Jadee Dennis spent weeks trying to figure out how tell his mom. He finally decided it would be best to write it all down in a letter.
One July day in 2012, Jadee — who was 15 at the time — placed the carefully worded four-page letter on his mother’s bed and waited for her to come home. When he heard the front door open, Jadee opted for a long shower, not knowing exactly how his mother would react.
“Dear Mom,” the letter read. “I’m writing this letter in hopes of trying to tell you something I have been trying to say for such a very long time … I really love you and I hope that when you finish reading this you can accept who I am. Who I really am.
“As a child growing up, I always thought it would be so cool to be a boy,” the letter continued. “But, being assigned a girl at birth, I didn’t think that could ever happen. So, I always tried my best to be a ‘tomboy.’ You may have thought it was just a phase, but as I got older, that phase lingered on … As I got into adolescence, growing up just got different. I couldn’t exactly pass as a boy anymore, and I grew very uncomfortable with myself … I didn’t feel like I was myself. I was uncomfortable with everything … Whenever people used the pronouns (referring to me) ‘she’ or ‘her’ or ‘daughter’ or ‘Miss’ it just never felt right.”
Then, Jadee’s letter went right to the heart of the matter — what he had been mustering up his courage to say for months.
“… I recently discovered that I CAN be a boy. That I AM a boy. That ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ are two totally different things. When I read an article describing what exactly a ‘trans person’ is, I basically cried of joy … I realized that: that was me. Everything, all of the ‘symptoms,’ everything … it WAS me.
“So, if you don’t already have an idea, I’ll just straight out tell you: I am a FtM (Female to Male) transgender/transsexual … I just feel like I’m trapped in this body that isn’t really mine.”
When Jadee finally emerged from the shower, he heard his mother’s voice in the other room.
“Jadee? Can you come here?”
In the weeks that followed, Jadee’s mother, Julie Stephens, wrestled with conflicting feelings regarding the statements made by her daughter — or was it her “son?”
“When I first read the note I was sick to my stomach — my heart ached, because I knew I was going to lose my daughter,” she said. “I thought about what an uphill battle this would be for Jadee to face. Then I had the rushing feeling of, ‘What now?’”
Stephens said she began reading up on the topic, found a counselor for Jadee and sought out support groups, such as PFLAG, a national organization formerly known as Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays.
It is considered the United States’ largest organization for parents, families, friends, and straight allies united with people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.
“We went to our first meeting and met other transgender kids and adults,” said Stephens. “This eased my unsure feelings a little bit.”
But Stephens said the turning point for her was attending a Gender Spectrum Conference in Berkeley with Jadee in the summer of 2013.
“I met many moms and dads who shared their experiences,” said Stephens, who lives with Jadee in Grass Valley.
“Jadee met over 100 teenagers who he could share with. It turned my heart around. I realized that, yes, I have lost my daughter, but I now have a happy son.”
“It was really great to be with other kids — age 6 and up — going through the same thing,” echoed Jadee. “It was good to see my mom educated — education about transgender issues is really important. We’re going again this summer. I prefer the term ‘gender fluid,’ meaning you can be what you want along the spectrum.”
Although Jadee said he “intuitively knew his family would not put him out” upon learning he was transsexual — meaning he did not identify with the sex he was assigned at birth and may choose to realign his gender and sex through the use of medical intervention — there was the issue of his peers.
During the fall of his sophomore year at Bear River High School, Jadee, who now often goes simply by “JD,” decided it was time to go public. A post on his Facebook page would probably reach the most people, he surmised. It was short and to the point.
“In case you didn’t know, I’m trans,” he wrote. “If you don’t support me, that’s OK too.”
After posting his message, Jadee said he took a deep breath and went in the other room.
“I just needed to walk away and give it some time,” he said. “I didn’t know what I was going to find when I came back.”
What he did find a short while later shocked him. Already there were more than 50 “likes.” There were scores of positive comments from classmates with sentiments such as, “I’m proud of you” and “Yeah. That’s you. That’s cool.” Still more contacted him privately to share their own challenges with coming out to family and friends.
In the fall of his junior year at Bear River — this school year — Jadee began living completely as a male.
After extensive counseling at Kaiser Permanente, he began taking testosterone shots or “T” — hormone replacement — in March and can expect noticeable physical changes within the next two to three months.
By the fall of his senior year, doctors say he will have facial hair, vocal changes and an increase in muscle mass.
Jadee and his family were pleasantly surprised by the support of the school administration, which was quick to create a gender-neutral bathroom. The principal told Jadee to report any incidents of bullying, no matter how small. His choir teacher has offered to help him with his voice as it begins to change.
The PFLAG and Gay Straight Alliance groups made it clear they were there for him.
But Jadee said it was his counselor, Judith Vogel, who was the staff member who touched him the most.
“School support is critical — students spend most of their day here,” said Vogel. “To be the one who educates others about what they are doing takes a brave soul. If there is friction for him, it’s mainly due to ignorance and lack of exposure. Jadee has a been a joy to get to know and it’s been a pleasure to work with him. He’s very ambitious — he’s a very talented singer and actor and has real goals for the future.”
And then there are Jadee’s friends and Bear River classmates, whom he says have made all the difference.
“I fully support Jadee’s transition process,” said friend Nicole Fishman. “I believe if you do what makes you happy, there’s nothing wrong with it. I’ll protect him 100 percent if I hear bad things.”
“I care about how Jadee feels,” said friend Sally Shilling. “As long as he is comfortable and happy, then I will be too. He is my friend first, then whoever else he wants to be.”
“I feel good for him,” said friend Aurora Uelmen. “I’m glad he’s realizing and accepting who he is. He’s really cool and open with others who might be going through something similar.”
When asked why he wanted a story written about his transition, Jadee said it was mainly to help other young people who may not have the support he does.
“I know some kids whose families would kick them out if they knew they were gay or trans,” he said. “I hope they reach out to GSA or PFLAG support groups, or anti-bullying clubs. I’ve been there. I’ve struggled with depression. But when I look at my friends who are hard on themselves, I just want to tell them, ‘Stop being so hard on yourself — you’re perfect. Look at me, I’m just a 17-year-old dork who loves Broadway musical theater, just another person. But I can’t tell you how happy I feel right now.”
Today, in the early stage of his transition, Jadee says the support of his large family — many of whom are experiencing varying degrees of acceptance — has been critical.
He says he knows he’s loved.
“Getting mad at people who make negative comments is not going to make them understand — it doesn’t solve anything,” he said. “This is the 21st century. Even my grandpa said, ‘Do what you want — you’ll always be my grandchild.’”
To contact staff writer Cory Fisher, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4203.
“Getting mad at people who make negative comments is not going to make them understand — it doesn’t solve anything.”