I’m Josie Elias, and I am not going through puberty. I already did that. I am a trans man, and my current experience with hormones is—despite its predictable physical effects—entirely different.
When Arielle Pardes first asked if she could interview me for her article on transgender kids at Penn for 34th Street, I felt my insides collapse. It’s the same feeling I’ve gotten for the last 22 years when anyone would even begin to breach the subject of my identity. For most of those years my response was always the same: a stupid joke followed by a swift subject change. But, within the last year, I’ve recognized a responsibility on my part to share my narrative for the sake of expanding awareness, and so I agreed to the interview. Upon reading the finished article, however, I felt sick.
Now, before I go any further, I need to clarify that this is not meant to be an attack on Arielle, nor is it meant to be an attack on 34th Street. Yet there remains a very severe problem with the way in which Arielle’s article opens, and I feel overwhelmingly compelled to address it.
During the interview, Arielle asked me about hormone therapy, and being that it is an important part of my transition, I had no qualms with responding. What I didn’t realize, though, was that this aspect of our conversation would become Arielle’s “hook,” and when I read the sentence “Josie Elias is going through puberty”, I got that insides–collapsing feeling all over again.
Because Arielle had let me read the article before printing, I was able to send her an email outlining why I felt the opening paragraph was so problematic. Yet, despite my explanation, she and the editors at 34th Street collectively decided to print the article as it was.
I was furious. I felt that my feelings were disregarded, and I was personally disrespected. But, once I cooled off, I realized something: the discussions surrounding the transgender experience, at least as I’ve encountered them, repeatedly miss the mark, and Arielle was only writing in accordance with this misunderstanding. The transgender experience is not simply about the physicality of transition alone—it runs so, so much deeper than that.
As a kid, I didn’t just dislike “frills”—I despised the “female” customs that were being incessantly forced upon me. Being handed a dress and told “you’re supposed to wear this” ingrained a meaning into that article of clothing that went light–years beyond mere shades of pink and frills—it represented the pain that comes with the oppressive stifling of the self, a non–verbal gesture that indicated it was time for me to shut up and comply with “the rules.”
So when I received a response from Arielle that read “we all agreed that [the opener] functions as an effective and relatable way to hook the reader,” there was my greatest psychological trauma again, jumping off the computer screen and slapping me in the face: we decided this is how you’d be best represented—an abnormal spectacle that hooks our reader.
Trans people are not spectacles. We are people from whom you can learn. And if you’re not trans, you’re not meant to find my experience “relatable,” because it isn’t. But that shouldn’t matter. You shouldn’t have to have had an experience analogous to mine in order to care. You care about people because they’re people. Problems aren’t valid just because you’ve encountered something similar; problems are valid because they cause very real people to endure very real pain. Compassion doesn’t derive from comparability—it derives from recognizing each other’s humanity.
My transition is more than just “chin hairs,” “acne” (which I don’t have), and a “cracking” voice (which no longer happens). It’s the means by which I can finally leave the days of being defined by others behind me. It’s the means by which I can live day to day without requiring disclaimers and doctors’ notes to prove my identity because somehow a doctor with whom I’ve only met on four occasions has more credibility in determining who I am than I do.
I do not speak for all trans people. There might be a thousand trans people who agree with me, and a thousand more who don’t, but the fact remains that I was offended and feel the need to voice it. The only way we can dismantle the divides that separate us is through communication. I just want to keep the conversation going.