Jessica Lynn is an advocate and activist for the transgender community. She is a Kinsey Institute Global Ambassador with Indiana University and a Stonewall School Role Model, and founded The Butterfly Project.
Lynn is speaking at Illinois State University as part of the Speaker Series and QUEERTalks on Wednesday night.
Lynn was 45 years old when she transitioned, but she knew she "desperately wanted to be a girl" around the age of four.
Born in 1965 in near L.A., Lynn had four brothers and a sister.
"It was not something I knew about, understood," Lynn said. “It was just not something I had ever heard about.”
As a child, Lynn said she didn't understand the struggle within her that told her she wanted to be a girl.
"I did things to cope. Whatever I did, I obsessed with. So, when I was a young child, my mom was a religious woman, and she said, 'Jeff, if you pray hard enough, God will move mountains.' So I was at my hands and knees every single night begging God at 4 or 5 years old to turn me into a girl," Lynn said. "It just didn't make sense to me."
As a way to stop thinking about the conflict going on within her, Lynn said she distracted herself by oil painting and collecting bugs and stamps.
"It was a coping mechanism, and it's very, very common in the older LGBT community because we grew up in a time where there was no such thing, no understanding of it," Lynn said, pointing to Caitlyn Jenner as an example of someone who used a passion for athletics as a distraction from her desire to be a woman.
"When somebody talked about gay or if you saw a guy on the television wearing a dress, they were ridiculed,” Lynn said, describing the climate towards the LGBT community when she was growing up. “They were made fun of. They were driven out of town. And so why would you want to come out and say this?"
When she first transitioned, Lynn said she wanted to "live the stealth life. I wanted to never say I'm a transgender person, I wanted to go become just a woman, live a normal life, find a boyfriend, a husband, and just live that dream life."
But she soon realized that would not be possible.
Lynn said her life story is one of her strongest presentations, taking the audience through her childhood, her transition, and life as a woman. Those in attendance Wednesday night at Lynn’s presentation at Illinois State University will hear that story in full.
As a man, Lynn had three children with her then-wife. After their divorce, Lynn maintained full legal custody of all three boys. By the time Lynn was 45 and ready to fully transition, her ex-wife asked Lynn to wait until the youngest turned 12.
"So we waited until my youngest was 12, I called her and said, 'It's time we tell him.' She said 'F you,' filed a restraining order, and I went through a huge legal battle with the state of Texas,” Lynn said. “(The state's) evaluator came back and said I was the better parent, but in June of 2013, the judge removed all of my parental rights to my youngest child. He took my name off of my child's birth certificate."
Lynn said the case was elevated to the Department of Justice, but they told her, "this judge crossed every ‘t’, dotted every ‘i’. . . Go start speaking about it."
Since then, Lynn has given over 600 presentations in 18 countries across the globe.
Out of all of her travels, Lynn said England has been the most accepting country. On the other hand, Poland has "a fairly conservative government, and people are scared to come out. The government makes it very, very difficult for you to transition there, you have to jump through so many hoops to get a name change, to go through surgery. They almost criminalize it."
Lynn said she spoke to a psychology group in Warsaw. They wanted to understand more about the transgender community to better serve their clients, because there are transgender people there, they just don't have a sense of acceptance.
She says everywhere in the world is a little different in their acceptance of the transgender community, but Lynn has had the hardest time in the southern U.S.
"I've never had an issue. I've probably given close to 700, 800, 900 lectures in my years doing this, and I've never never had an issue, but there they tended to be the most discriminatory that I've met."
The Butterfly Project
The Butterfly Project came as result of Lynn's travels through India and her experiences with transgender and cisgender people around the world.
Lynn described her goal for The Butterfly Project as "to make the world accepting to every shade of grey in the transgender community."
The U.S. holds 1.4 million transgender identifying people, Lynn said, and that’s only those who have come out publicly.
"We want the whole people to be less discriminatory so that if I come to you and say, 'OK, I'm a trans woman,' Who cares?"
After using them as an escape tool as a young boy, Lynn said she uses the symbol of a butterfly a lot.
"At the end of my presentation I ask everyone in the audience to go home and tell at least one member of their family, friends, boyfriend, girlfriend, sister, cousin, aunt, whoever, what they had heard that night to continue the conversation, to keep it going. It's not just one, two, five people that are changing the world. We all, all of us, every single one of us, need to continue the conversation to change the world."
Life As A Woman
Lynn said confidently that 99 percent of people would never guess she is trans.
"I pass very well," she said.
But when she walks through an airport, she said people tend to stare.
"I was in a thrift store about a year or two ago, and I walk in and this girl's sitting there staring at me. And she comes walking up, and I'm smiling. She comes walking up and goes, 'Can I ask you a question? A personal question?' I'm waiting for, 'Are you transgender?' And she goes, 'Are you a rockstar?'," Lynn laughed.
She said she often thinks people are staring at her for being transgender, but they're not. They're just curious. Lynn is tall, blonde, and walks with pride.
"I'm not afraid to tell anybody of who I am," she said.
Again, Lynn said she passes well as a woman. But that does not diminish the fact that violence against the LGBT community does exist.
The Human Rights Campaign cited at least 28 deaths of transgender people in 2017 due to violence. So far this year, its website lists over 20.
In regards to her own fear, Lynn said she has none. But her primary concern lays in the dating world.
The NO MORE Project focuses on ending domestic violence and sexual assault through awareness. The NO MORE website states 30 to 50 percent of transgender people experience domestic violence from a partner at some point in their lifetime. That's compared to 28 to 33 percent in the cisgender community. Both findings are according to a study by The Williams Institute.
"If I start dating a guy, I am one that will tell a guy first. I started dating a guy once and about the second or third date, he says, 'So, where's your children's father?' And I was dumbfounded," Lynn said. "It can be a dangerous situation, so when I meet a guy and he asks me out, I'm pretty much up front with him and that to me is the only dangerous situation I can find myself in."
Lynn said she handles discrimination with humor and a positive outlook.
In a world where what is considered “politically correct” can change by the week, Lynn offers her perspective to anyone seeking more information.
"When somebody hears me speak, they know that I'm an open book. I'm very, very, very approachable," Lynn said.
No matter the size of her presentation, Lynn said she makes an effort to interact with the audience by staying afterwards to speak one-on-one with anyone who has a question.
Her main target audience is the cisgender community. She said she hopes to help them "to become more aware and accepting. Most cisgender people in the world, they don't know much about the transgender community. But, once they hear somebody, once they meet somebody, it opens their mind up and they say, 'Well!'"
Lynn said 95 percent of the students she speaks to will one day be parents, and some will have a child that comes to them saying they are gay, trans, bi, genderqueer, or somewhere else on that spectrum.
"It's going to open their eyes up a little bit more," Lynn said.
Her message to the transgender community is simple: Don't be ashamed of who you are.
"Feel comfortable, feel proud wherever you fit in that gender spectrum," she said.
Lynn said when she came out as transgender, there were people telling her how she was supposed to transition, how to dress, and criticized her for doing anything different. She now says there are no rules for transitioning.
"There is no specific way to transition. I want the transgender communities to transition the way they want to transition," Lynn said. "You have to be who you are, and that's my biggest advice to people. Feel comfortable and transition as fast as you feel comfortable doing it."
You can also hear the entire interview below:
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