“I’m extremely disappointed, but not surprised, in the decision made by the Trump administration last night. It is ethically and morally wrong. Bullying should not be institutionalized at the federal or state level, and that’s what this decision does. I wish that the leadership would provide a safe and inclusive environment for all students, especially transgender and gender-expansive students. We don’t let states determine peoples’ eligibility for basic civil and human rights in other matters, so how can they justify doing it for Trans youth.”
-Jaimie Hileman, Managing Member and Executive Director of the Trans Education Service, LLC, of St. Louis
While Jaimie Hileman’s coming to self story reflects many of the trials coming out as transgender entails, hers is most distinct in that it is a combination of several trans* tales into one, unforgettable narrative. In short, she’s been through it all, but her book is far from over. “I’ll give you a preface, because it would probably take another fifty years to explain the first fifty years,” she laughs. “I don’t think you or I have that time.”
Growing up in southern Illinois, Jaimie knew who she was when she was five years old. “Before I had the words or images to express it, I knew what it meant to be read as something other than what people perceive you to be,” she explains. “There was a lot of bullying; I was called a sissy and queer bait throughout all of school. It got worse in third grade, and it really didn’t stop until junior high school. For the first chunk of my life, bullying and cruelty reinforced my thinking that whatever this was—this perception of myself as female—was wrong. I had to hide it. Like a lot of trans* people—particularly trans* women—I got very good at hiding that part of myself.”
We all lie from time to time, or at least hide the truth. And we all have to be actors at some point, whether it’s acting interested on a date that is clearly going nowhere, being on your best behavior in front of your partner’s family, or simply being understanding of someone who is clearly out of line. But imagine having to compartmentalize you life in all aspects, both professionally and socially. Jaimie became very good at doing this full time.
“There was this version of myself in one situation, and another version of myself everywhere else. It just gets very emotionally draining,” she explains. “Just imagine all of the things you could do if you just had more energy and more resources in your life, what could you accomplish? Now imagine those being siphoned off because you are dedicating them to being an actor. Being able to bring your whole self to work, being able to be your whole self with your friends, family and colleagues, that’s invaluable.”
There was simply no way that this could be a permanent resolution for her. After decades of denial, Jaimie began to seriously transition. When she turned forty, she realized that, in terms of life expectancy, she probably had more days behind her than she did in front of her. She asked herself that if this was true, was she going to live being herself or being an actor? “I decided that when I felt the cold breath of mortality on my neck, I was going to live my life as who I wanted to be,” she explains. “I was no longer willing to lie. I wanted to stop feeling like I was deceiving everyone.” She began hormone therapy five years ago, and pursued every option she needed for a legal and social transition.
Surprising to some, Jaimie had more difficulty coming out as a lesbian than she did as transgender, except when it came to coming out to people who denied what it means to be transgender altogether. “To them, we were a pathology, not a people,” she explains. “It was easier for them to understand that I was born as a boy but I am actually a woman, and that is what my transition is fixing. But with that, there is also the issue of sexuality. I’ve always been attracted to women. Sexual orientation does not change, except for a very few amount of people. Just like cisgendered queer people, you are born with your sexuality.”
Nowadays, Jaimie is 100 percent comfortable in her own skin, a rarity that can be looked at as a life goal for many. She’s married to the love of her life, someone who has stuck by her side for nearly 24 years. “We met on March 26, 1993, when she was finishing up her degree at college. We haven’t been married that entire time, but I am grateful for that regardless,” she says. “And for everything she is, for who she is. 96 percent of marriages like ours fail and end.”
A shocking reality for couples who are in a similar situation. That is, a situation where one of the partners identifies as a heterosexual male before transition, and then that person subsequently transitions and now identifies as a wife. “I’m very grateful that my relationship did not end in divorce,” she says. “It took work; nothing easy is worthwhile. Something unique about our marriage is that, when I corrected the gender markers on all of my documentation, we lost our marital rights in 39 states. In 2012, we went from being married in 50 states to 11 states. Then in 2015 we were again recognized by all 50 states. It took three years, but we made it.”
After coming to St. Louis and being among other likeminded people, Jaimie’s ability to work in the community really took off. She knew Sayer Johnson, Metro Trans* Umbrella Group (MTUG) President, through Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), one of the most secular and non-denominational churches in the city. “It’s very affirming and supportive of LGBT people, which was very important for my spouse in our transition,” she says. “Not long after MTUG was founded in July 2013, Sayer approached me, and I was exposed to the trans* community here in St. Louis: its needs, how it works and, in some cases, does not work.”
Jaimie worked with MTUG for a few years, moving up to Co-Executive Director of the organization before saying farewell this past fall. “I enjoyed everything I did with MTUG, and I still work with them through volunteering at public speaking engagements. I still help amplify their voice and the voice of trans* people, particularly trans* women of color. Lifting them up and creating spaces for them where their voices can be included.”
These days, Jaimie is working with the Diversity Awareness Partnership, where she continues to tackle the issues of trans* cultural competency, educational development and policy implementation, which is her ultimate goal. “I want to be that voice, I want to be someone who helps amplify the voices of other trans* people.” V
by Kevin Schmidt