Jay, a trans teenager featured in an HBO documentary, told Ellen Degeneres that he was considered “contagious” by his teachers and was forced to sit away from other classmates.
Jay told Ellen that he knew he was trans at the age of five because he felt like a “boy stuck in a girl’s body”. He said he fought with his mom to try to “put boys clothes on” because that aligned with his gender.
But he said it wasn’t until he was 12 years old that he was able to start his “full transition”, which was documented in Transhood, a 2020 HBO documentary which chronicles the lives of four young people and their families as they navigate growing up transgender in Kansas City. Jay allowed cameras to follow his transition starting at age 12 through to when he turned 18.
He told The Ellen DeGeneres Show it was “very challenging” to grow up trans in Kansas City – which sits in the heartland of the US – because “everyone was just so against it” and said “it was wrong”. A “lot of people thought it was a disease”, he added.
Jay described how some students in “high school or middle school” wouldn’t use a pencil that he had previously touched because they believed being transgender was “contagious”.
“Through my years of high school and middle school, I was secluded,” Jay said. “In middle school, I was secluded enough to a desk all by myself – away from every single kid – because my teacher thought that it was a disease and contagious to others, and parents had concerns because I was transgender.”
Ellen, who was visibly taken back by the revelation, admitted that she couldn’t imagine how Jay got through such transphobic behaviour when he was growing up. She said: “It’s hard as an adult to be ostracised like that from other people and to feel different as an adult.
“But as a kid, that’s a really tough thing, and that’s why visibility is so important for people.”
Jay admitted it was “really hard” to grow up and not see anyone around him who shared the same lived experiences. But he explained that he wanted to become that person for other trans people or youth who watched the documentary. He said he realised, after talking to other trans people, that “our reaction is just to hide from everybody” because there was comfortability in not having to “explain ourselves to everybody”.
“I think visibility is the biggest thing now these days because there are a lot of things passing through that are affecting trans people today,” Jay said. “I think being visible is the most important thing instead of hiding.”
He added: “I learned that a lot throughout the years of filming and being trans myself.”
Jay was set to appear on The Ellen DeGeneres Show back in November when the movie first aired, but the show was briefly shut down after Ellen contracted COVID-19.