Talking with Trans Youth Leaders: Jayy

Florida is one of 33 states that has introduced and voted on bills that directly target the freedom and agency of trans and nonbinary young people. #NationalTransYouthCouncil alumni Jayy (they/them) shared what it means to call somewhere home, and then to watch it attempt to turn on you. The following dialogue is from a conversation between Jayy and Gia Cordova, GJLP’s Associate Director.

Gia: What does it feel like to have your state legislators propose and debate legislation that targets trans and nonbinary people?

Jayy: It feels like a conflicted pain. Especially as I consider Florida my home. They continue to see us as threats to their worldview. There are students in schools right now that are being targeted because of their identity. They can’t just enjoy their life as a young person, as a kid, just having fun.

Gia: Thank you for that and for sharing how personal this feels. Even as trans people watching our states consider these bills, there’s a conflict in my heart: I really love the place and community I’m from and it sucks that the same people who live around me, who supposed to represent me, are targeting and attacking us. Can you talk a little bit about what the ideal world looks like for trans youth?

Jayy: For me, the ideal world would be seeing trans youth have their identities not only accepted and affirmed by their communities, but also seeing it uplifted by the people in the schools. Being able to look up to teachers who look like them, are part of their communities, know their history, and are teaching that history as well. Being able to see themselves in the curriculum that they are learning. 

Especially for me as someone who is studying education and wants to go into the school system as a teacher, I want to be able to provide that community for the trans students I will have in my classroom. I want to be able to imagine a world where our identities are not just seen as “other,” but are a part of the diversity of what people can be… and look like… and act like… and love like. 

I just want trans youth to know that they are not just alone in being part of this fear. There are people who have grown up with those same worries and are living out their lives successfully, as older trans folks. As we start to have a larger population of trans elders, I want to be able to support trans youth in schools and be able to know that their experiences are much better than mine ever were.

Gia: Yes!! Thank you for sharing that. It is exciting to hear what you’re working toward and hearing your vision for how you can be part of that transformation for schools to be better places. Can you talk a little about what safety looks like for trans students?

Jayy: [Feeling safe means] knowing that are at least a few people in the schools that they can turn to and talk to, whether that be a teacher they trust and can come out to if they’re not out fully or a staff member that allows them to just have a space they look comfortable in. It looks like being able to use restrooms that align with their identity or just having gender neutral restrooms in general, which should be a priority for all schools.. to develop gender neutral restroom policies and spaces for students. 

In the ideal world, safety would look like not having to determine whether you can be out at school or whether you can only be out in certain classrooms or with certain people… or whether being out at school will also threaten your safety at, especially as legislators start to put bills forward that require teachers to out their students to their families. Knowing that both home and school can be safe places for them. Knowing that they don’t have to choose one or the other.

Gia: Very that. And thank you for naming some of the ways that these bills are directly targeting trans youth, in ways that are so evil. The idea of having to out students or creating those barriers for students to have to decide, now is it safe for me to be out at home or at school? In Florida specifically, the bill that passed was an athlete ban bill, which is similar to bills being considered across the nation, in addition to medical ban bills and bills that are forcing parents/guardians/medical providers to do things that directly target trans youth like you shared. Can you speak to how these bills impact neighborhoods and school districts that want to be more protective of trans students?

Jayy: It makes them have to decide whether they are going to be able to stand up for their students and know that they are protected by the law or whether creating inclusive policies will put them in violation of the law… It hurts the people that want to protect the students the most because they’re not able to create that environment where students know they are going to be safe. As much as some schools and teachers and staff members can say that they are a safe place, it doesn’t protect them from the outside world, beyond that school walls, that wants to target them and will do whatever they can to stop good, affirming policies from being enacted.

Gia: Thank you for that. Relatedly, in terms of the way that schools, teachers, staff and allies are showing up, can you talk about the ways that adult and youth allies can show up for trans young people right now?

Jayy: I think one of the biggest things is publically affirming that you support trans students. Knowing that your space is a safe place for that student to be out. And to talk with them is a big thing. Working on looking at the individual needs of students in your classroom and outside your classroom. Advocating for better policies at the school district or at the school itself. Talking with administrators and trying to find ways that you can still protect students regardless of whatever laws are being passed around you.

Gia: Yes. Yes. Yes. And on the flip side,, what are some things trans youth can be doing right now to either support themselves or show up for each other?

Jayy: I think a big thing is creating community spaces for each other, especially knowing that some of their peers may not be out and not feel safe with cis allies, knowing that they at least they have their trans peers to turn to and talk with. And also telling their stories to the extent that they are comfortable with. As I have learned over the years, storytelling is a powerful narrative. As I was watching some of the sessions of the legislator, I was seeing students, noth trans students and cis allies, standing up for the protection of trans youth in schools and teling their stories and the stories of their friends who may not feel safe sharing their own stories as well. And being able to talk about themselves in a way that feels good for them and lets others know that they are real people and that they are not just an enemy that you can write about and ignore through the legislation that they are passing… that they’re real students that they are harming and talking about when they pass these bills.

Gia: As the world is moving slowly (or in some places fast) toward in-person connecting, including schools starting to reopen, what are some things on your mind and on the minds of other trans youth?

Jayy: It’s going to be different for different youth. Some youth are able to be out at home and feel safe with their parents and family, and they’re not able to be out at school and not able to feel safe with those communities. And on the flip side, the students who may have been stuck at home in an unsafe environment [during quarantine] where they can’t be out with family may finally be able to return to a space that they can be respected… that they can be called by their names correctly… that they can use their pronouns properly… and that they can talk with teachers about the issues they’re dealing with. So it’s going to again create an imbalance of where safety lies with different people. But I do think that returning to in-person (as we can do so safely) will create those community spaces for them as well where they can find the community support they need, whether they’re able to be out at school or not.

Gia: What would you say directly to other trans youth and nonbinary youth who might read or listen to this?

Jayy: I just want to remind you that you are loved and that you are supported. You have people who are rooting for you. There are people who have gone through similar experiences and make it. There are people around you that you can turn to for support. As someone who started transitioning in high school, and started being out publicly in the school system, my experiences were not that great. I can understand some of the pain [you may feel]. I can’t fully understand all of the pain as new legislation is being passed, but I want to let you know that you are not alone in this fight and you have people who are wanting to support you in every step.

Gia: Thank you. If you had the opportunity to talk directly to your legislators, what would you say?

Jayy: To my legislators back home in Florida, I just want to remind them that they are attacking real people. You are harming real students. You are harming not only the children who are trans and trying to be out and safe at school, but you’re hurting every student who is looking to question their gender in the future, who might be seeing all of this and questioning whether they can even think about gender as something other than what they were raised with or were told was normal for society. That you are harming so many more people than you realize. That there are people who are just wanting to live their lives and we are not your enemies. We are just trying to be ourselves and what ourselves are is beautiful. And if you can’t understand that, then you shouldn’t be a legislator in the first place. You shouldn’t be representing us if you can’t understand us and our experiences. 

Gia: Talk about a mic drop. Perfect. My last question for you is: what does trans joy feel like?

Jayy: For me, trans joy is just being able to be around other trans folks and live as I want. For me, it looks like being able to dress in a way that might not align with what people expect from me. For me, I like wearing dresses but I dont like wearing dresses in a way that makes me look like a cis woman. Because I am not a woman… I am a nonbinary person and I’m not trying to be a woman. I just want to live my life and have fun and be with other trans people and love other trans people. For me, it looks like being able to support the students in classrooms and just knowing that there are many of us and much more of us than we can ever imagine.

Gia: Thank you so much Jayy for sharing your words, expertise, wisdom, love, power!