will be forever grateful.
I also met the best doctor I have ever had. He is the kindest, most attentive, loving doctor I have ever had, and likely will ever have. Four months after coming out, on January 11, 2016 he started me on HRT and I will be forever grateful for that too. No, the meds doesn’t make me a woman. I have always been a woman. The medicine simply helps me live comfortably in my own skin. It does not affirm who I am, nor will surgery, what it does is treat an incurable condition and, again, help me live with some semblance of peace and comfort while in a body that does not fit the inner truth of who I am.
I credit my continued existence to my present therapist, who I have another Facebook note and blog post about.
I have had moments this past year where the joy and ecstasy returned and, no matter what was going on around me, I felt like singing. My last year teaching was a great example of joy—no, not with the parents—no, as I have already written about in other places—the majority of them flipped their wigs and said some of the meaning things anyone ever said. It was the children and I. We had the best year ever. I cannot think of another group of people I would ever want to be around as I came out and began transitioning. Despite some of the limited, transphobic thinking of their parents, these kids were enlightened beings—they ARE enlightened beings. Sure they had questions (which I wasn’t allowed to answer), and a few concerns—mostly things like: Was I OK? Of course, as this chain of events drew us even closer together the only other thing that mattered most to them was that I stay their teacher. They wanted me to stay more than ever, and this is completely to their credit. The time I got to spend with them that last school year together will always be treasured, cherished, and an honor.
My own children too continue to love and support me. They call me “Other Mom,” or “Mom Number Two,” or simply, “Mom.” They faced our first Father’s Day with grace and made me cards for our first Mother’s Day together. They are amazing people, growing so fast, and not really ever blinking once at my transition and all of the odd things it entails. And even though Mandy and I have divorced, we are still on the best of terms, and she continues to be one of my biggest allies.
As you know too, I am not shy about talking about surgeries and my body like I thought I was going to be. I am going tomorrow for my first consult with a surgeon and this makes me so happy I could cry happy tears of gratitude (in fact I do cry tears of gratitude—often about this). I want surgery more than anything else in the world. And isn’t that funny? I have no frame of reference for desiring such an operation, but there it is—the deepest want—longing—desire, and I dearly hope it is possible physically and financially. And yes, this makes many people uncomfortable—especially some men who cannot fathom anyone giving up male privilege to do such a drastic (in their twisted minds) thing. But I am all in, and I cannot wait for the next phase of my transition to begin (I will be receiving more letters from friends, family, and strangers about this paragraph, and while yes, I just made it your business by sharing this personal information it does not give you the right to be mean, send sexually insecure, shadow-based hate mail, letters, phone calls, messages—you may keep your bizarre and lust fueled—bigoted-“religious” ideas to yourself. What I am doing to my body should be of no concern of yours. So, to all of you already writing me hateful letters, I send a big, hearty-fuck-you in advance).
Many of you have been such dear supports and friends this past year. I am constantly making calls for prayers, and you always answer them. No matter how depressing and dark my posts become you love and support and encourage me. Many of you have even donated money to my cause, and it is with all my heart I thank you.
So, here I am. One year in. One year CONSCIOUSLY in. I have been transgender my whole life just not consciously. If I make it out of this next year then I believe I will be kicking some serious ass in terms of my poetry, music, and activism. I want the fight back—the joy, the bliss, the sweet sense of completeness and wholeness that was here a year ago—the sense of purpose and rightness. I want to love myself and my body, my voice, my age, and my life. I want to believe the poems that come to me. I want to help change the world. I want to get remarried. I want to get all of my poems and songs out there published.
If I can step back and look at my life objectively, I see how much I have survived—many forms of abuse, hatred, and loss, and yet, here I am, alive and well, not kicking—more sort of rolling up into a ball and weeping with terror—but I am here. I survived my life not knowing who I was. I survived experiences meant to “make a man out of me.” I survived traumas of many kinds, and I am still here, for that I can be proud.
So, Happy Anniversary to me. Here’s to a smoother year.
All my love and gratitude,
You are always welcome to donate what you can and want. I am still unemployed and soon, as mentioned above, I will be starting a crowd-funding campaign for my surgeries. Get in on the ground floor now for that and ear-mark your donations and I will not use them to buy food. 🙂 Thank you. All my love, Jennifer
After combing through
Layers of moist earth and mazes
Of roots, the cicada nymph
Blooms from the ground
And begins climbing
Seeing only sky,
Waving: “Come on,
You can do it!” And it climbs–
Eyes on the prize, heart pumping,
Wings tingling waiting for space
To unlatch and spread,
Voice still trapped in an ever
Thinning skin, confidence
Growing with every plunge
Of its hooks–higher
Until it suddenly stops
Pauses in time and space,
Unable to go even one more step
In its old clothes,
And then it gives birth unto itself,
Slowly sloughing off
Doubts and fears,
Never once losing track
Of the heaven awaiting
And the heaven of the moment,
And the heaven of simply opening
Itself to the sky,
And letting the song it has been
Composing for years soar
Through the summer trees
Announcing to all things
The truth of transformation,
The truth that we are all
Bound to change,
The truth that even the darkest time
Spent among roots and soil,
Leads to wings, leads
To open spaces, leads to becoming
Who you really are.
All donations go to keeping the Wonder Child Blog afloat and to my Transition. Thank you. Love, Jennifer
My wise friend, Mika and I were talking recently and she observed that if we can allow negative actions, words, and energy from some negative people to drain us, then the implication is that we can allow positive actions, words, and energy of positive people to fill us. I am working on ways to do this, for while I have received TONS and TONS of loving, kind, encouraging, compassionate, and just plain AMAZING support as I have come out as trans, there have been a few people who have said some very cruel things, mean things, reprehensible things, and acted in heartbreaking ways towards me. And my silly mind starts to focus on those few instead of the many, many, MANY who support me. And then I begin to fade, nudge closer to a depression that seems suddenly so far away, and I become afraid, feel guilty, begin to believe I am doing something wrong, when in fact I am not DOING anything. I did not choose to be trans. I am not BECOMING a woman. I AM a woman who is finally conscious of this beautiful and affirming truth and am simply moving closer and closer to fully living and presenting as the person I am. I was born the right gender, wrong body parts. And so my loving supporters, what things do you do to help increase the positive, to draw that loving energy in? This is without a doubt the most intense time of my life—and the most wonder-filled, and beautiful, and yet, it is hard to know there are people who a few days ago were my friends that now literally hate me, and that’s hard. Really hard. And thank Goddess there is YOU. If you’re reading this I believe you’re one of the ones who love my heart. Who looks past what I may wear or what I may call myself, who doesn’t worry about losing anything, but instead is happy they are gaining the best me ever. What suggestions do you have for increasing the positive, for helping a negative-focuser like me to focus on the good–the good that is everywhere. Truly the outpouring of love I am receiving is incredible, and I feel guilty the haters affect me so much, like I am insulting you. I do not mean to, my dear friends. This is all new to me—this complete acceptance of who I am, and I am so happy, really, giddy-magically happy, and need and want your continued support, but I am working with a mind that is trained in negativity and self-hatred. I would be honored to hear how you gather in the positive and release the negative, how you focus on the positive and ignore the negative. You totally rock my friends. I love you. Yours with grace and love, Jennifer
Who says men can’t give birth?
This body carried a woman
For forty seven years. This body
Loved a woman in secret—secret even
Unto himself—he did not even know
She was there being loved by secret parts
Of himself, surrounded by angels,
And this secret man tended her nest,
Fed her with everything he had.
And when she was ready
To be born, to spread elegant
And vulnerable wings, he opened
Himself with grace, sacrificed himself
With genuine humility, and sang her
Into being, wrote her into form,
Tracing the lines of her face
With wonder-filled fingers. And
She spread wings made of light woven with night,
And he made room for her to settle
Into them, and overtime he coaxed her out,
Although she didn’t need much coaxing really,
But he encouraged her to move closer to the edge,
And with eyes full of joyous tears, watched her begin
To fly, and he has done nothing
Except cheer as she began circling, soaring,
Singing to the sun and the moon with her wings
And her heart and her whole being free
And unencumbered. And he knows
He will diminish as she increases,
And he knows his form will fade from view,
To have been the one chosen
To bear this secret beauty,
This hidden treasure,
This pearl of great price,
This Bird of Great Rejoicing,
For everything he has done
And has yet to do–
For his tender, artistic hands
That hold and groom her wings,
For his willingness to risk everything
That she may live. And now,
She flies and sings her world
Into being, inviting you to go with her
Into a morning of beautiful
And dangerous possibilities.
You are being called
To be doulas for them both,
For they are going to need you,
They are going to need time
To rest in each other’s arms,
And sleep without interruption,
He will need understanding
And sustenance, she will need places
To fly with acceptance and celebration,
He will need you to remember
He didn’t have a choice in this.
She was meant to be born,
She was conceived by stars and the moon,
And he was chosen to carry
This little galaxy of wonder,
And he could not pick the time for her arrival.
And now she is here, flying–wings singing softly
And with incredible power,
Through a blue sky full of unknown spaces,
Through the night sky full of magic and yellow eyes
Watching from the shadows,
Through a soul sky full of blessed calm.
So come, you too were given wings,
You too have secret angels tending beings
Aching to be born, and of course, not necessarily
Like mine—a being of a new gender–no, you have your own
Hidden treasure, your own secret owl or nightingale,
Your own hidden being who nevertheless longs for freedom,
So come, I know what it’s like
To be born unexpectedly, let’s be each other’s midwives,
Let’s nurse one another
With holy fire.
Many of you know I suffered mightily with deep depression this past year. It was undoubtedly the darkest period of my life. That debilitating time however, has given birth to the greatest joy I have ever experienced—a self-revelation that has turned my world right-side-up and inside out, in the most unexpected and utterly joyous ways—a joy so remarkable I can barely contain it. My insides have come into focus in a way that I now see my life with more clarity than ever before . Who I am as a person—a soul—an individual has finally, after all these years of heart wrenching—gut-churning work—soul-searching, and spiritual–psychological exploration—revealed itself to me. And I tell you here and now I have never been so happy, so grateful to be alive, so full of wonder and possibilities.
I am transgender, a male-to-female-transsexual. I have had this condition since I was born, only in my case, due to various childhood experiences, I didn’t consciously know it. However, my spirit and my body were always at odds with one another and I couldn’t figure out why. I have suffered for decades with a deep inward confusion– knowing something wasn’t right inside–in my heart, body, mind—but not understanding what it was. I tried hard to be man, and in many ways succeeded, but something has always been wrong–off, unsettled, and I didn’t know what it was until this past spring. It has all fallen into place in a way that not only makes sense but is incredibly beautiful, and I am over-the-moon happy, relieved, grateful, and eager to fully embrace this realization in every way I can.
Some of you might be surprised at this pronouncement, while others not so much. Please know that there were many of you I wanted to tell individually, but logistically, just couldn’t. Please forgive the impersonal nature of coming out on Facebook and my blog. It’s the best I could do.
You have to take my word for it, of course, that I am transgender. There is no way I can convince you that I am telling the truth, especially to those of you who have known me for many, many years as a male-bodied person named, Joseph. I did not ask to be transgender though. This is not a choice I am making. This is a medical condition where there is no real “cure.” There is treatment however, and that takes the form of transitioning, over time, with the help of hormone therapies, surgeries, as well as many other outward and inward procedures and actions that effect the outward body to better enable it to match my inward spirit.
Once I discovered being transgender I chose to continue pretending to be the Joseph everybody knew because I was afraid of the consequences of coming out and living the truth—consequences to my family, to my school, and to my relationships with you. I chose to hide—hide who I am out of fear. I am done hiding. I am being released from prison. I am free to roam and to celebrate a whole new life of the conscious awareness of who I am.
Yes, I know, I have fathered 3 sons and been married over 20 years. I had to buy into my masculine body—my masculine presentation and gender constructs—I had to for reasons I will not get into here. But no more. I am a woman and I am deeply grateful to this body for carrying me so far and for the work it still needs to do. But I am a woman and will no longer hide the real me.
Please try to understand this is not a choice I am making. I was born this way—right gender, wrong body parts. I am not “doing” anything except finally living the way I was always meant to live—as a woman. I am not doing this to “take Joseph away from you.” I will always be the same old me—the same personality. You are not losing anyone, yet you are gaining the most settled, authentic me I have ever known—I am myself. You are gaining me—the real me.
As I write this I feel conflicted—like I am talking about my own funeral while still alive, and there is some strange truth to this sensation. The bigger truth however—the one that encompasses all others, is that I am being born. I am coming to life in a way I didn’t know was possible. Maybe my poetry did—but I didn’t see this coming, and dear hearts, I am deeply happy, peaceful, centered, aware, and, yes, scared. This is all new. I feel at once empowered and vulnerable and want your acceptance, affirmation, and love. I also know that I must and will carry on regardless of what anyone says or thinks. I accept myself for who I really am. I love who I am and who I am becoming. I am beautiful. And yes, I would like your acceptance. I want you to know this is the true me. This is how I was meant to be—this is who I am–a woman. And I know there will be many challenges and difficult times ahead, but my joy supersedes those worries. I am blessed. And yes, it will take many of you time to get used to this. You’ll make it though. I believe in you. As I seek to truly join my spirit and my body we will go on a wonderful and scary journey together. I will do my utmost to be patient with your transitions as they reveal themselves in relationship to mine.
That said, there are some things I would like to ask of you as we begin a dialog that might, perhaps, last years. I ask these things not out of disrespect for you, but out of an attempt to preserve the energy I am going to need in order to go forward. There are a few topics I want you to not ask me about, and I ask you to vigilantly hold these boundaries for my sake. No one’s curiosity gives them the right to ask questions that cross a line of appropriateness and since most of us know little about transgender issues, and struggle with what they feel they should know or what they want to know about my condition I am offering these boundaries.
I am unwilling to discuss whether or not I am considering having “the” operation. While being trans is rather uncommon, I am not an exhibit. In the same way I would never ask you how your genitals look or if you’ve ever had enhancements or implants or any other type of sexual related surgeries, I request you not ask me such about things.
Please do not ask me about my sex life. Please do not ask me how, or if, I have sex. This is all, obviously, private.
Please do not assume this is a horrible, wretched thing I am “doing” to my family. Again, this is not a lifestyle choice.
If you want to talk with my family about this experience, please do not approach the topic under the assumption that they must be suffering. Instead you could simply ask them how they are doing and be genuinely open to their answers.
Please direct any questions you may have about me to me, and do not go through my family to find out about me.
Finally, I want you to know that I am sure about this—I am transgender. I am a woman, so you needn’t ask me if I am sure, or if I am sure I’m sure. I have never been so sure of something in my life.
I also want to briefly dispel a couple of assumptions that may be out there about transgender people.
The first thing is I am not a drag queen. A drag queen is a man performing as a woman—often men wearing flamboyantly “feminine” clothes or makeup. That is not me. I am transgender. I am not performing. I am living a real life.
I am also not a transvestite, for whom wearing “women’s” clothes is somewhat of a fetish—a sexually charged behavior. That is also not me. While I feel a tremendous sense of liberation wearing the women’s clothes I now wear, it is not a fetish—it is an affirmation, confirmation, celebration of my womanhood.
Lastly, transgender people can be gay, straight, pan, asexual, etc. just like anyone else.
While I know most of you will respond to this letter with kindness and grace some of you may have objections—perhaps “religiously” or “morally,” to what is happening to me, please do not let me know. In the same way someone should not be hated or assumed to be evil, perverted, or otherwise dangerous because of any physiological or biological conditions they happen to be born with, I should not be either for having been born transgender. People born blind did not choose to be born blind, neither did I choose to be born transgender. You, of course, have a right to your opinion, but I would prefer not you not share any negative judgements with me.
Please know to that I cannot reply to all the comments you leave here. I will do my best though. Feel free to message me for deeper conversations. I look forward to your kind words and support. If you reply negatively to this post I will delete your comments. I know the vast majority of you will reply with grace and love.
I want to say how incredibly grateful and moved I am by Mandy’s amazing and remarkable acceptance, support, understanding, and love. She is my biggest ally. I am so blessed and lucky know such a wonderful person. Her compassion is off the charts fantastic. We can now share the same clothes. 🙂
I also want to thank our boys for their amazing support. They have been so kind, so understanding, and so happy for me. They are showing such grace, strength, warmth, and kindness. I am so, so grateful. Thank you my dear children. I love you so much.
I have many other friends and therapists to thank, but understandably I just cannot here. There are a few here I would to mention however. One is my friend, Mika. She is the one who helped break this shell open. She was the one who helped me see myself for the first time. She used her magic, wisdom, insights, kindness, and encouragement to help my true self reveal itself to me. And she continuously supports and celebrates me.
Another friend is Brian. He has accepted and loved me as I am from the beginning. Never questioned me once.
Two friends, Mindy and Jeanie, have taught me many things about courage, authenticity, joy, and creativity. I am grateful they are in my life.
I also want to thank my friend and colleague, Erin, for her amazing and empowering support and guidance these last couple years.
I also want to thank my friends at Transway and Evolutions, and to the Mazzoni Center for all their guidance, support, and encouragement.
So there it is. That’s the news. And there is one more thing.
I will be changing my name (legally) as soon as I can. Taking inspirations from my favorite transgender author, Jennifer Finney Boylan, as well as my mother’s name, Angie, I am changing my name to Jennifer Angelina Petro. Not sure how to do that on Facebook yet, but I will figure it out. As best you can please refer to me as Jennifer from now on and with feminine pronouns. I understand this will take getting used to. It will for me as well, but this is my new name—one I picked, one I feel honors who I am and the characters and gifts I want to embody.
Thank you for reading. Thank you for loving me and for your support all these years. I need it now more than ever.
I love you all.
Your Soul is Rooting For You
Joseph Anthony Petro
Searching through veins
That branch like blue trees
And sinew strung purple and tan,
Singing, like the fragrance
Of honeysuckle fingering
Through the billow drapery
Of a moonlit room—
Your soul is looking for you.
Through marrow and bone,
Through flashing neurons,
And the twisting bridges
Of firing synapses, your soul
Is on a quest to find you alive.
Ferreting through the fallen leaves
Of countless conversations,
Ransacking the rooms
Of your childhood,
Sifting through handfuls of tears,
Foraging through jungles
Of the unraveled skeins of unused desires,
Your soul aches to know what it is
You truly want.
Rooting through the dark soil
Of your dreams your soul
Will turn your life upside down
And inside out until you learn
To breathe and to focus, until you become
Unstoppable, until you finally
Ask for help, until you discover
Once again, and once and for all,
How beautiful you really are.
We all have a place
Inside where our truest self
Lives, where our truest self awaits
Manifestation through veils
And layers of years, and veils and layers
Of public opinion, old ideas, and misguided
Social constructs. For some,
Their truest self is an animal,
For others it is a lotus,
For others it is a river, a tree, or a song.
Then there are those
Whose truest self is a body
Aching to break free from years
Of dying inside someone else’s
Tired, cramped, and lonely body.
No matter who you really are,
Or where the place is you truly live—
Go there. It is not too late.
Time is not running out, time is running in, flowing
Through skin and masks,
Through hidden fissures and coves,
It is revealing you–So be ready.
Step out into the cool stream,
Astonish yourself with yourself.
Grace the world with the gift of you,
And that place inside will open, like
A storm of joy, and you will finally be able