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Interviewing Isis King
There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
I’ve been given so much in my short life: a supportive family and a grand group of friends, the gift of expressing myself in words and access to a great education, and most importantly the biological twist of being born transgender.
There has been no greater gift than that final one.
Growing up trans is a struggle. I constantly wished that our creator had made my body match my insides. I didn’t understand why I wasn’t like the other girls, why we had different parts. And those differences became the overwhelming obstacle of my first 18 years of life.
The journey of my gender struggle is being shared in an as-told-to piece for the June 2011 issue of Marie Claire magazine, written by Kierna Mayo and photographed by Perry Hagopian. I find it fitting that I told my story of transitioning as a teen from my parents’ firstborn son Charles to a young woman I named Janet.
The magazine’s motto itself speaks to my entire journey and that of any fearless woman: “More Than a Pretty Face.”
Ten years ago, I was a senior at Kalihi’s Farrington High School in Honolulu, Hawaii, where I graduated near the top of class with an academic scholarship to the University of Hawaii. Yet I still cried myself to sleep nearly every night because I felt my anatomy didn’t match my inner essence, my soul. I felt my sex organs grew in the wrong direction at my early development and I was given the wrong cocktail of hormones during puberty happy hour.
Though I knew deep down that what lied in between my legs did not define me, I still felt limited. I hated toweling off after a shower and fretting over my “tuck” and never dared to wear a bikini. I aimed for an unachievable “normalcy.” I wanted to hold hands with a boy, to wear a miniskirt without being called into the principal’s office, and go on with my days without worrying about the gender stuff.
I just wanted to be. I just wanted to be in a body that represented me at my best.
After a lot of hard work, planning and sacrifice, I traveled across the world at 18, where at the hands of a Thai surgeon, I united my body to my soul, and finally became the physical embodiment of the woman of my dreams.
The majority of trans women and men have to endure two puberties: their biological one and the corrective one they know is absolutely necessary in order to go on. I did not go through this. Gratefully, with the support of my family, my friends, my teachers and my endocrinologist, I was able to experience my transition as my peers in school were also going through their physiological changes in puberty.
From my very first memories to my gender reassignment surgery in 2001, my journey to align myself is detailed in broad strokes for Marie Claire readers. I worked closely with the reporter, who interviewed me at home, and the editors of MC, so that we effectively communicated the nuance of my journey of transition through high school. It needed to be right because it was not only my story; it’s the story of thousands of transgender and gender-nonconforming teens who are currently transitioning and others who soon will be and those who have already battled the beast of their own bodies.
But I do wish I could change one thing in the piece: the term “boy” which is used a few times. Overall I’m fine with it because technically I was born in a boy’s body, but two instances still don’t feel quite right. The first instance proclaims, “Until she was 18, Janet was a boy,” and then it goes on to say, “I even found other boys like me there…” My gender reassignment surgery did not make me a girl. The surgery just got rid of my male parts. I was always a girl.
Being female was my one and only conviction.
Despite that minor misstep, I believe the piece does a good job at putting a face out there for a whole generation of young trapped dreamers by showing that despite your circumstance you can become your dream and still hope for so much more. The main reason for my so-called “coming out” is to reach across my little space in this world and speak directly to kids who feel different and feel like outcasts and struggle with their bodies and endure the teasing and the bullying and the taunting. There are kids just like me who need to see people like them reflected on TV and in books and in the pages of magazines like Marie Claire.
This has become my life’s mission.
I know that stories have the power to heal, to inspire and to makes us realize that we are not alone. I’ll continue to share more stories of my upbringing and my life in general on my blog and in my most important work, my memoir Fish Food, which I hope will encourage you to pursue your life’s work and your wildest dreams.
For more on Janet’s story of transition and finding love – plus, an exclusive photo shoot – pick up the June 2011 issue of Marie Claire, on newsstands now.